The Three Rs and Their Legacy

Although the New Deal sometimes comes across as a cohesive package, much of the individual legislation passed during the First Hundred Days was conceived on the fly. So many special interest groups, such as big business and organized labor, were hounding the government for change that Roosevelt and Congress often felt they were being pulled in opposite directions.

Nevertheless, the New Deal policies did much to get Americans back on their feet. They not only provided relief, recovery, and reform but also drastically changed the federal government’s role in politics and society. Roosevelt’s successful application of Keynes’s economic theories transformed the Democrats into social welfare advocates. Even decades after the Great Depression, Democratic politicians would continue fighting for more government intervention in the economy, redistribution of wealth, and aid for the neediest.


Much of the legislation that the Hundred Days Congress drafted doled out immediate relief for the American people that President Hoover and the Republicans had failed to provide. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration’s relief assistance, for example, provided millions of Americans with enough money to make ends meet. The Civil Works Administration put the unemployed to work, and the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the National Recovery Administration, and the Public Works Administration kept millions of others alive as well. Americans were so relieved by the federal government’s quick action that many became die-hard Democrats and Roosevelt fans. The president’s optimism and can-do attitude, combined with the success of his immediate relief programs, made him almost politically untouchable during his first term.


Many of the same programs designed to provide immediate relief were also geared toward long-term economic recovery. The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Public Works Administration put millions of men to work not only to keep them employed but also to improve the national infrastructure. When the United States finally emerged from the Great Depression during World War II, it had hundreds of new roads and public buildings, widespread electrical power, and replenished resources for industry.


The third goal of the New Deal policies was to reform the banking and financial sector of the economy to curb bad lending practices, poor trading techniques, and corruption. The president’s decision to take the country off the gold standard proved to be a smart move because it boosted people’s confidence in the U.S. dollar. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, created under the Glass-Steagall Act, eliminated untrustworthy banks that had plagued the country for more than a century. Once Americans became confident that their funds would be safe, the number of bank deposits surged. Likewise, the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1934, which weeded out bad investment habits, gave Americans more confidence in the stock market.

The Good Neighbor Policy

Although foreign policy often got lost in the shuffle amid the domestic economic concerns of the New Deal, Roosevelt did create a major international initiative with Latin America in the Good Neighbor Policy of 1933 and 1934. As part of the initiative, Roosevelt embarked on a tour of the region; signed new, friendlier treaties with several Latin American countries; pledged to avoid military intervention in Latin America; and shunned the (Theodore) Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine by withdrawing troops from several countries.

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