Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945

By David M. Kennedy | Go to book overview

12
What the New Deal Did

At the heart of the New Deal there was not a philosophy but a temperament.

-- Richard Hofstadter, The American Political Tradition, 1948

Not with a bang, but a whimper, the New Deal petered out in 1938. Roosevelt's annual message to Congress in January 1939 was his first in which he did not propose new social and economic programs. "We have now passed the period of internal conflict in the launching of our program of social reform," he announced. "Our full energies may now be released to invigorate the processes of recovery in order to preserve our reforms."1 As it happened, recovery awaited not the release of more New Deal energies but the unleashing of the dogs of war. Yet the end of reform scarcely meant the end of social and economic change, nor even the end of pursuing those goals the New Deal had championed, especially the goal of security. When the war brought recovery at last, a recovery that inaugurated the most prosperous quarter century America has ever known, it brought it to an economy and a country that the New Deal had fundamentally altered. Indeed, the achievements of the New Deal years surely played a role in determining the degree and the duration of postwar prosperity.

The era of reform might have ended in 1938, but it is worth remembering just how much reform had already taken place by that date. Into the five years of the New Deal was crowded more social and institutional change than into virtually any comparable compass of time in the nation's past. Change is always controversial. Change on the scale the New Deal wrought has proved interminably controversial. Debate about the

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1
PPA ( 1939), 7.

-363-

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