Hundred Days

views updated May 23 2018


On March 4, 1933, Franklin Roosevelt returned to the White House after his inaugural, and Mrs. Roosevelt served hot dogs for the lunch guests. The president then reviewed the inauguration parade, giving pride of place on the stand to Mrs. Woodrow Wilson and the surviving members of the Wilson administration. While the band played the "Franklin D. Roosevelt Inauguration March," composed by the new secretary of the treasury, William Woodin, the incoming attorney general, Homer Cummings, studied the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917. He decided that it could be used to close the banks and to halt the shipment of gold out of the country. Holdover Republican officials closeted with Roosevelt's advisers worked round the clock to find some method of reopening the nation's banks. The country's banking system had come to a halt when the governors of New York and Illinois had bowed to the inevitable and closed their state's banks in the early morning of inauguration day. On Sunday evening, Roosevelt signed proclamations closing the banks and called Congress into special session. By early Tuesday morning Woodin and Ray Moley had agreed that they should implement the plans outlined by departing Republican officials for reopening and reorganizing the banks, that they should make a "tremendous gesture" for economy in government, and that Roosevelt should make a "man to man appeal" for public confidence.


By the time Congress came into session on Thursday, March 9, the chairman of the House Banking Committee only had one copy of the bill that had finally been drafted at 3:00 that morning. He "came down the center aisle of the House waving this thing. 'Here is this bill, let's pass it'." And the House passed it in forty minutes. The Senate was more deliberate but had still passed it by 8:30 that evening. Two days later the House voted to give the president the power he asked for to cut and to reform veterans' benefits and to cut federal salaries. On Sunday Roosevelt gave his first fireside chat explaining the banking crisis and how banks would reopen. The next day the first ones did.

Roosevelt had not originally intended that Congress should stay in session past the ten days that it took to reopen the banks. But by the time Congress assembled he had been persuaded to take advantage of Congress's presence and ask for farm legislation and unemployment relief. The opportunity to develop recovery and reform legislation as quickly as possible was irresistible. By the time Congress finally adjourned on June 16, the first one hundred days of the Roosevelt administration had produced sixteen major pieces of legislation. The cantankerous Congress, which had been gridlocked in bitter recrimination with the outgoing president, responded enthusiastically to the appeals of the new president. The politicians laid aside previous divisions, discarded long-held principles, and both grasped for themselves and gave to the executive vast, often unspecified powers, unheard of in peacetime. The federal government was given the power to decide which banks should reopen, to regulate the stock exchange, to determine the gold value of the dollar, to prescribe minimum wages and prices, to pay farmers not to produce, to pay money to the unemployed, to plan and regenerate a whole river basin across six states, to spend billions of dollars on public works, and to underwrite credit for bankers, homeowners, and farmers.

These first "Hundred Days" of the New Deal have served as a model for future presidents of bold leadership and executive legislative harmony. Jimmy Carter's adviser Stuart Eizenstat noted that since Roosevelt "the first hundred days of an administration have been closely watched as a sign of what can be expected over the course of the entire administration." Richard Nixon, conscious that the "dam against criticism" would come crashing down after a hundred days, created a "100 days group" that would push departments to bring in legislative proposals by the twelve-week deadline so that a "First Quarter Report" could be produced to show that the administration had met the hundred-day "test." But Arthur Schlesinger warned of the hundred-day "trap." "Roosevelt's 100 days was," he said "a unique episode which grew out of a unique crisis." What were the particular circumstances that enabled Roosevelt, but not subsequent presidents, to exercise such bold leadership and to command such congressional support?


The unprecedented scale of the economic catastrophe faced by the United States led many to equate the position with war and to turn to the model of 1917, when the federal government had exercised vast emergency powers to mobilize men and resources to fight a European war. The passage in Roosevelt's inaugural address that drew the most sustained applause was his promise that if Congress did not act, he would ask Congress for "broad executive power to wage war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe." Roosevelt and his advisers turned to old wartime statutes to handle the new crisis. They consciously modeled new action agencies, such as the National Recovery Administration (NRA), on wartime predecessors. They used the emergency as the constitutional rationale for bold new powers. Men and women who had had their first taste of public life running those wartime agencies returned to Washington in 1933 from private life to sign on for the duration.

This need for action in an emergency and the willingness to contemplate dictatorial powers for a president certainly infused Congress in the first days of the Roosevelt administration. Republican minority leader Bertrand Snell said of the banking bill, "The house is burning down and the president of the United States says this is the way to put out the fire. And to me, at this time, there is only one way to answer that question and that is to give the president what he demands and says is necessary to meet the situation."

