The Early Phases of the New Deal
The Early Phases of the New Deal
“I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people,” FDR told the cheering crowds at the Democratic nominating convention in 1932. The New Deal marked a complete break with the policies of the 1920s. It consisted of a set of fifteen programs designed to bring both immediate and long-term relief to the economy and to the people. Roosevelt considered his New Deal to be a “war against the emergency,” and as soon as he took office, he asked Congress to grant him special powers to take action. The New Deal marked a shift in the balance of national power, from the legislative branch to the executive, of a sort that Washington had not seen since the Civil War. In its way, the Great Depression was every bit as much a national crisis, and strong leadership was essential. Congress agreed with the president that emergency measures were called for, and promptly passed all of the New Deal programs.
This table lays out some of the programs of the New Deal and what they accomplished.
FDR had designed the programs of the New Deal with three main goals: to bring immediate relief to those who were suffering, to bring the economy back to prosperity, and to put safeguards in place so that the same situation would not occur again. Programs such as the Civil Works Administration and the Public Works Administration accomplished the first goal. The Agricultural Adjustment Administration and the Tennessee Valley Authority helped to accomplish the second goal. New organizations such as the Securities and Exchange Com- mission and the FDIC were put into place with an eye to the third goal.
Despite the relief it provided to millions across the country, not every- one supported the New Deal. African Americans regarded it with a wary eye because it did not always give them the same benefits as whites. The National Recovery Administration set lower wages for black workers, while other pro- grams segregated them from white workers. Roosevelt also refused to support a federal antilynching law. Throughout his long tenure in the White House, FDR was a pragmatist, not an idealist. He always believed that the larger picture of a situation was more important than any individual details. In his view, pressing for civil rights legislation was less important than doing the best possible job at leading the nation out of the Depression.
However, FDR showed his support for civil rights in other ways. He signed the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 into law. This legislation attempted to help American Indians both financially and socially. FDR appointed more than 100 African Americans to a wide variety of government jobs. He also appointed the first female cabinet secretary, Frances Perkins.
Many of the actions FDR took to help African Americans were taken at Eleanor Roosevelt’s urging. Mrs. Roosevelt was a champion of civil rights. She made national headlines in 1939 when the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) withdrew a concert booking for Marian Anderson, one of the greatest classical singers of the era, on the grounds of racial prejudice. Mrs. Roosevelt was a DAR member. When she learned that the DAR had denied Anderson the chance to perform at Constitution Hall solely because the singer was black, she immediately and publicly resigned from the organization. She then arranged for Anderson to sing the planned DAR concert from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Nearly 75,000 people stood quietly on the grounds outside the memorial, shoulder to shoulder, to hear Anderson sing. The concert opened with “My Country, ’Tis of Thee”—an ironic choice, given its reference to the United States as a “sweet land of liberty.”
Conservatives were another group that opposed New Deal programs. Republicans hated FDR and the New Deal; they claimed that he was turning the United States into a socialist society and that he was destroying big business and free enterprise. Not all Democrats supported the New Deal either; some thought it did not go far enough, while others thought it should include different programs.
The New Deal did not pull the nation out of the Great Depression. How- ever, it did substantially improve the lives of millions of people in both the short term and the long term. Some of its programs, such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, continue today to protect people against losing their life’s savings in another bank failure. The New Deal brought electricity and indoor plumbing to many regions where they had previously been found in very few homes. This improved public health and sanitation as well as improving the standard of living. During the New Deal, the South finally began to rely more on modern industry and less on cash crops like cotton.
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