Farmers' Holiday Association

Farmers' Holiday Association


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In 1931 Iowa farmers decided to fight back against the impact of the Great Depression. In Logan 500 farmers joined forces outside the courthouse to prevent the sale of Ernest Ganzhorn's farm. At Storm Lake "rope-swinging farmers came close to hanging a lawyer conducting a foreclosure". At Le Mars in Plymouth County, six hundred farmers marched on the courthouse and dragged a judge out of his courtroom, placed a noose around his neck, and threatened to hang him unless he stopped approving farm foreclosures. Other mob incidents took place in Willmar, Minnesota and Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Milo Reno emerged as the leader of this rebellion and in the summer of 1932 he established the Farmers' Holiday Association. His idea was to withhold farm products from the market, in essence creating a farmers' strike. The main slogan was "Lets call a Farmer's Holiday, a Holiday let's hold. We'll eat our wheat and ham and eggs, And let them eat their gold." On 8th August Reno called the first "farm holiday," a strike for higher prices. Pickets blockaded the roads into several Iowa cities and stopped trucks carrying farm produce to market.

William E. Leuchtenburg, the author of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (1963), has argued: "Milo Reno... helped organize farmers to refuse to ship food into Sioux City for thirty days or until such time as they got the 'cost of production'. Farmers blocked highways with logs and spiked telegraph poles, smashed windshields and headlights, and punctured tires with their pitchforks. When authorities in Council Bluffs arrested fifty-five pickets, one thousands angry farmers threatened to storm the jail, and the pickets were released on bail. In Nebraska, where farmers carried placards reading 'Be Pickets or Peasants,' strikers halted a freight train and took off a carload of cattle."

On 26th October, 1932, Reno's association declared a moratorium on tax and mortgage payments, and this developed into a strike against farm mortgage foreclosures. According to the New York Times the leader of the Farmers' Holiday Association (FHA) in Nebraska argued: "If we don't get beneficial service from the Legislature 200,000 of us are coming to Lincoln and we'll tear the new State Capitol Building to pieces." Governor William Langer of North Dakota, in an effort to reduce tension, mobilized the militia to halt foreclosures.

Although Franklin D. Roosevelt was vague about what he would do about the economic depression, he easily beat his unpopular Republican rival. William E. Leuchtenburg, the author of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (1963), has argued: "Franklin Roosevelt swept to victory with 22,800,000 votes to Hoover's 15,750,000. With a 472-59 margin in the Electoral College, he captured every state south and west of Pennsylvania. Roosevelt carried more counties than a presidential candidate had ever won before, including 282 that had never gone Democratic. Of the forty states in Hoover's victory coalition four years before, the President held but six."

Roosevelt appointed Henry A. Wallace as Secretary of Agriculture. On 8th March 1933, Wallace met with Roosevelt and asked him to expand the scope of the special congressional session to include the agricultural crisis as well as the banking emergency. Roosevelt agreed to this suggestion and it was agreed to summon the nation's farm leaders to an "emergency conference" to be held in Washington. Wallace went on national radio and told the country: "Today, in this country, men are fighting to save their homes. That is not just a figure of speech. That is a brutal fact, a bitter commentary on agriculture's twelve years' struggle.... Emergency action is imperative."

On 11th March, Wallace reported: "The farm leaders were unanimous in their opinion that the agricultural emergency calls for prompt and drastic action.... The farm groups agree that farm production must be adjusted to consumption, and favor the principles of the so-called domestic allotment plan as a means of reducing production and restoring buying power." The conference also called for emergency legislation granting Wallace extraordinarily broad authority to act, including power to control production, buy up surplus commodities, regulate marketing and production, and levy excise taxes to pay for it all.

John C. Culver and John C. Hyde, the authors of American Dreamer: A Life of Henry A. Wallace (2001) have pointed out: "The sense of urgency was hardly theoretical. A true crisis was at hand. Across the Corn Belt, rebellion was being expressed in ever more violent terms. In the first two months of 1933, there were at least seventy-six instances in fifteen states of so-called penny auctions, in which mobs of farmers gathered at foreclosure sales and intimidated legitimate bidders into silence. One penny auction in Nebraska drew an astounding crowd of two thousand farmers. In Wisconsin farmers bent on stopping a farm sale were confronted by deputies armed with tear gas and machine guns. A lawyer representing the New York Life Insurance Company was dragged from the courthouse in Le Mars, Iowa, and the sheriff who tried to help him was roughed up by a mob."

