In 1932, the American people wanted a change and they elected a new leader. The people elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt as president in the election of 1932, and he immediately began to make changes. The president began to speak to the American people in an informal or casual way. On March 12, 1933, approximately sixty million Americans gathered around their radios, to listen to their newly elected leader. They had already gone through four years of difficult times and they were worried and discouraged. President Roosevelt called his talks fireside chats. He spoke in calm and comforting words and this helped him win the confidence of the people. For the first time since the depression, Americans were beginning to feel hope.
The first phase of the New Deal was to try something. Roosevelt came into office with no clear idea of how he was going to deal with the economic crisis. This did not dismay him. “There is nothing to do,” he said, “but meet each days troubles as they come”. Some laws were passed against the president’s wishes, but he signed them to head off something he liked even less, or to avoid holding up other legislation. His principal contribution to the New Deal, in addition to dynamic leadership and political skill, was his “try something” philosophy. He likened himself to a quarterback on a football team who calls plays, and if one does not work, try another. In any case, he felt, action was better than inaction. Despite what seem like apparent confusion, the New Deal had three aims: recovery from the depression, relief for its victims, and reform of the economic system. Much of the legislation reflected all three of these purposes.
During the first phase of the Roosevelt administration, 1933 to early 1935, the dominant purposes were recovery and relief. During this period, the president and his advisers had the idea that through a series of temporary expedients they could get the economy into high gear again, and then let it carry on by its own momentum. The ‘first New Deal” was therefore not much different in purpose and philosophy from Hoover’s efforts to stem the depression. During this early period, too, Roosevelt resembled Hoover in seeking support of the business community. He spoke of an alliance of “business and banking, agriculture and industry, and labor and capital”. His purpose throughout his entire presidency was to save the capitalist system. The difference from the previous administration was in the magnitude and variety of legislation and in a much greater willingness to call on full powers of the federal government.
People with savings in the banks that had not yet failed were worried. They wanted to take their money out, but if they did those banks would fail too.
So on March 5, the president closed all the banks. He called the closing a “bank holiday”. Then he got Congress to pass a bill that helped the banks. That bill became law on March 9th. Just three days later he gave his first fireside chat. He wanted to explain his actions to the people. He told them it was safe to leave their money in the banks. The banks reopened on Monday March 13th. That day Americans put more money into the banks than they took out. The president’s action had ended the banking crisis.
The bank holiday marked the beginning of the Hundred Days. During the first hundred days in office, Congress passed fifteen major laws. Not all of the laws worked well, some were failures. Still, the Hundred Days showed the American people that President Roosevelt was different from Hoover and many of them believed that Roosevelt would give them a New Deal.
President Roosevelt’s New Deal had three main goals. The first was to provide help to millions of suffering Americans. The second was to improve the economy. The third was to pass new laws so that there were not so many poor people. People called these the “three R’s of relief, recovery and reform. Several relief measures became law during the Hundred Days. One law set up a program that gave jobs to hundreds of thousands of young men. Their jobs included planting trees, fighting fires and working to control floods. Another law set up an agency that gave money to states to help the needy. There were two major laws that were to aide economic recovery. One set up the National Recovery Administration. Its job was to get businesses, workers and the government together. The National Recovery administration set up rules to control competition between businesses. It also protected workers who wanted to organize unions. However, it was not successful. It favored large businesses over small ones, and many businesses did not follow the codes. The same law that created the National Recovery Administration created a program that spent billions of dollars on large building projects. The projects included highways, public buildings and dams. Businesses that worked on the projects hired more workers. The most famous was the Grand Coulee Dam on the Colorado River.
Another major law tried to help the farmers by reducing the amount of crops they produced. Fewer crops would help raise prices. Then, the income of the farmer would rise. The government therefore paid the farmer not to plant crops.
The most important reform law of the Hundred Days set up the Tennessee Valley Authority. In 1933, the Tennessee Valley was one of the poorest regions in the United States. Flooding was a serious problem. Few of the people in the region had electricity. Under the Tennessee Valley Authority the government built dams on the Tennessee River. It also build dams on smaller rivers that flowed into it. These dams controlled the flooding while providing cheap electricity. It was a great success. It saved millions of acres of land. It also provided good jobs for the people and brought prosperity to their region.
The New Deal improved conditions for some Americans after 1933. Unemployment dropped by two million by 1935. Still, over nine million were without jobs.
Roosevelt was not about to give up. “it is common sense to take a method and try it”. “If it fails, admit it frankly and try another”. But above all, try something, he said. The president introduced a new series of New Deal Laws during 1935. One law put millions of people to work around the country. They built or repaired thousands of roads, hospitals, schools, airports and playgrounds. Over the next eight years the government gave jobs to over 8.5 million people.
