Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan Presidential Policies


A comparison of the actions taken by Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan regarding domestic and foreign affairs.


American presidents lead the country in the best interest of citizens. They hold the responsibility of ensuring that laws are abided by, the federal government operates efficiently, and the president also administers foreign policies, signs treaties with other nations, and appoints members of the Cabinet and Supreme Court. However, Presidents perform these responsibilities differently, in which their political affiliation pertains to the choices they make. Each political party holds different views on how to handle and resolve issues, both foreign and domestic. Every president will receive criticism and appraisal based on a policy or action that the American people disagree or agree with. Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan dealt with different issues, both foreign and domestic, largely in part due to their time periods served as president and the political parties they represented impacted their decisions.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Domestic Policies

When first elected in 1933, Roosevelt proposed his “New Deal,” which consisted of programs to help boost the economy. He first aimed to help the nation’s banks recover as thirty-eight states contained closed banks. The president turned to government aid and supervision to banks, in which Congress passed the Emergency Banking Act allowing banks to reopen. This measure also kept private ownership with banks.

The President’s “New Deal” involved an increase in spending and providing more federal programs. In 1935 the Social Security Act was created to support the aged, disabled and unemployed. The act essentially relied on the money of employers and workers to help the aged, disabled and unemployed, done so by taxing workers. In 1938, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act establishing both minimum wages and maximum hours of work per week. The minimum wage began at forty cents an hour by 1940 and a standard work week of forty hours, with time and a half over time. Although these acts aimed to help citizens, they did not benefit all citizens. African Americans and Mexican Americans greatly suffered from these acts. Social Security and minimum wage did not apply to African American farmers or domestic servants, in which these categories contained 65% of all African American workers. Most Mexican Americans worked in labor in California fields and their pay dropped from thirty-five cents to fourteen cents an hour. The New Deal also did little to help women in the workplace. Women were viewed as working for “pin money,” which is a small allowance. Over three-fourths of schools throughout the country refused to hire women and the National Recovery Administration (NRA) lowered women’s wages. For example, laundry mats paid women as little as fourteen cents an hour.

Franklin’s Foreign Policies

The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 resulted in Roosevelt taking immediate action by declaring war on Japan. Hitler then declared war on America and World War II began. In 1941, President Roosevelt gave an annual address to Congress regarding America’s involvement in the war, stating that democracy is threatened in four continents. The president reflected that the national policy protects the rights of American citizens, but should also protect the rights of all nations regarding foreign affairs. He continued that America should create a world based upon four freedoms; the freedom of speech and expression, freedom of religion, freedom from want by an economic standing to ensure citizens in all nations live peacefully, and lastly, freedom from fear of other countries. Roosevelt demonstrated immediate action and America’s defense for freedoms entering World War II. However, Roosevelt essentially wanted America to remain isolated.

Ronald Reagan’s Foreign Policies

In 1980, the American people elected Ronald Reagan as president. Reagan immediately demonstrated his firm stance against the Soviet Union, who he viewed as a threat due to their communist-run government. He denounced the Russians to the United Nations, viewing them as immoral and violating human rights. In 1982, Reagan gave a speech to the House of Commons stating that the Soviet Union denies human freedom and dignity to its citizens. Reagan viewed military forces as one that a country hopes to never use, but to uphold the beliefs the American people cherish. Reagan’s attack on communism led to his decision to increase military spending, dramatically. By 1985, he grew the defense budget to more than $300 billion. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger emphasized the need for new weapons and an increase in the amount of navy ships. A nuclear arms race began between American and Russia. America implemented missiles in Europe to match missiles aimed at NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) countries by the Soviet Union. The U.S. also created the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) to destroy incoming missiles in space. Reagan feared that the Soviet Union would rise and attack. The nuclear arms race with Russia aimed to show that a country dominates by having more and better weapons. However, the race ended after a series of meetings between Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President Reagan, which resulted in the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty created in December of 1987. The treaty removed and destroyed all intermediate-range missiles in Europe.

Reagan’s Domestic Policies

In regards to issues at home, Reagan’s first measure after becoming president was to cut federal spending. He reduced social services, such as food stamps, and reduced public service jobs, such as student loans. Reagan also advocated 10% of annual cuts in personal income for three straight years. Reagan stood against government spending and believed in supply-side economics, stressing for lower tax rates and less government control. He also strongly urged the protection of the private sector.


Both President Roosevelt and President Reagan wanted better for the country, thus demonstrating their reasons for taking certain actions. Roosevelt and Reagan both succeeded, yet fell short in certain areas. Although Roosevelt passed acts, such as the Social Security Act and Fair Labor Standards Act, to help the people, these acts disregarded minorities. However, in regards to foreign affairs, Roosevelt took immediate action in defending America after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, stressing the importance of freedom in other countries. President Reagan helped the American economy grow by curbing inflation, reducing federal spending and cutting taxes. In regards to foreign affairs, his personal view of communism impacted the nuclear arms race with Russia. Although he viewed communism as wrong, he could not pressure a country to change.