Given the scope of the economic calamity it tried to counter, the New Deal seems in many ways quite limited. Compared to later European welfare states, Social Security remained restricted in scope and modest in cost. The New Deal failed to address the problem of racial inequality, which in some ways it actually worsened.

Yet even as the New Deal receded, its substantial accomplishments remained. It greatly expanded the federal government’s role in the American economy and made it an independent force in relations between industry and labor. The government told farmers what they could and could not plant, required employers to deal with unions, insured bank deposits, regulated the stock market, loaned money to home owners, and provided payments to a majority of the elderly and unemployed. It transformed the physical environment through hydroelectric dams, reforestation projects, rural electrification, and the construction of innumerable public facilities. It restored faith in democracy and made the government an institution directly experienced in Americans’ daily lives and directly concerned with their welfare. It redrew the map of American politics. It helped to inspire, and was powerfully influenced by, a popular upsurge that recast the idea of freedom to include a public guarantee of economic security for ordinary citizens and that identified economic inequality as the greatest threat to American freedom.

One thing the New Deal failed to do was generate sustained prosperity. More than 15 percent of the workforce remained unemployed in 1940. Only the mobilization of the nation’s resources to fight World War II would finally end the Great Depression.


1. Discuss how regional planning such as the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Columbia River project reflected broader changes in American life during the New Deal.

2. What actions did President Roosevelt and Congress take to prevent the collapse of the banking system and reform its operations?

3. Plow did the actions of the AAA benefit many farmers, injure others, and provoke attacks by conservatives?

4. Explain what labor did in the 1930s to rise from being “slaves of the depression” to secure “economic freedom and industrial democracy” for American workers.

5. How did the emphasis of the Second New Deal differ from the First New Deal?

6. How did the entrenched power of southern conservatives limit women and blacks from enjoying the full benefits of the New Deal?

7. Analyze the effects of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1914 on Native Americans.

8. Explain how New Deal programs contributed to the stigma of blacks as welfare dependent.

9. Illustrate how labor militancy helped produce a shift in the legal understanding of civil liberties.

10. What were the major characteristics of liberalism by 1939?


1. How did the New Deal make economic security a vital element of American freedom?

2. Illustrate how FDR and the New Deal repudiated the 1920s idea that liberty was based on unrestrained marketplace competition.

3. What did Roosevelt mean when he said that for too many Americans during the Depression, “life was no longer free, liberty no longer real”?

4. Describe how the Popular Front redefined both popular culture and the concept of “the American people.”

5. How did the New Deal link the idea of freedom to the expanding power of the national state?

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