American Experience, Essay Example
The Civilian Conservation Corps (2009) combines archival imagery with personal accounts from Civilian conservation Corps veterans. This film gives a comprehensive overview of one of the nation’s most popular New Deal experiments (Stone, 2009). New Deal initiatives were implemented by Franklin D. Roosevelt as a means to provide employment opportunities to thousands of destitute Americans during the Great Depression (Cohen, 1980).
During the first days of the Roosevelt Administration, more than three million unemployed American men were deployed for nine years to work on a variety of projects across the nation (Cohen, 1980). This was a Federal Government initiative, developed by Roosevelt, to provide work to many men who had lost their jobs during the Great Depression. These men would deploy to different parts of the country to develop infrastructure in local, state, and national parks (p. 12). At the time of its inception, the U.S. Army was the only government agency capable of such a massive nationwide effort. As such, the Army Reserve collaborated with Labor and Agricultural Departments to ensure that the camps retained its focus on conservation efforts while construction was underway. The civilians who participated in the infrastructure construction recall that their day-to-day routines shared similarities to Army life. In fact, many of them later joined the U.S. Army during World War II (p. 34).
All racial groups were welcomed to participate in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and an anti-discrimination clause was included in the initial CCC legislation. Between 1933 and 1942, thousands of unemployed Americans worked on conservation projects across the nation. Their efforts resulted in roads, trails and pipelines, and the creation of fisheries across America; many of which are still in use today.
The vast majority of American men who joined the CCC did so in an effort to escape unemployment and subsequent poverty during the Great Depression. This was the largest conservation effort ever developed in the United States and gave evidence to the Federal Government’s efforts to provide opportunities to it citizens during harsh economic times.
PART II: INTERPRETING AND WRITING 20th CENTURY HISTORY
Slide #8: A Hero in Daunting Times
The stock market crashed in 1929; the same year Herbert Hoover became President of the United States (Foner, 2009). The stock market crash meant that profits and prices rapidly declined and, as a result, many Americans lost their jobs. In fact, unemployment in the U.S. rose to 25 percent. The devastating effects of the stock market crash quickly spread to other countries and resulted in the Great Depression (Foner, 2009). There are differing viewpoints on what exactly led to the stock market crash of 1929. One popular belief is that free markets failed and another is that the government failed to regulate interest rates, control money supply, and curb widespread bank failures (Foner, 2009). Between 1929 and 1933, nearly 50 percent of all U.S. banks had failed. This meant that the savings of all the customers of those failed banks also disappeared. The value of U.S. currency dwindled and farm markets nationwide eroded. The country was in an economic crisis.
In an effort to reverse the economic downturn, President Hoover developed numerous programs, such as the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act in 1930, and the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in 1932. The former was an Act designed to encourage Americans to purchase local products. Through increasing the cost of imported goods, President Hoover was confident that this Act would protect U.S. farmers. However, other nations retaliated and raised the tariffs on American-made products. This effort significantly reduced international trade and, in turn, worsened the effects of the Depression. The goal of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation was to provide farmers, railroads, and financial institutions with government-secured loans. However, unemployment rates kept rising and profits kept declining, further contributing to the economic downturn (Foner, 2009).
Amidst all the governmental initiates designed to lift the American population from the effects of the Great Depression, numerous social and cultural changes were taking place. For instance, the crime rate soared as many resorted to petty crimes in an effort to put food on the table. Suicide rates climbed and so did cases of malnutrition among Americans (Foner, 2009). Many could not afford visits to the doctor and simply used their money for more pressing matters, such as food and rent. Alcoholism was also on the rise as many attempted to drown their sorrows and it was worsened by the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. Furthermore, mass migrations took place as many upstate New York and rural New England residents left to seek employment elsewhere. Many migrated to Arizona and California in the hopes of finding work. This mass movement was labeled the ‘Dust Bowl”. In fact, an estimated 600,000 people, mostly adolescents, were recorded leaving their place of residence with the hope of making a better life elsewhere. During the Depression, popular culture experienced a pseudo rebirth; although a night at the movies were hardly affordable, two out of five people saw at least one film a week (Foner, 2009). Famous films from that era include Gone with the Wind and Frankenstein.
Family dynamics also changed drastically at the onset of the Depression. Many men lost their jobs and had great difficulty finding new employment. As such, women and children often had to obtain work. This was particularly true for African American women who had great ease finding employment as servants or housekeepers for wealthier families. In addition, many women were abandoned by their husbands, who simply could no longer withstand the pressure associated with unemployment. According to 1940 survey, more than 1.5 million married women were abandoned by their husbands during the Great Depression (Allen, 1986).
