Setting Up the New Deal Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Key elements of the New Deal were set up early on in Roosevelt's presidency–much of it, in fact, within the first one hundred days. It was then that such programs and agencies as the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Public Works Administration (PWA), the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) were established. Each of these agencies was designed to bring relief to millions of unemployed or needy Americans and, it was hoped, to shore up the economy. Roosevelt laid out the basics of his plans in various speeches and policy statements, including through so-called fireside chats listened to on the radio by citizens across the nation. By and large, the public was receptive to both the message and the man.

Key elements of the New Deal were set up early on in Roosevelt's presidency–much of it, in fact, within the first one hundred days. It was then that such programs and agencies as the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Public Works Administration (PWA), the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) were established. Each of these agencies was designed to bring relief to millions of unemployed or needy Americans and, it was hoped, to shore up the economy. Roosevelt laid out the basics of his plans in various speeches and policy statements, including through so-called fireside chats listened to on the radio by citizens across the nation. By and large, the public was receptive to both the message and the man.

At the same time, there were legions of critics–many of them from the business community–who felt that Roosevelt had overstepped his bounds. Roosevelt's predecessor, Herbert Hoover, for instance, while allowing that government must play an active role in turning around a broken economy, questioned the nature and scope of government intervention under the New Deal. Roosevelt's own Treasury Secretary, Henry Morgenthau, pushed for a different direction in the Administration, one more responsive to the needs of the private sector; but he lost the battle to reformers. The great British economist John Maynard Keynes wrote an open letter to the American president in the New York Times asking him to proceed with his reform efforts, but to do so in a way less hostile to business interests and more respectful of economic fundamentals. (In particular, Keynes warned that forcing a rise in prices in order to stimulate output and employment was the wrong way to go about things.)

A second phase of the New Deal kicked in in 1935, when yet more agencies and programs were launched. By then some pieces of the government reform effort had been declared unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court, or were soon going to be. The AAA, for example, which set production quotas in the farming industry and subsidized certain commodities, fell under the Court's scrutiny and was abolished. A similar fate was suffered by the National Recovery Administration (NRA), which established codes of fair competition in the marketplace, including codes for production levels, prices, and wages. The Court stated that such government centralization rode roughshod over the interests of private commerce and could not be tolerated. In the face of such reversals, Roosevelt sought, in 1937, to rewrite the rules of the Supreme Court in order to bring in justices who were favorable to his viewpoint. (The attempt was labeled his “court-packing scheme.”) This effort, too, fell by the wayside when the public failed to respond to it positively and when further legal and legislative roadblocks were thrown up by enemies of the New Deal.

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