The New Deal — A Guide to FDR’s Plan for Relief, Recovery, and Reform

1930s

The New Deal was a series of programs and policies implemented in the 1930s by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in response to severe economic and social issues in the United States.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1944, Campaign Portrait

President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944. Image Source: FDR Presidential Library & Museum on Flickr.

New Deal Summary

The New Deal was a series of programs and policies implemented in the 1930s by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt — commonly referred to as FDR — in response to severe economic and social issues in the United States. Each New Deal program and policy fell into one or more of three areas, known as the “Three Rs” — Relief, Recovery, and Reform.

At the end of the Roaring Twenties, the 1929 Stock Market Crash triggered the Great Depression started when the stock market crashed in 1929. Starting in 1931, the southwestern Great Plains suffered from a severe drought, which led to massive dust storms. The area was called “The Dust Bowl” and thousands of people were forced to abandon their homes and move west. In the wake of these events, Roosevelt ran for President in 1932, promising a “New Deal” for Americans, and defeated incumbent Herbert Hoover.

Dust Bowl, Storm Over Texas Panhandle, 1936, LOC
A dust storm over the Texas Panhandle in 1936. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Roosevelt was inaugurated on March 4, 1933. In his First Inaugural Address, he delivered the famous line, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” FDR moved quickly to ease the effects of the Depression on Americans by passing New Deal legislation during “The First Hundred Days” of his Presidency.

FDR started by restoring faith in banks, which had suffered due to the stock market crash of 1929. A Bank Holiday was declared and Congress followed by passing the Emergency Banking Relief Act, which allowed the government to inspect the financial health of banks before allowing them to reopen.

The New Deal aimed to tackle unemployment by creating programs that provided job opportunities. The Civil Works Administration (CWA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) employed millions of Americans to work on infrastructure projects, such as building roads, bridges, and schools. Other programs, like the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), developed hydroelectric power plants to bring electricity to communities where none existed.

Great Depression, Migrant Mother, Lange, LOC
Photograph of Florence Thompson and her children, taken by Dorothea Lange. Image Source: Library of Congress.

The New Deal also addressed labor relations by passing the National Labor Relations Act — also known as the (Wagner Act). It protected the rights of workers, allowing them to join unions and engage in collective bargaining. The act also established the Fair Labor Standards Act, which set a minimum wage for workers.

The New Deal programs and policies created a significant expansion of the Federal government. They also redefined the government’s role in dealing with economic and social issues. The New Deal was controversial when it was implemented, and its legacy continues to be debated by historians, economists, and others. However, the significance of the New Deal and its impact on the United States during the era leading up to World War II cannot be denied.

New Deal, WPA Mural, Washington DC, LOC
WPA Mural, Cohen Building, Washington, D.C. Image Source: Library of Congress.

What did the New Deal do?

This video from the Daily Bellringer provides an overview of the New Deal and its programs. It also touches on the controversy caused by the New Deal which was caused by the expansion of the Federal Government.

New Deal Facts

  1. The name “New Deal” came from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1932 acceptance speech for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. In the speech, he said, “I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people.”
  2. The New Deal was designed to deal with the economic and social issues created by the 1929 Stock Market Crash, the Great Depression, and the Dust Bow.
  3. On March 4, 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President. He gave a speech on Capitol Plaza in Washington DC to 100,000 people. He said the “only thing we should be afraid of is fear itself.”
  4. He took action right away by calling Congress into a special session known as “The Hundred Days,” during which legislation was passed to deal with the Depression and provide economic aid to struggling Americans.
  5. In an effort to restore the public’s confidence in banks, FDR declared a Bank Holiday and Congress passed the Emergency Banking Relief Act.
  6. The New Deal dealt with unemployment by creating programs like the Civil Works Administration (CWA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), providing jobs for millions of Americans and improving the nation’s infrastructure.
  7. The New Deal was followed by the Second New Deal, which included the National Labor Relations Act, the  Works Progress Administration, and the Social Security Act.
  8. The New Deal also included labor-related legislation, such as the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) and the Fair Labor Standards Act, which gave workers the right to join unions, negotiate collectively, and established a minimum wage.
  9. The New Deal paved the way for the repeal of the 18th Amendment, which established Prohibition. The Beer-Wine Revenue Act of 1933 amended the Volstead Act by raising the amount of alcohol allowed to 3.2 percent and also levied a tax.
  10. Social programs established by the New Deal are still in effect today, including Social Security and the “Food Stamp Plan.”
FDR, Fireside Chat, LOC
President Franklin D. Roosevelt during a Fireside Chat. Image Source: Library of Congress.

