Bank Supervision, the Great Depression, and the Creation of the New Deal
31 Pages Posted: 9 Mar 2020 Last revised: 12 Aug 2020
Date Written: February 14, 2020
The U.S. banking holiday of March 1933 was a pivotal event in 20th century political and economic history. After closing the nation’s banks for nine days, the newly inaugurated Franklin D. Roosevelt administration restarted the banking system as the first step toward national recovery from the global Great Depression. In the conventional narrative, the holiday succeeded because Roosevelt used his political talents to restore public confidence in the nation’s banks. Such accounts, however, say virtually nothing about what happened during the holiday itself. In this article, we reinterpret the banking crises of the 1930s and the 1933 holiday through the lens of bank supervision, the continuous oversight of commercial banks by government officials. Through the 1930s banking crises, federal supervisors identified troubled banks but could not act to close them. Roosevelt empowered supervisors to act decisively during the holiday. By closing some banks, supervisors made credible Roosevelt’s claims that banks which reopened were sound. Thus, the union of FDR’s political skills with the technical judgement of bank supervisors was the key to the solving the banking crisis. Neither could stand alone, and both together were the vital precondition for further economic reforms—including devaluing the dollar—and with them, Roosevelt’s New Deal.
Keywords: Bank Supervision, Great Depression, Banking Holiday, Comptroller of the Currency, Legitimacy
JEL Classification: N22, N42, G21, K23
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation