After the Wall Street crash in 1929, America sunk into a deep depression and unemployment levels soared, growing to a rate of 12,000 people per day, loosing their jobs as company after company went bankrupt. The president at the time Herbert Hoover did little at all to help the situation and by the end of his term in office the state of both the American economy and American public were in dire straits. In a bid to restore America back to its former glory the American public turned to the Democrat, Franklin Delano Roosevelt who promised a new deal and vowed to help them out of this slump.
Roosevelt brought a breath of fresh air to America at a critical point in time and I think that this is the reason why Roosevelt appealed so much and won the election with a landslide victory. In the case of Herbert Hoover, I believe it was a case of too little too late and this was just not good enough. During Roosevelt’s first hundred days as president the American public saw more action being taken to end the depression that they had seen during the whole of Herbert Hoover’s presidency.
The first step, which he took on the road to recovery, was the Emergency Banking Act, which was immediately put into action, as congress voted unanimously for it. It consisted of, closing all the banks down until their finances had been put into order and only those with sufficient money and well-managed accounts were allowed to reopen. His second step was the economy act which, cut government and armed forces pay by 15% and also the budgets of government departments by 25%, saving nearly a billion dollars, this was also put into to place straight away as congress voted in favour yet again.
During his first hundred days as president Roosevelt bombarded congress with countless numbers of ideas for new acts and all in all 10 new acts were passed, dubbed ‘The Alphabet Agencies’ by many of Roosevelt’s critics and opponents in a bid to make fun of them. Clearly Roosevelt’s first hundred days were a success and America seemed to be regaining it’s confidence and becoming more organised, he was providing the help and support he had pledged in the election and which they desperately needed. When people think of the New Deal they think of the numerous agencies set up to deal with the problems Hoover had left to cope on their own.
One of Roosevelt’s many successes but also his favourite of the new acts was the Civilian Conservation Corps (known as the C’s for short). This employed young men to do conservation work in the countryside and combined helping the unemployed and improving the American countryside. Jointly run by the US army and forestry service, it employed young men between the ages of 18 and 25 whose parents were unemployed. The young men were provided with food, shelter and clothing aswell as $1 a day pocket money to send home to their parents.
Its main aims were to improve and conserve the countries forests, for example in the Midwest it planted over 200 million trees to prevent soil erosion and built fire look out points to prevent destruction of these new forests. They also built reservoirs, treated tree diseases and restored historic battlefields. The CC seemed as if it could do no wrong and everybody including Roosevelt and the workers employed could not say a bad word about it, because of this it is remembered as one of the successes of the New Deal and results of their work can still be seen today.
Another ‘alphabet agency’ famous for its success was the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). This helped to solve one of America’s biggest environmental problems, The Tennessee Valley. Each year its land produced less and less crops due to the sheer scale of erosion caused by flooding in the spring and droughts in the summer. Because of this over half the people living there were forced to live off dole money paid by the state. The mass of area affected was too large for the CCC to handle, so Roosevelt set up the TVA to tackle it.
The TVA began by building large dams on the river which could be opened or closed at the touch of a button if the threat of flooding beckoned, all in all 21 massive dams were constructed during a ten year period which also brought many benefits to the region. The dams were used to make cheap electricity to supply the region with powerful turbines that were built into the dams, driven by jets of water released from the lakes. A second benefit came from the lakes that built up behind the dams, they along with the locks built into the side of the dams provided a travel route of about 1000km up the river.
This meant that ships could now carry coal steel and other goods to the regions factories and the factories were now able to transport their products to a wider range of markets increasing profits and employment opportunities. Gradually over time the poverty, which the Tennessee Valley suffered from, was eliminated and by 1940 it was a prosperous area, once again another example of the success of Roosevelt’s New Deal. An agency that was not as successful as the CCC or the TVA was the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) although not classed as a failure it only had a limited amount of successes.
