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Historians have disagreed about the extent to which the New Deal benefited the American
What is your view about the extent to which the New Deal benefited the American people?
In order to gather a well-rounded view of the extent to which the New Deal benefited the
American people, it is important to look at the viewpoints of different historians and assess
what they are saying, what conclusions they draw and how convincing their views are.
Roosevelt wanted to help the many victims of the 1930s depression and the historian
Brogan argues that the New Deal was indeed enough to help the American people and
benefit their lives by reforming society and making lasting positive changes. However, he
also goes on to highlight how it needed to be better organized and more beneficial to
minority groups and the poorest American people. Historian Kennedy, however, disagrees
with this view and states that the New Deal helped transform America through its many
groundbreaking reforms and that the New Deal was what helped America get back on its
feet after the depression. He also highlights the key role of the New Deal in maintaining
American democracy. Badger’s viewpoint disagrees with both of these historians as his
outlook on the New Deal and how it benefited the American people is most definitely a
negative one, focusing on, for example, its negative effects on black Americans and its
failure to evenly distribute wealth. In order to assess the extent to which the New Deal
benefited the American people we must look at the various number of key themes that
affected this; farming, minority groups, hope, democracy, and welfare. This essay will argue
that although the New Deal benefited the American people to a great extent through morale
and maintaining democracy, it certainly had its bad points, especially with welfare and
Each historian has a different view on how far the New Deal benefited farmers. The historian
Brogan has a mostly positive view and believes that the New Deal was highly successful for
a lot of commercial, rich farmers, although some poorer farmers did not benefit from it.
Brogan states that “the New Deal also came to the rescue of mortgaged farmers” which can
be considered convincing as many mortgaged farmers facing foreclosure were given relief
by the New Deal and were essentially saved as they no longer had to worry about the
prospects of losing their livelihood and becoming homeless. For example, In May 1933 the
Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) was passed. This act encouraged those who were still left
in farming to grow fewer crops. Therefore, there would be less produce on the market and
crop prices would rise thus benefiting the farmers. Brogan praises the Roosevelt
administration, stating that it “lost no time in tackling the farm problem.” His praise does not
just focus on President Roosevelt’s positive action, but also highlights that he made quick
work of it, suggesting that he understood how fixing farming was a priority. Badger, on the
other hand, believes that the New Deal was a failure in terms of agriculture, especially
because it failed to solve the problem of the disadvantaged farmers: agricultural policies did. not go as far as the New Dealers wanted them to go. Badger states that “recovery programs
offered little to marginal farmers, sharecroppers, and farm laborers. The ambitious plans to
solve the problems of rural poverty were largely stillborn”. Badger focuses on the poorest
and more disadvantaged Americans throughout his work, presenting a convincing argument
that despite Brogan’s claims, a lot of the farmers were poor and could not benefit from
schemes set up by the New Deal. This meant that New Deal only benefited certain groups of
American people. Furthermore, he states that “local administration of the farm programme
put power into the hands of the local rural power structure and discriminated against the
rural poor” , which is a major weakness that Brogan fails to identify. This weakness meant
that only those who were already powerful in the farming sector prior to the depression
benefited from the New Deal, and that the weaker farmers were still left to suffer with little
aid. Whilst Brogan provides essentially a general overview of how farmers were affected by
the New Deal, Badger provides a more in depth look, focusing on how various types of
farmers were affected differently, which explains why these views differ. The historian
Kennedy, on the other hand, offers a mixed view in which, although he states both good and
bad points, he mentions farming very little. Therefore it is fair to assume that Kennedy did
not believe that the New Deal had a significant enough impact on farmers and agriculture to
be mentioned more than in passing, although the impact it did have was a positive one. This
balanced approach is illustrated by Kennedy’s mention of “the ham-handed device of simply
paying producers not to produce” but then in contrast, his further observation that “ to tens
of millions of rural Americans, the New Deal offered the modern comforts of electricity,
schools, and roads, as well as unaccustomed financial stability”. The most convincing
approach is similar to Kennedy’s as there were many positives and negative effects of the
New Deal on farming. This is supported by historian John Traynor who claims that for
farmers in Southern states, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) “transformed the whole
region and boosted the prosperity of farmers through investment, electrification programmes
and the production of nitrate fertilisers” . On balance, realistically, although there could have
been more done, there were many other areas that needed to be considered and reformed
so only a limited amount could be done. Undoubtedly the New Deal did benefit the American
people to an extent, for example, through it’s programmes such as the Frazier-Lemke
Bankruptcy Act of 1934 which gave aid to farmers who were facing foreclosure and the
Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) which, by Autumn of 1935 had over half a million young
men working for it, described by historian Ted Morgan describes as “an auspicious venture” .
