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Bad as the industrial depression was, the crisis on the land was even worse; the farmers, one-quarter of the population, had been in serious trouble even during the 1920s. A bushel of wheat that sold in Chicago for $2.94 in 1920 dropped to $1 by 1929 and 30¢ by 1932. Such prices provoked desperation. In LeMars, Iowa, where Judge Charles Bradley was foreclosing a series of mortgages, a crowd of farmers kidnaped him from his courtroom, drove him into the countryside and strung him up until he nearly lost consciousness. Then they revived him, crowned him with a truck hubcap and forced him to his knees. "O Lord, I pray thee," the judge gasped, "do justice to all men."
The problem was that farmers kept producing surpluses, and there was no mechanism to maintain prices. The solution long advocated by an obscure Montana State College professor named Milburn L. Wilson was to restrict production, but that would require an unheard-of amount of Government supervision. With the election of Roosevelt, Wilson was able to convince the incoming Agriculture Secretary, Henry Wallace, to carry out his idea. "I tell you frankly that it is a new and untrod path," Roosevelt declared in sending the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) to Congress that May, "but . . . an unprecedented condition calls for the trial of new means."
The fields had already been planted that spring, so Wallace had to send 22,000 mostly volunteer agents prowling through the country to persuade suspicious farmers to plow under one-quarter of their crops for cash payments of $6 to $20 an acre. If destroying newly planted crops seemed to violate every American traditionand it didWallace was even more furiously criticized for deciding to slaughter 6 million baby pigs rather than let them grow to full size. The son of Calvin Coolidge's Agriculture Secretary, an eminent plant geneticist and an idealist with presidential aspirations, Wallace was as appalled as anyone by the butchery. It reflected not the ideals of "any sane society," he complained, but an emergency caused by "the almost insane lack of world statesmanship" in stabilizing food prices.
As on the industrial front, Roosevelt had embarked on a risky course of replacing an open market with Government management of agriculture; there were almost no precedents for such tricky devices as official price fixing, subsidies, and production controls. He had an additional enemy in nature, which afflicted the whole farm belt in 1934 with droughts and dust storms, driving tens of thousands of ruined farmers to pack up their families in old jalopies and begin fleeing to what they hoped was the promised land of California.
Along with these major offensives on behalf of the unemployed, industry and agriculture, Roosevelt attacked on other fronts, often under a banner of clustered initials. Among the main ones:
TVA. The $145 million dam at Muscle Shoals, Ala., had originally been built during World War I to provide cheap power