The 20th Century United States
The 20th century was a time of considerable transition for the United States. Going from the countries lowest point in history, to becoming the strongest nation in the world, left Americans and their leaders confronted with many difficult decisions. The decade of depression that had preceded World War II had produced enormous changes in US politics and the American political and economic systems. Beyond politics, Americans also faced challenges in their day to day lives as American culture and society was also going through transitions. The ways in which these questions and problems were attempted to be answered, the balances of power that resulted, and the significance of wartime government were all key to how we got to where we are today.
In the start of the century, the country was struck with hardship and despair. The stock market crash of 1929 leading to the largest depression in United States history, had left the American people feeling hopeless and were searching for a plan of recovery. By the time of the 1932 elections, the country was in desperate need for change and for someone to bring about that change. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the democratic candidate was willing to promise this change. On July 2, 1932 in his acceptance speech for the democratic presidential nomination, FDR promised a “new deal for the American people.” He outlined the policies he had in mind to get the people what they wanted and needed: “What do the people of America want more than anything else? Two things; Work; work with all the moral and spiritual values that go with work. And with work, a reasonable measure of security- security for themselves and for their wives and children” (Polenberg, 8). FDR arrived promising hope and change, and America believed in him, and so when the results came back it came as no surprise when he won handedly. He harbored the American Dream just like the millions of people who sent him to the White House a record four times. That, indeed, was precisely why they loved him so much: because the American Dream had lost its credibility during the Great Depression, and they trusted that he would be able to find a way back towards it.
The New Deal arrived at a time when America desperately needed leadership to drag it out of the hole it was in. No other institution of government, state or federal, was able or willing to cope with this responsibility at the time, so FDR was looked to for everything. This period of recovery can been seen as a turning point in American politics, with the President acquiring new authority and importance and the role of government in citizens' lives increasing. FDR had a clear overarching vision of what he wanted to do to America, and was prepared to drive through the structural power changes required to achieve this vision. FDR’s philosophy is summed up by his 1938 address to congress where he stated that the “government has a final responsibility for the well-being of its citizenship. If private co-operative endeavor fails to provide work for willing hands and relief for the unfortunate, those suffering hardship from no fault of their own have a right to call upon the Government for aid; and a government worthy of its name must make a fitting result” (Polenberg, 13) .
By the late 1940s and early 1950s the Cold War and the perceived threat of Communism prompted the United States to place even more emphasis on national security and ultimately to increase dramatically its defense spending, while subsequently resulting in deferred attention from many social needs. Just as our country began to think, ‘things are great, FDR is going to save our country through the New Deal’, the cold war came into the picture and haltered such promotion of certain inland concerns including the provisions outlined in the New Deal. The perceived threat of the Soviet Union’s intelligence weighed on the minds of our nation’s political and military...
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