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Drought and Depression


The entire economic system of the United States began to break down following the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Unemployment swept across the nation, and North Dakota suffered even more than most of the country because of a devastating drought. Production was down and so were prices. In 1933, the per capita personal income in the United States was $375. But in North Dakota, it was only $145. Thousands lost their farms. There was a mass migration out of the state. Over one third of the remaining population lived on relief.

North Dakotans were not united in how the government should respond to the crisis. They tended to be extremely independent. Farmers did not want the government to tell them to change their farming methods, and the residents in general were reluctant to live on charity handed out by Washington, considering it a loss of independence and freedom. In spite of efforts by a Democratic Administration to get the country back on its feet, North Dakotans remained staunchly Republican.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected in 1932 and inaugurated on March 4, 1933. More than 13 million Americans were out of work. There was no time to lose. He had to act, and he had to act fast. On this date in 1933, the Emergency Banking Act was introduced in a special joint session of Congress. The sense of crisis was so great that there was only one written copy of the Act available, and it was read aloud before Congress. It passed that evening. Roosevelt immediately signed it into law. The Act expanded the powers of the President to respond to a banking crisis, allowing him to regulate virtually all banking functions.

Roosevelt told Americans that “It is safer to keep your money in a reopened bank than under the mattress.” His immediate action had the desired effect. Within two weeks, Americans deposited more than half the funds they had withdrawn from banks. The Stock Market began a slow recovery.

The Great Depression was by no means over. North Dakotans continued to suffer. People drifted off the farms into towns, where they were no better off. Governor Langer believed it was crucial to increase farm prices to save the state. He declared a moratorium on farm foreclosures. With measures instituted by both Washington and Bismarck, North Dakota slowly emerged from the Great Depression.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Robinson, Elwyn B. The History of North Dakota. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1966.

Federal Reserve. "http://www.federalreservehistory.org/Events/DetailView/23" http://www.federalreservehistory.org/Events/DetailView/23 Accessed 27 February, 2015.