Works Progress Administration established by Congress as part of FDR’s “New Deal”

Works Progress Administration established by Congress as part of FDR’s “New Deal”

On April 8, 1935, Congress votes to approve the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a central part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

In November 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, Governor Roosevelt of New York was elected the 32nd president of the United States. In his inaugural address on March 4, 1933, Roosevelt promised Americans that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” and outlined his New Deal—an expansion of the federal government as an instrument of employment opportunity and welfare.

In April 1935, the WPA was established under the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act, as a means of creating government jobs for some of the nation’s many unemployed. Under the direction of Harry L. Hopkins, the WPA employed more than 8.5 million persons on 1.4 million public projects before it was disbanded in 1943. The program chose work that would not interfere with private enterprise, especially vast public building projects like the construction of highways, bridges and dams. However, the WPA also provided federal funding for students, who were given work under the National Youth Administration.

The careers of several important American artists, including Jackson Pollack and Willem de Kooning, were also launched thanks to WPA endowments. Although its scale was unprecedented, the WPA never managed to serve more than a quarter of the nation’s unemployed. Its programs were extremely popular, though, and contributed significantly to Roosevelt’s landslide reelection in 1936.

READ MORE: Did New Deal Programs Help End the Great Depression?

New Deal Programs: Selected Library of Congress Resources

American Guide Series [poster]
Prints & Photographs Division.

The Federal Writers' Project was created in 1935 as part of the United States Work Progress Administration to provide employment for historians, teachers, writers, librarians, and other white-collar workers. Originally, the purpose of the project was to produce a series of sectional guide books under the name American Guide, focusing on the scenic, historical, cultural, and economic resources of the United States. Eventually new programs were developed and projects begun under the Federal Emergency Relief Administration were absorbed by the Writers' Project. From its inception in 1935 through late 1939, the Federal Writers' Project was directed by Henry Alsberg.

Online Materials

American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936 - 1940
These interviews or "life histories," were compiled and transcribed by the staff of the Folklore Project of the Federal Writers' Project for the U.S. Works Progress (later Work Projects) Administration (WPA) from 1936-40. The Library of Congress collection includes 2,900 documents representing the work of over 300 writers from 24 states. More.

Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938
This collection contains more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black-and-white photographs of former slaves. These narratives were collected in the 1930s as part of the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and assembled and microfilmed in 1941 as the seventeen-volume Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves.

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The Zora Neale Hurston Plays at the Library of Congress
A selection of ten plays written by Hurston (1891-1960), author, anthropologist, and folklorist. Deposited in the United States Copyright Office between 1925 and 1944, most of the plays remained unpublished and unproduced until they were rediscovered in the Copyright Deposit Drama Collection in 1997. The plays reflect Hurston's life experience, travels, and research, especially her study of folklore in the African-American South. Totaling 1,068 hundred images, the scripts are housed in the Library's Manuscript, Music, and Rare Books and Special Collections Divisions. Hurston's work was influenced, in part, by her experience working for the Florida Federal Writers' Project.

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By 1936, the term "liberal" typically was used for supporters of the New Deal and "conservative" for its opponents. [3] From 1934 to 1938, Roosevelt was assisted in his endeavors by a "pro-spender" majority in Congress (drawn from two-party, competitive, non-machine, progressive and left party districts). In the 1938 midterm election, Roosevelt and his liberal supporters lost control of Congress to the bipartisan conservative coalition. [4] Many historians distinguish between a First New Deal (1933–1934) and a Second New Deal (1935–1936), with the second one more liberal and more controversial.

The First New Deal (1933–1934) dealt with the pressing banking crisis through the Emergency Banking Act and the 1933 Banking Act. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) provided $500 million ($10 billion today) for relief operations by states and cities, while the short-lived CWA gave locals money to operate Make-work projects in 1933–1934. [5] The Securities Act of 1933 was enacted to prevent a repeated stock market crash. The controversial work of the National Recovery Administration (NRA) was also part of the First New Deal.

The Second New Deal in 1935–1936 included the National Labor Relations Act to protect labor organizing, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) relief program (which made the federal government the largest employer in the nation), [6] the Social Security Act and new programs to aid tenant farmers and migrant workers. The final major items of New Deal legislation were the creation of the United States Housing Authority and the FSA, which both occurred in 1937 and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which set maximum hours and minimum wages for most categories of workers. [7] The FSA was also one of the oversight authorities of the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration, which administered relief efforts to Puerto Rican citizens affected by the Great Depression. [8]

The economic downturn of 1937–1938 and the bitter split between the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) labor unions led to major Republican gains in Congress in 1938. Conservative Republicans and Democrats in Congress joined the informal conservative coalition. By 1942–1943, they shut down relief programs such as the WPA and the CCC and blocked major liberal proposals. Nonetheless, Roosevelt turned his attention to the war effort and won reelection in 1940–1944. Furthermore, the Supreme Court declared the NRA and the first version of the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) unconstitutional, but the AAA was rewritten and then upheld. Republican president Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953–1961) left the New Deal largely intact, even expanding it in some areas. In the 1960s, Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society used the New Deal as inspiration for a dramatic expansion of liberal programs, which Republican Richard Nixon generally retained. However, after 1974 the call for deregulation of the economy gained bipartisan support. [9] The New Deal regulation of banking (Glass–Steagall Act) lasted until it was suspended in the 1990s.

Several New Deal programs remain active and those operating under the original names include the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC), the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The largest programs still in existence today are the Social Security System and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Economic collapse (1929–1933) Edit

From 1929 to 1933 manufacturing output decreased by one third, [10] which economist Milton Friedman called the Great Contraction. Prices fell by 20%, causing deflation that made repaying debts much harder. Unemployment in the United States increased from 4% to 25%. [11] Additionally, one-third of all employed persons were downgraded to working part-time on much smaller paychecks. In the aggregate, almost 50% of the nation's human work-power was going unused. [12]

Before the New Deal, deposits at banks were not insured. [13] When thousands of banks closed, depositors lost their savings as at that time there was no national safety net, no public unemployment insurance and no Social Security. [14] Relief for the poor was the responsibility of families, private charity and local governments, but as conditions worsened year by year demand skyrocketed and their combined resources increasingly fell far short of demand. [12]

The depression had devastated the nation. As Roosevelt took the oath of office at noon on March 4, 1933, all state governors had authorized bank holidays or restricted withdrawals—many Americans had little or no access to their bank accounts. [15] [16] Farm income had fallen by over 50% since 1929. An estimated 844,000 non-farm mortgages had been foreclosed between 1930–1933, out of five million in all. [17] Political and business leaders feared revolution and anarchy. Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., who remained wealthy during the Depression, stated years later that "in those days I felt and said I would be willing to part with half of what I had if I could be sure of keeping, under law and order, the other half". [18]

Campaign Edit

The phrase "New Deal" was coined by an adviser to Roosevelt, Stuart Chase, [19] although the term was originally used by Mark Twain in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. [20]

Upon accepting the 1932 Democratic nomination for president, Roosevelt promised "a new deal for the American people", saying: [21] [22]

Throughout the nation men and women, forgotten in the political philosophy of the Government, look to us here for guidance and for more equitable opportunity to share in the distribution of national wealth. I pledge myself to a new deal for the American people. This is more than a political campaign. It is a call to arms. [23]

Roosevelt entered office without a specific set of plans for dealing with the Great Depression—so he improvised as Congress listened to a very wide variety of voices. [24] Among Roosevelt's more famous advisers was an informal "Brain Trust", a group that tended to view pragmatic government intervention in the economy positively. [25] His choice for Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins, greatly influenced his initiatives. Her list of what her priorities would be if she took the job illustrates: "a forty-hour workweek, a minimum wage, worker's compensation, unemployment compensation, a federal law banning child labor, direct federal aid for unemployment relief, Social Security, a revitalized public employment service and health insurance". [26]

The New Deal policies drew from many different ideas proposed earlier in the 20th century. Assistant Attorney General Thurman Arnold led efforts that hearkened back to an anti-monopoly tradition rooted in American politics by figures such as Andrew Jackson and Thomas Jefferson. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, an influential adviser to many New Dealers, argued that "bigness" (referring, presumably, to corporations) was a negative economic force, producing waste and inefficiency. However, the anti-monopoly group never had a major impact on New Deal policy. [27] Other leaders such as Hugh S. Johnson of the NRA took ideas from the Woodrow Wilson Administration, advocating techniques used to mobilize the economy for World War I. They brought ideas and experience from the government controls and spending of 1917–1918. Other New Deal planners revived experiments suggested in the 1920s, such as the TVA. The "First New Deal" (1933–1934) encompassed the proposals offered by a wide spectrum of groups (not included was the Socialist Party, whose influence was all but destroyed). [28] This first phase of the New Deal was also characterized by fiscal conservatism (see Economy Act, below) and experimentation with several different, sometimes contradictory, cures for economic ills.

Roosevelt created dozens of new agencies through Executive Orders. They are traditionally and typically known to Americans by their alphabetical initials.

The First 100 Days (1933) Edit

The American people were generally extremely dissatisfied with the crumbling economy, mass unemployment, declining wages and profits and especially Herbert Hoover's policies such as the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act and the Revenue Act of 1932. Roosevelt entered office with enormous political capital. Americans of all political persuasions were demanding immediate action and Roosevelt responded with a remarkable series of new programs in the "first hundred days" of the administration, in which he met with Congress for 100 days. During those 100 days of lawmaking, Congress granted every request Roosevelt asked and passed a few programs (such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to insure bank accounts) that he opposed. Ever since, presidents have been judged against Roosevelt for what they accomplished in their first 100 days. Walter Lippmann famously noted:

At the end of February we were a congeries of disorderly panic-stricken mobs and factions. In the hundred days from March to June we became again an organized nation confident of our power to provide for our own security and to control our own destiny. [29]

The economy had hit bottom in March 1933 and then started to expand. Economic indicators show the economy reached its lowest point in the first days of March, then began a steady, sharp upward recovery. Thus the Federal Reserve Index of Industrial Production sank to its lowest point of 52.8 in July 1932 (with 1935–1939 = 100) and was practically unchanged at 54.3 in March 1933. However, by July 1933 it reached 85.5, a dramatic rebound of 57% in four months. Recovery was steady and strong until 1937. Except for employment, the economy by 1937 surpassed the levels of the late 1920s. The Recession of 1937 was a temporary downturn. Private sector employment, especially in manufacturing, recovered to the level of the 1920s, but failed to advance further until the war. The U.S. population was 124,840,471 in 1932 and 128,824,829 in 1937, an increase of 3,984,468. [30] The ratio of these numbers, times the number of jobs in 1932, means there was a need for 938,000 more jobs in 1937, to maintain the same employment level.

Fiscal policy Edit

The Economy Act, drafted by Budget Director Lewis Williams Douglas, was passed on March 15, 1933. The act proposed to balance the "regular" (non-emergency) federal budget by cutting the salaries of government employees and cutting pensions to veterans by fifteen percent. It saved $500 million per year and reassured deficit hawks, such as Douglas, that the new president was fiscally conservative. Roosevelt argued there were two budgets: the "regular" federal budget, which he balanced and the emergency budget, which was needed to defeat the depression. It was imbalanced on a temporary basis. [31]

Roosevelt initially favored balancing the budget, but soon found himself running spending deficits to fund his numerous programs. However, Douglas—rejecting the distinction between a regular and emergency budget—resigned in 1934 and became an outspoken critic of the New Deal. Roosevelt strenuously opposed the Bonus Bill that would give World War I veterans a cash bonus. Congress finally passed it over his veto in 1936 and the Treasury distributed $1.5 billion in cash as bonus welfare benefits to 4 million veterans just before the 1936 election. [32]

New Dealers never accepted the Keynesian argument for government spending as a vehicle for recovery. Most economists of the era, along with Henry Morgenthau of the Treasury Department, rejected Keynesian solutions and favored balanced budgets. [33]

Banking reform Edit

At the beginning of the Great Depression, the economy was destabilized by bank failures followed by credit crunches. The initial reasons were substantial losses in investment banking, followed by bank runs. Bank runs occurred when a large number of customers withdrew their deposits because they believed the bank might become insolvent. As the bank run progressed, it generated a self-fulfilling prophecy: as more people withdrew their deposits, the likelihood of default increased and this encouraged further withdrawals.

Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz have argued that the drain of money out of the banking system caused the monetary supply to shrink, forcing the economy to likewise shrink. As credit and economic activity diminished, price deflation followed, causing further economic contraction with disastrous impact on banks. [34] Between 1929 and 1933, 40% of all banks (9,490 out of 23,697 banks) failed. [35] Much of the Great Depression's economic damage was caused directly by bank runs. [36]

Herbert Hoover had already considered a bank holiday to prevent further bank runs, but rejected the idea because he was afraid to incite a panic. However, Roosevelt gave a radio address, held in the atmosphere of a Fireside Chat. He explained to the public in simple terms the causes of the banking crisis, what the government would do, and how the population could help. He closed all the banks in the country, and kept them all closed until new legislation could be passed. [37]

On March 9, 1933, Roosevelt sent to Congress the Emergency Banking Act, drafted in large part by Hoover's top advisors. The act was passed and signed into law the same day. It provided for a system of reopening sound banks under Treasury supervision, with federal loans available if needed. Three-quarters of the banks in the Federal Reserve System reopened within the next three days. Billions of dollars in hoarded currency and gold flowed back into them within a month, thus stabilizing the banking system. [38] By the end of 1933, 4,004 small local banks were permanently closed and merged into larger banks. Their deposits totaled $3.6 billion. Depositors lost $540 million (equivalent to $10,795,835,476 in 2020) and eventually received on average 85 cents on the dollar of their deposits. [39]

The Glass–Steagall Act limited commercial bank securities activities and affiliations between commercial banks and securities firms to regulate speculations. It also established the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which insured deposits for up to $2,500, ending the risk of runs on banks. [40] This banking reform offered unprecedented stability as while throughout the 1920s more than five hundred banks failed per year, it was less than ten banks per year after 1933. [41]

Monetary reform Edit

Under the gold standard, the United States kept the dollar convertible to gold. The Federal Reserve would have had to execute an expansionary monetary policy to fight the deflation and to inject liquidity into the banking system to prevent it from crumbling—but lower interest rates would have led to a gold outflow. [42] Under the gold standards, price–specie flow mechanism countries that lost gold, but nevertheless wanted to maintain the gold standard, had to permit their money supply to decrease and the domestic price level to decline (deflation). [43] As long as the Federal Reserve had to defend the gold parity of the dollar it had to sit idle while the banking system crumbled. [42]

In March and April in a series of laws and executive orders, the government suspended the gold standard. Roosevelt stopped the outflow of gold by forbidding the export of gold except under license from the Treasury. Anyone holding significant amounts of gold coinage was mandated to exchange it for the existing fixed price of U.S. dollars. The Treasury no longer paid out gold for dollars and gold would no longer be considered valid legal tender for debts in private and public contracts. [44]

The dollar was allowed to float freely on foreign exchange markets with no guaranteed price in gold. With the passage of the Gold Reserve Act in 1934, the nominal price of gold was changed from $20.67 per troy ounce to $35. These measures enabled the Federal Reserve to increase the amount of money in circulation to the level the economy needed. Markets immediately responded well to the suspension in the hope that the decline in prices would finally end. [44] In her essay "What ended the Great Depression?" (1992), Christina Romer argued that this policy raised industrial production by 25% until 1937 and by 50% until 1942. [45]

Securities Act of 1933 Edit

Before the Wall Street Crash of 1929, securities were unregulated at the federal level. Even firms whose securities were publicly traded published no regular reports or even worse rather misleading reports based on arbitrarily selected data. To avoid another Wall Street Crash, the Securities Act of 1933 was enacted. It required the disclosure of the balance sheet, profit and loss statement, and the names and compensations of corporate officers for firms whose securities were traded. Additionally, the reports had to be verified by independent auditors. In 1934, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission was established to regulate the stock market and prevent corporate abuses relating to corporate reporting and the sale of securities. [46]

Repeal of Prohibition Edit

In a measure that garnered substantial popular support for his New Deal, Roosevelt moved to put to rest one of the most divisive cultural issues of the 1920s. He signed the bill to legalize the manufacture and sale of alcohol, an interim measure pending the repeal of prohibition, for which a constitutional amendment of repeal (the 21st) was already in process. The repeal amendment was ratified later in 1933. States and cities gained additional new revenue and Roosevelt secured his popularity especially in the cities and ethnic areas by legalizing alcohol. [47]

Relief Edit

Relief was the immediate effort to help the one-third of the population that was hardest hit by the depression. Relief was also aimed at providing temporary help to suffering and unemployed Americans. Local and state budgets were sharply reduced because of falling tax revenue, but New Deal relief programs were used not just to hire the unemployed but also to build needed schools, municipal buildings, waterworks, sewers, streets, and parks according to local specifications. While the regular Army and Navy budgets were reduced, Roosevelt juggled relief funds to provide for their claimed needs. All of the CCC camps were directed by army officers, whose salaries came from the relief budget. The PWA built numerous warships, including two aircraft carriers the money came from the PWA agency. PWA also built warplanes, while the WPA built military bases and airfields. [48]

Public works Edit

To prime the pump and cut unemployment, the NIRA created the Public Works Administration (PWA), a major program of public works, which organized and provided funds for the building of useful works such as government buildings, airports, hospitals, schools, roads, bridges and dams. [49] From 1933 to 1935 PWA spent $3.3 billion with private companies to build 34,599 projects, many of them quite large. [50]

Under Roosevelt, many unemployed persons were put to work on a wide range of government-financed public works projects, building bridges, airports, dams, post offices, hospitals and hundreds of thousands of miles of road. Through reforestation and flood control, they reclaimed millions of hectares of soil from erosion and devastation. As noted by one authority, Roosevelt's New Deal "was literally stamped on the American landscape". [51]

Farm and rural programs Edit

The rural U.S. was a high priority for Roosevelt and his energetic Secretary of Agriculture, Henry A. Wallace. Roosevelt believed that full economic recovery depended upon the recovery of agriculture and raising farm prices was a major tool, even though it meant higher food prices for the poor living in cities.