But more conventional politics also assisted the president. The Democrats enjoyed healthy majorities in both houses of Congress: 311 to 116 in the House, 60 to 35 in the Senate. They also confronted a Republican opposition that was split between a progressive wing prepared to support many New Deal measures, particularly those assisting farmers, and a stand-pat conservative faction for whom the New Deal was anathema. Many members of Congress had been elected for the first time in 1932, but congressional leadership was in the hands of skilled and experienced southern Democrats. They were loyal party men, particularly comfortable with measures, such as financial regulation, that they could interpret as the legacy of Wilsonian reform. They were anxious to build a legislative record, and they were personally friendly to Roosevelt, whose nomination most of them had supported in opposition to the hated Al Smith. From his time in Washington under Wilson to his stays at Warm Springs, Roosevelt had, in turn, established a warm and personal rapport with these congressmen, and he never underestimated their almost limitless susceptibility to presidential flattery. In addition, the traditional patronage available to any new administration was vastly increased by the proliferation of emergency agencies. The prospect of these jobs kept many congressmen in line, especially since most of them were not filled until the end of the Hundred Days.

But constituency pressure pushed Congress into line with the legislation of the Hundred Days. The desperate unemployed and farmers and homeowners threatened with eviction demanded help. Roosevelt quickly demonstrated his ability to inspire ordinary Americans. He cultivated the press. He held the first of 377 press conferences on March 8. The relaxed and informal gathering in his office was in stark contrast to the suspicion and distance created by Herbert Hoover. As one journalist noted, "in that first sitting . . . the new president gave the correspondents more sensational news than some of his predecessors had handed out in four years." The hardboiled newsmen were bowled over and spontaneously applauded. Roosevelt's first fireside chat on March 12 even more effectively spoke over the heads of Washington politicians directly to the American people. The president took great care to make his case to an audience he envisaged sitting round the fireside. His preparations were meticulous: the right angle of the microphone, a false tooth to close a gap in his two lower front teeth, the speed of delivery (about one hundred words a minute), and the language (over three quarters of the words were among the thousand most commonly used). The people responded: Over 450,000 wrote to the White House in the first week.

Congress however was not browbeaten into blanket submission to Roosevelt. In the first place, there was no presidential masterplan for the Hundred Days. Much was piecemeal and opportunistic: seeking the repeal of prohibition, for example, to soften the unpopularity of the Economy Act. Much was inserted by Congress: inflationary measures in the Agricultural Adjustment Act and the federal insurance of bank deposits. The great National Industrial Recovery Act was prompted by the likely passage of the Black thirty-hour bill, which Roosevelt considered unworkable. Roosevelt set his advisers on the task of pulling together existing recovery proposals into an administration proposal. The great recovery measures in agriculture and industry were largely enabling measures: The farm act and the recovery act laid out sometimes contradictory policy options. Which options would be adopted would depend on the administrators. Other more presidentially inspired measures, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), were hurried onto the statute book to take advantage of the favorable political climate.

The passage of legislation was certainly helped by the relative weakness of organized interest groups. Labor was enfeebled, farmers were divided, and businessmen, especially bankers, were discredited. Roosevelt faced down the veterans' lobby with Republican support. It is difficult to think that a regional authority like the TVA could have been created if the individual southern states had not been in such a weak position. Nevertheless, the vast powers given to the federal government were circumscribed. The federal government simply lacked the "state capacity" to implement coercive centralized measures; it lacked both the bureaucracy and the information to drive through top-down programs. Bankers would have to provide advice on which banks could be reopened; farmers would have to administer the production control programs; businessmen would have to staff the NRA code authorities; and the states would have to administer the relief program.

Some of the prominent figures in the Hundred Days—Harry Hopkins, Henry Wallace, and Harold Ickes—would still be central figures in the Roosevelt government when the president died in 1945. Others who survived, like Henry Morgenthau, Jr., and Frances Perkins, played a relatively minor role in the early months of the New Deal. By contrast, some key players in the Hundred Days would quickly pass from the stage or from the good graces of the administration: Brains Truster Ray Moley; the advocate of rigid economy Lewis Douglas; the protege of Bernard Baruch Hugh Johnson; the Wilsonian warhorse Daniel Roper—all were influential in 1933 but played little role afterwards.

In a similar vein, the Hundred Days bought relief for the unemployed, the protection of labor standards, farm price supports, liberalized credit for homeowners and farmers, public works spending, securities regulation, and the TVA. But they also bought measures designed to slash government spending, to increase the tax burden through regressive excise taxes, and to foster business-government cooperation. It was unclear at the end of the Hundred Days whether the former or the latter would be the force of the New Deal future.



Freidel, Frank B. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Vol. 4: Launching the New Deal. 1973.

Sargent, James E. Roosevelt and the Hundred Days: Struggle for the Early New Deal. 1981.

