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Eleanor Roosevelt was the wife of America's thirty-second president, Franklin belonged to another part of the Roosevelt family. Yet her relationship with her husband changed. He was elected governor of New York two times. In those years after World War One, she argued that America must be.
Table of contents

But the New Deal accumulated a record of notable failures as well as successes. Mixed results were not the only enemy of the early New Deal, however.

A host of critics arose on the Political Left and Right to attack Roosevelt and his policies. In , conservative businessmen—and dissident Democrats like presidential candidate Al Smith—formed the American Liberty League, which tarred the New Deal as a radical and un-American assault upon the basic principles of capitalism and free enterprise. Others criticized FDR for not doing enough for those hardest hit by the Depression: the poor, the elderly, and the working class. Long insisted that his "share our wealth" plan of income redistribution would "make every man a king.

Finally, Dr. In a series of landmark cases, the Court struck down some of the most important pieces of New Deal legislation. In the May Schechter decision, the Court invalidated the NIRA on the grounds that Congress had improperly delegated its powers to the Executive and that it unconstitutionally interfered with intra-state commerce.

FDR legitimately worried that the Court might reject most of the New Deal's legislation as unconstitutional. Moreover, growing criticism of the New Deal—from the Left, from the Right, and from within the government—revealed that FDR's popular support might be ebbing as the presidential election came into view.

Roosevelt, as a result, began to change direction, inaugurating what scholars have come to call the "Second New Deal. Under the leadership of Harry Hopkins, the WPA aimed to give unemployed Americans jobs rather than signing them up for the dole. By , three million Americans were receiving WPA checks for building schools, hospitals, and airports. The National Youth Administration NYA , an agency of the WPA, trained and employed hundreds of thousands of teenagers and made it possible for many more young people, including the future playwright Arthur Miller, to work their way through college.

This legislation guaranteed labor unions the right to organize and bargain collectively—and established the National Labor Relations Board to enforce these rights. It also curbed employer use of "unfair labor practices," like blacklisting union organizers or unionized workers. Because of the legitimacy conferred on unions by the Wagner Act, the legislation came to be known as the "Magna Carta" for American labor unions. With this new political power, union membership swelled to more than 13 million Americans during World War II.

Long a goal of liberals, this bill, like the Wagner Act, had been stalled in Congress until FDR declared it vital legislation. Taken together, these programs represented a significant commitment to developing a welfare state in the United States. This phase of the New Deal did not constitute an uninterrupted revolution of progressive legislation.

Roosevelt proposed a tax scheme in that would have greatly increased the tax bills of wealthy Americans and corporations. Conservatives in Congress, however, watered down the proposal considerably. Likewise, FDR's attempt to break up large public utilities holding companies with the Public Utilities Holding Company Act ignited a political firestorm on Capitol Hill that resulted in a weakened bill—and one that eventually benefited the utilities.

The WPA, for all its efforts, failed to lift the country out of its economic doldrums. The Social Security Act financed its programs through deductions from workers' paychecks, which actually stunted economic growth by muting consumer purchasing power. Moreover, the programs and benefits of the Social Security Act were not distributed evenly among all Americans. Agricultural workers who were likely to be African Americans or Mexican Americans of both sexes and domestic servants often African American women were not eligible for old-age insurance what is now commonly referred to as "social security" ; farm laborers also were ineligible for unemployment insurance.

Likewise, since many of these social security programs were administered by state governments, the size of benefits varied widely, especially between the North and the South. FDR's policies were wildly popular with large segments of the American population, as his overwhelming victory in made clear. At his inauguration in , FDR vowed to continue fighting for the nation's underprivileged, the "one-third of nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished. FDR set out in his second term to remove these roadblocks.

All too often, however, he encountered stiff resistance. If the Court had ruled the centerpiece of the early New Deal unconstitutional, FDR reasoned, it was likely to do the same to subsequent programs, such as the Social Security Act, when they appeared on the Court's docket. Roosevelt's best hope was for the composition of the Court to change. But older, conservative justices opposed to FDR's program refused to retire—and some of the most ardent New Deal supporters surmised that these jurists simply refused to die—so FDR sought a more systematic way to shield his policies from court action.

Eleanor Roosevelt Was the Most Influential Wife of Any American President

In early February, , he proposed legislation that would expand the membership of the Court, adding a new justice for every sitting justice over the age of seventy-five. This maneuver would have put six new Roosevelt-appointed justices on the Court, giving FDR a comfortable majority that could be expected to validate the New Deal. Though most of the press erupted in fury, denouncing FDR as a would-be dictator, he had so large a majority in both houses of Congress in the Senate, in the House that political commentators expected the bill to pass. But in late-March the Court began to uphold state and federal social legislation in what has been called "the switch in time that saved nine.

He claimed, though, with good reason, that though he had lost the battle he had won the war, for never again did the Court strike down a New Deal law.

