Themes in American History: Capitalism, Slavery, Democracy

Blog Post #4

The very short introduction, “Reflation and Relief” in chapter 4, written by Rauchway E. revolves around the influential events surrounding the Great Depression. More specifically, this chapter explains the actions former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made during his term to combat the gravity of what was happening in the American economy. To begin, “Franklin Delano Roosevelt took the oath of office as President for the first time on March 4, 1933” and immediately after “every moving part in the machinery of the American economy had evidently broken, Banks, farms, factories, and trade had all failed” (pg.1). Since the Great depression left the economy in turmoil, he had no choice but to act to repair it as soon as possible. On page 1 of the chapter, it says “Roosevelt right away began working to repair finance, agriculture, and manufacturing, though he would give less attention to overseas economic affairs”. Some may argue that this strategy lacked concern for other factors such as Isaiah Berlin, a British Philosopher, who says that Roosevelt’s “great social experiment was conducted with an isolationist disregard of the outside world” (pg.1). Although Roosevelt was acting for what needed to be done, he was ignoring foreign affairs and not interacting with other countries with is incredibly important when maintaining alliances to promote peace. Rauchway’s perspective on this “new deal” that Roosevelt makes is not as effective as it should have been and that it was more of an “experiment”. The new deal did result in some change for the economy and progress from where it was, to begin with. Citizens were eager to support Roosevelt after “unemployment fell dramatically…[and] the American economy grew at averaged rates of around 8 to 10 percent” (pg.1).  The bank holiday is another one of his achievements that helped raise the country from its concerning state. Roosevelt also dealt with the American currency by issuing “an executive order preventing Americans from holding gold, except in small amounts” (pg.5). Not to mention he also made anyone that had gold in their possession turn it into Federal Reserve Banks in exchange for another currency. People viewed this as a strategic move to prevent any conflict in congress and provided the solution himself instead of needing approval from congress.

Overall, this reading did teach me a few things about Roosevelt I didn’t already know. Previously, I knew how important he was because of the context surrounding his presidency and all the major steps he took while in his term, but this chapter went into details on acts and the new deal itself. It demonstrated how some people may have admired Roosevelt for how much change he brought with him in this country, yet others questioned him and his ideals. It is always right to question the intentions of our presidents because they hold so much power over us, but it’s also important to educate ourselves to understand what is really going on in our country and how it affects us.

One thought on “Blog Post #4”

  1. Glad to hear you conclude on a thoughtful note; I couldn’t agree more with your concluding sentence! You raise an interesting question about the international aspects of the New Deal and what Rauchway characterizes as FDR’s “isolationist” stance; why do you think he might have been cautious about getting involved in European affairs, and why was this so important in the 1930s?

    I’m not sure I agree with your characterization of Rauchway’s argument as concluding that the ND was “not as effective as it should have been.” For one thing, all the evidence from the reading you cite seems pretty positive. To me it seems that Rauchway is pointing out various shortcomings and flaws, but comes down pretty overwhelmingly on the pro-side, with evidence that even some of the more controversial ND programs were arguably more effective than they’ve been given credit for. Just as it’s our job to retain a critical perspective on presidents and other political figures, it’s the historian’s job to retain a critical distance while using evidence to come up with an informed interpretation of historical figures and events.

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