ANTHONY J. BADGER. FDR: The First Hundred Days. New York: Hill & Wang, 2008. Pp. 224. $15.00. Hardback. ISBN: 0809044412.
In FDR: The First Hundred Days, political historian, British academic, and expert on the New Deal Anthony John Badger offers a chronological and topical analysis of law and politics during the first one hundred days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first presidential term, from his inauguration on Saturday March 4, 1933, to Friday, June 16, of the same year. FDR is Badger’s fifth book on the New Deal era. The volume is a slim, critical, and purposeful synthesis prepared for the seventy-fifth anniversary of Roosevelt’s First Hundred Days in office. Badger includes an introduction, six chapters—each based on a distinct set of Depression-related issues and the specific pieces of legislation designed to address them—a conclusion, and a bibliographic essay, but no citations. This latter fact, in combination with the trade publisher Hill & Wang, indicates that Badger’s primary interest in FDR is reaching a popular audience.
Badger opens FDR with a discussion of the mythology surrounding the legacy of Roosevelt’s First Hundred Days. Roosevelt entered the Oval Office in the midst of the worst financial Depression America had seen. In the spring of 1933, the unemployment rate was around 25%; farmers were overproducing and glutting the market; industries were suffering from low profits and over-competition; rural people were being chocked by private utility companies; Congress was gridlocked; and the banks were closed, unable to restore the faith of their investors and depositors. In FDR, Badger praises Roosevelt and his largely academic team’s deliberate responses to these problems without subscribing to deification. He says Roosevelt used the patriotic analogy of a wartime invasion to secure unprecedented powers from Congress and expediently pass “sixteen major pieces of legislation,” most of which never would have passed the bicameral legislature in a non-emergency situation. With this legislation, FDR:
“gave the federal government the power to decide which banks should or should not reopen, to regulate the Stock Exchange, to determine the gold value of the dollar, to prescribe 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.”
But these achievements, as well as Badger’s sources, are nothing new to scholars. Rather, FDR’s success lies in Badger’s pithy style and crisp prose, how he cuts through modern, “polarized historical interpretations” regarding the First Hundred Days. In an excellent 20-page conclusion, Badger debunks the politicized narratives, showing the First Hundred Days was not a “missed opportunity” to smother capitalism as radical Leftists sometimes think. It was not the cause of a delayed recovery to the Depression and the formation of an unstoppable federal Leviathan, as economic historians often argue. Finally, it was neither the panacea of a savior, like Democrats believe, nor the anti-business propaganda of a dictator, as right-wing critics claim. Rather, the First Hundred Days was something much more hectic, complex, collaborative, incoherent, and pragmatic, all at the same time.
Anthony J. Badger, FDR: The First Hundred Days (New York: Hill & Wang, 2008), xiii.