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The Essence of the New Deal

ISSUE:  Autumn 1936

It is some three years now since a dazed and groggy Congress adjourned, thus bringing to an end the first tremendous “hundred days” of the Roosevelt Administration. Under the stress of crisis and the reckless energies of the President it had in that brief period rescued the banks, effected a sweeping governmental organization of agriculture, abandoned the gold standard, authorized billions for public works and direct Federal relief, underpinned farmers and homeowners with billions more of Federal credit, spread the formidable wings of the Blue Eagle over the whole of industry, adopted half-a-dozen lesser measures of “recovery” or “reform,” and left a breathless and bewildered populace asking whether it was actually a “Roosevelt revolution” upon which the nation had been launched.

Was it? In an article in the Virginia Quarterly I discussed the question at the time; reading it over now I am a little surprised to realize how early there had appeared what has become one of the most curious phenomena of the subsequent years. Examined in the light of what other great capitalist economies had come to long before, the Roosevelt measures did not seem so very revolutionary; while their only visible effect, in the midsummer of 1933, was a powerful upsurge of conventional capitalistic revival. But even as this movement developed, there was already developing a virulent opposition in precisely those quarters which might be expected to profit from it most directly. It was not only Republican politicians, even then, who were emerging from the storm cellars to view with alarm, indignation, and “disgust.” The Democratic Baltimore Sun was already in acid opposition, and before the summer was out Mr. Al Smith was fully committed to the path which was to bring him to the Liberty League dinner and the embittered message of the “quintuplets” to the Philadelphia Convention.

It seemed curious at the time; it seems even more so now. In the intervening years we have watched the courts come dramatically upon the scene to strike down most of the more far-reaching powers implicit in the acts of that glorious dawn; and we have seen the President, while manifesting his irritation, accepting these judicial vetoes with a strictly constitutional meekness. We have at the same time watched economic recovery continue to mount in a wide and powerful sweep, revivifying nearly every part of the economic machine. Yet we have also watched the opposition growing steadily more widespread, more embittered, and more extravagant.

Estimated national income produced rose from less than forty billion dollars in 1933 to nearly fifty-three billion dollars in 1935 and should reach much greater heights this year. The stock market is back to the levels of 1931. One index of business activity is now standing at eighty-five per cent of “normal” as against fifty per cent before the banks began to go under and a bare forty per cent when they were reopened. Farm income increased nearly sixty per cent between 1932 and 1935; and one might go on to array a host of similar statistics. Yet this is the situation which the Republican candidate for the Presidency now publicly describes as “the greatest crisis since the Civil War, when forces alien to the American form of government seek to destroy our country,” and the expression is so mild compared to what is daily proclaimed from the platforms and editorial pages of the country as to pass without notice. Now, three years after, one might say that almost the only superficial evidence of the reality of a Roosevelt revolution is to be found in the intense, the often quite unreasoning and unreasonable, violence with which the opposition hurls the charge in the President’s face. Is it possible that the opposition may, after all, be right?


The New Deal, as it emerged from the furnace of events at the end of the extra session of seemed ultimately to imply a fairly complete system for the governmental regulation of the national economy in what were conceived to be the interests of the people as a whole. It was a system, to be sure, which had been built up only step by step. Utilizing the government’s power over the currency, the New Deal deliberately went off gold in order to induce the general rise of prices necessary to float the economy as a whole off the rocks of depression. Seeking at the same time to patch up the most badly sagging parts within the structure, it extended government credit, with which Mr. Hoover had bolstered the banks and railroads, to sustain farm and home mortgages. Since agriculture was being oppressed under an extreme of deflation from which industry had been able to shelter itself, the New Deal then used the strong arm of government to endow agriculture with industry’s power to curtail production and maintain prices. But the correction of this “imbalance” threatened to bear heavily upon the urban consumer; nor could the mere extension of scarcity economics from industry through agriculture meet the problem of the displaced industrial workers and tenant farmers who were its natural victims. It could not even, in the long run, meet the problem of industry and agriculture themselves, since it tended ultimately to destroy the mass purchasing power upon which they exist.

