Roosevelt, Franklin D.

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Franklin D. Roosevelt

David M. Kennedy

IT was the worst of times when Franklin Delano Roosevelt assumed the presidency in March 1933. Following the ruinous stock market crash of late 1929, the bottom seemed to drop out of the American economy. By 1933, securities listed on the New York Stock Exchange had lost more than three-quarters of their 1929 value. Industrial production had fallen to half its 1929 level. Agricultural income had plummeted even more sharply. Piles of unmarketable wheat flanked railroad tracks across the plains states. Desperate Iowa farmers blockaded the approaches to Sioux City in the summer of 1932, assaulting vehicles that tried to breach the makeshift barricades of logs and spiked telephone poles.

Americans had earned some $88 billion in 1929. Those still lucky enough to be working earned less than half that amount four years later. One wage earner in foursome 13 million peoplehad no job in 1933. Some 5,000 banks collapsed in the first three years of the depression, carrying down with them the life savings of tens of thousands of citizens. Those cold statistics only hinted at the human suffering that the Great Depression inflicted. Anxious men and women postponed or canceled plans to marry. Struggling couples had fewer children. Even the divorce rate declined, as the contracting economy sealed the exits from unhappy marriages. Disillusioned immigrants forsook the fabled American land of promise and returned by the thousands to their old countries. Nearly 100,000 down-and-out Americans responded to an advertisement in 1931 offering employment in the Soviet Union. More than a million homeless hoboes drifted about the country in search of work. "Hoovervilles," tar-paper and cardboard shanty-towns derisively named for the incumbent president, sprang up on the outskirts of virtually every major city.

One such encampment of the unemployed arose in the summer of 1932 on the damp flatlands along the Anacostia River, in the District of Columbia. Bivouacked in old pup tents and huts fashioned from packing cases, some fifteen thousand veterans of World War I sought by their presence in Washington to wring from Congress the early award of a war-service bonus scheduled to be paid in 1945. President Hoover responded by putting the White House under guard, chaining its gates, and mobilizing four troops of cavalry under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. Exceeding his orders to contain the "Bonus Expeditionary Force" in their campsite at Anacostia Flats, MacArthur cleared the area with tear gas and put the marchers' shacks to the torch.

Against this background of deepening economic distress and rising social tension, Democrats met in Chicago in June 1932 to nominate their presidential candidate. Their party had not commanded the White House since Woodrow Wilson's departure in 1921. In the intervening years, the party had been riven by apparently irreconcilable conflicts between its stunningly disparate factions: agriculturalists opposed industrialists; the largely rural, Protestant, old-stock Anglo-Saxon South, still the party's principal power base, struggled to accommodate the growing influence of the Catholic American body politic. Their effort to coalesce, to agree on a candidate, and to govern thus tested the ability of the society itself to cope with the crisis of the depression in a coherent, effective way.

The Road to the White House

Well before 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt had established himself as the favorite candidate of progressive, or liberal, elements in the Democratic party. Yet he was in many ways an improbable progressive. Born on 30 January 1882 into a life of sumptuous privilege, he had passed as a young man through the rituals customary to the upbringing of sons of the Hudson River valley squirearchy: excursions abroad, instruction from tutors, preparatory school at Endicott Peabody's exclusive academy at Groton, Massachusetts, and attendance at Harvard.

Yet, even as an undergraduate, Roosevelt displayed remarkable qualities of leadership and political belief. He remained an extra year at Harvard to serve as editor of the Crimson, the student newspaper. In an undergraduate essay on the decline of the once-famous Dutch families of New York, he made an exception of the Roosevelts. "They have never felt," he wrote, "that because they were born in a good position they could put their hands in their pockets and succeed. They have felt, rather, that being born in a good position, there was no excuse for them if they did not do their duty by the community."

Impelled by that sense of noblesse oblige, Roosevelt set out almost immediately after his graduation from Harvard on a career of public service. He drew inspiration from the example of his fifth cousin, Theodore Roosevelt. With uncanny and Jewish immigrant political machines and labor unions of the northern cities; states' righters battled centralizers; prohibitionist "drys" warred against opposing "wets"; reformist progressives clashed with old-fashioned conservatives. To a far greater extent than Republicans, who tended to be more homogeneous socially and like-minded politically, Democrats contained among themselves the many contentious forces that pulsed in the precision he retraced the path to the White House that Theodore had blazed, serving first as a New York state legislator (19101913), then as Woodrow Wilson's assistant secretary of the navy (19131920), and as governor of New York (19281932).

Stricken by polio in 1921, Roosevelt spent the next several years trying to recuperate, though he never regained the use of his legs. His disease became, in a sense, a political asset. Rising to eminence from birth in a humble log cabin evidenced the indomitability of character of other presidential aspirants; Roosevelt, denied that proof, found its equivalent in his struggle against paralysis. So thoroughly did he triumph over his handicap that many Americans, even after his many years in office as president, remained unaware that Roosevelt could neither walk nor stand unassisted.

Even during the gravest period of his illness, Roosevelt remained politically active, working to modernize the ramshackle organizational structure of the Democratic party and to move it in a progressive direction. "The Democratic Party is the Progressive Party of the country," he said in 1924, and two years later he explained that "a nation or a State which is unwilling by governmental action to tackle the new problems, caused by immense increase of population and by the astounding strides of modern science, is headed for decline and ultimate death." Those sentiments were strikingly at odds with the free-market philosophy of 1920s Republicanism and with the Jeffersonian origins of his own party, but they showed Roosevelt's fidelity to the principles of the early-twentieth-century progressive movement that his cousin Theodore had so colorfully led.

As governor of New York, Roosevelt tried to put those principles into practice. He called for the state government to take an active role in developing the St. Lawrence River waterway. He championed reforestation and other resource-management projects under state direction. He proposed legislation to improve credit facilities for farmers and to protect women and children factory workers. In 1931, in telling contrast to the timid response that the Hoover administration made to the problem of unemployment, Roosevelt established the state's Temporary Emergency Relief Administration to provide jobs to victims of the depression.

Democrats knew that they had an excellent opportunity to recapture the presidency from the battered Hoover in 1932, and Roosevelt was clearly the preferred candidate of the progressive wing of the party. But he was not without opposition, particularly from old-guard elements led by John J. Raskob, the enormously wealthy and powerful national party chairman, and from southern Democrats who rallied to the candidacy of Speaker of the House John Nance Garner, a Texan. At the crucial moment in the balloting at Chicago, Garner threw his support to Roosevelt, who secured the nomination on the fourth round of voting.

Many observers were little impressed with the party's choice. One commentator opined that Roosevelt "would probably make the weakest President of the dozen aspirants." Columnist Walter Lippmann offered a judgment destined to become infamous as a monument of underestimation. Roosevelt, he concluded, was "a pleasant man who, without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be President." The venerable Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., came closer to the mark when he described Roosevelt as a man of "second-class intellect but a first-class temperament."

Unfathomably mysterious is the alchemy that shapes the temperament of leadership out of ordinary human clay, but in Roosevelt's case his aristocratic upbringing and long struggle against disability were crucial elements. He was almost preternaturally self-confident, restlessly active, unflaggingly optimistic, and endowed with a fine instinct for sensing the mood of the nation.

Roosevelt exhibited those qualities immediately upon receiving notice of his nomination. Shattering precedent, he flew to Chicago and gave the first acceptance speech ever delivered to a presidential nominating convention. "I pledge you, I pledge myself," he declared to the assembled delegates, "to a new deal for the American people." But the campaign that followed also seemed to confirm the truth of Holmes's judgment about the nominee's intellectual limitations. Though Roosevelt conscientiously listened to the advice of a "brain trust" of economic nationalists, including Rexford G. Tugwell, Raymond Moley, and Adolf A. Berle, Jr., historians have sought in vain to discover in his 1932 campaign speeches a consciously wrought blueprint for the New Deal. He never mentioned later landmark developments such as the Social Security Act or the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Much of his attack on Hoover focused on the incumbent's alleged determination to expand the federal government and to be "the greatest spending Administration in peace times in all our history"accusations given a sharply ironic ring by later events.

Roosevelt's warm, ebullient, yet comforting personality contrasted irresistibly with the hapless Hoover's efforts to portray his opponent as a confused and vacillating "chameleon on plaid." On election day, 8 November 1932, Roosevelt rolled up an impressive victory with 22,809,638 votes to Hoover's 15,758,901. He carried all but six states, for an electoral college count of 472 to 59. He pulled into office with him sizable Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. Roosevelt thus began the longest presidencythree times reelected, twelve years in officein American history.

Roosevelt's first election marked the last time that a four-month interval separated a president's election and inauguration. (Since 1937, presidents have been inaugurated in January.) The wait in this case was especially long and cruel. The downward-spiraling depression sucked the entire nation's banking and credit structure into its vortex. Nearly five thousand banks failed between 1929 and 1933, wiping out billions of dollars of savings. As the crisis thickened, panicky depositors accelerated their withdrawals from savings accounts, further jeopardizing the precarious liquidity of many institutions. The governor of Nevada ordered a "bank holiday" in October 1932 to slow the vicious cycle. The governor of Michigan followed suit in February 1933, and by inaugural eve, banks had barred their doors in thirty-eight states. Outgoing President Herbert Hoover tried several times to secure President-elect Roosevelt's agreement to various emergency measures, but Roosevelt warily refused to commit himself. On the very morning of the inauguration, the governors of New York and Illinois announced the closing of banks in their states, the twin pillars of the nation's financial edifice. A few hours later, the New York Stock Exchange stopped all trading in securities. This was the grim setting for Roosevelt's inauguration and the occasion for his famous admonition that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

The Hundred Days

"Rulers of the exchange of mankind's goods have failed through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence," Roosevelt charged in his inaugural address. "The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths." With that belligerent battle cry against the bankers, Roosevelt summoned Congress to convene in special session to deal with the banking crisis. By the time the representatives and senators settled into their seats in the Capitol on 9 March, every bank in the nation was closed by presidential order. Rumors flew that the new president intended to take the radical step of nationalizing the banks.

When the emergency banking bill was read aloud to a tense House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. (it had been drafted too hastily for copies to be distributed), conservatives were greatly relieved. The bill extended the helping hand of government to assist private bankers back to their feet. It authorized the Federal Reserve Board to issue additional currency secured by bank assets; it directed the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC)an agency created in the Hoover administration to provide capital to private businessesto purchase preferred bank stock; it extended the government's control over gold holdings; and it mandated Treasury Department supervision of the reopening and reorganization of the banks. Less than eight hours after it was introduced, the banking bill swept virtually unexamined through both houses of Congress and was back on the president's desk for his signature.

