The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project is a university-chartered research center associated with the Department of History of The George Washington University

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Teaching Eleanor Roosevelt Glossary

The New Deal witnessed an increased role for intellectuals in government. The Brains Trust, a term coined by James Kieran, a New York Times reporter, refers to the group of academic advisers that FDR gathered to assist him during the 1932 presidential campaign. Initially, the term applied to three Columbia University professors: Raymond Moley, Rexford Guy Tugwell, and Adolph A. Berle, Jr. Within a few months, Basil ("Doc") O'Connor, Samuel I. Rosenman, and Hugh Johnson would join the group. These men would quickly help FDR develop an economic plan whose programs became the backbone of the New Deal: regulation of bank and stock activity, large scale relief, and public works programs for people living in both urban and rural areas.

Moley, a professor of government and law who recruited the group, argued that a regressive tax (a flat tax all citizens pay: sales taxes, a flat tax on specific amount of salary, etc.) was the only way to rebuild the economy. Tugwell shaped much of the administration's agricultural policy, believing that the key to easing some of the depression's hardships lay in the ability of the federal government to address the growing imbalance between wages and prices. However, Berle rejected the idea of a planned economy, but suggested a "new economic constitutional order" that would include a larger federal role in the balancing of the economy.

During their first one hundred days in office, the Brains Trust helped Roosevelt enact fifteen major laws. One of the most important initiatives was the Banking Act of 1933, which put an end to the banking panic. After the Brains Trust defended its reform-recovery program in 1933, it disbanded to make room for other advisers and lawyers capable of legislative draftsmanship.


Graham, Otis L., Jr. and Meghan Robinson Wander. Franklin D. Roosevelt, His Life and Times. New York: Da Capo Press, 1985, 40-41.

Kennedy, David. Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, 119-124.

Leuchtenburg, William E. The FDR Years: On Roosevelt and His Legacy. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995, 230, 244.

For more information of the Brains Trust, visit the following web sites:

  • "The New Deal Years" in Franklin Delano Roosevelt: President of the Century on the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute website