The Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942:
A New Deal Case Study

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Chapter 1
The Creation of the CCC

In March, 1931, a handful of young Negro tramps were arrested in Scottsboro, Alabama, and charged with rape. The sheriff's office alleged that, while riding a freight train from Chattanooga, they had brutally assaulted two white girls, also hobos. The boys were duly tried and convicted, though the evidence against them was, at best, unconvincing, and the case developed subsequently into an affair of national importance, a rallying point for liberals, and an opportunity for Communist exploitation. The fate of these boys became a symbol of Southern injustice and of white indifference to Negro despair. The Scottsboro trial was seen as illustrating aptly the brutalizing aspects of racial discrimination in America. [1]

The racial implications of the incident served to camouflage the fact that the very situation of the Scottsboro boys illustrated equally well another of the urgent problems facing Americans. In the chaos of depression America, almost two million men and women had abandoned all pretense to a settled existence and had simply taken to the road, traveling in freight cars or on foot, sleeping in caves or in shanty towns, aimlessly drifting in search of vanished security. Among them were about 250,000 young people, "the teenage tramps of America" as they were sometimes called, all, like the Scottsboro boys, wandering the land looking for a future. The need to rescue them was crucial. [2]

Moreover, these juvenile drifters were but a tiny fraction of the total of jobless youth. Most of these unemployed youngsters, indeed, never left their home environment. Figures of unemployment among young people during the depression decade are incomplete, but George Rawick has calculated that in 1932, of those between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four who were in the labor market, perhaps one in four was totally unemployed. A further 29 per cent worked part-time only. [3] This was an American crisis. These young people, endlessly tramping city streets or stagnating in country towns, were in a situation not of their own making. Bewildered, sometimes angry, but more often hopeless and apathetic, they were a generation already deeply scarred. The government could no longer afford to ignore their plight.

The federal government had also to cope with scars of a very different kind, the disfiguring marks which three generations of waste and ill-usage had left on the American landscape. Forests had once covered 800,000,000 acres of the continental United States, but by 1933 there were a mere 100,000,000 acres of virgin timber left. Much of the nation's timber resources had thus been brutally squandered. Moreover, wanton forest destruction had compounded the crucial problem of soil erosion. Each year water washed three billion tons of the best soil away from American fields and pastures, and wind accounted for a like amount. Indeed, by 1934, more than 300,000,000 acres—a sixth of the continent—had gone, or was going. Deserts of dust were replacing the grasslands of the Great Plains, the once verdant Texas hills had become stunted tufts, as erosion galloped through the land. [4]

The Civilian Conservation Corps was thus, in one sense, a catalyst. Through it, a new and vital president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, brought together two wasted resources, the young men and the land, in an attempt to save both.

The idea of putting young men to work in the woods was scarcely new. Many men in many places had played with the notion at some time or another. Nevertheless, a number of people have tried to trace the CCC to a single source, the great Harvard philosopher, William James. In 1912 James had published an essay entitled "The Moral Equivalent of War," in which he had advocated "the conscription of the whole youthful population to form, for a certain number of years," a part of a great army "enlisted against nature." This force, he contended, would bring countless benefits both to the youth and to the land. [5] Many people simply interpreted the CCC as being the application of James's suggestion to depression America. Roosevelt, however, could not remember having read the essay and certainly denied ever consciously connecting it with the Corps. "But," he admitted, "it is a very interesting thought." [6]

Interesting it may have been, but there were certainly other influences which must be considered. In the first place, relief work in the forests had begun on a limited scale in parts of the United States even before Roosevelt was elected. In both California and Washington, for example, the Forest Service co-operated with state and county officials in running subsistence camps for the unemployed in forest areas. The local authorities clothed and fed the men, while the Forest Service sheltered them and directed the work. Similar schemes were being operated or at least planned in other parts of the country, and Roosevelt was aware of most of them. They undoubtedly influenced his thinking on the CCC to some degree. [7] Then too, there were the overseas examples to follow. By 1932 the governments of Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, and above all, Germany, had established conservation camps for the unemployed. The German Labor Service was to become by far the best known of these and the one most easily comparable to the CCC. Under Adolf Hitler, the Labor Service, as shall be discussed in a later chapter, had a distinctive militaristic and authoritarian flavor. It developed into a vehicle for Nazi propaganda, and because of this Roosevelt always warmly denied that it had ever influenced his thinking on the CCC. The two bodies, in his view, simply could not be compared.