Conservatives again took heart six days later when the administration pushed through a stringent budget-cutting measure and followed it up with legislation designed to increase federal revenues from the sale of beer and wine. In a fortnight of dazzling political initiative, the supposedly progressive Roosevelt had enacted almost the entire program of the reactionary Raskob wing of his party. "Capitalism," one New Dealer later reflected, "was saved in eight days."

But the president was not finished. He had shored up the private banking system and had moved to restore business confidence in the soundness of his administration's fiscal policies. Now he saw further opportunities. "Things moved so fast," he wrote of the period just after the Emergency Banking Act was launched, "that during the next two days it became obvious that other matters had to be taken up to meet the financial and economic crisis." Some of the matters next taken up addressed the immediate goals of unemployment relief and economic recovery. Others had their origins deep in the history of the progressive reform movement; they aimed at governmental restructuring of broad areas of American life in ways destined to endure well beyond the depression.

In the next three months, Roosevelt induced Congress to pass a dozen additional pieces of major legislation. The Federal Emergency Relief Act funded the unemployment compensation programs of the states, whose treasuries had long since been overwhelmed by the scale of the depression. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) put hundreds of thousands of jobless young men and a handful of young women to work on federally directed projects in reforestation, road building, and flood control. Financial institutions, as well as homeowners and farmers, were further aided by the Homeowners' Loan Act, the Emergency Farm Mortgage Act, and the Farm Credit Act, all of which provided in various ways for the refinancing of private debts under government auspices. As many as one-fifth of the nation's homes and farms were saved from foreclosure by these measures, securing the lifelong political gratitude of large sections of the middle class. The Glass-Steagall Banking Act created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, insuring bank deposits up to $5,000a measure that at a single stroke virtually eliminated the prospect of further "runs" on banks by nervous depositors. The Tennessee Valley Authority Act initiated a comprehensive development plan for the vast Tennessee River basin. The Agricultural Adjustment Act sought to stabilize agricultural prices by crop limitation and government subsidy. It also carried an amendment authorizing the president to undertake various steps to inflate the currency. The National Industrial Recovery Act called for the establishment of codes governing production, pricing, and labor practices in major industries; it additionally provided for a $3.3 billion public works program. Other measures promoted the financial reorganization of railroads, as well as tighter federal controls over securities markets and gold.

On 16 June 1933 the special congressional session ended. The famous "Hundred Days" that commenced Roosevelt's presidency left the country somewhat breathless and a bit baffled, but nonetheless bolstered in spirit. The new president had displayed awesome powers of political leadership, though the precise ideological sum of the Hundred Days legislation remained almost impossible to define. Roosevelt seemed to offer something for every-bodybut the gift of hope, precious beyond measure at that volatile moment, he offered equally to all.

Roosevelt took extraordinary steps to project his reassuring presence into every American home. He was the first president to master the new electronic medium of radio, with its powerful ability to touch millions of persons instantaneously and simultaneously. He began the second week of his presidency with a radio broadcast explaining in plain, simple language the purpose of his banking programthe first of many such "fireside chats." He cultivated journalists by abolishing the practice of responding only to written questions in press conferences. In studied contrast to President Hoover's treatment of the Bonus Expeditionary Force, Roosevelt provided food and medical services for all the veterans who had remained along the Anacostia River, and sent his wife, Eleanor, to lead them in group singing. This was an early instance of the extraordinary role that Eleanor Roosevelt played in her husband's administrations. A dedicated reformer and humanitarian, she developed an independent public career as an advocate for disadvantaged Americans and served as Franklin Roosevelt's ambassador to such constituencies as blacks, women, farmers, workers, and young people. She was unquestionably the most activist First Lady in American history up to that time.

The New Deal in Action

The National Recovery Administration (NRA) formed the spearhead of the administration's attack on the economic crisis. Roosevelt had voiced its informing philosophy in a speech to San Francisco's Commonwealth Club in September 1932. His keynote was a call for stability, not stimulus. "Our task now," he had said, "is not . . . necessarily producing more goods. It is the soberer, less dramatic business of administering resources and plants already in hand." Headed by General Hugh Johnson, the NRA set out to secure the agreement of major industries to government-backed codes designed to stop the downward slide of payrolls, prices, and production. Johnson offered exemption from antitrust prosecution to industries that consented to put a floor under wages and to cease cutthroat price slashing. Section 7a of the National Industrial Recovery Act appealed for labor support of these arrangements, by offering guarantees of the right of unions to organize and bargain collectively.

Fearing a court test of the NRAs constitutionality, Johnson avoided legal coercion and relied instead on a massive publicity campaign to achieve his aims. He plastered the country with the NRA symbol, a stylized blue eagle, and organized monster parades to induce businessmen to do their part. Within months, some 2 million employers in most major industries had signed code agreements.

The codes brought stability to the failing economy, but they did not bring instant recovery. More than 20 percent of the work force remained idle in 1934. The codes also brought controversy. Small businessmen in particular chafed under the labor regulations of the codes; virtually all businessmen resented the weight of government bureaucracy with which they were suddenly saddled; other critics charged that the codes maintained prices at artificially high levels and promoted monopoly.

On 27 May 1935 the United States Supreme Court declared the NRA unconstitutional. The administration soon rebounded with a series of "Little NRA" bills targeted on specific industries, including coal mining and oil refining. These measures, together with the Robinson-Patman Act of 1936 and the Miller-Tydings Act of 1937, both of which prohibited "unfair" price competition in the retail trades, showed the persistence of the stagnationist economic philosophy that had originally generated the NRA.

In agriculture, which in the 1930s still employed more than one-fifth of all American workers, the administration pursued similar policies. It aimed at achieving equilibrium, not growth, by raising prices and lowering production. In 1933 those ends compelled the distasteful means of crop destruction. Farmers were required to plow under millions of acres of cotton and to slaughter millions of baby pigs. Thereafter, debate raged within the administration over the best method of increasing farm income. George Peek, head of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) and a fierce economic nationalist, favored dumping American surpluses in foreign markets. Rexford Tugwell, then assistant secretary of agriculture and an economist devoted to government-directed economic planning, advocated stricter production controls. For the moment, at least, Tugwell won. In the years immediately following 1933, the AAA relied on loan subsidies and a variety of compulsory crop-reduction laws to reduce the agricultural glut.

Farm income rose nearly 50 percent by 1936, though some of this gain was achieved by exporting rural unemployment to the cities. A combination of spectacular dust storms in the Great Plains and AAA policies forced many small farmers off the land, especially black sharecroppers and tenant farmers in the cotton South. The Resettlement Administration was established in 1935, and its replacement, the Farm Security Administration, in 1937, to deal with the problems of displaced agricultural workers, but neither agency significantly deflected the shift of labor out of agriculture that the depression, the AAA, and the weather had catalyzed.

The Supreme Court declared certain key provisions of the AAA unconstitutional in early 1936, though Congress, as in the case of industrial policy, moved swiftly to replace it with only minor modifications. The Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act of 1936 and the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 perpetuated the early New Deal policies of subsidizing crop reductions. Yet none of these measures solved the problem of over-production, and the growing mountain of agricultural surpluses severely strained the government's ability to maintain prices. By the late 1930s, the United States was dumping millions of bushels of wheat overseas. It would take a world at war to absorb fully the paradoxically baleful bounty of America's farms.

Despite the drama of the Hundred Days and the efforts of the NRA and the AAA, the economy remained sickly. Desperate for some means to raise prices and lift the crushing burdens of debtors, especially farmers, Roosevelt set out in October 1933 on a deliberate program of monetary inflation. He had already cleared the way for such action by taking the United States off the international gold standard on 19 April 1933. A few weeks later, he had repudiated the efforts of the London Economic Conference to stabilize international exchange rates. Now he launched a bold but somewhat ill-advised scheme to devalue the dollar by ordering the Treasury Department to buy gold at ever-increasing prices. These purchases ended in January 1934, with the price of gold pegged at $35 an ounce, the level at which it remained for decades. The dollar had been reduced to about 59 percent of its pre-1933 value relative to gold, but prices had not risen correspondingly.

Roosevelt's disappointment at that result was aggravated by the sharp criticism his gold-buying program evoked in orthodox financial circles. Several high officials in the administration resigned or were fired because of this episode. But pressure to inflate the currency persisted. Congress in June 1934 directed the Treasury Department to monetize large amounts of silver. These inflationary measures, together with chronic though unintended federal budget deficits and the creation in June 1934 of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to regulate the securities market, helped to precipitate the first organized business opposition to the New Dealthe American Liberty League, chartered in August 1934. Executives of the Du Pont and General Motors corporations, including conservative Democrats like Raskob, dominated the new organization.

If the Liberty League represented the nucleus of an emerging anti-New Deal coalition, its influence was negligible in the congressional elections of 1934. Voters gave the Democratic party a whopping three-to-one majority in the House and an unprecedented sixty-nine seats in the Senate. Many newly elected Democrats came from urban, industrial areas whose unemployed voters hungered for drastic, even radical, solutions to the seemingly endless depression. If anything, the center of political gravity in the new Congress was well to the left of Roosevelt and the New Deal.

The Second New Deal

Other pressures inclining Roosevelt toward the left were also building as the new Congress convened in 1935. Louisiana's flamboyant Senator Huey Long, who had unmistakable presidential ambitions, had founded the national "Share Our Wealth" movement in 1934, advocating sweeping redistribution of national income from the wealthy to the poor. The Reverend Charles Coughlin, Michigan's "radio priest" who claimed a weekly radio audience of some 40 million listeners, increasingly lashed out at Roosevelt for his failure to tame the bankers and unleash an aggressively inflationary program. California physician Francis Townsend championed the cause of the elderly with a warmhearted but actuarially daffy scheme to pay $200 a month to all citizens over sixty years of age. Industrial unionists, led by the president of the United Mine Workers, John L. Lewis, pressed with growing ardor and occasional violence to grasp the benefits that the National Industrial Recovery Act's Section 7a had put so tantalizingly within their reach.

All those forces worked to push the president in a more radical direction. In April he approved the enormous Emergency Relief Appropriation Act, allocating some $4.8 billion dollars to create jobs on public projects under the auspices of the Public Works Administration (PWA) and the newly created Works Progress Administration (WPA). Roosevelt named a close confidant, social worker Harry Hopkins, to head the WPA, which emphasized "work relief," rather than the dole, for the unemployed. Under authority provided by the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act, Roosevelt later created the Rural Electrification Administration to bring electricity to rural areas; the National Youth Administration (NYA) to provide employment and educational benefits to persons under twenty-six years of age; and the National Resources Planning Board to draw up plans for the long-range development of natural resources. (Only the first of these agencies survived World War II.)

