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President Franklin Roosevelt: The Great Depression, The New Deal, and The War

Updated on October 16, 2010

FDR: The Start of a New Presidential Era

As the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) aka FDR had not only the longest presidential reign, spanning four terms from 1933-1945, but also arguably the most challenging. Throughout the Presidential era of Franklin Roosevelt, the U.S. faced two of its greatest crisis in the Great Depression and World War II. Roosevelt’s optimism and activism made him both one of the most admired presidents of all-time and a president that was subject to many criticisms.

In 1933, the U.S. was in the depths of the Great Depression. Unemployment rates had risen to around 25% and homelessness was in the millions. With paranoia of losing their money, people withdrew their money from banks, causing a banking crisis. The same paranoia, along with the aforementioned unemployment caused reluctance in people to spend money, thus dragging down the economy into further crisis. Farming communities were struggling as mass production caused prices to fall so low that farmers could not pay their debts causing even further crisis.

FDR: The Great Depression and The New Deal

Upon taking office, Roosevelt took active and immediate action in what is commonly known as Roosevelt’s “first 100 days” and the New Deal. The New Deal was a series of economic policies implemented for the purposes of relief, recovery, and reform from the Great Depression. Roosevelt started by declaring a “bank holiday”, closing down banks for four days while passing emergency banking legislation through congress. Congress overwhelmingly passed Roosevelt’s Emergency Banking Act which assisted banks and later led to the institution of the FDIC, and thus restored some of the nations trust in the banking system. A year later Roosevelt pushed an act which set up the long-lasting Securities and Exchange Commission which policed the stock-market and provided people the comfort investing in the stock-market once again.

Another immediate cause of action taken by Roosevelt’s administration was establishing the Agricultural Adjustment Act. Under the theory of supply and demand economics, the AAA was a government act that rewarded farmers for their reduction in crops, causing higher prices and greater profits for farmers. Roosevelt believed that a rise in prices would result in a rise of wages and thus aid in the restoration of the economy. That theory led to the establishment of the National Recovery Administration. The NRA structured minimum wages and set forth a 35-40 hour work-week.

The Roosevelt administration further worked to create jobs for those who were unemployed through the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Public Works Acts. The Public Works Act provided jobs for large construction projects on streets, highways, schools, hospitals and airports. The CCC provided jobs to young men to build parks and provide conservation efforts by duties such as planting trees and working in forests. Much like the CCC, one of the more successful New Deal measures was the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority. The TVA provided navigation, flood control, and energy generation throughout the Tennessee valley.

Although the U.S. was not yet restored on many levels to its prosperity prior to the depression, many of the reform, relief , and recovery acts set forth by the Roosevelt administration provided a sense of optimism and brought a moderate degree of recovery to the country. Roosevelt was admired by many, especially minority groups, including women and blacks who obtained jobs. Roosevelt also made the landmark decision to eliminate prohibition of alcohol by the institution of the 21st Amendment in 1933.

Due to the vast changes Roosevelt made, his spending reached record levels. Roosevelt tried to balance the budget by the establishment of the Economy Act of 1933. This act cut the salaries of government employees, including the reduction of benefits for foreign-war veterans. The Economy Act made Roosevelt subject to criticism by critics and through the protests and uproar set forth by veterans.

Although the U.S. had made vast strides in the depression by 1935, there was still economic crisis and a large unemployment rate. As such, Roosevelt retooled the New Deal and passed a series of new acts-- many of which taxing the rich and striking down on big businesses. One example being the Wagner Act, later named the National Labor Relations which gave workers in big business the right to unionize and bargain with big businesses.

Roosevelt also continued to create more jobs for the unemployed by way of the Works Progress Act which, much like the Public Works Act, created jobs for all kinds of people by creating theatre and art projects as well as construction projects. Additionally, the Roosevelt administration is responsible for the creation of the Social Security Act, which to this day provides pensions and assistance to the retired, in addition to unemployment insurance to those who are laid off or become disabled.

