Through 1930, Hoover and his close friends persisted in their optimism, making claims that the Depression was caused by “moneyed gamblers” in the stock market, and denounced the Democrats as greedy Easterners who tried to undermine the sound United States economy. Some news media indulged in unrealistic logic. The Fort Worth Record Telegram and Star-Telegram, staunch supporters of the Republican Party, pointed to the increased construction, railroad expansion, oil production, and cattle sales as stabilizers of the economy. The Post-Dispatch, to further support the president’s position, stated, “more and more it appears, the changes in the stock market prices are purely an affair of stock speculators.”
The front page of the San Antonio Express in October 1930 reported that San Antonio was “one of five cities... in which men of billions… were looking to invest money.” Then on Oct. 5, they stated, “there is no money shortage and no one should talk of Depression.” On Sept. 28, the Express noted that economists were “predicting better times are in store for San Antonio and the rest of the United States.”
In his daily briefing to the media, Hoover resisted and angrily criticized anyone questioning his remarks, stating “there is no reason to be concerned and that this situation will soon fade and our economy will flourish.”
As the Depression worsened across the United States, Texans came to believe Hoover and the Republican administration were incapable of meeting the crisis. Banks folded, cotton prices dropped to 5 cents per pound, and San Antonio businesses issued script in denominations of 25 cents, 50 cents, and $1 in place of currency, which could later be exchanged for goods. Gardening projects were encouraged with each town chamber of commerce donating garden plots and seed. Cities issued ordinances against the establishment of hobo communities, soon to be called “Hoovervilles.”
The stock market’s all-time low occurred in July of 1932, and 1933 was considered to be the worst year of the Great Depression. By that time, almost 60% of the U.S. banks had closed or were near failure, with an average rate of 600 banks failing per year.
In rural Texas, economic conditions deteriorated even further. Farmers, many of whom were sharecroppers or tenants and already accustomed to poor living conditions, suffered greatly. Severe poverty overtook them and foreclosures mounted. Crop prices plummeted, worsened by severe drought conditions across the south and midwest called the “Dust Bowl.” The Great Depression brought on a rapid rise in petty theft as unemployed workers resorted to crime. Suicide rates rose, as did reports of malnutrition. Prostitution rose as more women sought ways to put food on the table. Housing values dropped by more than 30%, and international trade collapsed by 75%. Men were desperate for any work that would provide an income.
One illustration of how the Depression hit all walks of life was the life of actor Kirk Douglas. Douglas was born Issur Danielovitch Demsky, the son of an illiterate, immigrant, Russian-Jewish ragpicker and junkman. In his autobiography, he described the difficulties of life during the Depression and how he and his family lived in abject poverty in New York, one of the hardest hit areas.
Hoover, whom the Republicans of Texas had supported, was now a villain, a betrayer of capitalism and democracy. Many of his actions to reduce the effects of the crash were looked at as dictatorial. Texans began to deride him, calling armadillos “Hoover hogs,” tent and tar-paper hobo communities “Hoovervilles,” and pants pockets turned outside “Hoover flags.” During the than 25% of the workforce.
In the summer of 1932, the Democrats nominated Franklin Delano Roosevelt for president, and Texan John Nance Garner (Cactus Jack) for vice-president. The Democrats won 88% of the state’s votes, and Roosevelt promised a “New Deal” for the forgotten man.
President Roosevelt assembled the best minds in the country, known as his “Brain Trust,” to advise him. Within 100 days, following the advice of his brain trust, the president and Congress passed into law a package of legislation designed to help the troubled nation.
To help support the banking industry, Garner helped incorporate the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). To help ensure the stock market would be strengthened, the Truth in Securities Exchange Act was passed. Other acts passed were: The Rural Electrification Act, Emergency Railroad Transportation Act, The Federal Communications Act, and the Public Utility Holding Company Act. To help the farmers, the Agricultural Adjustment Act was passed. There was also the birth of the Social Security System and the first national minimum wage. The Republican Party fought against both these last two acts because of the cost to the government.
To be continued...