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During Roosevelts impressive campaign for the presidential election in 1932, he promised the American people a New Deal. It was not entirely clear to Americans what measures this might include. What was clear was that Roosevelt planned to use the full power of the government to get America out of depression. He aimed to: get Americans back to work, to protect their savings and property, to provide relief for the sick, old and unemployed. He also aimed to get American industry and agriculture back on their feet.Roosevelt certainly did help American people, and certainly contributed to the improvement of life.
In the first one hundred days of his presidency, Roosevelt worked around the clock with his advisers (known as the brain trust), to produce an enormous range of sweeping measures. At the very beginning of his presidency, Roosevelt tackled the banking crisis. The day after his inauguration, Roosevelt ordered all Americas banks to close and to remain closed until government officials had checked them over. A few days later, five hundred trustworthy banks were allowed to re-open. They were even supported by government money if needs be. Also, Roosevelt’s advisers had come up with a set of rules and regulations, which would prevent more disasters like the Wall Street Crash.
One member of the brain trust, Raymond Moley, spoke of the reaction to Roosevelts help with solving the banking crisis: When people were able to survive the shock of having all the banks closed, and then see the banks open up, with their money protected there began to be confidence. Good times were coming Roosevelt also set up a series of government agencies designed to give the American people much needed help and support. They soon became known by their initials and so were called the alphabet agencies. These included the FCA, AAA, CCC, CWA, PWA, FERA, NRA and the TVARoosevelt and the brain trust set up agencies to help the farmer and to get agriculture back on its feet: The Farm Credit Administration (FCA) made loans to a fifth of all farmers so that they would not lose their farms.
The Agricultural Adjustment Agency (AAA) paid farmers to produce less food. They did this by taking land out of production or reducing their livestock. Less produce meant that prices went up and farmers income increased. Between 1933 and 1939, farmers income doubled. The AAA also helped farmers to modernise their farming methods. They introduced new ones that would conserve and protect the soil. In extreme cases, farmers also received help with their mortgages. Although the AAA helped many farmers, the modernisation resulted in farm labourers losing their jobs. Roosevelt also set up agencies to cut down on unemployment: The Civilian Conservation Corps was aimed at unemployed young men in particular. They could sign on for periods of 6 months, which could be renewed if they could still not find work. Most of the work done by the CCC was on environmental projects in national parks. Most of the money earned went back to the mens families. Around 2 ½ million young men were helped by this scheme.
The Civilian Works Administration (CWA) aimed to give as many people jobs as possible over a short term. Some useful work such as building roads was carried out, but many of the jobs simply gave people something to do. It gave them a sense of purpose. The Public Works Administration (PWA), aimed to create jobs for the long term. $7billion was spent employing skilled men to build thing such as dams, bridges and houses. Between 1933 and 1939, the PWA built 70% of Americas schools and 35% of Americas hospitals Roosevelts policies on a paternalistic government were very different to Hoovers laissez-faire attitude, and here we can see government paternalism in action. Roosevelt set up the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA). They were given $500million to help thousands of Americans who were homeless, penniless, and on the brink of starvation.
Most of the money was used to increase the number of soup kitchens and to provide clothing, schools and employment schemes. One of Roosevelt’s aims was to get the industry back on its feet and he attempted this by setting up the National Recovery Administration (NRA). The aims of the NRA were to increase workers wages (so they would have more to spend on goods), increase the prices of factory goods (to help the factory owners make more profit and hence employ more men), and to give workers a fair deal in the workplace (i.e. better working conditions and shorter hours).
Businesses that signed up to the NRA were allowed to use the NRAs sign-the Blue Eagle. Big publicity campaigns encouraged the public to buy goods from members of the scheme. You can see an example of the publicity from the source below:The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was set up to develop the Tennessee Valley, a vast area that cut through seven states. It was poverty stricken and had soil erosion and flooding. The TVA organised 33 dams to be built to control Tennessee River.
The quality of soil was improved so that it could be farmed again, and new forests were planted. The TVA built power stations at the dams for cheap electricity for the farmers, and the TVA became the biggest producer of electricity in America. The TVA was one of the most impressive schemes of the New Deal, combining an effort to revive agriculture and industry in one programme.
Thousands of jobs were created, and it gave an entire region a chance to recover from the worst effects of the Depression.Roosevelts famous inauguration speech; The only thing we have to fear is fear itself, was one of the turning points in Americas plight because, as historian Hugh Brogan points out; In a few minutes Roosevelt did what eluded Hoover for four years: he gave back to his countrymen their hope and their energy. By the end of the week, half a million grateful letters had poured into the Whitehouse. Roosevelt doing this gave Americans hope, self-esteem and self-confidence. He realised how important it was to gain the trust of American people. So, he gave radio broadcasts, they became known as fireside chats. He explained his actions in a simple and direct way, and asked Americans to work with him. These broadcasts were astoundingly successful.
