Back To CourseHistory 104: US History II
14 chapters | 111 lessons | 10 flashcard sets
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Upon assuming office in 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt faced a desperate economy that was on the verge of total collapse. Yet, the eternal optimist Roosevelt reassured Americans that 'the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.' Roosevelt brought a renewed sense of hope to America in his inaugural year, and a good majority of that positive sentiment stemmed from Roosevelt's New Deal program, which was an aggressive legislative campaign that expanded the federal government, provided assistance for Americans and attempted to end the Great Depression.
In his first 100 days in office, Roosevelt navigated 15 pieces of important legislation through Congress. While some of Roosevelt's New Deal legislation was successful in alleviating the suffering endured during the Depression, it is important to remember that the program did not end the Depression. Let's take a look at Roosevelt's first 100 days and the important New Deal legislation that he passed during this time.
Roosevelt's first several pieces of New Deal legislation focused primarily on preventing American banks from collapsing. He passed the Emergency Banking Act, which provided federal loans to save private banks, as well as the Economy Act, which called for a balanced budget. These two pieces of legislation suggest that Roosevelt distrusted the financial industry's ability to reorganize on its own.
Roosevelt also passed a second Glass-Steagall Act that established the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which separated commercial and investment banking, and to this day, provides government protection on savers' and investors' money. Simultaneously, Roosevelt issued the Securities Act, later followed by the Securities Exchange Act in 1934, which established regulations on the New York Stock Exchange.
In addition to preventing the financial sector from completely collapsing, Roosevelt had to ensure economic recovery. How? Good question. Roosevelt's theory in rebuilding the economy rested on the notion of limited production. He wanted farmers, laborers and businessmen to begin producing less in the hope that supply and demand would restore the market. Therefore, much of his legislation during the first 100 days focused on curbing production.
The Agricultural Adjustment Act, for example, was aimed primarily at farmers. To curb production, the act paid farmers to farm less land. Roosevelt also focused on the industrial sector. The National Industrial Recovery Act was the centerpiece of Roosevelt's New Deal legislation. Once again, the act attempted to prevent the overproduction of goods.
Roosevelt, under the National Industrial Recovery Act, created the National Recovery Administration (NRA), which encouraged an increase in labor wages and a decrease in hours worked during a week. The solution worked for a brief period time, but a dip in the economy and the unwillingness of employers to enact important National Recovery Administration codes hurt the program.
The Agricultural Adjustment Act and the National Recovery Administration, born under the National Industrial Recovery Act, were expected to be two important programs to help the United States economy. Instead, both programs struggled. The Agricultural Adjustment Act failed to account for sharecroppers, who were individuals paid to work on a farmer's land. Since the act encouraged less farming, sharecroppers became unemployed.
Furthermore, agriculture became heavily dependent on the federal government. Meanwhile, the National Recovery Administration failed outright. It was disbanded in 1935 after the Supreme Court ruled that the implementation of federal industrial codes was an unconstitutional use of the powers of the federal government.
While it was important to recover the economy, Roosevelt understood the New Deal had to establish programs that provided tangible relief for Americans. The legislation with the largest immediate impact was the Federal Emergency Relief Act, which dispensed millions of federal dollars to poor Americans. The act also created the Civil Works Administration, which employed individuals to work on government-related projects.
Similarly, the Unemployment Relief Act created the Civilian Conservation Corps, which provided jobs to men who were willing to complete environmental tasks. Roosevelt also passed the Home Owners Act, which refinanced mortgages to affordable rates and prevented Americans from losing their homes.
As we discussed earlier, the National Industrial Recovery Act was established to help the economic recovery process, and part of this strategy was to offer employment to Americans. The Public Works Administration, which was created under the National Industrial Recovery Act, authorized federal funding for national infrastructure repair and construction.
Another important piece of legislation was the Tennessee Valley Authority Act (TVA). This act allowed the federal government to develop the Tennessee Valley region into an area of prosperity. The government was able to do this by building hydroelectric dams, improving river transportation and developing industry. Not only did this program offer employment to Americans, but it generated low cost utilities and helped to curb land erosion.
The success of the TVA led to additional improvements in the Western United States. Important developments, such as the Hoover Dam and Grand Coulee Dam, provided low-cost utilities and economic growth. However, the TVA program had been much more successful in bringing prosperity to all Americans, whereas western development established more of a hierarchy, with private enterprise at the top and poor Americans at the bottom.
We have seen that the Supreme Court, under the leadership of Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, opposed the National Recovery Administration as an unconstitutional violation of the federal powers. The Court also nullified certain provisions in the Agricultural Adjustment Act as violations of the Commerce Clause, and they weren't the only group who opposed Roosevelt's New Deal legislation.
Three prominent individuals, representing a populist ideology, vociferously voiced their discontent with the New Deal programs. Senator Huey Long believed that the Depression could not be ended through the expansion of the federal government but by redistributing wealth from the top. On the other hand, Reverend Charles Coughlin expressed his desire for social justice. In other words, Coughlin wanted aspects of the New Deal to be placed into the hands of the people because he thought it was being run by crooked financiers.
Then there was Francis Townsend, who promoted the Townsend Plan over the New Deal. The Townsend Plan's solution to the Great Depression was for every senior citizen to be granted $200 a month. Needless to say, most Americans rejected the ideas espoused by these three individuals.
The labor movement also opposed Roosevelt, although they objected to the president's actions rather than the New Deal legislation. Labor believed that Roosevelt failed to force employers to comply with the laws established under the New Deal. As a result, thousands of strikes ensued throughout the United States. This ultimately led to the rise of radical labor political parties and the election of radical politicians to assume positions in Congress during 1934. Roosevelt would attempt to use the second New Deal to curb labor strife in the United States.
Other aggrieved Americans included rural African Americans, Asian Americans and Mexican Americans. The New Deal generally failed to protect the civil rights of those individuals, not to mention stripped them of their sharecropping jobs. Moreover, a poll tax issue arose during the period. If convicted of a crime, African Americans were able to seek trial, but the jury was predominantly white. Why? Blacks could not afford to pay the poll tax to serve on a jury. The New Deal failed to resolve these civil rights and unemployment issues.
President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal program was an attempt to relieve financially desperate Americans and end the Great Depression. Roosevelt's first 100 days in office marked the passage of 15 pieces of New Deal legislation. Some of the successful legislation included the Emergency Banking Act, the Economy Act, the Federal Emergency Relief Act, the Unemployment Relief Act and the Tennessee Valley Authority Act.
Roosevelt maintained wide support for his New Deal programs, yet there were some dissenting individuals and groups. Senator Huey Long, Reverend Charles Coughlin and Francis Townsend all opposed the New Deal, and labor unions questioned Roosevelt's leadership in implementing the program. Various ethnic groups also struggled to achieve equality through the New Deal program, in addition to losing their jobs as sharecroppers via the Agricultural Adjustment Act. Nevertheless, the first New Deal helped reignite the American spirit and offered temporary solutions to the Great Depression.
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Back To CourseHistory 104: US History II
14 chapters | 111 lessons | 10 flashcard sets