Franklin D. Roosevelt came into office at a hard time. There had not been a Democrat in office for 3 consecutive terms. It was also towards the beginning of the Great Depression. In this time of hectic difficulty, he constructed a solid plan to help the country out of its rut. He worked by the Keynes philosophy: stimulate the economy with money to get it out of depression. FDR’s plan, the New Deal, consisted of various “Alphabet Agencies”. These agencies were grouped into three categories, relief, recovery, and reform. Labor, women, and blacks were large parties affected by the New Deal.
The relief agencies were designed to help those in need. One of the bigger agencies was the CCC. This put men between the ages of 18 and 25 to work on make-work projects, like building parks and other public venues. This was mostly developed to keep these men out of trouble and to give them money to send to their families. Agencies like the WPA, PWA, and CWA were much like these, but they were for other people out of that age range, and also artists. All of these agencies were meant to help people, even if they were just doing busy work. As it’s been said: “Nobody wants a handout, but everyone wants a hand up.” Though these agencies were available for them, it seemed that many women were not taking advantage of them. As seen in a passage called New Masses by Meridel Lesueur, it says: “There are not many women in the bread line… There is no law I suppose against their being in these places but the fact is they rarely are” (Document A). The final relief agency was called HOLA. This gave citizens short term loans so they could buy homes. This was beneficial because it not only helped people afford homes, it also helped out the local real estate businesses, which boosted the economy.
Recovery agencies were designed to get everything back to normal. EBRA, Emergency Banking Relief Act, stated that the government could regulate banking transactions. There was a time when the government closed all of the banks to see if they were good enough to stay running. Next, the NIRA, National Industrial Recovery Act, dealt with labor and tried to keep opportunities even in this field. The AAA, Agricultural Adjustment Act, payed farmers to not grow crops so there was not an overproduction problem. Finally, the NRA, National Recovery Act, tried to cut down competition between businesses, which really turned out to be the government trying to control the economy. The final three agencies, NIRA, AAA, and NRA, were found unconstitutional in FDR’s first New Deal because they were seen as “socialistic”. This claim is proven in a Letter to Senator Robert Wagner in March of 1934, saying: “It seems very apparent to me that the Administration at Washington is accelerating it’s pace towards socialism and communism” (Document B). The anti-socialism movement can also be seen in William Lloyd Garrison Jr.’s “The Hand of Improvidence”, where he exposes Keynes’ economic philosophy as socialistic, and also reveals that the national debt has significantly increased to fund the various alphabet agencies (Document D). All of these agencies changed the role of the federal government. The government was more involved in the economics of the country, which caused people to worry about how strong the government was becoming. In history, the government was always kept separate from the economy, but FDR tried to change that. But, in a court case, Schechter v. United States, the court ruled against the expansion of the federal government mostly due to the interstate commerce laws (Document F). On the other side, some, like the author of “The New Deal in Review”, an editorial from The New Republic from 1940, thought the New Deal created “more efficient organization of the whole executive department” (Document H).
Reform agencies were constructed so that the problems that occurred would never happen again. The first, the Tennessee Valley Authority, or TVA, was an experiment conducted in a small area in Tennessee. The experimenters tried to create a place that would not be affected if a depression would occur. In the end, the experiment failed miserably. Social Security was another big part of the New Deal which can still be seen today, but then, it had two parts rather than one. It was and still is a government old age pension, but it was also unemployment relief. This has proved to be an important agency in the United States, providing dependable retirement funds. This was publicized in those days as well which can be seen in a poster encouraging citizens to sign up for Social Security (Document E). The poster briefly explains what Social Security is and who qualifies. The FDIC is an agency that can also be seen today. It is essentially bank security. A person can have up to $100,000 in a bank and their money is protected if the bank would fail. This was comforting for people because they could have a safe place to store their money without the fear of losing it. The final agency of the reform category is the Federal Securities Act. This gave the government rights to investigate markets, therefore giving them more control in the economy.
Finally, women, blacks, and labor all experienced changes. Women were forced to leave their jobs and go back into their homes. They had to run their homes with very little money which was very difficult. Many lived by the motto, “Use up, wear out, make do, or do without.” Next, African Americans received no help from FDR’s predecessor, Herbert Hoover, which caused blacks to become disenfranchised. But, Roosevelt’s wife Eleanor helped blacks, which in turn, helped win votes for her husband. This can be seen in “The Roosevelt Record” an editorial in The Crisis from November 1940 which explains how FDR attempted to incorporate African Americans into his government policies. Labor also took a hit during this time. Unemployment was at an all-time high between 1930 and 1935, which can be seen in the chart labeled UNEMPLOYMENT OF NONFARM WORKERS BY PERCENTAGE AND NUMBER (Document J). The CIO, Congress of Industrial Organization, which helped unskilled laborers, was formed and later joined with the AFL in 1955. Problems between laborers and businesses can be seen in a printed NBC radio broadcast by John L. Lewis in December of 1936. “It is the refusal of employers to grant such reasonable conditions and to deal with their employees through collective bargaining that leads to widespread labor unrest” (Document G). A new type of strike also arose. “Wildcat strikes” as they were called, were sit down strikes. Workers would sit at their jobs but not do any work, so that no one could so any work. These strikes were very effective, but soon became illegal.
Overall, the New Deal was beneficial for the United States, especially at the time of the Great Depression. A comic from The Evening Star in April 1934 supported the New Deal as a gradual, natural change which produced an abundance of government agencies, that could be used in the future (Document C). The responses to the Great Depression, the alphabet agencies, were, for the most part, effective. Sometimes they were deemed unconstitutional, but they were created with positive motives. The role of the federal government also changed, as it gained more power with the help of the alphabet agencies. This was seen as threatening to some, but in the end, Franklin D. Roosevelt helped pull the country out of the Great Depression.
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