Here was a further dilemma which was attacked in two ways. A great program of Federal relief financed on government credit was to supply the immediate need for purchasing power. And with the N.R.A. a “partnership” between government, industry, labor, and the consumer was proclaimed— the broad purpose being to make possible that sudden increase in volume which would permit industry, without increasing prices, to raise wages and employment and so restore a going economy of abundance. Finally, the system was completed with a number of measures for controlling the vital processes of capital creation and investment, through the regulation of banks, security exchanges, and holding companies and through such direct governmental activities as the T.V.A. and the various housing and resettlement projects.

Such was the general pattern of the New Deal at its inception. The economic consistency and the logical beauties of the whole could not conceal, even then, the fact that if it was to realize its theoretical objectives it would necessitate a direct and vigorous exercise of governmental authority through every branch of the national economy. As I suggested at the time, it was in reality nothing less than “an elaborately developed mechanism for the redistribution of wealth and purchasing power” on a grand scale between the different classes of the community; as such its implications were so vast as to make one doubt that they would ever be fulfilled, its aim of “deliberately balancing and keeping in balance all the infinite and ill-understood forces which make up the modern economy” so ambitious as to make it improba* ble that it would be achieved.

So much of the prediction has been fulfilled. Long before the courts began to intervene, it was plain that many of the powers latent in the original legislation would be used with the greatest gingerliness or not at all. The President is now under savage attack from the lunatic fringe because of his failure to produce a currency inflation. His progressive critics accuse him almost as bitterly because of the tenderness with which his banking and security exchange regulation has proceeded. The great programs of low-cost housing, which might have had profound effects upon the construction industry, land and realty values, and investment policies, has come to virtually nothing, largely because of the fears of the established interests which saw themselves threatened. The various subsistence farming projects and schemes for industrial decentralization collapsed in administrative incapacity and private opposition, leaving only some shreds of their original grandeur in Mr. Tugwell’s Resettlement Administration,

The wider possibilities for economic and social control inherent in the great programs of direct relief were never explored. When Mr. Hopkins began tentatively to experiment with “production for use,” he was swiftly and severely suppressed. The brief C.W.A. experiment in the winter of 1933-1934, when jobs were peremptorily manufactured for almost anyone who asked, at wages based on the national need of purchasing power rather than the subsistence minimum of the individual, was hastily dropped because it cost too much and the Administration dared not face the fundamental economic issues soon seen to be lurking within it. While there has been a fairly consistent (though almost shamefaced) effort to maintain relief benefits as a platform under private wage rates, the Administration has feared to utilize in any more positive way this tremendous potential engine of social control, and it was at great pains to pitch the “security wage” of the P.W.A. at a level not competitive with private industry. In planning its public works it has been so careful not to risk the dislocation of the established private economic system that it has deprived the works themselves of much of their social efficiency.

Only in the field of agriculture did the full implications of the New Deal program appear to be working out, as the original A.A.A. controls were first extended to other crops and then buttressed with the compulsory rigors of the Bank-head Act and similar legislation. But it was in the companion N.R.A. that the inability of the Administration to apply the enormous powers which it had assumed first became clearly apparent; and it was in large part for that very reason that N.R.A. was to prove its greatest failure. As the business men and trade association executives poured down in their hordes upon Washington, and the famous “madhouse” of the summer and fall of 1933 developed under the picturesque personality of the explosive General Johnson, it soon became obvious that the Administration was utterly unprepared for the task which it had undertaken. There was not even any clear agreement as to what the task really was; the too-numerous authors of the recovery act were themselves in acrid controversy over vital questions of policy, while the recovery administration—supposedly the supreme guide and regulator of the whole mechanism—lacked the statistical information, the prestige, or the purpose to make any given policy effective.

