On a Great Humanitarian

We all know how the President responded to the Great Depression, right? It’s been thoroughly documented in the history books and in governmental archives. But, before we look at that in a little more detail, let’s remember the man himself.

The President was known for his business knowledge. He’d been in government for some time, and his reputation was unimpeachable. He’d served two previous administrations in the cabinet as a secretary. Before that, during World War 1, the President had led efforts to bring support to the people of Belgium as they suffered extreme food shortages from the effects of much of the war being fought on their territory–and this was even before the United States entered the conflict. His name became synonymous with humanitarian efforts when then-President Woodrow Wilson asked him to lead American efforts at bringing supplies to Europe to help rebuild after the devastation of the Great War. Thus, the man who worked to deal with the Great Depression seemed the perfect man for the job because he knew how to deal with crises.

So, what did the President do to try to overcome the effects of having almost 25% unemployment, the banking system in tatters, Wall Street and the entire business community rattled, and people’s lives on the edge? Well, we have to remember that, at that time, no administration had intervened in the economy before. It’s difficult to believe, but it is so. The American tradition was that business and government were separate, and, while elected officials could affect the economy with laws and guidelines, actually and actively working to stimulate the economy had not been tried before. And when the President did it to combat the economic downturn, many people thought it was tantamount to treason or communism.

No, he knew that to do nothing would be the worst thing for the country. He promised and delivered, in his words, “the most gigantic program of economic defense and [economic] counterattack ever evolved in the history of the Republic.” And so it was. He put the government to work on the economy like no other Chief Executive before him. Public works programs, support for the failing banks, low-interest loans to corporations, and he ordered companies to not lay off people (which was among the first things companies did when hard times hit) knowing that incomes were still needed. In short, he did all he could to make the situation better. What else would you expect from a great humanitarian? He knew what people were going through.

And he tried to calm people’s fears about the economy as well. He called in reporters to show how he continued his daily routines as if to say, “look, all is well. It’s going to be ok.” He even tried to allay fears by coining the term “Depression” to indicate that, like people at times, even the economy could become depressed, and that bright days were ahead.

Sadly, as we know, it didn’t work. His name became synonymous not with humanitarianism but, rather, with the Great Depression itself.

But you can’t say Herbert Hoover didn’t try.

On a President’s Companion

Murray “The Outlaw” Falahill isn’t a name that you’ll recognize readily, but people who lived through World War 2 knew of this Scot. Murray was one of those secret presidential companions who always seems to be at the center of power but who also remains largely unknown by the public. Murray entered the orbit of President Franklin D Roosevelt in 1940. He was brought into Roosevelt’s orbit by one of Roosevelt’s cousins, and the two became fast friends. Today, history tells us things about FDR that the public generally did not know at the time; for example, his many extramarital affairs were kept secret for many years. The fact that Roosevelt was effectively paralyzed from the waist down was also not publicly known. And it makes sense that there will be private relationships that people in power have that transcend politics and public scrutiny out of necessity. We all need someone close to us who we can confide in and be ourselves around outside of the public eye. Very quickly, Murray became this relationship for Roosevelt.

Murray soon traveled everywhere with Roosevelt. When Roosevelt went to his retreat in Warm Springs, Georgia, Murray went along. Murray also accompanied the president to Canada when FDR met with Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, to discuss the progress of the war in Europe. He journeyed with the presidential entourage to the Aleutian Islands one time. That’s when some information about Murray’s close friendship with Roosevelt almost cost the President. Someone in the press heard a rumor that Murray had been accidentally left behind in Alaska when the president’s traveling party returned to Washington. The rumor was that FDR sent a United States warship to Alaska to pick up Murray and bring him back at the cost of several million dollars that the US taxpayers would have to pay for. Now, remember that Murray had no official title in the Roosevelt administration. He was not an elected official. He was just Roosevelt’s companion. So, if this rumor were true, it would be a fairly good-sized scandal that Roosevelt would have to explain. Quickly, Roosevelt addressed the issue before it could turn into a scandal. In one of his radio addresses, he squashed the rumor without going into great detail by saying that no member of the President’s staff or family had been left behind in Alaska and therefore that no expense had been wasted on going back and picking up any member of the traveling party. Besides, FDR said, any Scot worth his or her salt would be appalled at such an expense.

Murray pretty much moved into the White House. One of his proclivities was that he preferred breakfast in bed, so the White House kitchen staff was always ready to make Murray’s favorite morning repast. He was around Roosevelt so much that, invariably, photos were taken that show him near the President. You can see him in those pictures today, and, at the time, nobody questioned his being there. When Roosevelt died in April 1945, Murray was with the President. And he was crushed because the two had become so close over the years. Eleanor, who spent a great deal of time with and became attached to Murray herself in the years after Franklin’s passing, said that Murray never really recovered from the death. He himself lived only 7 years after his friend.

When a statue honoring Franklin Roosevelt was unveiled in Washington, D.C., it depicted the President seated. And, to his right, is seated Murray—known better as Fala—Roosevelt’s trusted and beloved Scottish Terrier.

