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#181: Roosevelt's 'Hundred Days'

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DOUG JOHNSON: Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English. I'm Doug Johnson with Mario Ritter. This week in our series, we talk about the first one hundred days of the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt.

Roosevelt's inauguration speech in March of nineteen thirty-three gave hope to millions of Americans. The new president promised to fight the Great Depression that was crushing the economy.

His administration launched into action even before the inauguration ceremonies were finished. Back then, newly elected presidents were sworn into office in March instead of January.

Roosevelt's aides began work even as he and his wife, Eleanor, watched the traditional Inaugural Parade. The lights of Washington's federal office buildings burned late that night.

And not just on that night, but the next night and the next night, too. The nation was in crisis. There was much work to do.

MARIO RITTER: The first three months of Franklin Roosevelt's administration were an exciting time. Roosevelt got Congress to pass more pieces of important legislation during this short period than most presidents pass during their entire term. These three months are remembered today as the "Hundred Days."

Sunday, March fifth, was the day after the inauguration. Roosevelt asked Congress to begin a special meeting later that week. And he ordered all the nation's banks to close until the economy improved. Roosevelt also banned the export of gold.

Congress met on Thursday, as Roosevelt had asked. It passed everything that the new president wanted. Both the House and Senate approved Roosevelt's strong new banking laws in less than eight hours. Roosevelt signed the bills into law the same day.

DOUG JOHNSON: The next day, Friday, Roosevelt called on Congress to cut federal spending. Once again, Congress met and approved Roosevelt's request immediately.

Two nights later, Roosevelt spoke to the nation in a radio speech. His warm, powerful voice traveled to millions of homes. He gave many listeners the hope that they could once again trust their banks and political leaders.

On Monday, Roosevelt called on Congress to make it legal to sell beer and wine and to tax those sales. At that time there was a national ban on alcohol. But once again Congress agreed.

Roosevelt's success in passing these laws excited the nation. People across the country watched in wonder as the new president fought and won battle after battle.

MARIO RITTER: Washington was filled with activity. The air was full of energy, like a country sky during an electrical storm. People from around the country rushed to the capital to urge the administration to support their ideas.

Bankers came by the thousands to win favorable legislation. Experts of all kinds offered new ideas on how to rescue the economy. Ambassadors came from Britain, France, Brazil, Chile, China and many other countries. They came to speak with Roosevelt on economic and diplomatic issues.

And members of Roosevelt's Democratic Party arrived by the thousands. They came to seek jobs in the new administration.

Americans watched closely what was happening in Washington. And they liked what they saw. They had voted for action. Now, Roosevelt was giving them action.

DOUG JOHNSON: One of the most important areas of action for the new administration was agriculture. American farmers had been hurt more than any other group by the economic depression.

The average income of American farmers had dropped in three years from one hundred sixty-two dollars a year to just forty-eight dollars. Farm prices had fallen fifty-five percent. The buying power of the average farmer had dropped by more than half.

Many farmers could not even earn enough money to pay for their tools and seed.

The main cause of the problems for farmers was that they were producing too much. There was too much grain, too much meat, too much cotton. As a result, prices stayed low. The situation was good for people in cities who bought farm products. But it was a disaster for the farmers who produced those products.

MARIO RITTER: Franklin Roosevelt attacked the problem by limiting production. His administration put a new tax on grain products. The tax increased their price and reducing demand. The administration paid cotton farmers to destroy some of their crops. And it bought and killed five million pigs to reduce the amount of meat on the market.

It was a strange situation. Some Americans had trouble understanding the economic reason why food had to be destroyed so people could have enough to eat. But more officials agreed that this was the only way to limit supply, raise prices and save farmers.

The plan worked. Production quickly fell. Hot weather and bad harvests in nineteen thirty-three and nineteen thirty-four reduced the amount of grain even more. As a result, prices rose. Farm income increased fifty percent in four years.

DOUG JOHNSON: The administration also attacked the problem of falling industrial production.

At the time of Roosevelt's inauguration, the production of American goods had fallen by more than half in just four years. Business owners reacted by cutting their costs. They lowered wages and reduced their number of workers. But these actions only reduced the number of people with enough money to buy goods. And so production went down further and further.

Roosevelt created a National Recovery Administration that sought to gain the cooperation of businesses. Many business owners agreed to follow codes or rules such as limiting the number of hours people could work. They also agreed to raise wages and to stop hiring child labor. And they agreed to improve working conditions and to cooperate with labor unions.