Many rural people lived in severe poverty, especially in the South. Major programs addressed to their needs included the Resettlement Administration (RA), the Rural Electrification Administration (REA), rural welfare projects sponsored by the WPA, National Youth Administration (NYA), Forest Service and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), including school lunches, building new schools, opening roads in remote areas, reforestation and purchase of marginal lands to enlarge national forests.

In 1933, the Roosevelt administration launched the Tennessee Valley Authority, a project involving dam construction planning on an unprecedented scale to curb flooding, generate electricity and modernize poor farms in the Tennessee Valley region of the Southern United States. Under the Farmers' Relief Act of 1933, the government paid compensation to farmers who reduced output, thereby raising prices. Because of this legislation, the average income of farmers almost doubled by 1937. [49]

In the 1920s, farm production had increased dramatically thanks to mechanization, more potent insecticides and increased use of fertilizer. Due to an overproduction of agricultural products, farmers faced severe and chronic agricultural depression throughout the 1920s. The Great Depression even worsened the agricultural crises and at the beginning of 1933 agricultural markets nearly faced collapse. [52] Farm prices were so low that in Montana wheat was rotting in the fields because it could not be profitably harvested. In Oregon, sheep were slaughtered and left to rot because meat prices were not sufficient to warrant transportation to markets. [53]

Roosevelt was keenly interested in farm issues and believed that true prosperity would not return until farming was prosperous. Many different programs were directed at farmers. The first 100 days produced the Farm Security Act to raise farm incomes by raising the prices farmers received, which was achieved by reducing total farm output. The Agricultural Adjustment Act created the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) in May 1933. The act reflected the demands of leaders of major farm organizations (especially the Farm Bureau) and reflected debates among Roosevelt's farm advisers such as Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace, M.L. Wilson, Rexford Tugwell and George Peek. [54]

The AAA aimed to raise prices for commodities through artificial scarcity. The AAA used a system of domestic allotments, setting total output of corn, cotton, dairy products, hogs, rice, tobacco, and wheat. The farmers themselves had a voice in the process of using the government to benefit their incomes. The AAA paid land owners subsidies for leaving some of their land idle with funds provided by a new tax on food processing. To force up farm prices to the point of "parity," 10 million acres (40,000 km 2 ) of growing cotton was plowed up, bountiful crops were left to rot and six million piglets were killed and discarded. [55]

The idea was to give farmers a "fair exchange value" for their products in relation to the general economy ("parity level"). [56] Farm incomes and the income for the general population recovered fast since the beginning of 1933. [57] [58] Food prices remained still well below the 1929 peak. [59] The AAA established an important and long-lasting federal role in the planning of the entire agricultural sector of the economy and was the first program on such a scale for the troubled agricultural economy. The original AAA targeted landowners, and therefore did not provide for any sharecroppers or tenants or farm laborers who might become unemployed. [60]

A Gallup poll printed in the Washington Post revealed that a majority of the American public opposed the AAA. [61] In 1936, the Supreme Court declared the AAA to be unconstitutional, stating that "a statutory plan to regulate and control agricultural production, [is] a matter beyond the powers delegated to the federal government". The AAA was replaced by a similar program that did win Court approval. Instead of paying farmers for letting fields lie barren, this program subsidized them for planting soil-enriching crops such as alfalfa that would not be sold on the market. Federal regulation of agricultural production has been modified many times since then, but together with large subsidies is still in effect today.

The Farm Tenancy Act in 1937 was the last major New Deal legislation that concerned farming. It created the Farm Security Administration (FSA), which replaced the Resettlement Administration.

The Food Stamp Plan—a major new welfare program for urban poor—was established in 1939 to provide stamps to poor people who could use them to purchase food at retail outlets. The program ended during wartime prosperity in 1943 but was restored in 1961. It survived into the 21st century with little controversy because it was seen to benefit the urban poor, food producers, grocers, and wholesalers as well as farmers, thus it gained support from both liberal and conservative Congressmen. In 2013, Tea Party activists in the House nonetheless tried to end the program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, while the Senate fought to preserve it. [62] [63]

Recovery Edit

Recovery was the effort in numerous programs to restore the economy to normal health. By most economic indicators, this was achieved by 1937—except for unemployment, which remained stubbornly high until World War II began. Recovery was designed to help the economy bounce back from depression. Economic historians led by Price Fishback have examined the impact of New Deal spending on improving health conditions in the 114 largest cities, 1929–1937. They estimated that every additional $153,000 in relief spending (in 1935 dollars, or $1.95 million in the year 2000 dollars) was associated with a reduction of one infant death, one suicide, and 2.4 deaths from infectious disease. [64] [65]

NRA "Blue Eagle" campaign Edit

From 1929 to 1933, the industrial economy suffered from a vicious cycle of deflation. Since 1931, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the voice of the nation's organized business, promoted an anti-deflationary scheme that would permit trade associations to cooperate in government-instigated cartels to stabilize prices within their industries. While existing antitrust laws clearly forbade such practices, the organized business found a receptive ear in the Roosevelt Administration. [67]

Roosevelt's advisers believed that excessive competition and technical progress had led to overproduction and lowered wages and prices, which they believed lowered demand and employment (deflation). He argued that government economic planning was necessary to remedy this. [68] New Deal economists argued that cut-throat competition had hurt many businesses and that with prices having fallen 20% and more, "deflation" exacerbated the burden of debt and would delay recovery. They rejected a strong move in Congress to limit the workweek to 30 hours. Instead, their remedy, designed in cooperation with big business, was the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA). It included stimulus funds for the WPA to spend and sought to raise prices, give more bargaining power for unions (so the workers could purchase more), and reduce harmful competition.

At the center of the NIRA was the National Recovery Administration (NRA), headed by former General Hugh S. Johnson, who had been a senior economic official in World War I. Johnson called on every business establishment in the nation to accept a stopgap "blanket code": a minimum wage of between 20 and 45 cents per hour, a maximum workweek of 35–45 hours and the abolition of child labor. Johnson and Roosevelt contended that the "blanket code" would raise consumer purchasing power and increase employment. [69] To mobilize political support for the NRA, Johnson launched the "NRA Blue Eagle" publicity campaign to boost what he called "industrial self-government". The NRA brought together leaders in each industry to design specific sets of codes for that industry—the most important provisions were anti-deflationary floors below which no company would lower prices or wages and agreements on maintaining employment and production. In a remarkably short time, the NRA announced agreements from almost every major industry in the nation. By March 1934, industrial production was 45% higher than in March 1933. [70]

NRA Administrator Hugh Johnson was showing signs of a mental breakdown due to the extreme pressure and workload of running the National Recovery Administration. [71] After two meetings with Roosevelt and an abortive resignation attempt, Johnson resigned on September 24, 1934, and Roosevelt replaced the position of Administrator with a new National Industrial Recovery Board, [72] [73] of which Donald Richberg was named Executive Director.

On May 27, 1935, the NRA was found to be unconstitutional by a unanimous decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Schechter v. the United States. After the end of the NRA, quotas in the oil industry were fixed by the Railroad Commission of Texas with Tom Connally's federal Hot Oil Act of 1935, which guaranteed that illegal "hot oil" would not be sold. [74] By the time NRA ended in May 1935, well over 2 a million employers accepted the new standards laid down by the NRA, which had introduced a minimum wage and an eight-hour workday, together with abolishing child labor. [49] These standards were reintroduced by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

Housing sector Edit

The New Deal had an important impact on the housing field. The New Deal followed and increased President Hoover's lead-and-seek measures. The New Deal sought to stimulate the private home building industry and increase the number of individuals who owned homes. [75] The New Deal implemented two new housing agencies Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC) and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). HOLC set uniform national appraisal methods and simplified the mortgage process. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) created national standards for home construction. [76]

Reform Edit

Reform was based on the assumption that the depression was caused by the inherent instability of the market and that government intervention was necessary to rationalize and stabilize the economy and to balance the interests of farmers, business and labor. Reforms targeted the causes of the depression and sought to prevent a crisis like it from happening again. In other words, financially rebuilding the U.S. while ensuring not to repeat history.

Trade liberalization Edit

Most economic historians assert that protectionist policies, culminating in the Smoot-Hawley Act of 1930, worsened the Depression. [77] Roosevelt already spoke against the act while campaigning for president during 1932. [78] In 1934, the Reciprocal Tariff Act was drafted by Cordell Hull. It gave the president power to negotiate bilateral, reciprocal trade agreements with other countries. The act enabled Roosevelt to liberalize American trade policy around the globe and it is widely credited with ushering in the era of liberal trade policy that persists to this day. [79]

Puerto Rico Edit

A separate set of programs operated in Puerto Rico, headed by the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration. It promoted land reform and helped small farms, it set up farm cooperatives, promoted crop diversification and helped the local industry. The Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration was directed by Juan Pablo Montoya Sr. from 1935 to 1937.

In the spring of 1935, responding to the setbacks in the Court, a new skepticism in Congress and the growing popular clamor for more dramatic action, New Dealers passed important new initiatives. Historians refer to them as the "Second New Deal" and note that it was more liberal and more controversial than the "First New Deal" of 1933–1934.

Social Security Act Edit

Until 1935, only a dozen states had implemented old-age insurance, and these programs were woefully underfunded. Just one state (Wisconsin) had an insurance program. The United States was the only modern industrial country where people faced the Depression without any national system of social security. The work programs of the "First New Deal" such as CWA and FERA were designed for immediate relief, for a year or two. [80]

The most important program of 1935, and perhaps of the New Deal itself, was the Social Security Act. It established a permanent system of universal retirement pensions (Social Security), unemployment insurance and welfare benefits for the handicapped and needy children in families without a father present. [81] It established the framework for the U.S. welfare system. Roosevelt insisted that it should be funded by payroll taxes rather than from the general fundhe said: "We put those payroll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and unemployment benefits. With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program". [82]

Labor relations Edit

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935, also known as the Wagner Act, finally guaranteed workers the rights to collective bargaining through unions of their own choice. The Act also established the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to facilitate wage agreements and to suppress the repeated labor disturbances. The Wagner Act did not compel employers to reach agreement with their employees, but it opened possibilities for American labor. [83] The result was a tremendous growth of membership in the labor unions, especially in the mass-production sector, led by the older and larger American Federation of Labor and the new, more radical Congress of Industrial Organizations. Labor thus became a major component of the New Deal political coalition. However, the intense battle for members between the AFL and the CIO coalitions weakened labor's power. [84]

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 set maximum hours (44 per week) and minimum wages (25 cents per hour) for most categories of workers. Child labor of children under the age of 16 was forbidden, children under 18 years were forbidden to work in hazardous employment. As a result, the wages of 300,000 workers, especially in the South, were increased and the hours of 1.3 million were reduced. [85] It was the last major New Deal legislation and it passed with support of Northern industrialists who wanted to stop the drain of jobs to the low-wage South. [86]

Works Progress Administration Edit

Roosevelt nationalized unemployment relief through the Works Progress Administration (WPA), headed by close friend Harry Hopkins. Roosevelt had insisted that the projects had to be costly in terms of labor, beneficial in the long term and the WPA was forbidden to compete with private enterprises—therefore the workers had to be paid smaller wages. [87] The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was created to return the unemployed to the workforce. [88] The WPA financed a variety of projects such as hospitals, schools, and roads, [49] and employed more than 8.5 million workers who built 650,000 miles of highways and roads, 125,000 public buildings as well as bridges, reservoirs, irrigation systems, parks, playgrounds and so on. [89]

Prominent projects were the Lincoln Tunnel, the Triborough Bridge, the LaGuardia Airport, the Overseas Highway and the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge. [90] The Rural Electrification Administration used cooperatives to bring electricity to rural areas, many of which still operate. [91] The National Youth Administration was another semi-autonomous WPA program for youth. Its Texas director, Lyndon B. Johnson, later used the NYA as a model for some of his Great Society programs in the 1960s. [92] The WPA was organized by states, but New York City had its own branch Federal One, which created jobs for writers, musicians, artists and theater personnel. It became a hunting ground for conservatives searching for communist employees. [93]

The Federal Writers' Project operated in every state, where it created a famous guide book—it also catalogued local archives and hired many writers, including Margaret Walker, Zora Neale Hurston and Anzia Yezierska, to document folklore. Other writers interviewed elderly ex-slaves and recorded their stories. Under the Federal Theater Project, headed by charismatic Hallie Flanagan, actresses and actors, technicians, writers and directors put on stage productions. The tickets were inexpensive or sometimes free, making theater available to audiences unaccustomed to attending plays. [92]

One Federal Art Project paid 162 trained woman artists on relief to paint murals or create statues for newly built post offices and courthouses. Many of these works of art can still be seen in public buildings around the country, along with murals sponsored by the Treasury Relief Art Project of the Treasury Department. [94] [95] During its existence, the Federal Theatre Project provided jobs for circus people, musicians, actors, artists and playwrights, together with increasing public appreciation of the arts. [49]

Tax policy Edit

In 1935, Roosevelt called for a tax program called the Wealth Tax Act (Revenue Act of 1935) to redistribute wealth. The bill imposed an income tax of 79% on incomes over $5 million. Since that was an extraordinary high income in the 1930s, the highest tax rate actually covered just one individual—John D. Rockefeller. The bill was expected to raise only about $250 million in additional funds, so revenue was not the primary goal. Morgenthau called it "more or less a campaign document". In a private conversation with Raymond Moley, Roosevelt admitted that the purpose of the bill was "stealing Huey Long's thunder" by making Long's supporters of his own. At the same time, it raised the bitterness of the rich who called Roosevelt "a traitor to his class" and the wealth tax act a "soak the rich tax". [96]

A tax called the undistributed profits tax was enacted in 1936. This time the primary purpose was revenue, since Congress had enacted the Adjusted Compensation Payment Act, calling for payments of $2 billion to World War I veterans. The bill established the persisting principle that retained corporate earnings could be taxed. Paid dividends were tax deductible by corporations. Its proponents intended the bill to replace all other corporation taxes—believing this would stimulate corporations to distribute earnings and thus put more cash and spending power in the hands of individuals. [97] In the end, Congress watered down the bill, setting the tax rates at 7 to 27% and largely exempting small enterprises. [98] Facing widespread and fierce criticism, [99] the tax deduction of paid dividends was repealed in 1938. [97]

Housing Act of 1937 Edit

The United States Housing Act of 1937 created the United States Housing Authority within the U.S. Department of the Interior. It was one of the last New Deal agencies created. The bill passed in 1937 with some Republican support to abolish slums.