On 27th April at Le Mars in Plymouth County, a mob of six hundred farmers marched on the local courthouse. A spokesman for the group asked the judge to promise that he would not sign any more foreclosure orders. Judge Charles C. Bradley said he had as much sympathy for the farmers who had lost their property, but that he did not make the laws. The men did not like this answer and dragged Bradley of his courtroom and taken to a crossroads outside of town, where his trousers were removed and he was threatened with mutilation. A noose was pulled tight around his neck, and the mob demanded that the strangling judge promise no further foreclosures. The sixty-year old Bradley bravely replied: "I will do the fair thing to all men to the best of my knowledge." Bradley was just about to be hanged when he was saved by a local newspaper editor who had just arrived in his car.

The case made the front page of the New York Times. Governor Clyde Herring declared martial law and sent troops to the town. Milo Reno claimed that the Farmers' Holiday Association had nothing to do with the incident. His statement was widely disbelieved when the president of the Plymouth County Farmers Holiday Association was one of the 86 men arrested. Reno and his followers were heavily criticized and he lost considerable popular support. However, Henry A. Wallace was now seen as a moderate and his bill was now passed by Congress.

Milo Reno... In Nebraska, where farmers carried placards reading 'Be Pickets or Peasants,' strikers halted a freight train and took off a carload of cattle.


The Farmers' Holiday Association

The idea set forth by the association was that, to drive up prices, the supply must be stopped by any means necessary. Reno wrote in an August 1932 editorial printed by the Washington, D.C., Evening Star that “the farmer, discouraged, broken-hearted, and bankrupt, has come to realize that he is at the parting of ways and if his rights as an American citizen, as an independent owner and operator of a farm, are to be restored it will be by and through his own efforts.”

The Farmers’ Holiday of 1932 started with a Milk War, a blockade by 1,500 farmers in Sioux City, Iowa. The issue that sparked this conflict was the difference in milk prices between the farm and the consumer. Dairy farmers received .02 per quart from local processors, while consumers paid .08 per quart in Sioux City. Farmers were given .90 per 100 pounds of base milk.

Omaha and Council Bluffs became the focus of the Farmer’s Holiday movement that August. Omaha’s Bee-News newspaper reported on a mass meeting at Dunlap, Iowa, on Aug. 21 where farmers planned to use “moral persuasion” to turn back all produce from reaching market. The picketers appeared the next day on all the highways leading into Council Bluffs.

The Farmer’s Holiday movement was the subject of broad national attention with profiles of their efforts in Time magazine. After the sheriff of Pottawattamie County used tear-gas to try and bust the pickets on the south edge of Council Bluffs, Hearst newspapers' nationally syndicated columnist Arthur “Bugs” Baer sympathetically wondered how they would “keep them on the farm after they’ve seen Council Bluffs.”

The whole shebang really took hold on Aug. 26 with the first Nebraska pickets, as press reports there were re-enforced picket lines on all roads leading to Council Bluffs from the Iowa side. The strikers started blocking Omaha from the west on Aug. 30, with picket lines set up at 84th Street and Military Avenue, 90th and Maple streets, 92nd and Dodge streets, 90th and Pacific streets, and 95th Street and West Center Road.

The response by Omaha Mayor Richard Metcalfe was to enforce the city’s three-mile jurisdiction to push the picketers further from the city. Still, logs were laid in the middle of 104th Street and West Center Road to stop truck traffic. That was when it got worse. The World-Herald reported on Sept. 1 that the “hot spot” in the Omaha farm strike was on Dodge Street just west of Peony Park. It was there a “milling mob” had gathered early that morning to face down “about 40 special deputies” armed with ax handles. First the strikers placed logs across the street to block traffic, and then they started to smash windshields.