However of course it did have its downsides, as Morgan points out “some of the camps were
mismanaged and some of the work was ill planned… Some camp managers were drunk and
others were crooks.” Therefore it is clear to see that Badger has the most convincing
argument that the
Furthermore, each historian also has a different view on how far the New Deal benefited
minority groups in America. The historian Brogan fails to go into significant detail regarding the plight of minority groups, but his judgement is that the New Deal did not benefit them to a
great extent. He briefly mentions how black people did not benefit from the farming policies
and it is true that a large number of black people were poor farmers who did not benefit
nearly as much as the rich, commercial (and usually white) farmers. Significantly, perhaps, it
must be noted that Brogan’s work is part of a wider time frame, aiming to cover the entire
history of Modern America, and therefore race in the New Deal would be far less significant
than in other parts of modern American history, such as the civil rights movement, which
Brogan considers elsewhere in his book. This is an important point in explaining why these
interpretations differ. Badger, however, presents a lot of reasons both for and against the
extent to which the New Deal benefited minority groups in America positively. He refers to
“the indifference with which, the NRA and the AAA regarded blacks” but also goes on to say
“Agencies like the PWA, WPA and the FSA pursued racial policies that had changed
significantly from the white preoccupations in 1933” . It is true that more black people were
being given government roles and in some cases more respect. This is made clear by the
fact that “Roosevelt named Mary McLeod Bethune, a black educator, to the advisory
committee of the National Youth Administration (NYA)” and that “Harold Ickes, a strong
supporter of civil rights who had several blacks on his staff, poured federal funds into black
schools and hospitals in the South.” However, as Badger highlights, there was still a lot of
discrimination and progress still to be made regarding the rights of blacks and other minority
groups. In a similar fashion to the way he viewed farming, he also points out that “Local
administration tended to countenance and perpetuate racial discrimination” , suggesting
that there was already a systematic and institutional set up in which minority groups were
disadvantaged, specifically African Americans. So, whilst Roosevelt was successful in
funding the projects he launched for change as part of the New Deal, he was less effective
at actually changing entrenched views in society and local and state government. Kennedy,
in direct contrast to the other two historians, believes the New Deal had positive effects on
black people and other minority groups, and fails to acknowledge the downsides or negative
effects. This is a major difference to the other two historians, for example, he says “perhaps
the New Deal’s greatest achievement was its accommodation of the maturing immigrant
communities that had milled uneasily on the margins of American society for a generation
and more” . This difference in opinion is largely due to his references to immigrant
communities rather than black communities when he discusses minority groups and
suggests, therefore, that he has looked at different sources to the other historians and
furthermore, that his view is different because the focus of his argument is different. He
does, however, also mention that “to black Americans the New Deal offered jobs… and
perhaps as important the complement of respect from at least some federal officials. The
time had not come for direct federal action to challenge Jim Crow… but more than a few
New Dealers made clear where their sympathies lay and quietly prepared for a better future.”
This suggests that he also has a more positive view on the effects of the New Deal on
black Americans than the other historians. Jim Crow laws were laws that prevented black Americans from voting and having other equal rights to white Americans. They were a
prevalent part of society and Kennedy reflects this in his view, believing that it would be a
long process to black equality, but that the New Dealers were ready to come about change
as soon as it was possible, with most of the changes happening in the 1960s and 1970s due
to riots, campaigns, protesting and more. However, Kennedy’s views can be argued as
convincing as historian Morgan agrees with his views, particularly in the context of the CCC
which he states “encouraged the social promotion of blacks” and “thousands of black youths
were given their first chance in life, and FDR tried to place as many blacks as he could in
positions of responsibility.” While it is true that the New Deal helped minorities to at least
some extent, it is also very much true that we must not forget the importance of other
aspects of life that needed to be improved for all Americans. As Kennedy reflects on, the
New Dealers could not transform everything at once so although the progress did not seem
like much, the extent to which the lives of black Americans were benefited was successful
for what really, realistically could have been done. However, as Badger says, it is clear that it
would be incorrect to say that the lives of minority groups were not benefitted at all by the
New Deal, there were a lot of shortcomings and areas which needed improvement. For
example, the New Deal did nothing to stop lynching despite pressure from black Americans
to pass anti-lynching legislation and failed to give blacks equal voting rights. This is
supported by historian John Traynor who points out that “from 1933 to 1935, lynch mobs
murdered sixty-three African Americans while Southern Sheriffs made no effort to intervene”
so it is logical to argue that Badger’s view is the more convincing argument. This is also
supported by the historian Douglas Carl Abrams, who says that “the recovery program hurt..
black workers, agricultural policies accelerated black farmers’ movement down the
socioeconomic ladder, and relief reinforced blacks’ low status”
Historians have disagreed about the extent to which the New Deal benefited the American
people through renewing optimism, morale, and hope. Brogan states that “The first
achievement of the New Deal.. was this restoration of faith” . One of the first things that
Roosevelt did was set up his fireside chats after the catastrophic leadership of Hoover which
Brogan references when he says “the people listened to that warm voice and believed” .