In addition to being considered a hero by many, Roosevelt also had his critics. Roosevelt’s profound activism led critics to believe that Roosevelt was ridding the U.S. of free-enterprise and turning it into a Communist Dictatorship. There were also beliefs that his New Deal was pushing the country into a worse depression. By his second term, many of the New Deal acts were discontinued after being deemed unconstitutional. Upset at the Supreme Court for making such declarations, Roosevelt may have bruised his reputation by sending a new bill to congress that would appoint six more Supreme Court justices. Some believe that was done to change the balance of the Supreme Court into his favor in order to prevent future acts from being deemed unconstitutional. Unsurprisingly, Congress rejected Roosevelt’s proposal.

By 1937, the nation was nearly restored to the level that it was prior to the Great Depression. Roosevelt then felt it was in the best interest of the country to cut down his profound spending on the remaining New Deal programs in order to balance the budget. As a result, the nation went into recession thus setting the nation back to where it was in the depths of the Depression prior to Roosevelt’s inauguration. Roosevelt realized his mistakes and returned to his abundant spending ways. In his second term, the Roosevelt administration did not create many more acts; however, the creation of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 officially set a minimum wage and a 40 hour work-week.

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FDR: Involvement in World War II

By 1938, the Great Depression was not entirely over, but Roosevelt began to focus his attention to future peaceful relations throughout the world and the war that the world appeared to be inevitably headed into. As expected, in 1939, Germany invaded Poland and World War II had begun. Roosevelt envisioned a post-war world that lived by the “Four Freedoms” of religion, speech, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Roosevelt had previously broken away from isolationism through his “Good Neighbor” policy by opening up trade with the southern bordering countries; and he brought this ideology to another level through his alliance with Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and China in creating the Atlantic Charter with Winston Churchill, and the United Nations in effort to maintain peace in the post-war world. Although Roosevelt initially wanted to keep the U.S. physically out of the war, he decided to greatly stray from his prior beliefs and increase military spending, in addition to building up the U.S. military in creation of what he called the “arsenal of democracy”. After a German blitzkrieg of France, Roosevelt recognized to Britain’s susceptibility to being hit next, and as a result, Roosevelt set forth the Lend- Lease Act in 1941 which funded further aid to Britain.

In 1941, the U.S. was outraged and forced to enter the war after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. At the same time, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. It became Roosevelt’s quest to first defeat Nazi Germany and then ultimately defeat the Japanese Roosevelt, as always, took on a leadership role and appointed effective war generals and came up with a masterful game plan with the allies which ultimately led to victory.

FDR: Death and Influence

Shortly into his fourth term in office and right before the official ending to the war, Franklin Roosevelt died. The Great Depression was finally over, in large-part to Roosevelt’s efforts. By way of his leadership in two of the greatest crisis in American history, FDR is considered by many to be one of the greatest President’s of the United States. Although critics state that Roosevelt would not have been held in such high regard if not for his leadership in World War II, Roosevelt undeniably changed the role of government in the U.S. by way of active roles in pushing legislation. Roosevelt’s success empowered the Democratic Party for decades ahead. Because of Roosevelt’s timely leadership, the U.S. has to this day held on to the characteristics of being the world’s greatest economic, political, and military power.


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    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      Brad Masters 

      6 months ago from Orange County California BSIT BSL JD

      It was the war and not the economics of FDR that brought us of the depression.

      And FDR created financial smack with SS. A pathetic retirement plan that now people need because they couldn't use those money contributions to get a real retirement plan.

      The New Deal's Shortcomings

      In 1939, the United States was still ensnared in a severe economic depression, one that crippled the nation for a full decade.

      President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal experiments had brought some relief to a population reeling from unemployment, inflation, and scarcity, but considerable transformations—vast federal spending, price regulations, job placement, the expansion of unions, greater access to home loans, social security for the elderly and disabled, and the public's restored confidence in their government—did little to bring prosperity to the American people.

      Across the board, little changed. By the end of the 1930s, 17% of the American work force remained unemployed, 30% still lived in poverty, and the most needy and least organized citizens, like domestic workers, sharecroppers, new immigrants, Blacks, and unmarried women, reaped few of the New Deal benefits.

      FDR's great experiments, then, didn't quite end the Great Depression. Only mobilization for a world war would bring an end to the most devastating economic crisis in United States history.

