A New Deal for Americans

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A New Deal for Americans

franklin d. roosevelt …35

frances perkins …45

franklin d. roosevelt …57

By the time Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) was inaugurated as the thirty-second president of the United States on March 4, 1933, the U.S. banking system had ceased to function. Roosevelt's first action as president was to take control of the banking system and stabilize the situation. Key actions included declaration of a nationwide bank holiday—a suspension of banking activities and closure of banks. The "holiday" allowed for the passage of the Emergency Banking Relief Act and Roosevelt's first "fireside chat," a radio broadcast to approximately sixty million worried Americans. These actions restored confidence in governmental leadership and in the banks. On March 13, only nine days after inauguration, banks began to reopen, Americans deposited more than they withdrew, and the U.S. banking system was saved.

The first few days of Roosevelt's presidency set the tone for the next eighteen months. Roosevelt (served 1933–45) and his advisers created political and economic programs, called the New Deal, to combat the Great Depression and return America to prosperity. (The Great Depression, America's worst economic downturn, was widely recognized as beginning in October 1929, with the crash of the New York stock market, and not fully ending until the preparations for World War II were in full swing by 1941.) The New Deal programs were also referred to as the "three Rs": immediate R elief for the needy, longer-term plans for economic R ecovery, and permanent R eform. Legislation rolled out of Washington at an unprecedented rate. The many measures passed during the sixteen-month period from March 1933 to June 1934 were known as the First New Deal. Although there were critics of the New Deal, Roosevelt clearly had the public on his side, and he could afford to ignore the critics. However, by later 1934 as the Depression dragged on, critics became more vocal. Many businessmen and conservatives, opposed to government involving itself in every aspect of American life, charged that the Roosevelt administration had exercised power far beyond what the U.S. Constitution allowed. Liberals, however, wanted the government to go much further. They called for government ownership of banks and industry.

One criticism Roosevelt did carefully listen to and respond to was that the First New Deal, after addressing the immediate problems of the needy, had concentrated too much on aiding business and large farm operators; it had unintentionally left out the everyday citizen and poorer people. With the 1936 election looming, Roosevelt made a clear shift to legislation addressing the needs of the common man and families, the working-class laborer, and the small farmer.

Legislation passed between April 1935 and June 1938 was known as the Second New Deal. Roosevelt's focus on the working man and small farmer resulted in intense opposition from the business community, who wanted the president to concentrate on protecting business interests. Roosevelt nevertheless continued on his course to help the unemployed, common laborers, young Americans, and the rural poor.

Through the "three Rs" of the First and Second New Deals, the federal government became involved in every aspect of people's lives—business activities, labor organizations, retirement and insurance programs, support of the arts (including literature, music, theater, and the visual arts), resource conservation, regulation of public utilities (such as electricity), stock market reform, and housing reform. For many, the New Deal programs reestablished hope in the future and faith in the U.S. system of government.

The first excerpt in this chapter comes from "The First 'Fireside Chat': An Intimate Talk with the People of the United States on Banking, March 12, 1933," published in 1938 in The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt: Volume Two, 1933. With his confident, reassuring voice, Roosevelt seemed to come through the radio waves right into Americans' living rooms as he explained the banking crisis. The second excerpt, "Labor under the New Deal and the New Frontier," comes from a 1965 publication by the Institute of Industrial Relations of UCLA, Two Views of American Labor. In the excerpt Frances Perkins, Roosevelt's secretary of labor, looks back at the beginning of the New Deal era and some of its legislation. The third excerpt, "Second Inaugural Address of Franklin D. Roosevelt on January 20, 1937," was published in the 1941 edition of The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt: Volume 6. In this speech, Roosevelt reviewed what the country had been through, and because he still saw "one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad [poorly clothed], ill-nourished," he pledged to continue seeking "economic and political" progress.

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A New Deal for Americans

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