This chapter shows that deference to precedent and the early crystallization of the basic structure of the disaster narrative did not preclude innovation in what counted as a “disaster.” Instead, it defined the hurdles that a claimant had to overcome in order to be compensated as others had been in the past. In particular, a successful disaster story had to identify an entity or event that was wholly outside the control of the would-be victim, yet which was causally linked to an outcome intimately affecting his material condition. The chapter traces efforts to expand the role of the disaster relief precedent, beginning with its use to authorize the Freedmen's Bureau in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War through measures such as the effort to secure federal aid to education in the 1880, unemployment relief during the Depression of 1893, and federal farm loans during the first decades of the twentieth century.
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