This reinstated some hope that this President, presenting himself as a family member to the
people, the people believed he would be able to save them from the horrors of the Great
Depression. Furthermore, Badger also talks positively about how the people were benefited
by the New Deal through the faith and hope it gave them. He mentions that “the ferment of
activity in Washington gave Southern black leaders new hope that the federal government
might eventually be the source of their salvation” which in many ways did come to pass. Also
this differs from Brogan’s view as it focuses more on the idea of the government as a whole
rather than Roosevelt himself and how the people were given hope by him personally,
suggesting that these historians have studied different materials to build their arguments and
explains why their interpretations differ. This is a convincing view as it is estimated that
around 60 million people listened to Roosevelt’s first broadcasted speech, and historianWilliam Leuchtenburg commented “Roosevelt was the first president to master the technique
of reaching people directly over the radio. In his fireside chats, he talked like a father
discussing public affairs with his family in the living room” . Similarly to Brogan, Kennedy too
believes that the “New Deal gave to countless Americans who had never had much of it a
sense of security” and that “Roosevelt’s New Deal was a welcoming mansion of many
rooms, a place where millions of his fellow citizens could find at last a measure of the
security that the patrician Roosevelts enjoyed as their birthright.” However, unlike Brogan,
he chooses to focus on the entire Roosevelt family rather than simply just Franklin
Roosevelt, which explains why he comes to a different conclusion. The three historians
obviously think that faith and hope were essential to how the New Deal benefited the
American people, however, they all appear to have different views as to exactly what it was
that stirred the feelings of faith and hope in the American people and therefore benefited
their lives. It is also important to remember hope can only benefit people to an extent, and
although it is clear that this sense of security that the New Deal enabled was essential to the
extent to which it benefited the American people, it is also clear that there was still more
work to be done. Restoring faith would not solve everything; it was more economic and
social change that had to occur in order to truly benefit the American people to a great
extent. People would send Roosevelt letters expressing their love and gratitude for the work
he had done through the New Deal to improve their lives, with an average of 8000 letters to
Roosevelt arriving at the White House each day, an enormous amount especially when
compared to Hoover’s measly 800 letters each day . As historian Folsom states, “The most
damning indictment of FDR’s New Deal agenda is that it did not do what it set out to do: end
the Great Depression. Ask anyone over 80 and he or she will probably say that FDR cared
about the working man and gave the country hope. Maybe so, but that is not a sound
economic plan – to declare, much as Bill Clinton would do sixty years later “I feel your pain”.
Empathy is all well and good, but it does not create jobs or business or wealth” . This is very
much true as Traynor too points out that in August 1937 “the recovery lost its momentum...
and industrial activity fell away” . It is clear to see, therefore, that overall ? presents the
most convincing argument that the New Deal did benefit the American people by giving them
faith in both their government and president. However, he also importantly highlights that we
must consider how far faith can actually lead to change and how although the people felt
hope once again, many of their lives only got marginally easier due to the New Deal.
Historians have disagreed about the extent to which the New Deal benefited the American
people by maintaining democracy. Brogan says “Rather than comparing the New Deal to
Utopia, it is better to bring out its actual achievements”. It is true that although the New Deal
was far from perfect, from a realistic standpoint it was a success and unarguably did benefit
the American people through its innovative preservation of democracy and America as a
whole. As Brogan says, its most important achievement was the “preservation of American
democracy, the American constitution, and American capitalism.” This idea of the New Deal
benefitting the American people through maintaining democracy is also reflected in historian Traynor’s view that “It seemed that by merely taking the oath of office a man of great charm
but limited depth now seemed capable of single-handedly taking on the Great Depression.”
Kennedy has a slightly different argument to Brogan, stating that “Above all, the New Deal
gave to countless Americans who had never had much of it a sense of security, and with it a
sense of having a stake in their country.” which suggests that the New Deal benefited the
American people by giving them a feeling of involvement and therefore reinforcing their
commitments and attitudes to democracy.This slight difference of emphasis is explained by
the fact that Brogan focuses on government structures whereas Kennedy has a clear focus
on the attitudes of the people, two very different focuses which lead to different conclusions.