N.R.A. was bitterly condemned as an attempt at the “regimentation” of industry. So, in theory, it should have been; but that was not the reason for its economic failure. It was not an excess, but an almost total absence of either planning or governmental compulsion which rendered it largely useless in the end as an economic instrument. In the upshot, its codes were mainly written by the business men or trade association executives; and what was conceived as a harmonious collaboration of management, labor, and government in a common effort to restore production, wages, employment, and profits on a broad front for the common good, became in fact a chaotic and competitive scramble by a horde of different interests for the imagined benefits of monopoly organization. So far from serving the common good, it did not even serve the immediate interests of the business men concerned. “Strangely enough,” as one N.R.A. administrator afterward exclaimed, “we found ourselves in many cases trying to protect the industry against itself and unwise and shortsighted practices which the sponsors were trying to impose on themselves.” While gains were recorded in employment, payrolls, and profits, industrial activity as a whole remained almost stationary through the N.R.A. period; the rise of prices cancelled most of the improvement in wage disbursements, and the great structure of the codes was already far gone in collapse beneath its own inconsistencies when the Supreme Court, in May, 1935, made its dramatic entry upon the politico-economic scene.


Since then the courts have been completing what the timidity or the caution of the New Deal itself (accordingly as one looks at it) had begun. Rapidly they have been shrinking the possible scope of Federal power, not only by the destruction of specific acts, but by destroying them upon principles that make future action more and more difficult. In turn the potentialities of the commerce power, the general welfare clause, the power to tax have been struck from the President’s hands. In the process the main device for industrial rationalization and regulation has been destroyed, and with it such attempts at the rationalization of specific industries as were embodied in the oil legislation or the Guffey Act. The mechanism of agricultural regulation has been seriously crippled, and the fate of several other control measures in the original program—such as the holding company act and even, perhaps, the wider possibilities in the T.V.A.—has been left in grave doubt.

The somewhat ironic effect has been to force the New Deal onward to substitute measures looser in conception, less compactly efficient in theory, more uncertain and in some respects far more ominous to the old order of things. A.A.A. has been replaced by “soil conservation.” It is a clumsier, more unsatisfactory method of controlling production and maintaining the farmer’s market. Where A.A.A., however, merely endowed agriculture with industry’s power of raising prices, requiring it to accept the corresponding disadvantages in reduced demand, “soil conservation” repeals this economic law to make agriculture a direct pensioner of the Federal Treasury. It is a far-reaching principle to introduce into a capitalistic economy governed by majority vote.

N.R.A. has survived not only in the continuing heavy expenditure on relief and public works, but in the Wagner Act. The provision under which labor was to be completely organized under independent leaders, thus supplying a real balance of power against management for the maintenance of wage rates and employment, was an important part of the original conception. With the Labor Relations Board and the eager co-operation of Mr. John L. Lewis, the Administration has continued the effort to force industry to accept an organization of its workers comparable to its own organization of the management, There are possibilities in such a policy of a really revolutionary change in the American industrial structure. Dimly one can see beyond it the outlines of something approaching the dream of “industrial democracy”; more immediately one can see an avenue opening for the direct intervention of government throughout the whole of industry in its most intimate and vital spot, and one can anticipate a bitter and possibly destructive struggle in the process.

In other fields, the Administration has turned to attack the corporate surpluses, those strongholds behind which management shelters itself from the “free play of economic forces” and escapes its social duty to provide employment and maintain production for the benefit of all. Quite recently, the President has taken up the weapon of the antitrust laws against monopoly. It was a move obviously dictated by political considerations, but it was less inconsistent than it seemed; for if the President, when he offered industry the bribe of monopoly powers under N.R.A., got virtually none of the social benefits of monopoly organization in return, it was only logical for him to seek to withdraw the gift and try to achieve the same end in the opposite way.

