Franklin Roosevelt's Second Term as President Video

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  • 0:05 Overwhelming Reelection
  • 0:46 A New Recession
  • 2:05 Packing the Court
  • 3:20 Foreign Policy
  • 5:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

In four years, the United States went from utter economic ruin to being the economic powerhouse that would power the Allies to victory over the Axis powers. This lesson explains how that was possible during FDR's second term.

Overwhelming Reelection

Presidents often talk about having a mandate to govern when they win a big election. After all, it's a lot easier to convince others to follow your lead when you were elected by 60% of the people rather than 51%. However, few presidents have ever managed to build the kind of mandate that Franklin Roosevelt had going into his second term. In fact, even his opponent said that much of what FDR had done with the New Deal was actually constructive! It's little surprise that FDR won the Election of 1936 with all but two states. However, Roosevelt was immediately faced with significant challenges.

A New Recession

FDR entered office in 1933 with the biggest economic downturn in American history, the Great Depression, in full swing. Through a number of programs, he was able to combat the effects of that downturn, but a new recession awaited him in 1937. This time, Roosevelt did relatively little to fight off the slowing of the economy. In contrast to the widespread expansion of government programs during his first term, FDR instead chose to focus on only a handful of existing initiatives. Through these, he was still able to put millions of Americans to work.

At those new jobs, workers found many changes to their paychecks. While the minimum wage of a quarter an hour was established in 1933, it was declared unconstitutional in 1935. Thus, in 1938, FDR pushed for another minimum wage law, again set at a quarter, but also with restrictions on working hours. Further, time over 40 hours a week was to be paid an overtime premium of time and a half. The law was again challenged in 1941, but this time was declared constitutional.

Packing the Court

Part of the reason that FDR was unable to pass much in the way of new laws is that, despite his mandate, Congress was now opposed to his work. Increasingly, the legislature saw the growing power of the presidency as a threat to their own influence and worked to stymie it. As a result, FDR turned to the other branch of government, the Judicial Branch, specifically the Supreme Court. He pointed out that the Constitution did not set a limit on the number of justices, and if the hostile legislative environment continued, then Roosevelt would appoint more sympathetic judges. Needless to say, such a threat to pack the court with Roosevelt sympathizers was seen as a coup by many who opposed him.

Politicians lined up on both sides of the issue, and a bill was drafted that would have allowed Roosevelt to add justices. Ultimately, the death of the bill's biggest Congressional supporter doomed it to failure, meaning that FDR had to add justices the old-fashioned way, as existing justices either retired or died. Ironically, eight of the nine justices would eventually be FDR appointees.

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