The New Deal: A Success Or A Failure

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One area of disagreement between historians is the role the President played in administering New Deal policies and consideration towards African Americans. Clearly, McMahon outlines that Roosevelt was driven by internal demands within the administration rather than race itself. McMahon’s main focus lies in revealing the origins of court decisions under Roosevelt which supported the plight of African Americans; He argues that Roosevelt’s administration played a pivotal role in the Supreme Court’s development to committing to racial equality, culminating in its landmark decision Brown v Board of Education: ‘Indeed by 1944, it was clear that the newly created Roosevelt Court would practice a new style of progressivism when addressing the issue of race’. This is most evident in the appointments to the Supreme Court and the Justice Department’s effort to extend and protect the rights of African-Americans. As McMahon states ‘The choice of Alabama Black as his first nominee and Kentucky’s Stanley Reed as his second potentially had consequences for the development of liberalism in the South’. This serves to outline that Roosevelt clearly had an agenda to liberalise politics in the South, which maintained its power by using the lynch law and poll taxes to exclude African-Americans and the poor from the franchise. 

McMahon outlines that ‘Of the nine men FDR either elevated or appointed to the high bench, eight were unquestionably progressives’: A significant example is Justice Frank Murphy, a liberal Democrat, appointed by Roosevelt whose deep hatred of racial and religious prejudice was evident. These decisions made by Roosevelt culminated in the landmark case of Brown v Board of Education which lay the groundwork for the process towards Civil Rights for everyone, especially African Americans. McMahon sets out that ‘rather than promoting legislation that would forever destroy his [Roosevelt] alliance with powerful southerners, he sought to reconstitute the federal courts in a manner that would advance the agenda of racial progressives’. This is considered to be a clever tactic by Roosevelt in ensuring possible change in alternative ways as his attempts were clearly constricted by conservatives within his administration. However, this idea is challenged by historian Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff who argues that ‘it would take time before African Americans could perceive tangible effects of judicial reform’. This demonstrates that whilst race was not dismissed by the Roosevelt administration, it certainly was not their priority and to some extent it could be argued that Roosevelt simply was not sympathetic to race issues enough to bring about radical change. Therefore, McMahon clearly holds the view that Roosevelt was able to deliver an effective New Deal and Civil Rights progress not through legislation but political and constitutional strategy, allowing him to advocate racial equality in an indirect manner, which can be questioned.

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