When Roosevelt took office on March 4, 1933, he faced one of the worst crises in the country’s banking history. Over 5,000 banks had closed. States including New York and Illinois had ordered all banks within their borders to close, to prevent additional bank runs.
Within 48 hours of his inauguration, Roosevelt proclaimed a bank holiday, which temporarily halted bank operations throughout the nation, and called Congress into special session to address the crisis. Congress passed the Emergency Banking Act which Roosevelt signed into law on March 9, 1933, only eight hours after a draft proposal was presented to Congress by the administration.
The Act implemented two major changes:
Between March 11th and March 14th, federal auditors examined all U.S. banks. On March 15th, 70 percent of the nation’s banks were declared solvent and allowed to reopen.
On March 12th, before the banks reopened, Roosevelt delivered his first “fireside chat”.
(You won't be tested on this.)
In the first "Chat", which he opened by stating, “I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking”, Roosevelt explained what the bank examiners had been doing during the previous week. He assured listeners that any bank that opened on the next day (or in coming days) had the federal government’s stamp of approval. He asserted that this was something that the federal government had to do, saying, “We had a bad banking situation….It was the Government’s job to straighten out this situation and to do it as quickly as possible — and the job is being performed.”
The address underscored Roosevelt’s savvy in communicating with the American people. He explained complex financial and legal concepts in understandable terms and complimented citizens on their “intelligent support” of the government’s efforts. Most importantly, he inspired confidence by closing his address as follows:
The combination of the Emergency Banking Act and the first "Fireside Chat" worked wonders. Consumer confidence returned and, within weeks, almost one billion dollars in cash and gold emerged from under mattresses and bookshelves, and was re-deposited in the nation’s banks.
When the banking crisis ended, Congress moved to implement permanent reforms of the system, many of which are still in effect today. The most notable of these was the Glass-Steagall Banking Act, which Roosevelt approved in June of 1933.
In addition to resolving the banking crisis, the First New Deal advanced legislation in two key areas: relief and recovery. Roosevelt’s predecessor, Herbert Hoover, was reluctant to provide direct federal relief to unemployed Americans. Roosevelt recognized that millions of the unemployed required relief — including jobs — more quickly than the private sector could provide them.
Beginning in late March of 1933, Roosevelt approved several initiatives that made the federal government a provider of unemployment relief. The first was the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA).
Roosevelt initially authorized $500 million in direct grants to the states. However, state and county offices (already overburdened as a result of the Depression) were unable to screen recipients and distribute relief. Local political organizations pocketed some of the federal funds instead of using them to create relief programs.
In response, the federal government took steps to create jobs by organizing public works agencies and work relief programs. The agencies and programs hired unemployed workers. One of the most notable agencies was the Civil Works Administration (CWA).
Organized in November of 1933, the CWA employed more than four million Americans by January of 1934. Workers repaired bridges, built roads and airports, and completed other public projects.
Another notable work program was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
Among the most popular New Deal programs, the CCC employed young (aged fourteen to twenty-four), jobless men. Earning 30 dollars a month (a portion of which they sent to their families) CCC employees did a variety of outdoor jobs, including planting trees, constructing dams, fighting forest fires, restoring historic sites and parks, and building roads and infrastructure that Americans continue to use today. More than three million young men had worked for the CCC by 1942, when the program ended.
Industrial and agricultural recovery were the other key areas that the First New Deal addressed. The Roosevelt administration drafted two of the most significant pieces of New Deal legislation to deal with underlying problems in the economy. The first was the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA).
Farms around the country struggled — and failed — during the Great Depression. In the Great Plains, drought severely limited farmers' ability to raise crops, while in the South, abundant harvests led to prices too low for farmers to earn a living by selling them. The AAA provided direct financial relief and paid farmers to reduce production of certain crops, including wheat, cotton, corn, and hogs.
EXAMPLEFarmers received 30 cents per bushel for corn they did not grow. Hog farmers were paid five dollars per head for hogs not raised.
The AAA was a bold attempt by the federal government to help farmers address the systemic problem of overproduction, and the lower commodity prices resulting from it. However, there was an excess of some agricultural products, particularly cotton and hogs, before the AAA went into effect.
EXAMPLEThis led the federal government to order ten million acres of cotton to be plowed under, and the butchering of six million baby pigs (and 200,000 sows).
Although The AAA improved prices (e.g., the price of cotton increased from six to 12 cents per pound), the destruction of agricultural products was deeply problematic. Critics pointed out that the government was destroying food to drive up prices while some citizens starved.
A second significant measure, the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), sought to stabilize the manufacturing sector and place it on the road to recovery.
New Deal officials believed that supporting collaboration between businesses would enable them to stabilize prices and production levels. Some officials believed that these collaborations would protect workers from entering into unfair agreements.
A new government agency, the National Recovery Administration (NRA), was central to the implementation of NIRA. It mandated that businesses accept a code that included minimum-wage and maximum-work-hours limits. Industries were required to adopt “codes of fair practice” that upheld workers’ rights to organize and collectively bargain, to ensure that wages increased as prices rose.
The NRA created over five hundred codes for industries — a large and growing number of regulations that led to unforeseen problems. While codes for key industries (e.g., automotive and steel) made sense, similar codes for dog food manufacturers and shops that made shoulder pads for women’s clothing (for example), did not.
The Public Works Administration (PWA) produced some of the most lasting benefits of NIRA.
With an appropriation of $3.3 billion, the PWA completed over 34,000 public works projects, including the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and the Queens-Midtown Tunnel in New York. Between 1933 and 1939, the PWA accounted for the construction of over one-third of all new hospitals, and seventy percent of all new public schools, in the United States.
The First New Deal was far from perfect, but Roosevelt’s quickly-implemented policies reversed the economy’s slide and restructured Americans’ relationship with the federal government.
The Emergency Banking Act infused ailing banks with new capital. Work relief programs like the CWA and the CCC offered direct relief to the unemployed. The AAA and NIRA provided incentives and organizational methods to farmers and industry, to put the economy on a path toward recovery.
Roosevelt did not conceive or implement the First New Deal on his own. At times, it seemed to consist of a series of disjointed efforts based on different (and sometimes baffling) assumptions. For example, a program designed to decrease production (or make payments in return for no production) in an attempt to set prices on industrial goods and raise the prices of crops, seemed counterintuitive to some manufacturers and farmers.
However, these programs were designed to combat what Roosevelt and his advisors believed had caused the Great Depression: abuses on the part of a small group of bankers and businessmen, aided by Republican policies that built wealth for a few at the expense of many. They believed that the solutions would be accomplished by reforming the banking system, strengthening labor's bargaining power, and adjusting the production and consumption of agricultural and industrial goods.
For the first time since the Progressive Era, many Americans looked to government for direction and support. Progressives implemented reforms in response to the problems of the Gilded Age and World War I; the Great Depression created an opportunity for even greater reform. Progressivism focused on perfecting democracy and social justice. The New Deal created government structures and agencies that regulated the economy. By means of work relief programs and other measures, the New Deal established safety nets for the victims of the Great Depression. In these ways, the New Deal established the foundation of the modern welfare state in America.
This tutorial curated and/or authored by Matthew Pearce, Ph.D
Source: Image of Franklin D. Roosevelt before first fireside chat, PD, http://bit.ly/2nTIMaE, Franklin D. Roosevelt, First Fireside Chat, March 12, 1933, Miller Center, Retrieved from http://bit.ly/2ouAdV2, Derived from Openstax tutorial 26.2 http://bit.ly/2nxcQWi. Some sections edited or removed for brevity.