In March 1933, in one of his first acts as president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared a bank holiday throughout the United States. Considered by many to be a bold step to curb the mounting bank crisis, the decree closed banks in all 48 states and overseas territories, putting money out of reach of citizens, businesses and all levels of government. This narrative history recounts and explains the economic, financial and political backgrounds of the banking panic, arguing that the holiday was not only unnecessary but actually damaging to the economy. The holiday did, however, provide Roosevelt with the momentum to push through a series of historic reforms that remade the federal government. This revisionist work not only reveals the circumstances around the panic but debunks numerous myths that have clung to it ever since.
Robert Lynn Fuller — Robert Lynn Fuller has taught history at colleges and universities in Virginia, Maryland, and South Carolina. He lives in Bloomington, Indiana.
Fuller, Robert Lynn. "Phantom of fear": the banking panic of 1933. McFarland, 2012. 279p bibl index afp ISBN 0786465107 pbk; ISBN 9780786465101 pbk. Reviewed in 2012jul CHOICE.
The turmoil in US financial markets precipitated by Wall Street's 1929 crash reached its nadir with the banking panic of 1933, the focus of this book. That panic, argues historian Fuller, has been wrongly depicted as a panic of frenzied domestic depositors whose eagerness to withdraw their money destabilized the banking system, necessitating Roosevelt's temporary closure of the banks upon his inauguration in March 1933. In truth, the panic emanated from bankers and public officials unnerved by financial uncertainty and the depletion of US gold reserves. Roosevelt's bank holiday was a distraction needlessly exacerbating a situation that could have been resolved less dramatically through proper coordination between Hoover and Roosevelt during the lame duck months of Hoover's presidency. However, as Fuller relates, since the bank holiday was accompanied by a devaluation of the dollar and an effective end to the US gold standard, there was far more to Roosevelt's initial actions than a partial, temporary closure of banks. Though the author goes on to diminish the significance of the Glass-Steagall Act in improving bank stability, the book's strength is not its revisionism but its detailed narrative account of financial unrest in the early 1930s.
Summing Up: Recommended. General readers; students at all levels; professionals. -- R. S. Hewett, Drake University