By 1933, in the midst of the nation’s most severe economic turmoil, Franklin Delano Roosevelt became President. FDR, 32nd president of the U.S., encouraged American optimism by developing initiatives that provided income to thousands of Americans at the peak of the Great Depression; the initiatives were part of the President’s New Deal campaign. He was the longest serving president in American history.
President Roosevelt’s New Deal initiatives were active between 1933 and 1936 and focused on relief, recovery, and reform for the American economy that has been crippled by economic collapse. Relief would be offered to the thousands of unemployed Americans, recovery would repair the American economy to normal levels, and reform would restructure the nation’s financial system to ensure that a repeat depression does not happen (Foner, 2009). Through the implementation of the New Deal the U.S. underwent a political realignment, confirming the Democratic Party as the majority; this remained true until 1969 as Democrats ruled the White House for seven out of nine presidential terms. Republicans were less enthusiastic about President Roosevelt’s reform initiatives and labeled the New Deal as a threat to new business growth.
One of the President’s first initiatives was to implement a foreign policy toward Latin American countries with the purpose of non-interference and non-intervention in the affairs of Latin American countries. The policy was labeled the Good Neighbor Policy (Foner, 2009). Indicative of its name, the policy stated that the U.S. would be a good neighbor to Latin American countries and engage only in reciprocal exchanges with these nations. The Roosevelt Administration had hoped that the policy would promote new economic opportunities for the U.S. in the form of reciprocal trade. Another initiative was the Civilian Conservation Corps which provided work to many men who had lost their jobs during the Great Depression. These men would deploy to different parts of the country to develop infrastructure in local, state, and national parks (p. 12). Many of their efforts are still in use today. Other initiatives implemented by the Roosevelt Administration included:
- Implementing minimum wages and labor standards, as well as competitive situations in all industries through the National Recovery Administration (NRA). The NRA was a New Deal agency that sought to eliminate cut-throat competition through the development of fair trade practices and the unification of labor, industry, and government. In other words, its primary goal was to eliminate unfair and destructive competition by providing workers with the maximum amount of hours at a minimum wage and by ensuring that products are affordable enough so that they could actually be sold to a poor national market;
- Encouraging an increase in spending power of the working class to all unions that wished to raise workers’ wages; and
- Encouraging businesses to collaborate with government agencies to set price codes through the NRA (Best, 1992).
The President also created the Civil Works Administration in 1933. This program was designed to create jobs for thousands of unemployed Americans; however, in an effort to create high-paying jobs in the construction industry, it was met with great opposition and ended in 1934. The Roosevelt Administration also created the Federal Housing Administration in an effort to offer relief to Americans who had lost their homes during the Depression. Because so many Americans were unemployed, and because the majority of banks were in a financial crisis, lenders recalled thousands of loans. This initiative was designed to regulate housing conditions and mortgages. The Federal Security Agency was created in 1939 and was designed to administer federal education funding, social security, and food and drug safety. It was terminated in 1953.
Many of the Roosevelt Administration’s New Deal initiatives were successful and by 1936 the nation had regained economic stability. However, unemployment rates remained high. Then, in an effort to balance the federal budget, President Roosevelt cut spending and increased taxation, which had an adverse effect on the economy. By 1937 the economy once again staggered to dismal proportions and remained unstable for 13 months. The production of durable goods plummeted and so did industrial production. Unemployment rose to nearly 20 percent by 1938, indicating that an estimated 12 million Americans were out of work (Best, 1992). By June 1938, however, things began to improve. Unemployment rates declined, retail sales began to increase, and industrial production began to improve. By the early 1940s, the unemployment rate fell to a measly two percent and the Roosevelt Administration ceased many of its relief programs.
Allen, F. L. (1986). Since Yesterday: The 1930’s in America. New York: Harper Perennial.
Best, G. D. (1992). Pride, Prejudice, and Politics: Roosevelt Versus Recovery, 1933-1938. Cleveland: Ohio University Press.
Cohen, S. (1980). The Tree Army: A Pictorial History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942. New York: Pictorial Histories Publishing Co. Inc. .
Foner, E. (2009). Give Me Liberty!: An American History, Vol. 2: From 1865, Thirs Seagull Edition. New York: Norton.
Stone, R. (Director). (2009). The Civilian Conservation Corps [Motion Picture].
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