That night seemed the worst of the Omaha violence after Douglas County Sheriff Charles B. McDonald rode on the running board of a truck to get through the gauntlet. Apples smashed against the truck, a log was thrown through the windshield and injured the driver, and the sheriff “limped for the rest of the night” after a rock hit him in the ankle.

The Bee-News then reported that the retail price of milk in Omaha and Council Bluffs would soon increase from .08 to .09 per quart as part of the agreement by dairies to pay farmers $1.80 per 100 pounds of base milk. This was small but seemed some consolation to the farmers worried about losing their land.

Still, some weren’t satisfied and continued the agitation for blockades the next year as farmers across the Midwest, and then the South, took up the Farmers’ Holiday ideas. Nevertheless, the 1932 election of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal efforts towards stabilizing commodity prices took most of the fire out of the movement. In particular, the government passed the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, which set limits on the size of the crops and herds farmers could produce and paid a subsidy to those farmers who agreed to limit production. Most farmers signed up eagerly, and today, few, if any, remember the association and there are no historical memorials where farmers once blocked the roads into Omaha.

This article was printed in the June 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.


Farmers' Holiday Association - History

For farmers it was the worst of times. The entire nation was being effected by an economic depression, but for agriculture it was even worse. By 1932 farmers had endured over ten years of depressed prices for their goods to the point it actually cost more to produce the commodities than they were paid for them. The National Farmers Union had lobbied for legislation that would provide aid and tariff reform but to no avail. Things became desperate as farmers couldn’t make mortgage or loan payments and had their property foreclosed upon and equipment seized. In 1932 the Farmers’ Holiday Association organized the idea was for farmers to take a “holiday” from farming— cease selling their goods and not buy anything from anyone else for a period of time, the intent being to create an awareness as to the importance of farm products and purchases.

Though the farm strike gathered a great deal of media attention, the reality was most farmers didn’t participate, prompting radical members of the Association to block roads to keep those still wanting to sell their goods from getting to the markets. Pickets set up on the north and east edges of Council Bluffs Sheriff Percy Lainson kept a watchful eye but allowed peaceful picketing. The peace didn’t last picketers blocked Highway 34 into town from the south and refused deputy Frank Owens’ order to not stand in the road. Ignoring the warning picketers blocked the highway near Iowa School for the Deaf with telephone poles. The Sheriff’s response screamed in bold letters across the entire front page of the evening Nonpareil: LAINSON PREPARES TO BREAK ROAD BLOCK. Sheriff Lainson hired 98 special deputies and promised “to fight it out if it takes 5,000 deputies,” adding “if the Pottawattamie county jail bulges with picketers it will just have to bulge. I’m going to see that law and order are maintained.” Farm trucks that wanted to take their goods to market were to be escorted through the strikers with armed deputies. Sheriff Lainson continued his operations to keep highways open and directed his deputies to arrest every man found picketing and charge him with unlawful assembly. As word spread that 1000 men were on the way to Council Bluffs to aid the picketers the sheriff’s force stood by with submachine guns and riot guns. A tense mood prevailed. The men from out-of-town were said to be heading for the “Squirrel Cage” jail to break the picketers out Sheriff Lainson reported if the jail was mobbed his men were armed and would handle it “in the best possible manner.” Deputies were instructed that they were authorized to shoot to kill should any farmers try and storm the jail. The Daily Nonpareil published a front page warning to citizens to stay away from the jail for their own safety.

On Thursday, August 25, there was gunfire. A tragedy occurred, but accidental. Claude Dail, a special deputy with just three days of service, was shot and killed from a gun that accidentally discharged during a weapons test. Special Deputy Joe Ludwig was also injured.

Most of the inmates were freed quickly on bail put up by a handful of wealthy farmers. The out-of-town strikers were met by Mayor Myrtue and significant further violence was avoided, but the picketing continued and Sheriff Lainson added fifty more special deputies. Though strikes continued elsewhere, by end end of August the situation at Council Bluffs was essentially over.


