F.D.R.'s Disputed Legacy

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"ignore any constitutional limits upon its own powers and usurp those reserved to the individual states." The Supreme Court eventually handed down 16 verdicts on major New Deal laws during Roosevelt's first term and ruled against the Administration in eleven of them.

Roosevelt was outraged. He denounced the conservative Justices' objections to New Deal programs as a relic of the "horse-and-buggy age." The idea that the will of both the President and the Congress could be thwarted by nine old men—one of the Justices was 80, five were in their 70s, none was under 60—inspired Roosevelt to begin planning retribution. Before that, however, he had to repair some of the damage. The labor safeguards in the NRA re-emerged in the National Labor Relations (Wagner) Act of 1935, and Congress passed a new version of the AAA as the Soil Conservation Act of 1936.

Roosevelt also had to win the mandate of the people once again. The Democrats had done well in the off-year election of 1934, adding nine seats to their House majority of 310 and nine to their Senate majority of 60. But the auguries for 1936 were ambiguous. Roosevelt could point to real gains in his first term: unemployment had been cut by 2 million since 1932, and the gross national product had increased by about 40%. Renominated by acclamation, he declared in a campaign speech that the "forces of selfishness and of lust for power" had met their match during his first term and would now meet "their master."

But Roosevelt's critics could retort that even after four years of expensive trial and error, there were still 10 million unemployed and no real recovery in sight. The Republican nominee, Governor Landon of Kansas, seemed at the time a strong candidate against the fraying New Dealers; even some conservative Democrats thought they must combat what they considered an ominous drift toward the left. (Former Presidential Nominee Al Smith accused the New Dealers of trying "to disguise themselves as Karl Marx or Lenin or any of the rest of that bunch.")

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Roosevelt confronted not only the small, vociferous Communist and Socialist parties but also a gaggle of zealots appealing to all the embittered victims who felt that the New Deal had failed them. The most dangerous and fascistic of these, in Roosevelt's eyes, was Huey Long, who had combined graft, violence and promises of "Every Man a King" to build a kind of populist police state in Louisiana. Long was already threatening to run for President when he was shot down in the late summer of 1935 by a man whose family he had ruined. Almost equally malign was a Roman Catholic priest, Father Charles Coughlin, whose ardent and often anti-Semitic broadcasts from his Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak, Mich., brought him a vast following (he regularly received 80,000 letters a week). To overthrow Roosevelt, whom Coughlin denounced as "anti-God," the priest joined forces with Dr. Townsend, the pension crusader, and one of Long's nastier henchmen, the Rev. Gerald L.K. Smith, to launch the Union party. Their puppet nominee for the presidency: Populist Congressman William Lemke of North Dakota.

The result was, of course, the greatest landslide in more than a century, 523 electoral votes for Roosevelt to Landon's eight

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