Finally, the Administration has launched its great experiment in “social security,” which, while open to many doubts as to the methods adopted, is primarily another attempt to compel the mechanism of private enterprise to accept its proper responsibility for the maintenance of the human raw material by which it lives. Like other items in this secondary program elaborated upon the ruins of the first, it is more indirect in its incidence, vaguer as to precise plan, more general in its operation. But, like the others, it is rooted in the same concept of the economic system as existing for the support and welfare of the whole people, and of the government as an agency which must consciously intervene in the economic process to compel it to produce and distribute its goods, to balance its benefits between industry and agriculture, capital and labor, producer and consumer, and to provide an adequate living and some measure of security to the one hundred and twenty million people who support it.

But all of these supplementary measures and policies— social security, taxation, labor policy, and soil conservation— are long-term devices, necessarily remote in their effects; and all of them face the immediate and ominous barrier of the conservative majority on the Supreme Court. Their political and economic significance, like their constitutional fate, lies with the future. When one returns to the present, when one disentangles from the crowded history and the passionate controversy of the past three years both the promises yet to be fulfilled and the possibilities which were never realized, what actually remains as the substance of the Roosevelt experiment?


It seems to me that the really significant and practically effective policies of the New Deal can be pretty well summed up under three heads. It devalued the dollar. It boldly cut the American monetary system loose from the “automatic” shackles of the gold standard; and though the currency has been managed since then with an undramatic conservatism and under the guise of a new gold parity, it is nevertheless a managed currency to which the nation is committed. The correspondency in other countries between economic recovery and the abandonment of gold is so close as to suggest that this one act alone may be the key to the whole measure of revival which has accompanied the President’s tenure of office. That is only an inference, and probably too hasty a one, but it is strong enough to lend a very hollow sound to the wails of those who denounce the “dishonesty” of the “59-cent dollar” while they take their full share of the profits which have followed in its train.

The New Deal has restored agriculture to something approaching a proper competitive position within the total economy. The devaluation of the dollar was an important factor in the increase of farm income, while the great drought of 1934 was an even more important factor in the success of the crop control program. That program, moreover, entailed its own penalties, very similar to those which organized industry has always accepted when it protected itself in the same way. It facilitated the development of foreign sources of supply and somewhat accelerated the loss of export markets which had been slowly dwindling for a long time. It tended to victimize the tenant and the share cropper, just as industry has always defended itself at the expense of employment, the effect in both cases being to unload upon the general community the burden of caring for “surplus” personnel. But despite the fortuitous factors in the success of the agricultural program and the disadvantages inherent, as always, in its benefits, it has checked one of the greatest and most obvious sources of economic and social disintegration. It has established the principle that agriculture is not to be left exposed and helpless in a world of highly integrated industrial organization; and in making that principle good to a large extent it has made another important contribution to the general economic recovery. There can be little question that the restoration of farm buying power was a powerful lever in the processes of industrial revival; in equipping agriculture to compete again with industry, the New Deal in another way helped to save industry from itself.

Finally, the New Deal has borrowed and spent money. Stepping into the breach left by the collapse of the private agencies of credit creation, it has in three years manufactured and fed into the economic system about ten billion dollars of purchasing power. It is extraordinary how blind the impassioned budget-balancers and denouncers of “extravagance” are to the overwhelming economic significance of this fact. Conceivably it may be true, as Mr. Hoover still heroically seeks to demonstrate, that “natural” recovery had begun in 1932, that all our subsequent ills were due to the caprice of an electorate so ignorant as to retire Mr. Hoover, and that without the intervention of the New Deal we should today have been rolling in an even more advanced state of prosperity. The argument cannot overcome the fact that underlying the actual economic situation today are these ten billion dollars of government credit; and that whatever might or might not have happened had other courses been followed, they are an essential and inescapable element in conditions as they now in fact exist. These billions have not only kept whole armies of unemployed alive and preserved great sections of agriculture from ruin; they have done so without entering the direct costs upon the balance sheets of private enterprise. They have set the latter free from a burden which it must otherwise have carried, at the same time preserving to it the markets which it must have to prosper; and those government deficits are as important an element in the black-ink entries upon the books of private business as they are in the family budgets of the unemployed. There may be reason to doubt and fear their ultimate political and economic consequences, but for those whose bank accounts they have indirectly helped to fatten to excoriate them as mere “waste” and “extravagance” seems distinctly unkind—or curiously short-sighted.

