How Important Was the Strength of Opposition between 1933-37 to the New Deal?

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How important was the strength of opposition to the New Deal in the period 1933-37? Michael Bobin
When judging potency of political opposition, one has to consider both direct and indirect variables; the size of its following, the possibility in reality of the opposition working, and both its direct force and its indirect influences. All of these come into play in opposition to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal from 1933 to 1937, which was brought in as his attempt to raise America out of the Depression from the Wall Street Crash. As an extremely experimental project, it is easy to realise that Roosevelt would receive opposition from all sides. The left side of politics believed that Roosevelt’s plans were not taking reform far enough, and imposed pressure on him to do so. Meanwhile, the right-wing felt that the New Deal was far too radical, and saw Roosevelt as a character bringing the USA to communism. The Republican-dominated Supreme Court had many conflicts with the new Democrat President, and had more than enough power to make a stand against him. Various individuals such as Huey Long of Louisiana, and Dr Francis Townsend also rallied support against Roosevelt’s plans, as well as big businesses who saw Roosevelt as a class traitor. The strength of the opposition varies, as does opinion of how influential it was. By far the strongest opponent to Roosevelt was the Supreme Court. As a group of Republican judges with the power to change and completely out rule any piece of legislation they choose, Doug & Susan Willoughby say ‘It was inevitable that these clashes would occur’, echoed by Clements. Roosevelt came into problems when the Court began to deem his doings as unconstitutional, starting with ‘Black Monday’ on 27th May 1935. As a result of the Schecher Poultry Corporation v. United States case (also known as the ‘Sick Chickens’ case), the NIRA was seen as unconstitutional by the Court, and subsequently removed legal protection for labour unions. Though the Supreme Court removed the act on the grounds that it went against the constitution, it was also as a reminder to Roosevelt of the limits on his power. Brogan tells us ‘’Black Monday’ was seen as a mortal blow to the New Deal. It proved to be nothing of the sort’ which plays down the idea that the Supreme Court were a sturdy opponent. However, Clements sees the Court as a powerful challenger, pointing out that ‘In the 140 years before 1935, the Supreme Court had found only about 60 federal laws unconstitutional; in 18 months during 1935 and 1936, it found 11 to be so’. Strong positive opinion of the Court amongst American citizens meant that Roosevelt would have to tread carefully if he were to attempt to challenge the Supreme Court.

The ‘Thunder on the Left’ was the strong left-wing criticisms and alternatives to the New Deal that threatened Roosevelt, and affected his experiments moving further to the left. The most notable left-wing critic was Huey Long, who Roosevelt noted as ‘a political rival’. His ‘Share Our Wealth’ campaign gained mass popularity: Long claimed ‘that, in 1935, his movement had 7.5 million members’, though Doug & Susan Willoughby are quick to remind us that ‘he did exaggerate!’. A secret poll conducted in 1935 showed that up to 4 million people may vote for him in 1936, which meant that Long would hold the balance of power in the election. However, his assassination in 1935 meant that his influence in the votes could not be realised. In terms of his potency, Clements felt Roosevelt ‘breathed a sigh of relief at the news’ of Long’s assassination, implying FDR felt threatened by the critic at the time. Albert Fried believes, however, ‘Roosevelt welcomed a certain amount of militancy on his left so that he could keep the right in line and appear all the more moderate’, which suggests Long’s opposition did not affect Roosevelt as much as Clements argued.

‘The Golden Hour of the Little Flower’ was a radio programme presented by Father...
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