The Great Depression p.639-659


                                                         Dust Bowl  1930

Chapter 23 Study Guide

Chapter 23 opens with a discussion of the Great Depression's impact on people's lives. The human story includes the increase in malnutrition and starvation, altered marital patterns, the sufferings of drought- and debt-ridden farmers, the plight of industrial workers, the desperation of marginal workers, and changes to family life.

Hoover's response to appeals from the people that the government extend aid was at first defensive. Hoover was convinced that the nation's economic problems could be solved by business organizations and professional groups voluntarily working together to find solutions, with the government coordinating their efforts. As the depression deepened, Hoover reluctantly began to energize the government. At the same time, however, he pursued policies that caused further deterioration of the economic situation.

In the midst of the depression, few Americans thought in radical, revolutionary terms. However, some did begin to strike out at what they believed to be the cause of their distress. The Farmers Holiday Association attempted to drive prices up by withholding agricultural products from the marketplace. Unemployed Councils engaged in protest that sometimes became violent. Racial violence also increased as some attempted to find scapegoats on whom to blame their problems. The most spectacular public confrontation occurred when the Bonus Army converged on Washington, D.C., in the summer of 1932. However, in the case of the Bonus March, it was the government, not the people, that overreacted.

An understanding of Franklin Roosevelt's background, his perception of himself, his society, and American government is important to an understanding of his approach to the Great Depression. That background and Roosevelt's frame of reference are outlined as part of the discussion of the presidential election of 1932. In this discussion, we also see that in spite of a deepening crisis, Americans did not adopt radical solutions. Instead, they continued to follow tradition by peacefully exchanging one government for another.

The Great Depression and the New Deal: 1929-1940

1929 Stock market crash.

1929-32 Herbert Hoover's presidency.

1930 Smoot-Hawley tariff enacted.

1932 Bonus Army clashes with federal troops. FDR defeats Hoover for president.

1932-45 Franklin Delano Roosevelt's presidency.

1932?39 Dust storms.

1933 Unemployment nearly reaches 25 percent. Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) passed. Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) created. National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) passed. United States abandons gold standard.

1934 American Liberty League founded. Upton Sinclair campaigns for governor of California. Widespread labor unrest. Father Coughlin founds the National Union for Social Justice. Huey Long launches the Share Our Wealth movement.

1935 Huey Long assassinated. Schechter Poultry v. the U.S. Creation of the WPA. Passage of the Wagner Act. Passage of the Social Security Act.
Rural Electrification Administration created. CIO founded. Appearance of Charlie Chaplin?s Modern Times.

1936 FDR wins reelection in a landslide. CIO launches sit-down strike at GM.

1937 FDR proposes Court-packing scheme. Supreme Court upholds the Wagner Act. Renewed economic slump.

1938 John Steinbeck publishes The Grapes of Wrath. Antilynching bill fails in Congress. Fair Labor Standards Act passed. Republicans sweep midterm elections.

Economic Transformation:
  Following the prosperity of the 1922-1929 period, the economic downturn that followed the stock market crash of 1929 shocked many Americans. The prolonged depression that followed what might have been a normal cyclical downturn exposed a series of structural weaknesses in the American economy, including the precarious banking structure, the unequal distribution of wealth, and the weakness of the farm sector and other declining industries. The depth of the Great Depression would eventually force the federal government to take on new regulatory functions and greater responsibility for maintaining prosperity, although these would take a number of years to emerge.

Politics and Citizenship: While President Hoover is often criticized for his response to the Depression, his efforts to combat the deep economic downturn represented the most ambitious peacetime expansion of the powers of the federal government to that point. Hoover created a program of public works-federal aid and loans to states, localities, and businesses-and other efforts to stimulate the economy. Hoover, however, refused to extend federal power and influence beyond certain strictly defined limits, fearing that too heavy of an extension of federal power would sap individual initiative and lead to the regimentation and bureaucratization of American life. He ended his term in office largely discredited by the American people, although later historians would come to admire his restraint and moderation.

The Great Depression had a profound effect on many aspects of American culture. Surprisingly, it initially did relatively little to erode the "success ethic" of the 1920s, which held that Americans could prosper on the basis of their own efforts provided they simply worked hard enough. The deep-rooted American belief in individual responsibility made many Americans ashamed to accept relief. Artists and intellectuals responded to the Depression by offering critiques of American society that found a more willing audience than they likely would have during times of greater prosperity. The American left enjoyed unprecedented popularity, although never enough to seriously challenge the nation's fundamental commitment to capitalism and democracy.

Globalization: The Great Depression also had an important impact on America's relationship with the rest of the world. Hoover believed that the Depression was less the result of structural weaknesses in the American economy than the result of international factors. By protecting American markets through high tariffs and restoring public confidence in the economy, Hoover believed that he could best promote economic recovery. By cutting America off from global trade, however, Hoover's policies contributed to the growth of tariff barriers and economic nationalism that would have powerful political ramifications during the 1930s.

Digital History

The Great Depression

The stock market crash of October 1929 brought the economic prosperity of the 1920s to a symbolic end. For the next ten years, the United States was mired in a deep economic depression. By 1933, unemployment had soared to 25 percent, up from 3.2 percent in 1929. Industrial production declined by 50 percent, international trade plunged 30 percent, and investment fell 98 percent.Causes of the Great Depression included: insufficient purchasing power among the middle class and the working class to sustain high levels of production; falling crop and commodity prices prior to the Depression; the stock market's dependence on borrowed money; and wrongheaded government policies, including high tariffs that reduced international trade and contracted the money supply. This section examines why the seemingly boundless prosperity of the 1920s ended so suddenly and why the Depression lasted as long as it did. It assesses the human toll and the policies adopted to combat the crisis of the Great Depression. It devotes particular attention to the impact on African Americans, the elderly, Mexican Americans, labor, and women. 

The Great Depression and American Culture
The Great Depression challenged certain basic precepts of American culture, especially the faith in individual self-help, business, the inevitability of progress, and limited government. The Depression encouraged a search for the real America. There was a new interest in ?the people,? in regional cultures, and in folk traditions. The movies played a crucial role in sustaining American ideals in a time of social upheaval across Europe. Films projected images of a world in which financial success was possible and of a society in which class barriers could be overcome.

Lecture Outlines

The Great Depression 1930s


The Great Depression

PowerPoint Presentation

The Coming of the Depression ppt.