The New Deal was a comprehensive series of U.S. government programs implemented by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration to aid Americans affected by the Great Depression. The First New Deal refers specifically to the initial group of programs and reforms Roosevelt introduced in 1933, just after taking office. The Second New Deal describes programs added from 1934 to 1936 to aid or replace the first initiatives.
The Great Depression was precipitated by a stock market collapse in 1929. The catastrophic destabilization of the unregulated banking and financial markets threatened or destroyed national economies worldwide. Roosevelt’s government took drastic measures to correct the problem, closing all banks and only allowing them to open once they had proved their solvency. The plan worked, stabilizing the U.S. economy. The creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or FDIC, was part of the First New Deal initiative.
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Roosevelt’s radical approaches to banking and unemployment caused opponents to label him a Socialist, but millions of unemployed Americans found work as a result of First New Deal programs. Some programs, such as the Civil Works Administration and the Public Works Administration, hired workers directly rather than waiting for employer incentives to take effect. The Civilian Conservation Corps hired the unemployed to clean and maintain national forests and parklands. Some of the public works created by these programs, such as park trails and murals, still exist in the 21st century.
The First New Deal took a similar approach to the problems of agriculture and industry in the 1930s. These programs found uneven success; the Dust Bowl crisis was overcome, but efforts at regulating farming and industry met with resistance from government bodies and corporations. The Tennessee Valley Authority, or TVA, combined work relief and industry, creating electric dams and infrastructure in the hard-hit Tennessee River valley.
The New Deal was controversial in Roosevelt’s time and after. The Supreme Court declared many of the programs unconstitutional. Opponents found the New Deal agenda of government regulation and employment unnervingly similar to programs instituted by Communist and Socialist governments of the time. Political alliances forged in support of or opposition to the New Deal influenced U.S. policy for decades afterward.
Although the New Deal made significant gains, the Great Depression did not officially end until the U.S. entered World War II in 1941. Many New Deal programs were repealed during the war as war industry made them redundant. Other programs instituted by the First New Deal remained in effect in the early 21st century. These include the Securities and Exchange Commission, the TVA, the FDIC and Social Security.