When the Supreme Court started abolishing New Deal programs as unconstitutional, Roosevelt launched a surprise counter-attack in early 1937. He proposed adding five new justices, but conservative Democrats revolted, led by the Vice President. The Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937 failed—it never reached a vote. Momentum in Congress and public opinion shifted to the right and very little new legislation was passed expanding the New Deal. However, retirements allowed Roosevelt to put supporters on the Court and it stopped killing New Deal programs. [100]

The Roosevelt administration was under assault during Roosevelt's second term, which presided over a new dip in the Great Depression in the fall of 1937 that continued through most of 1938. Production and profits declined sharply. Unemployment jumped from 14.3% in May 1937 to 19.0% in June 1938. The downturn was perhaps due to nothing more than the familiar rhythms of the business cycle, but until 1937 Roosevelt had claimed responsibility for the excellent economic performance. That backfired in the recession and the heated political atmosphere of 1937. [101]

Keynes did not think that The New Deal under Roosevelt ended the Great Depression: "It is, it seems, politically impossible for a capitalistic democracy to organize expenditure on the scale necessary to make the grand experiments which would prove my case — except in war conditions." [102]

The U.S. reached full employment after entering World War II in December 1941. Under the special circumstances of war mobilization, massive war spending doubled the gross national product (GNP). [103] Military Keynesianism brought full employment and federal contracts were cost-plus. Instead of competitive bidding to get lower prices, the government gave out contracts that promised to pay all the expenses plus a modest profit. Factories hired everyone they could find regardless of their lack of skills—they simplified work tasks and trained the workers, with the federal government paying all the costs. Millions of farmers left marginal operations, students quit school and housewives joined the labor force. [104]

The emphasis was for war supplies as soon as possible, regardless of cost and inefficiencies. Industry quickly absorbed the slack in the labor force and the tables turned such that employers needed to actively and aggressively recruit workers. As the military grew, new labor sources were needed to replace the 12 million men serving in the military. Propaganda campaigns started pleading for people to work in the war factories. The barriers for married women, the old, the unskilled—and (in the North and West) the barriers for racial minorities—were lowered. [105]

Federal budget soars Edit

In 1929, federal expenditures accounted for only 3% of GNP. Between 1933 and 1939, federal expenditures tripled, but the national debt as a percent of GNP showed little change. Spending on the war effort quickly eclipsed spending on New Deal programs. In 1944, government spending on the war effort exceeded 40% of GNP. The U.S. economy experienced dramatic growth during the Second World War mostly due to the deemphasis of free enterprise in favor of the imposition of strict controls on prices and wages. These controls shared broad support among labor and business, resulting in cooperation between the two groups and the U.S. government. This cooperation resulted in the government subsidizing business and labor through both direct and indirect methods. [106]

Wartime welfare projects Edit

Conservative domination of Congress during the war meant that all welfare projects and reforms had to have their approval, which was given when business supported the project. For example, the Coal Mines Inspection and Investigation Act of 1941 significantly reduced fatality rates in the coal-mining industry, saving workers' lives and company money. [107] In terms of welfare, the New Dealers wanted benefits for everyone according to need. However, conservatives proposed benefits based on national service—especially tied to military service or working in war industries—and their approach won out.

The Community Facilities Act of 1940 (the Lanham Act) provided federal funds to defense-impacted communities where the population had soared and local facilities were overwhelmed. It provided money for the building of segregated housing for war workers as well as recreational facilities, water and sanitation plants, hospitals, day care centers and schools. [108] [109] [110]

The Servicemen's Dependents Allowance Act of 1942 provided family allowances for dependents of enlisted men. Emergency grants to states were authorized in 1942 for programs for day care for children of working mothers. In 1944, pensions were authorized for all physically or mentally helpless children of deceased veterans regardless of the age of the child at the date the claim was filed or at the time of the veteran's death, provided the child was disabled at the age of sixteen and that the disability continued to the date of the claim. The Public Health Service Act, which was passed that same year, expanded federal-state public health programs and increased the annual amount for grants for public health services. [111]

The Emergency Maternity and Infant Care Program (EMIC), introduced in March 1943 by the Children's Bureau, provided free maternity care and medical treatment during an infant's first year for the wives and children of military personnel in the four lowest enlisted pay grades. One out of seven births was covered during its operation. EMIC paid $127 million to state health departments to cover the care of 1.2 million new mothers and their babies. The average cost of EMIC maternity cases completed was $92.49 for medical and hospital care. A striking effect was the sudden rapid decline in home births as most mothers now had paid hospital maternity care. [112] [113] [114] [115]

Under the 1943 Disabled Veterans Rehabilitation Act, vocational rehabilitation services were offered to wounded World War II veterans and some 621,000 veterans would go on to receive assistance under this program. [116] The G.I. Bill (Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944) was a landmark piece of legislation, providing 16 million returning veterans with benefits such as housing, educational and unemployment assistance and played a major role in the postwar expansion of the American middle class. [117]

Fair Employment Practices Edit

In response to the March on Washington Movement led by A. Philip Randolph, Roosevelt promulgated Executive Order 8802 in June 1941, which established the President's Committee on Fair Employment Practices (FEPC) "to receive and investigate complaints of discrimination" so that "there shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries or government because of race, creed, color, or national origin". [118]

Growing equality of income Edit

A major result of the full employment at high wages was a sharp, long lasting decrease in the level of income inequality (Great Compression). The gap between rich and poor narrowed dramatically in the area of nutrition because food rationing and price controls provided a reasonably priced diet to everyone. White collar workers did not typically receive overtime and therefore the gap between white collar and blue collar income narrowed. Large families that had been poor during the 1930s had four or more wage earners and these families shot to the top one-third income bracket. Overtime provided large paychecks in war industries [119] and average living standards rose steadily, with real wages rising by 44% in the four years of war, while the percentage of families with an annual income of less than $2,000 fell from 75% to 25% of the population. [120]

In 1941, 40% of all American families lived on less than the $1,500 per year defined as necessary by the Works Progress Administration for a modest standard of living. The median income stood at $2,000 a year, while 8 million workers earned below the legal minimum. From 1939 to 1944, wages and salaries more than doubled, with overtime pay and the expansion of jobs leading to a 70% rise in average weekly earnings during the course of the war. Membership in organized labor increased by 50% between 1941 and 1945 and because the War Labor Board sought labor-management peace, new workers were encouraged to participate in the existing labor organizations, thereby receiving all the benefits of union membership such as improved working conditions, better fringe benefits and higher wages. As noted by William H. Chafe, "with full employment, higher wages and social welfare benefits provided under government regulations, American workers experienced a level of well-being that, for many, had never occurred before".

As a result of the new prosperity, consumer expenditures rose by nearly 50%, from $61.7 billion at the start of the war to $98.5 billion by 1944. Individual savings accounts climbed almost sevenfold during the course of the war. The share of total income held by the top 5% of wage earners fell from 22% to 17% while the bottom 40% increased their share of the economic pie. In addition, during the course of the war the proportion of the American population earning less than $3,000 (in 1968 dollars) fell by half. [121]

Analysts agree the New Deal produced a new political coalition that sustained the Democratic Party as the majority party in national politics into the 1960s. [122] A 2013 study found that "an average increase in New Deal relief and public works spending resulted in a 5.4 percentage point increase in the 1936 Democratic voting share and a smaller amount in 1940. The estimated persistence of this shift suggests that New Deal spending increased long-term Democratic support by 2 to 2.5 percentage points. Thus, it appears that Roosevelt's early, decisive actions created long-lasting positive benefits for the Democratic party. The New Deal did play an important role in consolidating Democratic gains for at least two decades". [123]

However, there is disagreement about whether it marked a permanent change in values. Cowie and Salvatore in 2008 argued that it was a response to Depression and did not mark a commitment to a welfare state because the U.S. has always been too individualistic. [124] MacLean rejected the idea of a definitive political culture. She says they overemphasized individualism and ignored the enormous power that big capital wields, the Constitutional restraints on radicalism and the role of racism, antifeminism and homophobia. She warns that accepting Cowie and Salvatore's argument that conservatism's ascendancy is inevitable would dismay and discourage activists on the left. [125] Klein responds that the New Deal did not die a natural death—it was killed off in the 1970s by a business coalition mobilized by such groups as the Business Roundtable, the Chamber of Commerce, trade organizations, conservative think tanks and decades of sustained legal and political attacks. [126]

Historians generally agree that during Roosevelt's 12 years in office there was a dramatic increase in the power of the federal government as a whole. [127] [128] Roosevelt also established the presidency as the prominent center of authority within the federal government. Roosevelt created a large array of agencies protecting various groups of citizens—workers, farmers and others—who suffered from the crisis and thus enabled them to challenge the powers of the corporations. In this way, the Roosevelt administration generated a set of political ideas—known as New Deal liberalism—that remained a source of inspiration and controversy for decades. New Deal liberalism lay the foundation of a new consensus. Between 1940 and 1980, there was the liberal consensus about the prospects for the widespread distribution of prosperity within an expanding capitalist economy. [122] Especially Harry S. Truman's Fair Deal and in the 1960s Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society used the New Deal as inspiration for a dramatic expansion of liberal programs.

The New Deal's enduring appeal on voters fostered its acceptance by moderate and liberal Republicans. [129]

As the first Republican president elected after Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953–1961) built on the New Deal in a manner that embodied his thoughts on efficiency and cost-effectiveness. He sanctioned a major expansion of Social Security by a self-financed program. [130] He supported such New Deal programs as the minimum wage and public housing—he greatly expanded federal aid to education and built the Interstate Highway system primarily as defense programs (rather than jobs program). [131] In a private letter, Eisenhower wrote:

Should any party attempt to abolish social security and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group of course, that believes you can do these things [. ] Their number is negligible and they are stupid. [132]

In 1964, Barry Goldwater, an unreconstructed anti-New Dealer, was the Republican presidential candidate on a platform that attacked the New Deal. The Democrats under Lyndon B. Johnson won a massive landslide and Johnson's Great Society programs extended the New Deal. However, the supporters of Goldwater formed the New Right which helped to bring Ronald Reagan into the White House in the 1980 presidential election. Once an ardent supporter of the New Deal, Reagan turned against it, now viewing government as the problem rather than solution and, as president, moved the nation away from the New Deal model of government activism, shifting greater emphasis to the private sector. [133]

A 2017 review study of the existing literature in the Journal of Economic Literature summarized the findings of the research as follows: [134]

The studies find that public works and relief spending had state income multipliers of around one, increased consumption activity, attracted internal migration, reduced crime rates, and lowered several types of mortality. The farm programs typically aided large farm owners but eliminated opportunities for share croppers, tenants, and farm workers. The Home Owners' Loan Corporation's purchases and refinancing of troubled mortgages staved off drops in housing prices and home ownership rates at relatively low ex post cost to taxpayers. The Reconstruction Finance Corporation's loans to banks and railroads appear to have had little positive impact, although the banks were aided when the RFC took ownership stakes.

Historians debating the New Deal have generally been divided between liberals who support it, conservatives who oppose it, and some New Left historians who complain it was too favorable to capitalism and did too little for minorities. There is consensus on only a few points, with most commentators favorable toward the CCC and hostile toward the NRA.

[B]elieved that the prosperity and apparent class harmony of the post-World War II era reflected a return to the true Americanism rooted in liberal capitalism and the pursuit of individual opportunity that had made fundamental conflicts over resources a thing of the past. They argued that the New Deal was a conservative movement that built a welfare state, guided by experts, that saved rather than transformed liberal capitalism. [135]

Liberal historians argue that Roosevelt restored hope and self-respect to tens of millions of desperate people, built labor unions, upgraded the national infrastructure and saved capitalism in his first term when he could have destroyed it and easily nationalized the banks and the railroads. [81] Historians generally agree that apart from building up labor unions, the New Deal did not substantially alter the distribution of power within American capitalism. "The New Deal brought about limited change in the nation's power structure". [136] The New Deal preserved democracy in the United States in a historic period of uncertainty and crises when in many other countries democracy failed. [137]

The most common arguments can be summarized as follows:

  • The New Deal vastly increased the federal debt (Billington and Ridge) [138] while Keynesians criticize that the federal deficit between 1933 and 1939 averaged only 3.7% which was not enough to offset the reduction in private sector spending during the Great Depression [139]
  • Fostered bureaucracy and administrative inefficiency (Billington and Ridge) [138] and enlarged the powers of the federal government[140]
  • Slowed the growth of civil service reform by multiplying offices outside the merit system (Billington and Ridge) [138]
  • Infringed upon free business enterprise (Billington and Ridge) [138]
  • Rescued capitalism when the opportunity was at hand to nationalize banking, railroads and other industries (New Left critique) [141] [better source needed]
  • Stimulated the growth of class consciousness among farmers and workers (Billington and Ridge) [138]
  • Raised the issue of how far economic regulation could be extended without sacrificing the liberties of the people (Billington and Ridge) [138]
  • Allowed the nation to come through its greatest depression without undermining the capitalist system (Billington and Ridge) [138]
  • Made the capitalist system more beneficial by enacting banking and stock market regulations to avoid abuses and providing greater financial security, through, for example, the introduction of Social Security or the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (David M. Kennedy) [142]
  • Created a better balance among labor, agriculture and industry (Billington and Ridge) [138]
  • Produced a more equal distribution of wealth (Billington and Ridge) [138]
  • Help conserve natural resources (Billington and Ridge) [138]
  • Permanently established the principle that the national government should take action to rehabilitate and preserve America's human resources (Billington and Ridge) [138]

Fiscal policy Edit

Julian Zelizer (2000) has argued that fiscal conservatism was a key component of the New Deal. [143] A fiscally conservative approach was supported by Wall Street and local investors and most of the business community—mainstream academic economists believed in it as apparently did the majority of the public. Conservative southern Democrats, who favored balanced budgets and opposed new taxes, controlled Congress and its major committees. Even liberal Democrats at the time regarded balanced budgets as essential to economic stability in the long run, although they were more willing to accept short-term deficits. As Zelizer notes, public opinion polls consistently showed public opposition to deficits and debt. Throughout his terms, Roosevelt recruited fiscal conservatives to serve in his administration, most notably Lewis Douglas the Director of Budget in 1933–1934 and Henry Morgenthau Jr., Secretary of the Treasury from 1934 to 1945. They defined policy in terms of budgetary cost and tax burdens rather than needs, rights, obligations, or political benefits. Personally, Roosevelt embraced their fiscal conservatism, but politically he realized that fiscal conservatism enjoyed a strong wide base of support among voters, leading Democrats and businessmen. On the other hand, there was enormous pressure to act and spending money on high visibility work programs with millions of paychecks a week. [144]

Douglas proved too inflexible and he quit in 1934. Morgenthau made it his highest priority to stay close to Roosevelt, no matter what. Douglas's position, like many of the Old Right, was grounded in a basic distrust of politicians and the deeply ingrained fear that government spending always involved a degree of patronage and corruption that offended his Progressive sense of efficiency. The Economy Act of 1933, passed early in the Hundred Days, was Douglas's great achievement. It reduced federal expenditures by $500 million, to be achieved by reducing veterans' payments and federal salaries. Douglas cut government spending through executive orders that cut the military budget by $125 million, $75 million from the Post Office, $12 million from Commerce, $75 million from government salaries and $100 million from staff layoffs. As Freidel concludes: "The economy program was not a minor aberration of the spring of 1933, or a hypocritical concession to delighted conservatives. Rather it was an integral part of Roosevelt's overall New Deal". [145]

Revenues were so low that borrowing was necessary (only the richest 3% paid any income tax between 1926 and 1940). [146] Douglas therefore hated the relief programs, which he said reduced business confidence, threatened the government's future credit and had the "destructive psychological effects of making mendicants of self-respecting American citizens". [147] Roosevelt was pulled toward greater spending by Hopkins and Ickes and as the 1936 election approached he decided to gain votes by attacking big business.