Roosevelt’s secretary of agriculture, Henry Wallace, set up the AAA to reduce the size of farmer’s crops by ‘adjusting’ them. His idea was that if the farmers had fewer crops to sell at market, the prices would rise, increasing Farmers profits and ending the poverty that the majority of farmers had been in. Immediately the AAA got to work, by giving farmers money to destroy their crops, for example thousands of cotton farmers received over $100 million dollars to plough the summers cotton crop into the ground.
Another thing which the AAA did was buying 6 million baby pigs from hog farmers then slaughtering them all to help increase the price of meat. Unlike the cotton crops though, it was not completely destroyed. The meat was canned and given away free to the unemployed. Although everything was going to plan and the AAA were achieving what they had aimed for, the agency did not receive the full public backing they had originally hoped for.
Everyone thought that it was crazy that the government should pay for farmers to destroy their crops, but also many were horrified at the AAA’s policies and were very angry when they slaughtered the 6 million baby pigs. On one hand despite all the objections the AAA’s ‘adjustments’ had been successful, they had helped the farm prices raise quickly and with it the incomes of the farmers, many of whom without the help of the AAA would have very likely been evicted from their land because they could no longer pay their mortgage.
Whereas on the other hand the AAA’s policies could not have made it much worse for the millions of sharecroppers who did not own their own land. Many of the 3 million sharecroppers were black and after slavery had been abolished some years earlier, they still had not managed to stand on their own two feet and had been forced to live in poverty ever since. After helping the landowners destroy their crops it had left them out of work and out of money, many of them were forced to leave their homes and go in search for work in other parts of the country.
Unlike the CCC and the TVA, the AAA had not been a complete success as it had both good and bad points about it but fortunately it had not been dubbed a complete failure like the CWA which was thought of as a complete waste of time, money and effort. The Civil Works Administration (CWA) was one of a number of agencies set up to help the unemployed. Harry Hopkins the man in charge of this had very strong views about how to help the unemployed and believed that keeping workers on the dole, took away their pride and destroyed their morale whereas if they were kept in work their spirits would stay high and their skills would be saved.
Although the Public Works Administration had been set up to provide extra job opportunities for skilled workers, this would not begin until the following summer and with winter fast approaching the millions of unemployed were in desperate need of help and employment. With this in mind, Harry Hopkins set up the CWA. After just 2 months, the CWA had found work for nearly 4 million people, paying 40 cents an hour for unskilled work and $1 an hour for skilled work.
During this period the workers did all the following: * Built or improved 800,000km of roads * Built or improved 40,000 schools * Built 500 airports and improved 500 more * Built 150,000 public toilets Although many of the CWA jobs had obvious public value, not all did and instead of publicising the fact, to all American people the values of the CWA from both a human point of view and also the benefits the whole nation were getting in improving public services.
The press highlighted examples of work, which although could be construed as valuable, were not essential particularly when public money was limited. Thousands of people were paid to do things such as sweep leaves, research history and keep pigeons away from public buildings. Many Americans thought these jobs were a waste of taxpayer’s money and began to call such jobs ‘boondoggles’ after plaits that American cowboys made from leather strips to pass the time when they had no work to do.
After the winter had passed many people believed that the CWA was just wasting much needed money that could be spent on other things and so it was disbanded, the 4 million people who had had their hopes raised through the CWA, now found themselves out of work and unemployment levels soared once again. Although there was some good output from the CWA, many people believed that it was ridiculous to waste extra money which the government did not have, paying people to ‘boondoggle’, and all the hard efforts made by Harry Hopkins to reduce the unemployment levels had been wasted.
This is why the Civil Works Administration was considered one of the failures of the New Deal. In a bid to increase the profits made in industry and to make sure the factory workers were being treated fairly, Roosevelt set up the National Recovery Administration (NRA). Its aim was ‘the assurance of a reasonable profit to industry and living wages to labour’. The NRA tried to help factories increase their profits without using sweated or child labour, the official in charge Hugh Johnson drew up codes on fair competition, which he asked all factory owners and businessmen to sign.