Franklin D. Roosevelt: 7 Fascinating Facts About FDR - Biography

Scholars differ on why the Court changed, but they almost all agree that what happened in was nothing less than a "Constitutional Revolution. In addition to revamping the Supreme Court, FDR believed that he needed to reform and strengthen the Presidency, and specifically the administrative units and bureaucracy charged with implementing the chief executive's policies. During his first term, FDR quickly found that the federal bureaucracy, specifically at the Treasury and State Departments, moved too slowly for his tastes.

FDR often chose to bypass these established channels, creating emergency agencies in their stead. His plan for executive reorganization called for the President to receive six full-time executive assistants, for a single administrator to replace the three-member Civil Service Commission, for the President and his staff to assume more responsibility in budget planning, and for every executive agency to come under the control of one of the cabinet departments.


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The President's conservative critics pounced on the plan, seeing it as an example of FDR's imperious and power-hungry nature; Congress successfully bottled up the bill. While FDR did not get the far-reaching result he sought in , the legislation strengthened the Presidency immeasurably. Some of the more liberal measures of the New Deal encountered stiff resistance in Congress, often from conservative Southerners within the President's own party. As a result, FDR attempted in to purge conservative congressional Democrats by supporting their more liberal opponents in the party's primaries.

FDR's plan failed miserably; of the ten Democrats he targeted for ouster, only one lost. The others returned to Washington even more antagonistic toward the President. In addition, many other Democrats resented the President's meddling in local affairs. These controversies, largely political in scope, occurred against the backdrop of a collapsing economy.

Beginning in the fall of , industrial production fell by 33 percent, national income dropped by 12 percent, and industrial stock prices plummeted by 50 percent.

FDR and Polio

Nearly 4 million people lost their jobs, and the total number of unemployed increased to The "Roosevelt recession" occurred largely because the President, along with some of his advisers led by Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau were determined to balance the federal budget and had, as a result, reduced government spending. The recession hit hard and, at first, Roosevelt chose to maintain his fiscally conservative course. In April , worried that a continuing recession and the appearance of White House inactivity would doom Democrats in the congressional midterm elections, FDR jettisoned Morgenthau's advice.

Instead, he listened to Harry Hopkins and other advisers who believed that government spending on relief and public works would revive the economy—even if such spending produced ever larger deficits. Their rationale for this approach was that the depression was the product of under-consumption and that putting money in the hands of consumers—"priming the pump"—would stimulate consumer spending and perk up the economy. Despite this infusion of federal money into the economy, the nation still suffered from under-consumption and lay mired in depression.

In , over 19 percent of the nation's work force remained unemployed.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Early Life and Career

Stock prices had yet to recover from the crash of the late s. Despite the New Deal, the U. Nonetheless, as the historian Alan Brinkley has argued, a generation of economic policymakers adopted the view that the manipulation of government fiscal policies was the key to maintaining a healthy economy. As a result, this approach colored federal efforts to regulate the economy for the next thirty years. The war sparked the kind of job creation and massive public and private spending that finally lifted the United States out of its economic doldrums.


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  6. It was a mammoth effort in which the vast majority of America's industrial and human resources were brought to bear. Great ships were built in weeks, then in days. American-made vehicles all but put the entire Russian Army on wheels. Airplanes emerged from factories in days. American industry churned out guns, munitions, and clothing. Women and African Americans benefited greatly from this war-time economy, as the former joined the workforce in unprecedented numbers while the latter left the rural and poor South to find industrial employment, as well as voting rights and a less oppressive legal and social system, in the North.

    Sacrifice was the word of the day. Americans, sometimes begrudgingly, submitted to the federal government's rationing of everything from gasoline to shoes to food. New automobiles, radios, and other big-ticket items were virtually unavailable for purchase. In addition to rationing, the government coordinated the use of raw materials and the production of staple goods. Indeed, during the war the federal government played an even larger role in the functioning of the American economy than it did during the New Deal.

    In the process, the Roosevelt administration ran up massive deficits. This extraordinary economic mobilization came with great costs. African Americans still lived as second-class citizens, helping fight a war against racist and oppressive nations while enduring racism and oppression at home. The new jobs they moved into often paid poorly and offered little chance for advancement.


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    Women, while joining the workplace at great rates, still suffered from sex discrimination once on the job. They earned less than men for doing the same work and received few opportunities for promotion. Yet, as with African Americans, women made permanent gains during the war. Some historians have even seen in World War II the origins of the women's liberation movement of the s. Finally, in the wake of the hysteria following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Roosevelt administration relocated Americans of Japanese descent, more than , persons, to prison camps. Many of them stayed there until the war's conclusion, even as their sons died in Europe fighting Nazi Germany.

    It was one of the most disgraceful acts in American history, one sanctioned by FDR and validated by the Supreme Court. Only in the s did the American government admit its flagrant violation of the constitutional rights of these American citizens.