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Question: What were the successes and failures of the New Deal and how did it change the role of government?

22 Jun 2024,12:43 PM

Read Chapter 21 in the textbook “Give me Liberty An American History” then write a 800-1000 word essay addressing the following question:

"What were the successes and failures of the New Deal and how did it change the role of government?"

Be sure to explain by referencing evidence from the assigned reading. This is important. There must be a historical substance (actual evidence and reasoning) behind your opinion.



The New Deal: An Era of Transformative Governance

The New Deal, implemented by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in response to the Great Depression, was a series of programs and reforms designed to provide relief, recovery, and reform to the beleaguered American economy and populace. Chapter 21 of "Give Me Liberty: An American History" provides a comprehensive examination of the New Deal's myriad successes and failures. The New Deal not only aimed to revitalize the economy but also fundamentally altered the role of the federal government in American society. This essay will critically assess the New Deal's achievements and shortcomings, while analyzing its enduring impact on the government's function.

Successes of the New Deal

One of the New Deal's most significant achievements was its immediate economic relief. The establishment of agencies such as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided jobs to millions of unemployed Americans. The CCC focused on environmental projects, employing young men in reforestation, park maintenance, and soil erosion prevention. This not only provided much-needed employment but also improved the nation's infrastructure and environmental health. The WPA, on the other hand, extended its reach to a broader demographic, including artists, writers, and actors, thus enriching American cultural life while offering economic support.

The Social Security Act of 1935 was another landmark success of the New Deal. This act introduced unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, and aid to the disabled and dependent children. It represented a fundamental shift in the government's responsibility towards its citizens, laying the groundwork for the modern welfare state. By institutionalizing social safety nets, the Social Security Act alleviated some of the most severe hardships of the Great Depression and provided long-term economic security.

Financial reforms under the New Deal also left an indelible mark on American society. The Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 established the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which insured bank deposits, thus restoring public confidence in the banking system. Additionally, the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 brought about greater transparency and regulation in the stock market, curbing the speculative excesses that had contributed to the 1929 crash. These reforms not only stabilized the financial system but also introduced a new era of federal oversight and regulation.

Failures of the New Deal

Despite these successes, the New Deal faced significant limitations and failures. One of the most glaring was its inability to fully eradicate unemployment and revive industrial production. While the New Deal programs did reduce the unemployment rate from its peak of around 25% in 1933, millions of Americans remained jobless at the end of the 1930s. The economic recovery was uneven and often slow, and it was ultimately the massive government spending prompted by World War II that truly ended the Great Depression.

The New Deal also failed to address racial inequalities effectively. Many of its programs were administered in a discriminatory manner, particularly in the South. African Americans often received lower wages and fewer benefits compared to their white counterparts. For instance, the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) disproportionately benefited white landowners at the expense of black sharecroppers and tenant farmers, who were frequently displaced without adequate compensation. This exclusion perpetuated existing racial disparities and highlighted the limitations of New Deal policies in fostering social equity.

Moreover, the New Deal's agricultural policies had mixed results. While the AAA aimed to stabilize prices by reducing agricultural production, it inadvertently led to the destruction of crops and livestock at a time when many Americans were still going hungry. This policy drew significant criticism for its perceived insensitivity and inefficiency. Furthermore, the benefits of the AAA were unevenly distributed, favoring larger landowners over small farmers and tenant farmers, who struggled to survive.

The New Deal's Transformation of Government

The New Deal fundamentally transformed the role of the federal government in American society, marking a departure from previous laissez-faire policies. Before the New Deal, the federal government played a relatively limited role in the economic and social lives of its citizens. The Great Depression exposed the inadequacies of this approach, prompting a more active governmental role.

One of the most profound changes was the establishment of a social safety net through programs like Social Security. This introduced the concept of government responsibility for the welfare of its citizens, particularly the most vulnerable. The New Deal also expanded the federal government's involvement in economic regulation and planning. Agencies such as the National Recovery Administration (NRA) and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) exemplified this new approach, with the government taking an active role in industrial planning and regional development.

The New Deal also laid the foundation for the modern labor movement by promoting workers' rights. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (Wagner Act) guaranteed workers the right to unionize and bargain collectively. This empowered labor unions and significantly shifted the balance of power between employers and employees. As a result, the federal government became a key arbiter in labor disputes, further cementing its expanded role in economic affairs.

Additionally, the New Deal's legacy includes the precedent it set for federal intervention in times of economic crisis. The policies and programs implemented during the 1930s established a framework for future government responses to economic downturns. This was evident in later periods, such as the response to the 2008 financial crisis, where the federal government again took an active role in stabilizing the economy through stimulus packages and financial regulations.


In conclusion, the New Deal was a period of significant governmental intervention that brought both successes and failures. Its immediate relief programs provided employment and financial stability to millions, while its long-term reforms laid the groundwork for the modern welfare state and regulatory framework. However, the New Deal also faced limitations, particularly in its inability to fully eradicate unemployment and its failure to address racial inequalities. Nevertheless, the New Deal fundamentally transformed the role of the federal government, establishing it as a key player in economic regulation, social welfare, and labor relations. This legacy of active government intervention continues to shape American society and policy-making to this day, underscoring the New Deal's enduring impact on the nation's governance.

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