FDR and the New Deal
During the Great Depression, many serious political, economic, and social problems were left behind by former president Herbert Hoover that called for greater government intervention that had never been previously implemented before. Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was elected president at the darkest hour of the Great Depression, and re-created the role of the president and the federal government when he pledged to “use the power of the federal government” to “combat the economic crisis” that was “paralyzing the nation” (Norton et al).
Through his expansion of the government and response to the problems of the Great Depression, Roosevelt introduced his New Deal policy, a legislation aimed to stabilize and fix the economic disparity plaguing America through relief, reform, and recovery. FDR was devoted to “guarantee…every American a minimum standard of subsistence” through his New Deal programs as well as dissipate the crisis of the Great Depression (Leuchtenberg).
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Along with setting a standard of living for every citizen, Roosevelt was determined to create a more humane industrial system to protect the rights of workers and their families, but clashed with big business barons along the way. While FDR expanded the role of the federal government and created the New Deal to address the problems from the Great Depression, his administration’s response to these problems was not completely effective as it failed to end the Great Depression entirely, resulting in a half-way revolution of American politics and society.
Throughout his presidency, FDR dramatically and positively changed the government by expanding its role significantly. According to Leuchtenberg, FDR “re-created the modern Presidency” by “greatly expand[ing]” the president’s “legislative functions”, shifting from a laissez-faire presidency to directing the course of Congress.
FDR made unprecedented shifts around the White House by creating the Executive Office of the President, shifting the Bureau of the Budget from the Treasury to his wing, and created “The Brain Trust”, a group of appointed officials that gave many “devoted and highly skilled men” the chance to have their interests and ideas a chance to be recognized and encouraged everyone to have a voice. Roosevelt exhibited thoughtfulness by procrastinating new proposals in order to arrive at “a sense of national consensus” and “reach…a decision by observing a trial by combat” among “rival theories” (Leuchtenberg).
Through the expansion of government, FDR was also able to set a minimum standard of living of every citizen and implemented acts to preserve and maintain this right. Although FDR made great strides in re-creating the presidency, some were critical of his expansion of the federal government. In Document F, Charles Evans Hughes criticizes the National Recovery Administration, part of FDR’s New Deal that guaranteed government protection of the rights of workers by setting minimum wages and maximum weekly hours and allowed collective bargaining and union organizing activity.
Hughes argued that the “persons employed” were “not employed in interstate commerce” and that “their wages ha[d] no direct relation to interstate commerce”. He strongly believed that the expansion of government was unconstitutional and that the “authority of the federal government may not be pushed to such an extreme” (Document F). However, Document C, a political cartoon published by The Evening Star, demonstrated an opposing view from Hughes that the growth of the federal government was not a rejection of the American constitution.
The cartoon shows that the expansion of the federal government was an evolution of government ranging from its cabinet members to the labor forces and the American people rather than a revolution of government. The artist depicts FDR as a Progressive president who is simply building upon the nation’s Progressive past rather than trying to create a socialist nation. The author of Document H also agreed that the “government as an instrument” of “democratic action” had been “strengthened and renovated”.
Along with the “addition of many new agencies”, the expansion of government also led to a “more efficient organization of the whole executive department” (Document H). Although there were opposing views regarding Roosevelt’s expansion of the federal government, this expansion was crucial in making the New Deal possible. Without the expansion of the federal government, the relief, recovery and reform programs of the New Deal would have never been able to be executed to address the crisis of the Great Depression affecting many needy Americans.
Through Roosevelt’s expansion of the federal government, his administration tried to regulate big business and tackle labor issues from the Great Depression. In the New Deal, FDR created legislations such as the Wagner Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act that were aimed to ensure government protection for the rights of workers by guaranteeing their right to join unions and requiring employers to cooperate with unions to set wages, hours, and working conditions.
He also implemented the National Industry Recovery Act (NIRA) which authorized competing businesses to cooperate in establishing industry wide codes which would stabilize prices, increase consumer spending, raise customer demand and allow industries to rehire workers and create more jobs. However, some people were opposed to Roosevelt’s regulation of big business and response to labor issues, and several employers refused to follow these labor policies resulting in labor unrest. In Document B, the author was in favor of big business and the use of trickle down methods to create employment.
He felt that Roosevelt’s administration was “accelerating its pace towards socialism and communism” and that FDR was “against stimulation of business” which would “in the end create employment”. The author believed that the labor policies created by Roosevelt seemed to be leading the nation to a “condition where the Government must more and more expand its relief activities” and would “lead in the end to disaster to all” (Document B). Document J exhibits a persistent “unemployment of nonfarm workers” during Roosevelt’s presidency.
