The New Deal Era

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President of the United States. He was elected as president in 1933 and went on to be reelected another three times which is a record for any US president. Roosevelt’s legacy is that he led the country through two of the 20th

century’s greatest crises: The Great Depression and the Second World War. As a leader who stayed in office for so long his tenure saw multiple achievements as well as failures. This discourse will explore the New Deal era which was a turning point for the ailing American economy with policies which are in place to date. The New Deal is one of Roosevelt’s greatest accomplishments. Reviewing it helps us understand Roosevelt’s leadership style and philosophy.

            Roosevelt was born in 1882 in New York as the only child of a wealthy couple. He was educated by private tutors until age 14 when he joined the elite Groton Preparatory School. Roosevelt went to college at Harvard and its during his college years that he began to admire President Theodore Roosevelt who was his fifth cousin. Aspects of Theodore Roosevelt’s leadership that he built on as a politician were his progressive philosophy which championed for the increased involvement of the federal government in the national economy. He married Eleanor Roosevelt during his final year of college with whom he had five children. Roosevelt then attended law school at Columbia University and went on to work as a clerk in a law firm.

             Roosevelt was passionate about public service and dreamt of a future in politics. At the age of 28, he vied and won a state senate seat in Dutchess County on a Democratic ticket despite the county being heavily Republican. In the New York Senate he polished his political skills and became a champion of progressive reform. During Wilson’s presidency, Roosevelt served as an assistant secretary for the U.S. Navy for seven years. In 1920 he was on the Democratic ticket as vice president but they lost. For most of the decade he stayed from active politics due to a serious bout of polio. He returned in 1928 and ran for governor. Roosevelt won by 25,000 votes and was determined to distinguish himself from his predecessor. His policies were increasingly liberal especially since New York was greatly affected by 1929’s stock market crash. Roosevelt established the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (TERA) which sought to provide unemployment assistance. The aggressive approach to economic problems gained him massive popularity not only within his state but also across the country. Consequently, he won reelection in 1930 and was one of the main contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1932.

            Roosevelt won the ticket and in his acceptance speech he famously said, “I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people.”[1]

During presidential campaigns, Roosevelt insisted that his economic recovery would leverage the power of the federal government. His positive outlook made him the preferred candidate of many who blamed the policies of the incumbent, Hoover, for the current predicament. “Roosevelt won the electoral college with 472 votes to Hoover’s 59. Additionally, he had around 7 million more votes from the general electorate.”[2]

From 1933 to 1939, Roosevelt launched and oversaw the implementation of three waves of the New Deal. Within this period, Congress passed 47 programs with the aim of stabilizing the financial system and the economy in general. The philosophy behind Roosevelt’s policies was Keynesian economics which proposed that government spending could stimulate consumer demand hence ending the Depression. The new perspective was different from Hoover’s inaction when the economic turmoil started. Hoover believed that the free market would self-correct. Instead the situation worsened and it was exacerbated by ill-advised policies such as the Smoot-Hawley tariff.    

Roosevelt promised prompt action once he was elected and he ensured this within his first 100 days in office. He began by closing all banks for a few days until appropriate reforms were made through legislation. Roosevelt also changed how citizens interacted with the president by holding open press conferences. In addition, he gave regular radio addresses which were aired across the country. Through the broadcasts, Roosevelt restored public confidence in the banking system.

The first wave of the New Deal started once Roosevelt was sworn into office. In the first 100 days of his administration, Roosevelt liaised with Congress leading to the passing of 16 new laws and agencies. The changes introduced safety nets and subsidies within the free market economy reducing the chances of a similarly brutal economic downturn in the future.[3]

Some of the most important laws passed included the following: “Emergency Banking Act, Civil Conservation Corps, Federal Emergency Relief Act, Securities Act, Securities Exchange Act, and the National Housing Act.”[4] While some businessmen and politicians were concerned that the new policies were too socialistic, Roosevelt was determined to continue his overhaul of the economic system.

