The Presidency of Franklin D Roosevelt

Module code: HS3737/3738

Module Outline

The Franklin D. Roosevelt era (1933-45) included arguably the most significant years of twentieth century American history, both domestically and internationally. The first half of Roosevelt’s presidency was primarily concerned with helping the nation to respond to the Great Depression and pulling the United States out of its worst ever economic crisis. The second half of his presidency was dominated by international affairs with the approach of and ultimate American involvement in World War II. By the time of Roosevelt’s death in 1945, the United States was well on the way to helping secure victory in the war, and it had seen its national economy transformed for the better. As a result of his leadership through depression and war, Roosevelt is commonly remembered as one of America’s greatest presidents. However, there is still controversy over his legacy, in terms of the effectiveness of his domestic economic policies, his ability to maintain a democratic society at home whilst fighting in the name of democracy overseas, and his dealings with the Soviet Union. This module will examine all of these historical controversies, and many more.

Topics covered

The first half of the module focuses on responses to the Great Depression and Roosevelt’s New Deal, assessing the strengths and weaknesses of Roosevelt’s policies in dealing with a variety of domestic concerns. It begins with Roosevelt’s 1932 campaign and an attempt to understand the concept of the “New Deal.” It then uses that understanding to examine Roosevelt’s first hundred days in office, a period that saw a blizzard of legislation introduced in an attempt to provide immediate relief to suffering Americans, to help the economy recover in the longer term, and to implement reform to ensure there would be no repeat of the Great Depression. The module then examines criticism of this first New Deal period from those on the political right who felt that Roosevelt had gone too far in using governmental power, but also from those on the left who felt he had not gone far enough. Spurred by the latter group, Roosevelt implemented further reforms in the second New Deal of 1935. Yet despite being re-elected in a landslide in the 1936 election, Roosevelt lost much of his political initiative in his second term with a number of political missteps. The module assesses the significance of Roosevelt’s failed attempts to restructure the Supreme Court and reshape the Democratic party. It also examines the so-called Roosevelt Recession of 1937-38 which made many question Roosevelt’s leadership.

The second half of the module will assess the political and diplomatic concerns of World War II. It begins by looking at the great debate within the United States prior to 1941 over America’s place in the world, considering how Americans viewed growing conflicts in both Asia and Europe. Following America’s entry into the war after the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the module will examine the American home front by looking at industrial mobilisation, the social impact of the war, and the treatment of Japanese-Americans. The module then focuses in detail on the diplomacy of the war, looking at Roosevelt’s effectiveness as Commander in Chief through key military strategic decisions, at Grand Alliance politics with the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, and at the wartime conferences at Teheran and Yalta. It also considers the Roosevelt Administration’s responses to the Holocaust. Finally, it considers the legacy of the FDR years.

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