President Franklin Roosevelt took office in March of 1933. He immediately began implementing his "New Deal" with little opposition.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt swept into office on a wave of popularity based on one primary factor: hope. Somehow, perhaps because it was what was needed most, FDR had found a way to inspire hope in the masses. He had promised them change, a New Deal, and for better or worse, he delivered.
“It has been three months, my friends, since I talked with the people of this country about our national problems. During this period, many things have happened, and I am glad to say that the major part of them have greatly helped the wellbeing of the average citizen.”
His first accomplishment was convincing the people that with him at the helm their lives would get better and better.
However, words would only get him so far. To make good on his promises and save the nation he had quite a “to do” list:
First, he had to get people back to work. Unemployment had defeated the American people both economically and spiritually.
Second, he had to promote recovery. He had to enact policies that would shore up the failing economy.
And finally, he had to reform the government -- he had to find ways to regulate business and industry so that the practices that caused the crises would not continue.
In the first one hundred days of Roosevelt’s administration he made 10 major speeches, sent 15 messages to congress, and helped push through the passage of 15 major pieces of legislation. Never before, or since, has there been such an extraordinary period of legislative activity.
But what did all this activity actually accomplish?
Well, in terms of recovery, FDR immediately began pumping money into the economy. The Works Progress Administration put people to work doing jobs of public usefulness. Using Government funding, the WPA employed people building schools, parks, playgrounds, and hospitals. It also supported culture employing artists and actors. There were WPA-sponsored (and funded) concerts, plays, books, and more. All of these things not only put money in the workers’ pockets, but at the same time they improved Americans’ quality of life.
Another plus of having these creative people on the government payroll was using them to create posters and short movies that communicated the changes and successes to the public.
Jimmy Durante singing:
“You and you and you and you, you’ve got a president now. He gave the land a ‘New Deal.’ You hold the cards, now you deal. You and you and you and you, put shoulders to the plough. He gave us what we asked for, now pay him back somehow. Step out in front, get back of the president…”
Meanwhile, lawmakers worked on making sure that the “perfect storm” of events that had caused the depression was never allowed to happen again. These were the most long-lasting of accomplishments of the New Deal, many still in effect today. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation began monitoring banks’ soundness and insuring deposits so that people would stop hoarding their cash, and put it back in the banks and back in circulation. The Social Security Act essentially established an account to help the unemployed, the dependent, the handicapped, and to support people in their retirement.
But perhaps the most immediate and hope-inspiring of FDR’s programs were the Relief programs. FDR used government funds to give direct relief through the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. Ultimately the FERA distributed about $3 billion to 8 million families—1/6 of the population. Of course this was to be a temporary “handout” to get folks in real trouble on their feet. The Farm Credit Association sought to help the farmers by providing low interest loans. The Public Works Administration gave loans to private industry to build roads, bridges, dams, and airports—much of the work of these programs forms the infrastructure of America today.
“And in creating the Civilian Conservation Corps, we are killing two birds with one stone. We are clearly enhancing the value of our natural resources, and at the same time we are relieving a appreciable amount of actual distress.”
The most popular of all FDR’s relief programs was the Civilian Conservation Corps. FDR was well aware of the need for conservation. In addition to the unbridled economic speculation, the country had embarked on unprecedented development. With an eye to progress we had ignored the consequences to our natural resources, causing widespread erosion and deforestation. The purpose of the CCC was to put young men to work doing conservation projects across the nation.
As the CCC’s organizers scanned the country, their interest was caught by a place not far from the hub of all the activity, Washington, DC. Just west of the capital, in the Blue Ridge Mountains a new national park was proposed, and a scenic highway was taking shape along its crest. It promised to be a crown jewel in the national park system, and it was in great need of reforestation, erosion and fire control, infrastructure for basic visitor comfort like lodges, and power, and picnic shelters—the to do list was endless and 1000s of unemployed young men were just the ticket to make it all happen.
- Roosevelt promised the people that he would help them. When he took office he immediately proposed legislation to do so, and Congress supported him by passing his legislation. And with that, the federal goverment took on the job of helping the country out of the Depression. Roosevelt's opponent, Herbert Hoover believed that individuals, communities, and the states should help each other in tough times, and that the federal government should not take on that responsibility. What do you think? Should it be the federal government's responsibility to help people in tough times? Why or why not?
- In groups, brainstorm a list of all the things the federal government does for its citizens. Then, discuss the list as a class. How many things is the government responsible for? Should it be? What is the government now doing for citizens that you'd be willing to do without? How big should the government be and how much control should the government have?
- Create a poster that would encourage people to believe that better times are on the way. What points would convince them? Where would you display it?