Between 1929 and 1932, the country and the world kept spiraling downward into depression. Many looked to the government to do something to solve the problems.
But U.S. President Herbert Hoover was slow to give help to farmers, even though he was from Iowa. Hoover stubbornly refused to help unemployed workers in urban areas as well. He vetoed a bill that would have created a federal unemployment agency and opposed a plan to use public money to put people to work building roads and government buildings. In a later interview, Hoover said that he didn’t agree with the progressive ideas being proposed.
Walter Schmitt (right) recognized that Hoover became the symbol for all that was going wrong. “Everyone tried to blame [President Herbert] Hoover for the Depression, and they’d probably blame him for the drought too if they could. [Laughter.]” But the nation needed help, and in the 1932 election they were ready for a new voice.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was that new voice. He promised a New Deal for the American people.
FDR made that promise in accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. He was relying on the ideas of a group of advisors (known as the “Brain Trust”) from Columbia University. They said that the nation’s economy had become “interdependent” – that is, what happened in one part, like farming, would affect other parts of the economy. The Brain Trust argued that the Depression was caused by an economic slowdown in agriculture. And so, much of FDR’s New Deal was designed to help farmers.
The election was a landslide with FDR taking over 57 percent of the vote. He carried 42 out of 48 states, including Nebraska and all of the other Great Plains states.
But by the time he took the oath of office in March 1933, at least 12 million Americans were out of work and the banking system was near collapse. FDR declared “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
The next day he closed the banks and called Congress into a special session to pass emergency laws to provide more money to the banks. Four days after that, FDR went on the radio nationwide and asked Americans to stop hanging on to cash and trust the banks. It worked. Banks reopened and the panic stopped.
With Congress in for the unusual special session, FDR began pushing through his legislative agenda. Eventually, the New Deal produced a host of new agencies and programs. They were usually known by their initials, and there were so many they became known as the “alphabet soup” agencies. On these pages we’ll explore many of them.
- AAA, the Agricultural Adjustment Administration
- FSA, the Farm Security Administration
- CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corps
- NRA, the National Recovery Act
- NYA, the National Youth Administration
- WPA, the Works Progress (later Projects) Administration
- PWA, the Public Works Administration
- SSA, the Social Security Administration
- REA, the Rural Electrification Administration
The New Deal was a group of ambitious programs that produced major changes in America.
Written by Bill Ganzel of the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.