      Revving Up a Wartime Economy

      In late 1939, a full two years before the United States entered World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided it would be necessary—and perhaps wise—to invest time and money into national defense. Despite his promise to keep the nation out of the war escalating abroad, Roosevelt carefully and deliberately prepared the country for a worst-case scenario.

      By the spring of 1940, he convinced Congress to increase defense spending, enlarge the army, and expand the U.S. military air fleet. Through billions of dollars in federal spending—largely focused on rearmament and national security—he managed to funnel money into a peacetime draft, increase wages for military personnel, offer subsidies for defense manufacturing, and grant loans to aid Great Britain and the Soviet Union.

      Not exactly invoking neutrality in his decision to assist the Allied powers, President Roosevelt noted, "Even a neutral cannot be asked to close his mind or his conscience."13

      When Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and the United States became embroiled in world war, the nation was revved for the challenges ahead.

      Help Wanted

      By the first years of American involvement in World War II, wartime manufacturing facilities had been established throughout the nation, creating a tremendous demand for labor. Within months of the U.S. declaration of war, the national unemployment rate plummeted an astounding 10% from its 1940 level.

    • Sgt Prepper profile image

      Gunny Cracker 

      3 years ago from Elkhorn, WI

      Geoff is 100% correct until now with Kenyan-born, Indonesian, gay, commie, son-of-a-porn-star, less than half-black Obama the antichrist in our White House. FYI - FDR's "brain hemmorage" was a gunshot wound to the head whether from his own hand or that of a masonic henchman. That is why the undertaker could not make his body presentable for an open casket. Our 33d President Truman was a 33d Degree Freemason and former Klansman. He needed to be president because FDR would never have agreed to the atomic-bomb drops and Israel becoming a nation even though his real family name was likely Rosenfelt.

    • profile image

      Geoff Capriola 

      4 years ago

      This is a bunch of crap. FDR is one of the worst presidents ever.

    • pramodgokhale profile image


      5 years ago from Pune( India)


      I heard and have read some world war books and came to know this great president in American history. I Was not born when WWII ended but with reference books and films we understand situation and efforts to defeat Nazi Germany.

      We should preserve such great recollections.


    • American Romance profile image

      American Romance 

      6 years ago from America

      joer, now that's what Im talking about!

    • joer4x4 profile image


      6 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      Contrary to popular belief the depression actually lasted until 1946. After the war there was limited production and the economy staggered. There was no need for the government to produce mass munitions so all those temporary jobs were no longer needed.

      It was when government rescinded the higher taxes from the war that the private sector finally took off with investment and production of consumer goods.

    • American Romance profile image

      American Romance 

      6 years ago from America

      imjustmusing, Ha, I was coming back to suggest the same thing! I just read some economist writings that showed in detail how he prolonged the depression through government intervention!

    • Brittany Morrison profile image

      Brittany Morrison 

      6 years ago from Russellville, AR

      Very detailed. Well done. However, it was a lot to read in one whack for me. lol

    • imjustmusing profile image


      7 years ago from Massachusetts

      I would suggest you read "New Deal or Raw Deal" by Burton Fulsom Jr. FDR and his new deal probably prolonged the depression by four or five years, the only reason we got out of it was because of the war.

    • prettydarkhorse profile image


      8 years ago from US

      FDR is the Man, A great President! Thanks for the history! Maita

    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 

      8 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Great history. The saying that great presidents are made by great and difficult times is very true. FDR faced 2 of the greatest challenges of our history. He handled them masterfully and saved capitalism and democracy around the world. No one comes close to him in the 20th century in my mind. I enjoyed your Hub immensely.

    • American Romance profile image

      American Romance 

      8 years ago from America

      World War II was the answer, Every man shipped off to fight and every woman spent her days in factories! No time to consume, only time to build! How many know that companies like Zebco stopped building fishing reels to build parts for the war? That war pulled us out and saved this country!

    • GNelson profile image


      8 years ago from Florida

      One of the things that happened under FDR is that the middle class got back to work. Jobs, Obama should make a note of that.


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