Franklin D. Roosevelt
The New Deal Continues
The Civil Works Administration was created in late 1933, under the encouragement of Harry Hopkins, to help Americans through a difficult winter. Despite Roosevelt's late approval for the plan, Hopkins promised to have four million people working before Christmas. By mid-January he had exceeded his estimate by 300,000. The Civil Works Administration built or improved 500,000 miles of road, 40,000 schools, and 1,000 airports; improved streets; unclogged sewers; and cleaned out parks. In 1935 the scheme was expanded into the Works Progress Administration, thanks to the unanimous approval of the New Deal by voters in the midterm Congressional elections. Over the eight years that the agency ran, over nine million people were put to work, including writers and artists such as John Steinbeck, in work mostly for public display.
The persistence of Depression conditions through 1934 prompted opposition to FDR from both the right and the left. The American Liberty League, created in August 1934, represented right-wing opposition to FDR's extensions of the role and responsibility of American government. Powerful leftist demagogues, however, pressed FDR to extend the reach of the New Deal even further. Dr. Francis Townsend, who himself had lost most of his money in the stock market crash, advocated giving a $200 per month in pension for each elderly person–provided that they spend it by the end of the month–as a means of jumpstarting the economy. Among the anti-New Dealers, Senator Huey Long of Louisiana was the most notorious. Beginning in early 1934, he used his abilities on the stump to spread support for his "Share Our Wealth" program, in which each American family would get $5,000 at the expense of the rich. Long was assassinated in 1935, and Dr. Townsend was taken off the air by radio authorities who felt his harangues against the New Deal went too far. The existence of these loud critics of the New Deal helped to push its programs to greater extremes.
Early in May of 1935, businessmen speaking at the United States Chamber of Commerce, in their first collective and overt attack on Roosevelt's policies, denounced New Deal policies as restrictive to capitalism. The rich felt that Roosevelt was a traitor to his class, reacting to his leftist rhetoric rather than to his actual deeds in office. A few weeks later, on May 27, a day the New Dealers later called Black Monday, the Supreme Court declared the NRA and some other New Deal legislation to be unconstitutional, saying that Congress had exceeded its authority in creating codes for industries unrelated to interstate commerce. These failures goaded Roosevelt to push the next series of legislation through Congress, which he passed during the Second Hundred Days and which was later termed the Second New Deal. A number of long lasting acts came out of this second wave of legislation, among them the National Labor Relations Act, which forbade employers to discriminate against unions or to refuse collective bargaining. Next came Social Security, which was Labor Secretary Frances Perkins' brainchild. Its universality was the product of threats by leftists like Townsend and Long. Some historians today see its failure was in not adopting compulsory national health insurance, as many European nations did. Social Security was one of the first overt steps the American government took to directly protect the financial welfare of its citizens, and was the first step towards promoting a welfare state based on a capitalist foundation.
The tax bill that Roosevelt now proposed called for scaling taxes based on the size of the business and marked the first sign that the FDR White House's era of cooperation with big business. However, despite Roosevelt's intention to use taxes to fund social welfare, the bill was modified and dulled before it was approved in Congress. Roosevelt pushed several other bills of importance through during the Second Hundred Days, including the Banking Act of 1935, which established more government control over currency and credit; the Rural Electrification Administration; and several measures that had originally been part of the now outlawed NRA. The Second New Deal more directly focused on helping the disadvantaged, and saddled business with more responsibility, reflecting the President's continued disenchantment with big business.
The Supreme Court continued its assault on the New Deal's imposition of government into the economic sphere by outlawing the AAA and other legislation. The Second AAA was established, however, and its spirit of protection for farmers endures to this day. Although the federal government's funds were by now quickly vanishing, Roosevelt could no longer increase taxes because of the looming election of 1936.
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