The nation was in a state of crisis when Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1933. The Great Depression had caused severe unemployment (up to 90% in some cities!), business failures, and serious disruptions in international trade. It’s no understatement that Roosevelt had a lot of work to do to fix the nation and restore trust in the government! He hoped his New Deal programs would do just that.
As an AP US History student, it is important for you to know what the New Deal is, but also why it is important. This APUSH crash course will give you all the details you need to know to answer New Deal-related multiple choice questions and essays with ease! Let’s get started.
What exactly is the New Deal?
The New Deal was a set of domestic programs set in motion by President Franklin D. Roosevelt between 1933 and 1938. The goals of the program were relief, recovery, and reform, and with these goals in mind, FDR set out to help the poor and needy, improve the economy, and pass laws to stop unemployment, alleviate poverty, and prevent a repeat depression.
The New Deal is generally split into two stages: The First New Deal (1933-1934) and the Second New Deal (1935-1938). It’s not too important to distinguish between the two, but just know that the First New Deal focused on dealing with the immediate problems caused by the Depression, while the Second New Deal was more aggressive, liberal, and focused on reforming the nation.
Critics disagree on whether or not the programs ended the Great Depression, but one thing’s for sure, the New Deal brought about drastic changes to the United States and dramatically altered its economy and politics forever.
It’s important to understand the Great Depression and Herbert Hoover’s economic policy during the time. Let’s briefly overview some information that will help you see the bigger picture.
Before FDR took office, President Herbert Hoover was set the challenge of helping the nation through the worst depression it had ever seen. But he was slow to help and wary of affecting any change. He didn’t believe it was the government’s job to help failing businesses and unemployed citizens. In fact, he believed that caring for the poor was work for private charities. The only real attempt Hoover made at fighting the Great Depression was the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which involved public works programs such as the Hoover Dam. But his attempts came much too late, and his term ended, leaving the tremendous problems of the unstable nation for the next president to resolve.
The First Hundred Days
In what is known as the First Hundred Days, FDR made great strides towards accomplishing his goals of helping the needy, creating new jobs, restoring public confidence in banks, and improving the economy.
During this three and a half month period of the First Hundred Days, Congress passed a staggering fifteen laws to help create new jobs and restore public confidence in banks. You don’t need to know all of them, but I will go over some of the important ones you need to know for the APUSH exam.
The Agricultural Adjustment Act, 1933
This act paid farmers to not sell their food and to reduce their crop production. Sounds weird, right? Well, by limiting agricultural production, crop surpluses were reduced and the demand and price for the crops rose. However, the program was controversial since farmers were ordered to plow over their fields and kill their hogs during a time of great hunger.
The National Industrial Recovery Act, 1933
The goal of this act was to combat the Great Depression through government-business cooperation. It created agencies such as the Public Works Administration to set up government funded infrastructure projects to increase jobs. However, the act was not a success and was repealed by the Supreme Court in 1935.
The Civilian Conservation Corps
This organization established a jobs program for unemployed youth. Over 250,000 young men were given conservation jobs working in national parks, helping improve the lives and morals of unemployed workers and benefiting the nation’s environment. Over 3 billion trees were planted during the organization’s run!
The Tennessee Valley Authority
This agency’s primary goal was to create dams and power plants, and to provide electricity to Tennessee. However, it also boosted farming in the area, improved habitats for wildlife, and helped decrease forest fires.
The Second New Deal
The first New Deal programs were met with less success than FDR had hoped. The Great Depression kept rearing its ugly head and the American people were growing more anxious and desperate. Additionally, there was increasing pressure from the political left and right to change policies, since many were frustrated with the pace of recovery.
Because of this, FDR decided to change his tactics. In 1935, he began implementing more aggressive and liberal programs in an attempt to speed recovery and reform the entire nation. You really only need to know about two main acts passed during the Second New Deal: The Social Security Act and the Wagner Act.
The Social Security Act, 1935
This act created a federal pension system for those retiring at age 65 funded by taxes, workers’ wages, and employer contributions. Today, Social Security is in trouble because baby boomers are coming of age.
The Wagner Act, 1935
AKA National Labor Relations Act
This act, often called the Magna Carta for unions, established the National Labor Relations Board to insure workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. This led to an increase in labor union membership.
What did the New Deal NOT do?
While the New Deal took on many issues, there are several key factors it failed to address.
The New Deal did NOT:
1. Protect civil rights of African Americans
2. Integrate Armed Forces
3. Legally recognize unions for migrant workers
4. Establish Bureau of Indian Affairs
5. Nationalize basic industries
What was the impact of the New Deal?
The New Deal was a reformation, as opposed to a revolution. It helped improve the existing economy and expanded the role of the government to include social welfare spending. The Democratic Party became the majority party for most of the 1930s up until the 1980s, because the New Deal Coalition (a strong alignment of different groups of people who supported the New Deal) also supported Democrats. African Americans were helped economically by many of the New Deal programs, but civil rights were not directly tackled.
The New Deal fizzled out around 1937. When the Supreme Court started overturning some parts of the New Deal, FDR responded by “packing the courts.” He added a new liberal justice for any justice who was over 70 and refused to retire. This plan failed because many people believed he went too far. This issue, along with slowing momentum, the recession of 1937, and the looming prospect of war, caused the New Deal to end.