Morgenthau shifted with Roosevelt, but at all times tried to inject fiscal responsibility—he deeply believed in balanced budgets, stable currency, reduction of the national debt and the need for more private investment. The Wagner Act met Morgenthau's requirement because it strengthened the party's political base and involved no new spending. In contrast to Douglas, Morgenthau accepted Roosevelt's double budget as legitimate—that is a balanced regular budget and an "emergency" budget for agencies, like the WPA, PWA and CCC, that would be temporary until full recovery was at hand. He fought against the veterans' bonus until Congress finally overrode Roosevelt's veto and gave out $2.2 billion in 1936. His biggest success was the new Social Security program as he managed to reverse the proposals to fund it from general revenue and insisted it be funded by new taxes on employees. It was Morgenthau who insisted on excluding farm workers and domestic servants from Social Security because workers outside industry would not be paying their way. [148]

Race and gender Edit

African Americans Edit

While many Americans suffered economically during the Great Depression, African Americans also had to deal with social ills, such as racism, discrimination and segregation. Black workers were especially vulnerable to the economic downturn since most of them worked the most marginal jobs such as unskilled or service-oriented work, therefore they were the first to be discharged and additionally many employers preferred white workers. When jobs were scarce some employers even dismissed black workers to create jobs for white citizens. In the end there were three times more African American workers on public assistance or relief than white workers. [149]

Roosevelt appointed an unprecedented number of African Americans to second-level positions in his administration—these appointees were collectively called the Black Cabinet. The WPA, NYA and CCC relief programs allocated 10% of their budgets to blacks (who comprised about 10% of the total population, and 20% of the poor). They operated separate all-black units with the same pay and conditions as white units. [150] Some leading white New Dealers, especially Eleanor Roosevelt, Harold Ickes and Aubrey Williams, worked to ensure blacks received at least 10% of welfare assistance payments. [150] However, these benefits were small in comparison to the economic and political advantages that whites received. Most unions excluded blacks from joining and enforcement of anti-discrimination laws in the South was virtually impossible, especially since most blacks worked in hospitality and agricultural sectors. [151]

The New Deal programs put millions of Americans immediately back to work or at least helped them to survive. [152] The programs were not specifically targeted to alleviate the much higher unemployment rate of blacks. [153] Some aspects of the programs were even unfavorable to blacks. The Agricultural Adjustment Acts for example helped farmers which were predominantly white, but reduced the need of farmers to hire tenant farmers or sharecroppers which were predominantly black. While the AAA stipulated that a farmer had to share the payments with those who worked the land this policy was never enforced. [154] The Farm Service Agency (FSA), a government relief agency for tenant farmers, created in 1937, made efforts to empower African Americans by appointing them to agency committees in the South. Senator James F. Byrnes of South Carolina raised opposition to the appointments because he stood for white farmers who were threatened by an agency that could organize and empower tenant farmers. Initially, the FSA stood behind their appointments, but after feeling national pressure FSA was forced to release the African Americans from their positions. The goals of the FSA were notoriously liberal and not cohesive with the southern voting elite. Some harmful New Deal measures inadvertently discriminated against blacks. Thousands of blacks were thrown out of work and replaced by whites on jobs where they were paid less than the NRA's wage minimums because some white employers considered the NRA's minimum wage "too much money for Negroes". By August 1933, blacks called the NRA the "Negro Removal Act". [155] An NRA study found that the NIRA put 500,000 African Americans out of work. [156]

However, since blacks felt the sting of the depression's wrath even more severely than whites they welcomed any help. Until 1936 almost all African Americans (and many whites) shifted from the "Party of Lincoln" to the Democratic Party. [153] This was a sharp realignment from 1932, when most African Americans voted the Republican ticket. New Deal policies helped establish a political alliance between blacks and the Democratic Party that survives into the 21st century. [150] [157]

There was no attempt whatsoever to end segregation, or to increase black rights in the South, and a number of leaders that promoted the New Deal were racist and anti semites. [158]

The wartime Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) executive orders that forbade job discrimination against African Americans, women and ethnic groups was a major breakthrough that brought better jobs and pay to millions of minority Americans. Historians usually treat FEPC as part of the war effort and not part of the New Deal itself.

Segregation Edit

The New Deal was racially segregated as blacks and whites rarely worked alongside each other in New Deal programs. The largest relief program by far was the WPA—it operated segregated units, as did its youth affiliate the NYA. [159] Blacks were hired by the WPA as supervisors in the North, but of 10,000 WPA supervisors in the South only 11 were black. [160] Historian Anthony Badger argues that "New Deal programs in the South routinely discriminated against blacks and perpetuated segregation". [161] In its first few weeks of operation, CCC camps in the North were integrated. By July 1935, practically all the camps in the United States were segregated, and blacks were strictly limited in the supervisory roles they were assigned. [162] Kinker and Smith argue that "even the most prominent racial liberals in the New Deal did not dare to criticize Jim Crow".

Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes was one of the Roosevelt Administration's most prominent supporters of blacks and former president of the Chicago chapter of the NAACP. In 1937, when Senator Josiah Bailey Democrat of North Carolina accused him of trying to break down segregation laws Ickes wrote him to deny that:

I think it is up to the states to work out their social problems if possible, and while I have always been interested in seeing that the Negro has a square deal, I have never dissipated my strength against the particular stone wall of segregation. I believe that wall will crumble when the Negro has brought himself to a high educational and economic status…. Moreover, while there are no segregation laws in the North, there is segregation in fact and we might as well recognize this. [163] [164] [165]

The New Deal's record came under attack by New Left historians in the 1960s for its pusillanimity in not attacking capitalism more vigorously, nor helping blacks achieve equality. The critics emphasize the absence of a philosophy of reform to explain the failure of New Dealers to attack fundamental social problems. They demonstrate the New Deal's commitment to save capitalism and its refusal to strip away private property. They detect a remoteness from the people and indifference to participatory democracy and call instead for more emphasis on conflict and exploitation. [166] [167]

Women Edit

At first, the New Deal created programs primarily for men as it was assumed that the husband was the "breadwinner" (the provider) and if they had jobs the whole family would benefit. It was the social norm for women to give up jobs when they married—in many states, there were laws that prevented both husband and wife holding regular jobs with the government. So too in the relief world, it was rare for both husband and wife to have a relief job on FERA or the WPA. [168] This prevailing social norm of the breadwinner failed to take into account the numerous households headed by women, but it soon became clear that the government needed to help women as well. [169]

Many women were employed on FERA projects run by the states with federal funds. The first New Deal program to directly assist women was the Works Progress Administration (WPA), begun in 1935. It hired single women, widows, or women with disabled or absent husbands. The WPA employed about 500,000 women and they were assigned mostly to unskilled jobs. 295,000 worked on sewing projects that made 300 million items of clothing and bedding to be given away to families on relief and to hospitals and orphanages. Women also were hired for the WPA's school lunch program. [170] [171] [172] Both men and women were hired for the small but highly publicized arts programs (such as music, theater, and writing).

The Social Security program was designed to help retired workers and widows but did not include domestic workers, farmers or farm laborers, the jobs most often held by blacks. However, Social Security was not a relief program and it was not designed for short-term needs, as very few people received benefits before 1942.

Relief Edit

The New Deal expanded the role of the federal government, particularly to help the poor, the unemployed, youth, the elderly and stranded rural communities. The Hoover administration started the system of funding state relief programs, whereby the states hired people on relief. With the CCC in 1933 and the WPA in 1935, the federal government now became involved in directly hiring people on relief in granting direct relief or benefits. Total federal, state and local spending on relief rose from 3.9% of GNP in 1929 to 6.4% in 1932 and 9.7% in 1934—the return of prosperity in 1944 lowered the rate to 4.1%. In 1935–1940, welfare spending accounted for 49% of the federal, state and local government budgets. [173] In his memoirs, Milton Friedman said that the New Deal relief programs were an appropriate response. He and his wife were not on relief, but they were employed by the WPA as statisticians. [174] Friedman said that programs like the CCC and WPA were justified as temporary responses to an emergency. Friedman said that Roosevelt deserved considerable credit for relieving immediate distress and restoring confidence. [175]

Recovery Edit

In a survey of economic historians conducted by Robert Whaples, Professor of Economics at Wake Forest University, anonymous questionnaires were sent to members of the Economic History Association. Members were asked to disagree, agree, or agree with provisos with the statement that read: "Taken as a whole, government policies of the New Deal served to lengthen and deepen the Great Depression". While only 6% of economic historians who worked in the history department of their universities agreed with the statement, 27% of those that work in the economics department agreed. Almost an identical percent of the two groups (21% and 22%) agreed with the statement "with provisos" (a conditional stipulation) while 74% of those who worked in the history department and 51% in the economic department disagreed with the statement outright. [77]

Economic growth and unemployment (1933–1941) Edit

From 1933 to 1941, the economy expanded at an average rate of 7.7% per year. [176] Despite high economic growth, unemployment rates fell slowly.

Unemployment rate [177] 1933 1934 1935 1936 1937 1938 1939 1940 1941
Workers in job creation programs counted as unemployed 24.9% 21.7% 20.1% 16.9% 14.3% 19.0% 17.2% 14.6% 9.9%
Workers in job creation programs counted as employed 20.6% 16.0% 14.2% 9.9% 9.1% 12.5% 11.3% 9.5% 8.0%

John Maynard Keynes explained that situation as an underemployment equilibrium where skeptic business prospects prevent companies from hiring new employees. It was seen as a form of cyclical unemployment. [178]

There are different assumptions as well. According to Richard L. Jensen, cyclical unemployment was a grave matter primarily until 1935. Between 1935 and 1941, structural unemployment became the bigger problem. Especially the unions successes in demanding higher wages pushed management into introducing new efficiency-oriented hiring standards. It ended inefficient labor such as child labor, casual unskilled work for subminimum wages and sweatshop conditions. In the long term, the shift to efficiency wages led to high productivity, high wages and a high standard of living, but it necessitated a well-educated, well-trained, hard-working labor force. It was not before war time brought full employment that the supply of unskilled labor (that caused structural unemployment) downsized. [179]

Mainstream economics interpretation Edit

Keynesians: halted the collapse but lacked Keynesian deficit spending Edit

At the beginning of the Great Depression, many economists traditionally argued against deficit spending. The fear was that government spending would "crowd out" private investment and would thus not have any effect on the economy, a proposition known as the Treasury view, but Keynesian economics rejected that view. They argued that by spending vastly more money—using fiscal policy—the government could provide the needed stimulus through the multiplier effect. Without that stimulus, business simply would not hire more people, especially the low skilled and supposedly "untrainable" men who had been unemployed for years and lost any job skill they once had. Keynes visited the White House in 1934 to urge President Roosevelt to increase deficit spending. Roosevelt afterwards complained that "he left a whole rigmarole of figures – he must be a mathematician rather than a political economist". [180]

The New Deal tried public works, farm subsidies and other devices to reduce unemployment, but Roosevelt never completely gave up trying to balance the budget. Between 1933 and 1941, the average federal budget deficit was 3% per year. [181] Roosevelt did not fully utilize [ clarification needed ] deficit spending. The effects of federal public works spending were largely offset by Herbert Hoover's large tax increase in 1932, whose full effects for the first time were felt in 1933 and it was undercut by spending cuts, especially the Economy Act. According to Keynesians like Paul Krugman, the New Deal therefore was not as successful in the short run as it was in the long run. [182]

Following the Keynesian consensus (that lasted until the 1970s), the traditional view was that federal deficit spending associated with the war brought full-employment output while monetary policy was just aiding the process. In this view, the New Deal did not end the Great Depression, but halted the economic collapse and ameliorated the worst of the crises. [183]

Monetarist interpretation Edit
Milton Friedman Edit

More influential among economists has been the monetarist interpretation by Milton Friedman as put forth in A Monetary History of the United States, [ citation needed ] which includes a full-scale monetary history of what he calls the "Great Contraction." [184] Friedman concentrated on the failures before 1933 and points out that between 1929 and 1932 the Federal Reserve allowed the money supply to fall by a third which is seen as the major cause that turned a normal recession into a Great Depression. Friedman especially criticized the decisions of Hoover and the Federal Reserve not to save banks going bankrupt. Friedman's arguments got an endorsement from a surprising source when Fed Governor Ben Bernanke made this statement:

Let me end my talk by abusing slightly my status as an official representative of the Federal Reserve. I would like to say to Milton and Anna: Regarding the Great Depression, you're right. We did it. We're very sorry. But thanks to you, we won't do it again. [185] [186]
— Ben S. Bernanke

Monetarists state that the banking and monetary reforms were a necessary and sufficient response to the crises. They reject the approach of Keynesian deficit spending.

You have to distinguish between two classes of New Deal policies. One class of New Deal policies was reform: wage and price control, the Blue Eagle, the national industrial recovery movement. I did not support those. The other part of the new deal policy was relief and recovery . providing relief for the unemployed, providing jobs for the unemployed, and motivating the economy to expand . an expansive monetary policy. Those parts of the New Deal I did support. [187]

Bernanke and Parkinson: cleared the way for a natural recovery Edit

Ben Bernanke and Martin Parkinson declared in "Unemployment, Inflation, and Wages in the American Depression" (1989) that "the New Deal is better characterized as having cleared the way for a natural recovery (for example, by ending deflation and rehabilitating the financial system) rather than as being the engine of recovery itself". [188] [189]

New Keynesian economics: crucial source of recovery Edit

Challenging the traditional view, monetarists and New Keynesians like J. Bradford DeLong, Lawrence Summers and Christina Romer argued that recovery was essentially complete prior to 1942 and that monetary policy was the crucial source of pre-1942 recovery. [190] The extraordinary growth in money supply beginning in 1933 lowered real interest rates and stimulated investment spending. According to Bernanke, there was also a debt-deflation effect of the depression which was clearly offset by a reflation through the growth in money supply. [188] However, before 1992 scholars did not realize that the New Deal provided for a huge aggregate demand stimulus through a de facto easing of monetary policy. While Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz argued in A Monetary History of the United States (1963) that the Federal Reserve System had made no attempt to increase the quantity in high-powered money and thus failed to foster recovery, they somehow did not investigate the impact of the monetary policy of the New Deal. In 1992, Christina Romer explained in "What Ended the Great Depression?" that the rapid growth in money supply beginning in 1933 can be traced back to a large unsterilized gold inflow to the U.S. which was partly due to political instability in Europe, but to a larger degree to the revaluation of gold through the Gold Reserve Act. The Roosevelt administration had chosen not to sterilize the gold inflow precisely because they hoped that the growth of money supply would stimulate the economy. [188]

Replying to DeLong et al. in the Journal of Economic History, J. R. Vernon argues that deficit spending leading up to and during World War II still played a large part in the overall recovery, according to his study "half or more of the recovery occurred during 1941 and 1942". [191]

According to Peter Temin, Barry Wigmore, Gauti B. Eggertsson and Christina Romer, the biggest primary impact of the New Deal on the economy and the key to recovery and to end the Great Depression was brought about by a successful management of public expectations. The thesis is based on the observation that after years of deflation and a very severe recession important economic indicators turned positive just in March 1933 when Roosevelt took office. Consumer prices turned from deflation to mild inflation, industrial production bottomed out in March 1933, investment doubled in 1933 with a turnaround in March 1933. There were no monetary forces to explain that turnaround. Money supply was still falling and short-term interest rates remained close to zero. Before March 1933, people expected a further deflation and recession so that even interest rates at zero did not stimulate investment. However, when Roosevelt announced major regime changes people [ who? ] began to expect inflation and an economic expansion. With those expectations, interest rates at zero began to stimulate investment just as they were expected to do. Roosevelt's fiscal and monetary policy regime change helped to make his policy objectives credible. The expectation of higher future income and higher future inflation stimulated demand and investments. The analysis suggests that the elimination of the policy dogmas of the gold standard, a balanced budget in times of crises and small government led endogenously to a large shift in expectation that accounts for about 70–80 percent of the recovery of output and prices from 1933 to 1937. If the regime change had not happened and the Hoover policy had continued, the economy would have continued its free-fall in 1933 and output would have been 30 percent lower in 1937 than in 1933. [192] [193] [194]

