How the New Deal Changed the Course of Government and Politics

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The New Deal period has been considered to be a turning point in American politics, with the President acquiring new authority and importance, and the role of government in the lives of citizens increasing. The extent to which this was planned by the architect of the New Deal, Franklin D. Roosevelt, has been greatly contested, however. Yet, while it is instructive to note the limitations of Roosevelt's leadership, there is not much sense in the claims that the New Deal was haphazard, a jumble of expedient and populist schemes, or as W. Williams has put it, "undirected". FDR had a clear overarching vision of what he wanted to do to America, and was prepared to drive through the structural changes required to achieve this vision. It is worth examining how the New Deal period represented a significant departure from US government and politics up to then. From the start of Roosevelt's period in office in 1932, there was a widespread sense that things were going to change. In Washington there was excitement in the air, as the first Hundred Days brought a torrent of new initiatives from the White House. The contrast with Herbert Hoover's term could not have been more striking. By 1934, E.K. Lindley had already written about The Roosevelt Revolution: First Phase. Hoover, meanwhile, denounced what he saw as an attempt to "undermine and destroy the American system" and "crack the timbers of the constitution." In retrospect, it was only a "half-way revolution", as W. Leuchtenburg has written. Radicals have been left with a sense of disappointment at the "might have beens", in P. Conkin's words. But Roosevelt never intended to overthrow the constitution, nor did he wish for an end to capitalism and individualism. He harboured 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 turned sour in the Great Depression, and they trusted that...
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