Farmers' Holiday Association - History

For farmers it was the worst of times. The entire nation was being effected by an economic depression, but for agriculture it was even worse. By 1932 farmers had endured over ten years of depressed prices for their goods to the point it actually cost more to produce the commodities than they were paid for them. The National Farmers Union had lobbied for legislation that would provide aid and tariff reform but to no avail. Things became desperate as farmers couldn’t make mortgage or loan payments and had their property foreclosed upon and equipment seized. In 1932 the Farmers’ Holiday Association organized the idea was for farmers to take a “holiday” from farming— cease selling their goods and not buy anything from anyone else for a period of time, the intent being to create an awareness as to the importance of farm products and purchases.

Though the farm strike gathered a great deal of media attention, the reality was most farmers didn’t participate, prompting radical members of the Association to block roads to keep those still wanting to sell their goods from getting to the markets. Pickets set up on the north and east edges of Council Bluffs Sheriff Percy Lainson kept a watchful eye but allowed peaceful picketing. The peace didn’t last picketers blocked Highway 34 into town from the south and refused deputy Frank Owens’ order to not stand in the road. Ignoring the warning picketers blocked the highway near Iowa School for the Deaf with telephone poles. The Sheriff’s response screamed in bold letters across the entire front page of the evening Nonpareil: LAINSON PREPARES TO BREAK ROAD BLOCK. Sheriff Lainson hired 98 special deputies and promised “to fight it out if it takes 5,000 deputies,” adding “if the Pottawattamie county jail bulges with picketers it will just have to bulge. I’m going to see that law and order are maintained.” Farm trucks that wanted to take their goods to market were to be escorted through the strikers with armed deputies. Sheriff Lainson continued his operations to keep highways open and directed his deputies to arrest every man found picketing and charge him with unlawful assembly. As word spread that 1000 men were on the way to Council Bluffs to aid the picketers the sheriff’s force stood by with submachine guns and riot guns. A tense mood prevailed. The men from out-of-town were said to be heading for the “Squirrel Cage” jail to break the picketers out Sheriff Lainson reported if the jail was mobbed his men were armed and would handle it “in the best possible manner.” Deputies were instructed that they were authorized to shoot to kill should any farmers try and storm the jail. The Daily Nonpareil published a front page warning to citizens to stay away from the jail for their own safety.

On Thursday, August 25, there was gunfire. A tragedy occurred, but accidental. Claude Dail, a special deputy with just three days of service, was shot and killed from a gun that accidentally discharged during a weapons test. Special Deputy Joe Ludwig was also injured.

Most of the inmates were freed quickly on bail put up by a handful of wealthy farmers. The out-of-town strikers were met by Mayor Myrtue and significant further violence was avoided, but the picketing continued and Sheriff Lainson added fifty more special deputies. Though strikes continued elsewhere, by end end of August the situation at Council Bluffs was essentially over.


See also [ edit ]

  1. ^ abcDescription of Farmers' Holiday Movement CollectionArchived 2009-04-10 at the Wayback Machine, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University
  2. ^ Cohen, Adam: Nothing to Fear: "FDR's Inner CIrcle and the Hundred Days that Created Modern America" New York, The Penguin Press, 2009. Pg. 125
  3. ^Waterloo Daily Courier, 11/7/1933, Escort Trucks to Sioux City Troops Denied.
  • Cohen, Adam: Nothing to Fear: "FDR's Inner Circle and the Hundred Days that Created Modern America" New York, The Penguin Press, 2009. Pg. 125

Who Invented Candy Corn?

Whether you like it, hate it or just use it to decorate, you probably think of candy corn as a Halloween treat. But in the beginning, it was associated more with chickens than the spooky holiday.

Candy corn’s origins are a little iffy, but it seems to have come out around the 1880s, a time when candy companies were mixing up slurries of mellowcremeਊnd molding the confection into the shape of pumpkins, chestnuts, turnips and other agricultural products. Farmers made up about half of the American labor force, and companies marketed agriculture-themed candies to children in farm country all year round.

Enter candy corn, which featured the innovation of three hand-layered colors. Oral histories identify the inventor of candy corn as George Renninger, an employee at Wunderle Candy Company in Philadelphia. Wunderle was the first company to sell these multi-colored treats made of sugar and corn syrup, according to the National Confectioners Association.