Real business-cycle theory: rather harmful Edit

Followers of the real business-cycle theory believe that the New Deal caused the depression to persist longer than it would otherwise have. Harold L. Cole and Lee E. Ohanian say Roosevelt's policies prolonged the depression by seven years. [195] According to their study, the "New Deal labor and industrial policies did not lift the economy out of the Depression", but that the "New Deal policies are an important contributing factor to the persistence of the Great Depression". They claim that the New Deal "cartelization policies are a key factor behind the weak recovery". They say that the "abandonment of these policies coincided with the strong economic recovery of the 1940s". [196] The study by Cole and Ohanian is based on a real business-cycle theory model. The underlying assumptions of this theory are subject to numerous criticisms and the theory is unable to posit any convincing explanations for the initial causes of the Great Depression. [197] Laurence Seidman noted that according to the assumptions of Cole and Ohanian, the labor market clears instantaneously, which leads to the incredible conclusion that the surge in unemployment between 1929 and 1932 (before the New Deal) was in their opinion both optimal and solely based on voluntary unemployment. [198] Additionally, Cole and Ohanian's argument does not count workers employed through New Deal programs. Such programs built or renovated 2,500 hospitals, 45,000 schools, 13,000 parks and playgrounds, 7,800 bridges, 700,000 miles (1,100,000 km) of roads, 1,000 airfields and employed 50,000 teachers through programs that rebuilt the country's entire rural school system. [199] [200]

Reform Edit

The economic reforms were mainly intended to rescue the capitalist system by providing a more rational framework in which it could operate. The banking system was made less vulnerable. The regulation of the stock market and the prevention of some corporate abuses relating to the sale of securities and corporate reporting addressed the worst excesses. Roosevelt allowed trade unions to take their place in labor relations and created the triangular partnership between employers, employees and government. [85]

David M. Kennedy wrote that "the achievements of the New Deal years surely played a role in determining the degree and the duration of the postwar prosperity". [201]

Paul Krugman stated that the institutions built by the New Deal remain the bedrock of the United States economic stability. Against the background of the 2007–2012 global financial crisis, he explained that the financial crises would have been much worse if the New Deals Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation had not insured most bank deposits and older Americans would have felt much more insecure without Social Security. [182] Economist Milton Friedman after 1960 attacked Social Security from a free market view stating that it had created welfare dependency. [202]

The New Deal banking reform has weakened since the 1980s. The repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 allowed the shadow banking system to grow rapidly. Since it was neither regulated nor covered by a financial safety net, the shadow banking system was central to the financial crisis of 2007–2008 and the subsequent Great Recession. [203]

Impact on federal government and states Edit

While it is essentially consensus among historians and academics that the New Deal brought about a large increase in the power of the federal government, there has been some scholarly debate concerning the results of this federal expansion. Historians like Arthur M. Schlesinger and James T. Patterson have argued that the augmentation of the federal government exacerbated tensions between the federal and state governments. However, contemporaries such as Ira Katznelson have suggested that due to certain conditions on the allocation of federal funds, namely that the individual states get to control them, the federal government managed to avoid any tension with states over their rights. This is a prominent debate concerning the historiography of federalism in the United States and—as Schlesinger and Patterson have observed—the New Deal marked an era when the federal-state power balance shifted further in favor of the federal government, which heightened tensions between the two levels of government in the United States.

Ira Katznelson has argued that although the federal government expanded its power and began providing welfare benefits on a scale previously unknown in the United States, it often allowed individual states to control the allocation of the funds provided for such welfare. This meant that the states controlled who had access to these funds, which in turn meant many Southern states were able to racially segregate—or in some cases, like a number of counties in Georgia, completely exclude African-Americans—the allocation of federal funds. [204] This enabled these states to continue to relatively exercise their rights and also to preserve the institutionalization of the racist order of their societies. While Katznelson has conceded that the expansion of the federal government had the potential to lead to federal-state tension, he has argued it was avoided as these states managed to retain some control. As Katznelson has observed, "they [state governments in the South] had to manage the strain that potentially might be placed on local practices by investing authority in federal bureaucracies [. ]. To guard against this outcome, the key mechanism deployed was a separation of the source of funding from decisions about how to spend the new monies". [205]

However, Schlesinger has disputed Katznelson's claim and has argued that the increase in the power of the federal government was perceived to come at the cost of states' rights, thereby aggravating state governments, which exacerbated federal-state tensions. Schlesinger has utilized quotes from the time to highlight this point and has observed that "the actions of the New Deal, [Ogden L.] Mills said, "abolish the sovereignty of the States. They make of a government of limited powers one of unlimited authority over the lives of us all". [206]

Moreover, Schlesinger has argued that this federal-state tension was not a one-way street and that the federal government became just as aggravated with the state governments as they did with it. State governments were often guilty of inhibiting or delaying federal policies. Whether through intentional methods, like sabotage, or unintentional ones, like simple administrative overload—either way, these problems aggravated the federal government and thus heightened federal-state tensions. Schlesinger has also noted that "students of public administration have never taken sufficient account of the capacity of lower levels of government to sabotage or defy even a masterful President". [207]

James T. Patterson has reiterated this argument, though he observes that this increased tension can be accounted for not just from a political perspective, but from an economic one too. Patterson has argued that the tension between the federal and state governments at least partly also resulted from the economic strain under which the states had been put by the federal government's various policies and agencies. Some states were either simply unable to cope with the federal government's demand and thus refused to work with them, or admonished the economic restraints and actively decided to sabotage federal policies. This was demonstrated, Patterson has noted, with the handling of federal relief money by Ohio governor, Martin L. Davey. The case in Ohio became so detrimental to the federal government that Harry Hopkins, supervisor of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, had to federalize Ohio relief. [208] Although this argument differs somewhat from Schlesinger's, the source of federal-state tension remained the growth of the federal government. As Patterson has asserted, "though the record of the FERA was remarkably good—almost revolutionary—in these respects it was inevitable, given the financial requirements imposed on deficit-ridden states, that friction would develop between governors and federal officials". [209]

In this dispute, it can be inferred that Katznelson and Schlesinger and Patterson have only disagreed on their inference of the historical evidence. While both parties have agreed that the federal government expanded and even that states had a degree of control over the allocation of federal funds, they have disputed the consequences of these claims. Katznelson has asserted that it created mutual acquiescence between the levels of government, while Schlesinger and Patterson have suggested that it provoked contempt for the state governments on the part of the federal government and vice versa, thus exacerbating their relations. In short, irrespective of the interpretation this era marked an important time in the historiography of federalism and also nevertheless provided some narrative on the legacy of federal-state relations.

Charges of fascism Edit

Worldwide, the Great Depression had the most profound impact in Germany and the United States. In both countries the pressure to reform and the perception of the economic crisis were strikingly similar. When Hitler came to power he was faced with exactly the same task that faced Roosevelt, overcoming mass unemployment and the global Depression. The political responses to the crises were essentially different: while American democracy remained strong, Germany replaced democracy with fascism, a Nazi dictatorship. [210]

The initial perception of the New Deal was mixed. On the one hand, the eyes of the world were upon the United States because many American and European democrats saw in Roosevelt's reform program a positive counterweight to the seductive powers of the two great alternative systems, communism and fascism. [211] As the historian Isaiah Berlin wrote in 1955: "The only light in the darkness was the administration of Mr. Roosevelt and the New Deal in the United States". [212]

By contrast, enemies of the New Deal sometimes called it "fascist", but they meant very different things. Communists denounced the New Deal in 1933 and 1934 as fascist in the sense that it was under the control of big business. They dropped that line of thought when Stalin switched to the "Popular Front" plan of cooperation with liberals. [213]

In 1934, Roosevelt defended himself against those critics in a "fireside chat":

[Some] will try to give you new and strange names for what we are doing. Sometimes they will call it 'Fascism', sometimes 'Communism', sometimes 'Regimentation', sometimes 'Socialism'. But, in so doing, they are trying to make very complex and theoretical something that is really very simple and very practical. Plausible self-seekers and theoretical die-hards will tell you of the loss of individual liberty. Answer this question out of the facts of your own life. Have you lost any of your rights or liberty or constitutional freedom of action and choice? [214]

After 1945, only few observers continued to see similarities and later on some scholars such as Kiran Klaus Patel, Heinrich August Winkler and John Garraty came to the conclusion that comparisons of the alternative systems do not have to end in an apology for Nazism since comparisons rely on the examination of both similarities and differences. Their preliminary studies on the origins of the fascist dictatorships and the American (reformed) democracy came to the conclusion that besides essential differences "the crises led to a limited degree of convergence" on the level of economic and social policy. [ disputed – discuss ] The most important cause was the growth of state interventionism since in the face of the catastrophic economic situation both societies no longer counted on the power of the market to heal itself. [215]

John Garraty wrote that the National Recovery Administration (NRA) was based on economic experiments in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, without establishing a totalitarian dictatorship. [216] Contrary to that, historians such as Hawley have examined the origins of the NRA in detail, showing the main inspiration came from Senators Hugo Black and Robert F. Wagner and from American business leaders such as the Chamber of Commerce. The model for the NRA was Woodrow Wilson's War Industries Board, in which Johnson had been involved too. [217] Historians argue that direct comparisons between Fascism and New Deal are invalid since there is no distinctive form of fascist economic organization. [218] Gerald Feldman wrote that fascism has not contributed anything to economic thought and had no original vision of a new economic order replacing capitalism. His argument correlates with Mason's that economic factors alone are an insufficient approach to understand fascism and that decisions taken by fascists in power cannot be explained within a logical economic framework. In economic terms, both ideas were within the general tendency of the 1930s to intervene in the free market capitalist economy, at the price of its laissez-faire character, "to protect the capitalist structure endangered by endogenous crises tendencies and processes of impaired self-regulation". [218]

Stanley Payne, a historian of fascism, examined possible fascist influences in the United States by looking at the KKK and its offshoots and movements led by Father Coughlin and Huey Long. He concluded that "the various populist, nativist, and rightist movements in the United States during the 1920s and 1930s fell distinctly short of fascism". [219] According to Kevin Passmore, lecturer in History at Cardiff University, the failure of fascism in the United States was due to the social policies of the New Deal that channelled anti-establishment populism into the left rather than the extreme right. [220]

Charges of conservativism Edit

The New Deal was generally held in very high regard in scholarship and textbooks. That changed in the 1960s when New Left historians began a revisionist critique calling the New Deal a bandaid for a patient that needed radical surgery to reform capitalism, put private property in its place and lift up workers, women and minorities. [221] The New Left believed in participatory democracy and therefore rejected the autocratic machine politics typical of the big city Democratic organizations. [166]

In a 1968 essay, Barton J. Bernstein compiled a chronicle of missed opportunities and inadequate responses to problems. The New Deal may have saved capitalism from itself, Bernstein charged, but it had failed to help—and in many cases actually harmed—those groups most in need of assistance. In The New Deal (1967), Paul K. Conkin similarly chastised the government of the 1930s for its weak policies toward marginal farmers, for its failure to institute sufficiently progressive tax reform, and its excessive generosity toward select business interests. In 1966, Howard Zinn criticized the New Deal for working actively to actually preserve the worst evils of capitalism.

By the 1970s, liberal historians were responding with a defense of the New Deal based on numerous local and microscopic studies. Praise increasingly focused on Eleanor Roosevelt, seen as a more appropriate crusading reformer than her husband. [222] Since then, research on the New Deal has been less interested in the question of whether the New Deal was a "conservative", "liberal", or "revolutionary" phenomenon than in the question of constraints within which it was operating.

In a series of articles, political sociologist Theda Skocpol has emphasized the issue of "state capacity" as an often-crippling constraint. Ambitious reform ideas often failed, she argued, because of the absence of a government bureaucracy with significant strength and expertise to administer them. Other more recent works have stressed the political constraints that the New Deal encountered. Conservative skepticism about the efficacy of government was strong both in Congress and among many citizens. Thus some scholars have stressed that the New Deal was not just a product of its liberal backers, but also a product of the pressures of its conservative opponents.

Communists in government Edit

During the New Deal the communists established a network of a dozen or so members working for the government. They were low level and had a minor influence on policies. Harold Ware led the largest group which worked in the Agriculture Adjustment Administration (AAA) until Secretary of Agriculture Wallace got rid of them all in a famous purge in 1935. [223] Ware died in 1935 and some individuals such as Alger Hiss moved to other government jobs. [224] [225] Other communists worked for the National Labor Relations Board, the National Youth Administration, the Works Progress Administration, the Federal Theater Project, the Treasury and the Department of State. [226]

Since 1933, politicians and pundits have often called for a "new deal" regarding an object—that is, they demand a completely new, large-scale approach to a project. As Arthur A. Ekirch Jr. (1971) has shown, the New Deal stimulated utopianism in American political and social thought on a wide range of issues. In Canada, Conservative Prime Minister Richard B. Bennett in 1935 proposed a "new deal" of regulation, taxation and social insurance that was a copy of the American program, but Bennett's proposals were not enacted and he was defeated for reelection in October 1935. In accordance with the rise of the use of U.S. political phraseology in Britain, the Labour government of Tony Blair termed some of its employment programs "new deal", in contrast to the Conservative Party's promise of the "British Dream".

The Works Progress Administration subsidized artists, musicians, painters and writers on relief with a group of projects called Federal One. While the WPA program was by far the most widespread, it was preceded by three programs administered by the US Treasury which hired commercial artists at usual commissions to add murals and sculptures to federal buildings. The first of these efforts was the short-lived Public Works of Art Project, organized by Edward Bruce, an American businessman and artist. Bruce also led the Treasury Department's Section of Painting and Sculpture (later renamed the Section of Fine Arts) and the Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP). The Resettlement Administration (RA) and Farm Security Administration (FSA) had major photography programs. The New Deal arts programs emphasized regionalism, social realism, class conflict, proletarian interpretations and audience participation. The unstoppable collective powers of common man, contrasted to the failure of individualism, was a favorite theme. [227] [228]

Post Office murals and other public art, painted by artists in this time, can still be found at many locations around the U.S. [229] The New Deal particularly helped American novelists. For journalists and the novelists who wrote non-fiction, the agencies and programs that the New Deal provided, allowed these writers to describe what they really saw around the country. [230]

Many writers chose to write about the New Deal and whether they were for or against it and if it was helping the country out. Some of these writers were Ruth McKenney, Edmund Wilson and Scott Fitzgerald. [231] Another subject that was very popular for novelists was the condition of labor. They ranged from subjects on social protest to strikes. [232]

Under the WPA, the Federal Theatre project flourished. Countless theatre productions around the country were staged. This allowed thousands of actors and directors to be employed, among them were Orson Welles, and John Huston. [229]

The FSA photography project is most responsible for creating the image of the Depression in the U.S. Many of the images appeared in popular magazines. The photographers were under instruction from Washington as to what overall impression the New Deal wanted to give out. Director Roy Stryker's agenda focused on his faith in social engineering, the poor conditions among cotton tenant farmers and the very poor conditions among migrant farm workers—above all he was committed to social reform through New Deal intervention in people's lives. Stryker demanded photographs that "related people to the land and vice versa" because these photographs reinforced the RA's position that poverty could be controlled by "changing land practices". Though Stryker did not dictate to his photographers how they should compose the shots, he did send them lists of desirable themes, such as "church", "court day", "barns". [233]

Films of the late New Deal era such as Citizen Kane (1941) ridiculed so-called "great men" while the heroism of the common man appeared in numerous movies, such as The Grapes of Wrath (1940). Thus in Frank Capra's famous films, including Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Meet John Doe (1941) and It's a Wonderful Life (1946), the common people come together to battle and overcome villains who are corrupt politicians controlled by very rich, greedy capitalists. [234]

By contrast, there was also a smaller but influential stream of anti–New Deal art. Gutzon Borglum's sculptures on Mount Rushmore emphasized great men in history (his designs had the approval of Calvin Coolidge). Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway disliked the New Deal and celebrated the autonomy of perfected written work as opposed to the New Deal idea of writing as performative labor. The Southern Agrarians celebrated premodern regionalism and opposed the TVA as a modernizing, disruptive force. Cass Gilbert, a conservative who believed architecture should reflect historic traditions and the established social order, designed the new Supreme Court building (1935). Its classical lines and small size contrasted sharply with the gargantuan modernistic federal buildings going up in the Washington Mall that he detested. [235] Hollywood managed to synthesize liberal and conservative streams as in Busby Berkeley's Gold Digger musicals, where the storylines exalt individual autonomy while the spectacular musical numbers show abstract populations of interchangeable dancers securely contained within patterns beyond their control. [236]

The New Deal had many programs and new agencies, most of which were universally known by their initials. Most were abolished during World War II while others remain in operation today or formed into different programs. They included the following:

    (NYA), 1935: program that focused on providing work and education for Americans between the ages of 16 and 25. Ended in 1943. (RFC): a Hoover agency expanded under Jesse Holman Jones to make large loans to big business. Ended in 1954.
    (FERA): a Hoover program to create unskilled jobs for relief expanded by Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins replaced by WPA in 1935. , 1933: closed all banks until they became certified by federal reviewers.
  • Abandonment of gold standard, 1933: gold reserves no longer backed currency still exists. (CCC), 1933–1942: employed young men to perform unskilled work in rural areas under United States Army supervision separate program for Native Americans. (HOLC): helped people keep their homes, the government bought properties from the bank allowing people to pay the government instead of the banks in installments they could afford, keeping people in their homes and banks afloat. (TVA), 1933: effort to modernize very poor region (most of Tennessee), centered on dams that generated electricity on the Tennessee River still exists. (AAA), 1933: raised farm prices by cutting total farm output of major crops and livestock replaced by a new AAA because the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. (NIRA), 1933: industries set up codes to reduce unfair competition, raise wages and prices ended 1935. The Supreme Court ruled the NIRA unconstitutional. (PWA), 1933: built large public works projects used private contractors (did not directly hire unemployed). Ended 1938. (FDIC): insures bank deposits and supervises state banks still exists. : regulates investment banking repealed 1999 (not repealed, only two provisions changed). , created the SEC, 1933: codified standards for sale and purchase of stock, required awareness of investments to be accurately disclosed still exists.
    (REA): one of the federal executive departments of the United States government charged with providing public utilities (electricity, telephone, water, sewer) to rural areas in the U.S. via public-private partnerships. still exists. (RA): resettled poor tenant farmers replaced by Farm Security Administration in 1935. (FSA): helped poor farmers by a variety of economic and educational programs some programs still exist as part of the Farmers Home Administration.

