Date on Senior Honors Thesis


Document Type

Senior Honors Thesis

Degree Name




Author's Keywords

Hatch Act; New Deal; Franklin D. Roosevelt; Kentucky politics; Alben Barkley; Works Progress Administration


By 1938, popularity for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal had declined. The 1938 Kentucky Democratic primary, pitting Senate Majority Leader Alben Barkley against Governor A.B. “Happy” Chandler, became a referendum on the administration. During the campaign, each candidate accused their opponent of employing government resources to buy votes. This national scandal prompted Congress to enact the Hatch Act of 1939. Still in effect, this law restricted how federal employees interacted with political campaigns. This paper contends that the 1939 Hatch Act served as a constitutional backlash against the New Deal’s federal expansion and the rise of the administrative state. Furthermore, this paper contends that analyzing the Hatch Act reveals gaps in United States constitutional and legal history.

Lay Summary

The 1938 Kentucky Democratic primary between Senate Majority Leader Alben Barkley and Governor A.B. “Happy” Chandler came at a period when public opinion of the New Deal declined. During this election, each candidate accused the other of using government resources to influence voters. This perceived corruption caused Congress to pass the Hatch Act of 1939, a law limiting how federal employees could interact with political campaigns. This paper argues that the Hatch Act restricted the federal government at a time when Americans feared foreign fascism would overturn their democratic system. Additionally, this paper uses the Hatch Act’s history to examine gaps in previous New Deal scholarship.