The Social Security Act of 1935 was one of the New Deal’s most important reforms. It provided pensions to retired Americans. The law also set up a system of unemployment insurance. This protected Americans who lost their jobs. The government would give them money for a certain period of time. The social security also provided payments to disabled or needy people. These payments are known as welfare. The system was not perfect. It did not give all retired Americans pensions, nor did it give all Americans unemployment insurance. However, it was a giant step toward improvement in the lives of millions of Americans.
In 1936 Franklin Roosevelt was reelected president. The New Deal programs continued. But all the New Deal’s laws and programs could not end the depression. In fact from 1937 to 1938 the depression grew worse. It lasted until the beginning of World War II. The huge amounts of government spending on the war effort finally got the economy going.
The New Deal was not popular with all Americans. Some believed that the programs would make people too dependent on the government. Others feared the programs would make the government too powerful. However, most thought that the New Deal was a success. It provided much needed help to millions of Americans. The New Deal made the government take responsibility to help those in need. Its reforms reduced the differences between the rich and the poor.
The New Deal helped many groups to take part more fully in American life. Under some of its programs immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, women, African Americans, Latinos and native Americans were given new opportunities. Immigrants from the southern and eastern parts of Europe held many important jobs during Roosevelt’s presidency. These immigrants also joined the growing labor union movement. Under the provided opportunities for women, Frances Perkins became the first woman to serve in the president’s cabinet. She was appointed Secretary of Labor. Thousands of women were appointed to jobs in the government, many running the New Deal programs. The president’s wife, Eleanor encouraged, this, and if I may say so , probably encouraged the president to hire qualified women.
African Americans were at first disappointed in the New Deal. Early programs allowed discrimination against them. The main reason was that the president needed white southern congressmen to vote for these programs. To get their vote, he had to permit discrimination when the programs started operating. For example, some programs paid African American workers less than whites. Other programs forced them to live in segregated or separate housing, from the whites. And, African American workers who were serving in Civilian Conservation Corps served in segregated units. Later this began to change. The President began to name African Americans to important posts. One of the most important of the people was Mary Mcleod Bethune. Bethune was a well known educator from the south. Although her family was poor, they made sure that she received a good education. Mary Mcleod Bethune studied and became a teacher, but she wanted to do more. In the early 1900’s she set out to establish a school for African Americans. She had little money, so she sold pies and cakes to raise money for her school. In the end, she succeeded. Her school eventually became Bethune-Cookman College in Florida, a college that still exists today.
Roosevelt appointed Bethune to head an important government office in 1935. Bethune’s job was to make sure money intended for African American students actually reached them. She helped over 300,000 African American people get an education. The new Deal did not end discrimination, but it began to move toward that goal.
The New Deal also helped many Latinos. Many worked on government projects. Some Mexican American artists found jobs painting murals for public buildings. Senator Dennis Chavez of New Mexico helped get relief to Spanish speaking communities. Chavez was the only Latino in the U.S. Senate, and in spite of all of his great efforts, many Mexicans living in the United States were not citizens an therefore did not qualify for help. And unfortunately President Roosevelt continued the policy begun under President Hoover and continued to send migrant workers back to Mexico.
But fear not, the New Deal also helped the Native Americans. A social worker named John Collier became head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He fought hard for Native American rights. Collier used the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 to help Native American Indians to preserve their culture. He also worked to stop Native American land from being sold.
In 1938 Congress passed a number of New Deal measures that carried out earlier policies. A Fair Labor Standards Act abolished child labor and provided for a ceiling on hours and a floor under wages, at least for most of the workers engaged in businesses that were classified as “interstate commerce”. A new Farm Settlement Administration was established to promote the well-being of poverty stricken farmers and was more efficient than the earlier Resettlement administration in doing do. Attempts were made to cope with the difficulty of surpluses by paying farmers not merely to take land out of production but also to improve the condition of the soil and control its erosion. It also proposed providing facilities so that the surpluses could be stored from year to year. A food stamp plan helped end the scandal of hunger in the midst of plenty by distributing without charge surplus agricultural products among those on relief.
An important part of the second phase of the New Deal brought about an anti-monopoly philosophy. Congress established a Temporary National Economic Committee. It conducted an investigation into American business practices. The Committee collected testimony and evidence that revealed some businesses engaged in price-fixing, in the deliberate creation of scarcity, in agreements not to compete, and in the abuse of patent laws. But by the time action could take place in order to provide some assistance, the country was again at war, and there was little interest or time in enacting new legislation.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the most towering president of the twentieth century. He changed the relationship of government to the American people. Before 1933, Americans had not looked for help of any kind. Because of Roosevelt and his New Deal, however, Americans came to see the government as a potential employer and provider.
The New Deal brought jobs and relief to millions of Americans. It did not however end the
depression. The depression ended because of World War II. During the war the nations economy was devoted to the production of weapons and other materials necessary to win the conflict. Roosevelt presided over an enormous change in American and the presidency of the United States. The war only helped to increase the size and power of the presidential office. The presidency would never be the same nor would the world.