Depression statistics Edit

"Most indexes worsened until the summer of 1932, which may be called the low point of the depression economically and psychologically". [238] Economic indicators show the American economy reached nadir in summer 1932 to February 1933, then began recovering until the recession of 1937–1938. Thus the Federal Reserve Industrial Production Index hit its low of 52.8 on July 1, 1932 and was practically unchanged at 54.3 on March 1, 1933, but by July 1, 1933 it reached 85.5 (with 1935–39 = 100 and for comparison 2005 = 1,342). [239] In Roosevelt's 12 years in office, the economy had an 8.5% compound annual growth of GDP, [240] the highest growth rate in the history of any industrial country, [241] but recovery was slow and by 1939 the gross domestic product (GDP) per adult was still 27% below trend. [196]

Works Progress Administration established by Congress as part of FDR’s “New Deal” - HISTORY


In 1933 the new president, Franklin Roosevelt, brought an air of confidence and optimism that quickly rallied the people to the banner of his program, known as the New Deal. "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," the president declared in his inaugural address to the nation.

In a certain sense, it is fair to say that the New Deal merely introduced types of social and economic reform familiar to many Europeans for more than a generation. Moreover, the New Deal represented the culmination of a long-range trend toward abandonment of "laissez-faire" capitalism, going back to the regulation of the railroads in the 1880s, and the flood of state and national reform legislation introduced in the Progressive era of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

What was truly novel about the New Deal, however, was the speed with which it accomplished what previously had taken generations. In fact, many of the reforms were hastily drawn and weakly administered some actually contradicted others. And during the entire New Deal era, public criticism and debate were never interrupted or suspended in fact, the New Deal brought to the individual citizen a sharp revival of interest in government.

When Roosevelt took the presidential oath, the banking and credit system of the nation was in a state of paralysis. With astonishing rapidity the nation's banks were first closed -- and then reopened only if they were solvent. The administration adopted a policy of moderate currency inflation to start an upward movement in commodity prices and to afford some relief to debtors. New governmental agencies brought generous credit facilities to industry and agriculture. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insured savings-bank deposits up to $5,000, and severe regulations were imposed upon the sale of securities on the stock exchange.

By 1933 millions of Americans were out of work. Bread lines were a common sight in most cities. Hundreds of thousands roamed the country in search of food, work and shelter. "Brother, can you spare a dime?" went the refrain of a popular song.

An early step for the unemployed came in the form of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a program enacted by Congress to bring relief to young men between 18 and 25 years of age. Run in semi-military style, the CCC enrolled jobless young men in work camps across the country for about $30 per month. About 2 million young men took part during the decade. They participated in a variety of conservation projects: planting trees to combat soil erosion and maintain national forests eliminating stream pollution creating fish, game and bird sanctuaries and conserving coal, petroleum, shale, gas, sodium and helium deposits.

Work relief came in the form of the Civil Works Administration. Although criticized as "make work," the jobs funded ranged from ditch digging to highway repairs to teaching. Created in November 1933, it was abandoned in the spring of 1934. Roosevelt and his key officials, however, continued to favor unemployment programs based on work relief rather than welfare.

The New Deal years were characterized by a belief that greater regulation would solve many of the country's problems. In 1933, for example, Congress passed the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) to provide economic relief to farmers. The AAA had at its core a plan to raise crop prices by paying farmers a subsidy to compensate for voluntary cutbacks in production. Funds for the payments would be generated by a tax levied on industries that processed crops. By the time the act had become law, however, the growing season was well underway, and the AAA encouraged farmers to plow under their abundant crops. Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace called this activity a "shocking commentary on our civilization." Nevertheless, through the AAA and the Commodity Credit Corporation, a program which extended loans for crops kept in storage and off the market, output dropped.

Between 1932 and 1935, farm income increased by more than 50 percent, but only partly because of federal programs. During the same years that farmers were being encouraged to take land out of production -- displacing tenants and sharecroppers -- a severe drought hit the Great Plains states, significantly reducing farm production. Violent wind and dust storms ravaged the southern Great Plains in what became known as the "Dust Bowl," throughout the 1930s, but particularly from 1935 to 1938. Crops were destroyed, cars and machinery were ruined, people and animals were harmed. Approximately 800,000 people, often called "Okies," left Arkansas, Texas, Missouri and Oklahoma during the 1930s and 1940s. Most headed farther west to the land of myth and promise, California. The migrants were not only farmers, but also professionals, retailers and others whose livelihoods were connected to the health of the farm communities. California was not the place of their dreams, at least initially. Most migrants ended up competing for seasonal jobs picking crops at extremely low wages.

The government provided aid in the form of the Soil Conservation Service, established in 1935. Farm practices that had damaged the soil had intensified the severity of the storms, and the Service taught farmers measures to reduce erosion. In addition, almost 30,000 kilometers of trees were planted to break the force of winds.

Although the AAA had been mostly successful, it was abandoned in 1936, when the tax on food processors was ruled unconstitutional. Six weeks later Congress passed a more effective farm-relief act, which authorized the government to make payments to farmers who reduced plantings of soil-depleting crops -- thereby achieving crop reduction through soil conservation practices.

By 1940 nearly 6 million farmers were receiving federal subsidies under this program. The new act likewise provided loans on surplus crops, insurance for wheat and a system of planned storage to ensure a stable food supply. Soon, prices of agricultural commodities rose, and economic stability for the farmer began to seem possible.

The National Recovery Administration (NRA), established in 1933 with the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), attempted to end cut-throat competition by setting codes of fair competitive practice to generate more jobs and thus more buying. Although the NRA was welcomed initially, business complained bitterly of over-regulation as recovery began to take hold. The NRA was declared unconstitutional in 1935. By this time other policies were fostering recovery, and the government soon took the position that administered prices in certain lines of business were a severe drain on the national economy and a barrier to recovery.

It was also during the New Deal that organized labor made greater gains than at any previous time in American history. NIRA had guaranteed to labor the right of collective bargaining (bargaining as a unit representing individual workers with industry). Then in 1935 Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act, which defined unfair labor practices, gave workers the right to bargain through unions of their own choice and prohibited employers from interfering with union activities. It also created the National Labor Relations Board to supervise collective bargaining, administer elections and ensure workers the right to choose the organization that should represent them in dealing with employers.

The great progress made in labor organization brought working people a growing sense of common interests, and labor's power increased not only in industry but also in politics. This power was exercised largely within the framework of the two major parties, however, and the Democratic Party generally received more union support than the Republicans.

In its early years, the New Deal sponsored a remarkable series of legislative initiatives and achieved significant increases in production and prices -- but it did not bring an end to the Depression. And as the sense of immediate crisis eased, new demands emerged. Businessmen mourned the end of "laissez-faire" and chafed under the regulations of the NIRA. Vocal attacks also mounted from the political left and right as dreamers, schemers and politicians alike emerged with economic panaceas that drew wide audiences of those dissatisfied with the pace of recovery. They included Francis E. Townsend's plan for generous old-age pensions the inflationary suggestions of Father Coughlin, the radio priest who blamed international bankers in speeches increasingly peppered with anti-Semitic imagery and most formidably, the "Every Man a King" plan of Huey P. Long, senator and former governor of Louisiana, the powerful and ruthless spokesman of the displaced who ran the state like a personal fiefdom. (If he had not been assassinated, Long very likely would have launched a presidential challenge to Franklin Roosevelt in 1936.)

In the face of these pressures from left and right, President Roosevelt backed a new set of economic and social measures. Prominent among these were measures to fight poverty, to counter unemployment with work and to provide a social safety net.

The Works Progress Administration (WPA), the principal relief agency of the so-called second New Deal, was an attempt to provide work rather than welfare. Under the WPA, buildings, roads, airports and schools were constructed. Actors, painters, musicians and writers were employed through the Federal Theater Project, the Federal Art Project and the Federal Writers Project. In addition, the National Youth Administration gave part-time employment to students, established training programs and provided aid to unemployed youth. The WPA only included about three million jobless at a time when it was abandoned in 1943 it had helped a total of 9 million people.

But the New Deal's cornerstone, according to Roosevelt, was the Social Security Act of 1935. Social Security created a system of insurance for the aged, unemployed and disabled based on employer and employee contributions. Many other industrialized nations had already enacted such programs, but calls for such an initiative in the United States by the Progressives in the early 1900s had gone unheeded. Although conservatives complained that the Social Security system went against American traditions, it was actually relatively conservative. Social Security was funded in large part by taxes on the earnings of current workers, with a single fixed rate for all regardless of income. To Roosevelt, these limitations on the programs were compromises to ensure passage. Although its origins were initially quite modest, Social Security today is one of the largest domestic programs administered by the U.S. government.

In 1936, the Republican Party nominated Alfred M. Landon, the relatively liberal governor of Kansas, to oppose Roosevelt. Despite all the complaints leveled at the New Deal, Roosevelt won an even more decisive victory than in 1932. He took 60 percent of the population and carried all states except Maine and Vermont. In this election, a broad new coalition aligned with the Democratic Party emerged, consisting of labor, most farmers, immigrants and urban ethnic groups from East and Southern Europe, African Americans and the South. The Republican Party received the support of business as well as middle-class members of small towns and suburbs. This political alliance, with some variation and shifting, remained intact for several decades.

From 1932 to 1938 there was widespread public debate on the meaning of New Deal policies to the nation's political and economic life. It became obvious that Americans wanted the government to take greater responsibility for the welfare of the nation. Indeed, historians generally credit the New Deal with establishing the foundations of the modern welfare state in the United States. Some New Deal critics argued that the indefinite extension of government functions would eventually undermine the liberties of the people. But President Roosevelt insisted that measures fostering economic well-being would strengthen liberty and democracy.

In a radio address in 1938, Roosevelt reminded the American people that:

Democracy has disappeared in several other great nations, not because the people of those nations disliked democracy, but because they had grown tired of unemployment and insecurity, of seeing their children hungry while they sat helpless in the face of government confusion and government weakness through lack of leadership. Finally, in desperation, they chose to sacrifice liberty in the hope of getting something to eat. We in America know that our democratic institutions can be preserved and made to work. But in order to preserve them we need. to prove that the practical operation of democratic government is equal to the task of protecting the security of the people. The people of America are in agreement in defending their liberties at any cost, and the first line of the defense lies in the protection of economic security.

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

Once I built a railroad, I made it run
I made it race against time
Once I built a railroad, now it's done
Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once I built a tower, up to the sun
Bricks and mortar and lime
Once I built a tower, now it's done
Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell
Full of that Yankee-Doodly-dum
Half a million boots went slogging through Hell
And I was the kid with the drum

Say, don't you remember, you called me "Al"
It was "Al" all the time
Say don't you remember, I was your pal
Brother, can you spare a dime?

New Deal Cultural Programs:

Introduction: Federal Cultural Programs of the 1930's

Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal cultural programs marked the U.S. government's first big, direct investment in cultural development. In many ways, they present a mirror image of today's federal policy picture: their goals were clearly stated and democratic they supported activities not already subsidized by private sector patrons, rather than following private patrons' leads and they emphasized the interrelatedness of culture with all aspects of life, not the separateness of a rarefied art world.

The New Deal programs were inspired by many sources. For some, the New Deal offered a chance to act on the exciting ideas of Mexican muralists in their struggle to create a new public art not constrained by the conventions of the European art world. For others, inspiration came from the practical work that had been done in the settlement houses and rural extension services from new progressive educational theories from the new definitions of art that had come out of the Russian Revolution from the Group Theater and other experiments in politically-conscious, collaborative art and from dozens of other influences.

The main federal cultural programs of the ཚs were based on concern for a labor market: professional artists and others engaged in cultural work. The skyrocketing popularity of media like the phonograph, radio and movies had recently supplanted many thousands of live performers: some 30,000 musicians had been displaced by new mechanical modes of music reproduction the government estimated that well over 30,000 theater workers were unemployed by the mid-ཚs. With over 70 million movie tickets being sold every week, live theaters were closing all over the United States. The Loew's theater chain boasted 36 houses offering 40-50 weeks of live entertainment each year before 1930 by 1934, Loew's had only three such houses operating. These new electronic media resulted in "technological unemployment" for workers in the live media. <1>

The concern for professional artists' employment dovetailed with the federal programs of the 1930s. Chronic unemployment was the central and most persistent feature of the Depression: by 1932, estimates of the total number unemployed ranged from 8 to 17 million workers -- this, at a time when the total U.S. population was just 125 million. A variety of federal efforts were taken to address unemployment in cultural fields.

Early New Deal Programs: PWAP and FERA

George Biddle is credited with first suggesting a federal arts program to FDR. A classmate of Roosevelt's at Groton, Biddle had studied painting with famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera and was inspired by the Mexican mural movement of the ཐs to a vision of a socially-conscious public art movement in the U.S. He wrote to Roosevelt in 1933, suggesting that he and a team of muralists embellish the new Justice Department building in Washington, D.C.

The notion of public artwork wasn't new to FDR: During Roosevelt's governorship of New York, state relief director Harry Hopkins had allocated funds to New York City's College Art Association to employ around 100 artists in settlement houses. Roosevelt turned Biddle's suggestion over to the Treasury Department, responsible for construction of federal buildings. There, a lawyer-turned-painter on the staff -- Edward Bruce -- was asked for advice. Biddle's project was approved, and Bruce was put in charge of organizational groundwork. He went on to develop a much larger program: the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP).

PWAP was part of the Civil Works Administration (CWA), an experimental program in federal work relief, providing the unemployed with public service jobs during the bitter winter of 1933-34. PWAP employed artists to create works to embellish public buildings -- including one painting for each member of Congress as well as for public schools, orphanages, libraries, museums and practically every other type of public building. PWAP exhibitions in many cities were well-attended: 33,000 people showed up in a single day for an opening in Los Angeles. PWAP ended in April, 1934, along with the rest of the CWA.

