Roosevelt House is pleased to present a discussion of two new histories that illuminate the enduring effect of FDR’s presidency on vital American institutions, one financial and the other legal. The groundbreaking books are Taming the Street: The Old Guard, the New Deal, and FDR’s Fight to Regulate American Capitalism by financial journalist Diana B. Henriques and; The Court at War: FDR, His Justices, and the World They Made by legal scholar Cliff Sloan. The authors will be in conversation with journalist and best-selling presidential historian Jonathan Alter.

In Taming the Street, Henriques delivers the story of FDR’s fight to regulate Wall Street in the wake of the 1929 stock market crash and the ensuing Great Depression. With deep reporting and vivid storytelling, Pulitzer Prize finalist Henriques takes readers back to a time when the nation’s financial landscape was—as she writes—a jungle ruled by the titans of vast wealth, largely unrestrained by government. When Roosevelt ran for office in 1932, he vowed to make the world of finance safer for ordinary savers and investors. Success in this political struggle—as Taming the Street shows—was far from certain for FDR and his New Deal allies, who included the political dynasty builder Joseph P. Kennedy and future Supreme Court justice William O. Douglas. Wall Street’s old guard, led by New York Stock Exchange president Richard Whitney, fought every new rule to the “last legal ditch.” That clash—between two sharply different visions of financial power and federal responsibility—has shaped how “other people’s money” is managed in the United States to this day.

In The Court at War, Sloan provides the inside story of how—as he writes—one president forever altered the most powerful legal institution in the country. By the summer of 1941, in the ninth year of his presidency, FDR had molded his Court. He had appointed seven of the nine justices—the most by any president except George Washington—and handpicked the chief justice. But, as Sloan shows, the wartime Roosevelt Court had two faces: one bold and progressive, the other supine and abject, cowed by the charisma of the president. The Court at War explores this pivotal period and, in doing so, offers a compelling cast of characters in the justices—from the Vienna-born intellectual Felix Frankfurter to the Alabama populist Hugo Black; from the western “prodigy” William O. Douglas to Roosevelt’s former attorney general and Nuremberg prosecutor Robert Jackson. The justices’ capitulation and reluctance to cross their president, as captured by Sloan, highlight the dangers of an unseemly closeness between Supreme Court justices and their political patrons; but the FDR Court also provided a robust defense of individual rights—rights the current Court has put in jeopardy.

Jonathan Alter is a journalist, author, and television and film producer who was a columnist and senior editor for Newsweek magazine from 1983 until 2011. His books include The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope; His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life; and The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies. He is a contributing correspondent to NBC News, where since 1996 he has appeared on NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC. He has written for publications including The New York TimesThe Washington PostVanity Fair, and Daily Beast.

Diana B. Henriques is the author of five previous books, including the New York Times bestseller The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust, which was adapted as an HBO film starring Robert De Niro and was cited in the Netflix documentary series Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street. A staff writer for The New York Times from 1989 to 2012, she is a George Polk Award winner and a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and she has received Harvard’s Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, among other honors.

Cliff Sloan is a professor of constitutional law and criminal justice at Georgetown University Law Center. He has argued before the Supreme Court seven times. He has served in all three branches of the federal government, including as Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure, and is the author of The Great Decision: Jefferson, Adams, Marshall, and the Battle for the Supreme Court. His commentary on the Supreme Court and legal issues has appeared in the New York TimesWashington PostSlate, and on television and radio networks.

The Enduring Impact of the Roosevelt Presidency — on Wall Street and the Supreme Court | Posted on March 7th, 2024 | Book Discussions, Public Programs