Moreover, he emphasizes that the New Deal was able to do this “without shredding the
American constitution or sundering the American people. At a time when despair and
alienation were prostrating other peoples under the heel of dictatorship, that was no small
accomplishment.” suggesting that the New Deal was very much a success in its remarkable
ability to restore and rebuild American democracy, especially in a time where dictators like
Hitler and Mussolini were gaining support and power over in the European countries, a
comparison which Brogan fails to make. Thirdly, Badger believes that “In the end, the New
Deal was essentially a holding operation for American society because in the democratic,
capitalist United States that was what most Americans wanted it to be.” This is neither a
positive or negative outlook or statement on how the New Deal benefited the American
people through democracy, but as he reflects the way the New Deal repaired and rebuilt
America the way the people wanted, this would, therefore on balance, suggest that it did
indeed benefit them. Overall, it is clear to see that the New Deal did indeed benefit the
American people through democracy, and that Kennedy offers the most convincing
argument, highlighting how democracy was preserved thanks to Roosevelt’s New Deal and
its ability to preserve people’s feelings towards democracy and belief in the American
Historians have disagreed about the extent to which the New Deal benefited the American
people by improving welfare support. Brogan has a positive outlook on this area, stating that
“Nothing in Roosevelt’s career mattered more to him ultimately than the task of rescuing the
millions of innocent victims of the great storm and of transforming American attitudes to
them. Indeed, though it was long before he fully recognised it, one of his chief historical
tasks was the foundation of the American welfare state” this could be supporting the idea
that there were in fact two New Deals, the second starting in 1935 and being much more
radical than the first. Moreover, he also emphasises the long term effects this had on the
American people, establishing an important part of American society which still exists today.
This shows that he has a different focus to other historians; by looking at the long term
factors he has come to a different conclusion. On the other hand, Badger’s argument is
different to this. He accepts that there was a “quantum leap” in welfare, and he seems to
acknowledge both the positive and negative impacts that changes to Welfare, or lack thereof
had on American people and to what extent it benefited them. He points out that “The social
security system excluded many who needed help most, paid for benefits from the earnings
of the beneficiaries”
, highlighting how the New Deal tended to exclude certain people from
its benefits. This is reflected by the feelings of the American people at the time, with one
Pennsylvanian observing in late 1934 that “the forgotten man is still forgotten… the New
Deal and N.R.A has only helped big business” and by another American in 1935 who wrote
in a letter to the White House, “We’re about down and out and the only good thing about it
that I see is that there’s not much further down we can go” .However, he also acknowledges
that “New Deal welfare programs gave the unemployed money and jobs.” which is also
supported by the historian Traynor who identifies that “The WPA spent around 11 billion
dollars and gave work to more than 8.5 million people” The biggest difference between the
historians is that whilst Badger gives a well rounded view, Brogan, as he has been
throughout his analysis, has been wholeheartedly positive. Kennedy goes even further than
Brogan with his praise, highlighting how the New Deal benefited people in the long term but
also, and more crucially, how it changed people’s perceptions (he describes this as a “simple
but momentous shift in perception” ) and was a groundbreaking achievement. He writes
“that brief span of years, it is now clear, constituted one of only a handful of episodes in
American history when substantial and lasting social change has occurred.” Whereas
Brogan implies many of these factors, Kennedy is very explicit with his views and is much
more definitive. Out of the three opinions, the one that must be considered the most
convincing is Badger. To an extent it is reasonable to believe that Kennedy’s point is valid as
it is true that “the social security act represented a major step toward the government’s
responsibility for improving social and economic bills” but as with many other points
regarding the New Deal, Badger presents a more well rounded view and is right to point out
that there were some negatives despite the overall benefits to the American people, for
example, that unemployment benefit of a maximum of 18 dollars a week and only for 16
To conclude, Brogan’s argument is the most convincing as he provides a mixed view on the
extent to which the New Deal benefited the American people, talking of the importance of
viewing the New Deal’s achievements with realism in mind but also making it clear that the
New Deal did indeed benefit the American people to a great extent, especially through its
policies and actions regarding farming, faith, and democracy. Kennedy, although convincing
on some parts, he often fails to acknowledge the more negative sides, the extent to which
the New Deal did not benefit the American people, so his argument is less balanced and
therefore less useful. Badger contradicts himself many times and it is clear that although he
has some good ideas, Brogan’s argument is by far the most convincing and also goes hand
in hand with my view that the New Deal did benefit people to a great extent through its
amazing ability to help America recover from the depression and although it did have its
downfalls, from a realistic standpoint it was incredibly successful in its ability to benefit the
American people.
TSR Jessica
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