Seneca County, New York (1942)
Published on Apr 9, 2012
The New Deal was a series of economic programs implemented in the United States between 1933 and 1936. They were passed by the U.S. Congress during the first term of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The programs were Roosevelt’s responses to the Great Depression, and focused on what historians call the “3 Rs”: Relief, Recovery, and Reform. That is, Relief for the unemployed and poor; Recovery of the economy to normal levels; and Reform of the financial system to prevent a repeat depression. The New Deal produced a political realignment, making the Democratic Party the majority (as well as the party that held the White House for seven out of nine Presidential terms from 1933 to 1969), with its base in liberal ideas, the white South, big city machines, and the newly empowered labor unions and ethnic minorities. The Republicans were split, either opposing the entire New Deal as an enemy of business and growth, or accepting some of it and promising to make it more efficient. The realignment crystallized into the New Deal Coalition that dominated most presidential elections into the 1960s, while the opposition Conservative Coalition largely controlled Congress from 1937 to 1963.
Many historians such as Thomas A. Bailey distinguish a “First New Deal” (1933) and a “Second New Deal” (1934–36). Some programs were declared unconstitutional, and others were repealed during World War II. The “First New Deal” (1933) dealt with diverse groups, from banking and railroads to industry and farming, all of which demanded help for economic recovery. A “Second New Deal” in 1934–36 included the Wagner Act to promote labor unions, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) relief program, the Social Security Act, and new programs to aid tenant farmers and migrant workers. The final major items of New Deal legislation were the creation of the United States Housing Authority and Farm Security Administration, both in 1937, and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which set maximum hours and minimum wages for most categories of workers. By 1936 the term “liberal” typically was used for supporters of the New Deal, and “conservative” for its opponents.
The economic downturn of 1937-38, and the bitter split between the AFL and CIO labor unions led to major Republican gains in Congress in 1938. Conservative Republicans and Democrats in Congress joined in the informal Conservative Coalition. By 1942-43 they shut down the WPA, CCC and other relief programs and blocked major liberal proposals. Roosevelt himself turned his attention to the war effort, and won reelection in 1940 and 1944. As the first Republican president elected after FDR, Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953–61) left the New Deal largely intact. In the 1960s, Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society used the New Deal as inspiration for a dramatic expansion of liberal programs, which Republican Richard M. Nixon generally retained. After 1974, however, libertarian views gained bipartisan support, calling for deregulation of the economy and ending New Deal regulation of transportation, banking and communications. Several New Deal programs remain active, with some still operating under the original names, including the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC), the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The largest programs still in existence today are the Social Security System and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).