The New York Times/CBS News Poll asked: "Are you...

LAST WEEK

April 10, 1995|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

LAST WEEK the New York Times/CBS News Poll asked: "Are you mostly pleased or disappointed with the things the Republicans have done in the first 100 days of the new Congress?"

Forty-seven percent said "disappointed," 39 percent said "pleased." I guess 14 percent said, "You idiot! It's April 4! Congress has only been in session 91 days! How can I answer that? Come back next week!"

* * * *

Now about this hundred days business. When did it start? Who started it?

In this country it is used to refer to the period Congress was in emergency session immediately after the inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933.

During that period more -- and more important -- legislation was sped through Congress and the White House and into the U.S. Code than in any other similar period in history. In the depths of the Great Depression and national despair, FDR and Congress created the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Home Owners Loan Corporation, the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, the National Recovery Administration; they took the nation off the gold standard, greatly changed banking and security laws.

All that (and more, including legalizing beer) in the period from March 9 to June 16. Exactly 100 days. But who first noticed? Who first said so?

I find no use of the phrase by FDR in Volume II of his public papers, speeches and press conferences, "The Year of Crisis."

There is no answer to those questions in "Safire's New Political Dictionary," sub-titled "The Definitive Guide to the New Language of Politics." Nor in Nicholas Comfort's "Brewer's Politics," sub-titled "A Phrase and Fable Dictionary."

Nor does Arthur Schlesinger Jr. give credit to a coiner in "The Coming of the New Deal." Nor does James E. Sargent, who wrote the "Hundred Days" entry in "Franklin D. Roosevelt/His Life and Times/An Encyclopedic View."

Sargent's is the definitive account, according to the FDR Library. He does say this, "Dubbed the 'hundred days' by newsmen, the name derived from Napoleon's return to power for 100 days before the Battle of Waterloo in 1815." But he doesn't say which newsmen.

I've searched The Sun and The Evening Sun for June of 1933, and I find no reference to a hundred days. A news story from our Washington bureau on June 11 referred to the record of "fourteen weeks." Associated Press and United Press stories that month summing up the record made no reference to the time involved. A Sun editorial on June 17 was headlined "Fifteen Weeks."

FDR sent a note of thanks to the speaker of the House and the president pro tem of the Senate June 16 in which he referred to the historic period as "the past few months."

So there we are. If some reader knows the answer to the question, please let me know.

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