New Deal AP US History (APUSH) Terms, Definitions, and FAQs

This section provides terms, definitions, and Frequently Asked Questions about the New Deal and the Second New Deal, including people, events, and programs. Also, be sure to look at our Guide to the AP US History Exam.

What was the New Deal?

The New Deal was a series of policies and programs implemented by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the 1930s in response to the Great Depression. The New Deal aimed to provide relief to the unemployed and poor, promote economic recovery, and reform the financial system. The New Deal included programs such as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), and the National Recovery Administration (NRA). It also created numerous agencies and programs such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and the Social Security Administration.

What was the Second New Deal?

The second phase of the New Deal, which was enacted in 1935. The Second New Deal focused on providing economic security to Americans through the creation of Social Security and other welfare programs. It also included measures to stimulate the economy, such as the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The Second New Deal was instrumental in helping to alleviate poverty and providing employment opportunities during the Great Depression.

What was FDR’s Alphabet Soup?

FDR’s Alphabet Soup refers to the numerous programs and agencies created during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency as part of the New Deal. These initiatives, often known by their acronyms, aimed to provide relief, recovery, and reform during the Great Depression. Examples include the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority), and the WPA (Works Progress Administration).

What was “New Deal or Raw Deal?”

The New Deal was a series of economic programs and reforms enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression. The New Deal sought to provide relief, recovery, and reform to the American economy. It included programs such as Social Security, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). These programs were instrumental in helping to protect workers’ rights and providing employment opportunities during the Great Depression. However, the New Deal was controversial, with some arguing it was a “raw deal” for workers and others arguing that it helped to alleviate the suffering of millions of Americans.

What were the three “Rs” of the New Deal?

The three Rs of the New Deal were 1) Relief for the needy, 2) Recovery of the economy, and 3) Reform of the financial system. Each of the New Deal Programs generally fell into one of these areas. The goal of the three Rs was to keep the United States from falling into another Economic Depression.

New Deal People and Groups

Herbert Hoover — Herbert Hoover served as the 31st President of the United States from 1929 to 1933. He faced the immense challenges of the Great Depression and was criticized for his belief in limited government intervention. Despite his efforts to address the crisis, Hoover’s presidency is often associated with economic hardships and the initial response to the Depression.

President Herbert Hoover, c 1928, Portrait, LOC
President Herbert Hoover. Image Source: Library of Congress.

John L. Lewis — An American labor leader who was instrumental in the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1935. He was a key figure in the Second New Deal and helped to pass the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). He was also responsible for leading several major strikes during the Great Depression, including the United Mine Workers strike of 1934. Lewis worked to protect workers’ rights and provide employment opportunities during the Great Depression.

Franklin D. Roosevelt — Franklin D. Roosevelt was the 32nd President of the United States, serving from 1933 to 1945. He was elected to the presidency during the Great Depression, and his presidency is closely associated with the New Deal, a series of policies and programs aimed at addressing the economic crisis and promoting economic recovery. He was re-elected for an unprecedented four terms and his leadership during the Great Depression and World War II solidified the role of the Federal government in the American economy and society.

Eleanor Roosevelt — The wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt and one of the most influential First Ladies in American history. She was an advocate for civil rights and women’s rights, and she used her position to promote social reform.

FDR’s Brain Trust — A group of advisors to President Franklin D. Roosevelt who helped him develop the New Deal. They included prominent academics and intellectuals such as Raymond Moley, Rexford Tugwell, and Adolf Berle.

