Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal benefited the lives of most farmers in many different and powerful ways. The combination of the “alphabet soup” acts and the long lasting effects that they produced transformed the modern individual farmer of the late 1920’s and the entire 1930’s from the down and out, could barely survive “Okie” farmer, as depicted in John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath”, to a more uniform, government backed, stable farmer that still exists today. Many reasons as to why agricultural recovery and reform were put at such high priority have been suggested. In particular, there are two very compelling and logical reasons. One, farmers were the most in need – as “dust bowls” were hovering over towns like the second coming of Jesus and droughts, especially in the south west, were becoming more devastatingly common.
The second reason is that many believed that agriculture was the root of the United State’s economy. The idea being that the agricultural depression from the droughts and windstorms led to bank closures, business losses, increased unemployment, and other physical and emotional problems. As Franklin Roosevelt once said, “if the farm population… suffers, the people in the cites in every part of the country suffer with it.” With the same thought of mind, the Democratic party believed, and Roosevelt emphasized through his “fire-side chats” that “true prosperity would not return until farming was prosperous.”
So with this popular sense of importance and urgency spread from poor, rural, farm areas to the political capital of Washington, Congress expediently passed the Agricultural Adjustment Act on May 12, 1933. With this new law, which many critics deemed fascist, the government created enforced limits to how much of a certain crop a farmer could produce, and in many cases, even had farmers burn crops and slaughter livestock to waste. These new actions greatly benefited farmers economically as with every head of livestock and every bushel of crop wasted, farmers would receive subsidies from the government.
These actions quickly solved the nation’s problem of crop surplus and propelled the price farmers had to charge for their goods from dangerously low to reasonable profitable. Of course, this led the consumers to suffer, and the US Supreme Court to raise an eyebrow. In the case of US vs. Butler, the court deemed the AAA unconstitutional because its processing of taxes went against the 10th Amendment. Later, a second AAA was created that relied on more general government taxes, and though renamed the “Production and Marketing Administration,” it still exists to this day.
Secondly, the direct effects of the AAA and the indirect effects of the WPA, CCC, TVA, and most notoriously, the SSA, should be evaluated and considered along with WW2 as the means to which farmers escaped the depression. As they lined up to receive their AAA benefit checks, many were also enjoying the switch from kerosene to electricity for the first time thanks to the Tennessee Valley Authority. Furthermore, other close-to-home projects were being erected such as public schools and public housing due to the Civilian Conservation Corps. In fact, the only ones who weren’t powerfully effected by Roosevelt’s response to Black Tuesday were farmers who worked on margin, and who were also mostly black.
Only “182,018 Negroes owned and operated farms and 700,911 were tenants.” Tenants gained no government subsidies and never gained any real power or prosperity in their lives because they owned no actual land. Only the less than two sevenths of black farmers received immediate relief, and because most blacks were still farmers prior to the “Great Migrations” to the cites of Chicago and elsewhere, which actually didn’t end until the 1960’s, many blacks overall were looked over as a minority as was the case in many situations until the Civil Rights movement of coincidently, the 1960’s.
Part of the reason that ,overall, the effects of the New Deal for farmers were so substantial is because they were so willing to cooperate. As one civilian of the time, Leroy Hankel, remembers, “most of them went [into the program]. There was just a few that wouldn’t have anything to do with it. But, the majority of people, they all went into the program…” Those that didn’t were the ones that feared a Roosevelt “Executive Dictatorship” and believed that America’s original idea of democracy was being conformed to something more similar to Mussolini’s fascist principles. These critics’ concerns did hold merit as many of the ideas proposed by Roosevelt’s New Deal, particularly Social Security, do rely on complete government control – which is exactly what a good proportion of the public feared during the “Red Scare.” Because of this fear, the “kiss of death” was laid on many of Roosevelt’s plans, both from the left and the right. Roosevelt knew that a few in high power would not be willing to travel on his “new and untrod path ,” but something bold had to be done as a “means to save agriculture.”
In conclusion, farmers were rescued from the laissez faire attitude of Herbert Hoover by the can do, will do attitude of Franklin Roosevelt and his unprecedented New Deal promise to farmers and alike. The key distinction between Hoover and Roosevelt is that while both, in their adult life, were prestigious aristocrats, Roosevelt had a deep sense of understanding and compassion for the average blue-collar farmer. Stories like from Claude V. Dunnagan, that all sound very familiar of how “the lawyers sold our farm and we had to move out” illustrate the vastness of how much white-collar greed and deception was running wild. Obviously, relief, recovery, and reform movements were necessary and the only things short of a great war that could end the economic fear and greed that was suffocating 95 percent of the American populations, most painstakingly: farmers. Even though they never did reach back to the days of the Calvin Coolidge prosperity, without the New Deal, family farms would have become a thing of mythology and “Hoovervilles” would have become just another element of everyday reality.
Courtney from Study Moose
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