Another short-lived, early New Deal program was FERA. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration, established in 1933, made federal grants to bolster efforts of state and local governments. Some units of artists receiving support from state and local governments also received funds from FERA these included some PWAP artists whose work was continued under FERA after PWAP's demise. Some 450 theater workers, for example, formed small performing units that played spot bookings in several major cities from 193335 some continued on even longer, under the aegis of later New Deal programs.

In the fall of 1934, building on his success with PWAP, Edward Bruce was named to head up the new Department of the Treasury Section of Painting & Sculpture, later known as the Section of Fine Arts. The Treasury Section was responsible for fitting out federal buildings with artwork. Funds for artwork were allocated on a case-by-base basis to selected facilities, except for a brief period in 1939, when the U.S. had a short-lived "percent-for-art" provision. This arrangement sets aside 1% of overall construction costs for the purchase or commissioning of artwork various states and municipal governments have introduced such provisions since the 1960's, though "percent-for-art" has not been reenacted since the ཚs at the federal level.

Many Treasury Section artists were chosen by competition: 190 competitions were held entries included more than 40,000 sketches by some 15,000 artists. Eventually, the Treasury awarded 1,371 commissions.

In the spring of 1935, the Treasury Section introduced another program: the Treasury Relief Art Program (TRAP). TRAP was established with a $530,000 grant to the Treasury from the Works Progress Administration (the WPA, discussed in the next section). Bruce felt he could overlook the WPA's requirement that 90% of the artists employed with its funds be drawn from the relief rolls, insisting, "There are not enough artists on relief to do our job and maintain the quality for which we stand." This reverence for the elusive notion of "quality" opened the Treasury Section to the heaviest criticism of all New Deal programs from what was then a highly organized and politically conscious community of artists. The ensuing controversies anticipate those which have plagued public cultural agencies established since the 1960s.

When the WPA enforced its requirement to draw artists mainly from the relief rolls, Bruce slowed TRAP hiring, holding the Program's payroll to 289. Protests by artists' unions throughout 1936 succeeded in forcing TRAP's payroll up to its highest level of 356 but never did TRAP attain its authorized level of 450 artists.

Perhaps best-known of all the Treasury Section's projects was the placement of murals in at least one post office in each state. A thousand artists submitted nearly 1,500 designs. The Section's stated wish was that these murals reflect the unique regional attributes of each selected site. But in practice this boiled down to a crude formula: some artists were selected for a mural in one region on the basis of designs submitted with another region in mind. They were then required to change, say, a cactus into a sycamore, or lumberjacks into cowboys to adapt to "local culture." Such were the contradictions of attempting to mandate regionalism from a program centralized in Washington, DC.

The Works Progress Administration (WPA)

The largest and most important of the New Deal cultural programs was the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a massive employment relief program launched in the spring of 1935 -- the beginning of FDR's "Second New Deal," as his second term came to be known. In his Annual Message to Congress on January 4 of that year, Roosevelt spoke critically of the failure of his administration's first-term efforts:

Though the New Deal failed to accomplish the fundamental structural changes FDR's words suggest, his administration entered its second phase in 1935 with a renewed commitment to long-range and sweeping reform of American institutions, emphasizing social justice.

Persistent unemployment was a continuing concern, and Roosevelt felt that simply doling out relief payments would mean "spiritual and moral disintegration destructive to the national fibre." <3> On May 6, 1935, the Works Progress Administration was established under the direction of long-time FDR aide Harry Hopkins. The WPA philosophy was to put the unemployed back to work in jobs which would serve the public good and conserve the skills and the self-esteem of workers throughout the U.S.

The Birth of "Federal One"

Work began immediately on the WPA's Federal Project Number One. Known as "Federal One," the project comprised five major divisions: the Federal Art Project, the Federal Music Project, the Federal Theatre Project, the Federal Writers Project and the Historical Records Survey. Each was headed by a national director. Just one year after the five national directors first met in Washington, some 40,000 WPA artists and other cultural workers were employed in projects throughout the United States.

Federal One was unique among all U.S. government efforts, before or since, in attempting to articulate and accomplish broad public cultural goals. The designers of the WPA rejected the idea of setting up a program of subsidy for existing arts organizations. Instead of providing direct federal grants to these institutions, WPA leaders sought to break new ground with federal cultural support. As Federal Theatre Project director Hallie Flanagan said of her division, "We all believed that theater was more than a private enterprise, that it was also a public interest which, properly fostered, might come to be a social and educative force." <4>

Committed to developing work which would serve genuinely public goals, each component division of Federal One became an innovative producer of cultural programs. Federal One projects involved a far greater degree of national direction than public arts administrators of the post-1960s era have considered appropriate. Ironically, though, this strong central direction succeeded in fostering more regional differentiation than have the superficially more flexible public arts programs of our day.

The apparent contradiction between the WPA cultural programs' centralized direction and their exceptional ability to support truly diverse regional work is resolved in part by a closer look at their basic premises. WPA projects took place all over the country, wherever unemployed artists could be found. The cultural impact of this simple fact was far-reaching, summed up by Holger Cahill, director of the Federal Art Project, in a 1939 speech:

The component projects of Federal One went about their work of defining national directions in a variety of ways, as a summary of each project's main activities indicates:

At its height in 1936, the FAP employed 5,300 visual artists and related professionals. Director Cahill oversaw several major endeavors: a murals project executed more than 2,500 murals in hospitals, schools and other public places an easel painting division produced nearly 108,000 paintings a sculpture division produced some 18,000 pieces a graphic arts workshop a photography project served mainly to document the WPA a scenic design division provided models of historic stage sets and architectural models for planning and educational use a poster division and a stained glass division centered in New York.

The Federal Art Project also compiled a 22,000-plate Index of American Design, dispatching artists to record a wide variety of American designs in furnishings and artifacts from the colonial period on. The Arts Service Division provided illustrations and the like to the WPA's writers, musicians and theaters. The Exhibitions Division organized public showings of all WPA artists and students.

Hundreds of teachers were employed by the Art Teaching Division in settlement houses and community centers in the New York City area alone, an estimated 50,000 children and adults participated in classes each week. The FAP also set up and staffed 100 arts centers in 22 states these included galleries, classrooms and community workshops and served an estimated eight million people. These local centers also received some $825,000 in local support some survive to this day.

Many artists who have since become famous were part of FAP. Philip Guston, Moses Soyer, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Jacob Laurence, Ivan Albright, Marsden Hartley, Philip Evergood, Mark Tobey -- these were just a few of the painters for whom the FAP provided a living and the chance to find "a new orientation and a new hope and purpose based on a new sense of social responsibility." <6>

Employing around 16,000 musicians at its peak, this project was directed by a former conductor of the Cleveland Symphony, Nikolai Sokoloff. Federal Music Project ensembles -- orchestras and chamber groups choral and opera units concert, military and dance bands and theater orchestras -- presented an estimated 5,000 performances before some three million people each week. Music projects had local cosponsors -- schools or colleges, government or civic groups -- and small admissions charges helped meet costs.

The Federal Music Project also provided classes in rural areas and urban neighborhoods in 1939, an estimated 132,000 children and adults in 27 states received instruction every week. A Composers Forum Laboratory afforded composers in several major cities the opportunity to hear their work performed with complete instrumentation. The Index of American Composers paralleled the Design Index, cataloguing 5,500 works by 1,500 composers WPA ensembles performed every one of these catalogued works. Extensive recording of folk music was carried out, especially in the Southeast and South Central regions. WPA workers also pioneered in music therapy experimentation. Finally, Music Project workers also served as copyists, arrangers and librarians, expanding the availability of musical work.

Directed by Hallie Flanagan, an old friend of Harry Hopkins' from Iowa, the Theatre Project employed 12,700 theater workers at its peak. State units were established in 31 states and New York City, with most states in turn creating more than one company or unit within their own jurisdictions. Federal Theatre units presented more than 1,000 performances each month before nearly one million people -- 78% of these audience members were admitted free of charge, many seeing live theater for the first time. The Federal Theatre Project produced over 1,200 plays in its four-year history, introducing 100 new playwrights.

In addition to its production units, the Federal Theatre Project reached an estimated 10 million listeners with its "Federal Theatre of the Air," broadcast over all the major networks. The FTP's National Service Bureau provided research, consultation and play-reading services to all the units. The Federal Theatre Magazine united the disparate FTP components, describing and criticizing the work of units nationwide.

Many film and theater people, some later to become wealthy and successful in Hollywood, took part in the FTP, among them Orson Welles, John Houseman, Burt Lancaster, Joseph Cotten, Canada Lee, Will Geer, Joseph Losey, Virgil Thompson, Nicholas Ray, E.G. Marshall and Sidney Lumet.

The Federal Writers Project employed 6,686 writers at its peak in April 1936, with active projects in all 48 states and the District of Columbia. Directed by Henry Alsberg until 1939, the Writers Project had produced 3.5 million copies of 800 titles by October, 1941.

The Federal Writers Project is best-known for its American Guide Series, intended to produce comprehensive guidebooks for every state, Alaska, Guam, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. similar guides were published for many localities. Each guide included detailed descriptions of towns and villages, waterways, historic sites and the like, often along with extensive collections of oral history and folklore, essays about local life, photographs and other artwork. Exception for the ponderous flagship of the Series, the two-volume guide to Washington, D.C., each edition was published at the expense of local cosponsors. To this day, the American Guide Series constitutes the most comprehensive encyclopedia of Americana ever published several volumes have been reissued recently, some in updated form.

Other activities of the Federal Writers Project included studies on such topics as architecture, science for children, and American Indians. Among the most important are oral history archives created by FWP workers, including priceless archives like the Slave Narratives and collections of folklore. In addition to working on FWP projects, writers provided research, writing and editorial services to other government agencies.

Among many other participants in the FWP were Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, Studs Terkel, John Cheever, Saul Bellow, Margaret Walker, Arna Bontemps and Zora Neale Hurston.

The smallest component of Federal One, the Survey employed archivists to identify, collect and conserve historical records throughout the United States.

It is easy to find fault with Federal One. Thanks to archivists who've retrieved WPA documents from warehouses and garbage dumps, and to Federal One veterans who've produced memoirs and analyses, the projects are extensively documented. There are plenty of anecdotes illustrating the insensitivity of bureaucrats, the clumsiness of politicians' interventions, the attacks of censors and the perils of centralized control. Federal One didn't effect a complete transformation of the cultural landscape when it was over, cultural production and distribution returned to something very much like the patterns they had taken earlier. It has been argued that the projects served as pacifiers, containing a potentially radical and threatening artists' movement by converting it to a form of government service.

But Federal One cannot be written off as hopelessly flawed. It might be argued that for the narratives of former slaves alone -- for first-person accounts of this pivotal experience in the history of the U.S. -- Federal One was worth it. The FTP served as a laboratory for theatrical forms, some of which still seem fresh and new today. Federal One created opportunities for artists who would have had the greatest difficulties sustaining their work otherwise and for thousands of people who might never have been able to paint or write or attend live theater themselves.

Though these Federal One projects were mandated nationally, they were conceived with local cultural situations in mind. The regional and oral history collections compiled by the Federal Writers Project, the music and art projects' composers and design indexes -- these and many WPA initiatives documented a past that the private sector had neither the interest nor the resources to preserve -- neither in the ཚs nor today.

Special emphasis was placed on preserving and promoting minority cultural forms. So, for example, black theater companies were established in Birmingham, Boston, Chicago, Hartford, Los Angeles, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Raleigh, San Francisco and Seattle -- all places where economic and social conditions had made it impossible for black theater to exist outside of the fast-disappearing vaudeville stage. Similarly, foreign language companies performed works in French, German, Italian, Spanish and Yiddish though eager audiences existed for these productions, mounting them for profit had become impossible.

In short, the New Deal cultural projects took responsibility for our cultural commonwealth. They took on the task of recording history -- including many parts otherwise deemed too painful or embarrassing to mention. More than that, they strove to promote cultural life where private action had failed or even done it positive harm.

Within the large, centrally-directed frameworks of Federal One projects, considerable allowance was made for regional differences. The Oklahoma Federal Theatre was a case in point. Oklahoma had few theater professionals, so they had to be used wisely and fully by state directors. The Oklahoma theater project established a service bureau which "ultimately furnished plays, radio scripts, or dramatic source material to over 200 dramatic clubs in educational institutions. The playwright's group expanded to include 66 young writers." The Oklahoma theater carried out extensive historical research throughout the state, using radio to contact people who might provide historical information. It also ran a theater for the blind ten recreation centers serving both black and white communities and the Vagabond Puppeteers, which toured Civilian Conservation Corps camps. <7>

The WPA cultural projects also enabled a great deal of experimentation in the form and content of artwork. Designed in consultation with artists' unions, commercial producers and other arts community leaders, Federal One projects made possible work that was acknowledged as important but impossible to undertake in existing private settings. In many cases, this placed the federal government in the role of taking risks for private entrepreneurs no longer willing or able to gamble on new material. The Federal Theatre Project, for example, set up a "try-out" theater in New York City to assess the potential of new material for commercial production: its first production, Woman of Destiny , was subsequently sold to the movies for $25,000 the second, Backwash , was sold to a Broadway producer.

The Theatre Project introduced important formal innovations. The "Living Newspaper" is perhaps the best-known of these, emerging as the hallmark of the FTP's work. The Living Newspaper began with WPA journalists researching social issues of the day. The material they gathered was transformed into a new form of documentary theater -- large-cast, multimedia productions, innovatively staged. Living Newspapers pioneered techniques that are still seen as part of "experimental" theater for instance, photographs, animation sequences and short films were projected onto scrims, adding layers of visual information to the dimensions provided by live actors and fixed scenery. Amplified voices and offstage loudspeakers supplemented the live voices of actors, commenting on the action, posing questions, adding factual information and crowd noise. Living Newspapers were often produced simultaneously in several cities, sometimes with local variations. The most famous "edition," One-Third of a Nation , was produced in 11 cities. It gave dramatic form to FDR's famous statement, "I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad and ill-nourished."

The New Deal cultural programs were marred by censorship. When WPA chief Harry Hopkins announced the formation of the Federal Theatre at the National Theater Conference in 1935, he referred to a theme that would figure importantly in the development and demise of the FTP and other components of Federal One:

Despite Hopkins' pledge, the first act of censorship took place six months later. The first Living Newspaper, Ethiopia , portrayed Haile Selassie and Mussolini in the wake of the Italian invasion. When the New York FTP unit tried to get a recording of President Roosevelt's speech on Ethiopia to use in the production, the White House became alarmed at the content of the piece and banned the impersonation of any foreign ruler on the Federal Theatre stage. This order prompted Elmer Rice's resignation as the first director of the New York City FTP Unit <9>, though it did not usher in any period of censorship by executive order. Censorship did recur, but its sources and causes were diverse.

State and local WPA officials were the most frequent transgressors of Harry Hopkins' stated intention. When the New York City WPA director was looking to purge his program of radical artists, he spotted trouble in a four-panel mural at Brooklyn's Floyd Bennett Airport: he had three panels torn down and burned after he saw a figure who looked like Lenin and a plane with a red star that looked Soviet. The artist was fired, though he brought in his source photos to prove that the Lenin lookalike was really an early parachutist and the plane a U.S. model.

Illinois's WPA administrator shut down Paul Green's Hymn to the Rising Sun , the second production of the Chicago Negro Company, while the opening night crowd was milling around in the lobby. He sputtered that the play, was "of such a moral character that I can't even discuss it with a member of the press." The play dealt with the use of chain-gang labor in the South its moral character didn't prevent it from opening later in New York, to rave reviews.

Despite the reservations of censors, WPA projects were highly popular with audiences and critics, and reviews were generally favorable. Press was divided: accounts in liberal newspapers urged the establishment of permanent local projects upon foundations laid through Federal One support. But papers opposed to the New Deal capitalized on every act of censorship or problem in the programs.

Artists, too, envisioned a future for the projects in the words of painter Stuart Davis, then secretary of the American Artists' Congress, "The artists of America do not look upon the art projects as a temporary stopgap measure, but see in them the beginning of a new and better day for art in this country." <10> Larger forces were to intervene, however.

