Which President Had the Best First 100 Days?

Franklin D. Roosevelt broadcasting from the White House in 1944. In his Christmas broadcast the previous year, he declared, "I can say to you that at last we may look forward into the future with real, substantial confidence that, however great the cost, 'peace on Earth, goodwill toward men' can be and will be realized and ensured. This year, I can say that. Last year, I could not do more than express a hope. Today, I express a certainty, though the cost may be high and the time may be long." National Archives and Records Administration, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library (NLFDR), 4079 Albany Post Road, Hyde Park, NY, 12538-1999.

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Answer from William Murphy, Professor of American history:

Beyond a doubt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt made the most change in his first one hundred days in office. He is the only reason we talk about a president's first one hundred days at all. When you hear a conversation about any President's first one hundred days, this is a direct comparison to FDR. Roosevelt took office nearly four years into the Great Depression, and the American economy was in a virtual state of collapse, and had been steadily getting worse. Unemployment was at 25% and rising, the Gross Domestic Product of the U.S. had declined by 50% in the previous four years, more than nine thousand banks had failed and customers were running to the banks every day around the country to pull their money out; homelessness had risen dramatically and there was a general sense of desperation and fear as these developments had been ongoing, and worsening, for years before FDR took office.

His first one hundred days changed everything, including our expectations for what a president is supposed to be able to accomplish.

During that time, Roosevelt submitted to Congress fifteen separate major bills, all of which were passed. He issued over ninety executive orders, including an executive order declaring a national bank holiday, closing all banks in the country until further notice to put a halt to the collapse of the banking system that had been ongoing throughout the first four years of the Great Depression. He passed the Emergency Banking Act and the Glass-Steagall Act, created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to insure bank deposits, created the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) to regulate the stock market, passed the Federal Emergency Relief Act to provide federal aid to state efforts to assist the poor and unemployed during the Depression; created the Agricultural Adjustment Administration to aid farmers and the National Recovery Administration to promote the recovery of industry; the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Public Works Administration to start putting unemployed Americans back to work.

It was an extraordinary and unprecedented period of accomplishment. It is the only reason any president is judged by what they do in their first one hundred days. No one ever talked about this before Roosevelt. And no one since him has ever come close.

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