Modern history

Conclusion: New Deal Liberalism

Franklin Roosevelt succeeded in expanding the scope of public authority. The New Deal brought unprecedented government involvement in the lives of people, whether rich or poor. Businesses were subject to increased regulation even as they retained control over hiring and firing, production, and pricing. The federal government grew considerably during the 1930s, jumping from 605,000 employees to more than 1 million, and turned citizens’ attention from local and state authorities to officials in Washington, D.C. Yet the New Deal rescued the capitalist system, doing little to alter the fundamental structure of the American economy. It left corporations, the stock market, farms, and banks in the hands of private enterprise. Indeed, by the end of the 1930s large corporations had more power over markets than ever before. Income and wealth remained unequally distributed, nearly to the same extent as it had been before Roosevelt took office in 1933.

Roosevelt forged a middle path between reactionaries and revolutionaries at a time when the fascist tyrants Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini gained power in Germany and Italy respectively and Joseph Stalin ruthlessly consolidated his rule in the Communist Soviet Union. By contrast, the American president expanded democratic capitalism, bringing a broader cross section of society to the decision-making table. Big business no longer held unilateral authority but instead found its power balanced by big labor, big agriculture, and big government. Roosevelt’s “broker state” of multiple competing interests provided for greater democracy than a government dominated exclusively by business elites. This system did not benefit those who remained unorganized and wielded little power, but marginalized groups—African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans— did receive greater recognition and self-determination from the federal government. Moreover, in the coming decades these groups, too, would find ways to take advantage of the power of collective action and claim a place at the bargaining table.

President Roosevelt also solidified the institution of the presidency as the focal point for public leadership. His cheerfulness, hopefulness, and pragmatism rallied millions of individuals behind him. Even after Roosevelt died in 1945, the public retained its expectation that leadership came from the White House.

Through his programs and force of personality, Franklin Roosevelt convinced Americans that he cared about their welfare and that the federal government would not ignore their suffering. With his chin cocked upward, a fedora hat on his head, and a cigarette holder protruding from his smiling mouth, Roosevelt assured the depression- weary public that it had somewhere to turn for relief. He was not universally beloved: Millions of Americans despised him because they thought he was leading the country toward socialism, and he did not solve all the problems the country faced—it would take government spending for World War II to end the depression. Still, together with his wife Eleanor, Franklin Roosevelt conveyed a sense that the American people belonged to a single community, capable of banding together to solve the country’s problems, no matter how serious they were or how intractable they might seem.

Chapter Review


Identify and explain the significance of each term below.

Hoovervilles (p. 568)

Scottsboro Nine (p. 570)

Bonus Army (p. 574)

fireside chats (p. 576)

New Deal (p. 576)

Agricultural Adjustment Act (p. 576)

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) (p. 577)

National Recovery Administration (NRA) (p. 577)

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) (p. 578)

Share Our Wealth (p. 580)

Works Progress Administration (WPA) (p. 581)

Social Security Act (p. 582)

National Labor Relations Act (p. 583)

sit-down strike (p. 583)

Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) (p. 585)

court-packing plan (p. 586)

conservative coalition (p. 586)

Fair Labor Standards Act (p. 586)


Answer the focus questions from each section of the chapter.

1. How did president Hoover respond to the problems and challenges created by the Great Depression?

2. How did different segments of the American population experience the depression?

3. What steps did Roosevelt take to stimulate economic recovery and provide relief to impoverished Americans during his first term in office?

4. What criticisms did roosevelt's opponents level against the New Deal?

5. Why and how did the New Deal shift to the left in 1934 and 1935?

6. Despite the president's landslide victory in 1936, why did the New Deal stall during roosevelt's second term in office?



• Scottsboro Nine tried for rape


• Dust storms sweep through Great Plains


• Creation of Reconstruction Finance Corporation

• River Rouge autoworkers' strike

• Milo Reno creates the Farm Holiday Association


• Bonus Army marches on Washington, D.C.


• Roosevelt takes steps to stabilize banking and financial systems


• Agricultural Adjustment Act passed


• Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) created


• Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) created


• National Recovery Administration (NRA) created


• Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) created


• Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) passed


• Francis Townsend forms Old-Age Revolving Pensions Corporation


• Huey Long establishes Share Our Wealth movement


• Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) established


• Charles E. Coughlin organizes National Union for Social Justice


• Works Progress Administration (WPA) established


• Social Security Act passed

• National Labor Relations Act passed


• Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) founded


• Creation of the Soil Conservation Service


• United Auto Workers conduct sit-down strikes against General Motors in Flint, Michigan


• Roosevelt proposes to increase the size of the Supreme Court


• Fair Labor Standards Act passed

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