On a War-Time Ban

Our modern generation has “suffered” the inconvenience of supply-chain issues due to the Covid pandemic. We have only tasted the edge of what it is like to live in an extended time of rationing and shortages. During World War II (and also World War I, to some extent), rationing in the United States was mandated for several years. Several items during the war saw shortages, but it was only those commodities that were directly needed by the war effort that required rationing and the accompanying ration stamps.

Among the rationed items in the United States were gas, rubber (for tires), sugar, meat, and coffee. While most people hated rationing, most people also accepted it because, after all, it was the least they could do to support our fighting men and women in the “crusade” against Nazism and fascism. In fact, the rationing and shortages served to unify the nation in an odd way.

The federal government had been granted absolute authority to decide what items were to be rationed and what products could be manufactured and which ones were to be prohibited for the war’s duration. One such banned product caused an unusually loud outcry among the population when it was enacted in 1943. It was a product that had been ordered banned by the Secretary of Agriculture, a man named Claude Wickard.

Now, Wickard knew his stuff. He was from Indiana, farm country, and he had a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Purdue University. The state had decreed Wickard as a Master Farmer in the 1920s for his agricultural innovations and improvements for small farmers. He had served as an Undersecretary of Agriculture in the Hoover Administration and then was appointed Secretary of Agriculture in 1940. He would hold that post all during World War II. He is remembered for promoting the growing of Victory Gardens as a way for Americans to extend their food supplies during the years of shortages and rationing.

However, it was the incredibly unpopular ban in 1943 that Wickard is best remembered for. In an article, Time magazine described the terrible deprivation the ban created. It said that American housewives felt the ban, “was almost as bad as gas rationing and a whale of a lot more trouble.” The article went on to point out that, for American women, they had to “saw…grimly on. This war was getting pretty awful.”

Sounds terrible. What product would you think could cause such consternation among American women? In a letter to the editor of the the New York Times, an irate American pointed out how important this item was to the morale and “saneness” of the average American household. She lamented the days gone by when this product made her life worth living. New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia (yes, that LaGuardia) even got involved in the controversy, offering alternatives to the ban and saying that he would do all he could to intervene with Secretary Wickard to end the ban as soon as possible.

Wickard, for his part, pretended to ignore the uproar his ban had caused. He seemed to not notice the outcry. He pointed out the savings his ban would make and said that it was all necessary for the war effort. But the cries of housewives across America proved too incessant and the political pressure put on elected officials forced Wickard to retreat. He soon announced not that the ban was lifted because of the protests but, rather, that the supposed savings the ban was to provide did not in fact come to pass. Thus, he said, the ban was lifted.

Jubilation ensued. We don’t know if or what pressure Claud Wickard might have felt from Mrs. Wickard, but we know how happy she was, too, when her husband ended the ban.

And what was this product that every American housewife demanded to have during World War II?

Sliced bread.

On a Presidential Scion

Presidents having controversial children is not only a modern phenomenon. The scions of several presidents have been the stuff of shame over years.

We’re all familiar with the story of the president’s son who had the well-publicized issues with too many parties with Hollywood celebs and spending too much on addictive substances. Republicans complained loudly in the press that Democrats refused to hold their own children accountable. The son was accused of being involved in international drug smuggling, and even people in the president’s own party called for law enforcement to look into these accusations. Add to these issues the fact that people called for investigations into this particular man’s business dealings; there have been allegations that he used his influence inappropriately and that certain funds may have been illegally funneled into his firms. In addition, the son was accused of running scams, even scams against elderly people regarding their Social Security. All of this served to embarrass the president, certainly.

Born the son of privilege, sent to exclusive private schools, Ivy League law degree…you know the story. Early jobs were handed to him because of who his dad was in the federal government. All the while, the father insisted that the son earned his way into the positions, but everyone knew the real truth. He admitted that his name was his greatest asset, and he was never shy to use it when it benefitted him. It would seem that someone so blessed with position that his father’s prestige brought would at least attempt to live up to a certain standard. Certainly, his father would have asked that the son made better choices after having been raised the way he was with the benefits he received.

All of this was exacerbated by his closeness to his dad. The fact that the son visited his presidential father in the White House after “business trips” at the least was a bad look. If avoiding even the appearance of impropriety was important, this was not the way to go about things. Media outlets clamored for explanations, but the White House press secretary refused to even entertain questions about the discussions between father and son. Again, not a good look for either man.

The Securities and Exchange Commission got involved in looking at some of the son’s questionable financial dealings. International financial irregularities can often be used to dodge taxes, so they pay special attention to any whiff of something even a little bit unusual. It didn’t help that many of the son’s financial dealings overseas had to do with people who went to prison for illegal financial activities. Even the normally lenient economic investigation unit of the Swiss government looked into some of the deals because of their suspicious nature.

Then there’s the women. Accusations of affairs dogged the son. A police report was made when one of the women stabbed the man as he tried to leave her place one time. These various women birthed at least six children by this son.

And what did his father have to say about this embarrassing son?

After bravely saving the lives of three men under enemy fire in the Pacific Theater, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said that his son, Major James R. Roosevelt, exhibited “gallant conduct and inspiring devotion to duty,” when he awarded James the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism during World War 2.