This, of course, is partly true, because the CCC never developed the German Labor Service's frankly political functions. Nevertheless, a connection can perhaps be discerned. The German camps were originally the creation of the Weimar Republic. In 1931 when they began, their functions were to check unemployment among young men and to perform useful conservation work. They were voluntary in nature, the young men enrolling for six months at a time and receiving a token wage. So similar are all these provisions to those eventually adopted by the CCC, that it seems at least possible that, despite Roosevelt's energetic disavowals, prior German experience could have influenced the specifics of the American development. [8]

Though one can indeed find a wide variety of possible sources for the idea of the CCC, it nevertheless remains true that more than any other New Deal agency it bore the personal stamp of President Roosevelt. Without him, relief work in the woods may have remained only an idea. Roosevelt's love of the land was both passionate and total. His own Hudson Valley estate, at Hyde Park, was a constant source of the profoundest delight to him, and driving his specially appointed automobile he would spend hours exploring its giant forests, its gentle hills, its streams and glades. The new President was a strict Jeffersonian in his belief that a rural existence was the best of all possible worlds. In his view, nothing benefited soul, mind, and body more than a life lived close to nature. It is in this context that his long-term interest in relief schemes involving the moving of urban dwellers back to the land must be understood. This passionate belief, too, can be seen in the concept of work in the forest for young men. [9]

Roosevelt's feeling for the land did not stop at Hyde Park, but rather embraced the whole continent. No feature of American life disturbed him more than the callousness with which the national heritage was being destroyed. As Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., has written, "he felt the scars and exhaustion of the earth almost as personal injuries." [10] Roosevelt, a long-time disciple of Theodore Roosevelt's Chief Forester Gifford Pinchot, had been a fighter for conservation for most of his adult life. He knew what must be done and was acutely aware that action had to be taken immediately.

Roosevelt's experiences at Hyde Park pointed the way, in his view, to a national solution. When he took over the estate in 1910 the once fertile soil was virtually exhausted. Where corn had formerly grown, he planted great trees and loved them both for their majesty and the hope of renewal they gave the earth in which they stood. Reforestation, he believed, could save the nation's natural resources as it had saved Hyde Park. [11]

From the time he first entered public life in 1910, Roosevelt fought for conservation measures. As chairman of the New York State Senate's Fish and Game Committee, he tried to develop a comprehensive reforestation scheme, and he even made conservation an issue in his unsuccessful campaign for the vice-presidency in 1920. He retained—indeed, he strengthened—his conviction during his long period of convalescence from polio. [12]

When he triumphantly returned to public life as governor of New York in 1928, Roosevelt seized every opportunity to translate his ideas into action on a statewide basis. The most important of these efforts was his successful sponsorship of an amendment in 1931 to the constitution of New York state. This amendment gave the state government authority to purchase marginal land and reforest it, the money to be provided by a bond issue. It was a policy directly in line with Roosevelt's deepest convictions, and his open support of it won him national recognition among conservationists. [13]

As governor, Roosevelt lost no time in using these new powers, and, at his direction, the New York conservation commissioner, Henry J. Morgenthau, Jr., introduced a broad reforestation scheme. In 1932 Roosevelt was able to develop it as a part of New York's unemployment relief program. The men required for treeplanting were all taken from relief rolls, and 10,000 people were thus given temporary employment. Morgenthau later alleged that the CCC was simply an extension of the New York development. [14]

Of course, this was not so. The New York plan was but one of a number of streams contributing to the eventual creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps, and it is impossible to single out any one source as being of prime importance. What can be said, however, is that Roosevelt breathed life into a scattered collection of ideas. Of all the New Deal agencies, it was his personal creation.

It was during his speech accepting the Democratic presidential nomination, on July 2, 1932, that Governor Roosevelt first hinted at the outlines of his national plans for conservation. He called for "a definite land policy" to fight "a future of soil erosion and timber famine." "In so doing," he said, "employment can be given to a million men. That is the kind of public work that is self-sustaining. . . . Yes, I have a very definite program for providing employment by that means." [15] Here, in generalized form, was the idea of the Civilian Conservation Corps. The problem now was to give it substance.

