Documents: Great Depression / New Deal
He explained that because of the nation’s financial crisis, “the normal balance of power” in American government needed to be altered. He said that he would “ask the Congress for…broad executive power to wage a war against the emergency as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.”
In his so-called New Deal, Roosevelt thus argued for a shift in the balance of power between the national government and the states in our federal system of government. A substantial growth in the role and power of the national government resulted as a consequence of several major New Deal laws which FDR persuaded Congress to adopt.
One of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first appointments after he was elected President in 1932 was that of Frances Perkins as U. S. Secretary of Labor. She played a key role in what eventually became the Social Security Act of 1935. In 1931 she had gone to England to study that nation’s old age pension and unemployment programs. On her return, she urged President Roosevelt to persuade Congress to adopt similar programs for the U. S. Both chambers of Congress adopted the Social Security Act by overwhelming margins, and FDR signed it into law in 1935. The law had four major components: (1) a federal-state unemployment insurance program administered by the states; (2) federal grants to states for welfare payments for needy children, the blind, and the elderly; (3) federal grants to the states for vocational rehabilitation, infant and maternal health, aid to crippled children, and public health programs; and (4) old-age insurance paid directly by the national government to individuals when they retired at age 65, financed by employer and employee taxes while employed. The law has been amended and added to several times since 1937.
In 1937 when the law was challenged as to its constitutionality, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that Congress had the constitutional power to pass the law.