But it was the Goelitz Candy Company—now the Jelly Belly Candy Company—that really popularized the candy. In 1898, Goelitz picked up the recipe and started marketing the kernels as a candy called 𠇌hicken Feed,” writes Rebecca Rupp in National Geographic. That’s because before World War I, most Americans didn’t really think of corn as people food.

The 1898 packaging design for Goelitz Candy Corn.

Jelly Belly Candy Company

“There were no sweet hybrids in those days,” writes Samira Kawash, author of Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure, in The Atlantic. 𠇌orn was coarse and cheap and not very tasty: good food for pigs and chickens. It wasn&apost until war-time wheat shortages in 1917 that any but the poorest Americans would have considered corn flour, corn meal, or corn bread acceptable foodstuffs.”

Even after World War I, candy corn maintained its association with chickens. Packages of Goelitz’s candy corn from the 1920s displayed a rooster and the motto, “King of the Candy Corn Fields.”

In the first half of the 20th century, candy corn became a common “penny candy.” These were the types of treats kids could buy in bulk for very little money. Kids most likely thought of them as candies to eat year-round than special ones to get on Halloween, which wasn’t yet specifically associated with candy. Candy corn might appear at Halloween parties, but also at celebrations for Thanksgiving and Easter.

𠇊s Halloween became more and more dominated by candy beginning in the 1950s, candy corn increasingly became the candy for Halloween,” Kawash writes. “There was a dramatic spike in October advertising of candy corn beginning in the 1950s. Other kinds of candy were advertised for Halloween too, but they were advertised just as heavily during the rest of the year.”

Today, while it’s easy to find candy corn year-round (the National Confectioners Association estimates more than 35 million pounds of the candy are sold every year), it’s most prominent in October when, on the 30th, National Candy Corn Day honors the original 𠇌hicken feed” treat.


PUBLIC REACTION TO HOOVER

Hoover’s steadfast resistance to government aid cost him the reelection and has placed him squarely at the forefront of the most unpopular presidents, according to public opinion, in modern American history. His name became synonymous with the poverty of the era: “Hoovervilles” became the common name for homeless shantytowns and “Hoover blankets” for the newspapers that the homeless used to keep warm. A “Hoover flag” was a pants pocket—empty of all money—turned inside out. By the 1932 election, hitchhikers held up signs reading: “If you don’t give me a ride, I’ll vote for Hoover.” Americans did not necessarily believe that Hoover caused the Great Depression. Their anger stemmed instead from what appeared to be a willful refusal to help regular citizens with direct aid that might allow them to recover from the crisis.

Hoover became one of the least popular presidents in history. “Hoovervilles,” or shantytowns, were a negative reminder of his role in the nation’s financial crisis. This family (a) lived in a “Hooverville” in Elm Grove, Oklahoma. This shanty (b) was one of many making up a “Hooverville” in the Portland, Oregon area. (credit: modification of work by United States Farm Security Administration)


Founding of National Farm Workers Association and the 1965 Grape Strike

Chavez knew firsthand the struggles of the nation’s poorest and most powerless workers, who labored to put food on the nation’s tables while often going hungry themselves. Not covered by minimum wage laws, many made as little as 40 cents an hour, and did not qualify for unemployment insurance. Previous attempts to unionize farm workers had failed, as California’s powerful agricultural industry fought back with all the weight of their money and political power.

Chavez was inspired by the nonviolent civil disobedience pioneered by Gandhi in India, and the example of St. Francis of Assisi, the 13th-century Italian nobleman who gave up his material wealth to live with and work on behalf of the poor. Working doggedly to build the NFWA alongside fellow organizer Dolores Huerta, Chavez traveled around the San Joaquin and Imperial Valleys to recruit union members. Meanwhile, Helen Chavez worked in the fields to support the family, as they struggled to stay afloat.

In September 1965, the NFWA launched a strike against California’s grape growers alongside the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), a Filipino-American labor group. The strike lasted five years and expanded into a nationwide boycott of California grapes. The boycott drew widespread support, thanks to the highly visible campaign headed by Chavez, who led a 340-mile march from Delano to Sacramento in 1966 and undertook a well-publicized 25-day hunger strike in 1968.

