Declaring "War" on the Great Depression
This lesson correlates to the National History Standards.
- Era 8 -The Great Depression and World War II (1929 - 1945)
- Standard 2A -Demonstrate an understanding of the New Deal and the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
This lesson correlates to the National Standards for Civics and Government.
- Standard III.B.1. -Evaluate, take, and defend positions on issues regarding the purposes, organization, and functions of the institutions of the national government.
This lesson relates to the duties and powers of the president and Congress as set forth in the Preamble, in Article I, Section 8, Paragraph 18, and in Article II, Section 3, Paragraph 1, that resulted in measures to provide for national relief from the economic disaster of the Great Depression.
Share this exercise with your history, art, language arts, and government colleagues.
- Direct the students to define the following words before reading the Inaugural Address: induction, candor, curtailment, languishes, incompetence, abdicated, exhortations, callous, ethics, endeavor, foreclosure, manifestation.
Analyzing the Document
- Provide students with a copy of the inaugural address (Document 1). Ask them to read it and underline any words that reflect a metaphor for war. For example, on page 1 the words "convert retreat into advance" would be appropriate. Direct student pairs to compare and discuss their findings.
- Ask students to list components of President Roosevelt's plan to attack the Great Depression as stated in his inaugural address. Copy these components onto a sheet of butcher paper and post in the classroom. Next, provide students with a list of New Deal programs. Use examples from the documents cited in this lesson (the CCC, the WPA, the FERA, and the TVA) and add others that you deem appropriate. Assign small groups of students to research one of the programs to determine whether it addressed one of the issues specified in the speech and included on the posted list. Finally, direct the groups to report their findings and discuss whether their program had any connection to the military metaphor used within the speech.
Group Document Analysis
- Divide students into six groups and distribute one of the six photographs (without its caption) and a Photograph Analysis Worksheet to each group. Instruct the students to complete the worksheet based on their assigned photograph. Ask a representative from each group to describe the group's photo to the class. Ask students to determine which New Deal program is depicted in each of the images based on the research they conducted in Activity 3. Read the captions to the students to inform them of the actual programs depicted in the photos.
- Ask students to write an essay in which they analyze the war powers clauses included in the Constitution and compare them to the tone of the speech and the development of the New Deal programs.
- Using the Web-based sources listed below, direct the students to access and
retrieve other New Deal images and documents. The students should search for
images of their local area, state, or region and record and then discuss the
variety of New Deal programs that they find represented in the images and prepare
a brief report on the programs they find. Permit the students to report their
findings orally to the entire class or in small discussion groups.
From the National Archives and Records Administration:
A New Deal for the Arts
Tokens and Treasures
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Democrat, 32d President, 1933-45
NARA Digital Classroom. Constitutional Issues: Separation of Powers
NARA's National Archives Catalog
From Other Government Agencies:
The Whitehouse: Presidents: Franklin D. Roosevelt
Social Security Administration History
The Library of Congress, American Memory
The New Deal Stage
Selection from the Federal Theatre Project, 1935-1939
From Non-Government Organizations:
New Deal Network
The American Experience: Surviving the Dustbowl
The American Experience: The Presidents
FDR Cartoon Library
- Facilitate a class discussion about other areas of domestic policy that apply the warfare metaphor. Two examples are the war on drugs and the war on poverty.
The documents included in this project are from the Franklin Roosevelt Library; Record Group 142, Records of the Tennessee Valley Authority; and Record Group 69, Records of the Works Progress Administration. They are available online through the National Archives Catalog National Archives Identifiers:
The National Archives Catalog replaces its prototypes, the Archival Research Catalog (ARC) and NARA Archival Information Locator (NAIL). You can still perform a keyword, digitized image and location search. The online catalog's advanced functionalities also allow you to search by organization, person, or topic.
The online catalog is a searchable database that contains information about a wide variety of NARA holdings across the country. You can use the National Archives Catalog to search record descriptions by keywords or topics and retrieve digital copies of selected textual documents, photographs, maps, and sound recordings related to thousands of topics.
Currently, about 80% of NARA's vast holdings have been described in the National Archives Catalog. Thousands of digital images can be searched in the National Archives Catalog. In keeping with NARA's Strategic Plan, the percentage of holdings described in the National Archives Catalog will grow continually.
This article was written by John M. Lawlor, Jr., a professor at Reading Area Community College in Reading, PA.