The New Deal has included a vast mass of intricate and often conflicting measures ranging through every field from Secretary Hull’s trade treaties to the colonization of Mata-nuska Valley, from an attempt to suppress the Ethiopian War with a neutrality act to the compilation of a guide book of the United States, but in perspective most of them seem to be of only secondary importance or completely irrelevant. It is these three great instrumentalities—devaluation of the dollar, the restoration of agriculture to a competitive position, and the lavish expenditure of borrowed money—with which it has achieved its predominant effects. That they are, in fact, the heart of the history of the past three years is amusingly confirmed by a Republican opposition, which in advancing to the attack has been careful to show that it will not restore the dollar to the old parity, that it will conserve all the gains of agriculture, and that it will not take its “economies,” in Governor Landon’s words, “out of the allotments to the unemployed.” It will appropriate what is the really vital part of the New Deal program, merely altering the method of its application—in such a way, some may be tempted to add, as to guarantee that the program itself will be rendered as nearly ineffective as possible.

At all events, it is these three policies which have made possible a strong economic revival, more and more closely approaching in its superficial aspects the conventional revival of a pre-war capitalistic economy. It has not a few of the conventional defects of such revivals; some classes of the community are profiting more than others, some are being crushed under the wheels of returning activity, a perhaps bitter labor warfare is developing, and there is always the prospect of a more disastrous collapse beyond the boom. It is, moreover, accompanied by a new and ominous phenomenon. It is not re-employing the human waste of the depression.

Great Britain’s experience with unemployment in the years of normality and boom after the World War is enough to suggest, however, that this may be an inherent consequence of the way in which modern economic systems are everywhere developing. It may be that all the great industrial powers must accept permanent public subsidy to considerable groups as the only practicable means of averting unbearable economic dislocations and of making the distributive system function with reasonable adequacy. Even so, it can be argued that the introduction of relief doles in itself tends to fasten them upon the system, and that if the President had been able to avoid his great relief grants our own system might have struggled through and gone on for some years more without an unemployment problem. The argument, however, plunges too deeply into the realm of hypothesis to be of much present significance. Unemployment has remained with us, and so have the heavy government deficits. The President’s answer is, of course, that both will be gradually extinguished by a revival of business; and it can be said that, whether unemployment is completely liquidated or not, the rise in tax revenues through increasing business has tended to narrow the deficit gap. It is still possible to believe, at least, that under present policies the deficit can ultimately be extinguished, and that a going private economy (whatever may be the relative amount of governmental taxation and expenditure it may include) will be closed and crowned with a conventionally balanced budget.

Here then is the completed picture of the actual Roosevelt revolution three years after. In the foreground is a rushing economic revival on a familiar and anything but revolutionary pattern. The real levers used to produce it turn out to be those of dollar devaluation, agricultural rationalization, and spending. Each one of them is an old story in numerous other great industrial nations, while the tendency with each is to return to a classically “sound” position, with the dollar stabilized, agriculture merely imitating the ancient practices of corporate industry, and spending ultimately subdued to a balanced tax budget. It seems unimpressive. But as the anathemas and the denunciations arise in only a mightier chorus from all the older centers of prestige and power, perhaps one should look again.


Even neglecting the possible implications of the New Deal’s labor and taxation policies and of its other still more or less untried experiments, it is evident that here already there has been effected a profound shift in the center of gravity of the politico-economic system. Nearly everyone will grant that the restoration of agriculture’s bargaining power against industry was necessary as an “emergency” measure, but the permanent consolidation of this great economic interest in a position to compete with the financial and industrial interests, which have grown so accustomed to their own dominance as hardly to realize its existence, may be another matter. Especially it may be another matter when the consolidation takes the form—as it was compelled to do by the Supreme Court decision in the Hoosac Mills case—of a governmental commitment to maintain agrarian profits by direct subsidy out of the Treasury, assessed not on agricultural products but on the body of taxpayers as a whole. That at once raises the national government to a wholly new position of dominant economic power. It places an economic instrument in its hands comparable to that of the tariff, but more direct, more far-reaching, and much more likely to be used for group or national ends quite contrary to those of the private economic interests which have hitherto held a controlling voice in national affairs.

