Elected in 1932 following the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt took on his presidency as a challenge to reform the United States by finding ways to provide a larger amount of people economic security in an unequal financial environment. To accomplish this goal, Roosevelt not only implemented a variety of New Deal programs under the categories of reform, recovery and relief, but also redefined what the word “liberty” meant for Americans.
Upon winning the presidency, FDR faced several problems that had been perpetuated by the Great Depression. He focused on the government’s responsibility to improve the welfare of more Americans and addressed the large problem of unemployment. FDR “worked to reclaim the word ‘freedom’ from the Republicans, and made it a rallying cry for the New Deal”(Foner, Voices, page 172). He redefined what “liberty” meant for America, giving it a wider breadth that encompassed the average man, not just an elite few. The concept of “liberty” transformed from an idea that promoted free economic activities and limited government interference, to a more modern view that encouraged government action and the economic uplifting of the average man (Foner, Give Me Liberty, page 644). FDR believed in “social- welfare” liberalism where the government increases its scope of influence by taking on a more active role to promote the well being of more Americans. This differed from the more traditional view of liberty that produced capitalistic success among the “privileged few” at the expense of the working class.
Under the New Deal, several legislations were passed to reform the United States labor policies and encourage more active government participation; one of these policies was called the National Labor Relief Act (NLRA). Coined as the “most important concession to organized labor in the history of American”, the NLRA, or Wagner Act of 1935, established employee rights such as the ability to unionize as well as bargain for better working situations. Congress believed that workers, when deprived of having a voice to stand up to their employers, were more prone to economic instability. The rights to bargain about topics such as wage rates or hours worked forced laborers to create not only better working conditions, but also established a chance for industrial peace between business owners and their employees. A result of this legislation was the formation of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB created a safe environment where owners and organization workers could discuss unfair practices without fear of retribution. It “brought democracy into the American workplace”(Foner, Give Me Liberty, page 656) by prohibiting the blacklisting of workers who decided to join unions and monitoring the use of unfair practices such as discrimination during the hiring process. The NLRA was successful in reforming the workplace by establishing a sense of cooperation and balance among laborers and management.