The codes fixed fair prices for the goods and laid down minimum wages and conditions of work for their employees. For example, the Cotton Textile code fixed a 40-hour week, abolished child labour and made sure that everyone received a minimum of $12 per week in the south and $13 per week in the north. The Codes also allowed workers to join trade unions. When an employer signed these codes they were allowed to use the symbol of the NRA to advertise their products, the emblem featured a blue eagle clutching a cogwheel and a sheaf of thunderbolts in its talons.
With the blue eagle went the motto ‘We do our part’. By September 1933 over 500 industries had signed the NRA codes, which covered 2 million employers and over 22 million employees. The NRA codes seemed very successful. Unfortunately and to Roosevelt’s disappointment, the NRA soon ran into difficulties, Employers who hated trade unions including Henry Ford, refused to sign the codes because they were afraid of their employers unionising and others signed but just ignored the parts, which they did not like.
When the workers found out that their employers were anti-trade union many of the lost their enthusiasm for the company and often went on strike, by September 1933 nearly 300,000 workers were on strike and the numbers were increasing rapidly each month. The employers then were dismissed as employers refused to have them working for them and unemployment levels rose again.
Meanwhile other different complaints were being made against the new deal and the government just could not win because if they took action against allegations the small businesses would say that they were being bullied and if not other businesses would say that the codes meant nothing and what was the point in having them. Within a year of being created the codes seemed to be creating more hassle than there had originally been and they had upset everyone, both the workers whom they were meant to protect and the employers whom they were meant to encourage.
In the end what had originally been thought of, as a success was now a failure. Another example of its failure was the ‘sick chickens’ case, four brothers who ran a small but profitable poultry company had signed the NRA code agreeing to fair wages, fair prices and fair competition but the NRA had found that the had broke one of the codes by selling a batch of diseased chickens that were not fit for human consumption. The brothers were taken to court because of this and were found guilty but they appealed against this verdict and their case was heard by the Supreme Court, America’s highest court.
The Supreme Court declared that the NRA had no right to meddle in the New York poultry trade and that it was not their affair to deal with such matters and that it was for the state government to investigate. The brothers were acquitted and the code was declared illegal. This meant that overnight 750 of the NRA’s codes were scrapped. Unfortunately for Roosevelt this was only the beginning of his problems, as a result of this ruling 16 more cases concerning the ‘alphabet agencies’ were tried.
Of these 11 were declared illegal, wrecking everything which Roosevelt had worked so hard for. Roosevelt argued against this ruling saying that the depression affected the whole country but the Supreme Court refused to reverse their decision. In conclusion I feel that all in all Roosevelt’s New deal was very successful, even though it had some failures. During his Presidential reign the percentage of unemployed citizens dramatically decreased.
Although there was a small increase between 1938-1939, this was due to the millions of people who had been appointed to ‘Boondoggle’ were laid off because it was thought by many as a waste of tax-payers money, but, after the initial rise the figures continued decreasing, fulfilling one of Roosevelt’s main aims. He also sorted out one of America’s biggest environmental problems, The Tennessee Valley and improved the vast majority of American countryside through the CCC. Another of his successes was helping many of Americas farmers stand on their own two feet by ‘adjusting’ the crops to raise prices of farming products too.
As a result of the majority of ‘alphabet agencies’ being scrapped because they were declared illegal, Roosevelt began a ‘second New Deal’ to replace all the old agencies. The American people must have felt that these new agencies were successful, because the following year in the 1936 election Roosevelt won by yet another landslide victory with only two of the states voting Republican. This shows that it is not only my belief that Roosevelt and his New Deal were successful but also that of the American people, otherwise they would not have voted for him once more.
The support for Roosevelt is shown even greater by the fact that the constitutional laws were changed so that he could stay in office for a third term. However successful Roosevelt’s New Deal was, it may be true to say that although it gave many Americans the will to carry on through the toughest of times, the problems of the depression were never truly solved by it. It was only the second world war that finally reduced the levels of unemployment because, during the first year of the war the number of people unemployed decreased dramatically from about 7 to 2 million.