The New Deal

Contributor: Nathan Murphy. Lesson ID: 13538

After the worst economic disaster in American history, Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed a recovery bill that was magnitudes larger and more comprehensive than anything that had ever existed.


People and Their Environment, United States

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio: Image - Button Play
Image - Lession Started Image - Button Start

FDR quote

  • Economic recessions had been addressed many times before, so what was so new about Roosevelt's economic recovery plan, the New Deal?

Great Depression Causes

1929 market crash

During the 1920s, Americans began to invest more in the stock market than ever before. People put their entire life savings into stocks that had been going up for an entire decade.

Many Americans lost everything when the stock market crashed in 1929. Those who still had money pulled everything they had out of the banks, which caused financial institutions to collapse entirely.

empty safe

Because the world economy had come to be so interconnected by 1929, this sent shock waves around the world as well.

Unemployment rose dramatically because companies no longer had the funds to maintain their workforce.

Americans who were still farmers, about 50% at the time, were also decimated. While they may not have lost money in the stock market, global prices for crops fell dramatically due to fewer people being able to afford food.

Drought in the heart of the country in the 1930s aggravated this issue even more, eliminating any source of income for entire states.

It was in this compounded problem that Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was elected president in 1932.

John Maynard Keynes

Keynes, 1920s

In the early 1930s, British economist John Keynes developed a unique theory for economic recovery.

Traditionally, when the economy was doing poorly, the government would spend as little as possible to avoid worsening the issue. Keynes' theory was that spending as much money as possible on social programs would be the most effective way to get the economy out of a depression.

  • Would you be willing, as a newly elected president, to use your country as a guinea pig for this new theory?

For FDR, the risk was worth it.

First 100 Days

FDR, 22 October 1932

Within only the first few months of Roosevelt's presidency, executive orders established six major relief agencies that fully embodied the teachings of John Keynes.

The combination of these actions, detailed below, was named the New Deal because it was a new approach to economic relief.

Emergency Banking Act

fully insured label

To re-establish stability in the American banking system, all banks became insured by the federal government.

This unprecedented intervention by the federal government, while successful in restoring public confidence in banks, was the first major step toward a much more powerful central government than had ever existed in the United States.

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)

Construction at Rock Creek CCC Camp, Calif, 1933

On the same day, Roosevelt took steps to arrange for thousands of men to be employed by the federal government to conserve forests and fight forest fires.

This utilized Keynes' idea that the government had to spend more money rather than less. If the government began to employ many Americans, unemployment would also go down, and the economy would begin to move again.

Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA)

FDR memorial

Expanding employment was not enough, so this agency was created to directly feed and clothe people experiencing poverty.

With $500 million ($10 billion today), soup kitchens were established all over the country. This brought relief to the families who would soon become employed through these other agencies.

Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA)


After the stock market crash and ensuing financial collapse, prices for all goods began to plummet because everyone who was now unemployed could not afford to buy them.

This administration ensured that, while the food prices remained low enough for consumers, the farmers who produced it would still receive a fair amount.

It was able to stop the prices of agricultural goods, such as corn and oranges, from plummeting by setting the prices and subsidizing the differences in the market to ensure farmers would earn a manageable income.

National Industry Recovery Act (NIRA)

bridge building, early 1930s

This act illegalized child labor, which was significantly cheaper than employing an adult. This meant that companies could only afford to hire one adult per household.

The act also allowed companies to earn subsidies for hiring more people. This pushed wages higher and eventually led to more spending in the economy.

Thousands of men were hired to build bridges, roads, and other infrastructure projects.

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)

Benneville Power Dam, Oregon, 1938

Through this agency and the CCC, dams were built on rivers to gain free hydroelectric power and employ thousands of people all over the country.

Second New Deal

In 1935 and 1936, the Second New Deal was added to Roosevelt's reforms. These additions, detailed below, were much more controversial than the actions of the first New Deal.

Social Security

social security card

Because they lost all their savings, older individuals had to keep working. This led FDR to establish a federal retirement plan.

People would pay into Social Security, and that money would go directly to retired individuals. This program saved the older generations from losing their homes and having to go back to work.

Wealth Tax Act

John D. Rockefeller, 1885

This act raised the income tax of individuals with an income over $5 million to 79%. Because the nation was so poor, this was only applicable to John D. Rockefeller and was seen as directly targeting his wealth.

While both of these initiatives, along with the other aspects of the Second New Deal, helped to add stability and wealth to the economy, they were challenging what would be accepted by the courts.


last photo of FDR, 1945

After these first 100 days, the U.S. government had massively expanded its involvement in the daily lives of Americans.

Having broken away from a powerful central government in England, Americans had avoided expanding federal authority as much as possible. For FDR, the Great Depression gave more than enough reason to abandon this principle.

However, many Republicans saw these moves as brazenly unconstitutional. In the years following these executive orders, many court cases began to challenge the constitutionality of FDR's actions, encouraged even more by the additions of the Second New Deal.

Read The New Deal in Decline to learn the many challenges the New Deal faced, and pay attention to what FDR wanted to do in response.

Supreme Court Chamber

At the time, the ideas to subsidize industries and employ large numbers of people were completely new. And while the nation likely could have recovered without these specific actions, FDR feared the repeal of the entire New Deal.

To prevent that, he wanted to increase the size of the Supreme Court, which would allow him to appoint new Democratic justices. Although this idea was not well received by either political party, by 1941, he had moved the court in line with his political philosophy.

  • It was during the 1940s that the U.S. and the world pulled out of the Great Depression, but was it a result of these policies or something even larger?

As we head into the Got It? section, consider the economic impacts of war on an economy.

Image - Button Next