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Ennis Powell
FDR New Deal - Populist Movement
Out of the midst of The Great Depression, the vast majority of Americans sought
out for a resolution for their economic woes. American’s during the 1930’s through the
early 1940’s took heed of the catastrophic damage that the markets crash and world wide
economic downturn had caused. As a resolution these Voters turned to Franklin
Roosevelt as their source of redemption. FDR, a Democratic candidate, “made promise[s]
of a new deal for the forgotten man”(1). The soul function of the New Deal was to bring
economic relief and mass reform in the fields of “industry, agriculture, finance,
waterpower, labour, and housing”(1). This obviously got the government more directly
involved in social activities. Furthermore, It is said that the New deal is validation of the
populist movement of the late 19th century. This is because the short-lived populist
movement shared the same goal as FDR’s plan: to bring balance and order to the
common American’s economic needs.
The New Deal posed to bring the best possible outcome after the devastating
economic downfall. The American majority looked to President Franklin D. Roosevelt
with open minds after so many powerful speeches by the Dynamic man. Roosevelt had
claimed to had recognized the common mans despair or the "the dark realities of the
moment,"(4), and committed “himself and his administration to a brighter future”(4). The
New Deal generally embraced the “concept of a government-regulated economy”(1),
aimed at achieving a balance between conflicting economic interests between classes.
Roosevelt’s Administration's first objective was to help alleviate the suffering of the
nation's huge number of unemployed workers. It’s other goals became to, “assist labour
and other urban groups.”(1) One example of labor assistance would be the Wagner Act of
1935. This act helped by increasing the authority of the federal government in industrial
relations. It also established the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) strengthened
the organizing power of labour unions”(1). With action being taken so quickly and
certainly, one thing was for sure, the common man’s voice was ready to be heard.
Some voters supported the democratic candidate to express their disapproval of
the entire Hoover administration who unfortunately remained in charge during the great
depression. Others made their vote based out of out of, “personal affection and respect
for Roosevelt”(1). With that said, all reasons were united under the common, “Opposed
to the traditional American political philosophy of, “laissez-faire” (2). Laissez-faire, or let
do process, disabled government regulation and made it hard for labor’s to get proper
working conditions. It allowed the fruits of United States labor accumulate only in the
hands of the few men who monopolized industry. This meant that power and worth were
limited to business tycoons who exposed the weaknesses of individual laborers to obtain
extraordinary wealth. Like the former Populist movement, supporters of the new deal
wanted to do away with the harsh ideas of Social Darwinism that preached about natural
selection in the economy.
Alike in this nature, the early Populist Movement was inspired by imbalanced
economic conditions. The movement, also known as The People’s Party, was a “coalition
of agrarian reformers in the Middle West and South”(6). This coalition supported a wide
range of economic and political legislation that would assist farmers. Specifically the
group sought out demands such as:

Increase[s] in the circulating currency (to be achieved by the unlimited coinage of silver)
[…] government ownership of the railroads, […] the direct election of U.S. senators” (6).
This was all a social and economical plot to support the entire farmers industry for the
long run. The plan that the People’s Party had in mind was financial redemption for crop
failure and bad prices. Although the Populist Party was manly a agrarian movement One
might try and note that the because the populist movement was mainly an farmers
response as the difference between Roosevelt’s administration. Sure, technically this is a
difference but this matter’s minimally in understanding the cause behind each
organization at hand. So what are the fundamental differences one might ask? The
difference lies within questions of national identity.
The populist movement was a question of what who “we and they” meant;
accessing “race, ethnicity, and nation”(2) as valid points to consider. They aimed to
invent the term that many Americans know today as The Melting Pot; a wanting for
inclusion of those who are different. Further on, The Populist movement connection
between “national identity and class position or between "citizen and worker”(4).
Populist went as far as comparing their situation to those of black slaves creating the
terms "wage slavery and white slavery"(4). In the People’s Party Paper, April 14 1892, a
comment states:
"Whose slaves are we?" asked one fairly typical communication in this vein.
"Americans [-] read, think and act, or your children will be the abject slaves of
foreign aristocracy!"(4)
Further on, Populists were known for their inclusion of blacks in the movement.
Although many white southern Populist followers where still devoted racist, the
institution of a biracial movement automatically raised the demands for "political equality
along with the idea of social equality” (2). Therefore, The populist movement’s goal was
not only to even the economic playing field, but also to puzzle together the American
Absent of the Populist movement’s cause to establish American identity, the New
Deal’s philosophy aimed only at social reform. Obviously, with comparable economic
conditions in each situation, both organizations sought to make improvement to the
misfortunate circumstances of the time. Yet, in terms of Roosevelt’s new deal, these
economic conditions only had strong impact on the “incumbent evaluations during this
period. Beyond that aspect, the economy only had a small effect, “especially when
compared with class-on the most salient economic issues of the day” (2). The New Deal
was not about the equal rights for blacks, but merely the socialistic aspect of America. On
the other hand, followers of Populism supplemented things such as class identification
“as a cue to forming political preferences on issues or candidates”(2). With that said, one
can distinguish the populist movement from the New Deal while understand the short
comings of either.

Works Cited

1)"New Deal." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.

10 Aug. 2009 <>.

2) Nationalism in America: The Case of the Populist Movement Joseph Gerteis and
Alyssa Goolsby Theory and Society, Vol. 34, No. 2 (Apr., 2005), pp. 197
225(article consists of 29 pages) Published by: Springer

3) Thinking about Economic Interests: Class and Recession in the New Deal M. Stephen
Weatherford and Boris Sergeyev Political Behavior, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Dec., 2000),
pp. 311-339(article consists of 29 pages) Published by: Springer

4) The Negro in the New Deal Era Leslie H. Fishel, Jr. The Wisconsin Magazine of
History, Vol. 48, No. 2 (Winter, 1964-1965), pp. 111-126 (article consists of 16
pages) Published by: Wisconsin Historical Society

5) The Birth of the Populist Party John D. Hicks Minnesota History, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Sep.,
1928), pp. 219-247 Published by: Minnesota Historical Society Press

6) Populist Movement." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopedia Britannica

Online. 10 Aug. 2009 <>.