The New Deal’s gold policy has been conducted with caution; its actual effects have been markedly favorable, and many of the most conservative private financiers have given it their endorsement. That, indeed, is one of the main charges which the radio priest-politician hurls against the President. But even Father Coughlin’s impassioned oratory cannot conceal the fact that with the devaluation of gold one of the greatest of all powers over the economic mechanism passed from the “automatic” control of private competitive finance into the hands of a national government capable of wielding it with a conscious purpose for ends, not of private profit or of any established system of particular interests, but of whatever it might conceive to be the common social interest of the nation as a whole.

The unbalancing of the budget and the policy of spending may have been adopted simply as an emergency method of patching up the most dangerous gaps in the old structure. But the passion and the unanimity with which the opposition has concentrated upon this aspect of the New Deal is sufficient indication of the transformations which it is effecting. It has given the national government a new kind of political power, as it has made millions directly or indirectly dependent upon Federal subsidy. This is savagely assailed as a debauchery of the electoral process. A longer perspective may suggest that it is rather a transference of political power from those private interests upon which the masses were formerly dependent—and to whose political views they were, perforce, responsive at the polls—to government.

It has provided government with new economic powers. There is not only the power over wage scales inherent in the ability to fix the relief wage, and the power over profits, capital creation, and allocation inherent in the tax policies adopted to raise the necessary subsidies. We now see the mere fact of the deficit itself in another way transferring to government the controls once exercised by the “automatic” processes of private competition. While the government has been developing into the banker for a large part of the economic system, while the banks have seen their interest rates driven down, their profits curtailed toward the vanishing point, and their power as the arbiters over individual business enterprise diminish with the relative amount of their commercial lending, they have at the same time been so stuffed with government paper that they are now helpless to resist the process. The days when President Cleveland had to summon the private bankers to beg them not to pull down the whole structure of Federal finances by siphoning the last of its gold out of the Treasury are gone for good. The banks today dare not destroy a Federal credit on which they are themselves wholly dependent.

The banks have been made accessories to their own emasculation; and when a movement developed some time ago in the American Bankers Association to go on strike against a government of which the banks disapproved, it fizzled promptly and pathetically. Strikes by the banking community, “flights” by private financial speculators into other national currencies, wrecking expeditions by the pirates, crises of “confidence” among the timid or greedy, and all those other “automatic” mechanisms which once shackled government helplessly to the wheels the established private economic interest, are now largely things of the past. Financial power has passed, almost accidentally, into the hands of government; and the domestic credit machine, like the international gold standard, is far on the way to its transform-ance from a negative check upon popular action into a positive instrument available to any government so disposed to achieve social ends which may or may not coincide with the existing complex of vested interest.

The surface appearances today may not differ greatly from what they were in 1926, that celebrated heaven of the “normal.” It is folly to accuse the New Deal of a secret addiction to Moscow; its general picture of the desirable society is scarcely distinguishable from that enshrined in the complacent and lethargic mind of Calvin Coolidge. From their speeches, one might easily conclude that the broad practical objectives of the New Dealers and of the Republicans were the same. But behind the announced objectives and beneath the surfaces of appearance, the events of the past three years conceal a great shift of power in the state from the private financiers, the captains of industry, the old-line regular politicians, the whole obdurate complex of local and particular privilege, to a Federal government which has declared its purpose of using the old powers to the broadest ends of a truly common national interest. And it is a Federal government dominated, moreover, by a man not closely identified with any of the established citadels of power of the old order, and for that reason, if for no other, profoundly distrusted by nearly all who occupy them.


