Prompt: How “revolutionary” was the New Deal? Evaluate the significant changes that it brought and determine how different the nation became because of it.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” was the ultimate reform movement, providing bold reform without bloodshed or revolution. Although many Americans criticized President Roosevelt for his “try anything” approach and wasteful spending, Roosevelt saved the American system of free enterprise by stepping in and actually doing something to help the unemployed, starving masses during the Great Depression. Before Roosevelt was elected, the gap between the haves and have-nots was ever-widening and the country probably would have experienced a revolution if another laissez-faire president like Hoover had been elected in 1932. When Roosevelt was elected, he created a series of reforms to deal with the countless problems in American society; many failed, though some achieved long-lasting success and exist to this day. The New Deal was the ultimate “revolution” providing lasting reforms like Social Security and the Fair Labor Standards Act, and establishing precedents that continue to shape the lives of millions of Americans to this day.
Roosevelt was a radical president in many ways, expanding Federal power and establishing numerous precedents that have served to empower the federal government ever since. Unlike previous presidents, Roosevelt believed that the American government had an obligation to help its citizens in a crisis. Roosevelt also felt that doing anything was better than doing nothing and he was criticized frequently for this. Nonetheless, most of his “alphabet agencies” served their purposes and provided immediate rather than long-term relief to over nine million desperate Americans. He started by creating the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, which provided employment in government camps for three million young men. These men served doing useful, but (some would say) unnecessary tasks like reforesting, firefighting, draining swamps, and controlling floods. The Works Progress Administration, or WPA, was another extremely helpful agency during the Depression, putting $11 million dollars into public buildings, bridges, and hard-surfaced roads, creating millions of new jobs. To the American people who were used to coming into contact with the government only at the post office and on other infrequent occasions, Roosevelt’s system was ground-breaking; never before had the government intervened to help farmers in need (AAA), or homeowners struggling with mortgages (HOLC), or families starving during the winter (CWA). Roosevelt had no uncertainties or misgivings about the use of Federal money to help Americans. If the U.S. government would not help its own citizens, then who would? Roosevelt also made other revolutionary changes with his New Deal.
The plight of the worker had always been of concern to Roosevelt, and he did much during his time as president to improve overall working conditions. Firstly, Roosevelt set up the National Recovery Administration, or NRA, to assist labor unions in their struggle against greedy corporations. The NRA, for the first time in American history, guaranteed the right for labor union members to choose their own representatives in bargaining. The Fair Labor Standards Act, or “Wages and Hours Bill”, established maximum hours of labor, minimum wages, and forbid children under the age of sixteen from working. By limiting the number of hours a single worker could work, Roosevelt created new jobs and improved the working conditions for existing workers. Roosevelt was one of the first Presidents to earnestly fight for the rights of the average worker. The Fair Labor Standards Act is still in use today (though the monetary values have been increased to account for seventy years of inflation), and unions still have the rights that Roosevelt guaranteed to them with the NRA. Roosevelt, it seemed, went out of his way to ensure that workers were treated fairly and given their due rights. Roosevelt’s crowning achievement to Americans was the Social Security Act, which he signed in 1935, creating the pension, insurance for the old-aged, the blind, the physically handicapped, delinquent, and other dependents by taxing employees and employers; in essence, Americans were providing for their own futures. Social Security still exists today, and though some people oppose it, it no doubt provides a valuable service to people unable to care for themselves—which was Roosevelt’s strong point: appealing to the “forgotten man”. However, he had yet another lasting achievement that truly revolutionized America.
After the Wall Street Crash of 1929, it became apparent that speculation and overselling stocks and bonds were key causes of the crash. Roosevelt passed the Federal Securities Act to encourage honesty during the sale of stocks and bonds; promoters were required to transmit to the investor sworn information regarding the soundness of their investments. While many crooked businessmen hated Roosevelt for this, many historians argue that his wise actions saved the American system from untimely demise. With the passage of this Act, Roosevelt encouraged fairer trading and less speculation, which ultimately revitalized the American economy.
Roosevelt was a revolutionary for his time. He challenged the accepted role of government in society by intervening to improve the quality of life for countless Americans. Though his actions were controversial, it is clear that they had a positive effect on American society. Ultimately, though, it would take World War II to lift the American economy out of the Great Depression; Roosevelt’s New Deal served to satisfy the American people’s demands for action until America joined the war in 1941.
Aboukhadijeh, Feross. "Roosevelt and the Revolutionary New Deal" StudyNotes.org. Study Notes, LLC., 05 Jan. 2014. Web. 10 Mar. 2018. <https://www.apstudynotes.org/us-history/sample-essays/roosevelt-and-the-revolutionary-new-deal/>.
FDR's New Deal Summary & Analysis
New Deal for a Depression That's Getting Old
Shortly after taking office in 1932, Roosevelt announced the "3 Rs" of the New Deal program to the American people—it was a package deal of relief, recovery, and reform. Just what the doctor ordered.
In the field of relief, the New Deal proved to be highly successful. Millions of Americans, unable to find work in an economy that was still badly broken four years into the Great Depression, might have literally starved to death if not for the government checks they earned by working for new agencies like the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration.
But in retrospect, it's kind of an obvious solution: if the private sector isn't making jobs, maybe the government should.
In terms of reform, the New Deal legacy may have been unmatched in American history. For better or worse, Roosevelt's program drastically altered the relationship between the capitalist market, the people, and their government, creating for the first time in this country's history, an activist state committed to providing individual citizens with a measure of security against the unpredictable turns of the market.
Some believe this vast enlargement of the government's role in American society helped the country's long-run prospects. Others think we should allow the free market decide who starves. In any case, it remains a question of great political controversy to this day, but there can be no denying the magnitude of change wrought by FDR's presidency.
But when it came to recovery, the New Deal's performance lagged. It was certainly successful in both short-term relief, and in implementing long-term structural reform. However, as Roosevelt's political enemies fought him, the New Deal failed to end the Great Depression. Throughout the decade of the 1930s, unemployment remained brutally high, while economic growth remained painfully slow.
Recovery only came about, at last, in Roosevelt's third term, when the heavy demands of mobilization for World War II finally restored the country to full employment, in essence by doing exactly what the New Deal had been attempting: providing government-created jobs.
Ironically, then, Adolf Hitler probably did more to end the Great Depression in America than Franklin Roosevelt did. Yikes.
Still, despite failing in its most important objective, the New Deal forever changed the country. Roosevelt built a dominant new political coalition, creating a Democratic majority that lasted for half a century. The structural stability and social security provided by the New Deal's reforms underlay a postwar economic boom that many historians and economists have described as the "golden age of American capitalism."
And Roosevelt permanently changed the American people's expectations of their presidents and their government, by actually, you know, doing stuff. Fortunately for later presidents, this expectation has since been rescinded.