How successful was the New Deal?


Socialism: If you own two cows you give one to your neighbour.

Communism: You give both cows to the government and the government gives you back some milk.

Fascism: You keep both cows, but the government takes your milk, and sells some of it back to you.

New Deal: You shoot both cows and milk the government.

Republican joke of the 1930s (c. 1935)




As with most historical questions, there are two sides to this issue



On the one hand, it can be argued that the New Deal was a success (the 5Rs).


On the other hand, there are many arguments that it had serious weaknesses and failings (the 3Ds).







Simple for and against


Successes and failures - brill grid

Student's essay with examiner's comments



- Giles Hill on the impact of the New Deal



Francis Townsend  

Huey Long  

Opposition - lecture notes


Minorities under the New Deal  


Myth of the New Deal - very difficult, but takes FDR and the New Deal apart.

'Soft Fascism' - another attack




1.  Relief

Millions of people received relief, help with their mortgage, jobs etc. from the alphabet agencies.


2.  Roads and buildings

The PWA and the TVA provided valuable economic and social infrastructures, such as roads, airports, schools, theatres, dams etc



Roosevelt's new laws about social security/ minimum wage/ labour relations and trade unions survived and protected ordinary people’s rights and conditions.   Democracy survived in America (unlike Italy and Germany)


4.  Roosevelt

became the people's hero - he was elected four times.



Democracy survived in America (unlike Italy and Germany).   The New Deal became a model of how a democratic government ought to behave - arguably influenced the British Welfare State of 1948.   And in 1998, when the Labour Government of Britain was trying to introduce new laws to help poor people, it called it: a New Deal.






Source A

Whether the New Deal was a success or failure is not easy to judge.

Individual programmes were a success, such as T.V.A. Others, such

as A.A.A. succeeded in getting food prices to rise, which was good for

the farmers, but did not help the millions who were out of work and

hungry. The New Deal did not solve the problem of unemployment,

but merely made the situation not as bad as it might have been’

Pupil's GCSE essay for OCR (2003)








Weaknesses and Failings


1.  Did not end the Depression

- indeed, Roosevelt's insistence on a balanced budget, healthy interest rates and ‘sound money’ may have helped to continue it.   Roosevelt had no new ideas how to end the depression – just Hoover’s schemes only bigger.   By 1935 he had failed to end unemployment (which was only down to 10.6 million), and – although unemployment fell to 7.7 million in 1937 – when Roosevelt tried to cut back government expenditure in 1938, it rose again to 10.4 million.   It is not really fair to criticise Roosevelt for this - no one at that time knew how to end the Depression - but the Depression did not end until the Second World War got production going again.














2.  Damaged Blacks and immigrants

– in fact, many were laid off as a direct result of the New Deal’s attempts to give workers rights.

This cartoon shows New Deal legislation throwing Black workers out of a job.





This cartoon shows the AAA driving farm labourers from the land by making farmers cut back production.

3.  Determined Opposition (BRASS)

a   Businessmen hated the New Deal because it interfered with their businesses and supported workers’ rights.   Rich people accused Roosevelt of betraying his class.   Henry Ford hired thugs to attack his trade union workers.

b   Republicans hated the expenditure, which they said was wasteful (‘boondoggling’ – jobs for the sake of jobs).  CWA had to be abolished in 1935, though immediately replaced by the PWA.   After 1938, Republicans took over the Senate, and Roosevelt was unable to get any more New Deal legislation through.

c   Activists like Huey Long (Senator for Louisiana who started a Share the Wealth’ campaign to confiscate fortunes over $3m) and Francis Townsend (who campaigned for a pension of $200 a month) said it did not go far enough.

d   State governments opposed the New Deal, saying that the Federal government was taking their powers.

e   The Supreme Court ruled that the NRA codes of employers’ conduct, and the AAA programme, were illegal because they took away the States’ powers.   Because of this, in 1937, Roosevelt threatened to force old Supreme Court judges to retire and to create new ones; the crisis was averted when the Supreme Court reversed its decisions.


People claimed that by trying to 'pack' the Supreme Court, Roosevelt was trying to make himself a dictator.