What is the First New Deal?

Alan Rankin

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.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration implemented programs to provide jobs and relief to Americans during the Great Depression.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration implemented programs to provide jobs and relief to Americans during the Great Depression.

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.

The Supreme Court declared many of the programs of the New Deal unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court declared many of the programs of the New Deal unconstitutional.

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.

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Discussion Comments

I never knew that there were two New Deals -- I guess I always just heard all of those programs referred to as "the New Deal," singular. So what was the difference between the first set of initiatives and the second one? Why did they need a second one to begin with?
@kentuckycat - Well, I will say that as someone that studies history for a living I do not believe that there is much to debate as far as what the New Deal did for the country. The only things that are out there concerning the New Deal in a negative light revolves around the man himself and his actions in power during that time.

Although something needed to be done to help fix the state of the nation during this time, some people, again a vast minority, feel that Roosevelt consistently over stepped his boundaries and powers as President and tried to establish himself as more of a dictator as opposed to a democratic leader.

One of the things Roosevelt has been heavily criticized for is the fact that he tried to add four justices to the Supreme Court, which if that had been done those four would have been chosen by him and probably would not have voted against his legislation.

This of course was shot down as well as hundreds of other bills he tried to push through that were unconstitutional, but were done to try and help the nation.

This is what he is usually criticized for as people have a hard time arguing against the country's success soon after the passing of the New Deal.

@titans62 - To be honest the people that view the New Deal and Roosevelt as being overrated tend to to be in the vast minority of people, but they still do exist.

Some people feel like the Great Depression would have riden itself out and that the country would have turned itself around regardless.

Roosevelt's New Deal detractors would also point to the fact that World War II really jump started industry and the American economy again and would say this is what helped the United States rebound and not the New Deal.

However, people that argue this point fail to recognize that the United States was already rebounding well before World War II as 1938 is seen to be the end of the Great Depression and World War II only supplemented the growing American economy.

I really do not think much of the New Deal detractors as it is just too simply of an argument to say that the Great Depression would have ridden itself out. Roosevelt brought in new programs that benefited the American people and the Great Depression was suddenly gone. I do not see how people could argue with those results.


I hear of some people that criticize the New Deal due to a variety of reasons and I have really wondered why they can argue with the success of President Roosevelt.

This article says that a lot of people believed Roosevelt to be a Socialist and criticized the government for becoming too big and involved in matters, when the people of the United States were already suffering from a Depression.

I understand how people during the time could be afraid of the federal government further expanding in the midst of a time when it seemed to people not a great time to do so, but something had to be done during this time and the programs that Roosevelt integrated in the New Deal pulled the country out of the Depression and allowed for the United States to begin to thrive again.

This is seen as fact nowadays as history has had time to look back on it, but I still do not understand why people still criticize the New Deal when there is so little that says the New Deal failed in any regard.

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