Although the reforestation-employment plan was attacked derisively by President Hoover's secretary of agriculture, Arthur M. Hyde, professional foresters and interested laymen praised its farsighted aims. [16] Throughout the election campaign, Roosevelt conducted a vigorous correspondence with men such as Gifford Pinchot, now governor of Pennsylvania, gathering their views. [17] In his campaign speeches Roosevelt referred from time to time to his idea of providing work in the forests for the unemployed, but he showed no evidence of having thought the plan through in any detail. [18] Not until mid-November was the Forest Service even brought into the picture. Then, the secretary of agriculture-designate Henry Wallace, and Roosevelt's economic adviser, Rexford Tugwell, called on the chief forester, Major Robert Y. Stuart, and instructed him to develop plans for putting 25,000 men to work in federally owned forests. Stuart, a career forester, ardent conservationist, and a proéegé of Pinchot, was certain that the Forest Service could handle such a number easily, but he must have had his doubts a month later when he was told the number to be expected was 250,000. The Forest Service had done little enough to prepare for such an expanded role. True, it had recently completed a survey of work needing urgent attention, but this was confined to federal forests only. Such information as it did possess on the condition of state forests was spotty and inaccurate. Though the survey provided at least an indication of where camps could profitably be established, there was obviously much more information needed before the scheme could be developed properly. [19]

In January, 1933, an event of some importance, in view of the way the CCC eventually developed, took place. Senator James Couzens the liberal Republican from Michigan, introduced a bill in the Senate authorizing the Army to house, feed, and clothe unemployed young men from the ages of seventeen to twenty-four at military posts. The measure was bitterly opposed by military authorities and was soon quietly shelved. Nevertheless, it served to introduce the concept of Army assistance with relief schemes into top-level thinking, and it also forced Army officials to realize that, whether they liked it or not, they might have to fulfil such functions in the future. Consequently, base facilities were checked, and, where necessary, strengthened. [20]

Such developments, however, hardly constituted specific planning for the work relief scheme. The economic crisis worsened in the opening months of 1933, and the President-elect was too involved with matters pertaining to it, as well as with the process of Cabinet formation, to devote much thought to his conservation plans. He made only indirect reference to the idea in his inaugural address of March 4, 1933, and not until March 9 did he outline what was in his mind. Then, at a conference attended by the secretaries of agriculture, the interior, and war, the director of the budget, the Army judge advocate-general, Colonel Kyle Rucker, and the solicitor of the Department of the Interior, Edward Finney, Roosevelt sketched out a plan to put 500,000 men to work on a variety of conservation tasks. He asked Rucker and Finney to prepare a draft bill, to be in his hands that same evening. [21] Working frantically throughout the day, they had an outline ready for the President by 9 P.M. and discussions on it were held immediately. This original draft proposed the recruitment of 500,000 men a year, to be employed not only on conservation tasks but on public works projects as well. It was intended to be a basis for discussion only and was certainly treated as such. Few details of this preliminary meeting were made public, but it was rumored that the Army would be used to organize the camps and to recruit enrollees. The Chicago Tribune reported that the President would attempt "to swing the efforts of three departments—War, Agriculture and Interior—behind his idle relief project." [22]

Roosevelt, for the first time, gave the conservation project some serious and sustained thought. On his own he drew up a more detailed plan for putting an army of unemployed young men to work solely in the forests and national parks, and on March 14 he outlined his idea to Raymond Moley. According to Moley, he announced, "I think I'll go ahead on this . . . the way I did on beer." [23]

"Going ahead" meant rushing a message over to Congress without consulting anyone further on either the wider implications of the CCC idea or specific details of its prospective operation. Moley, therefore, urged delay, both to check impulsive action on the President's part, and also to give Cabinet members and congressional groups a chance to fit the proposal into a wider scheme of unemployment relief. It seems that Moley's advice was heeded. At least Roosevelt abandoned his plan for immediate action on the reforestation proposal and instead sent a memorandum to the secretaries of war, interior, agriculture, and labor which read:

I am asking you to constitute yourselves an informal committee of the Cabinet to co-ordinate the plans for the proposed Civilian Conservation Corps. These plans include the necessity of checking up on all kinds of suggestions that are coming in relating to public works of various kinds. I suggest that the Secretary of the Interior act as a kind of clearing house to digest the suggestions and to discuss them with the other three members of the informal committee. [24]

The way was left open for consideration of the CCC within a wider framework of far-reaching public relief proposals.