The Roosevelt revolution is thus a revolution still, even though one must recast a little the terms in which one saw it in the summer of 1933. It is altogether a vaguer, more elusive affair; it is less precise in its theoretical foundations, looser and more incalculable in its ultimate tendencies. Perhaps for that very reason, however, it is likely to be of pro-founder and more permanent effect; and there is no doubt as to the reality or the bitterness of the struggle which it has precipitated. It is a revolution still; but it is something much less coherent and definite than that word usually implies, and something much closer to the native American tradition. For it is a revolution of a kind which we have been through before.

It is not an accident that President Roosevelt’s opponents have assailed him in language almost indistinguishable from that with which the last heirs to the old Federalist period assailed the menace of Jacksonian popular “autocracy” a century ago; it is not an accident that the President has compared himself to Jackson, the real founder of democratic nationalism, or has been driven to damn the “economic royalists” in a manner reminiscent of the great assaults upon Nicholas Biddle and the United States Bank. And it is not by chance that he should present the struggle in terms of “economic democracy,” just as the Jacksonians presented it in terms of political democracy, against an established “oligarchic” interest, or that the struggle itself should finally center in the courts—which hold the final voice in the United States as to the ultimate locus of effective power.

The revolution is not Marxian; it is Jacksonian. Today, as in the 1830’s, the true significance of the period is not to be discovered in its party platforms, in the orations of its champions, or even in its specific legislative programs. It was not by amending the Constitution that the Jacksonians made their enduring contribution to our history, but by a subtler amendment in the very structure of the political system itself. What they did was to mobilize the popular power of the ballot—through the wide extension of the suffrage and the development of the cheap popular press, the organized political party in its modern form, and the other instrumentalities necessary to make that power effective—for the overthrow of the established rulers. What the Rooseveltians are doing, consciously or unconsciously, is similarly to organize popular economic power. Just as the Jacksonians gave a new meaning to the ballot, the New Dealers are giving a new meaning to such instrumentalities as credit, currency, taxation, budgets, expenditure, agricultural and labor union organization; and it is natural that the beneficiaries and the devotees of the older order of things should react as violently as did Clay and Calhoun and Webster and the heirs of the New England oligarchy against the vulgar rabble led by General Jackson.

It is natural that they should react against the “recklessness,” the “extravagance,” the “irresponsibility” of the forces they see to have been set in motion; it is natural that they should compare the President to Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler, just as the opposition of a century ago compared Jackson to Napoleon, Cromwell, and Caesar. And it is natural that devoted partisans on the other side should respond by dramatizing the struggle in terms of the “people” against the “interests,” the “oppressed masses” against the “Tory” oppressors. But one cannot be so sure of all that. The Jack-sonian epoch did more to alter the structure of the American political system than to alter the general ends which it served. The instruments of popular power which it evolved —as a glance at the history of the party machine will show-were to be used in the subsequent years quite as often against the popular interest as on its behalf. A shift in the centers of power may rearrange the scene for a time, but it cannot prevent the really dominant interests in society soon moving on to capture the new citadels. It did not take many years to transform the Democratic Party of Jackson into the great bulwark of the slave interest represented by the political descendants of Calhoun; and if the electorate should now confirm the New Deal in office it might not be so long a time before it was captained by the political descendants of the Liberty League.

Nor, on the other hand, would a victory for the inoffensive Governor Landon in November necessarily resurrect the past and return all things to what they once were. It now seems improbable that a defeat for the Jacksonians in 1832 or in 1836 would have vitiated their contribution to American history or long arrested the changes which their period brought about. It seems improbable today, as one reads over a Republican platform bearing virtually no resemblance to the statement of party purposes of only four years ago, that the permanence or the failure of the Roosevelt revolution can be determined at the polls. That question is rather one to be determined by the extent to which it ultimately corresponds with or contradicts the longer, the subtler, and the far more imperious processes of historical development.


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