"A new deal" was pledged by Franklin D. Roosevelt during the 1932 presidential campaign, and the phrase stuck. But historians have debated whether the adjective "A new" accurately describes the reforms of the 1930s. One school of thought argues that the New Deal had its roots in Progressivism and, therefore, "constituted only a stage in developments long under way." 1 However, other scholars question the degree of continuity between the two movements and picture the Depression as a turning point, a watershed in American history. 2
One phase of the watershed controversy centers on the states. During the Great Depression, as in the Progressive Era, the reform impulse swept not only Washington but also a number of state capitals. Defenders of the discontinuity argument cite changes in states like Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and California as evidence that the 1930s marked a new departure in American politics. 3 Supporters of the opposite point of view contend that advances in the states simply extended the gains of Progressivism. Taking the continuity position a step further, some historians depreciate the importance of legislation adopted in both periods. In a study of state governments during the 1930s, James T. Patterson asserted that "few states enacted significant reforms." He concluded: "While state activity expanded in the 1930's, the change was far from dramatic."4
The present study examines the reforms adopted by New York State during the administration of Governor Herbert H. Lehman. After taking office in January 1933, Lehman served as chief executive until December 1942. During those ten years, state lawmakers approved a variety of reforms which quickly became known as the "Little New Deal," because the programs resembled in many ways those enacted in Washington. Under Lehman's guiding hand, Albany provided public assistance for the jobless, unemployment insurance, farm price supports, protective labor legislation, and other welfare measures. Organized topically, this study is an analysis of New York's Little New Deal rather than a biography of Lehman. However, Lehman played such an important role in the passage of the legislation that he merits equal billing in the title.