The four secretaries met on March 15, 1933. After a wide ranging discussion they forwarded a joint memorandum to the President which made it quite clear that they had considered the CCC both as a self-contained agency and also as an integral part of a three-pronged attack on the problem of industrial unemployment. Furthermore, they thought that the CCC should be "strictly limited to works which are not available as projects for public works. . . . and that it is highly desirable that they should be specifically confined to forestry and soil erosion projects in the Bill." [25] By confining it to these specified works, it was hoped to relieve the fears of those who believed that such an agency would depress wage levels and, by impinging on work normally done by free labor, limit job opportunities even further. Roosevelt decided to incorporate most of the points covered by the memorandum into his forthcoming message to the Congress on relief. [26]

At his third press conference, held the same day, the President talked at some length about his plan for work in the forests. He covered the need for such work, the number of men who could be usefully employed, and the proposed wage rate of $1 a day, indicating that action on the scheme was imminent. [27] The next few days were spent composing and discussing the President's relief message and in preparing the final draft of a bill for the establishment of the Civilian Conservation Corps. [28] On March 21, 1933, the President's message on the "Relief of Unemployment" went to the Congress. It outlined a diverse attack on the problem, to be fought on three specific fronts:

The first is the enrollment of workers now by the Federal Government for such public employment as can be quickly started and will not interfere with the demand for, or the proper standards of, normal employment.

The second is grants to the states for relief work.

The third extends to a broad, public works, labor-creating program.

The President asked for quick action on the first of these measures. He proposed, he said, to create a civilian conservation corps to be used in simple work, primarily confining itself to forestry, erosion, flood control, and related projects. Such works would be controlled by the existing machinery of the Departments of Labor, Agriculture, War, and the Interior, and would be financed initially, not by new funds, but by "the use of unobligated funds, now appropriated for public works." Provided that the measure became law within two weeks, Roosevelt estimated that 250,000 men could be given temporary employment by early summer. He concluded his message by pointing out the benefits of such work to the national domain and to the moral and spiritual welfare of those employed in it: "We can take a vast army of these unemployed out into healthful surroundings. We can eliminate, to some extent at least, the threat that enforced idleness brings to spiritual and moral stability. It is not a panacea for all the unemployment but it is an essential step in this emergency." [29] Following the message, identical bills for "The Relief of Unemployment Through the Performance of Useful Public Work and for other Purposes" were introduced into the Senate and House. [30] Both were committed without debate, the Senate bill to the Committee on Education and Labor, the House bill to the Committee on Labor.

The main provisions of the original measure are important in view of subsequent criticisms and modification. The bill gave the President authority to enlist a civilian conservation corps from among the unemployed to be enrolled for a year, with no discharges "to be permitted except under such rules and regulations as the President may direct." Remuneration was to be not more than $30 monthly, and if an enrollee had dependents he was to be compelled to make a monthly allotment to them. No age limit on enrolment was set, nor was there any provision against enrolling married men. [31]

Reaction to the measure in the nation's press, preoccupied by the struggle over the Administration's contentious farm legislation and by the signal events in Germany where Adolf Hitler was beginning his persecution of the Jews, was muted and mild. Only the New York Times of the major newspapers commented editorially on the bill. The paper thought there could be no doubt about the enthusiasm and sincerity of the President in urging the scheme, but it was less certain that Congress shared his conviction as to its practicality. [32]

It was among the ranks of organized labor that the proposal provoked the strongest reaction. As soon as the content of the bill was known, William Green, the cautious, usually circumspect president of the American Federation of Labor, issued a blistering protest against many of its provisions. He was particularly opposed to the Army having any part at all in the scheme. Such a connection, he argued, would lead to the "regimentation of labor" under military control and to Army wage rates. The bill, he thundered, had awakened "grave apprehension in the hearts and minds of labor." A. F. Whitney, president of the Brotherhood of Trainmen, was similarly condemnatory. Passage of the measure, he complained, "would place Government's endorsement upon poverty at a bare subsistence level." [33]

