According to Webster, Extortion is the act of getting money or other things by threats, misuse of authority, etc. It is also the legal offense committed by an official who extorts. An Extortionist is someone who actually does these things.
Based upon that definition, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, ranked by historians as the greatest president behind Abraham Lincoln, was one of the greatest extortionists ever, in the history of the United States. He is the first president ever to use the Bureau of Internal Revenue, later named the Internal Revenue Service to go after his enemies and protect his friends. He is the first president to be granted, by Congress, Billions in funds to apply to his Public Works Programs, the WPA, the AAA, and the CCC all of which were patronage jobs. He is the first president to deny federal funds to any governor or mayor who did not support his policies and programs. He was the first president to use shake down tactics to get money out of those workers for whom jobs were being provided. He was the closest thing to an absolute dictator this country has ever seen.
I asked the question why, in spite of his programs and policies failing and unemployment rising one year after the next, was he so overwhelmingly popular and won the 1936 election by a landslide. Well, he did not only win the 1936 election, but the Democrats actually gained seats in both the Senate and Congress in the mid-term election in 1934. How in the hell was that even possible, in spite of everything bad that was happening to the economy and the American voters?
Turns out he did not achieve these victories based upon his massive popularity, he achieved these victories based upon threats and misuse of his authority. In other words, he extorted his way to victory. Here’s how:
Let’s start with Huey Long who started out in favor of Roosevelt and The New Deal and soon turned against him. The problem with Long, as far as Roosevelt was concerned, was that he was every bit as dynamic, charismatic and inspirational as Roosevelt and was gaining in popularity by the minute. Roosevelt tried everything to shut The Kingfish down, including cutting off Federal Funds and patronage jobs. Long survived. Roosevelt figured that for Long to be able to do that, funds had to coming in the back door. With that, he put the IRS on Long via his good friend Morgenthau, the new Secretary of the Treasury and one of Roosevelt’s key henchman. Morgenthau contacted Irey, the head of the BIR (IRS) and said GET HIM! By 1935, many of Long’s key people had been indicted. Long was assassinated, but it didn’t stop there, either. The “deal” was, if the Long supporters came out in support of Roosevelt, all further investigation would be dropped. With that, Earl Long, Huey’s brother, about whom the movie Blaze was made a few years back with Paul Newman, came out in full support of Roosevelt.
Once Roosevelt realized the power he had with the IRS as a weapon, he then went after Hearst, Hamilton Fish, Johnson (the political boss in Atlantic City, NJ), Senator Wheeler of Montana, Andrew Mellon, Boake Carter, a radio commentator, and Moe Annenberg of the Philadelphia Enquirer. Friends he protected from the IRS included Lyndon Johnson and Frank Hague, the Boss of Jersey City, NJ. Point blank, if you screwed with FDR, he was going to screw you right back, only harder!
As for patronage, Roosevelt created the AAA, FERA, CCC and the WPA. Funding for the WPA alone in 1935, as passed by Congress, amounted to $4.8 Billion in 1935 dollars!! These programs provided Roosevelt with more federal money to distribute than all of the previous presidents combined!!! Also keep in mind that it was during FDRs time that the building of public works was federalized and the states no longer had that power. So,with all of these programs, Roosevelt and the New Dealers had the congressmen and governors over a barrel. If they wanted something built or done within their state, they had to kiss Roosevelt’s ass. The plain and simple fact was that these programs represented millions of government appointed jobs and the jobs were selectively handed out based solely upon how they best served the Democratic Party and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
In 1934, unemployment stood at 22%. Republicans were down 3:1 in Congress and, like today’s mid-term coming up in November, were expecting large gains. Maine, being an important state at the time, was flooded with Federal Tax dollars. Or, as Hamilton Fish said, “funds distributed in Main amounted to nearly $350 a vote for registered Democrats.” The idea caught on so well in Maine, they took it to other states, bribing voters with jobs, provided they supported the Democratic Party. To make a long story short, the Democrats didn’t lose seats in the mid-term election, they actually gained nine seats in the Senate and another nine seats in Congress!!
Then came 1936. Early on it was looking grim for Roosevelt to be re-elected. In late July, some Gallup polls actually showed Alf Landon ahead of Roosevelt. There were high prices as a result of his programs, high taxes and more and more government power. Unemployment had gone up from 3.6 million in ’33 to 4.3 million in ’34 to 4.7 million in ’35. Apparently, 1936 wasn’t looking any better.
But what Roosevelt had was power and clout. If a governor or congressman wanted something, he had to come begging to Roosevelt. If someone wanted a job, they better be in support of the Democratic Party. Roosevelt also had the $4.8 Billion Congress funded the WPA with. Which is why four months before the 1936 presidential election, 300,000 men were added to the WPA. And the vast majority of those jobs were given in key swing states like Pennsylvania. A month AFTER the election, 300,000 men were removed from the WPA. But who do you think they voted for in November? He also made certain that the farmers all received their Soil Conservation Service checks jus before the election.
And, isn’t it interesting that prior to Roosevelt, the vast majority of Black Americans were Republicans, NOT Democrats. (Remember Lincoln?) Between FERA, the WPA, the CCC and the PWA FDR and Harold Ickes, another one of FDR’s key henchmen, targeted the Black Voter with money, jobs, hospitals, low rent housing projects, etc. and won their hearts.
Now add to this mix in 1936 the fact that Alf Landon was not the most dynamic candidates or brilliant politicians.
The Result: Roosevelt wins by 523 electoral college votes to Landon’s 8 and by a margin of 11 Million in popular votes. A study of the election was made that found wherever funding by one of Roosevelt’s programs were low or non-existent, Alf Landon did very well. But, the higher the funding, the more votes for Roosevelt. To sum it all up, in Hudson County, New Jersey, for example, where Mayor Frank Hague, FDR’s buddy controlled 90,000 WPA jobs and about $47Million in various program funds, Roosevelt won 233,390 to Landon’s 65,110. Do keep in mind that the funding, as it is referred to, was with Federally Collected Tax Dollars!!!
And just think, had these programs not existed, had Roosevelt not had the funds and the leverage these funds provided him, he more than likely would have been a one-term president. So, that’s your history lesson for today.
If you want to know a lot more, I encourage you to read the book, New Deal or Raw Deal by Burton Folsom, Jr. that documents every piece of information acquired.