The first 100 days: Meaningful milestone or debunked benchmark?
FDR's benchmark is now inextricably embedded in our presidential politics
President Franklin Roosevelt served an unprecedented 4,422 days in office, but his first 100 set a benchmark by which his successors are inevitably measured. The milestone’s origin in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency coincided with the convergence of a worldwide economic depression, a midwest climate crisis, and an activist chief executive who created a bureaucratic behemoth to address the disasters. Americans would henceforth turn to the modern, some would call it the “imperial,” presidency to address the nation’s ills.
FDR declared in his first inaugural address that he was prepared to exercise “broad executive power to wage a war against the emergency.” His 1932 victory over the passive Herbert Hoover signaled the people’s “mandate that they want direct, vigorous action. …They have made me the present instrument of their wishes,” Roosevelt concluded. A few months later, he referred to “the crowding events of the hundred days which had been devoted to the starting of the wheels of the New Deal.”
With Democratic Party majorities in both houses of Congress, FDR signed an unsurpassed 76 bills into law by the 100-day mark, and he managed to calm the nation with his patented fire-side addresses, delivered in soothing tones that supporters found accessible despite their patrician lilt.
Winston Churchill observed that meeting FDR was like uncorking your first bottle of champagne. With the unemployment rate at 25%, the nation rallied to his effervescent personality. His jaunty cigarette holder, broad smile, and upturned face radiated confidence. “Happy Days Are Here Again,” his campaign theme song, seemed truly attainable. The Roosevelt brand was launched into history.