Then, on 27 May 1935, the Supreme Court decision that the NRA's code-making activities were unconstitutional removed the centerpiece from Roosevelt's economic program. The Court's action provided the final shove propelling Roosevelt on a fresh round of legislative activity that eventually eclipsed even the formidable achievements of the Hundred Days. The early New Deal had emphasized stabilization and relief, and had made some hesitant efforts to stimulate economic recovery. Roosevelt's legislative program in 1935 emphasized far-reaching social and institutional reforms. It represented a triumphant victory for progressives, who now saw much of their decades-old political agenda finally enacted. And it permanently transformed vast sectors of American society.

The first measure to pass owed more to the new composition of Congress than it did to Roosevelt's leadership. Senator Robert Wagner, whose New York constituents exemplified the urban, working-class elements now rising to dominance in the Democratic party, introduced a bill establishing a permanent National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to replace an earlier board that had collapsed under management pressure. It provided for considerably stronger government guarantees than the National Industrial Recovery Act's Section 7a had afforded for the rights of workers to organize into unions and to bargain collectively with employers. Neither the president nor Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins (the nation's first woman cabinet officer) bothered until the eleventh hour to lift a finger in support of the bill, which was signed into law on 5 July.

The Wagner Act revolutionized the condition of American labor. Union membership doubled in the half dozen years following 1935. Organizers, protected by the government, rallied workers with the slogan "The President Wants You to join a Union." The Wagner Act also contributed to a profound change in the character of the union movement. It speeded the developing schism between the old-line craft-based unions and the much more rapidly growing industry-based unions, which concentrated on recruiting low-skilled workers. The split became official in 1938 when John L. Lewis led his Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) out of the American Federation of Labor (AFL).

Other legislative landmarks followed in quick succession in the summer of 1935. The Banking Act of 1935 brought the Federal Reserve system under closer government control. In the teeth of fierce opposition from privately owned utility companies, the Public Utility Holding Company Act mandated the elimination of monopolistic practices in the utilities industry. It further enabled the Federal Power Commission to regulate the interstate transmission of electrical power, and the Federal Trade Commission to perform a similar function for natural gas.

Most important of all was the passage of the Social Security Act. It provided for joint federal-state programs of unemployment compensation, financed by a federal tax on payrolls. It also created an exclusively federal system of old-age and survivors' insurance funded by a tax shared equally between employers and employees. Though modest in its initial benefits and regressively financed by a uniform tax on the current earnings of workers, the Social Security Act nevertheless represented a milestone on the road to a comprehensive welfare state. It offered a modicum of protection from the historic scourge of unemployment and guaranteed a minimum level of comfort for workers in their old age. It also created the potential for enormous demands on the public purse, diminished incentives for individuals to save, and reduced the sense of responsibility of families to care for their own elderly members. Probably no other New Deal measure did more in the long run to change the character of American life.

Roosevelt now had a broadly based, thoroughly progressive platform on which to stand for reelection in 1936. A handful of unreconstructed conservatives, including the two previous presidential nominees of his own party, bitterly denounced him as a traitor to his own class, a dangerous experimenter with his country's most sacred traditions, and an architect of permanent bloc divisions in the body politic. ("They are unanimous in their hatred for me," Roosevelt told an election-eve crowd at Madison Square Garden, "and I welcome their hatred!") A ragtag coalition of radical populist groups, badly weakened by the assassination in September 1935 of their ablest leader, Huey Long, fielded a Union party presidential ticket, with pathetic results. The Republican party nominated Governor Alf Landon of Kansas, a sincere but inept campaigner who proved no match for Roosevelt.

The president campaigned as a serenely confi-dent incumbent. Though nearly 9 million Americans were still without work, Roosevelt pointed to the progress that had been made against unemployment since 1933. He reaped the political benefits of his myriad programs to halt foreclosures on homes and farms. Black voters, long loyal to the party of Lincoln, switched their allegiance massively to the party of Roosevelt, who had avoided civil rights initiatives but had provided black Americans with unemployment relief and access to newly created agencies like the NYA. Perhaps most dramatic, Roosevelt harvested the rich crop of political goodwill he had sown in the ethnic, working-class communities of the big industrial cities. Fifty-two of Roosevelt's appointments to the federal bench were Catholics; only eight Catholics had been appointed by his three Republican predecessors. John L. Lewis' CIO contributed more than $770,000 to the campaign, and laborers voted for Roosevelt in overwhelming numbers. Roosevelt carried all but 2 of the nation's 106 cities with populations of a hundred thousand or more. He carried every state except Maine and Vermont, scoring the largest victory margin (523 to 8) in the electoral college since James Monroe in 1820. His share of the popular vote was 27,752,869 to Landon's 16,674,665. Democrats also tightened their grip on Congress, with unassailable majorities of 76 to 16 in the Senate and 331 to 89 in the House.

Roosevelt had thus forged a political coalition that would sustain the Democrats in power for nearly a generation. He had successfully wedded to the traditional southern and agricultural elements in his party the newly potent urban working class, including a variety of ethnic and racial minorities, and large sections of the middle class, grateful for the preservation of their threatened way of life. His party's enormous preponderance in Congress apparently afforded him almost unlimited power. And when he declared in his second inaugural address on 20 January 1937 that I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished," there seemed little doubt that he intended to use that power for progressive ends.

Roosevelt at Bay

Within weeks of that triumphant moment, Roosevelt was ensnared in paralyzing political difficulties. He and his party unquestionably commanded the executive and legislative branches of government, but not the third branch, the judiciary, designedly insulated from the flow and surge of popular political tides. The Supreme Court, made up entirely of pre-Roosevelt appointees, six of them over seventy years of age in 1937, had declared seven major pieces of New Deal legislation unconstitutional by the end of Roosevelt's first term. As he began his second, he determined to confront that judicial obstacle head-on.

On 5 February 1937, Roosevelt proposed to a surprised Congress and nation that he be allowed to appoint one additional justice, up to a maximum of six, for every justice who remained on the Court after reaching the age of seventy. Disingenuously, he tried to justify his proposal with the argument that an overburdened Court needed an expanded membership to handle its caseloadan allegation peremptorily squelched by the respected Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes.

Roosevelt's "Court-packing plan," as it was soon called, amounted to one of the worst political blunders of his career. Conservatives gagged at the notion of tampering with one of the Republic's sacred institutions. (Though it had been done before, when President Grant had added two justices to the Court, primarily in order to secure a favorable ruling on the Legal Tender Act. Unlike Roosevelt, Grant had taken care to cultivate political support in the Senate before he acted.) Even friends of the New Deal objected to the president's high-handed tactics.

While the battle raged, the Court itself moved to spike Roosevelt's guns. On 29 March 1937 it upheld a Washington State minimum-wage law (in West Coast Hotel v. Parrish ) and two weeks later it declared the Wagner Act constitutional (in National Labor Relations Board v. Jones and Laughlin Steel Corp. ). This shift in judicial sentiment, effected largely by the conversion of Justice Roberts to a more liberal point of view, has been dubbed "the switch in time that saved nine." The president's Court-reform bill died an ignominious deaththough eventually Roosevelt appointed eight Supreme Court justices, more than any president save George Washington.

The Court-packing controversy marked the beginning of the end of the New Deal. More than any other single episode, it helped to crystallize a powerfully obstructionist congressional coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats. In one brief season the president squandered much of the political capital he had so impressively amassed at the polls just a few months earlier.

Other problems soon beset him. Middle-class Americans grew restive at the mushroom growth of industrial unions, especially when daring organizers introduced the "sit-down strike," which amounted to the peaceful seizure of factories by striking workers. The United Auto Workers (UAW) used the sit-down with great effect against General Motors in early 1937. The UAW won recognition as the sole bargaining agent for General Motors employees, but its tactics alienated many nonunionists from the Roosevelt camp.

The worst was yet to come. The economy had improved slowly but perceptibly since 1933, making especially vigorous gains after 1935 under the stimuli of relief expenditures and the one-time-only payment of the budget-busting veterans' bonus, which passed over Roosevelt's veto in January 1936. Incredibly, this display of economic vitality raised the dread specter of inflation in many influential minds, including that of the president. In June 1937, Roosevelt severely curtailed federal spending. Simultaneously, the new Social Security taxes began to bite into paychecks. By late summer these deflationary developments had precipitated an economic downturn at least as bad as that of 1929. Within months, more than 2 million workers lost their jobs.

The "Roosevelt recession" rubbed salt into the president's already smarting political wounds, but it did bring to eventual resolution a long-running debate within his administration about fiscal policy. Orthodox financial advisers had until then dominated the government's inner policymaking circles. As the devil views holy water, so did they look upon the radical notion that the government might deliberately incur deficits as a means of economic stimulus. Though Roosevelt had not yet produced a single balanced budget, that had continued to be his aim. He had tolerated deficits, not sought them, but now he hearkened to the counsel of another group of advisers. Armed with the recently formulated theories of the British economist John Maynard Keynes, the advisers argued that the government should consciously embrace deficit spending in order to bolster consumption and stimulate the economy.

In April 1938, Roosevelt sent to Congress an avowedly stimulatory multibillion-dollar deficit-spending bill. After almost ten years of depression, this was the first purposeful effort to effect economic recovery through the means of countercyclical fiscal policy. For the millions of Americans who for a decade had paid the price of economic collapse, it came assuredly too late; as events were to prove, it was also woefully too little.

It was also among the last gasps of the New Deal. Roosevelt did manage to push through Congress in June 1938 the Fair Labor Standards Act, which defined a federally guaranteed minimum wage and maximum workweek and outlawed child labor. By then the conservative congressional coalition had crystallized, and even members of the president's own party were openly flouting his will. Roosevelt tried to purge conservatives from his party in the 1938 primary season but failed utterly. In the congressional elections in November, Republicans scored their first gains since 1928, picking up eight seats in the Senate and seventy-nine in the House.

With that, the New Deal was effectively ended. It had carried the country, however minimally, through a dark hour. It left a large and lasting legacy of major institutional reforms. Added together, those reforms embodied the various, often contradictory pressures of the decadeparticularly those pulsing in the still disparate Democratic partyrather than a coherent expression of any particular ideology. The problem of the depression, the problem that had been midwife and companion to those reforms, was never solved by the New Deal. Roosevelt's principal achievement was political, not economic. He had enabled his countrymen to keep their heads while peoples all about them in the world were losing theirs. He had, against not inconsiderable odds, maintained social peace in a depressed and sometimes desperate America. As the decade of the 1930s drew on, the president's attention turned more and more to preserving peace in the increasingly brutal world beyond America's borders.

