Ken Burns Classroom

What’s the Deal? The Square Deal and the New Deal

Ken Burns Film: The Roosevelts

Collections: Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)

Subject: Government

Grade Level: 7-12

Run Time: 1 class period


Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt were different politicians from different parties but both became champions of the people. Theodore was a blossoming Progressive with a sense of moral outrage toward those who would take advantage of their position at the expense of others. His “Square Deal” programs promised a more equitable and competitive business environment that would better the lives of all Americans. FDR was a policy experimenter, pushing TR’s Progressive ideas to fruition. Major bills during the New Deal period granted the federal government unprecedented power over the economy.


Divide the class into small research groups to trace the history of these two economic programs, the Square Deal and the New Deal. Have some groups report on the economic conditions each plan tried to address, details or examples of policies in each plan, the opposition each faced, and the level of success each plan attained. Two good resources are The Living New Deal ( and Theodore ( Have other groups research the economic platforms of today’s Democratic and Republican parties in the same way. Then have each group report their findings to the class. Discuss the similarities and differences of Square Deal and the New Deal, how the Square Deal and the New Deal compare to the economic plans proposed by the Republican and Democratic parties today, and which plan or parts of the plans might address economic problems faced today.

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