This chapter focuses on the first two terms of the Franklin D. Roosevelt presidency. It describes the New Deal that Roosevelt promised would lift the United States out of the Great Depression.
Section 1 explains how Franklin D. Roosevelt's character and experiences prepared him for the presidency. With the country deep in the Depression, Americans looked for a president who would lift them out of economic despair. They voted in the confident Democratic candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt and his promise of a New Deal. Roosevelt had gained experience as a New York State senator, as assistant secretary to the navy, and as governor before winning the nation's top post. His reputation as a progressive reformer who was willing to use government to ease economic hardship won citizens' votes, while his brave battle against the effects of polio won their respect. With his wife Eleanor by his side, Roosevelt's energy and optimism gave Americans hope for the future. The future did indeed look bleak as bank runs closed most of the nation's banks, unemployment rose, and the economy seemed paralyzed.
Section 2 looks at the flurry of legislation that President Roosevelt introduced during the first months of his presidency. During his first three months in office, a period called the Hundred Days, Roosevelt delivered his First New Deal to the American public. His first priority was to reform the banking industry and restore Americans' faith in the banking system. The Roosevelt administration placed new regulations on banks, brokers, and the stock market, while a slate of programs controlled industrial production and prices, reduced agricultural surplus and raised farm prices, and granted federal money to relief efforts. Millions of workers went back to work thanks to a series of programs that created jobs in construction and conservation. Roosevelt's programs were not enough to restore the nation's prosperity, but the New Deal had begun to restore the people's faith in the nation.
Section 3 describes President Roosevelt's Second New Deal. After two years of Roosevelt's recovery programs, the economy had only slightly improved, and millions of people were still unemployed. Critics of the New Deal complained that either the government wasn't doing enough or that it was interfering too much. Roosevelt, undeterred even when the Supreme Court overturned key New Deal legislation, launched his Second New Deal. The Works Progress Administration put 8.5 million unemployed people back to work. New labor legislation stimulated a burst of labor activity, and unions gained strength and acceptance. The Social Security Act, an important piece of American legislation, provided financial security for the elderly and for unemployed workers. Roosevelt was confident that these programs would speed up recovery, provide economic security to every American, and ensure his re-election in 1936.
Section 4 examines the achievements and challenges of President Roosevelt's second term in office. During Roosevelt's first term, African Americans and women gained some political recognition. With new support among African Americans and the continued popularity of the New Deal, Roosevelt won reelection by a landslide. Roosevelt still found opposition, however, in the Supreme Court. A court-packing scheme, deficit spending, and a recession in 1937 weakened Roosevelt politically and limited his second-term successes. The last of the New Deal programs subsidized housing for the poor, gave loans to tenant farmers, and established pro-labor regulations. While the New Deal had limited success in ending the Depression, it set the precedent that government should be responsible for the financial welfare of the nation's citizens. During the New Deal years, the federal government expanded its influence, took on a new role, and increased its power over the economy.