In the 1930s, what were the most significant governmental and legislative events?

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Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The 1930s saw some of the most significant legislative reform in United States’ history.  There were numerous reasons for the monumental changes: seismic shifts in social values, the expansion of government in areas of American life in which it previously had no jurisdiction and new public attitudes about the role and function of government.  These new attitudes came about as the 1920s came to a close. The era of prosperity had come to an abrupt and painful close when the stock market crashed in 1929 and the Great Depression began.  After the crash, the national government took on far reaching responsibilities (over the objections of many), fundamentally changing its relationship between the people and the states.

One of the first major legislative changes that occurred was the end of Prohibition in 1932.  The Eighteenth Amendment, which had banned the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages, was repealed. There were a variety of reasons that the amendment failed.  First, enforcement across the country was inconsistent.  In some states, it was strictly enforced.  In others, it was barely acknowledged; in still others, enforcement seemed to be at the whim of the police at the time.  Public opinion towards the consumption of alcohol radically changed in the twenties; prior decades leaned more heavily (though inconsistently), towards abstinence. Additionally, many who were in favor of prohibition lost confidence that the federal government had the wherewithal to enforce its mandates at all, or the monetary means to do so if they wanted to. t

Crime was another factor that propelled governmental and legislative changes.  In the early 1930s, crime rates skyrocketed, not surprising given the difficult economics that followed the stock market crash of 1929. For a time, outlaws, such as Bonnie and Clyde, were romanticized by the media and the people were enchanted. However, Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” in 1933, soon changed public opinion. Roosevelt’s reforms were threefold:  “Relief, Recovery, and Reform.”  New Deal tenets changed the public affection from the romanticizing the outlaw to romanticizing his pursuer.  It was during the 1930s that the FBI, now armed, became a strong national presence.  Another new law, called Linbergh Law, so-named after the kidnapping and murder of famed aviator Charles Lindberg, strengthened the ability of various federal agencies, allowing them to more effectively fight crime. Not all efforts to stymie crime were equally effective, however.   In fact, during the 1930s, the activities of organized crime became more prominent and pervasive.

Changes in the Supreme Court is another reason the 1930s is another reason this decade is important in regard to legislative change. In 1934, the court sided with states when it decided, by narrow majority, New York's decision, in the case of Nebbia v. New York, to regulate the price of milk. The courts' decree was that states had the right to adopt any policy they saw fit that would increase the common welfare of its residents, so long as the choices they made were not arbitrary or exclusionary.  This decision meant that a law would be valid if there was a legitimate basis for accomplishing objectives.  This also meant that the Supreme Court would now be far more involved in reviewing laws that might affect an individual's rights. After World War II, the Court had a very active role in protecting civil rights. 

Source: American Decades: 1930-1939, 1995. Gale Cengage. 

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

During the terms of the progressive Franklin D. Roosevelt, there were several significant governmental and legislative events:

Banking Reform

1933 Securities Act - This required stockbrokers and corporations to release pertinent and accurate information about stocks to investors.

1933 Glass-Steagall Act - This act created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) which protected the savings of aver citizens if their bank closed, etc. It also prevented commercial banks from becoming involved with investment banking, a practice which had led to their previous failures.

1935 Banking Act - Roosevelt took America off the gold standard and created central banking with a Reorganized Finance Corporation (RFC) and Federal Housing Administration (FHA) that allowed Americans to build or renovate homes. These two acts shifted marking power from Wall Street to Washington, some observed. 

The Farm Credit Association - This allowed farmers to save their homes from foreclosure.

Relief Programs and Jobs

Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) made cash allocations to states for the purpose of works projects that put hundreds of thousands of men to work. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Civil Works Administration (CWA) were responsible for the creation of many national parks and for the cleaning of beaches and parks.

The Farmer Electrification Administration (REA) also provided farmers the ability to produce more with the aid of electricity on their farms and in their homes. This put the farmer in communication with the rest of the country

Grand Coulee, Bonneville, and Hoover Dams, huge work projects, transformed the economy of the Pacific Northwest and Southwest. Still more important was the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).

But by the end of the 1930s, the TVA had brought millions of southern Americans electric power, roads, and jobs in regions that previously had no phones, electric lights, or stable employment. 

1933 National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) - This act arranged "national economic planning as opposed to individualistic and competitive, laissez-faire capitalism." This act created the Public Works Administration (PWA) which gave jobs to millions in an effort to stimulate the economy. However, other efforts of this act were costly and unsuccessful.

The Wagner-Connery National Labor Relations Act prohibited unfair labor practices such as child labor and blacklisting union organizers.

1935 Social Security Act - This act arranged a retirement plan for workers. With its passage also came programs such as Old Age Assistance (Title I), Old Age Insurance (Title II), Unemployment Insurance (Title III), Aid to Dependent Children (Title IV) and Aid to the Blind (Title V). 

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