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The First of the Hundred Days

Richard Cavendish remembers the events of March 4th, 1933

Though criticized by conservatives in his own time and ever since, Franklin Delano Roosevelt is widely regarded as one of the greatest of all American presidents, the one who set the country on the path to recovery from the Great Depression.

Stricken with polio in 1921 and confined to a wheelchair, he became governor of New York state in 1928, pioneered the use of the radio to get his message and personality across and won the presidential election of 1932 for the Democrats against the Republican incumbent, Herbert Hoover, by a substantial margin.

On the way to the inauguration ceremony on a cold, rainy day in Washington DC, the fifty-one-year-old new president waved his top hat at the crowds and failed in his efforts to make amiable conservation with a frosty Hoover. He was helped to the rostrum in such a way that he appeared to be walking, if slowly and stiffly, and took the oath before a throng of 400,000 people. They and an enormous audience on radio heard Roosevelt deliver a heroic speech, which in the first minute included a phrase that became instantly famous: ‘Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself...’ He denounced the banks, financiers and speculators. ‘The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths.’

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