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The New Deal, The First New Deal

Father Charles Coughlin, Agricultural Adjustment Act, National Industrial Recovery Act, Emergency Banking Act, Townsend Plan

Unlike Hoover, Roosevelt took strong steps immediately to battle the depression and stimulate the U.S. economy. When he assumed office in 1933, a banking crisis was in progress. More than 5,000 banks had failed, and many governors had curtailed banking operations. Roosevelt closed the banks, and Congress passed an Emergency Banking Act, which saved banks in sounder financial shape. After the “bank holiday,” people gradually regained confidence in banks. The United States also abandoned the gold standard and put more money into circulation.

Next, in what was known as the First Hundred Days, Roosevelt and the Democratic Congress enacted a slew of measures to combat the depression and prevent its recurrence. The measures of 1933 included: the Agricultural Adjustment Act, which paid farmers to curtail their production (later upset by the Supreme Court); the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), which established codes of fair competition to regulate industry and guaranteed labor’s right to collective bargaining (again, the law was overturned in 1935); and the Public Works Administration, which constructed roads, dams, and public buildings. Other acts of the First Hundred Days created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which insured deposits in banks in case banks failed, and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which provided electric power to areas of the southeast. The government also set up work camps for the unemployed, refinanced mortgages, provided emergency relief, and regulated the stock market through the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The emergency measures raised employment, but the New Deal evoked angry criticism. On the right, conservative business leaders and politicians assailed New Deal programs. In popular radio sermons, Father Charles Coughlin, once a supporter of Roosevelt, denounced the administration’s policies and revealed nativist, anti-Semitic views. The Supreme Court, appointed mainly by Republicans, was another staunch foe; it struck down many pieces of New Deal legislation, such as the NIRA, farm mortgage relief, and the minimum wage.

On the left, critics believed that Roosevelt had not done enough and endorsed stronger measures. In California, senior citizens rallied behind the Townsend Plan, which urged that everyone over the age of 65 receive $200 a month from the government, provided that each recipient spend the entire amount to boost the economy. The plan’s popularity mobilized support for old-age pensions. In Louisiana, Democratic governor Huey Long campaigned for “soak the rich” tax schemes that would outlaw large incomes and inheritances, and for social programs that would “Share Our Wealth” among all people. The growing Communist Party, finally, urged people to repudiate capitalism and to allow the government to take over the means of production.

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