Toward a New Deal in Baltimore: People and Government in the Great Depression

By Jo Ann E. Argersinger | Go to book overview

Introduction

For years historians have argued that a fuller understanding of the New Deal requires more systematic study of the 1930s at the state and local levels. In 1969, James T. Patterson underscored that need in The New Deal and the States and encouraged other scholars to examine the Roosevelt record in specific states and cities. 1 More recently, a number of important studies have been completed for such cities as Boston and New York and for such states as Virginia, North Carolina, and Colorado, among others. 2

Much of this new work focuses on the role of the New Deal in meeting the problems and needs created by the Great Depression. It attempts to explain how people responded to a long depression and to a much shorter New Deal that ultimately failed to solve the problem of unemployment. It analyzes the effects of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal on politics, labor, and the unemployed. And, specifically, these studies evaluate the success of the New Deal, asking to what extent national administrators, state legislators, and municipal officials could have done more for relief and reform. With few exceptions, these works minimize the effects of the New Deal on the society and politics of the 1930s. John Braeman, Robert Bremner, and David Brody noted this when they wrote: "Paradoxically the result of this new interest has been further to downgrade the significance of the New Deal as an instrument of fundamental changes in American life and society." 3 Operating within a shared conceptual framework, the state and local studies pursue the same questions that shaped the earlier studies of the New Deal at the national level. Accordingly, as Anthony J. Badger notes, these case studies "tend to re-inforce the main trend of New Deal historiography since the 1960s which stresses the essentially limited nature of New Deal change." 4

No longer, however, is the primary issue one of "revolution" versus "reform" but, more appropriately, of change versus stability. By examining local prerogatives, social practices, and political traditions, these newer studies conclude that neither the New Deal's policies nor its programs were

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