At the same time, Roosevelt created a Public Works Administration to provide jobs to unemployed workers. The federal government put people to work on building dams, bridges, water systems and other major projects.

A Public Works Administration building project in Washington
A Public Works Administration building project in Washington

MARIO RITTER: On monetary policy, Roosevelt and the Congress decided that the dollar should no longer be tied to the price of gold.

Other action in Washington included a bill for homeowners that helped many Americans borrow money to save their homes. And a bank insurance bill guaranteed that Americans would not lose their savings. This insurance greatly increased public faith in the banks.

Roosevelt and Congress created a Civilian Conservation Corps to put young men to work in rural areas to protect the nation's natural resources. These young men did things like plant trees and improve parks. They also worked with farmers to develop farming methods that help protect the soil against wind and rain.

DOUG JOHNSON: One of Roosevelt's most creative projects was a plan to improve the area around the southern state of Tennessee. The Tennessee River Valley was a very poor area. Few farms had electricity. Forests were thin. Floods were common.

Roosevelt and Congress decided to attack all of these problems with a single project. The new Tennessee Valley Authority built dams, cleared rivers, expanded forests and provided electricity. It succeeded in helping farmers throughout the area, creating new life and hope.

MARIO RITTER: The "Hundred Days" -- the first three months of the Roosevelt administration -- were a great success. One reporter for the New York Times observed that the change from President Herbert Hoover to Franklin Roosevelt was like a man moving from a slow horse to an airplane. Suddenly, the nation was moving again. There was action everywhere.

Journalist Frederick Allen described the situation this way. The difference between Roosevelt's program and the Hoover program was sharp. Roosevelt's program was not a program of defense, but of attack. There was a new willingness to expand the limits of government. In most of the laws, there was a new push for the good of the "common man." There was a new effort to build wealth from the bottom up, rather than from the top down.

(MUSIC)

DOUG JOHNSON: Our program was written by David Jarmul. I'm Doug Johnson with Mario Ritter. You can find our series online with pictures, transcripts, MP3s and podcasts at www.666321.live. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- an American history series in VOA Special English.

___

This is program #181

羅斯福1933年3月的就職演說給千百萬美國人帶來了希望。這位新總統承諾,要同摧毀美國經濟的大蕭條展開較量。就職儀式還沒結束,羅斯福的政府就已經開始投入工作了。當時,美國新當選的總統是在3月而不是1月宣誓就職。當羅斯福和他的夫人埃莉諾觀看傳統的就職典禮大游行時,他的助手們已經在干活了。那天,華盛頓的聯邦政府大樓到很晚還燈火通明。

而且不僅在那天晚上,后來的許多夜晚都是如此。國家處于危機之中,政府官員當然有許多工作要做。羅斯福在上臺后的三個月里大刀闊斧,干勁十足。他在這短短三個月里讓國會通過的重要法案比以往大部分總統在整個任期內通過的重要法案還多。今天,人們把這三個月稱為羅斯福的"百日新政"。

1933年3月5日是個星期天,也是羅斯福宣誓就職的第二天。羅斯福要求國會過幾天召開特別會議,還下令全國所有銀行在經濟好轉前關門停業。此外,羅斯福還禁止向外國出口黃金。國會應羅斯福的要求于星期四開會,通過了這位新總統提出的所有建議。參眾兩院用了不到8小時就通過了羅斯福提出的嚴格的新銀行法,當天,羅斯福就在法案上簽字,使之成為法律。

第二天,也就是星期五,羅斯福要求國會削減聯邦政府開支。同樣的,國會馬上開會,批準了總統的要求。星期天晚上,羅斯福通過廣播向全國人民發表講話,他那溫暖而有力的聲音傳到千百萬個美國家庭,給人們帶來了希望。人們覺得,他們可以再次信任美國的銀行和政治領導人了。

星期一,羅斯福要求國會立法,允許銷售啤酒和葡萄酒,并向銷售者征稅。當時,美國全國是有禁酒令的,但是,國會再一次同意了羅斯福的要求。羅斯福成功通過一系列法案的事讓全國興奮不已。人們瞪大了眼睛,吃驚地看著這位新總統取得一個又一個的勝利。

