Historians agree that Social Security is at the heart of New Deal reform. Given that, what does Social Security tell us about the set of policies and programs called the New Deal? (Read each source below, then answer the questions in the notebook. Ask your teacher for an inquiry organizer worksheet to help you think about the ways that the sources support and contradict each other.)


READ: Letter to Eleanor Roosevelt

Head Note: Americans sent thousands of letters to the White House during FDRís presidency. On average, more than 5,000 letters arrived daily. This letter refers to the "forgotten man," the title of a radio address that FDR gave on April 17, 1932. The "forgotten man" became a phrase adopted by many Americans.

[no address]
Jan 18., 1937

[Dear Mrs. Roosevelt] I...was simply astounded to think that anyone could be nitwit enough to wish to be included in the so called social security act if they could possibly avoid it. Call it by any name you wish it, in my opinion, (and that of many people I know) is nothing but downright stealing....

Personally, I had my savings so invested that I would have had a satisfactory provision for old age. Now thanks to his [FDRís] desire to "get" the utilities I cannot be sure of anything, being a stockholder, as after business has survived his merciless attacks (if it does) insurance will probably be no good either....

Then the president tells them they should hire more men and work shorter hours so that the laborers, who are getting everything now raises etc. can have a "more abundant life." That simply means taking it from the rest of us in the form of taxes or otherwise....

Believe me, the only thing we want from the president ... is for him to balance the budget and reduce taxes. That, by the way, is a "mandate from the people" that isnít getting much attention.

I am not an "economic royalist," just an ordinary white collar worker at $1600 per. Please show this to the president and ask him to remember the wishes of the forgotten man, that is, the one who dared to vote against him. We expect to be tramped on but we do wish the stepping would be a little less hard.

Security at the price of freedom is never desired by intelligent people.

M.A. [female]

Source: Excerpt from a letter sent to Eleanor Roosevelt by an anonymous woman, January 18, 1937.

USE THE NOTEBOOK (instructions):


These definitions should help with reading comprehension.

  • provision: amount of money
  • utilities: industries that supplied electric power
  • stockholder: someone who owns shares in a company
  • mandate: an order or command
  • economic royalist: a term used by FDR in the election of 1936 to signify those who accepted great differences in personal wealth as appropriate

Social Security as stealing

Listen to Historian Mike O'Malley contextualize the letter.

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