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FDR & Radical Change in the U.S.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt stood astride the Great Depression and World War II and witnessedùand, in many ways, brought aboutùa radical change in the United States of America. The era spanning from 1933 to 1945 began in the throes of Depression and ended in triumph, in large part due to the New Deal policies of FDR and his administration. The New Deal, itself emblematic of a troubled time, was a sweeping agenda of reform that was an experiment in big government and the expansion of the executive power base. The strengths and weaknesses of the New Deal reflected back upon the American society that existed then, and continue to reverberate in the American society that exists now.

That the Great Depression cast a long shadow over FDR's administration is certain; FDR's first presidential victory in 1932 was predicated on a promise to the "forgotten man" that lasting economic recovery would come in the form of a "new deal for the American people" (Polenberg 7-8). According to FDR, this recovery would require that agricultural purchasing power be restored to the farmers, that homeowners be protected from the threat of foreclosure, and that tariff barriers be lowered to make foreign markets more attainable (Polenberg 8).

The National Industrial Recover Act (NIRA) was, according to Richard D. Polenberg, "the most important early New Deal initiative" (9); the NIRA created the National Recovery Administration (NRA), which forged a partnership between business and government that regulated prices and wages "with the goal of keeping both high enough to ensure reasonable profits and decent wages" (9). The NRA would later usher in many measures that are today taken for granted: child labor laws, minimum wage protections, and shortened workdays (Polenberg 10). A significant setback, however, would soon devastate the NIRA. In 1935 the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the NIRA was unconstitutional, citing that big business had a...

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