The 'First 100 Days' Presidential Benchmark Goes Back To FDR And Napoleon President Trump's first 100 days in office are almost over. He says he's done more than any president to date. But where did the idea of the 'first 100 days' come from?

The 'First 100 Days' Presidential Benchmark Goes Back To FDR And Napoleon

The 'First 100 Days' Presidential Benchmark Goes Back To FDR And Napoleon

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President Trump's first 100 days in office are almost over. He says he's done more than any president to date. But where did the idea of the 'first 100 days' come from?


Well, you can't escape it. The phrase, 100 days, is everywhere this spring like pollen. You'd be forgiven for thinking the first 100 days of a presidency has some legal meaning or significance like it was part of the Constitution. It's not. So where did this notion of 100 days come from anyway? That's the kind of question we like to toss to Professor Ron. You know him as NPR's Ron Elving, senior editor and correspondent on the Washington desk.


RON ELVING, BYLINE: The first 100 days of a presidency is in no sense an official deadline for anything. It's a milestone, but it's an irresistible one for media people.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: The 100-day standard of measurement...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Rating President Trump's first 100 days in office...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: It's a critical milestone for any president...

ELVING: President Trump sent a tweet calling the milestone ridiculous and claiming not to care about it, but this past week he also said this.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No administration has accomplished more in the first 90 days.

ELVING: What makes the notion of 100 days so powerful? Well, first there's the sound of it. One hundred days - it's the ultimate round number. It's an elevated way of asking - how's it going so far? - like you're checking your watch. But the phrase is also rich with historical resonances, and there are two huge points of comparison - Napoleon and Franklin D. Roosevelt. So let's take them in order.


ELVING: The French self-styled Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was dethroned in 1814 and sent into exile on the island of Elba. But the wily Bonaparte escaped and returned to France in March of the following year. And over the next 100 days, he made it to Paris, rallied his old army and united much of the country behind him.


ELVING: Then he marched off to face the combined armies of Europe, losing to them badly at the Battle of Waterloo.


ELVING: After that, it was back to exile. This time at a more secure location.

The story of Franklin Roosevelt's first 100 days as president of the United States was less dramatic, perhaps, but equally legendary. Roosevelt was inaugurated in March of 1933 in the depths of the worst economic depression of U.S. history.


FRANKLIN D ROOSEVELT: Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

ELVING: Over the course of his first hundred days in office, FDR was able to shore up the shaky banking system, unleash a flood of major legislation and hold the nation in thrall with the first of his fireside chats.


ROOSEVELT: My friends, I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking.

ELVING: Working with highly-supportive Democratic Congress, FDR laid the groundwork for what he called the New Deal, a new set of economic powers for the government. Since that era, FDR successors have tried to make the most of their first 100 days.

John F. Kennedy, in 1961, created the Peace Corps. He also greenlighted the CIA's disastrous invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs and began deepening the U.S. military commitment in Vietnam. Still, JFK is remembered today for the breath of fresh air he brought to Washington and the national mood.


JOHN F KENNEDY: Let the word go forth from this time and place to friend and foe alike that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.

ELVING: Two turbulent decades later, much the same was said of Ronald Reagan, who promised a return to America's glory days. Reagan's first few months in office included surviving an assassin's bullet.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #4: This is a CBS News Special Report. Good day, shots have been fired at President Reagan according to initial reports...

ELVING: And reordering federal budget priorities more radically than anyone since Roosevelt. We have seen other new presidents past some big new tax cuts and big new spending programs. We've also seen them stumble in their relations with Congress, even when their own party controlled Capitol Hill. And we have seen them resent the reckoning that comes with 100 days.


BARACK OBAMA: Good evening, everybody.

ELVING: Eight years ago, at the White House correspondents' dinner President Obama made this joke.


OBAMA: I would like to welcome you all to the ten-day anniversary of my first 100 days.


ELVING: But like it or not, artificial or real, the marker at 100 days is now with us permanently like a Hallmark holiday. I'm Ron Elving, NPR News Washington.


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