THE NEW DEAL, THE DECLINE OF PARTIES AND THE ADMINISTRATIVE STATE

SIDNEY M MILKIS, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

This study examines the relationship between Presidential leadership, the party system and the bureaucracy during the 1930's. In particular, it attempts to unravel the intricate relationship between the Roosevelt administration's effort to modify the party system and its attempt to reform the Executive Department. The basic thesis of this study is that the politics of the Democratic party and the Executive Department converge in such a way during the 1930's so that the Presidency is institutionalized and strengthened while the traditional party system is weakened. This development grew out of Roosevelt's attempt to strengthen the Democratic party in the short-run so as to eventually weaken the role of the traditional party system in the long-run. The New Dealers made a major effort to increase the commitment to liberalism within the Democratic party. This effort culminated in the 1938 "purge" campaign, where the Roosevelt administration sought to defeat conservative Democrats in the Congressional primary campaigns of that year. Much of this effort, however, was directed by limited partisan goals; the purge sought to make a few examples and achieve immediate policy results rather than fundamentally restructure the organization of the Democratic party or the American party system. In fact, much of the New Deal partisan efforts of the 1930's were part of an attempt to achieve administrative reform that would establish the Presidency as a more autonomous policy-maker. This reform would lead to a de-emphasis on partisan responsibility in the political process and exalt the personal responsibility of the President. In this sense, the efforts were greatly influenced by the goal of strengthening the Presidency, can be seen as an attempt to make the more liberalized Democratic organization the party to end all parties, or the party to bring forth Presidential government, which would weaken traditional party politics and making the establishment of party government unnecessary. The Roosevelt administration was not totally successful in this endeavor. In particular, the 1937 Executive Reorganization Bill, which would have extensively centralized the Executive Department and made the President less dependent on the support of Congress and his party, was defeated. Nevertheless, the more limited, albeit significant, 1939 Executive Reorganization Act was passed. This Act laid the groundwork for the development of the "Modern Presidency" which has become the heart of domestic policy in American politics. The creation of the modern Presidency has served to enhance the personal responsibility within the political system, thereby weakening partisan influence and extensively contributing to the post-World War II decline of political parties. In effect, whereas most studies of the historical development of the party system view the New Deal as a brief, but massive, positive interlude in the long secular trend toward party decomposition, this analysis of the 1930's seeks to show that the New Deal party system contributed to the decline of party organizations in the United States. This stemmed largely from Franklin Roosevelt's neglect of a long-run strategy to strengthen party organizations, a neglect influenced by his view that political parties could only play a limited role in the context of American politics. As much as possible this study relies on primary manuscript and historical sources. It is not intended to be a history of the New Deal, nor is it an analysis or explanation of the broad sweep of American politics in the 1930's. This thesis attempts, rather, to explain a limited aspect of the New Deal: it focuses most centrally on the relationship between the party system and public administration.

Subject Area

Political science

Recommended Citation

MILKIS, SIDNEY M, "THE NEW DEAL, THE DECLINE OF PARTIES AND THE ADMINISTRATIVE STATE" (1981). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI8208012.
https://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI8208012

Share

COinS