Nowhere was the impact of the Great Depression upon America more profound than in the realm of politics and political institutions. As it had in other periods of stress and crisis, the American constitutional and political system proved remarkably adaptable and flexible when circumstances demanded rapid change and adjustment. Although sorely tested by potentially disruptive political forces and figures, the traditional system proved capable of transforming political unrest into a new version of party politics, one that was capable of providing reforms that successfully met the demands of an electorate disillusioned with leaders and policies that now seemed utterly inadequate and worn-out.
The outcome might have been less positive. The Great Depression severely tested democratic government everywhere. In Europe it fared badly. Unemployment and business failure in Germany so radicalized much of the electorate that by 1932 a large majority of voters had swung to the support of either the Communist or National Socialist parties, each of which in a different way represented revolutionary extremes. A National Socialist, or Nazi, electoral victory in 1933 soon led to Adolf Hitler’s dictatorship and set Germany on a course of rearmament and expansion, and, finally, in 1939, to a war in Europe war that soon became worldwide. Representative democratic government survived in Britain and France, but the depression so sharpened class conflict and enmity between political parties, in France especially, as to weaken gravely the government’s capacity to deal with the growing threat from Germany.