New Deal Democrats —  New Deal Democrats were a faction within the Democratic Party during the 1930s and 1940s that supported Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies. These Democrats supported increasing government intervention in the economy and expanding social welfare programs.

United Mine Workers — A labor union that was formed in 1890. The union was instrumental in the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1935 and led several major strikes during the Great Depression, including the United Mine Workers strike of 1934.

Hundred Days Congress — The Hundred Days Congress was a special session of the United States Congress that ran from March 9 to June 16, 1933. It was called in response to the economic crisis of the Great Depression and was used to pass a number of laws known as the New Deal. During this period, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed a series of sweeping reforms designed to provide relief for those affected by the depression, as well as to stimulate the economy. The Hundred Days Congress passed a number of laws, including the Emergency Banking Relief Act, the Glass-Steagall Act, and the National Industrial Recovery Act.

New Deal Events

1932 Presidential Election — The 1932 Presidential Election marked a pivotal moment in American history as the nation grappled with the Great Depression. It was primarily a contest between Republican incumbent Herbert Hoover and Democratic candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR). FDR emerged victorious, promising a “New Deal” to combat the Depression and implementing a series of reforms that fundamentally reshaped the role of the federal government.

FDR, First Inauguration, with Hoover, LOC
Roosevelt and Hoover in a car on the way to Roosevelt’s First Inauguration on March 4, 1933. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Bank Holiday — A bank holiday is a period of time during which banks are closed, usually by government order. In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared a national bank holiday in order to address the banking crisis caused by the Great Depression. During the holiday, which lasted four days, the government examined the books of all banks and only those that were found to be sound were allowed to reopen. This action helped stabilize the banking system and restore public confidence in banks.

Fireside Chats — The Fireside Chats were a series of radio addresses given by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during his presidency. The chats were designed to provide the American people with information about the government’s policies and actions and to explain the reasoning behind them in plain language. The chats were informal and conversational in tone, and they were delivered from the White House, often in the evening, giving the impression that Roosevelt was speaking directly to the American people from the warmth and comfort of their own homes. The Fireside Chats were a powerful tool for Roosevelt to communicate with the American people, build public support for his policies and maintain public confidence during a time of economic crisis.

Great Depression — The Great Depression refers to the severe economic downturn that occurred in the United States and other countries during the 1930s. It was characterized by widespread unemployment, poverty, and a sharp decline in industrial production and trade—ultimately leading to a fundamental restructuring of the American economy and significant social and political changes.

Roosevelt Recession — A period of economic contraction that occurred during the Great Depression, starting in 1937 and lasting until 1938. It was caused by a combination of factors, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s decision to reduce government spending, an increase in taxes, and the Federal Reserve’s decision to raise interest rates. This resulted in a decrease in consumer spending and investment, leading to a decrease in economic activity. The Roosevelt Recession was a major setback for the New Deal and led to increased unemployment and poverty.

United Mine Workers Strike of 1934 — A major strike led by the United Mine Workers Union during the Great Depression. The strike was in response to wage cuts and other grievances. It lasted for several months and resulted in a victory for the miners, who were able to secure higher wages and better working conditions.

New Deal Programs

Agricultural Adjustment Act (1933) — A law passed by Congress in 1933 as part of the New Deal. The AAA was designed to help farmers by providing subsidies for reducing crop production and encouraging soil conservation. It also established the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), which was responsible for implementing the provisions of the act. The AAA was instrumental in helping to stabilize agricultural prices and providing economic relief to farmers during the Great Depression.

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) — The CCC provided employment for young men between the ages of 18 and 25, who were paid to work on conservation projects such as planting trees, building roads, and constructing dams. The CCC also provided educational opportunities for its workers, including classes in literacy, math, and vocational skills. The CCC was instrumental in helping to restore the environment and providing employment opportunities during the Great Depression.

New Deal, Civilian Conservation Corps, Company 818 Camp, Grand Canyon
CCC Company 818 tents at camp on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in October 1936. Image Source: Northern Arizona University Library.