Roosevelt ended Prohibition in 1933. Breweries were legalised again and Americans could enjoy a drink without fear of arrest. This made many Americans a lot more cheerful.Of course we cannot hero worship Roosevelt. He was not the only factor in the improvement of standards of living in America. The onset of world war two, certainly helped to solve unemployment. Although the New Deal did help to gradually lower unemployment, it was not wholly responsible. When war broke out in Europe in 1939, unemployment figures in the US lowered rapidly. When America entered the war in 1941, unemployment numbers halved in one year.Americans themselves helped a lot with the standard of living in America. The typical rugged individualism approach to life still existed to many American’s and their determination to succeed in life, helped to improve quality of life.Many people did not support Roosevelts New Deal. Many wealthy Americans resented having to pay higher taxes to pay for the work of the new deal agencies. They were bitter that Roosevelts policies had taken away some of their power. They believed he was a traitor to his class.
Business leaders and republicans also did not support the New Deal. Republicans because they thought Roosevelt was behaving like a dictator-some even compared him to Hitler and Stalin. They thought Americans had lost their self-reliance because they believed the social security act would undermine the American way of life by making people lazy and dependent on government help. Business leaders did not like the government interference in their affairs. They were angry about Roosevelts support for trade unions and the campaign to raise wage.
Of course all those working for the government alphabet agencies set up benefited because the took a lot of money form the government and took a lot from the profits of the schemes they set up.
The natural trade cycle meant that it was inevitable that the depression would come to an end.Of course, we have to look at the fact that not all Americans did benefit. One group that did not are the blacks. They remained second-class citizens and there was still widespread racism and discrimination. In the new deal, segregation in education, transport and public places continued. Blacks were put in segregated CCC camps, and when the new town of Norris was built in Tennessee valley, blacks were not allowed to live there. Black people found it very hard to get work. Most jobs were given to white males; the jobs that blacks got left with were menial ones. Roosevelt did not manage to put through civil rights laws, particularly and anti-lynching law. He claimed he needed the support of the Democratic congressmen in the South to carry through the New Deal, and they were firmly opposed to civil rights for blacks.
Although they did not benefit as much as the whites from the new deal, thousands did receive much more relief than ever before, and they were given positions of responsibility in the New Deal administration.Women did not benefit greatly from the new deal. Most of the new deal programmes were aimed at manual and construction labour traditionally the work of men. The number of women employed did go up during the 1930s, but this was largely because they were cheap labour. Their average wage was half that of mens. A number of states tried to avoid paying the government money provided to women and their dependent children, by introducing other conditions such as no payments for women with illegitimate children. Again though, some women were given places of responsibility within the agencies themselves.So how responsible was Roosevelt? Well lets look at the success of the new deal to help make that decision. The new deal was quite successful: It stopped the depression from getting worse. It helped farmers and homeowners to stay in their property with government help: But far more significant was the simple fact that the New Deal restored hope to millions of men and women, by providing them with a job or saving their home. (C.P.Hill, 1966)
It introduced better social security for American citizens. The New Deal provided a strong foundation of schools, roads etc as a basis for future prosperity. The TVA revolutionised relationships between local and central government. The New Deal gave hope and confidence to the American people at the worst time in their history and saved American democracy.But the new deal did fail at some aspects: Roosevelt was inconsistent and kept changing his mind on policies. Although he challenged big businesses it remained very powerful in the USA and was able to undermine his policies. The New Deal did little for the poorest in America: migrant workers, farm labourers, and unskilled workers. The measures were particularly unhelpful to black people. Encouraging farmers to take land out of production actually made 200 000 blacks unemployed. The wage code allowed employers to pay blacks less than whites. House clearance schemes often meant clearing out the blacks. It bypassed black Americans, made only symbolic concessions to the status of women, and did little to improve the general standard of education (Sean Dennis Cashman)
The New Deal failed to restore the confidence of the 1920s: by 1937 Americans were still only spending and investing about 75% of what they had in 1929. Unemployment remained high throughout the 1930s.In conclusion, I think that Roosevelt did contribute quite greatly, but not wholly to the improvement in quality of life in America. I think we cannot hero-worship Roosevelt, as there were many other factors that contributed to the better quality of life.
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