Foreign Policy

To the conduct of American foreign policy Franklin Roosevelt brought credentials that were rare in the history of the presidency. His cosmopolitan upbringing as a late-nineteenth-century American aristocrat, including his intellectual formation on two continents, gave him a sophisticated appreciation of the world that was approximated among modern presidents only by his cousin Theodore. Yet the precise imprint of that international background on his policies was sometimes difficult to define. He had served in the government of the archinternationalist Woodrow Wilson and, as his party's vice presidential candidate in 1920, had faithfully echoed Wilson's call for American membership in the League of Nations. Yet during his own presidential campaign in 1932 he repudiated the idea of American entry into the League.

Roosevelt sounded an especially isolationist note in his first inaugural address when he declared that "our international trade relations, though vastly important, are, in point of time and necessity, secondary to the establishment of a sound national economy." He acted consistently with these sentiments when he helped to scuttle the London Economic Conference in June 1933 and embarked thereafter on a highly nationalist monetary policy of drastically devaluing the dollar.

Yet Roosevelt also displayed distinctly internationalist colors in the early years of the New Deal. He chose Senator Cordell Hull of Tennessee, an indefatigable paladin of liberalized international trade, as his secretary of state. He restrained AAA administrator George Peek from dictating narrowly nationalist agricultural policies. He blessed Hull's campaign to secure passage of the Trade Agreements Act of 1934, as well as the secretary's subsequent efforts to negotiate reciprocity treaties incorporating the unconditional most-favored-nation principle. Defying the fierce invective of some conservativesand the scolding of his own motherhe extended diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union on 16 November 1933. He made partial amends for his destructive role at the 1933 London Economic Conference when he concluded an exchange stabilization agreement with Britain and France in 1936.

Roosevelt also sought to implement the "Good Neighbor policy" with Latin America. He allowed Secretary Hull to vote in favor of a resolution at the Pan-American Conference in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1933, proclaiming that "no state has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another." That statement effectively repudiated the belligerent "corollary" Theodore Roosevelt had attached in 1904 to the Monroe Doctrine, asserting the claim of the United States to exercise international police power in the western hemisphere. Hull prevailed upon his chief to follow up on that dramatic announcement by renouncing the Platt Amendment (1901), whereby the United States had asserted its right to intervene in Cuban affairs, and by ending in 1934 the twenty-year-old American military occupation of Haiti. Mexico put Roosevelt's good-neighborliness to a demanding test in 1938 when it nationalized its oil industry, expropriating the interests of many American firms. Roosevelt resisted pressure to intervene, and successfully negotiated adequate compensation for the confiscated American properties.

Roosevelt's Latin American policies suggested that he had at most a limited internationalist agenda in the early years of his presidency, confined to making the United States an influential regional power, but no more. That impression was strengthened in March 1934, when Congress mandated the granting of independence to the Philippines within ten yearsan apparent signal that the United States intended to diminish its role in Asia.

Roosevelt's halting steps toward a more active international role for the United States took place against a backdrop of gathering isolationist feeling in the country and in Congress. Isolationism had roots sunk deeply into the soil of American history and culture. "Rejection of Europe," the novelist John Dos Passos once wrote, "is what America is all about." The earliest Pilgrims had sought separation from the corruptions of the Old World. George Washington in his farewell address had formulated those sentiments into high political doctrine. "Why . . . entangle our peace and prosperity," he had asked, "in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?"

Americans of Roosevelt's generation had temporarily forsaken that ancient wisdom when they entered the European war in 1917. A decade and a half later, many of them deeply regretted that lapse. Fifty thousand of their countrymen had died, Woodrow Wilson had failed miserably to shape a liberal peace, and Europe, so far from being redeemed by the American intervention, had apparently lost its soul in the postwar era to Communism, Fascism, and Nazism. Regret was powerfully reinforced in 1934 when Senator Gerald P. Nye's Munitions Investigating Committee began to publicize sensational accusations that the United States had been cynically maneuvered into the war in 1917 by American bankers and arms manufacturers.

The full force of this isolationist tide was revealed in January 1935, when Roosevelt proposed that the United States join the World Court. Inspired by a savage anti-court radio sermon from Father Coughlin, opponents of the president's plan poured a Niagara of telegrams onto the Senate, drowning the court agreement. Ever sensitive to the public temper, a chastened Roosevelt quickly grasped the implications of this episode for foreign policy: "We shall go through a period of non-co-operation in everything . . . for the next year or two."

For the next year or two and longer, Roosevelt witnessed the simultaneous deepening of the isolationist mood in America and the sorry deterioration of the fragile structure of international peace. Adolf Hitler announced in March 1935 his intention to train a half-million-man army, and a long-simmering dispute between Italy and Ethiopia exploded into a shooting war in October of that year. Alarmed at these events, Congress, in August 1935, passed the Neutrality Act, which imposed a mandatory embargo on arms shipments to all belligerents. Roosevelt disliked the limits on his discretionary power dictated by the act's mandatory features; but, giving top priority to his domestic reform package in that remarkable summer, he did little to shape the neutrality law. The act was strengthened in February 1936 to include a ban on loans or credits to any nation at war. In early 1937, Congress tightened the law still further by confining the sale even of nonmilitary goods to belligerents who could pay cash and carry their cargoes away from American ports in their own ships.

Brazenly flouting the Treaty of Versailles, Hitler marched troops into the Rhineland in March 1936. Four months later, civil war erupted in Spain, which quickly became a proving ground for the newly developed military machines of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. "The whole European panorama is fundamentally blacker than at any time in your life . . . or mine," Roosevelt wrote in early 1936 to his ambassador in Paris; these, he said, "may be the last days of . . . peace before a long chaos." Hitler rolled on, virtually unchecked. He marched into Austria in March 1938. At the infamous Munich conference in September 1938, he secured the acquiescence of Britain and France to his annexation of the Sudetenland. Unappeased, he swallowed up the rest of Czechoslovakia six months later. After signing a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union in August 1939, Hitler invaded Poland on 1 September. Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later.

The Shadow of War

A second world war had "come at last," Roosevelt said on hearing the news from Poland. "God help us all." When the war ended, more than five years and 50 million deaths later, the United States would be indisputably the most powerful nation on the ravaged planet. But in 1939, America wavered uncertainly on the periphery of these ominous events.

Roosevelt hoped to preserve the United States from the scourge of war, but he also hoped, from at least 1935 on, to bring the power of his country to bear against the prairie fire of armed aggression that was licking its way around the globe. Three forces constrained him: the lack of political will in his potential allies, Premier Édouard Daladier of France and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of Great Britain, cowering in the face of Hitler's bullying; the isolationist mood in America, codified into formal statutes purposely designed to tie the president's hands; and his own uncertainty, both about the means to be employed abroad and about the political risks of frontally challenging the isolationists at home.

Roosevelt did manage to align the United States with the League of Nations sanctions against Italy in the Ethiopian crisis, simply by enforcing the 1935 neutrality law. It prohibited arms shipments to all belligerents, but since Ethiopia could not have afforded to purchase American arms in any event, the real force of the ban fell exclusively on Italy. Similarly, Roosevelt artfully invoked the Neutrality Act during the Spanish civil war, reinforcing the Anglo-French Nonintervention Committee's effortpusillanimous and myopic though it may have beento contain the conflict within Spain's borders.

Japan in mid-1937 escalated its six-year-old incursion in Manchuria into a full-scale invasion of China, once again testing Roosevelt's ingenuity in finding ways to check aggression while fettered by the neutrality laws. He responded by refusing to proclaim that a formal state of war existed between the two nations. (Japan officially labeled the conflict an "incident.") He thus forestalled activating the arms embargo and cash-and-carry provisions of the neutrality statutes and preserved China's ability to secure supplies in the United States.

Using isolationist legislation to achieve internationalist ends was a kind of political jujitsu, and the president could employ the tactic only so long. "If Germany invades a country and declares war," Roosevelt explained to a senator in 1939, "we'll be on the side of Hitler by invoking the [neutrality] act. If we could get rid of the arms embargo, it wouldn't be so bad." But the president's efforts to revise the neutrality statutes were repeatedly frustrated by congressional isolationists. Their political power waxed while Roosevelt's waned in the declining days of the New Deal. He called for a "quarantine" against aggression in an eloquent speech in Chicago on 5 October 1937, but still smarting from the lacerations of the Supreme Court reform fight and freshly wounded by the sharp recession then setting in, he failed to capitalize on the generally favorable public response. The foreign press accurately described the quarantine speech as "an attitude without a program." Three months later, isolationists in Congress pointedly reminded Roosevelt of the obstacles confronting an avowedly internationalist program when they mustered 188 votes in the House in favor of a constitutional amendment requiring a national referendum on a declaration of war. Throughout the rest of 1938 and most of 1939, Roosevelt could do little to prepare for the inescapable conflict. Only after the German invasion of Poland did Congress, in November 1939, repeal the mandatory arms embargo. The cash-and-carry provisions of the neutrality laws remained.

Roosevelt moved thereafter to make the United States, as he later described it, "the great arsenal of democracy." Yet he and his countrymen had waited so long to make their weight felt in the scales of diplomacy that the cause they even now so hesitantly joined came perilously close to being lost. After a deceptive lull following his swift conquest of Poland, Hitler unleashed lightning assaults on Denmark and Norway on 9 April 1940. A month later, Germany and Italy invaded France, which crumpled quickly and ingloriously. Jackbooted Fascists now stood astride Europe from the Baltic to the Mediterranean. Only Britain, lonely and besieged, stood between them and the United States.

As Hitler's air force pounded Britain in the summer of 1940, the new British prime minister, Winston Churchill, beseeched Roosevelt for aid, especially for destroyers to secure Britain's sea-lanes. Roosevelt had already, in the opening months of 1940, induced Congress to appropriate several billion dollars for defense measures, including an aircraft production program with the then incredible goal of building fifty thousand planes a year. Now, fulminating against isolationists who deluded themselves that the United States could survive as "a lone island in a world dominated by force . . . handcuffed, hungry, and fed through the bars from day to day by the contemptuous, unpitying masters of other continents," he desperately sought ways to bolster beleaguered Britain. In August he hit upon a bold idea: to give Britain fifty American destroyers in exchange for long-term leases on naval bases in the western Atlantic.

