The Full Employment Bill proposed in 1945 called for the federal government to ensure a full-employment economy. It reflected both the new emphasis of liberalism on Keynesian fiscal policy to underwrite full-employment prosperity as well as the prevailing public concern about jobs once the economic stimulus provided by the mobilization for World War II had ended. The bill faced substantial opposition from conservatives and business, and in its final form was enacted as the watered down, though still important, Employment Act of 1946.
The Full Employment Bill embodied the new importance in the liberal agenda of Keynesianism that had emerged as central to the Third New Deal during and after the recession of 1937-1938 and that had been confirmed and enhanced by the wartime prosperity produced by heavy government spending. As liberals and labor planned postwar domestic policy, they came to focus especially on full employment, an emphasis that dovetailed with the concern among most Americans about sufficient postwar jobs. The postwar planning reports ofthe National Resources Planning Board reflected this emphasis on full employment, as did other postwar initiatives by liberals and by the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. The Economic Bill of Rights that Roosevelt espoused in 1944 included the right to a job, and in the election of 1944 both Roosevelt and Republican nominee Thomas E. Dewey indicated their support of a full-employment economy. Public opinion polls showed that postwar jobs ranked highest in public priorities.
In early 1945, liberals in Congress introduced the Full Employment Bill, to commit the government to sufficient spending to ensure jobs for all Americans. But the bill, the centerpiece of the mid-1940s liberal agenda, encountered opposition from the powerful conservative coalition in Congress, and as prosperity continued after the end of the war it commanded relatively little support from the public. In 1946, Congress enacted and President Harry S. Truman signed the Employment Act of 1946, an attenuated measure that called for “maximum” rather than “full” employment, did not provide for the “right to a useful and remunerative job” that the original bill had specified for all Americans able and willing to work, and lacked explicit Keynesian provisions for mandatory compensatory fiscal policy to ensure full employment. But the employment act did create the new Council of Economic Advisors, and it did reflect not only the new importance of Keynesian perspectives but also the government’s new responsibility since the Great Depression and the New Deal for the performance of the economy and the economic welfare of the American people.
Further reading: Stephen Kemp Bailey, Congress Makes a Law: The Story behind the Employment Act of1946 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1950).
Garner, John Nance (1868-1967) representative, Speaker of the House, U. S. vice president John Nance Garner served two terms as vice president of the United States under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, from 1933 to 1941. Prior to becoming vice president, Garner had represented southern Texas in the House of Representatives for more than 30 years, and had been elected speaker of the House in 1931. Nicknamed “Cactus Jack,” Garner came to regret leaving the House for an office he regarded as powerless, or in his well-known words, “not worth a pitcher of warm spit.”
Born in western Texas on November 22, 1868, Garner had little formal education and left Vanderbilt University after less than a year to study law on his own in Clarksville, Texas. Admitted to the bar at 22, Garner was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1898, and in 1902 won a seat in Congress. Best known for his expertise in taxes, tariffs, and poker, he had a command of legislative process that led to his selection as Speaker of the House in 1931. As Speaker, Garner’s support for a national sales tax to balance the budget during the Great Depression reflected his deeply conservative views. But he was also a fierce Democratic Party partisan who as the election of 1932 approached exerted his influence to thwart Republican president Herbert C. Hoover’s programs and embarrass the president.
Garner became a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in the spring of 1932. Falling far short, he released his delegates to Roosevelt, who then offered Garner the vice presidential nomination. As vice president, Garner’s amiable style and political savvy made him a useful liaison with Congress, and he facilitated passage of early New Deal programs. But Garner was never personally or philosophically close to the president. Like other conservative southern and rural Democrats, Garner increasingly objected to the emerging New Deal regulatory welfare state—especially its spending and labor policies. Following Roosevelt’s controversial court-packing plan of 1937, Garner became a leader of the conservative coalition in Congress opposing the New Deal, although he did so privately rather than publicly, winning the title, “conniver-in-chief.”
Garner’s conservative allies convinced him to consider running for president in 1940. But he had no real chance at the Democratic nomination, and he left Washington in 1941, after 38 years in government, vowing to never again come east of the Potomac. John Nance Garner died in Uvalde, Texas, on November 7, 1967, days before his 99th birthday.
Further reading: Timothy Walch, ed., At the President’s Side: The Vice Presidency in the Twentieth Century (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997).
—Joseph C. Gutberlet