American History
The Welfare State

*One of Roosevelt’s most important political assets was his wife.  Eleanor travelled the country (much more easily than her crippled husband) and visited the homes and workplaces of the working class and the poor, even African-Americans and American Indians.  She was strongly opposed to sexism and racism, and tried to win greater equality for women and for blacks.

*The New Deal did help African-Americans in many ways.  Roosevelt had many black advisors—so many that they were known as the Black Cabinet.  However, he did not support anti-lynching laws or a number of other laws against racism because he did not want to turn Southern Democrats against him.  Furthermore, as government subsidies encouraged farmers to grow fewer crops, many black sharecroppers and tenant farmers were evicted by landowners who wanted to produce less. 

*Despite this, FDR began to bring African-Americans into the Democratic Party while strengthening its traditional base among farmers and industrial workers.  This New Deal Coalition was so powerful that, after 40 years as a minority party, the Democrats were able to hold the majority in the House of Representatives for all but four years between 1932 and 1995 and hold the presidency for all but eight years between 1933 and 1969.

*The New Deal may have helped poor farmers more than anyone else.  TVA and the REA allowed people in rural areas to enjoy many of the conveniences of modern life.

*Read the quote on page 418.

*Above all, FDR wanted to create a Welfare State in which no-one was left out.  He did not achieve this, but many more Americans received help from the government than ever before.

*Furthermore, FDR become the most powerful president up to his time, and set standards that all subsequent presidents have tried to follow, from measuring the beginning of their terms by how much they could accomplish in the first Hundred Days to having to not only be leaders but media stars on radio and later on television.

*When World War II began, FDR was elected to a third term (1940) and to a fourth (1944) just before its end.  This worried many Americans (especially Republicans), and the XXII Amendment (1951) limited future presidents to two terms (or ten years).

*Despite the poverty of the period, the people of the 1930s did enjoy a few things.  Movies continued to be popular (with two thirds of Americans seeing a movie at least once a week in 1939), with gangster films prominent in the early 1930s, and the later 1930s filled with colour blockbusters like Snow White (the first animated feature-length film), Gone with the Wind (which set a record with 10 Academy Awards that stood for 20 years until Ben-Hur beat it with 11 (a record since matched by Titanic and The Lord of the Rings:  The Return of the King), and The Wizard of Oz.

*On the other hand, the paranoia of hard times made people open to frightening news.  The most famous radio broadcast was Orson Welles’s broadcast of The War of the Worlds the night before Halloween, 1930.  Listeners tuning in partway through did not know it was fictional, and some were convinced that Martians were really invading the United States.

*Some novels reflected the period’s problems, too.  John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath portrayed a family of Okies moving the California, and the misery, human cruelty, and disappointment they meet on the way.

*The 1930s might have offered a New Deal for America, but the Depression lingered on, and as the 1930s ended, Americans also saw the world beyond their borders burst into a Second World War.




This page last updated 5 October, 2009.