The Socialist party, with Norman Thomas its spokesman, had previously declared its opposition to the proposal, arguing that the camp plan could have no lasting effect on the unemployment problem and that far wider measures were required. When the specifics of the bill became known, the Socialists supported organized labor in its opposition to the wages and recruitment provisions. Thomas warned that "such work-camps fit into the psychology of a Fascist, not a Socialist, state." [34]

The impact of labor's criticism was not lost on the members of the House and Senate committees, who were to begin joint hearings on the bill on March 23. Several members, particularly the chairman of the House Committee on Labor, the liberal William P. Connery, Democrat of Massachusetts, shared labor's apprehensions. In order to calm these fears, the President called the committee members to the White House on the evening of March 22. There he explained the intent of his measure, described it in more detail, and denied the validity of labor's objections. His persuasive argument won over most of those present, though Connery remained unshaken in his opposition, particularly to the $30 monthly wage rate. [35] The President's intervention made possible the beginning of the joint Senate and House hearings the next day in an atmosphere of co-operation. The presiding officer was Senator David I. Walsh, Democrat of Massachusetts, chairman of the Senate Committee on Education and Labor, who set the tone immediately by urging that the matter be expedited as much as possible in accordance with Roosevelt's wishes. [36]

Major Stuart, the chief forester, was called early and examined at length on the need for forestation work. When questioned on how the Forest Service proposed to operate the camps, Stuart described to the committee the way the Forest Service was helping to run the California subsistence camps; he expected the new scheme to follow a similar pattern, he said. His statement was, for the most part, non-contentious, though he did make a successful plea to have the scope of the proposal broadened to include work in state and private as well as national forests. If this were not done, he argued, there would have to be a mass movement of men from states east of the Mississippi River, where about 70 per cent of the unemployment was located, to states west of the Rocky Mountain region, where 95 per cent of the public domain lay. He wanted co-operative agreements made with the states to allow work in state forests and parks, explaining that the Forest Service had made many such agreements in the past. [37]

The most trenchant querying of Stuart's testimony was not on the need for conservation, but on the propriety of paying men only $1 for a day's labor. Connery and Representative Richard J. Walsh, a California Republican, contending that the regular wage paid to forestry workers was $3 a day, inquired how conflict could be avoided, especially if the new $30-a-month men were put to work beside permanent foresters receiving the higher wage rates. Stuart explained that he considered the President's bill to be a relief measure, and that comparison with regular wage schedules was beside the point. Furthermore, he believed that regular Forest Service employees could be used as supervisors, and thus there would be a clear distinction of function between the "$1 and $3" men. [38]

It had become obvious, however, that Connery was still far from satisfied about the effect of the $30-a-month rate on the general wage level, and thus the testimony of the next witness, the secretary of labor, Miss Frances Perkins, assumed added importance. In a succinct statement, Miss Perkins emphasized that the Administration regarded the bill as a relief measure and that it was expected the bulk of the workers would come from the ranks of the young, unmarried men "who had been left out of calculation by most relief agencies." The Corps, therefore, was definitely not to be viewed "in the sense of providing real wage-producing employment." Questioned by Connery, she denied that the wage rate could be compared with that paid to "sweatshop work," if only because in the camps the men would be provided with food, housing, and work clothes as well. Miss Perkins vigorously opposed his contention that private industry would adopt the $1-a-day wage scale as a standard throughout the country if the bill were passed. Stressing the voluntary nature of enrolment, she claimed that there was nothing in the bill to suggest that labor would be regimented in any way. [39]

The Secretary's lucid testimony in support of the bill meant that the first day's hearings ended on a note favorable to the Administration. It was likely that the bill would be accepted without drastic modification. That feeling was heightened when on the same day the secretary of war, George Dern, held a press conference. He discussed the limited role of the Army in the recruiting program and pointed out that the Department of Agriculture would actually administer the camps. [40] The charge of "militarization of labor" seemed to be untenable.

When the hearings continued on March 24, the director of the Bureau of the Budget, Lewis W. Douglas, explained that the financing of the Corps through the use of unobligated funds would not mean the sacrificing of alternative public works projects, [41] while the Army's chief of staff, General Douglas MacArthur, was definite that he contemplated "no military training whatsoever." [42] Moreover, MacArthur, amplifying Dern's statement, insisted that individual selection would be in the hands of the Department of Labor. The Army's role would be confined to collecting the selected men, clothing them, giving them a physical examination, conditioning them for about two weeks, and then transporting them to the various camps, where the Department of Agriculture would take them over.

