Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Second New Deal

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  • 0:05 Forging a New Path
  • 0:49 Legislation of the…
  • 3:17 Roosevelt vs. the…
  • 4:28 A Recession in a Depression
  • 5:08 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Adam Richards

Adam has a master's degree in history.

President Franklin Roosevelt's second New Deal represented a more conservative approach to battling the Great Depression. Learn more about the program, including its legislation and legacy.

Forging a New Path

President Franklin D. Roosevelt's first New Deal witnessed the expansion of the federal government in order to implement ambitious legislation aimed at ending the Great Depression. Roosevelt generated a number of successes from 1933 to 1935. However, his second New Deal, spanning 1935 to 1937, was a retreat from the aggressive liberal agenda of the first New Deal. With labor unions, businessmen, politicians and the Supreme Court justices taking aim at his program, Roosevelt opted for more conservative legislation that provisionally eased the mounting tensions. The era associated with the second New Deal witnessed the passage of important legislation, a court-packing fiasco and a devastating recession that stymied the temporary economic successes of the Roosevelt Administration.

Legislation of the Second New Deal

As mentioned, the legislation of the second New Deal was far more conservative in approach than its predecessor. In fact, the first New Deal achieved the passage of 15 major pieces of legislation; the second New Deal was less than half of that total. Notwithstanding, Roosevelt managed to navigate several important pieces of legislation through Congress that helped rebuild the American economy and protected Americans.

The Social Security Act was a magisterial achievement. There were two overarching goals of the Social Security Act. First, the program was expected to provide welfare funds for the elderly and the impoverished. The Social Security Act also established a pension program in addition to a monetary settlement for the deceased. Second, the legislation was designed to remove the elderly from the workforce by offering a financial aid package. This, in turn, led to more work being available to the unemployed. Unfortunately, the Social Security Act failed to account for farmers, sharecroppers and minorities.

Another landmark piece of legislation that was included in Roosevelt's second New Deal was the National Labor Relations Act, also known as the Wagner Act. Roosevelt structured this legislation to specifically curb the labor strife that was mounting in the United States. Under the National Labor Relations Act, every worker was promised the opportunity to join a union. The legislation also created the National Labor Relations Board to supervise union elections and mitigate unfair labor practices. Additionally, the National Labor Relations Act called for stiffer child labor laws, which eventually drove children from the workforce and opened additional opportunities for the unemployed. Yet, once again, the National Labor Relations Act failed to cover individuals such as farmers and minority workers.

Now, Roosevelt promised that his second New Deal would be more Populist in nature. In other words, the second New Deal legislation would support the common man. To his credit, many of the additional pieces of legislation of the second New Deal created the image that Roosevelt was working toward social equality. The Holding Company Act was expected to break up electric utility companies; the Wealth Tax Act increased tax rates on the wealthy and corporations and the Banking Act strengthened the power of the Federal Reserve to monitor banking. The legislation seemed to be aimed at redistributing wealth and power, but, as we discussed earlier, Roosevelt's second New Deal program was more conservative in nature. Therefore, while all of the aforementioned legislation was passed, it was not as rigorous as it seemed. The wealthy managed to maintain most of their money, corporations were not taxed thoroughly and most businesses maintained their stranglehold on utilities and resources.

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