Describe the Political Challenges Roosevelt Faced in the Mid-1930s
25 JUN 2018
Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president in 1932, in response to the pains of the Great Depression. While Roosevelt won the election by a landslide, his presidency was not without challenges. In particular, the mid-1930s were a time of unprecedented political challenges for Franklin Roosevelt. Mishaps like his court packing scheme and a recession tarnished his political reputation.
1 Challenges On The Left
The first major opponents of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal policies came from the left of American politics. Progressive leaders like Louisiana's Huey Long contended that Roosevelt's post-Depression reforms were not liberal enough. Long declared his candidacy for president in 1935, on a plan to "share the wealth" and "make every man a king," with a 100 percent tax on fortunes above $1 million. Long's opposition, however, ended a month later when the Louisiana senator was assassinated. Initial supporters of the president, like Detroit-based Catholic priest Father Charles Coughlin, turned against the president when he refused to implement reforms like silver currency or a nationalized banking system. Challenges on the left were mounting in the mid-1930s, with many accusing Roosevelt of having neglected the poor and elderly.
2 Supreme Court Challenges
The mid 1930s presented a unique political challenge from the Supreme Court. Once the Supreme Court began deciding cases on major New Deal legislation, it found many laws unconstitutional. In 1935, the court struck down the National Industrial Recovery Act on the grounds that it violated interstate commerce. A year later, the court found the Agricultural Adjustment Act unconstitutional. Likewise, the court found the National Recovery Administration also in violation of the constitution. In response to this series of legal attacks, Roosevelt proposed his "court packing" scheme, which would have allowed the president to appoint a new justice for every justice over age 70 who failed to retire. In effect, this would have given Roosevelt the authority to appoint six new justices. Conservatives in Congress thought this was an abuse of power and opposed the proposal.
3 The Roosevelt Recession
By 1937, the nation seemed well on its way towards economic recovery from the Great Depression. Unemployment, for example, was cut from 22 percent to below 10 percent. Roosevelt and his advisers thus decided to tackle the looming public debt, which had ballooned as a result of the New Deal. Government spending was cut 17 percent in two years. This type of fiscal austerity led to what historians call the ''Roosevelt Recession'': four million jobs were lost, stock prices fell 50 percent, industrial production fell 33 percent and national income fell by 12 percent. This led to labor unrest and hurt Roosevelt's approval ratings at a critical time in his presidency.
4 Congressional Conservatives
By the mid-1930s, Roosevelt's critics were situated on both sides of the political spectrum. On the right, a coalition of conservative Southern Democrats and Republicans dominated Congress. This political opposition hampered much of the so-called "Second New Deal." While many important pieces of legislation -- like the Social Security Act -- emerged from this phase of legislation, others were watered down by conservatives. These included the Public Utilities Holding Companies Act, which attempted to break up large public utility companies, but was ineffective due to conservative alterations. In 1938, the president campaigned against conservative members of his own party, but most of them were reelected.
- 1 U.S. History: 49f.: Roosevelt's Critics
- 2 University of Virginia: Miller Center: Franklin Delano Roosevelt
- 3 History: Franklin D. Roosevelt
- 4 Smithsonian Magazine: When Franklin Roosevelt Clashed With the Supreme Court -- And Lost
- 5 National Public Radio: When a Turn Towards Austerity Turned To Disaster