The American West: Roosevelt’s New Deal Policy

A historical look at the New Deal Policy’s effect on the American West during the Great Depression.

  • Depression-Era California
    In the first two years of the New Deal, there were huge, violent strikes in the state’s Central Valley, in the irrigated Eden of its southeastern desert, and on the coastal wharves.
    Photo by Fotolia/noel moore
  • Right Out of California
    “Right Out of California,” by Kathryn S. Olmsted, tells the story of the Great Depression’s effect on California and its effects on modern America.
    Cover courtesy The New Press

  • Depression-Era California
  • Right Out of California

How did the Great Depression and other historical events in the 1930s affect the state of California and the American nation? Right Out of California (The New Press, 2015), by Kathryn S. Olmsted, reassesses modern conservatism and reexamines labor disputes in the agricultural fields of Depression-era California while noting their historical significance and importance. This excerpt, which describes Roosevelt’s New Deal Policy and how it affected California as well as the entire United States, is from the Introduction.

Herbert Hoover’s New Deal Policy

When Herbert Hoover went through his mail in the summer of 1933, he grew steadily more furious about the policies of the man who replaced him in the White House. Ensconced in his modernist mansion in the hills above Stanford University, where he had retreated after his recent defeat, Hoover wrote one bitter letter after another to his fellow Western businessmen about the shortcomings of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Roosevelt trafficked in “constant misrepresentations and illusions,” Hoover seethed; the president’s New Deal policies would lead to the “destruction of the savings of the people” and the “impoverishment of the country.” In fact, Roosevelt was just using the Depression as “an excuse for imposing socialism under new euphemistic phrases.”

Contemplating Roosevelt’s policies, Hoover lamented the end of the gold standard, the beginning of unemployment insurance, and the ways the industrial recovery program “terrorized” Americans. Referring to Roosevelt’s agricultural price supports, Hoover complained that the country was trading away its heritage of liberty “for a fictitious price of wheat.”

Yet Hoover benefited from government programs that set “fictitious prices.” Among Hoover’s many investments were four large California ranches, including one with 240 acres of cotton fields. And Hoover’s son Allan, the ranch manager, was eligible to become one of hundreds of thousands of cotton growers who signed subsidy contracts with the federal government.

Thus Herbert Hoover— the man soundly defeated by Roosevelt, the man who accused the New Deal of being fascist, communist, and socialist, the man who was organizing a nationwide revolt against Roosevelt’s brand of social democracy— would himself profit from New Deal cotton policies. “My son, who runs the farm . . . will sell some cotton that he did not plant to the Secretary of Agriculture at a most profitable price,” he wrote to his friend Frank Knox, publisher of the Chicago Daily News. Hoover sarcastically suggested that he would need to “seek emancipation from the Income Tax” because of the extra income he would receive from the subsidies.

Many wealthy, conservative California growers joined Hoover in pocketing the Agricultural Adjustment Administration’s checks. Unlike Hoover, some of them publicly admitted they were happy to do so. Philip Bancroft, a prosperous fruit grower and Republican Party activist, wrote admiringly to the secretary of agriculture of his “enthusiastic appreciation of the splendid work that you and the entire Administration have been doing on behalf of our industry.” J.G. Boswell, owner of one of the largest cotton ranches in the world, chortled that he was “letting out his belt / Anticipating all he’ll get from Franklin Roosevelt.”

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