The Stock Market crash of October 1929 and the severity of the decade-long depression that followed understandably undermined a great many Americans’ faith in Wall Street. A firm believer in laissez faire capitalism, President Herbert Hoover, however, remained adamant that “Economic depression cannot be cured by legislative action or executive pronouncement.” Accordingly, his Republican administration consistently refused to intervene in or adequately respond to the unprecedented crisis and calls for relief programs. By the time of the 1932 presidential election, the average American was so exasperated by Hoover’s inaction that they overwhelmingly voted for change and a candidate who promised to do something—anything—to deal with the worsening crisis.


The Wolfsonian-Florida International University

But for a nation steeped in the economics of laissez faire capitalism and fond of a political tradition that maintained that the “government that governs least, governs best,” an activist president like Franklin D. Roosevelt was bound to be controversial. When an admirer told him that he would be judged either the “greatest” or “worst” president in history depending on the success or failure of his program, Roosevelt acknowledged the seriousness of the threat to the nation by replying that “If it fails, I’ll be the last one.”


Gift of Martijn F. Le Coultre

Many Americans welcomed the whirlwind of federal programs created during President Roosevelt’s first one hundred days in office. Publishers churned out a spate of books that echoed the hope, enthusiasm, and optimism the “Average Joes” were expressing for the president and his New Dealers. The American people had suddenly become “government-conscious.”

Of course, many conservative Americans were highly critical of the new president and castigated him either for promoting “creeping Socialism” through his intrusive federal policies and programs. One such example is The Roosevelt Red Record and its Background, penned and self-published by the author, Elizabeth Dilling. The author excoriated President Roosevelt as a puppet or willful ally of the Marxian Communist-Socialist “international conspiracies.” The dust jacket of her book makes a visual argument for “guilt by association” by including among the portraits of the president and his progressive New Deal “brain trust” and cabinet members pictures of infamous Communist leaders and demagogues.


Of course, Roosevelt received as much criticism from the Left as from the Right by true Socialist and Communist radicals who interpreted the Great Depression as the death knell of capitalism. In one such pamphlet, the Socialists criticized the president’s policies as being as ill-conceived and futile as trying “to restore life to a corpse.”

The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, The Wolfsonian-FIU

Many committed Socialists pointed to the Great Depression as proof that capitalism was on its way out and took the opportunity to point out “How Socialism Works”; to suggest that “You might Like Socialism”; to note that a Communist might say without irony “I Like America”; and to argue that Socialism might restore “Hope in America.”



Unless otherwise indicated, the works included in this blog are part of The Christopher DeNoon Collection for the Study of New Deal Culture—a large gift of books, periodicals, and ephemera that has significantly augmented the Wolfsonian library’s already fine collection of materials from this era.

~ by "The Chief" on December 1, 2010.

2 Responses to “ROOSEVELT & THE REDS”

  1. Great blog to highlight materials in the collection! Why does the Library get good stuff after I leave?! 😉

  2. In the first place we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the man’s becoming in very fact an American, and nothing but an American…

    There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag, and this excludes the red flag, which symbolizes all wars against liberty and civilization, just as much as it excludes any foreign flag of a nation to which we are hostile…We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language…and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.”

    –Theodore Roosevelt, 1919

    Where is Teddy Roosevelt when we need him.

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