Civil Works Administration (CWA) — An agency created by the Federal Emergency Relief Act of 1933 as part of the New Deal. The CWA was responsible for providing jobs to millions of Americans during the Great Depression. It provided employment in construction, repair, and maintenance projects such as building roads, bridges, and public buildings. The CWA was instrumental in helping to alleviate poverty and providing employment opportunities during the Great Depression.

Emergency Banking Relief Act (1933) — A law passed by Congress in 1933 which allowed the federal government to provide emergency loans to banks in order to stabilize the banking system. The act was part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and was designed to restore public confidence in the banking system. It provided for the reopening of solvent banks, the reorganization of insolvent banks, and the establishment of a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to insure deposits up to $2,500. The act was instrumental in helping to stabilize the banking system during the Great Depression and restoring public confidence in banks.

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) — An independent agency of the United States government created in 1933 as part of the New Deal. The FDIC provides insurance for deposits up to a certain amount in member banks, protecting depositors from losses due to bank failures. The FDIC also regulates and supervises financial institutions to ensure that they are operating safely and soundly. It is one of the most important financial regulatory agencies in the United States and has helped to restore public confidence in the banking system.

Federal Emergency Relief Act (1933) — A law passed by Congress in 1933 as part of the New Deal. The FERA provided federal funds to states and local governments to create relief programs for the unemployed. It also established the Civil Works Administration (CWA), which was responsible for providing jobs to millions of Americans during the Great Depression. The FERA was instrumental in helping to alleviate poverty and providing employment opportunities during the Great Depression.

Federal Housing Administration (FHA) — An agency created by the National Housing Act of 1934 as part of the New Deal. The FHA was responsible for providing mortgage insurance to lenders, which allowed them to make home loans with lower down payments and easier credit requirements. This helped to increase homeownership and provided jobs to thousands of Americans during the Great Depression. The FHA helped stabilize the housing market and provide employment opportunities during the Great Depression.

Glass-Steagall Act (1933) — The Glass-Steagall Act was a law passed by Congress in 1933 as part of the New Deal. It was designed to separate commercial and investment banking, and it prohibited banks from engaging in certain types of speculative investments. The act also established the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which provided insurance for bank deposits up to a certain amount. The Glass-Steagall Act helped restore public confidence in the banking system and prevent another financial crisis.

National Industrial Recovery Act (1933) —  The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) was a law passed by Congress in 1933 as part of the New Deal. It was designed to stimulate economic growth by providing government assistance to businesses, setting minimum wages and maximum hours for workers, and establishing codes of fair competition. The NIRA also established the National Recovery Administration (NRA), which was responsible for enforcing the provisions of the act. The NIRA was eventually declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1935.

The Public Works Administration (PWA) — An agency created by the National Recovery Administration of 1933 as part of the New Deal. The PWA was responsible for providing jobs to millions of Americans during the Great Depression. It provided employment in construction, repair, and maintenance projects such as building roads, bridges, and public buildings. The PWA played an important role in helping to alleviate poverty and providing employment opportunities during the Great Depression.

New Deal, PWA, Bonneville Dam Construction, Oregon
Construction of the Bonneville Dam in Oregon, a PWA project. Image Source: Wikipedia.

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) — An agency created by the Tennessee Valley Authority Act of 1933 as part of the New Deal. The TVA was responsible for developing the infrastructure and resources of the Tennessee Valley region, including hydroelectric power, flood control, navigation, reforestation, and soil conservation. It also provided jobs to thousands of Americans during the Great Depression. The TVA played an important role in helping modernize the region and providing employment opportunities during the Great Depression.

Second New Deal Programs

Committee for Industrial Organizations (CIO) — An organization formed in 1935 as part of the Second New Deal. The CIO was responsible for organizing workers into unions and bargaining collectively with employers.

Fair Labor Standards Act (1938) — An act passed in 1938 as part of the Second New Deal. The Fair Labor Standards Act was responsible for establishing a minimum wage, overtime pay, and other labor standards.

