Study Guide

FDR's New Deal People

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt

    Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) was the 32nd President of the United States and the only chief executive to be elected to more than two terms in office. After he did it, it was made illegal to serve more than two terms. Roosevelt held the presidency from 1934 to 1945, leading the United States through the Great Depression and World War II. His legislative program, the New Deal, greatly expanded the role of the federal government in American society.

    In his four terms in office, Roosevelt virtually reinvented the presidency, transforming the office into something much more powerful than it had ever been before. Roosevelt's New Deal dramatically expanded the federal government's role in shaping American society, permanently altering the relationship between the economy, the people, and the government.

    He also did his best to make cigarette holders look cool. It didn't work.

    For more on FDR, check out our learning guides for his 1933 Inaugural Address, his first Fireside Chat, Executive Order 9066, the Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation, his "Great Arsenal of Democracy" speech, and his "Four Freedoms" speech.

    Yep, that's what four elections will get you: a lot of speeches and more importantly, a lot of Shmoop screen-time.

  • Eleanor Roosevelt

    Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962) was the wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and a world-renowned advocate of liberal causes in her own right. She became an early hero of the civil rights movement, and was a lifelong advocate for the United Nations.

    During her husband's presidency, Eleanor Roosevelt broke new ground for a First Lady by holding her own press conferences, traveling independently to all parts of the country, writing a syndicated newspaper column, and broadcasting radio addresses. In so doing, she became something of a political leader in her own right, often staking out positions somewhat more liberal than those of her husband. After Franklin Roosevelt's death in 1945, Eleanor continued to speak out as an influential spokesperson for liberal ideals until her own death in 1962.

    For in-depth bio on E, head over here.

  • Herbert Hoover

    Herbert Hoover (1874–1964) was a self-made millionaire in the mining industry, a very successful Secretary of Commerce from 1921 to 1928, and a very unsuccessful president of the U.S. from 1929 to 1933. His term saw the onset of the Great Depression, which began with the stock market crash just a few months after he took office. Today, Hoover's name is most associated with the shanty towns—"Hoovervilles"—erected during the Depression by the nation's unemployed and homeless. He probably would have preferred to have been linked to the vacuum cleaners.

    During the course of Hoover’s unfortunate presidency, Americans rather unfairly blamed the president for all the problems unleashed by the Great Depression. Franklin D. Roosevelt trounced Hoover in the election of 1932.

  • Upton Sinclair

    Upton Sinclair (1878–1968) was an author and socialist political activist. His best known work is The Jungle, a 1906 muckraking assault on the exploitation of immigrant workers. Unfortunately for Sinclair, he included some vivid descriptions of the unsanitary conditions in the meatpacking industry and pretty soon, that was all anyone could talk about.

    In 1934, Sinclair ran for governor of California on a utopian platform called End Poverty In California (EPIC), which called for unemployed citizens to work in state-sponsored collective factories and farms to produce goods for their own use. Sinclair won the Democratic primary on this radical platform before losing the general election to Republican Frank Merriam.

  • Francis Townsend

    Dr. Francis Townsend (1867–1960) was an American physician who devised the Townsend Plan, a popular proposal for state-funded old-age pensions. The plan promised to end the Great Depression by opening up jobs for younger workers, while forcing seniors to spend more money in the consumer economy.

    In the mid-1930s, Townsend rose from complete obscurity to become the leader of a political movement that claimed the support of more than 25 million Americans. The Roosevelt administration eventually adopted a more austere version of the Townsend Plan when it created the Social Security program.

  • Huey P. Long

    Huey P. Long (1893–1935) was a charismatic Louisiana politician who served as both Governor and U.S. Senator in the early 1930s. A popular—if also, in the eyes of his critics at least, corrupt and demagogic—politician, Long's career was cut short when he was assassinated inside the Louisiana statehouse in 1935. Long was also the inspiration for Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer prize-winning novel All the King’s Men, published in 1946.

    Long rose to national prominence during the Great Depression by becoming the country's most impassioned advocate of redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor. More than 7 million Americans joined Long's Share Our Wealth clubs.

    For more on Long, head over to our learning guide on his "Every Man a King" speech.

  • Owen J. Roberts

    Owen J. Roberts (1875–1955) was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1930 1945. Though he was best known for serving as the crucial swing vote on a court deeply divided over the constitutionality of the New Deal in the mid-1930s, Roberts also made other important contributions to American jurisprudence and public policy. In 1924, he served as Special Counsel in the investigation of the Harding Administration's Teapot Dome scandal, ultimately winning the conviction, for bribe-taking, of former Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall. This is not the origin of the term "fall guy," but it should be.

    Later, in 1942, Roberts headed a special commission appointed by President Roosevelt to investigate the disaster at Pearl Harbor. His conclusion? Japanese attack.

    Between 1935 and 1937, Roberts shifted his position on the most critical legal question of the day: the constitutionality, or lack thereof, of the expansive new government powers granted to the executive branch by the New Deal. In 1935, Roberts—an appointee of Herbert Hoover—joined with the court's conservative majority in the Schechter Poultry case, which delivered a crushing blow to President Roosevelt by overturning much of the New Deal. Those were some important chickens.

    Roosevelt, stymied by the court, began exploring new ways of pushing through his program by weakening the judicial branch; he ultimately settled on a "court-packing" scheme that would have expanded the bench from 9 to 15 justices. Allowing FDR to appoint six new friendly judges would have ensured that his program would be upheld, but it would also have fatally undermined the independence of the Supreme Court.

    Justice Roberts, fearing a constitutional showdown between the executive and judicial branches, changed his position on the New Deal. When the court decided the Parrish v. West Coast Hotel case in 1937, Roberts provided the crucial swing vote in upholding a minimum wage law. No subsequent New Deal legislation was overturned by the Supreme Court. Roberts' switch, which he never fully explained on constitutional grounds, allowed the New Deal to stand and prevented a full clash of powers between the president and the judiciary.