Roosevelt's Second Term

(adapted from Challenge of Freedom, Glencoe: 1990)


Overview As President Roosevelt began his second term, the country was showing some signs of recovery. There remained, however, many problems to be solved. Millions of Americans were still out of work. Also, natural disasters added to the hardships faced by Americans during these years. President Roosevelt believed that the programs of the New Deal were necessary for helping the country. His determination to carry out these programs led him into a confron­tation with the Supreme Court.


Objectives  After reading this section, you should be able to:

Challenging the Supreme Court. Early in his second term, President Roosevelt undertook an action that challenged the Supreme Court. During 1935 and 1936, the Court had de­clared that several New Deal laws were unconstitutional. With these decisions, the Supreme Court ended two major New Deal programs, the AAA and the NRA. President Roosevelt did not agree with these decisions. Furthermore, he did not want the Court to make any more decisions that would limit the New Deal. The President was particularly concerned about the Social Security Act. President Roosevelt believed that this program was a major achievement of his presidency.

President Roosevelt wanted to appoint some new justices to the Supreme Court who would favor the New Deal. However, there were no vacancies to be filled. President Roosevelt came up with a plan that would allow him to name new members to the Court even though there were no openings.

In early 1937, the President asked Congress to pass a law that would have changed the court system. President Roosevelt pointed out that 6 of the 9 Supreme Court justices were over 70 years old. He claimed that these elderly members could not keep up with the work load. Because of this, Roosevelt wanted to name an additional member to the Court for each justice who stayed on the bench past the age of 70. President Roosevelt suggested that up to 6 new Supreme Court members be added in this way.

The law called for by President Roosevelt suggested that the entire federal court system needed more judges. However, the President's true aim was easily seen. President Roosevelt wanted to "pack" the Supreme Court with justices who would stand behind the New Deal.

The "court-packing" plan was met with strong opposition. Even some longtime backers of the President were against the plan. They thought it was wrong for the President to want this power over the Supreme Court.

The law called for by President Roosevelt was never passed. However, no more New Deal laws were struck down by the Court. In addition, five of the nine seats on the Supreme Court became vacant during Roosevelt's second term. This gave President Roosevelt the opportunity to name five of his own choices to the Court.

Think about it...What was the real reason why President Roosevelt wanted to add more justices to the Supreme Court?


Disasters in Farm Areas. Natural disasters added to the problems faced by many American farmers during the depression. During the early 1930's there was a drought, or dry spell, on the Great Plains. For many years, farmers had overworked the land in this area. Too many animals had been allowed to graze on the wild grasses. In addition, homesteaders and farmers had cut down trees and had raised crops without concern for the erosion of the soil.

These poor farming methods combined with the drought and unusually high winds led to terrible dust storms beginning in 1934. High winds swept the topsoil from huge sections of land in Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, and Colorado. The area became known as the Dust Bowl during the mid-1930's.

During the storms, thick clouds of dust filled the air. The dirty air was dangerous to breathe. Farmers in the Dust Bowl could no longer make a living from the damaged land. Thousands of families including former farm owners, tenant farmers, and laborers left the area in search of jobs. This added to the already large number of unemployed workers created by the hard times of the depression. Many of these families headed west to California, Washington, and Oregon.

Many of these farm families joined the thousands of workers who took short-term jobs on large farms. They were hired for low wages to work during planting and harvesting. These families lived in shacks and tents without running water. Many persons became very ill in these unclean conditions. When the work ran out, they had to move to another area. In most cases, these families were not helped by state welfare offices. This was because they had not lived in the state long enough.

The increase in the number of farm workers added to the hardships faced by Mexican Americans in the area. For many years, Mexican Americans had filled these difficult, low­paying farm jobs. However, they were denied even these jobs when families from the Dust Bowl moved west.

As the dust storms blew across the plains, the eastern states faced destructive floods. The worst flood came in 1937 when the Ohio River rose high above its banks. About 250 persons were killed in this flood. Hundreds of thousands of Americans were left homeless. Farms and other businesses were damaged by the waters. In most cases, local resources could not meet the needs created by these disasters. Citizens looked to the federal government for help.

Think about it...What conditions created the Dust Bowl?


Government Action. The natural disasters of the 1930's made clear the need for conservation programs. The government began to work out ways to prevent such full-scale damage in the future. For example, farmers were taught ways to deal with erosion. Projects were under­taken to restore the fertility of farmland. Dams were built and trees were planted to protect soil from the harmful effects of wind and water. The second Agricultural Adjustment Act, passed in 1938, was also aimed at pro­tecting the country's farmland. It helped farm­ers who practiced soil conservation. Farmers were given payments for not planting certain crops on part of their land. This land would be planted with crops that restored the soil.

The New Deal also took steps to meet the needs of the rural poor. The Farm Security Administration (
FSA) was set up in 1937 to help tenant farmers, sharecroppers, and mi­grant farm workers. The FSA offered these persons low-cost loans to help them buy farms. The FSA also built housing camps for migrant farm workers.

It is hard to judge the New Deal. Some programs did ease many of the hardships of the depression. Other laws, such as the Social Se\curity Act, brought long-lasting changes to the United States. In 1938, however, the country was still in the depression. About 10 million Americans were out of work. New Deal critics called for the President to abandon his programs. At the same time, international affairs demanded the President's attention. The depression had greatly changed America's relations with other countries.

Think about it...What groups of Americans were aided by the Farm Security Administration?