In a sense, Federal One itself ultimately fell to the censors. As the ཚs drew on, the WPA became the most frequent target of New Deal critics in Congress and the press. Federal One, as a highly visible and controversial part of the larger agency, provided an especially good target for FDR's enemies. Their attacks led to the ultimate censorship: the termination of the projects.

By 1938, a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats began to press their opposition to New Deal cultural policies. Late in July, 1938, Representative J. Parnell Thomas of the House Committee to Investigate Un-American Activities (HUAC, also known in the ཚs as the "Dies Committee," after its chair Martin Dies) claimed that he had "startling evidence" that the Theatre and Writers Projects were "a hotbed of Communists" and "one more link in the vast and unparalleled New Deal propaganda network." He announced that an investigation would be launched.

In its first six weeks of investigations, centering on Boston, New York City and San Francisco, the Dies Committee commanded some 500 column inches in The New York Times (as well as extensive coverage in other media) with no chance for rebuttal from either project. The Committee produced a small parade of disaffected former WPA workers who testified that the Projects were tools of the Communist Party designed to breed class hatred in the United States. The hearings came on the heels of a campaign to withdraw the Massachusetts edition of the American Guide Series, which included in its 675 pages 31 lines on the Sacco-Vanzetti case (in which two Italian immigrant anarchist activists had been executed over nationwide protests). <11> Similarly, the New Jersey state guidebook was criticized for its depiction of the 1935 shipbuilders' strike according to Rep. Thomas, the guide was "written as if there had been trouble between capital and labor." The Dies Committee reported that "Communist phraseology had been inserted in guides from the states and here in Washington." <12>

Just as the Dies Committee report was being issued and a further investigation launched, Rep. Clifton Woodrum declared his intention to "get the government out of the theater business." In June, 1939, the House Appropriations Committee which Woodrum chaired successfully barred future use of WPA funds for theater activities of any kind, bringing the Federal Theatre Project to an end virtually overnight, just four years after it was begun.

The chilling effect of continuing Dies Committee hearings, headlines about "red artists," and the rumblings of World War II brought a reorganization of Federal One in June 1939, signalling its final decline. Harry Hopkins quit to become Secretary of Commerce, leaving Col. Frances Harrington, formerly of the WPA's Administrative Manual Division, in charge. The WPA was re-named from "Works Progress" to "Work Projects" Administration, and greater authority was handed over to the states, where projects suffered delays or derailments as local censorship took its toll. Each project was given two months to come up with local sponsors who would pick up 25% of project costs though it was thought this would lead to the quick death of most activities, even the controversial Federal Writers Project found sponsors for 46 of its 48 projects. By 1941, employment in the Writers Project had declined, but others showed increases.

Though these projects survived beyond 1939, their work had been transformed by the storm of controversy and the reorganization which followed in its wake. The national offices were reduced to "technical advisor" status, and most state units assigned employees to non-cultural work. The Federal Writers Project began to concentrate on recreation guides, especially for areas where World War II military training was beginning in earnest. Finally, the War put an end to all federally-subsidized artwork save that related directly to the war effort. The WPA was formally ended by a presidential proclamation in 1942.

Many excellent resources are available on the New Deal cultural projects, including the following: Hallie Flanagan, Arena (New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1940) Jerre Mangione, The Dream and the Deal: The Federal Writers' Project, 1935-1943 (New York: Avon, 1972) Richard D. McKinzie, The New Deal for Artists (Princeton University Press, 1973) Milton Meltzter, Violins & Shovels: The WPA Arts Projects (New York: Delacorte, 1976) and Art for the Millions , Francis V. O'Connor, ed. (Boston: NY Graphic Society, 1975).

Basil Rauch, The History of the New Deal (New York: Creative Age Press, 1944), pp. 146-147. (Return to referenced text)

Holger Cahill, "American Resources for the Arts," Art for the Millions: Essays from the 1930's by Artists and Administrators of the WPA Federal Art Project , ed. Francis V. O'Connor (Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1973), p. 41. (Return to referenced text)

Stuart Davis,"American Artists' Congress," Art for the Millions (New York: New York Graphic Society Ltd., 1973), p. 249. (Return to referenced text)

Flanagan, pp. 97-101. (Return to referenced text)

See Elmer Rice, "The Federal Theatre Project," The Living Theatre (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1959), pp. 148-160, for Rice's discussion of his work with the FTP. (Return to referenced text)

Sacco and Vanzetti were officially vindicated by the governor of Massachusetts in 1977. Nevertheless, the controversy over their culpability rages on. (Return to referenced text)

Federal Music Project

The Federal Music Project (FMP) was directed by Nikolai Sokoloff, a former conductor of the Cleveland Symphony. The FMP employed fifteen thousand out-of-work musicians to participate in orchestras, chamber music groups, choral groups, opera performances, military bands, dance bands, and theater productions. The FMP had a goal of establishing regional orchestras across the country and providing free or low-cost concerts and music lessons. At one point musicians were participating in five thousand performances—in front of three million people—each week in theaters and schools across the country. They introduced millions of Americans to different kinds of music.

The FMP also coordinated music education programs in twenty-seven states and documented (wrote down in detail) works by American composers that had never been put in writing before. The FMP collected and preserved American folk music and other types of authentic, traditional American music. The music was documented, generally for the first time, so that it would not be lost forever when the traditional musicians died. The FMP made a significant contribution to American music scholarship and was the least controversial of the Federal One projects.

The Great Depression, New Deal, and the Welfare State

Modern History Sourcebook

This site, maintained at Fordham University, include manuscripts from the Federal Writers's Project (1936-1940) and President Franklin D. Roosevelt's first inaugural address. This site provides a good overview to the era.

FDR Fireside Chats

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library contains the full-text transcripts of 30 radio addresses made by FDR from the White House between 1933 and 1944.

FDR Public Speeches

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library has a digital speech collection of FDR's speeches.

FDR Cartoon Archive

This database holds thousands of political cartoons from the Roosevelt administrations and the New Deal. Search by cartoonist, publication, or image content.

Social Security Administration History

Part of the official website of the US Social Security Administration, this site contains an extensive collection of materials regarding the Social Security Administration's institutional and policy history.

New Deal Virginia

“The Ground Beneath Our Feet,” a series of documentary films and websites, explores the history of Virginia since the Civil War. This site contains materials relating to New Deal programs in Virginia, particularly rural electrification and the creation of Shenandoah National Park.

Work Progress Administration (WPA) in Georgia

This image database documents the numerous projects undertaken by the Works Progress Administration in Georgia. It is maintained by the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Georgia.

The Civilian Conservation Corps: Protecting Oregon's Resources

From the 50th Anniversary Exhibit at the Oregon State Archives, this site contains documents and images pertaining to the activities of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in Oregon, particularly at the CCC camp at Silver Creek Falls.

Images from the Dust Bowl

The Wind Erosion Research Unit of the U.S.D.A. maintains this website devoted to the study and prevention of soil erosion. See the most famous images from the Dust Bowl and a map of effected areas. For an explanatory article visit, an economic history resource.

Newspaper Ads, 1911-1955

The Ad*Access Project, funded by the Duke Endowment “Library 2000” Fund, organized a database of over 7,000 advertisements printed in U.S. and Canadian newspapers and magazines. The database categories include Beauty and Hygiene, Transportation, Radio, Television, and World War II.

Photos from Great Depression to World War II

The Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information Photography Collection shows Americans across the nation during the Great Depression and WWII and focuses first on rural life and the impacts of the Great Depression, farm mechanization, and the Dust Bowl, and the mobilization effort for World War II.

American Life Histories, 1936-1940

The Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress holds nearly 3000 documents written and compiled by the Folklore Project staff of the Federal Writers' Project. Over three hundred writers collected the life histories of Depression Era Americans.

Voices from the Dust Bowl

The American Folklore Center holds an online presentation of a multi-format ethnographic field collection documenting the everyday life of residents in Farm Security Administration (FSA) migrant work camps in central California, 1940-1941. This collection consists of audio recordings, photographs, manuscript materials, publications, and ephemera.

Built in America: American Building from 1933 to present

The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) and the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) collections of the Library of Congress documents American achievements in architecture, engineering, and design -- including examples as diverse as the Pueblo of Acoma, houses, windmills, one-room schools, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Frank Lloyd Wright's designs.

The New Deal Stage: Selections from the Federal Theater Project, 1935-1939

This collection contains over 13,000 images of stage and costume designs, still photographs, posters, and scripts for productions from the Federal Theatre Project, one of five arts-related projects established during FDR's first term under the Works Progress Administration.

The Southern States Recording Trip, 1939

From the American Folklore Center at the Library of Congress, The John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip holds a multi-format ethnographic field collection, including nearly 700 sound recordings, fieldnotes, dust jackets, and other manuscripts documenting a three-month, 6,502-mile trip through the southern United States.

California Gold: Northern California Folk Music From the 1930s

The WPA California Folk Music Project is a multi-format ethnographic field collection that includes sound recordings, still photographs, drawings, and written documents from a variety of communities in Northern California. The collection comprises 35 hours of folk music recorded in twelve languages representing numerous ethnic groups and 185 musicians.

Posters from the WPA, 1936-1943

By the People, For the People: Posters from the WPA, 1936-1943 collection consists of 908 original silkscreen, lithograph, and woodcut posters designed to publicize health and safety programs, cultural programs including art exhibitions, theatrical, and musical performances, travel and tourism, and educational programs.

Works Progress Administration (WPA): One Failure to End the Great Depression

Pictured in Fayetteville delivering a speech, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt created and championed the New Deal and its many programs as the solution to the Great Depression. Image courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh, NC. North Carolina&rsquos entire congressional delegation, except for Senator Josiah Bailey (above), voted for the conference report that created the WPA. Image courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh, NC. Clyde Hoey, pictured above, North Carolina's governor from 1937 to 1941, witnessed WPA membership peak and rapidly decline prior to its termination by Congress. Image courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh, NC.

In April 1935 as the United States continued struggling with the Great Depression, President Roosevelt and Congress dramatically increased funds for helping the unemployed by creating the Works Progress Administration (WPA), an agency to employ 3.5 million people nationally with a budget of almost $5 billion. The federal government ended direct relief or handouts (states would assume that responsibility) and focused on providing jobs in federal agencies like the WPA. North Carolina&rsquos entire congressional delegation, except for Senator Josiah Bailey who abstained, voted for the conference report that created the WPA.

Roosevelt insisted that WPA wages exceed levels for handouts but not wages in the private sector. North Carolina&rsquos Senator Robert Reynolds, along with liberals, fought for an amendment that required relief wages to be comparable with those in private industry. Bailey and conservatives, however, argued that the amendment would be too costly and harmful to industry their view prevailed.

In prior relief efforts, the national government funded state-administered agencies, but Washington made the WPA a federal agency. Harry Hopkins, national director, approved individual projects, and the U.S. Senate confirmed state WPA officials earning more than $5,000. As a result, Hopkins worked with the North Carolina congressional delegation dealing with WPA projects and patronage. Selection of a state WPA director, in particular, proved to be a major political and patronage battle. Congressman Robert L. Doughton, powerful head of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Senator Bailey exerted the most influence in securing the position for George Coan, mayor of Winston-Salem since 1929 and one with close ties to Piedmont tobacco and financial interests. A graduate of Davidson College and Harvard University, Coan worked previously as an executive at Reynolds Tobacco Company yet strongly supported the New Deal. Patronage battles over the appointment of subordinates in the state WPA distracted Coan for much of 1935, and relief efforts in the Tar Heel State lagged behind that of other southern states. Coan complained that Hopkins had not given North Carolina adequate funds for its relief needs and that the state was not receiving its fair share based on population.

North Carolina WPA officials and politicians violated certain policies of Hopkins that banned some political activities. During the 1936 Democratic gubernatorial primaries, Coan supported Clyde Hoey after Max Gardner promised him the chairmanship of the State Highway Commission. Gardner gave Coan $25,000 to distribute in WPA districts and Coan provided Gardner a list of key WPA personnel in the state. Senator Bailey also used lists of WPA personnel in his 1936 reelection campaign. The relief agency with thousands of employees had a significant influence in close Democratic primaries, but less so in a general election. Some states like Indiana had a better record than North Carolina of keeping politics out of relief efforts, but several states such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and West Virginia had worse records. In 1939 Congress passed the Hatch Act, which limited political activities of federal employees, such as those in the WPA.

Although the North Carolina WPA averaged forty-to-fifty thousand on its rolls throughout 1936, Roosevelt, believing the nation&rsquos economy had improved and fearing inflation, significantly cut WPA funding for the nation and the state by mid-1937. Hopkins consequently cut the state&rsquos WPA districts from eight to five. By August 1937 spending in the state had dropped to $706,000, down from $1.2 million in August 1936, and the WPA in North Carolina employed only 18,600 workers. In September 1937 Coan abolished the five district offices and operated the WPA solely from Raleigh headquarters.

The WPA faced growing conservative opposition in the state. After his reelection in 1936, Senator Bailey emerged as a critic of the New Deal and in particular of the WPA, which he blamed for weakening the work ethic, competing with business for labor, and building a liberal political organization. Instead of appropriating money for the agency, Bailey in 1937 demanded retrenchment, a balanced budget, and the resumption of relief by state and local governments. Bailey pointed out that the WPA favored urban areas in the north with higher industrial unemployment, and so the more agricultural southern states did not receive their fair share of funds. In their speeches, Bailey and Hopkins attacked each other, and once at Washington&rsquos Mayflower hotel, they had an angry, public exchange.

From late 1937 to early 1938, the nation experienced a recession and Congress responded in June 1938 with a large appropriation for the WPA. By October the state WPA peaked with 55,000 on the rolls. With the off-year election in 1938 the WPA proved popular once again among the state&rsquos congressmen, but in the following year, the agency began its final decline. Hopkins earlier had left his post, and in 1939 Coan resigned as the state WPA director to return to private business. Governor Clyde Hoey refused to appoint him State Highway Commission chairman because of Coan&rsquos association with Bailey and Doughton.

Coan had served three and a half years, spent $60 million, and managed an average relief roll of forty thousand. While he mixed politics and relief, he kept the WPA free of scandal. His deputy, Charles C. McGinnis, succeeded him as the director.

In 1939 Congress renamed the agency the Works Projects Administration. By 1940 Roosevelt focused increasingly on foreign affairs and defense spending and reduced the size of the WPA. With the demand generated by military buildup, the American economy improved and relief became less critical.

By January 1940 the WPA in the state had employed 125,000 men and women over a four-and-a-half-year period and completed 3,984 projects. From 1935 to 1940 the WPA had touched the lives of virtually everyone in the state with the construction of schools, housing for teachers, armories, stadiums, swimming pools, gyms, community halls, hospitals, sewers, and privies. Its workers built miles of roads and bridges. Women found jobs in sewing rooms, school lunch programs, libraries, nursery schools, and literacy classes. The Federal Writers&rsquo Project helped unemployed white-collar professionals. The Federal Theater Project and Federal Art and Music Projects helped thousands of North Carolinians. The National Youth Administration, created under the auspices of the WPA, aided needy young people.

Although North Carolina ranked last in the country in per capita WPA spending, the agency had improved life during the Great Depression for many in the state.



Source: “[Eleanor Roosevelt at Works Progress Administration Site in Des Moines, Iowa, 1936]." Image. The National Archives: DocsTeach. (accessed December 15, 2017).

Date: June 8, 1936 Eleanor Roosevelt visits nursery school, Des Moines, Iowa, 1936: Eleanor Roosevelt is pictured visiting a nursery school created under the WPA for African-American children.

Source: "[Eleanor Roosevelt at Works Progress Administration Negro Nursery School in Des Moines, Iowa, 1936].” Image. The National Archives: Franklin D. Roosevelt Library Public Domain Photographs, 1882 - 1962. (accessed December 15, 2017).

Date: June 8, 1936 WPA poster promoting jobs for women, 1936-1941: This WPA poster for Illinois State Employment Service promoted domestic positions for women. It features a woman washing dishes with the caption, "good pay, good meals, good surroundings, and good working conditions."

Watch the video: The New Deal: Crash Course US History #34