With that exchange, Roosevelt inaugurated a collaboration with Churchill that in the history of relations among sovereign states was uniquely intimate and comprehensive. He also risked the wrath of isolationistsand in an election year. While the Battle of Britain raged, Americans waged their own quadrennial political battle to elect a president. Roosevelt, reluctant to relinquish the stage at such a dramatic historical moment, stood for an unprecedented third term. His opponent was Wendell Will-kie, a liberally inclined businessman who had swept out of obscurity to capture the Republican nomination. Fortunately for the cause of American internationalism, Willkie shared much of Roosevelt's appraisal of the international scene and largely refrained from attacking the president's foreign policies. (Roosevelt had earlier taken steps to secure bipartisan cooperation in foreign affairs when in June 1940 he appointed Republicans to head the War and Navy departments.) Roosevelt won by his smallest margin to date, with 27,307,819 popular votes to Willkie's 22,321,018. The electoral tally was 449 to 82. Both houses of Congress remained safely in Democratic hands.

During the campaign, Roosevelt declared that "this country is not going to war." But in the months after the election, events pushed the United States into ever-closer cooperation with Britain and eventually into what amounted to an undeclared naval war against Germany in the Atlantic. Secret talks between British and American military planners in early 1941 established the cardinal principle that in the event of war with both Germany and Japan, the United States and Britain would give priority to defeating Germany. Churchill wrote the president in December 1940, laying out Britain's military plight with sobering candor. To prevail, even to survive, he must have American war matériel and, above all, American money. Roosevelt, still constrained by the cash-and-carry clauses of the neutrality laws, devised another inventive means to meet Britain's needs: the so-called lend-lease program, pledging American goods secured only by a deliberately vague promise of repayment "in kind" at some unspecified later date. Artfully numbered House Resolution 1776, the Lend-Lease Act passed Congress in March 1941. Its enactment marked the effective end of American neutrality and the opening of a floodgate of American largesse through which more than $50 billion in aid was to flow by the war's end.

Lend-lease provided goods and credits principally to Britain and, after Hitler's invasion of the USSR in June 1941, to the Soviet Union as well. But the task remained of delivering the promised matériel safely to British and Russian ports. Wolf packs of German submarines stalking the Atlantic sea-lanes inflicted enormous losses on British shipping. Churchill pleaded for American naval convoys, but Roosevelt balked. He extended American sea and air patrols to Greenland in April and to Iceland in July, but stopped short of authorizing convoys. He at last took that fateful step in August, after a dramatic meeting with Churchill aboard the American cruiser Augusta, off the coast of Newfoundland. There, in Argentia Harbor, the two leaders formulated the Atlantic Charter, a joint statement of war aims affirming their lack of interest in territorial gain and support for self-determination, a liberalized world economic order, and the creation of a permanent international peacekeeping organization. Having thus secured a public declaration of British war aims, Roosevelt was apparently ready for war, though surely not eager for it.

"Everything [is] to be done to force an 'incident' on the Atlantic, Churchill informed his cabinet. The incidents were not long coming. A German submarine fired on the USS Greer off the coast of Iceland on 4 September, and the American destroyer Kearny was torpedoed in the same area a few weeks later. On 30 October the Reuben James sank under German fire, taking more than one hundred American sailors down with it. But before these deliberately provoked incidents could precipitate war in the Atlantic, an unexpected blow in the far-off Pacific in December at last catapulted the United States into the conflict.

Roosevelt had long opposed the Japanese invasion of China, even while the United States paradoxically remained a major supplier of critical war matériel, including aviation fuel, to Japan. Following Hitler's successes in Europe in mid-1940, Japan began to look covetously on the orphaned French and Dutch colonies in the Far East. On 26 July 1940, Roosevelt sought to discourage the Japanese by slapping an embargo on the shipment of aviation gasoline and high-grade scrap metal to Japan. He cinched the economic noose more tightly when Japan signed a pact of military alliance with Germany and Italy in September 1940, and more tightly still when Japanese troops marched into Indochina in July 1941. Jolted by these American moves, Japan made several last-ditch efforts at reconciliation with Washington in late 1941. But Roosevelt, encouraged by Secretary Hull, insisted that Japan withdraw not only from Indochina but also from China, as the precondition for restoring economic relations with the United States. On other matters the Japanese might have been disposed to yield, but on China they were adamant. Diplomacy reached a dead end in late November. Japan now took the fateful step of breaking the deadlock by military means.

American cryptanalysts in late 1940 had cracked the Japanese diplomatic codes, including the top-secret "Purple Cipher." Military leaders therefore knew, as did Roosevelt, that Japan had abandoned diplomacy in early December and was about to strike an armed blow. American forces throughout the Pacific stood on alert. Because the blow was expected to fall in Southeast Asia, Japan scored a devastating surprise when its aircraft swarmed out of the dawn sky over the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 7 December 1941. Within minutes the Japanese sank or crippled several American warships, killing over twenty-five hundred military personnel and civilians. The next day Roosevelt asked Congress for a declaration of war against Japan. Germany and

Italy declared war on the United States three days later. Roosevelt, so long the hesitant neutral, now faced battle on two fronts.

America in World War II

Roosevelt had now to decide which front should command greater attention. The British and American decision in early 1941 to concentrate first on defeating Germany came under question after Pearl Harbor. Japan, treacherous perpetrator of the sneak attack on the Pacific Fleet, loomed as much the more hated enemy in the mind of the American public. Moreover, the Japanese followed their murderous strike at Pearl Harbor with overpowering assaults on Hong Kong, Singapore, Java, Burma, and the Philippines. They seemed to be positioning themselves for further attacks on India or Australia, while in Europe Hitler was preoccupied on the Soviet front, reducing the immediate danger to the Western Allies.

Disagreement over strategic choices in Europe complicated the issue. The British, remembering the ghastly war of attrition they had fought in 19141918, preferred to weaken the enemy by bombing, blockading, and probing about his periphery. The Americans, reflecting the wisdom conventionally taught at West Point and Annapolis, favored an assault in massive force aimed directly at the enemy's stronghold. These differences came to a head during Churchill's visit to Washington in June 1942. The prime minister advocated delaying a massive invasion of France and undertaking instead a joint landing in North Africa, where British forces defending Egypt and the Suez lifeline to India were under heavy German pressure. The chiefs of staff of the army and navy protested to Roosevelt that the American objective should be "to force the British into acceptance of a concentrated effort against Germany, and if this proves impossible, to turn immediately to the Pacific."

The president flatly overruled his military advisers in a decision with far-reaching consequences. The North African invasion went ahead, with American troops under Dwight D. Eisenhower landing in Morocco and Algeria in November 1942. After subduing the Germans in North Africa, the combined Anglo-American force pushed on to Sicily and the Italian mainland in the summer of 1943, further delaying the invasion of France. The Pacific theater remained distinctly subordinate to the effort in Europe, though Roosevelt from time to time found it useful to discipline his British allies by threatening to renege on his Europe-first commitment.

After spectacular American naval victories over the Japanese in the Coral Sea in early May 1942 and at Midway the following month, the United States launched a counteroffensive in the Solomon Islands with an attack on Guadalcanal in August. That bloody engagement initiated a tortuous campaign of fighting up the Pacific island chains to within striking distance of the Japanese homeland. At the price of some forty-five thousand American lives, this effort was to come to a blinding climax on 6 and 9 August 1945, when American aircraft dropped atomic bombs, developed at Roosevelt's initiative, on two Japanese cities. Japan surrendered on 14 August.

In Europe, the prospective landing in France dominated Roosevelt's agenda in the early period of the war. Russia, at frightful cost, bore almost the entire brunt of Hitler's onslaught. The German invasion ultimately cost some 20 million Soviet lives, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin ardently urged his Anglo-American allies to open a second front in the west. Roosevelt promised to do so virtually from the outset, but it took him more than two years to make good on his word. In the interim, he sought to reassure Stalin about the reliability of his Western partners by declaring at Casablanca in January 1943 that he would accept nothing less than the "unconditional surrender" of the enemy. Stalin, he suggested, need not worry that Churchill and Roosevelt would cut any deals with the Fascist powersan assurance that lost much of its credibility just a few months later when the Americans and the British entered into negotiations with the Italians over terms of surrender.

By the time Roosevelt and Churchill conferred in Quebec in August 1943, Roosevelt had clearly established himself as the dominant partner in the Anglo-American alliance. That conference, too, confirmed the spring of 1944 as the target date for the invasion of France. With that issue settled at last and with allied victory in sight, however distantly, Roosevelt began to turn his energies toward planning for the postwar era. He had already, in the opening days of American belligerency, secured the agreement of twenty-six nations, including the major allies, to the United Nations Declaration, which affirmed the principles of the Atlantic Charter. In July 1944 he convened the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. There delegates established the International Monetary Fund, to undertake global exchange-rate stabilization, and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, to help rebuild the shattered world. The following month Allied representatives, including those from the Soviet Union, gathered at Dumbarton Oaks, in Washington, D.C., to draw up a charter for a permanent international peacekeeping organization.

At meetings with Churchill and Stalin in Teheran in late November 1943 and at Yalta in February 1945, Roosevelt worked to secure Soviet participation in the new organization and to bring the Soviet Union into the war against Japan when the conflict in Europe was settled. His critics later charged that he conceded too much to Stalin to achieve those goals, but he had, in fact, little choice. In Eastern and Central Europe, the Red Army stood supreme and unchallengeable. In Asia, uncertainties about the still untested atomic bomb made it seem imperative that the Soviet Union's weight be added to that of the Western Allies in order to speed Japan's surrender.

The long-awaited invasion of France finally came on D day, 6 June 1944. Within a month a million Allied troops had crossed the English Channel. After breaking out of their Normandy beach-head in August, they raced toward Germany, halted only briefly by a fierce German counterattack in the Ardennes, known as the "Battle of the Bulge," in December. The Allies crossed the Rhine in March.

Roosevelt was victorious at home as well as abroad. He had won reelection in 1944 to a fourth term (though by his smallest margin yet), defeating the youthful Republican Thomas E. Dewey by a margin of 25,606,585 votes to 22,321,018. His electoral count was 432 to 99. The fantastic scale of government spending in the war had finally wiped out the Great Depression. Ending the economic crisis had also extinguished the last sputtering flames of reform. The New Deal spirit was evident in some wartime measures, such as the creation of the Fair Employment Practices Commission, which Roosevelt established to ensure the rights of black workers, and the "G.I. Bill of Rights" of 1944, conferring enormous educational benefits on returning veterans. But the war's effect on reform was best summarized by Roosevelt himself in December 1943 when he declared that the American body politic was no longer to be ministered to by "Dr. New Deal," but by "Dr. Win-the-War." In that spirit, he dropped his exultantly New Dealish vice president, Henry Wallace, from the Democratic ticket in 1944 and replaced him with the supposedly "safer" Harry S. Truman.

