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Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt became president during the Great Depression.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president four times. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president four times.

Franklin D Roosevelt

Over 11 million unemployed, Hoovervilles (also known as shantytowns) dotting the landscape, stocks not worth the paper they were printed on, dust-filled prairies, decades of over buying and a seemingly inactive government -- that was the state of affairs before Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) arrived on the scene, winning the 1932 presidential campaign at the height of America's Great Depression. Promising a New Deal for the American people, FDR instituted a number of social programs meant to lift America out of its economic decline.

The State of Things: America's Great Depression

It was a combination of events that led to America's Great Depression, according to the University of Illinois, with the denial of the nation's problems by its leadership being one of them. In October of 1929, the stock market crashed, leaving over 40 percent of the nation's stock without value. An over production of food and goods contrasted a slow down in consumer spending. The devaluation of stock caused businesses to lose money. Companies stop hiring or laid people off in an effort to survive the economic downturn. The prices of goods went up just as real wages went down.

Herbert Hoover was president at the time the stock market crashed. His optimism about the state of the nation, coupled with his conservative belief that people should help themselves or rely on churches and local charities to help them, made many feel he wasn't taking things too seriously. Hoover's lack of legislation and belief that things would simply get better led disgruntled Americans to name the tent cities that popped up across the country Hoovervilles. Many felt a change of government would help the situation.

Roosevelt and his New Deal

The presidential campaign in 1932 was an easy win for FDR. Hoover's unpopular stances on letting the economy fix itself resulted in Roosevelt's landslide victory of 472 electoral votes. The democratic governor from New York had grand plans to fix the nation. As the Library of Congress states, Roosevelt promised in his acceptance speech to give the American people a new deal to combat the effects of both republican governance and an economy in chaos.

Roosevelt entered the White House in March of 1933, at the very height of the depression. His first 100 days saw the passing of the most legislation in presidential history. FDR concentrated on stopping the crisis from getting worse by giving the banks a holiday and enacting banking reform laws and revitalizing the economy by introducing work programs. His whirlwind of social reform programs are commonly referred to as FDR's alphabet soup.

Alphabet Soup: New Deal Programs

According to the American Heritage Center, the New Deal programs included:

  • The Civil Works Administration (CWA) that took the unemployed and put them to work repairing roads and bridges across the nation, relieved the unemployment fund and gave hope and jobs to 4 million Americans.
  • The Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) sent government funding to charitable programs across the nation. Handed out $5 million in the first two hours, providing state-by-state relief to the most neediest citizens.
  • The Works Progress Administration (WPA) gave jobs to 8 million Americans and put them to work building new hospitals, schools and airports.
  • The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) provided work in the nation's forest and national parks for 2.5 million people. The pay was minimal but the free room and board helped relieve the nation's housing shortage.
  • The Farmers Security Administration (FSA) provided loans to farmers to help get them back on their feet.
  • The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) let the government lend physical support to banks by insuring deposits. It also allowed people to find faith in the banking system after the large scale failure of the nation's lending institutions.
  • The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) set a national minimum wage, helped sections of the economy and industrial organizations write their own rules and regulations and helped stabilize prices of manufactured goods.
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) allowed the Federal Reserve Board to regulate stock purchases as well as established rules for disclosing stock information to the public and investors.
  • The Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) was considered one of the negative programs of the FDR era. It called for the destruction of livestock and farm crops to help increase prices.
  • The Social Security Administration (SSA) provided funds for retired workers as well as the survivors of workers and disabled individuals.

The SEC, FDIC and SSA remain a part of government programs today. They established standards in previously unregulated industry and, in the case of the SSA, peace of mind and a sense of security to America's working class.

Roosevelt's Legacy

Franklin Delano Roosevelt remains the only American president to hold the highest office four times. He led the nation through the Great Depression and World War II. And despite the fact that many argue his programs and policies did not really bring the country out of its depression, his ability to inspire optimism and change went a long way to changing the way America looked at itself. FDR proved that America can survive the worst of times and recover bigger and better over and over again.

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