President Franklin D. Roosevelt: Foreign & Domestic Policy

Instructor: Logan Thomas

Logan has taught college courses and has a master's degree in history.

Franklin D. Roosevelt entered office as the 32nd President of the United States facing an economic emergency and war on the horizon. In this lesson, we will learn how FDR implemented domestic and foreign policies to affect the world.

Tough Times Require Bold Decisions


Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt


Few presidents have entered a time of greater crisis than Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. As the longest-serving president in the history of the United States, Roosevelt faced the Great Depression and a nation where some believed the failed system of capitalism needed replacing. It would be up to Roosevelt to instill a sense of hope in all Americans during these turbulent times.

But the United States did not face these economic challenges alone. The ripples of the financial crash hit all industrialized nations, leaving many to seek change in their government. Soon, the entire world would take up arms in the largest conflict in history.

Background


Stock Market Crash of 1929
Stock Market Crash of 1929


When Roosevelt took office, the United States had already suffered the greatest economic disaster in history. Due to a myriad of reasons ranging from under-consumption of produced goods to speculative investments that went nowhere, the stock market crash in the fall of 1929 signaled the beginning of what would later become known as the Great Depression. Millions of unemployed and homeless citizens roamed the country in search of jobs. Businesses closed. People rushed to the banks to withdraw their life savings only to find nothing available. A communist movement gained momentum as some believed the age of capitalism in the U.S. had failed and the country needed a new direction.

The world economy collapsed, creating a vacuum to be filled by fascist and militaristic regimes. But the United States had been an isolationist nation for most of the 20th Century and wanted to look inward as economies across the globe fell into chaos.

Domestic Policies

Even before he took office, Roosevelt went to work assembling the most brilliant minds in the country with the goal of solving the economic collapse. During his campaign for president, Roosevelt had promised a 'New Deal' to bring the country back from the brink of collapse. Quietly, he was not certain what this 'New Deal' would be, but he knew the federal government needed to take greater action to help its people.

Alphabet Soup

The new administration tried to improve the situation by conducting an unprecedented spree of regulation and established government programs sometimes referred to as 'Alphabet Soup' because of the acronyms involved in these new directives. Some programs did little to affect the United States while others made a significant impact still visible today.


Civilian Conservation Corps crew works to clear a roadside
CCC


For example, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) provided jobs to thousands charged with building reservoirs and improving national parks. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) constructed a series of dams along the Tennessee River. Not only did the TVA provide jobs, but the projects also provided electricity to many rural areas for the first time.

The New Deal Slows

Throughout his administration, Roosevelt battled New Deal opponents. Some believed government intervention had gone too far. Others thought federal funding created a false sense of recovery. If the government pulled funding, opponents thought the economy would fall back into decline. By the end of the 1930s, after nearly a decade of expanding the role of government, Roosevelt began shifting monies into defense and military spending as war raged in Europe.

Foreign Policies

When the Great War ended in 1918, the United States had emerged as one of the great powers on the globe. However, Americans had reluctantly entered the war and desired to return to the isolationist views of the past. Roosevelt was no different. A staunch supporter for remaining isolated from any crisis in Europe, Roosevelt began his presidency with the hopes of increasing trade with the world while staying out of any conflict.

A changing view

When German leader Adolf Hitler invaded Poland in the fall of 1939, France and Britain declared war. Even though Americans wanted no part in the war, Roosevelt began to alter his isolationist posture as German forces conquered most of Europe. While remaining neutral, the United States began sending supplies to Britain and, later, the Soviet Union.

The expanding Rising Sun

A militaristic regime had dominated Japan's ambitions since the early 1930s. Roosevelt watched with concern as forces of the Rising Sun swept through the Pacific Ocean with the ultimate goal of an expansive empire. Since Americans still refused to enter the conflict, Roosevelt ordered economic sanctions to stall the Japanese war machine. He knew Japanese advances were made possible in part by U.S. oil. If this supply was cut off, the Japanese could no longer continue their offensive operations. When Roosevelt created an embargo, Japan viewed this as a declaration of war and secretly began planning a major operation to force the U.S. to surrender following one, decisive attack.

December 7, 1941


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