On 11 April 1945, while American Marines battled on the beaches of Okinawa and American soldiers sped toward Berlin, Franklin Roosevelt was in Warm Springs, Georgia, working on the draft of a speech for Jefferson Day. His nation's arms were vindicated, his enemies were routed, his principles had everywhere been embraced by men and women of goodwill. This was his triumphal hour; but he was not to enjoy it. The next day, 12 April, he died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage. He had sustained his people through the bleak years of the depression and led them to victory in a nightmarish war. Even at the end, he looked to the future with characteristic buoyancy. The last words that he dictated on that spring afternoon were a fitting epitaph: "The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith."


James MacGregor Burns, Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox (New York, 1956) and Roosevelt: The Soldier of Freedom (New York, 1970), comprise the most exhaustive biography of Roosevelt and deal with the New Deal and the war years, respectively. Two superb one-volume treatments of FDR are Frank Freidel, Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Rendezvous with Destiny (Boston, 1990), and Ted Morgan, FDR: A Biography (New York, 1985). Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Age of Roosevelt, 3 vols. (Boston, 19571960), a brilliantly partisan history, is rich in detail and anecdote, covering the period up to 1936. Frank B. Freidel, Franklin D. Roosevelt, 4 vols. (Boston, 19521973), is the most detailed of the Roosevelt studies, though these volumes take the story only as far as 1933.

A massive, gripping examination of how FDR was changed by his illness is Geoffrey C. Ward, A First-Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt (New York, 1989). Betty H. Winfield, FDR and the News Media (Urbana, Ill., 1990), is the best of a number of books that have been written on its subject. Invaluable for details is Otis L. Graham, Jr., and Meghan Robinson Wander, Franklin D. Roosevelt, His Life and Times: An Encyclopedic View (Boston, 1985). Two contrasting recent interpretations are Philip Abbott, The Exemplary Presidency: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the American Political Tradition (Amherst, Mass., 1990), and Robert Shogan, Hard Bargain: How FDR Twisted Churchill's Arm, Evaded the Law, and Changed the Role of the American Presidency (New York, 1995).

Anthony J. Badger, The New Deal: The Depression Years, 193340 (New York, 1989), gives an excellent account of Roosevelt's principal social and economic policies. William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 19321940 (New York, 1963), is an eminently readable, engaging account of the Roosevelt years up to 1940. Leuchtenburg's The FDR Years: On Roosevelt and His Legacy (New York, 1995), is the mature summing-up of one of the preeminent students of FDR's career. Paul K. Conkin, The New Deal, rev. ed. (New York, 1975), is the best of the "revisionist" accounts criticizing the New Deal for being too timid, even conservative. Ellis W. Hawley, The New Deal and the Problem of Monopoly: A Study in Economic Ambivalence (Princeton, N.J., 1966), is the leading study of New Deal domestic economic policies. Alan Brinkley, Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and the Great Depression (New York, 1982), is a fresh, suggestive analysis of the two Depression-era figures who had a plausible chance, if anyone did, of wringing radical results from the crisis of the 1930s. The same author's The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War (New York, 1995) examines the economic policy debates of the later Roosevelt years.

Robert Dallek, Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 19321945 (New York, 1979), the only complete account of Roosevelt's foreign policies, is an unusually thorough and intelligent work. John Morton Blum, From the Morgenthau Diaries, 3 vols. (Boston, 19591967), a meticulous history of the Roosevelt years from the perspective of the Treasury Department, is particularly informative about foreign economic policy.

Waldo Heinrichs, Threshold of War: Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Entry into World War II (New York, 1988), analyzes in detail the fateful year of 1941. A scintillating evocation of FDR's military leaders is Eric Larrabee, Commander in Chief: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, His Lieutenants, and Their War (New York, 1987). Warren F. Kimball, ed., Churchill and Roosevelt: The Complete Correspondence, 3 vols. (Princeton, N.J., 1984), is an indispensable source for the war years. John Morton Blum, V Was for Victory: Politics and American Culture During World War II (New York, 1976), is a comprehensive and somewhat disillusioned discussion of the home front during World War II.

A mesmerizing estimate of the Franklin Roosevelts as a couple is Doris Kearns Goodwin, No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt; The Home Front in World War II (New York, 1994). It supplements Joseph P. Lash, Eleanor and Franklin: The Story of Their Relationship, Based On Eleanor Roosevelt's Private Papers (New York, 1971).

Recent works include James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn, The Three Roosevelts: Patrician Leaders Who Transformed America (New York, 2001), which examines the roles of Theodore Roosevelt in inspiring his cousins Eleanor and Franklin to work for social and economic justice. Kenneth S. Davis, FDR: The War President, 19401943: A History (New York, 2000), the latest of the author's books on Roosevelt, is good on the role of Harry Hopkins. Thomas J. Fleming, The New Dealers' War: FDR and the War within World War II (New York, 2001), sharply challenges the traditional veneration of Roosevelt as a leader in World War II. Jonas Klein (introduction by George J. Mitchell), Beloved Island: Franklin and Eleanor and the Legacy of Campobello (Forest Dale, Vt., 2000), explores the role of the Roosevelts' summer home in shaping their private lives. See also Joseph E. Persico, Roosevelt's Secret War: FDR and World War II Espionage (New York, 2001), and David Reynolds, From Munich to Pearl Harbor: Roosevelt's America and the Origins of the Second World War (Chicago, 2001).

Roosevelt, Franklin D.

views updated May 17 2018


Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882, in Hyde Park, New York. He was the only child of James and Sara (Delano) Roosevelt. Franklin had a half brother, James Roosevelt, Jr., nicknamed Rosy, whose mother was the first wife of James Roosevelt, Sr. Sara Delano was 26 years old when she married the 52-year-old widower. Of Dutch ancestry, James Roosevelt, Sr., was a wealthy landowner in Hyde Park, a small town along the Hudson River north of New York City. Roosevelt was a Harvard-educated lawyer who served as vice president of the Delaware and Hudson Railroad. He had been a Whig, but after the collapse of the Whig Party due to the slavery issue, he became a Democrat.

James Roosevelt's loyalty to the Democratic Party was weakened by his economic conservatism and his family ties to Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican and his distant cousin from Long Island. In the presidential election of 1896, James Roosevelt was a so-called Gold Democrat who voted for the victorious Republican presidential nominee, William McKinley. Roosevelt was repelled by William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic presidential nominee. He perceived Bryan as a rabble rouser and economic radical who threatened the gold standard. Roosevelt again voted for McKinley in 1900 when the president chose Theodore Roosevelt as his running mate. James Roosevelt died one month after the 1900 presidential election.


As a boy tutored at home in Hyde Park and then as a prep school student at the Groton School in Massachusetts, Franklin Roosevelt demonstrated little interest in reading or learning about history and politics. He first expressed an interest in politics while eagerly following the career of Theodore Roosevelt as his cousin rapidly progressed from combat heroism in the Spanish-American War to the presidency. Nonetheless, Franklin Roosevelt's famous surname did not gain popularity and status for him among his classmates and teachers at the Groton School and Harvard University. Widely regarded by his peers and teachers as amiable yet superficial, Roosevelt did not distinguish himself in academics, athletics, student government, or social clubs.

Eleanor Roosevelt. Franklin Roosevelt's wife, (Anna) Eleanor Roosevelt, was another major influence in the development of his social conscience and political career. She was his distant cousin and the favorite niece of Theodore Roosevelt. She and Franklin were married in 1905. Her uncle, while president, gave away the bride. After completing one year of studies at Columbia University's law school, Franklin Roosevelt worked for a Wall Street law firm. He was often assigned minor clerical duties and soon became bored and frustrated with the practice of law.

During their courtship, Eleanor Roosevelt had volunteered in settlement houses in New York City. She showed her future husband the wretched living conditions of immigrants and their children. More so than Franklin, Eleanor earnestly and zealously identified with the ideals of the Progressive movement and its efforts to abolish child labor, improve public health and education, reduce poverty, and grant suffrage to women.

New York politics. As Roosevelt pondered his political future, it was still not clear if he would enter politics as a progressive Republican or a progressive Democrat. According to biographer Geoffrey C. Ward, Franklin Roosevelt decided to enter politics as a Democrat because Theodore Roosevelt had several sons who were expected to enter politics as Republicans. Also, since Franklin Roosevelt's home county, Dutchess County, was heavily Republican, local Democratic politicians were often desperate to recruit patrician candidates who could finance their own campaigns and attract Republican votes.

Roosevelt was offered such an opportunity in 1910 when John E. Mack, the Democratic district attorney of Poughkeepsie, visited Roosevelt's law office and asked him to run for a seat from Dutchess County in the state senate. Roosevelt eagerly accepted the offer. In his campaign, Roosevelt asserted his political independence, especially by denouncing the machine politics and corruption of Tammany Hall and dissociating it from the progressive wing of New York's Democratic Party. Attracting the votes of Democrats, concentrated in Poughkeepsie, as well as progressive Republicans and mostly Republican friends and neighbors in Hyde Park and other small towns, Roosevelt won the election. He also benefited from the national Democratic sweep of the 1910 midterm elections.

During his one term in the New York state senate, Roosevelt was disliked and dismissed by most Democrats in the state legislature, especially those from New York City. They perceived him as a political lightweight and a publicity-hungry dilettante, and they resented his self-righteous denunciations of Tammany Hall. Like progressives in both parties, Roosevelt supported the adoption of primaries to determine party nominations and the direct election of U.S. senators.

The Wilson administration. Franklin Roosevelt first met Woodrow Wilson in November 1911 after Wilson had served less than a year as governor of New Jersey. Roosevelt was impressed by Wilson's intellect, ethics, inspiring rhetoric, and ability to break up the Democratic machine of Jim Smith and achieve progressive reforms in New Jersey. The young state senator now had a new mentor for his political career and ambition to distinguish himself as a progressive Democrat. Roosevelt subsequently supported Wilson's presidential nomination at the 1912 Democratic national convention. Tammany Hall Democrats backed Speaker of the House Champ Clark of Missouri for president. After Wilson became president, he rewarded Roosevelt's loyalty—which had continued through the general election despite the entry into the race of Theodore Roosevelt as the candidate of the newly created Progressive Party—by appointing him assistant secretary of the navy.

To Roosevelt's dismay, Wilson continued to provide patronage to Democratic machines, including Tammany Hall. Until the American entry into World War I, Roosevelt had little control over the distribution of his department's patronage and contracts in New York. But he gained greater political influence in New York during the American war effort as he oversaw defense contracts and navy shipyards and bases there. Meanwhile, Louis Howe, a former newspaper reporter and close aide to Roosevelt, arranged for Roosevelt's control over post office patronage in upstate New York.

