F.D.R.'s Disputed Legacy

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Even more disastrous than lost savings were lost homes, and more than 250,000 Americans had to default on their mortgages in 1932. In the summer of 1933, the new Home Owners Loan Corp. began providing loans of up to $14,000 at 5% interest. By the end of Roosevelt's first term, it had made more than 1 million loans totaling $3 billion.

CCC. Before Harry Hopkins arrived on the scene, Roosevelt had a pet scheme of his own for the unemployed. An ardent conservationist, he wanted thousands of the jobless to work in the nation's parks and forests. His Civilian Conservation Corps prompted William Green, president of the American Federation of Labor, to protest that "it smacks of Fascism, of Hitlerism, of a form of Sovietism." By the middle of July 1933, however, more than 300,000 youths between 18 and 25 were at work under Army discipline in 1,300 CCC camps. Among other things, they helped plant more than 200 million trees to reforest 17 million acres in a "shelterbelt" that spanned the Middle West.

None of these programs would ultimately prove so important as the birth of Social Security. Old-age pensions were part of Roosevelt's plans from the start—before 1933 only eight states provided modest pensions based on need—but it took several years to resolve the complex arguments about how much to pay and how to finance the program. Considerable pressure came from the Townsend movement, the creation of Dr. Francis Townsend, a retired physician in California, whose yowl of protest began when he saw three old women sifting through garbage cans for scraps. Townsend wrote a letter to a newspaper demanding $150 a month for all old people, and that demand soon mushroomed into clubs, newspapers, protest meetings and the noisiest crusade of 1935. The Social Security Act that emerged from Congress that year provided payments of only $10 to $85 monthly, which were not to start until 1942, but the pensioners' desperate needs advanced that starting date to 1940.

Amid all these great projects, however, the case of A.L.A. Schechter Poultry Corp. vs. U.S. was working its way through the legal system. The four Schechter brothers, who ran a small kosher poultry business in Brooklyn, had been convicted of several violations of the NRA code, including the sale of diseased poultry. "If I'd known how much this appeal was going to cost," Joseph Schechter later complained of his $60,000 legal fees, "I probably would have gone to jail." But it was this tawdry case that inspired Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, stroking his white beard as he read the verdict to a packed courtroom, to strike down the entire NRA as unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court opinion, delivered in May of 1935, was unanimous—and withering. In voting for the NRA, said Hughes, Congress had delegated "virtually unfettered" powers to the Administration, and that was "utterly inconsistent with the constitutional prerogatives and duties of Congress." The NRA case was the most important of the dozens challenging New Deal legislation that had been filed in the courts, but more trouble lay ahead. The following January, by a vote of 6 to 3, the court struck down the whole AAA program to regulate agriculture. The fact that Congress felt there was "a situation of national concern" did not give it the right to

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