How did the American people react to the New Deal in 1933?
After the Wall Street crash of 1929, America went into a state of depression and poverty, something that they were not prepared for. When Roosevelt took over as president he wanted to bring America out of depression and work towards economic recovery.
He wanted to do this by introducing a New Deal, new legislations and policies that would restore hope in the American people and reassure them that the government would take responsibility for the welfare of its citizens.
In this essay I will try and display a true picture of what the American peoples reactions were to this New Deal and why they reacted in the way they did.
In his first one hundred days as president, Roosevelt set about restoring people’s faiths in banks by, because most were closing either because it didn’t have enough money to support itself or not enough people were depositing money into the banks.
Roosevelt decided to close banks across 38 states, and within ten days passed an act that enabled the government to support these banks with government money and aids and close those that were weak. By the end of this ordeal, customers had deposited more cash than they withdrew and gradually other banks opened and failures ceased.
This showed that the American peoples trust had been restored especially with banks and with Roosevelt. Although this provided immediate relief and recovery for the American people, the New Deal had more long-term plans.
Roosevelt set up ‘alphabet agencies’ to tackle the unemployment problem that was dragging America into recession. The biggest agency being the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) brought in codes to tackle minimum wages, maximum hours and better working conditions. However, results were mixed. Large company firms dominated the industry and would sometimes not allow for such codes to be passed in their company. If not, they were seen as not helping America come out of the brink of Depression and not being patriotic, so most were forced to agree with these acts. But as a good result child labour stopped and there was much enthusiasm due to such codes being issued in companies and the fact that instead of using a ticket to ration for their meal, the American people could now buy food with real money. Public work agencies such as the CWA (Civil Works Administration) were also designed to put people back into work and paid wages for people building roads, schools and recreational sites. Some people criticised the programmes of public works, accusing them of wasting money and not creating ‘real’ jobs. Maybe this was because the process was slow and many people wanted to end the poverty that they were living in fast, but this was not the case.
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Most people welcomed the fact that they were working at last which in turn gave them confidence of a brighter future.
The social security act of 1935 introduced state pensions, unemployment benefits and disability pay. The government was at least providing a minimum standard of welfare across America, which came as a huge relief to many employers and employees.
Agriculture was another main economic target if America were to get back on its feet.
The Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) told farmers to cut back on production of flour, wheat and meat, so as to raise farm prices, which would raise farmer’s income. Mortgage Corporations were set up for farmers, to prevent them from being evicted off their farms and helped poor farmers find new rural land.
These benefited farmers greatly as they were also given a new opportunity to raise their own income and promote confidence amongst other farmers who would soon catch onto this scheme. It also taught farmers about conservation of their crops and fields, generally modernising farm equipment and tools that they could use to develop the land.
An example of how the government intended to decrease the number of people unemployed was in the Tennessee Valley Act. This was to generate cheap electricity for thousands of people living there. Dams were set up to generate this cheap electricity whi0ch created thousands of jobs for also constructing power lines. It also tempted industrialists to set up factories in one of the most under industrialised regions of the USA. New houses were built and a sense of confidence and rehabilitation was building amongst communities situated there. They felt pride in what they were doing for once and felt it was a step into the right direction. Poverty was being relieved as well as under funded schools. The most important thing being that people were finally taking money home and spending it on necessities, rather than having to beg for the most simple of things. As a result of these changes to even the smallest of states, many people appreciated the efforts of Roosevelt by even sending him letters, with addresses such as, “God’s gift to the USA” or “To the Greatest Man in the world”. This was the extent of which people were relieved by what the New Deal brought to the country, mentally as well as economically.
In contrast, many people opposed the New Deal during the 1930s both from those who thought it did not go far enough and from those who thought it went too far.
Big business men, the rich and republicans hated the idea that their incomes (which were substantial amounts) had to be taxed in order to fuel more plans set up by the New Deal. They argued that the New Deal’s relief and welfare measures were the first steps towards Communism and undermined the traditional American values such as self-reliance. They felt that too much of their own money was being pumped into the New Deal with rather little being accomplished, and that Roosevelt interfered too much with the running of people’s lives and the economy. They felt that they were being used, and not for the good of America. Roosevelt claimed that this group of rich people were only looking after their own selfish interests and not those of America. Many Americans became confused within this struggle for where their best interests lay.
In the early years of Roosevelt’s presidency five judges opposed his ideas and also felt that the government was interfering too much in economic and social matters. Many Americans did believe that Roosevelt was turning into a dictator and a fascist such was his part in the running of normal peoples lives. Some judges wanted to make some laws unconstitutional, so Roosevelt threatened to create new Supreme Court judges, young men who would support his views. By 1936, one of them came over to his way of thinking, giving him a majority of five to four.
Extremist political groups also emerged as oppositions to Roosevelt and the New Deal. The most prominent being the Share Our Wealth movement, lead by Senator Huey Long. He guaranteed that every American home have an annual income of $2,500, a car and decent education. These views seemed a far cry from those, realistic offers that Roosevelt had given to the American people and so the only people who did support this cause were the desperately deprived, seeking immediate salvation from the destruction Depression. Most ordinary Americans always gave their support to Roosevelt, the most surprising of all being the black community across America.
This group were hit hardest by the Depression because of the inequality and lynching abuse that they faced. Although Roosevelt refused to take steps to help black people gain equal rights, he supported the anti-lynching Bill giving him support from the relieved black community who were also funded by programmes set up by the New Deal. In some states they’re incomes matched that coming from private firms. This is why 85% voted for Roosevelt across America as they were lifted out of poverty and deprivation.
Most Americans believed that they had the right to prosperity. For many it was a main aim in life to have a nice house, a good job, plenty to eat and for their homes to be filled with the latest consumer goods. Consuming more and more was seen as part of being American. Most Americans would agree though that although the New Deal did not bring instant relief to the economy or health, but in its frenzied way started the wheels of industry turning again and brought the American people back from the brink of Depression.
By Arun Joshi