Herbert H. Lehman and New York's Little New Deal

By Robert P. Ingalls | Go to book overview
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During the generation before the Little New Deal, reform flourished in New York. Fathered at the state level by a Republican, Governor Charles Evans Hughes, Progressivism later thrived in the 1920s under the guiding hand of Alfred E. Smith, a Democrat. New York's next chief executive, Franklin D. Roosevelt, picked up where Smith left off and kept the ball rolling. 1 Despite differences in emphasis, these three governors sponsored similar remedies for the problems of an industrialized society. While serving in Albany, Hughes, Smith, and Roosevelt were "progressive"--in tune with the broad reform movement which dominated American politics after the turn of the century. 2

In New York the forces of good government focused on administrative and political reforms to make the state more efficient and responsive. Determined to clean up the state bureaucracy, Charles Evans Hughes endorsed passage of the Moreland Act, which gave the governor authority to investigate any executive department. After winning approval of this measure as well as a corrupt practices law, Hughes devoted his second term to an unsuccessful fight for direct primaries. 3 Al Smith considered reorganization of the executive branch his greatest achievement. Compelled to rely on the lengthy procedure of amending the constitution, Smith worked throughout his four terms to reduce the, state's 187 different agencies to eighteen departments, all but two of which were responsible to the governor. He also introduced business methods into New York's finances by pushing through a constitutional amendment establishing the executive budget. Finally, Smith showed his tie to pre-world war reform by advocating democratic political devices such as the referendum and the direct primary. 4

Although progressives improved the machinery of government so that it could better regulate imbalances in society, they exercised caution in curbing business. Troubled by the abuses of monopolies, Governor Hughes won enactment of a law creating a state Public Service Commission (PSC) to oversee the operations of public utilities. After the PSC proved too weak to deal effectively with transportation and power interests,


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