The second wave of Roosevelt’s reforms started in 1935 after the Supreme Court annulled the National Industrial Recovery Act. By this time, the economy was showing signs of recovery. Programs in this round of the New Deal sought to increase the number of services provided to farmers and the poor and employed. Roosevelt advocated for the programs saying that he was “helping millions who never had a chance, men at starvation wages, women in sweatshops, and children at looms.”  The flagship programs were supported by the following laws: “Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act, Emergency Relief Appropriation, Rural Electrification Act, National Labor Relations Act, Resettlement Act, and Social Security Act.”[5] With Democrats dominating Congress, Roosevelt also raised taxes on wealthy individuals and large corporations.

New Deal programs were controversial but Roosevelt still remained extremely popular across the country. He won re-election in 1936 by a landslide. In 1937, Roosevelt’s administration was challenged by an economic downturn and labor unrest. However, Roosevelt rolled out the third wave of the New Deal in 1937. His programs in this case included the “United States Housing Act, Farm Tenancy Act, Farm Security Administration, Federal National Mortgage Association, and Fair Labor Standards Act.”[6]

The economy had recovered significantly by 1937 so Roosevelt reduced government spending in the third wave. This decision resulted in a recession that forced him to commission massive government spending. The crisis passed but by the end of 1938, support for the New Deal was falling drastically. Conservative Democrats and Republicans formed an alliance in Congress blocking further legislation to aid Roosevelt’s reform agenda.[7]

The end of the New Deal marked the start of another crisis for Roosevelt to handle. Foreign policy emerged as a priority despite Congress being dominated by isolationists. With the commencement of the Second World War in September 1939, it was up to Roosevelt to lead his nation in the international stage.

The legacy of the New Deal is a controversial issue usually discussed along party lines. The New Deal changed the relationship between the government and the America’s populace. From early on in his political career, Roosevelt insisted that the government should regulate the economy and intervene in case of any downturn. This philosophy guided the New Deal reforms. Several social assistance programs in the United States trace their origins to the Roosevelt-guided programs. These include pensions, farm subsidies, subsidized public housing, and unemployment insurance. Protective policies that are taken for granted today such as minimum wages and maximum working hours were introduced by the New Deal. While some aspects of social assistance had been introduced sparingly by some state governments, it was Roosevelt who include them in federal legislation. Roosevelt’s reforms also changed the country’s political landscape. In his years as president, Roosevelt changed the role of the executive branch of government. The president and in extension the federal government became substantially more powerful.[8] The large number of federal programs and agencies introduced by Roosevelt meant the federal government now regulated the economy. Roosevelt’s reformist ideas inspired generations of like-minded individuals and reformist presidents like Lyndon B. Johnson. The New Deal also significantly changed the outlook of the main political parties in the country. The favorable legislation transformed the urban working class and labor unions into loyalists of the Democratic Party. Despite some controversies, Franklin D. Roosevelt remains one of the most important presidents of the United States.    




Broadus Mitchell. The Depression Decade: From New Era Through New Deal, 1929-4.1 Routledge, 2017).

Ellis Wayne Hawley. The New Deal and the problem of monopoly. Princeton University Press, 2015.

James T. Patterson. New Deal and States: Federalism in Transition. Princeton University Press, 2015.

Michael Hiltzik. The New Deal: A Modern History. Simon and Schuster, 2011.

Morton J. Frisch. Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  American Political Thought. Routledge, 2017. 375-392.


Morton J. Frisch, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, American Political Thought, Routledge 2017, 375. 


Ibid., 376


Ellis Wayne Hawley, The New Deal and the problem of monopoly (Princeton University Press, 2015), 385.


Broadus Mitchell, The Depression Decade: From New Era Through New Deal, 1929-41 (Routledge, 2017), 412


Ibid., 415


Ibid., 416


Michael Hiltzik, The New Deal: A Modern History (Simon and Schuster), 304


James T. Patterson, New Deal and States: Federalism in Transition (Princeton University Press, 2015), 23

November 13, 2023

History Life

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