Roosevelt also used his position as assistant secretary of the navy to conduct a widely publicized inspection tour of war-torn Europe. He sought a political reconciliation with Tammany Hall, but he politely declined its offer to nominate him for governor in 1918. Roosevelt wanted to remain in the Wilson administration and took a greater interest in foreign policy, especially in Wilson's effort to gain a leading role for the United States in the League of Nations after the war ended.


With his service in the New York state legislature and as assistant secretary of the navy, Franklin Roosevelt's career had closely paralleled that of Theodore Roosevelt. Likewise, just as his Republican cousin accepted the Republican vice presidential nomination in 1900, Franklin Roosevelt readily accepted the Democratic vice presidential nomination in 1920. He had no illusions that James Cox, the Democratic presidential nominee, could win the election. Inflation, growing public disillusionment about American participation in World War I, and the unpopularity of the ailing Wilson and the League of Nations indicated a Republican landslide in the 1920 elections. Instead, Roosevelt valued his vice presidential candidacy as an opportunity to meet Democratic politicians throughout the nation. He also earned their respect for his willingness to serve as the running mate in a doomed presidential campaign and to defend Wilson's unpopular position on the League of Nations.

Until he was elected governor of New York in 1928, Roosevelt remained a private citizen. Despite being stricken with infantile paralysis, commonly known as polio, in 1921, Roosevelt energetically tried to make the Democratic Party, both nationally and in New York, a more thoroughly progressive or liberal party that would provide voters with a clear, attractive alternative to the Republican Party in public policy and ideology. He persuaded Eleanor Roosevelt to join the women's division of the Democratic state committee and improve the participation of women in the New York Democratic Party, especially in upstate areas. Roosevelt also tried to reduce the divisive impact of the prohibition issue within the New York and national Democratic parties. After Calvin Coolidge's landslide election in 1924, Roosevelt noticed that Robert La Follette, the National Progressive Party's nominee for president, performed unusually well for a minor party candidate during the apparently prosperous, Republican-dominated era. La Follette's economic platform was similar to that of Theodore Roosevelt's 1912 "Bull Moose" platform. It was especially appealing to economically distressed farmers, miners, and factory workers. Nationally, La Follette received 16 percent of the popular votes compared to the 29 percent received by John Davis, the obscure, conservative Democratic nominee for president. In some states and congressional districts, La Follette ran ahead of Davis.

Roosevelt attributed La Follette's relatively impressive performance and Davis's comparatively poor showing to the ideological and programmatic fact that La Follette offered economically distressed voters an attractive alternative to the Republican Party's pro-big business, anti-labor, high tariff policies, while the Democratic Party did not. He was now convinced that the Democratic Party must become a distinctly liberal party in order to emerge as the new majority in the two-party system and win future presidential elections and majorities in Congress. Meanwhile, Roosevelt wanted his party to avoid the divisive social issues, such as racial segregation, the Ku Klux Klan, Catholicism, and prohibition that plagued it at the 1924 and 1928 Democratic national conventions.

After New York governor Al Smith became the 1928 Democratic nominee for president, he asked Roosevelt to run for governor. Roosevelt reluctantly accepted Smith's offer, and was narrowly elected governor in an upset victory, while Smith lost the presidential election by a wide margin and failed to carry his home state. Even before the Great Depression began in late 1929, Roosevelt ambitiously pursued policies intended to serve as a harbinger of what he might do in the future if elected president. In order to make the New York Democratic Party and his governorship more attractive to mostly Republican, rural, upstate voters, he advocated state-sponsored, low-cost hydroelectric power for rural areas, farm-to-market paved roads and highways, property tax relief for farmers, and unemployment insurance. He communicated directly to New Yorkers through radio broadcasts as a way to circumvent the mostly Republican-owned newspapers.


Because the state legislature was controlled by Republicans, most of Roosevelt's legislation was either defeated or heavily compromised and diluted. Nevertheless, as Roosevelt prepared for his gubernatorial re-election campaign, he had succeeded in projecting the image of an effective, dynamic, innovative leader who addressed the immediate economic concerns of Depression-plagued New Yorkers, both urban and rural, agricultural and industrial, Catholic and Protestant, Republican and Democrat. Before the Great Depression began, Roosevelt had planned on running for president in 1936. But as the Great Depression worsened and President Herbert Hoover seemed unlikely to be reelected, Roosevelt decided to run in 1932. With the help of political aides Louis Howe, Edward Flynn, and James Farley, Roosevelt wanted to be reelected in 1930 by such an overwhelming margin, especially in staunchly Republican rural areas, that his victory would impress and persuade major Democratic politicians, especially those from the South and West, to commit their delegates to him before the 1932 Democratic national convention began its proceedings in Chicago.

Roosevelt was re-elected governor in 1930 with 62 percent of the popular votes. More significantly, the governor carried forty-one of the fifty-seven counties outside of New York City and received a plurality of more than 167,000 votes in mostly Republican upstate counties. Using these electoral statistics and Roosevelt's popular policy agenda, Farley and Flynn traveled throughout the United States promoting Roosevelt's presidential candidacy to powerful Democrats, such as Tom Pendergast, the machine boss of Kansas City, and Huey Long, a Louisiana senator and the virtual dictator of that state. Farley and Flynn generally avoided urban Catholic Democratic machine politicians from the Northeast and Midwest. They assumed that most Catholic Democrats would unite behind Al Smith, who was Roman Catholic, for the presidential nomination and understood that Roosevelt had alienated Catholic machine politicians since the governor had initiated a highly publicized investigation of Tammany Hall, the courts, and the police department of New York City.

After he had become afflicted with polio, Roosevelt regularly traveled to Warm Springs, Georgia, to soothe and refresh himself in its mineral waters. As he became more personally and politically familiar with the South during the 1920s and early 1930s, Roosevelt began to study and propose policy solutions to economic problems that were either peculiar to or especially severe in the South. He recognized the need for greater federal intervention in such policy areas as cotton growing, rural electrification, soil conservation, highway construction, and irrigation and flood control projects in order for the South to modernize and develop its economy. Unlike Smith, Roosevelt agreed with southern Democrats on the need to reduce tariffs significantly and revise the federal tax code in order to stimulate this chronically depressed region.

With overwhelming support from southern delegates and fairly solid backing from western delegates, Roosevelt won the 1932 Democratic presidential nomination on the fourth ballot. The Democratic national platform and Roosevelt's campaign speeches were ideologically and programmatically confusing and contradictory. The Democrats criticized Hoover and the Republican Party for excessive federal spending and regulations and a bloated federal bureaucracy that threatened states' rights and private enterprise. But they also promised more vigorous federal intervention to end the Great Depression, permanently reform the economy, reduce tariffs, balance the federal budget, and benefit farmers, laborers, business, and consumers. The Democrats also tried to appease both defenders and opponents of prohibition by promising to repeal national prohibition while giving states broad discretion to ban or regulate alcohol.

Roosevelt's only clear, consistent campaign proposal for economic recovery and reform was expressed in his Commonwealth Club address in San Francisco. In this speech, Roosevelt emphasized the need for government, business, labor, and agriculture to engage in economic cooperation and planning. He especially underscored the need for business to assume social responsibility for developing a more just, humane economic system.

Despite being paralyzed below his waist, Roosevelt energetically campaigned throughout the nation while Hoover rarely left the White House. Although there were more Republican than Democratic voters in 1932, Roosevelt won 57 percent of the popular votes and carried all but six states in the electoral college. His party also won large majorities in both houses of Congress. In his 1933 inaugural address, Roosevelt claimed that the underlying cause of the Great Depression was an unjust, irrational, ineffectively regulated economic system with a maldistribution of wealth. He also used biblical allusions to denounce the greed, callousness, and irresponsibility of big business. In the conclusion of this speech, the new president asked Congress to grant him "broad Executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe."


Roosevelt frankly admitted that he had no clear, consistent economic philosophy or program to end the Great Depression because the nation had never previously experienced such a severe, complex, prolonged economic crisis. He sought to inspire the public's confidence about economic recovery, however, by asserting that he would boldly experiment with a variety of ideas and policies, and discard those that failed. Such tentative incrementalism was inevitable, though, since Roosevelt's top economic advisers and administration officials disagreed on how to analyze and eventually end the Great Depression. Raymond Moley, a leading member of Roosevelt's so-called Brains Trust, advocated a planned economy through cooperation between government and business. Negotiated yet government-enforced codes for prices, wages, working conditions, and agricultural and industrial production would stabilize and then improve the economy. They would also achieve social and economic reforms, such as minimum wages, maximum hours, the abolition of child labor, and legal rights for labor unions. Other administration officials, such as economist Robert Nathan, wanted to emphasize deficit spending on public works jobs and relief for the unemployed in order to increase mass consumption. Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau respectively wanted to concentrate on international trade agreements and monetary policy to stimulate the economy.

When Roosevelt and his speech writers first used the term New Deal, a reference from Mark Twain's 1889 novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, during the 1932 campaign, they hoped to evoke favorable comparisons to Theodore Roosevelt's Square Deal and Woodrow Wilson's New Freedom progressivism. During Roosevelt's "First Hundred Days" as president, though, the most innovative of the administration's legislation that Congress passed mostly reflected the economic planning and cooperation of the Brains Trust. Distinct from the more conventional relief and public works programs, such as the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) and the Civil Works Administration (CWA), that Congress quickly passed, the National Recovery Administration (NRA) and the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) were the programmatic and intellectual foundation of the first New Deal's emphasis on federally enforced controls on prices, wages, trading practices, and production. In 1935 and 1936, the Republican-dominated Supreme Court struck down the NRA and AAA, the essence of the first New Deal.

Partially because of these Supreme Court decisions, the second New Deal emerged by the middle of 1935. The adoption of the National Labor Relations Act (or Wagner Act), the Social Security Act, and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1935 signified the beginning of the second New Deal. The second New Deal emphasized more "pump priming" to reduce poverty and unemployment and increase mass consumption through programs like the WPA, while adding new social welfare benefits, such as retirement pensions and unemployment insurance. It also pursued a more antagonistic approach to big business, major banks, and stock brokers through a more vigorous use of antitrust powers and a broader distribution of income and the tax burden through the Wealth Tax Act of 1935, although the latter accomplished little.

Roosevelt's pursuit of the second New Deal was also politically motivated by his desire to disperse and co-opt various economic protest movements and critics from the left and assure his own re-election in 1936 and the transformation of the Democratic Party as the new, enduring majority party in American politics and government. Politically, the Wealth Tax and the Social Security Act's pensions, unemployment insurance, and aid to dependent children were intended to reduce the political appeal of Huey Long and Francis Townsend, respectively. Townsend advocated federal retirement pensions for all elderly Americans, while Long's "Share Our Wealth" movement sought to heavily tax the wealthy and big business in order to redistribute income equitably and end poverty.