National Labor Relations Act (1935) — An act passed in 1935 as part of the Second New Deal. The NLRA was responsible for protecting the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively with their employers. It also established the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which was responsible for enforcing the provisions of the act.

Social Security Act (1935) — An act passed as part of the Second New Deal. The Social Security Act was responsible for providing economic security to Americans through the establishment of a federal retirement program and other welfare programs. It also provided unemployment insurance and disability benefits.

Wagner Act — Also known as the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), it was passed in 1935 as part of the Second New Deal. The Wagner Act was responsible for protecting the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively with their employers. It also established the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which was responsible for enforcing the provisions of the act.

Works Progress Administration (WPA) — An agency created by the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935 as part of the Second New Deal. The WPA was responsible for providing jobs to millions of Americans during the Great Depression. It funded a variety of projects, including construction, infrastructure development, and arts and culture programs. The WPA was instrumental in helping to stimulate the economy and providing employment opportunities during the Great Depression.

More New Deal Terms and Definitions

21st Amendment — The amendment to the U.S. Constitution that repealed the 18th Amendment and ended Prohibition. The 21st Amendment was ratified in 1933 as part of the New Deal and allowed states to regulate the sale and consumption of alcohol within their borders. It also gave states the power to collect taxes on alcohol sales, which provided a much-needed source of revenue during the Great Depression.

Boondoggling — A term coined by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to describe wasteful government spending on public works projects. The term was used to criticize the New Deal programs, which were seen as a form of government waste and corruption. Boondoggling became a popular term during the Great Depression and is still used today to refer to any wasteful or unnecessary government spending.

Tennessee River Valley — The Tennessee River Valley refers to the region in the southeastern United States encompassing parts of Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky. It gained prominence during the New Deal era due to the establishment of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a federal agency tasked with developing the area’s water resources, controlling flooding, and promoting economic development through hydroelectric power generation and irrigation projects.

National Parks — National Parks are protected areas designated by the federal government to preserve and showcase the country’s natural, historical, and cultural heritage. These areas, managed by the National Park Service, offer opportunities for recreation, conservation, and education. Notable examples include Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon. National Parks serve as significant landmarks and contribute to the nation’s tourism industry and environmental conservation efforts.

Why is the New Deal important?

The New Deal is important to United States history for several reasons:

1. Response to the Great Depression: The New Deal was a direct response to the economic crisis of the Great Depression, which was one of the most challenging periods in American history. It represented a major shift in the role of the federal government in addressing economic issues and providing relief to citizens.

2. Economic Recovery and Relief: The New Deal implemented a range of programs and policies aimed at stabilizing the economy, creating jobs, and providing relief to those affected by the Great Depression. It helped alleviate immediate suffering and provided assistance to millions of Americans through employment, financial aid, and social welfare programs.

3. Expansion of Federal Government Power: The New Deal marked a significant expansion of the federal government’s role in regulating the economy and addressing social issues. It introduced new agencies and programs, such as the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Social Security, that had long-lasting impacts on American society and established a precedent for increased government intervention in the economy.

4. Transformation of American Society: The New Deal’s programs had a transformative effect on American society. It brought about improvements in infrastructure, public works, and conservation projects, enhancing the nation’s physical landscape. It also introduced labor reforms, such as the right to unionize and the establishment of minimum wage standards, which aimed to improve working conditions and workers’ rights.

5. Legacy and Long-Term Impacts: Many of the programs and policies initiated during the New Deal era had lasting impacts on American society. Social Security, for example, continues to provide financial security to elderly and disabled Americans. The New Deal also shaped the political landscape, as the Democratic Party under FDR gained support from various social groups and established a coalition that would dominate American politics for decades.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title The New Deal — A Guide to FDR’s Plan for Relief, Recovery, and Reform
  • Date 1930s
  • Author
  • Keywords New Deal, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Great Depression, Roaring Twenties, Dust Bowl, Herbert Hoover
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date April 18, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update July 11, 2023

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