“I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness, is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally non-violent struggle for justice,” Chavez declared, in a speech read on his behalf when his first hunger strike ended. “To be a man is to suffer for others. God help us be men."


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25.2 President Hoover’s Response

President Hoover was unprepared for the scope of the depression crisis, and his limited response did not begin to help the millions of Americans in need. The steps he took were very much in keeping with his philosophy of limited government, a philosophy that many had shared with him until the upheavals of the Great Depression made it clear that a more direct government response was required. But Hoover was stubborn in his refusal to give “handouts,” as he saw direct government aid. He called for a spirit of volunteerism among America’s businesses, asking them to keep workers employed, and he exhorted the American people to tighten their belts and make do in the spirit of “rugged individualism.” While Hoover’s philosophy and his appeal to the country were very much in keeping with his character, it was not enough to keep the economy from plummeting further into economic chaos.

The steps Hoover did ultimately take were too little, too late. He created programs for putting people back to work and helping beleaguered local and state charities with aid. But the programs were small in scale and highly specific as to who could benefit, and they only touched a small percentage of those in need. As the situation worsened, the public grew increasingly unhappy with Hoover. He left office with one of the lowest approval ratings of any president in history.

THE INITIAL REACTION

In the immediate aftermath of Black Tuesday, Hoover sought to reassure Americans that all was well. Reading his words after the fact, it is easy to find fault. In 1929 he said, “Any lack of confidence in the economic future or the strength of business in the United States is foolish.” In 1930, he stated, “The worst is behind us.” In 1931, he pledged federal aid should he ever witness starvation in the country but as of that date, he had yet to see such need in America, despite the very real evidence that children and the elderly were starving to death. Yet Hoover was neither intentionally blind nor unsympathetic. He simply held fast to a belief system that did not change as the realities of the Great Depression set in.

Hoover believed strongly in the ethos of American individualism : that hard work brought its own rewards. His life story testified to that belief. Hoover was born into poverty, made his way through college at Stanford University, and eventually made his fortune as an engineer. This experience, as well as his extensive travels in China and throughout Europe, shaped his fundamental conviction that the very existence of American civilization depended upon the moral fiber of its citizens, as evidenced by their ability to overcome all hardships through individual effort and resolve. The idea of government handouts to Americans was repellant to him. Whereas Europeans might need assistance, such as his hunger relief work in Belgium during and after World War I, he believed the American character to be different. In a 1931 radio address, he said, “The spread of government destroys initiative and thus destroys character.”

Likewise, Hoover was not completely unaware of the potential harm that wild stock speculation might create if left unchecked. As secretary of commerce, Hoover often warned President Coolidge of the dangers that such speculation engendered. In the weeks before his inauguration, he offered many interviews to newspapers and magazines, urging Americans to curtail their rampant stock investments, and even encouraged the Federal Reserve to raise the discount rate to make it more costly for local banks to lend money to potential speculators. However, fearful of creating a panic, Hoover never issued a stern warning to discourage Americans from such investments. Neither Hoover, nor any other politician of that day, ever gave serious thought to outright government regulation of the stock market. This was even true in his personal choices, as Hoover often lamented poor stock advice he had once offered to a friend. When the stock nose-dived, Hoover bought the shares from his friend to assuage his guilt, vowing never again to advise anyone on matters of investment.

In keeping with these principles, Hoover’s response to the crash focused on two very common American traditions: He asked individuals to tighten their belts and work harder, and he asked the business community to voluntarily help sustain the economy by retaining workers and continuing production. He immediately summoned a conference of leading industrialists to meet in Washington, DC, urging them to maintain their current wages while America rode out this brief economic panic. The crash, he assured business leaders, was not part of a greater downturn they had nothing to worry about. Similar meetings with utility companies and railroad executives elicited promises for billions of dollars in new construction projects, while labor leaders agreed to withhold demands for wage increases and workers continued to labor. Hoover also persuaded Congress to pass a $160 million tax cut to bolster American incomes, leading many to conclude that the president was doing all he could to stem the tide of the panic. In April 1930, the New York Times editorial board concluded that “No one in his place could have done more.”