首都華盛頓一片繁忙景象,空氣中都充滿了活力,就像雷雨時的天空一樣電閃雷鳴,氣象萬千。全國各地的人涌向華盛頓,要求政府支持他們的想法。成千上萬的銀行家來到這里,希望政府通過對他們有利的法案。各個領域的專家也紛紛為挽救經濟出謀劃策。

來自英國、法國、巴西、智利、中國和許多其他國家的大使也來到華盛頓,與羅斯福討論經濟和外交問題。成千上萬名羅斯福所在的民主黨的成員也涌到華盛頓,想在新政府中找工作。美國人密切注視著華盛頓所發生的一切,并為他們所看到的感到高興。他們選羅斯福就是為了能有一個有所作為的政府,而現在,羅斯福沒有讓他們失望。

需要新政府采取行動的一個最重要領域是農業。美國農民在大蕭條中受到的沖擊最大,他們的人均收入在三年中從每年162美元下降到只有48美元,農產品價格下降了百分之55, 農民的平均購買力下降超過一半。許多農民一年所掙的還不足以購買工具和種子。

造成這些問題的主要原因是農產品過剩。美國農民生產了太多的谷物、肉類和棉花,導致價格持續低迷。對生活在城市里的農產品消費者來說,這是好消息,但對于生產這些農產品的農民來說,這卻是一個災難。政府對谷物征收一項新稅,這就提高了谷物價格,降低了人們對谷物的需求量。聯邦政府付錢給棉農,讓他們毀掉一些棉花地。同時,政府還收購并殺死了五百萬頭豬,減少市場肉類的供給量。

這些做法看上去很奇怪。有些美國人不明白為什么只有銷毀一些食物才能讓人們都有飯吃。但是,更多官員認識到,這是唯一可以限制農產品產量、提高農產品價格和挽救農民的辦法。這項計劃奏效了,農業產量迅速下降,1933年和1934年炎熱天氣和糟糕的收成使谷物產量進一步下降。結果,農產品價格上漲,農民的收入在四年中提高了百分之50。

聯邦政府還采取措施解決工業產量下降的問題。羅斯福宣誓就職時,美國工業產量在短短四年中已經下降了一半多,企業主只好降低成本。他們減薪,裁員,但這么做只能讓有錢消費的人越來越少,于是工業產量一降再降。

羅斯福成立了全國復興管理局,尋求與企業界的合作。許多企業主同意遵守諸如限制工人工作時間,提高工資,停止雇傭童工等規定,還同意改善工作環境,并與工會合作。與此同時,羅斯福又成立了公共工程管理局,專門為失業工人創造就業崗位,讓他們去修建大壩、橋梁、河道和其它大型的公共設施。

在貨幣政策上,羅斯福和國會決定:美元不能再與黃金價格掛鉤。聯邦政府采取的其它行動還包括通過住房所有者法案,幫助許多美國人借錢還貸,從而保住他們的房子;還有就是通過銀行保險法,使美國人不會再失去他們的銀行儲蓄。這項法律極大提高了公眾對銀行的信任。

羅斯福和國會還成立了民間資源保護隊,召募年輕人到農村去保護國家的自然資源。這些年輕人種植樹木,改善國家公園的環境。他們還和農民一起,發展種植技術,保護土壤,抵御風沙和雨水的侵襲。

羅斯福最具創意的政府項目之一是改善美國南部田納西州周圍的環境。田納西河流域是一個非常貧窮的地區,那里的農民幾乎沒有電,林子里樹木稀少,經常鬧洪水。羅斯福和國會決定一個項目,把這些問題一并解決。新的田納西河流域管理局修建大壩、清理河道,拓展森林,提供電力,成功地幫助了這一地區的農民,創造了新的生活和希望。

羅斯福政府頭三個月的"百日新政"取得了巨大成功?!都~約時報》一位記者形容說,從胡佛到羅斯福的過渡,就好像是從一匹行動遲緩的馬,一下子改成了坐飛機。突然之間,整個國家都活動起來了,各個地方都生氣勃勃。

記者弗雷德里克.艾倫曾這樣描述當時的情況:羅斯福的做法與胡佛的做法截然不同。羅斯福的政策不是防御,而是進攻。羅斯福更愿意擴大政府職能,大多數新法都是為了給"普通人"謀福利,財富的創造也不再是自上而下,而是自下而上。

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