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America's History in the Making

By the People, For the People

Theme 1

Coming out of an unprecedented period of prosperity, the Great Depression revealed structural problems with the economy, pointing to the need for government regulation, and calling into question the viability of democracy and capitalism.

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in 1933, the Depression was already a global phenomenon. As some European nations turned to fascism and socialism, Roosevelt introduced a "New Deal" of economic programs and policies aimed at stimulating the economy and bringing the nation out of the Depression. The reform movements of the Progressive Era, the nation's experience in World War I, and even Hoover, inspired Roosevelt's New Deal programs. During the first New Deal (1933 through early 1935), Roosevelt's policies differed from Hoover because the federal government took an active role in helping people—providing immediate relief to the poor, aiding businesses, and funding public works programs to get Americans back to work. His pragmatic approach established the idea that the federal government should subsidize farmers for limiting production, but he also levied a tax to pay for the program.

As the Depression deepened, people from the left and right questioned the effectiveness of New Deal programs. While private industry wanted to protect its own interests, leaders from the left, workers, and third parties argued that Roosevelt's policies did not go far enough in relieving suffering. Roosevelt's economic policies provided immediate relief, but not enough, largely out of a concern to control spending. Some African American industrial workers and farmers joined the Communist Party, as did some white laborers, but the Communists found more support among intellectuals than among workers. Senator Huey Long from Louisiana, among others, supported the idea that the rich should share their wealth, while the major labor upheavals of 1934 pressured Roosevelt for better pay and working conditions.

Primary Sources