However, these modest steps were not enough. By late 1931, when it became clear that the economy would not improve on its own, Hoover recognized the need for some government intervention. He created the President’s Emergency Committee for Employment (PECE), later renamed the President’s Organization of Unemployment Relief (POUR). In keeping with Hoover’s distaste of what he viewed as handouts, this organization did not provide direct federal relief to people in need. Instead, it assisted state and private relief agencies, such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army, YMCA, and Community Chest. Hoover also strongly urged people of means to donate funds to help the poor, and he himself gave significant private donations to worthy causes. But these private efforts could not alleviate the widespread effects of poverty.

Congress pushed for a more direct government response to the hardship. In 1930–1931, it attempted to pass a $60 million bill to provide relief to drought victims by allowing them access to food, fertilizer, and animal feed. Hoover stood fast in his refusal to provide food, resisting any element of direct relief. The final bill of $47 million provided for everything except food but did not come close to adequately addressing the crisis. Again in 1931, Congress proposed the Federal Emergency Relief Bill, which would have provided $375 million to states to help provide food, clothing, and shelter to the homeless. But Hoover opposed the bill, stating that it ruined the balance of power between states and the federal government, and in February 1932, it was defeated by fourteen votes.

However, the president’s adamant opposition to direct-relief federal government programs should not be viewed as one of indifference or uncaring toward the suffering American people. His personal sympathy for those in need was boundless. Hoover was one of only two presidents to reject his salary for the office he held. Throughout the Great Depression, he donated an average of $25,000 annually to various relief organizations to assist in their efforts. Furthermore, he helped to raise $500,000 in private funds to support the White House Conference on Child Health and Welfare in 1930. Rather than indifference or heartlessness, Hoover’s steadfast adherence to a philosophy of individualism as the path toward long-term American recovery explained many of his policy decisions. “A voluntary deed,” he repeatedly commented, “is infinitely more precious to our national ideal and spirit than a thousand-fold poured from the Treasury.”

As conditions worsened, however, Hoover eventually relaxed his opposition to federal relief and formed the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) in 1932, in part because it was an election year and Hoover hoped to keep his office. Although not a form of direct relief to the American people in greatest need, the RFC was much larger in scope than any preceding effort, setting aside $2 billion in taxpayer money to rescue banks, credit unions, and insurance companies. The goal was to boost confidence in the nation’s financial institutions by ensuring that they were on solid footing. This model was flawed on a number of levels. First, the program only lent money to banks with sufficient collateral, which meant that most of the aid went to large banks. In fact, of the first $61 million loaned, $41 million went to just three banks. Small town and rural banks got almost nothing. Furthermore, at this time, confidence in financial institutions was not the primary concern of most Americans. They needed food and jobs. Many had no money to put into the banks, no matter how confident they were that the banks were safe.

Hoover’s other attempt at federal assistance also occurred in 1932, when he endorsed a bill by Senator Robert Wagner of New York. This was the Emergency Relief and Construction Act. This act authorized the RFC to expand beyond loans to financial institutions and allotted $1.5 billion to states to fund local public works projects. This program failed to deliver the kind of help needed, however, as Hoover severely limited the types of projects it could fund to those that were ultimately self-paying (such as toll bridges and public housing) and those that required skilled workers. While well intended, these programs maintained the status quo, and there was still no direct federal relief to the individuals who so desperately needed it.

PUBLIC REACTION TO HOOVER

Hoover’s steadfast resistance to government aid cost him the reelection and has placed him squarely at the forefront of the most unpopular presidents, according to public opinion, in modern American history. His name became synonymous with the poverty of the era: “Hoovervilles” became the common name for homeless shantytowns (Figure 25.9) and “Hoover blankets” for the newspapers that the homeless used to keep warm. A “Hoover flag” was a pants pocket—empty of all money—turned inside out. By the 1932 election, hitchhikers held up signs reading: “If you don’t give me a ride, I’ll vote for Hoover.” Americans did not necessarily believe that Hoover caused the Great Depression. Their anger stemmed instead from what appeared to be a willful refusal to help regular citizens with direct aid that might allow them to recover from the crisis.

