Every country faces hardships that require leaders to make difficult decisions about how to best guide their

nations toward the future. This was the case when the United States had to combat the Great Depression, during which many Americans looked to the government for a solution. The Great Depression was a result of the stock market crash of 1929, an event whose repercussions were felt throughout the United States and Europe. The crash was brought on by the fact that investors lost faith in the stock market and therefore began cashing in on their stocks at a rapid rate. This occurrence was a shock to the American idea that the U.S. was immune to such an economic catastrophe. Thus, candidates for the presidency in the election of 1932 proposed their alternatives for confronting this dilemma. Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) would later become famous for his New Deal proposal, which would reform the economic practices of the country. At the time of its inception and in the years after, this proposal inspired much controversy. However, FDR’s New Deal was the best solution to combat the Great Depression, especially when compared to alternatives such as Herbert Hoover’s American Plan. One of the best tests for how effective a reform has been is how well it has held up over the course of time. A decade after the implementation of the New Deal, historian Henry Steele Commager analyzed the role that the New Deal had played in helping the U.S. overcome the Great Depression and concluded that the New Deal adapted well to American economics and had, in fact, played a crucial role in getting Americans through these difficult times. He outlined many of FDR’s achievements, focusing in particular on three: the restoring of Americans’ faith and self-confidence in democracy, the preservation of the U.S.’s natural resources, and the creation of many jobs for the unemployed. Although some historians argued that the New Deal did not weave itself

into the patchwork of the American tradition, Commager proved that the lasting effects of the New Deal were indeed built on the foundation of American democracy. In fact, politicians of opposing parties continued implementing the programs initiated under the New Deal. If the New Deal had not been such a success, this would not be the case. The programs of the New Deal were not ideas that FDR conceived out of the blue, but rather out of complaints from the American citizens themselves. Thus, in spite of the fact that some critics claim that FDR was an overzealous legislative leader, in truth, FDR listened to the majority and put their needs and ideas into a concrete plan. One critic who was particularly opposed to Roosevelt’s ideas was John T. Flynn, who believed that the New Deal was detrimental to American democracy and that Roosevelt did not deserve the idol status he had attained. He based his argument on the premise that a government that becomes too involved in economic planning has overstepped its bounds. Despite Flynn’s opposition to a strong executive branch, a takecontrol President was exactly what the country needed to get out of the depths of the Great Depression. In addition, the New Deal created many government jobs to hinder the rising unemployment rate. Flynn viewed this as a negative aspect since it increased bureaucratic involvement in daily life. However, it could actually be viewed as positive because these jobs helped the economy of the U.S. Furthermore, Flynn claimed that FDR’s plan to control more of the economy was incompatible with free market capitalism. Yet, a number of initiatives similar to those of FDR are still in effect in the 21st century and capitalism still thrives in the United States. Government intervention in the economy does not prevent the existence of capitalism. This demonstrates that Flynn’s assertions were false.

In order to recover from the Great Depression, it was crucial that a plan be formulated promptly. In light of this, it is impressive that FDR was able to conceive such a detailed and successful strategy for liberating the American people from this predicament in such a timely manner. Some businesses had survived the Great Depression and FDR expanded on those. He focused on the fact that humans have two basic economic rights. These include the right to earn an income that allows them to live comfortably and the right to individual property, which he interpreted as the “right to be assured of the safety of one’s savings.” Most important to him was that one person’s rights cannot violate another person’s and that the government should establish policies to prevent these infringements. This principle embraces concepts central to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The New Deal has had many critics along with many supporters. The critics maintained that government should play only a small role in economic matters and that Roosevelt wanted to shift power from Congress to the Executive. However, desperate times call for desperate measures and the severity of the Great Depression called for instant reform in how economic matters in the U.S. were handled. FDR was able to keep American traditions intact while incorporating elements of government involvement. In spite of the critics’ claims that Roosevelt was greedy for power, his main goal was to serve the people. His role as a strong executive, instead of harming American citizens, helped them recover from hardship. The assertion that the New Deal was a radical idea is also a falsehood. As Commager states, it was actually the culmination of historical progress in the United States. In comparison to other proposals put forward to rise above the Great Depression, the New Deal was clearly the best alternative.

The New Deal

Alex Burke Civics Honors March 7, 2007

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