Roosevelt, Franklin Delano (1882–1945)

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Roosevelt, Franklin Delano (1882–1945)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (b. 30 January 1882; d. 12 April 1945), president of the United States (1933–1945). Roosevelt presided over the most harmonious period of United States-Latin American relations in the twentieth century. His Good Neighbor Policy, which emphasized cooperation rather than confrontation, marked a significant departure from the strong-arm approach that many of his predecessors had taken.

When Roosevelt became president in 1933, he seemed unlikely to inaugurate an era of good feelings with his country's hemispheric neighbors. After all, his great hero was his fifth cousin (and his wife's uncle), Theodore Roosevelt, whose heavy-handed efforts to secure a route for the Panama Canal Franklin Roosevelt had applauded. Moreover, as assistant secretary of the navy under Woodrow Wilson, Roosevelt had enthusiastically supported American military intervention in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America. Even Roosevelt's initial use of the phrase "good neighbor" in his first inaugural address had less to do with Latin America than with Europe.

But the Good Neighbor Policy, with exclusive reference to Latin America, gradually took shape in response to the two overriding realities that confronted Roosevelt: the Great Depression of the 1930s and the coming of World War II. In hopes of stimulating the economy, Roosevelt and his advisers sought to expand trade with Latin America. But to expand trade they needed to improve diplomatic relations. International considerations figured even more prominently in Roosevelt's calculations. Fearful that Nazi Germany might one day menace the Western Hemisphere, Roosevelt hoped to draw the Americas into a protective alliance. He even believed that if the United States and Latin America provided an example of friendly cooperation, they might inspire the nations of Europe to pull back from the brink of war.

In practice, the Good Neighbor Policy took many forms. After an initial display of saber-rattling in Cuba, the Roosevelt administration endorsed the principle of nonintervention in the affairs of Latin American nations, lowered trade barriers, terminated U.S. military occupation of Haiti, abrogated the Platt Amendment of 1902, which previous administrations had used to justify military intervention in Cuba, and entered into collective security arrangements with most of the U.S.'s hemispheric neighbors. Roosevelt's goodwill approach reached its symbolic high point in 1936 when he visited Brazil and Argentina and received warm welcomes. The Good Neighbor Policy survived its stiffest challenge in 1938 when Roosevelt resisted pressure from U.S. oil companies to send troops to Mexico to protect their interests.

Certain aspects of Roosevelt's policies remain controversial. Some experts have argued that Roosevelt deserves less credit for inaugurating a new approach to Latin America than do his immediate Republican predecessors, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. Others contend that the Good Neighbor Policy, far from representing a new departure, was simply a more benign form of U.S. imperialism. Still others note that Roosevelt's policy of nonintervention may have meant less overt meddling in Latin American affairs but it also meant turning a blind eye to the rise of repressive regimes—so long, that is, as those regimes backed the United States.

See alsoGood Neighbor Policy; United States-Latin American Relations.


Useful and largely favorable accounts of Roosevelt's Latin American policies are Edward O. Guerrant, Roosevelt's Good Neighbor Policy (1950); Donald M. Dozer, Are We Good Neighbors? Three Decades of Inter-American Relations, 1930–1960 (1961); Bryce Wood, The Making of the Good Neighbor Policy (1961). A critical account emphasizing U.S. economic motives is David Green, The Containment of Latin America: A History of the Myths and Realities of the Good Neighbor Policy (1971). Two other fine works are Randall Bennett Woods, The Roosevelt Foreign-Policy Establishment and the Good Neighbor: The United States and Argentina, 1941–1945 (1979); and Irwin F. Gellman, Good Neighbor Diplomacy: United States Policies in Latin America, 1933–1945 (1979). See also Robert Dallek, Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1932–1945 (1979).

Additional Bibliography

Friedman, Max Paul. Nazis and Good Neighbors: The United States Campaign against the Germans of Latin America in World War II. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Joseph, G. M., Catherine LeGrand, and Ricardo Donato Salvatore. Close Encounters of Empire: Writing the Cultural History of U.S.-Latin American Relations. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998.

Pike, Fredrick B. FDR's Good Neighbor Policy: Sixty Years of Generally Gentle Chaos. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995.

                                        Patrick J. Maney

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Roosevelt, Franklin Delano (1882–1945)

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