Without “the Remotest Idea of the Magnitude and Complexity of the Task at Hand”: Partisan Politics, Patronage, and the Implementation of Federal Relief, 1933-34

Elisabeth Clemens, University of Chicago

The New Deal began with the inauguration of a new president, followed by a series of legislative victories in Congress. But this was only the beginning. To implement the newly-passed relief programs required extending new policy priorities and administrative practices through a dense web of political relationships in each of the states and, within them, through the complexities of municipal politics. To implement new federal programs involved many of the challenges typically associated with early modern state-formation: enhancing the legibility of social relations, developing new capacities and cohorts of aspirationally Weberian bureaucrats, and ensuring that newly appropriated federal resources were not diverted along well-worn channels of personal and party patronage. Relying on the archives of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), the Civilian Works Administration (CWA) and the Works Progress Administration (PWA), the practices that enabled the extension and expansive penetration of federal power through American society are reconstructed with a focus on the projects undertaken by Harry Hopkins – arguably the key administrator of the Roosevelt administration – and his network of allies and aides. This paper seeks to recover the “management secrets” of Hopkins and, thereby, to illuminate the processes of state-building across years of crisis in an advanced economy.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 256. Public and Private Means of Social Protection