Designing a New America: The Origins of New Deal Planning, 1890-1943

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Reagan, Patrick D. Designing a New America: The Origins of New Deal Planning, 1890-1943. University of Massachusetts Press, 2000.


When we consider the character of the New Deal it is easy to envision an array of federal agencies designed to hand out money to an ailing America, but the current of reform which ran through the movement was at least as potent as any make-work efforts, and for American history as a whole, had a much more significant impact. In his book, Designing a New America: The Origins of New Deal Planning, 1890-1943, author Patrick D. Reagan argues that the New Deal was the most signifcant reform of public government since the Progressive Era. Reagan makes the case that the New Deal was a continuation of the the Progressive Era which reached its highest state during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. He also argues that many of the basic precepts that typified the New Deal had been embraced by Herbert Hoover, Roosevelt's discredited predecessor. Hoover had confronted the 1929 stock market crash with a volintary program which called on business leaders to reform corporate america in wways that would foster recovery. Roosevelt's New Deal did not reject all of the ideas sponsored by Hoover, but rather sought to reorganize the executive branch to give these compatible Hooveresque precepts the force of Federal authority. This idea of empowering the Federal government to directly intervene with coersive acts designed to stimulate society for the perceived public good, was a style of government which had never been seen before. Reagan gives over nearly half his work to describing the five architects of the New Deal: Frederic Delano, Charles Merriam, Wesley Clair Mitchell, Henry Dennison, and Beardsley Ruml. These men were as diverse as the nation they were trying to save. What is most interesting is that, for the most part, their liberal credentials were suspect. All had served Herbert Hoover in some capacity or other, and most had earned reputations in commercial circles as savvy businessmen. One characteristic they all shared was a desire to see the form of Federal authority shaped to better serve the industrial America which was laboring in the 1930's. Reagan makes the case that these conditions support the idea that the New Deal was not so much a liberal movement as an attempt at governmental reform.


As Brinkley states, the great contribution of the New Deal was it affect on the reform. Regan reminds his readers that many recent historians have argued that the New Deal was an almost Darwinesque evolution of government that naturally followed the economic and social events that characterized the decades after Reconstruction and before the stock market crash; and while the New Deal did not end the depression, it did reorganize government in ways that made the mobilization for the Second World War and Cold War, as well as the legislative activism of the second half of the Twentieth-Century possible. This is compatible with Brinkley's main arugement.

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