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Occupy Wall Street: an American tradition since 1776

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But the angriest attacks came from Roosevelt’s distant cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who took office amid the worst financial crisis in American history. And FDR had no doubt about who was responsible for it: the financiers themselves.

“The fundamental trouble with this whole Stock Exchange Crowd is.... their inability to understand the country or the public or their obligations to their fellow men,” Roosevelt told an aide. In his first “fireside chat” on national radio, President Roosevelt flatly declared that “fewer than three dozen private banking houses” controlled “the flow of American capital.”

In its darker corners, to be sure, populism could slide easily into paranoia and hatred – especially toward Jews. The “Jewish banker” became a stock figure for anti-Semites such as Henry Ford, Father Charles Coughlin (the “radio priest”), and Henry Adams, the eminent novelist and historian.

Adams wrote in 1893 that “in a society of Jews and brokers, a world made-up of maniacs wild for gold, I have no place.” His brother Brooks Adams, also a prominent author, felt the same way. “Rome was a blessed garden of paradise beside the rotten, unsexed, swindling, lying Jews,” Brooks Adams told Henry, “represented by J.P. Morgan and the gang who have been manipulating our economy...”

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