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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.unsv.com. 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.

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This is program #181

罗斯福1933年3月的就职演说给千百万美国人带来了希望。这位新总统承诺,要同摧毁美国经济的大萧条展开较量。就职仪式还没结束,罗斯福的政府就已经开始投入工作了。当时,美国新当选的总统是在3月而不是1月宣誓就职。当罗斯福和他的夫人埃莉诺观看传统的就职典礼大游行时,他的助手们已经在干活了。那天,华盛顿的联邦政府大楼到很晚还灯火通明。

而且不仅在那天晚上,后来的许多夜晚都是如此。国家处于危机之中,政府官员当然有许多工作要做。罗斯福在上台后的三个月里大刀阔斧,干劲十足。他在这短短三个月里让国会通过的重要法案比以往大部分总统在整个任期内通过的重要法案还多。今天,人们把这三个月称为罗斯福的"百日新政"。

1933年3月5日是个星期天,也是罗斯福宣誓就职的第二天。罗斯福要求国会过几天召开特别会议,还下令全国所有银行在经济好转前关门停业。此外,罗斯福还禁止向外国出口黄金。国会应罗斯福的要求于星期四开会,通过了这位新总统提出的所有建议。参众两院用了不到8小时就通过了罗斯福提出的严格的新银行法,当天,罗斯福就在法案上签字,使之成为法律。

第二天,也就是星期五,罗斯福要求国会削减联邦政府开支。同样的,国会马上开会,批准了总统的要求。星期天晚上,罗斯福通过广播向全国人民发表讲话,他那温暖而有力的声音传到千百万个美国家庭,给人们带来了希望。人们觉得,他们可以再次信任美国的银行和政治领导人了。

星期一,罗斯福要求国会立法,允许销售啤酒和葡萄酒,并向销售者征税。当时,美国全国是有禁酒令的,但是,国会再一次同意了罗斯福的要求。罗斯福成功通过一系列法案的事让全国兴奋不已。人们瞪大了眼睛,吃惊地看着这位新总统取得一个又一个的胜利。

首都华盛顿一片繁忙景象,空气中都充满了活力,就像雷雨时的天空一样电闪雷鸣,气象万千。全国各地的人涌向华盛顿,要求政府支持他们的想法。成千上万的银行家来到这里,希望政府通过对他们有利的法案。各个领域的专家也纷纷为挽救经济出谋划策。

来自英国、法国、巴西、智利、中国和许多其他国家的大使也来到华盛顿,与罗斯福讨论经济和外交问题。成千上万名罗斯福所在的民主党的成员也涌到华盛顿,想在新政府中找工作。美国人密切注视着华盛顿所发生的一切,并为他们所看到的感到高兴。他们选罗斯福就是为了能有一个有所作为的政府,而现在,罗斯福没有让他们失望。

需要新政府采取行动的一个最重要领域是农业。美国农民在大萧条中受到的冲击最大,他们的人均收入在三年中从每年162美元下降到只有48美元,农产品价格下降了百分之55, 农民的平均购买力下降超过一半。许多农民一年所挣的还不足以购买工具和种子。

造成这些问题的主要原因是农产品过剩。美国农民生产了太多的谷物、肉类和棉花,导致价格持续低迷。对生活在城市里的农产品消费者来说,这是好消息,但对于生产这些农产品的农民来说,这却是一个灾难。政府对谷物征收一项新税,这就提高了谷物价格,降低了人们对谷物的需求量。联邦政府付钱给棉农,让他们毁掉一些棉花地。同时,政府还收购并杀死了五百万头猪,减少市场肉类的供给量。

这些做法看上去很奇怪。有些美国人不明白为什么只有销毁一些食物才能让人们都有饭吃。但是,更多官员认识到,这是唯一可以限制农产品产量、提高农产品价格和挽救农民的办法。这项计划奏效了,农业产量迅速下降,1933年和1934年炎热天气和糟糕的收成使谷物产量进一步下降。结果,农产品价格上涨,农民的收入在四年中提高了百分之50。

联邦政府还采取措施解决工业产量下降的问题。罗斯福宣誓就职时,美国工业产量在短短四年中已经下降了一半多,企业主只好降低成本。他们减薪,裁员,但这么做只能让有钱消费的人越来越少,于是工业产量一降再降。

罗斯福成立了全国复兴管理局,寻求与企业界的合作。许多企业主同意遵守诸如限制工人工作时间,提高工资,停止雇佣童工等规定,还同意改善工作环境,并与工会合作。与此同时,罗斯福又成立了公共工程管理局,专门为失业工人创造就业岗位,让他们去修建大坝、桥梁、河道和其它大型的公共设施。

在货币政策上,罗斯福和国会决定:美元不能再与黄金价格挂钩。联邦政府采取的其它行动还包括通过住房所有者法案,帮助许多美国人借钱还贷,从而保住他们的房子;还有就是通过银行保险法,使美国人不会再失去他们的银行储蓄。这项法律极大提高了公众对银行的信任。

罗斯福和国会还成立了民间资源保护队,召募年轻人到农村去保护国家的自然资源。这些年轻人种植树木,改善国家公园的环境。他们还和农民一起,发展种植技术,保护土壤,抵御风沙和雨水的侵袭。

罗斯福最具创意的政府项目之一是改善美国南部田纳西州周围的环境。田纳西河流域是一个非常贫穷的地区,那里的农民几乎没有电,林子里树木稀少,经常闹洪水。罗斯福和国会决定一个项目,把这些问题一并解决。新的田纳西河流域管理局修建大坝、清理河道,拓展森林,提供电力,成功地帮助了这一地区的农民,创造了新的生活和希望。

罗斯福政府头三个月的"百日新政"取得了巨大成功。《纽约时报》一位记者形容说,从胡佛到罗斯福的过渡,就好像是从一匹行动迟缓的马,一下子改成了坐飞机。突然之间,整个国家都活动起来了,各个地方都生气勃勃。

记者弗雷德里克.艾伦曾这样描述当时的情况:罗斯福的做法与胡佛的做法截然不同。罗斯福的政策不是防御,而是进攻。罗斯福更愿意扩大政府职能,大多数新法都是为了给"普通人"谋福利,财富的创造也不再是自上而下,而是自下而上。

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