When Franklin Roosevelt was sworn in as president in 1933, he faced more major issues than any new chief executive since Abraham Lincoln took office in 1861. He and his Democratic Party had beaten Herbert Hoover by a landslide, in part by blaming him for the Great Depression that gripped America, but now Roosevelt had to deal both with the Depression and with vexing foreign policy issues that would arise in Europe and Asia.
On the domestic front, Roosevelt first had to discover how to begin the process of recovering from the Depression, which had thrown 13 million people -- 25 percent of the nation’s workforce -- out of work and caused 11,000 banks to close. Immediately following his March 4 inauguration, in what became known as the 100 Days, Roosevelt, his “Brains Trust” team of advisors and the Democratic majority in Congress pushed through 15 major laws to shore up the faltering financial system and bring work and financial relief to Americans. These laws and subsequent ones would form the heart of Roosevelt’s New Deal policy for fighting the Depression. Two days after his inauguration, Roosevelt declared a bank holiday, which stopped panicky depositors from withdrawing their funds. He followed this up in June by signing the Glass-Steagull Act, which created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to protect the money of ordinary citizens in the event of bank failures.
The Tree Army
To aid unemployed Americans, Roosevelt and Congress created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which would employ up to 500,000 Americans to work in the nation’s forests and parks. Roosevelt referred to them as his “tree army.” Roosevelt’s Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) gave money to states to give to the poor. And the Agricultural Adjustment Act, passed in March of 1933, gave farmers subsidies if they cut production (since the over-production of certain crops had caused farm prices to drop.
In 1935, the Democratic Congress passed the Social Security Act, Roosevelt’s signature New Deal legislation, which created a national old-age pension and unemployment system, as well as providing financial relief for dependent children, the handicapped and the blind. Roosevelt also helped establish regulatory agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), formed to help regulate financial markets, and the Federal Housing Administration, which would provide aid for Americans in buying their own homes.
The other major issues that Roosevelt faced were in the foreign policy arena. In 1934, he won passage of the Reciprocal Trade Act, which allowed the president to grant “most favored nation” status to those countries with whom the U.S. had trade agreements. Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor” policy toward Latin America saw him withdraw American troops from the Caribbean. Most importantly, Roosevelt had to address Japanese expansion in the Far East and German totalitarianism under Adolf Hitler. Roosevelt had to fight strong isolationist sentiment within America, and was not able to do anything substantial, pre-1940, to halt either Japan or Germany, although his sympathies clearly lay with Great Britain.