*In 1932, Herbert Hoover had
almost no chance of being re-elected, but he ran nonetheless, and lost
by the largest margin a president facing re-election has ever suffered
(winning only 6 states and 39.7% of the popular vote). The winner
was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, distant cousin of Theodore.
*Franklin Roosevelt was
also a distant cousin of his wife, Eleanor. He had also suffered
from polio when he was younger and lost the use of his legs. He
went to great lengths to hide this, though, wearing leg braces and
often being propped up by two friends when in public, and the media of
the time worked with him to do this.
*FDR was sworn in on 4
March, 1933. He was the last time a president was sworn in in
March, as the XX Amendment moved the inauguration date to 20 January,
because waiting almost 4 months between the election and inauguration
made it too hard for the new president to respond to crises (partly
because FDR refused to work with Hoover on anything substantial, to
make sure he got all the credit for any programmes that worked well).
employed a group of professional and academic experts known as the
Brain Trust to help him create his New Deal. He even put two
Republicans in his cabinet and also chose Frances Perkins as Secretary
of Labor, the first woman in the cabinet.
*When FDR came into
office, there was great enthusiasm for his New Deal, and in the First
Hundred Days (a standard against which all subsequent administrations
have been measured), Congress passed many of his ideas into law.
Furthermore, he communicated his ideas to the people by radio, in a
series of fireside chats that helped keep Americans calm during
crises—among other things, he said that the only thing we have to fear
is fear itself.
*A new banking panic
was gripping the country as people began withdrawing funds again.
To prevent any more banks failing (over 4,000 already had), Roosevelt
declared a 4-day Bank Holiday, closing all banks so they could get
their affairs in order. When banks reopened, people did not run
*Other parts of the New
Deal included the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which
insured deposits up to $5,000 (and currently up to $250,000) per
person. Runs on banks largely ended as people felt their money
*Later, the Securities
Exchange Commission (SEC) began to regulate the stock market.
*The Federal Housing
Administration (FHA) lent money to homeowners to make mortgage payments.
*The National Recovery
Act (NRA) set minimum wages and minimum prices, so both workers and
businesses could make money.
*The XXI Amendment
Adjustment Act (AAA) helped farmers with subsidies, paying farmers to
limit their production (and even destroy excess produce they had on
hand, which many starving Americans saw as immoral). This led to
a rise in farm prices, but farmers have depended on the government for
other subsidies ever since.
*The Tennessee Valley
Authority (TVA) built dams in the Tennessee River Valley, creating jobs
building dams, providing cheap electricity, providing water for
irrigation, and controlling floods. It also replanted forests,
taught farmers better farming techniques, and began to bring the South
into the modern world, as cheap electricity attracted industry and
allowed many people to enjoy the comforts of modern life. The
Rural Electrification Administration (REA) did similar things for other
Conservation Corps (CCC) employed young men in a military style
organisation that built parks (including the Appalachian Trail), fought
fires, and undertook other outdoor projects. They had plenty to
do, as Roosevelt set aside about 12 million acres of land as National
*The Civil Works
Administration (CWA) and later, the much larger Works Progress
Administration (WPA) created many kinds of public works jobs for the
unemployed, building dams, bridges, highways, power plants, and
government buildings. The Stone Castle in Bristol was built by
the WPA. The WPA even gave jobs to artists and academics (they
painted murals in the WPA buildings and collected the stories of former
slaves in their old age).
*The Social Security
Act taxed workers, but paid pensions to retired workers who had
contributed to it.
*To pay for all these
programmes, the government went deeply into debt as the deficit
increased nearly 10 times between 1932 and 1936. The economist
John Maynard Keynes, though, said the government needed to do this to
prime the pump, as getting money into the hands of the people through
government spending would allow people to begin consuming again, thus
allowing factories to begin producing again, thus creating jobs, all of
which could be taxed to repay the government’s debts eventually.
that Roosevelt was turning American into a socialist country and that
creating a Welfare State in which people depended on the government
sapped initiative and removed the need for personal
responsibility. Many also criticised how deeply the government
went into debt. Eventually Congress stopped passing Roosevelt’s
ideas so quickly (although a Second New Deal, mostly in 1935, also
created important programmes, such as the WPA and Social Security).
*On the other hand,
some people criticised Roosevelt for not going far enough. Father
Charles Coughlin criticised Roosevelt in a popular radio programme for
not nationalising industry (but he also was fervently anti-Communist
and anti-Semitic), although eventually the Catholic Church forced him
to stop his broadcasts.
*Huey Long, governor
and senator from Louisiana wanted to Share the Wealth by placing very
high taxes on the rich and giving the money to the poor (and skimming
some off for himself and his friends). He was deeply corrupt, and
was assassinated in 1935.
was easily re-elected in 1936, winning every state but Maine and
*During his second
term, Roosevelt did more to allow working class people to help
themselves. The Wagner Act recognised the right of workers to
join unions and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 outlawed child
labour, set a 25-cent per hour minimum wage, and created a 44-hour
maximum work week.
*Workers in many
unskilled or low-skill jobs (who could not join the skilled craft
unions of the AFL) created a new group of unions, the Congress of
Industrial Organizations (CIO), which organised a successful strike of
the United Auto Workers against General Motors in Flint,
Michigan. Between 1930 and 1940, the number of union members
*As soon as Roosevelt
was sworn into his second term, he confronted the most conservative
part of the government, the Supreme Court. The Court had already
overturned some parts of the New Deal, particularly the NRA. To
prevent this happening again, Roosevelt asked Congress to add up to six
more justices to the Supreme Court, supposedly to help out the elderly
members of the Court. Opponents said this was a court packing
scheme, and it failed. Nonetheless, the Court did uphold many of
his New Deal programmes (often by a 5-4 margin).
*Still, after the Court
Packing scheme failed, Roosevelt found less support for continuing the
New Deal, partly because the Depression continued to drag on.
Although the New Deal had kept it from getting worse, the economy still
had violent ups and downs (including a surge in unemployment to 20% in
1938). Furthermore, the New Deal had achieved its successes
through a vast enlargement of the government and its powers, involving
it in far more people’s lives and making many people dependent on the