Tony Badger

Hundred Days

views updated May 29 2018


After being forced to unconditionally abdicate on 6 April 1814, deposed Emperor Napoleon I left France for exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba. Restoration of the Bourbon regime followed when Austria, Russia, Prussia, and Great Britain placed the exiled Louis XVIII on the French throne. His subjects welcomed the time to recover from the bloody wars of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras that had cost millions of lives. The Bourbons offered the peace so desired by the French people, and the victorious powers believed that France's ancient ruling family would show its gratitude by being pliant in matters of foreign affairs. With France tired of war and a submissive ruler on its throne, the Allies believed that a peace based on sound principles could be concluded to restore the European balance.

Unfortunately for the well-intentioned but lackluster king, attempts to bolster his popularity by granting a liberal constitution failed because of deep-rooted popular suspicion of the Bourbons. Louis was despised. Among those groups most disaffected, the peasants feared the redistribution of land to compensate the nobles for land lost during the Revolution. Although the French government did not intend to comply with the resonant demands of this special interest group, the peasantry feared being betrayed by the Bourbons. Always a favorite among the peasants regardless of his crushing taxes and the wars that devoured their young, Napoleon became increasingly viewed as the guarantor of their land and thus of the Revolution.

Learning of the growing discontent in France, Napoleon escaped from Elba on 26 February 1815 in a great gamble to restore his empire. Escorted by one thousand soldiers, he landed in France near Antibes on 1 March. From Paris, Louis issued countless orders for Napoleon's arrest, but increasing numbers of soldiers joined their former emperor. Parisian mobs added to the king's discomfiture by rioting and posting placards calling for the death of the Bourbons. With Napoleon only one march away from the capital, the Bourbon court fled to Belgium. On the following evening, 20 March, Napoleon entered Paris, restored the empire, and began the Hundred Days: 20 March to 22 June 1815.

Napoleon found that the political climate had irrevocably changed, despite the popular support he received in Paris. In his absence, many former disciples had adopted the tenets of liberalism with its premium on constitutional government. Consequently, he failed to establish absolutist control over the government. In fact, a parliamentary system appeared to be the only means of establishing national unity. Yet the new era of political parties made it difficult to avoid alienating the various factions. Thus, when the new constitution formally established a parliamentary government on 23 April 1815, both leftists and conservatives felt slighted.

Napoleon's genius might well have enabled him to navigate these troubled waters had war not disturbed his work. By 1815 he was willing to accept being ruler of France rather than master of Europe. Despite his attempts to secure peace with the Allied powers, the Allies branded him "an Enemy and Disturber of the tranquility of the World." On 25 March, Austria, Russia, Prussia, and Great Britain each agreed to furnish an army of 150,000 men and not lay down arms "until Bonaparte shall have been put absolutely beyond the possibility of exciting disturbances and of renewing his attempts to seize the supreme power in France."

Following his decisive defeat at Waterloo on 18 June, the French legislature demanded his abdication; Napoleon conceded on 22 June. He left the capital and retired to his home of Malmaison as the French legislature carried on the war. As Allied armies converged on Paris, the former emperor offered his services to the French government as a mere general, but was rebuffed. To speed Napoleon out of the country, the French government placed at his disposal a frigate in the port of Rochefort. Hoping to reach the United States, Napoleon arrived in Rochefort on 3 July—the same day that Paris capitulated—only to find the port blockaded by a British fleet. Learning that Louis had returned to Paris on 8 July and issued orders for his arrest, Napoleon sought amnesty with the British, and even thought they might allow him to settle in Great Britain. The British dashed this hope by imprisoning him on the rocky island of St. Helena in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean. By not executing the former emperor, as the Prussians desired, the British did not create a martyr for anti-Bourbonists to rally around. Far removed from Europe, Napoleon had no chance to repeat his escape from Elba. He died a prisoner on St. Helena on 5 May 1821.

See alsoNapoleon; Restoration; Waterloo; Wellington, Duke of (Arthur Wellesley).


Primary Sources

Brett-James, A., comp., ed., and trans. The Hundred Days: Napoleon's Last Campaign from Eyewitness Accounts. London, 1964.

Secondary Sources

Chandler, David. Waterloo: The Hundred Days. London, 1980.

Schom, Alan. One Hundred Days: Napoleon's Road to Waterloo. New York, 1992.

Michael V. Leggiere

hundred days

views updated May 14 2018

hundred days (March 20–June 28, 1815) Period between the escape of Napoleon I from Elba and the second restoration of Louis XVIII, following the Allied victory at Waterloo. The term has since been applied to other politically signficant periods of about that duration, notably the early months of Franklin Roosevelt's presidency in the USA (1933).