FRUSTRATION AND PROTEST: A BAD SITUATION GROWS WORSE FOR HOOVER

Desperation and frustration often create emotional responses, and the Great Depression was no exception. Throughout 1931–1932, companies trying to stay afloat sharply cut worker wages, and, in response, workers protested in increasingly bitter strikes. As the Depression unfolded, over 80 percent of automotive workers lost their jobs. Even the typically prosperous Ford Motor Company laid off two-thirds of its workforce.

In 1932, a major strike at the Ford Motor Company factory near Detroit resulted in over sixty injuries and four deaths. Often referred to as the Ford Hunger March , the event unfolded as a planned demonstration among unemployed Ford workers who, to protest their desperate situation, marched nine miles from Detroit to the company’s River Rouge plant in Dearborn. At the Dearborn city limits, local police launched tear gas at the roughly three thousand protestors, who responded by throwing stones and clods of dirt. When they finally reached the gates of the plant, protestors faced more police and firemen, as well as private security guards. As the firemen turned hoses onto the protestors, the police and security guards opened fire. In addition to those killed and injured, police arrested fifty protestors. One week later, sixty thousand mourners attended the public funerals of the four victims of what many protesters labeled police brutality. The event set the tone for worsening labor relations in the U.S.

Farmers also organized and protested, often violently. The most notable example was the Farm Holiday Association. Led by Milo Reno, this organization held significant sway among farmers in Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. Although they never comprised a majority of farmers in any of these states, their public actions drew press attention nationwide. Among their demands, the association sought a federal government plan to set agricultural prices artificially high enough to cover the farmers’ costs, as well as a government commitment to sell any farm surpluses on the world market. To achieve their goals, the group called for farm holidays , during which farmers would neither sell their produce nor purchase any other goods until the government met their demands. However, the greatest strength of the association came from the unexpected and seldom-planned actions of its members, which included barricading roads into markets, attacking nonmember farmers, and destroying their produce. Some members even raided small town stores, destroying produce on the shelves. Members also engaged in “penny auctions,” bidding pennies on foreclosed farm land and threatening any potential buyers with bodily harm if they competed in the sale. Once they won the auction, the association returned the land to the original owner. In Iowa, farmers threatened to hang a local judge if he signed any more farm foreclosures. At least one death occurred as a direct result of these protests before they waned following the election of Franklin Roosevelt.

One of the most notable protest movements occurred toward the end of Hoover’s presidency and centered on the Bonus Expeditionary Force, or Bonus Army , in the spring of 1932. In this protest, approximately fifteen thousand World War I veterans marched on Washington to demand early payment of their veteran bonuses, which were not due to be paid until 1945. The group camped out in vacant federal buildings and set up camps in Anacostia Flats near the Capitol building (Figure 25.10).

Many veterans remained in the city in protest for nearly two months, although the U.S. Senate officially rejected their request in July. By the middle of that month, Hoover wanted them gone. He ordered the police to empty the buildings and clear out the camps, and in the exchange that followed, police fired into the crowd, killing two veterans. Fearing an armed uprising, Hoover then ordered General Douglas MacArthur, along with his aides, Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton, to forcibly remove the veterans from Anacostia Flats. The ensuing raid proved catastrophic, as the military burned down the shantytown and injured dozens of people, including a twelve-week-old infant who was killed when accidentally struck by a tear gas canister (Figure 25.11).

As Americans bore witness to photographs and newsreels of the U.S. Army forcibly removing veterans, Hoover’s popularity plummeted even further. By the summer of 1932, he was largely a defeated man. His pessimism and failure mirrored that of the nation’s citizens. America was a country in desperate need: in need of a charismatic leader to restore public confidence as well as provide concrete solutions to pull the economy out of the Great Depression.

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Whether he truly believed it or simply thought the American people wanted to hear it, Hoover continued to state publicly that the country was getting back on track. Listen as he speaks about the “Success of Recovery” at a campaign stop in Detroit, Michigan on October 22, 1932.


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