According to the graph, unemployment did not significantly drop until the commencement of World War II, suggesting that unemployment was not solved by the New Deal during the Great Depression but through other outside forces. However, not everyone felt that high unemployment and labor unrest was attributed to the New Deal policies. In Document G, John L. Lewis argues that it was the “refusal of employers to grant such reasonable conditions” to cooperate with their employees through “collective bargaining that lead…to widespread labor unrest”.
He agreed with FDR’s labor policies and believed that “huge corporations…ha[d] no right to transgress the law” that gave workers the “right of self-organization and collective bargaining” (Document G). While Roosevelt and his administration made a strong effort to regulate big business, confront labor issues, and diminish unemployment, there were still fundamental problems that resulted in a half-way revolution in these areas. Like big business and labor, social and welfare issues were addressed but were not entirely resolved during FDR’s presidency.
Roosevelt implemented many social and welfare policies in the hopes of providing relief and reform of the problems from the Great Depression. For the first time, the federal government assumed its new rule in government to use deficit spending to stimulate the economy and offer relief to the needy and unemployed. FDR created New Deal relief and reform programs such as the Civilian Conversation Corps, Public Works Administration, Civil Works Administration, Works Progress Administration, and the Social Security Act that created jobs for the jobless and reinvigorated the economy through deficit spending and government intervention.
However, some people felt that the deficit spending for the New Deal policies was impractical. In Document D, William Lloyd Garrison, Jr. stated that FDR “commenced the plan of buying Utopia for cash”, and while the government money was meant to help, the “enormous outpouring of federal money for human relief” and the “immense sums for public-works projects” would only add to the national debt (Document D). Although some felt that these programs were too idealistic and would not help, programs like the Social Security Act had a long lasting beneficial effect on American life.
The Social Security Act created, for the first time, a federal method to provide for the social welfare of the American people in which “everybody working for salary or wages” would pay Social Security taxes on their wages and would later receive federal retirement benefits. Document E shows a poster promoting the Social Security Act. Because of the expansion of the federal government, government intervention was now felt directly by the people as the government gave money, or “a monthly Social Security check”, to working Americans (Document E).
However, Social Security benefits were not extended to people working in agriculture, domestic services, and government work, and did not provide retirement benefits for spouses or widows. Many African Americans and women fell into these categories, and these groups felt discriminated against as they received no benefits from the program. Many other New Deal programs that tried to include all Americans in relief also ended up discriminating against some Americans.
In Document I, the author stated that while the “Roosevelt administration” declared that it had “tired to include the Negro in nearly every phase” of the New Deal programs, there were still “instances where government policies ha[d] harmed the race”. The author noted that while the “government has taken on meaning and substance for the Negro masses”, “negroes are a part of the country” and must “be considered in any program for the country as a whole” (Document I). Women, like African Americans, where also singled out in many of the New Deal policies.
In Document A, Meridel Lesueur explains that while there were “as many women out of jobs in cities” and “suffering extreme poverty as there are men”, they were not assisted in the same way men with the New Deal. Women, unlike men, were “silent sufferers”, and you would not “see women lying on the floor of the mission in free flops” or “in the bread line” like men who were more vocal about their suffering. While Roosevelt’s New Deal programs made a great effort to include all Americans in relief, only half of the population was getting the necessary help to get back on track.
Through the New Deal and government expansion, Roosevelt responded to the problems of the Great Depression but failed to end the Great Depression completely, leading to a half-way revolution of American politics and society. Left with the problems resulting from Herbert Hoover’s presidency, Franklin Roosevelt was forced to come up with a solution to end the problems of the Great Depression. FDR created the New Deal, expanded the role of the federal government, and introduced deficit spending to stimulate the economy.
Although some deemed the expansion of government unconstitutional, it was a necessary course of action to make the New Deal plausible. Through government expansion, Roosevelt tried to reduce unemployment by regulating big business and tackling labor issues. However, with big business resistance and labor unrest, the unemployment rate stayed significantly high until the beginning of World War II, suggesting that outside forces, not the New Deal, ended the economic crisis.
Through the New Deal, Roosevelt developed many relief programs to provide hope, jobs, and economic recovery to the nation. Although he tried to include everyone in these programs, certain groups such as African Americans and women were left out and still suffered throughout his presidency. While Roosevelt did not end the Great Depression and address all the problems of the economic downfall, he re-created the modern presidency, permanently altered American society, and created many influential structures that still have an impact on the nation today.