The next witness, President William Green of the American Federation of Labor, changed the whole temper of the hearing. [43] After paying tribute to Roosevelt and "the sincere and humane considerations which have inspired all those who have sponsored this measure," he proceeded to attack it bitterly on three counts: that its provisions admitted the principle of regimentation of labor, that the proposed wage rate would inevitably have a depressing effect on general wage standards, and, less important, that the use of unobligated funds could deprive some free laborers of their livelihood. Green contended that the regimentation of labor was implicit in the use of the Army, in the "involuntary allotment" provision, and in the strictures against discharge until after a year's service had been completed. To him, the measure indeed "smacked of fascism, of Hitlerism, of a form of Sovietism . . . ," an ideological potpourri very much to be deplored. [44] On the wage rate, Green was similarly scathing, claiming that:

As soon as this bill is passed by the Congress of the United States, it will go down in history as a Congress that has established a dollar a day wage for the payment of labor on the public domain. . . . The masses will lose sight of the relief feature, but they will remember this Congress determined that a dollar a day was the pay that should be given to men working in the forests . . . of the richest, most powerful nation under the sun. [45]

In response to questioning, Green suggested that a bill be introduced providing for the payment of standard rates of pay under voluntary conditions of employment. He considered an amendment formulated by Connery, which provided for thirty-day, voluntary enlistments at wage rates of $50 a month for single men, and $80 for married, to be "a great improvement of the proposed measure." Neither Green nor Connery would accept the principle that a relief measure could not be considered in the context of providing employment at regular rates. At the end of his testimony Green made sure that the whole country, and not just the committee members, knew what he thought of the bill. Dexterously questioned by Connery on a coast-to-coast radio network, he left no doubt as to how bitter was the AF of L's opposition to the proposed agency. [46]

Green's views were reinforced by M. J. McDonough of the Building Trade Department of the AF of L. and Herbert Benjamin, representing the national committee of the Unemployed Council of the United States, a Communist-controlled organization. Benjamin was also most concerned that sending the head of a family to camp would cause "the violation and destruction of the families of American workers." [47]

With Benjamin the hearings ended, apart from the brief consideration of a letter from an acerbic-sounding gentlemen who opposed "this plan for putting gangs of helots to work in the national forests" because of the "inevitable ruination" of these areas. [48] Green's testimony had shattered the optimistic note of the earlier discussions. By opposing the bill so bitterly, the AF of L had probably insured a long and contentious debate should the measure be reintroduced into Congress in its present form. Though Green's objections were ridiculed by newspapers of all political complexions, his point was well taken. [49] If the President was to get his conservation corps quickly, the need for compromise was apparent. It was up to the committee members to suggest what could be done. When an amended S. 598 was reintroduced into the Senate on March 27, 1933, it was obvious that the House and Senate committees had wrought well. Senator Walsh, in comparing the substitute with the original bill, explained how the changes had been made:

After the committee heard these objections [of the AF of L], the committee met in executive session and reached an agreement that there were two features of this bill to which no-one objected, namely the opportunity to engage in forestation work as a means of relieving unemployment, and secondly, the use of unobligated funds.

When the committee reached the agreement that these two provisions of the bill were non-controversial we proceded to redraft the original bill, and have submitted to the Senate an amendment in the nature of a substitute which does practically nothing more than authorize the President to go into the public domain, carry on forestation, and employ citizens from among the unemployed. [50]

Walsh was not exaggerating. Gone were the restrictive provisions concerning enrolment and discharges; nor was the highly controversial $30 monthly wage rate mentioned. The President was simply authorized "under such rules and regulations as he may prescribe, and by utilizing such existing departments or agencies as he may designate," [51] to run the CCC relatively unhampered by statutory fetters. Prompted by Stuart's suggestion, provision was made for work on state forests and parks, and, in some instances, on private lands. The committees, convinced of the need for haste, had provided a bill aimed at keeping debate to a minimum.

