Josiah Bailey co-authored the Conservative Manifesto, a plan for national economic recovery during the Great Depression. Image courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh, NC.
In 1937, U.S. Senator Josiah Bailey of North Carolina was concerned that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his New Deal programs were leading America and North Carolina down the road to collectivism. Although he did not oppose every attempt at government intervention, Senator Bailey believed that limitations should be placed on government growth.
In 1937, the nation experienced an economic recession, and partisan lines blurred as Republicans and conservative Democrats formed a coalition to protest Roosevelt’s attempt to “pack the court.” That year, FDR placed the “responsibility for pulling the nation out of economic recession on business interests,” writes historian John Robert Moore. However, President Roosevelt offered no economic recovery plan nor lifted restrictions so that businesses could rescue a collapsing economy. In this time of economic uncertainty, Bailey fostered bi-partisan opposition to FDR’s New Deal programs. In hopes of revitalizing the national economy, reluctant New Dealers and anti-New Dealers drafted the Conservative Manifesto to serve as the blueprint for economic recovery and offer what they considered practical solutions.
The planning and writing of the manifesto were done without the knowledge of FDR. Eventually the secretive work of the bi-partisan alliance was leaked, and fearing political repercussions, many Senators denied any involvement with the creation of the Conservative Manifesto. Bailey, however, accepted responsibility.
According to Moore, the Conservative Manifesto’s ten points were as follows:
1. Immediate revision of taxes on capital gains and undistributed profits in order to free investment funds.
2. Reduced expenditures to achieve a balanced budget, and thus, to still fears deterring business expansion.
3. An end to coercion and violence in relations between capital and labor.
4. Opposition to “unnecessary” government competition with private enterprise.
5. Recognition that private investment and enterprise require a reasonable profit.
6. Safeguarding the collateral upon which credit rests.
7. Reduction of taxes, or if this proved impossible at the moment, firm assurance of no further increases.
8. Maintenance of state rights, home rule, and local self-government, except where proved definitely inadequate.
9. Economical and non-political relief to unemployed with maximum local responsibility. 10. Reliance upon the American form of government and the American system of enterprise.
The document was soon labeled as anti-New Deal. Bailey wrote the manifesto, however, because in his mind Roosevelt needed to help provide a proper balance between enterprise and government. Bailey also wanted to remind FDR that bi-partisan opposition to further collectivization was possible.
The Conservative Manifesto, and its bi-partisan support, offered Bailey hope that reform was imminent. Meanwhile, FDR met with leading New Deal Senators, including George Norris of Nebraska and Robert Wagner of New York, to find ways to resist conservative opposition. Eventually, however, enough bi-partisan support checked the New Deal. According to Moore, the manifesto provided conservatives with the means later to destroy some New Deal programs, and according to historian Douglas Carl Abrams, Bailey’s opposition “created momentum for postwar conservatism and a viable” two party competition in North Carolina.
Douglas Carl Abrams, Conservative Constraints: North Carolina and the New Deal (Jackson, 1992); Congressional Record, 75th Congress, Second Session, 1: 934-37; John Robert Moore, Senator Josiah William Bailey of North Carolina: A Political Biography (Durham, 1968).
By Troy L. Kickler, founding director of the North Carolina History Project
Revised on: Monday February, 20th, 2006
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