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FDR and the Supreme Court
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Political Cartoons and the Court Packing Episode
1933-36  |  Feb 37  |  Mar 37  |  Apr 37  |  May 37  |  June 37  |  July 37  |  Aug 37  |  Index

The cast of characters in the Court Packing fiasco—and newspaper cartoonists were inclined to consider it a fiasco of the first magnitude—proved a wonderful foil for political cartoonists on either side of the issue. While some presented Roosevelt in stark terms, as heroic or evil, most took advantage of the foibles of all the participants in the struggle. Political humor is best when it punctures the pretensions of the powerful, and in that season there were plenty of egos in need of deflating.

Cartoon: He Just Ain't Fast Enough
Editorial cartoonists played an important role in focusing public debate surrounding the Court Packing bill. While presenting clearly partisan positions on the controversy, taken as a whole these cartoons were surprisingly effective in drawing out and presenting to the public the essentials of the matter. A vivid metaphor that the President might use in making his case would surely find itself the subject of cartoonists the following day, and within a few more days Roosevelt could expect to receive letters from the public underscoring the cartoonists' point of view. Roosevelt's March 4th Democratic Party Victory Dinner Speech, for example, in which he stated that the government required "three well-matched horses" to carry out the programs of the New Deal (see Speech, March 4), was quickly followed by cartoons exploiting the image (see Cartoons from March 6 and March 11), and was soon met with private letters reiterating those editorial positions (see Letters dated March 12 and April 5).

Cartoonists used topical information to enhance their message. A Presidential boating or fishing trip became a metaphor for the Court Packing crisis—Roosevelt might be portrayed as a reckless helmsman or as a fisherman going on about "the big one that got away." Or, like a teacher returning to an unruly classroom, FDR might return from vacation to find that Congress had been acting up in his absence. (see Cartoons from March 22 and April 30, and May 10.)

In the editorial cartoonists' eyes, the struggle between the three branches of government took on the dimensions of a refereed sporting event. Even before Spring training had begun, editorial cartoonists seized upon baseball as the ruling metaphor for the Court Packing crisis, and it is easy to see why. The "nine old men," the Supreme Court "bench," and the similar decision-making responsibilities of Judges and Umpires made for easy cartooning. And as the Court Packing controversy stretched into the Summer it competed with the 1937 baseball season for the attention of the American public. Baseball, however, outlasted the Court Packing crisis by several months. And, as Babe Ruth once said of President Hoover, the New York Yankees had a much better season than FDR; that Fall they defeated the New York Giants in five games in the 1937 World Series.

The New Deal Network has digitized 125 editorial cartoons from the Basil O'Conner Collection at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library. They are organized chronologically, beginning with a selection of cartoons commenting upon the Supreme Court and the Roosevelt Administration (from 1933-1936). Thereafter they are organized monthly, from February to July 1937. Each page includes cropped images of the cartoons in question to facilitate searching the collection. As with the cartoon images in the rest of this Feature, clicking on cropped images will take you directly to the full cartoon. Those with slow internet connections or those who wish to view the entire selection of cartoons arranged chronologically may wish to visit the image-free Index Page.

A more comprehensive online archive of editorial cartoons from the Basil O'Conner collection, created by Niskayuna (NY) High School's AP Computer/Math and United States History classes, can be found at the FDR Cartoon Archive: 1937—The Supreme Court. This section from the Cartoon Archive contains cartoons devoted to the Court Packing controversy, organized by month.


1933-36  |  Feb 37  |  Mar 37  |  Apr 37  |  May 37  |  June 37  |  July 37  |  Aug 37  |  Index

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