The bill's passage through the Senate was further facilitated by the political acumen of Senator Walsh, who guided the measure through two days of debate with expert skill. He constantly stressed the need for quick, positive action, dissuading senators from adding amendments because of the delays involved and the limitation of presidential authority which could occur, and calming fears and apprehensions about some of the bill's implications. [52] Walsh emphasized the emergency nature of the legislation and the consequent need to make certain allowances for its provisions. The "whole bill is permissive" he said at one point:

and that is what all this emergency legislation is. Each bill that we have passed here has given the President permissive authority. It has not been compelling and controlling, as it should be if it were urging a permanent policy. That is why I asked the Senators at the very beginning to keep in mind three things: emergency, relief work, and unemployment.

The only way for Congress to deal with the problem, he believed, was to give the President both the authority and the means to work out the details of administration, and not to attempt to do so itself. [53]

Partly because of Walsh's tight hold on proceedings and partly because of the broad provisions of the measure, what little opposition there was to the bill in the Senate was itself of a general nature. Predictably, it came from a few Republicans who protested, not against specific aspects of the legislation, but against the increasing tendency to concentrate power in the Executive, which they profoundly deplored. In their view, the establishment of the Civilian Conservation Corps under the conditions outlined in the bill would be an unjustifiable acceleration of this trend.

The leader of this small group was Senator L. J. Dickinson, an Iowa conservative. He bitterly opposed the granting of further authority to the President, grimly warning that "we will see the time when we will rue the day when we put so much power into one man's hands." [54] Dickinson was ably supported by Republican Senators Arthur Robinson, of Indiana, and Henry D. Hatfield, of West Virginia. Referring to Green's earlier statements, they both pointed out, quite reasonably, that the amended measure gave the President even more power over wage rates and employment conditions than had the original bill. Thus, the belief that the new measure satisfied, in large part, labor's demands seemed clearly erroneous. [55]

The majority who favored the amended bill, however, was overwhelming. Influential Republicans praised it. Senator William E. Borah of Idaho, for example, asserted that the bill was quite constitutional and, indeed, represented "the mildest form of delegation of power" that he had seen since the session began. It was passed by voice vote on March 28 after the adoption of a few minor amendments of a permissive or clarifying nature and sent to the House. [56]

Opposition to the measure in the House was much more vigorous and sustained than in the Senate, and criticism ranged over a far broader spectrum. Groups in both parties opposed the bill for widely divergent reasons. The amended bill was reintroduced on March 27, together with the majority and minority reports of the joint hearings. Connery, as chairman of the House Labor Committee, immediately announced that though the committee had approved the amended measure, he personally intended to fight it and would endeavor to have adopted an amendment laying down wage rates of $50 monthly for unmarried enrollees and $80 monthly for married enrollees. He took this stand, even though a letter from Green had made it clear that the AF of L had reversed itself and had indorsed, albeit reluctantly, the amended bill. [57]

On March 29 the House resolved itself into the Committee of the Whole to consider the bill as amended and passed by the Senate on the previous day. Connery, in offering his amendment, repeated most of the arguments which Green had developed at the hearings. He insisted that the bill, if passed, "would tag labor at $1 a day throughout the entire U.S.," and that the President could pay workers fifty cents a day "if he so wished." Then he announced, rather dramatically, that Green had once more shifted his position and again stood opposed to the measure, a switch which probably did little for Connery's case as it made Green seem more of an opportunist than a man of abiding principles. [58] Connery received strong support from Representatives Marion A. Zioncheck, Democrat of Washington, and Glenn Griswold, Democrat of Indiana, both of whom claimed to speak as friends of labor. [59]

From the opposite wing of the political spectrum came a vigorous attack by a group of House Republicans, aided by two Southern Democrats. Like their Senatorial counterparts, they viewed with grave alarm the granting of such wide powers to the President. Representative Caroll L. Beedy of Maine epitomized their thinking when he said that the measure led "the masses to believe that it is the Government's duty to put them on the pay roll. This idea, carried to its extreme, approximates the doctrine of Communism." He talked of the "exercise of autocratic power" by the President and "wanted nothing to do with any such gigantic legislative mistake." Beedy was strongly supported by the Republican minority leader, Bertrand H. Snell of New York, by Representative John Taber, Republican of New York, and by Representatives Lister Hill of Alabama, and John J. McSwain of South Carolina, both Democrats, all of whom protested the further concentration of power in Presidential hands. [60]

