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Franklin D. Roosevelt

The Second Term

The New Deal Continues

World War II Begins Across the Seas

Republicans, fearing an assured loss if they again nominated Hoover for president, chose Governor Alfred Landon of Kansas, hoping to mobilize the conservative reaction against Roosevelt. As usual, Roosevelt was an enthusiastic campaigner, and the people supported him whole-heartedly, escorting him on impromptu processions in Chicago, Boston, and New York. As he exited his train, he called out to crowds, "You look happier than you did four years ago," and railed in his speeches against Hoover and against the New Deal's enemies, never mentioning Landon by name. FDR awaited the election results in his Hyde Park home. He defeated Landon by a landslide, 523–8 in the electoral college, the largest margin of victory in over a century. The election of 1936 saw the birth of a new Democratic political coalition: it became the party of the dispossessed, the new party of the African Americans, and the party of the immigrants and urban masses.

The inauguration speech in January of 1937 was "militantly humanitarian," and, to the President reveling in his electoral success, it seemed that only the Supreme Court stood in his path. He launched a strident attack on the institution within weeks of the beginning of his second term. By now, Louis Howe had succumbed to an illness, and the President could find no trustworthy and frank advisor as a replacement. FDR developed a new bill on his own, and jubilantly announced on February 5–two days after his annual White House reception for the Judiciary–his plan for the Supreme Court. He proposed that the court be reorganized because of its inability to meet its caseload, and asked for permission to add an additional member for each Justice over seventy who would not retire. At this time, six Supreme Court members, including the four most conservative, were over 70.

From Vice President Garner down, many saw the court-packing bill as a sign that the invincible FDR was taking his executive powers too far. Some historians question whether the president would have miscalculated public reaction to an attack on the Supreme Court had Howe been at his side. The court- packing proposal was a sign that there was no other advisor in Washington who would dare argue with Roosevelt to his face and force him to hear all sides of a story. Even Harry Hopkins, to whom FDR had turned after Howe's departure, was reluctant to incur Roosevelt's wrath to his face, and would find other ways to make the President hear another side of an argument. The country was outraged at the court-packing plan, calling it a dictatorial bill. Many politicians feared that Roosevelt had challenged the basic democratic foundation of the United States. Although FDR's court-packing plan met with a defeat at the hands of his own party, the Supreme Court took his threat quite seriously. Many justices retired or died within the year, and the Court held up most New Deal reforms that came under review in the future. However, the prestige FDR lost in the battle may have prevented him from being able to pass further reform legislation, such as an act to make the executive branch of government more efficient. Once both Republicans and conservative Democrats realized that FDR was not undefeatable, the whirlwind of legislation and high government spending that had characterized the first term of his Presidency could not be repeated.

From 1933 to 1937, the United States had been inching its way out of the Depression, but due to a sharp decrease in government money being injected into the economy, the country faced a sharp recession in 1937. Although Roosevelt again presented legislation to Congress that increased government spending, his magical hold over legislators had ended, and his proposed legislation was by and large rejected. By 1938, the New Deal had lost much of its momentum, and the results showed in the 1938 Congressional elections. Republicans, though not in the majority, made great cuts in the New Deal Congress's power. By now, however, the President's attention was diverted by foreign affairs, and the Depression continued until the war began.

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