Although the New Deal provided short-term relief to millions of Americans, created long-term structural reform, and set up programs, such as Social Security, that are still in effect today, it really didn’t end the Great Depression. The ramp up to World War II was the catalyst for the reinvigoration of the US economy.
For the AP US History exam, make sure you know the goals of the New Deal (the three R’s – Relief, Recovery, Reform), the major acts and bills passed by Congress and how they affected the American people and the nation as a whole, and understand that the New Deal did not end the Great Depression by itself. With all of this knowledge, you’re sure to be successful at any New Deal question that comes your way!
Photo by Social Security Online [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By the way, you should check out Albert.io for your AP US History review. We have hundreds of APUSH practice questions written just for you!
Prompt: How “revolutionary” was the New Deal? Evaluate the significant changes that it brought and determine how different the nation became because of it.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” was the ultimate reform movement, providing bold reform without bloodshed or revolution. Although many Americans criticized President Roosevelt for his “try anything” approach and wasteful spending, Roosevelt saved the American system of free enterprise by stepping in and actually doing something to help the unemployed, starving masses during the Great Depression. Before Roosevelt was elected, the gap between the haves and have-nots was ever-widening and the country probably would have experienced a revolution if another laissez-faire president like Hoover had been elected in 1932. When Roosevelt was elected, he created a series of reforms to deal with the countless problems in American society; many failed, though some achieved long-lasting success and exist to this day. The New Deal was the ultimate “revolution” providing lasting reforms like Social Security and the Fair Labor Standards Act, and establishing precedents that continue to shape the lives of millions of Americans to this day.
Roosevelt was a radical president in many ways, expanding Federal power and establishing numerous precedents that have served to empower the federal government ever since. Unlike previous presidents, Roosevelt believed that the American government had an obligation to help its citizens in a crisis. Roosevelt also felt that doing anything was better than doing nothing and he was criticized frequently for this. Nonetheless, most of his “alphabet agencies” served their purposes and provided immediate rather than long-term relief to over nine million desperate Americans. He started by creating the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, which provided employment in government camps for three million young men. These men served doing useful, but (some would say) unnecessary tasks like reforesting, firefighting, draining swamps, and controlling floods. The Works Progress Administration, or WPA, was another extremely helpful agency during the Depression, putting $11 million dollars into public buildings, bridges, and hard-surfaced roads, creating millions of new jobs. To the American people who were used to coming into contact with the government only at the post office and on other infrequent occasions, Roosevelt’s system was ground-breaking; never before had the government intervened to help farmers in need (AAA), or homeowners struggling with mortgages (HOLC), or families starving during the winter (CWA). Roosevelt had no uncertainties or misgivings about the use of Federal money to help Americans. If the U.S. government would not help its own citizens, then who would? Roosevelt also made other revolutionary changes with his New Deal.
The plight of the worker had always been of concern to Roosevelt, and he did much during his time as president to improve overall working conditions. Firstly, Roosevelt set up the National Recovery Administration, or NRA, to assist labor unions in their struggle against greedy corporations. The NRA, for the first time in American history, guaranteed the right for labor union members to choose their own representatives in bargaining. The Fair Labor Standards Act, or “Wages and Hours Bill”, established maximum hours of labor, minimum wages, and forbid children under the age of sixteen from working. By limiting the number of hours a single worker could work, Roosevelt created new jobs and improved the working conditions for existing workers. Roosevelt was one of the first Presidents to earnestly fight for the rights of the average worker. The Fair Labor Standards Act is still in use today (though the monetary values have been increased to account for seventy years of inflation), and unions still have the rights that Roosevelt guaranteed to them with the NRA. Roosevelt, it seemed, went out of his way to ensure that workers were treated fairly and given their due rights. Roosevelt’s crowning achievement to Americans was the Social Security Act, which he signed in 1935, creating the pension, insurance for the old-aged, the blind, the physically handicapped, delinquent, and other dependents by taxing employees and employers; in essence, Americans were providing for their own futures. Social Security still exists today, and though some people oppose it, it no doubt provides a valuable service to people unable to care for themselves—which was Roosevelt’s strong point: appealing to the “forgotten man”. However, he had yet another lasting achievement that truly revolutionized America.
After the Wall Street Crash of 1929, it became apparent that speculation and overselling stocks and bonds were key causes of the crash. Roosevelt passed the Federal Securities Act to encourage honesty during the sale of stocks and bonds; promoters were required to transmit to the investor sworn information regarding the soundness of their investments. While many crooked businessmen hated Roosevelt for this, many historians argue that his wise actions saved the American system from untimely demise. With the passage of this Act, Roosevelt encouraged fairer trading and less speculation, which ultimately revitalized the American economy.
Roosevelt was a revolutionary for his time. He challenged the accepted role of government in society by intervening to improve the quality of life for countless Americans. Though his actions were controversial, it is clear that they had a positive effect on American society. Ultimately, though, it would take World War II to lift the American economy out of the Great Depression; Roosevelt’s New Deal served to satisfy the American people’s demands for action until America joined the war in 1941.
Aboukhadijeh, Feross. "Roosevelt and the Revolutionary New Deal" StudyNotes.org. Study Notes, LLC., 05 Jan. 2014. Web. 14 Mar. 2018. <https://www.apstudynotes.org/us-history/sample-essays/roosevelt-and-the-revolutionary-new-deal/>.