Vociferous as it was, the opposition from both political wings had little substance to it. Some Republicans vigorously favored the bill, others agreed with Representative Thomas G. Cochran of Missouri, who, in a statement indicative of a large segment of Republican thought at this time, said: "I disliked the economy bill, I disliked the farm bill. I do not like to see us go along on a project such as this, but I do like the way the President of the U.S. is trying to meet this emergency, and I have gone along with him. I propose to continue to go along with him." [61] Not entirely happy with Roosevelt's remedies for the economy's ailments, yet having none of their own to offer, many Republicans voted repeatedly with the Democrats in the critical first months of the New Deal. Indeed, the vast body of the House was disposed to support the bill substantially as it stood, and the call of Representative Robert Ramspeck, Democrat of Georgia, to "stand by our leader in the White House and vote down amendments" was well heeded. Because of Connery's opposition, Ramspeck guided the bill through the House. Like Senator Walsh, he emphasized the emergency nature of the legislation and its relief function, arguing that "the real purpose of the bill is relief and not wages." [62]

Three amendments only were adopted, the most important being that proposed by the sole Negro Congressman, Representative Oscar De Priest, Republican of Illinois, "that no discrimination shall be made on account of race, color, or creed . . . under the provisions of this Act." [63] Added almost as an afterthought, the clause was to have far-reaching consequences.

The Connery Amendment to introduce a $50 monthly wage rate failed by 290 votes to 90, as did a last-ditch struggle by Republicans Taber and Beedy to prolong proceedings on a point of order. [64] The Committee of the Whole reported back to the House, the three amendments were passed, and a further attempt by the indefatigable Connery to recommit the bill with his amendment inserted failed. It was passed by a voice vote. The next day the Senate accepted the House amendments, and the President signed the measure on March 31. [65]

The opposition to the measure in Congress may have had some significance in that the bill represented the Administration's first entry into the field of relief work and social legislation. No doubt certain Republicans who were able to swallow their principles as the President attempted to solve the financial and business problems of the nation through strong Executive action were unable to stomach the entry of the federal government into the field of human welfare: the result was their opposition to the CCC. The Chicago Tribune, in commenting on the passage of the "reforestation bill," spoke of the "storm" in the House, and of the "intensive" Republican opposition to the measure. The paper implied that Roosevelt's honeymoon with Congress was ending and that the struggle heralded the return of vigorous Republican opposition to his proposals. [66] But this was wishful thinking; the bill was never in danger of defeat, and the Republican opposition, though vocal, was numerically weak. The CCC began its existence on a broad, bipartisan base of support, something it never really lost.

The leading newspapers supported the measure as a gesture toward relief of unemployment, without attaching too much significance to its passage. The New York Times outlined the bill's "double purpose, namely, the "employment of hundreds of thousands, and the regaining of our lost forest lands." The New York Herald Tribune doubted if "it would ever justify the expenditure contemplated," but thought that "as a means of reducing as rapidly as possible the army of unattached jobless now roaming the country" the CCC promised well. Other newspapers and periodicals echoed these views. [67]

In a sense the bill creating the Civilian Conservation Corps slipped unobtrusively through the legislative process at a time when the public eye was occupied with bigger events at home and abroad. Its passage, and the events leading up to it, prompted little newspaper correspondence, and not even Green's criticism caused any real public stir. The CCC, moreover, was only the vanguard of a more comprehensive relief proposal. Work in the forest, away from their homes and families, was clearly out of the question for the majority of unemployed Americans. They had to wait for the further unfolding of Roosevelt's relief plans. Administration officials questioned at the hearings had indicated that young, physically fit, unmarried men were thought to be those most likely to enter the Corps, and thus the legislation was probably of immediate interest to them alone.

The new President had received his Civilian Conservation Corps. Though the final shape of the legislation was as much due to congressional circumstance as to presidential desire, and though undoubtedly he was influenced by the prior experience of the Forest Service with work camps and by the advice of men like Pinchot, much of the responsibility for the bill must lie with Franklin Roosevelt. The idea was in large part his, a product of his long adherence to that great liberal tenet, conservation of the land, and it was given urgency by the unemployment crisis. For him, the signing of the bill must indeed have meant real satisfaction.

The legislation, moreover, had given Roosevelt wider powers than he had sought originally. These now had to be used, with all due speed, to transform the Civilian Conservation Corps from a statutory provision into a working operation.


The Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942: A New Deal Case Study
salmond/chap1.htm — 03-Jan-2008

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