Likewise, Roosevelt eventually yet reluctantly signed the Wagner Act of 1935 in preparation for the 1936 election. John L. Lewis, president of the United Mine Workers (UMW) labor union, was a Republican who endorsed Hoover in 1932, but the Wagner Act and other New Deal measures led him to endorse Roosevelt for re-election. The UMW and other unions of the Committee for Industrial Organization (later the Congress of Industrial Organizations, CIO) were major sources of campaign funds, services, and votes for Roosevelt's campaign.

The 1936 presidential election. Despite a Literary Digest poll that projected Republican presidential nominee Alfred Landon's victory in the 1936 election, Roosevelt's re-election was assured by the summer of 1936. In addition to the electoral college votes of all southern and border states, Roosevelt could rely on the industrial states of the Northeast and Midwest, where the Democratic Party's voter appeal had rapidly grown since 1932. In the 1936 presidential election, Roosevelt received 61 percent of the popular votes and carried all but two states in the electoral college. Roosevelt's coattail effects increased the Democratic majorities in Congress to overwhelming ratios against the Republicans.

For the first time since 1856, most voters were now registered as Democrats. A realignment in the two-party system had occurred so that the Democratic Party dominated the voting behavior, presidential elections, control of Congress, and policy-making for the next generation. The Roosevelt-led Democratic Party's voter appeal proved to be especially strong in major cities throughout the nation. Catholics, Jews, blacks, labor union members, foreign-born Americans, and young adults provided Roosevelt with the highest percentages of votes. Southern whites, regardless of economic differences among them, were as monolithically loyal to Roosevelt in 1936 as they had been in 1932. Roosevelt, though, proved to be a less attractive candidate among non-southern, rural, white Protestants. Their voting behavior became even more Republican in the 1940 and 1944 elections.

Court-packing controversy. Roosevelt was confident that the 1936 election results gave him a mandate to continue and even extend the second New Deal into such policy areas as public housing, slum clearance, and executive reorganization. He also wanted Congress to pass labor and agricultural legislation similar to the National Industrial Recovery Act and the Agricultural Adjustment Act, which the Supreme Court had rejected. Consequently, Roosevelt submitted a court reorganization bill in early 1937. Its content included a provision that empowered the president and Senate to appoint additional justices to the Supreme Court, exceeding the traditional number of nine. Opponents of this bill soon denounced it as a "court-packing" plan that threatened the separation of powers and the political independence of the Supreme Court, and proved that Roosevelt was dangerously power hungry.

A bipartisan conservative coalition of southern Democrats and Republicans in Congress, especially in the Senate, soon formed to oppose this bill. In addition, the Supreme Court seemed to voluntarily develop a pro-New Deal majority in 1937 when it upheld the Wagner Act and the Social Security Act. With little congressional or public support for his original legislation, Roosevelt reluctantly signed a weakened, heavily compromised court bill.

Despite this major legislative defeat and the invigoration of anti-New Deal forces in Congress, Roosevelt succeeded in securing passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and a second Agricultural Adjustment Act. After 1938, however, no new major New Deal legislation was passed. The New Deal and Roosevelt's presidency did not end the Great Depression and return the American economy to the prosperity of the 1920s. They succeeded, though, in reducing unemployment, poverty, and homelessness, and in reforming the economy in order to ensure a broader distribution of income, legal rights for labor unions, a more stable business cycle through federal regulations and subsidies, and a social safety net for the poor, unemployed, and elderly.

With Republicans and conservative Democrats frequently reminding the president and the public of his 1932 campaign promise to balance the federal budget, Roosevelt decided to begin reducing federal spending in 1937. His budget cuts, however, partially contributed to the recession of 1937 to 1938, which was characterized by higher unemployment, lower farm prices, and weaker stock market performance. Republicans labeled it the "Roosevelt recession" and cited it as proof of the failure of the New Deal as they prepared for the 1938 midterm elections. The Republicans gained eighty-two House seats and eight Senate seats in 1938. These Republican victories strengthened and emboldened the anti-New Deal, bipartisan, conservative coalition in congress, especially in the House committee system.


In 1939, Roosevelt's attention turned from domestic to foreign policy. He signed all four major pieces of neutrality legislation that Congress sent him from 1935 to 1939. He relied on amendments to these laws and executive orders to provide the president with the discretion to determine such matters as whether a foreign nation was a belligerent and the imposition of trade sanctions on belligerents. Before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Roosevelt recognized the degree to which Congress and public opinion were isolationist. Consequently, his public rhetoric cautiously combined denunciations of German, Japanese, and Italian aggression with assurances that the United States would maintain its neutrality after World War II began in Europe in 1939. Meanwhile, Roosevelt persuaded Congress to increase defense spending and pass the Selective Service Act of 1940, which began military conscription.

The growing prospect of American entry into World War II dominated the 1940 presidential election. This issue soon overshadowed Roosevelt's tradition-breaking decision to accept nomination for a third term. Determined to defeat Roosevelt, the Republicans nominated Wendell Willkie, a Wall Street lawyer and former Democrat, for president. Privately supportive of Roosevelt's military aid to Great Britain, Willkie vacillated in his campaign rhetoric between cautious internationalism and staunch isolationism.

Roosevelt defeated Willkie with 55 percent of the popular votes and carried thirty-eight states in the electoral college. Compared to the 1936 election, Roosevelt's electoral base had narrowed. Non-southern white Protestants, especially in the Midwest, accelerated their return to the Republican Party. Among the non-southern states that he carried, Roosevelt depended more on lower income voters in major cities for his popular vote margins.

Roosevelt preferred to avoid antagonizing southern Democrats on racial issues, but he began to take a modest, cautious step toward identifying his presidency, New Deal liberalism, and the Democratic Party with civil rights for blacks. During his first two terms as president, Roosevelt had limited his policy response to African Americans to minor patronage appointments, public works jobs, and relief. In 1941, however, he issued an executive order creating the Fair Employment Practices Commission, which investigated and prohibited job discrimination by defense contractors. Black labor leader A. Philip Randolph pressured Roosevelt into doing this by planning a march on Washington. Nonetheless, Roosevelt continued racial segregation in the military.

The 1944 presidential election. As the 1944 presidential election approached, Roosevelt's candidacy for a fourth term was less controversial than his 1940 candidacy. Roosevelt did little campaigning, and he defeated his Republican opponent, Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York, with 53 percent of the popular votes and carried thirty-six states. Although Roosevelt carried all of the southern and border states, Dewey, as a moderately liberal northeastern Republican, performed relatively well in such border and southern states as Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, and North Carolina. More so than in the three previous presidential elections, Roosevelt relied on lower-income voters in the largest non-southern cities for his popular vote margins. The proportion of Roosevelt's plurality that was derived from the nation's twelve largest cities increased from 25 percent in 1932 to 65 percent in 1944.

With Roosevelt aging, ailing, and frail, many political insiders did not expect him to complete a fourth term. Democratic machine bosses, Democratic National Committee chairman Robert E. Hannegan, and several southern Democrats persuaded Roosevelt to replace Vice President Henry A. Wallace with Senator Harry S. Truman of Missouri as his running mate in 1944. Wallace was unpopular among these Democrats for his political ineptitude, outspoken liberalism on civil rights, and status as a former Republican. Truman was a loyal New Deal liberal on domestic issues, making him acceptable to labor unions, blacks, and big city mayors. He was also respected by southern Democrats and Republicans in the Senate for his competence, integrity, and bipartisan approach as the chairman of a Senate committee that investigated defense spending. Since the 1942 midterm elections resulted in a razor-thin Democratic majority in the Senate, Roosevelt realized that he needed a vice president like Truman to facilitate the Senate's passage of treaties and other postwar legislation.


Throughout his life, Roosevelt exuded a charming, effervescent, engaging personality. His critics and political opponents often dismissed these traits as evidence of superficiality or duplicity. People who met Roosevelt individually or collectively often found him to be amiable and gregarious. His family and closest political associates, however, perceived him to be an intensely private, self-contained man who avoiding confiding in them. His wife and children often regarded him as remote and emotionally uninvolved in their lives.

Roosevelt, though, enjoyed flirtatious, bantering relationships with attractive, witty, self-assured women. Eleanor Roosevelt discovered evidence of her husband's affair with Lucy Mercer, her social secretary, during his tenure as assistant secretary of the navy. Although he promised to end this relationship, Roosevelt was with Lucy when he died. Marguerite "Missy" LeHand, Roosevelt's personal secretary, was widely rumored to be his mistress during his presidency. Thus, even before his presidency, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt's relationship resembled a political partnership rather than a conventional marriage.

Despite Franklin Roosevelt's shortcomings as a husband and parent, he was immensely effective in projecting his most positive, attractive personality traits in his radio broadcasts. For millions of Americans, Roosevelt exuded an infectious self-confidence and reassuring leadership during the grimmest days and events of the Great Depression and World War II. His affliction with polio enabled him to more genuinely express sensitivity and empathy to suffering Americans during these crises. In short, Roosevelt's skills as a communicator through radio and newsreels, combined with the connection that his own affliction gave him with less fortunate people, induced many Americans to develop a personal bond with Roosevelt, unlike any previous president.

Roosevelt died after serving less than three months of his fourth term on April 12, 1945, in Warm Springs, Georgia. During and after the 1944 presidential campaign, Roosevelt rarely conferred with Truman, so his vice president felt over-whelmed and unprepared in assuming the presidency. As Truman's presidency ensued, it became evident that the modern presidency that Roosevelt had established was not a temporary phenomenon that was a product of Roosevelt's unique combination of political skills and values or the successive crises of the Great Depression and World War II. Even with the end of World War II and the beginning of rapid economic growth, many Americans expected the president to behave in a Rooseveltian style as an articulate media figure who could influence public opinion and motivate Congress to pass legislation that improved their quality of life in such diverse policy areas as health care, education, inflation control, employment, economic development, and the public infrastructure. Roosevelt's wartime example as commander-in-chief and chief diplomat provided both a role model and high expectations for future presidents to be respected, powerful world leaders adept at forming American-led international coalitions through United Nations' decisions, treaties, and collective security organizations for the purposes of deterring or repelling anti-democratic aggression and spreading the American values of human rights, democratic government, and capitalism.

Much of the unattained policy agenda of New Deal liberalism and Roosevelt's presidency, such as health care for the poor and elderly, urban renewal, federal aid at all levels of education, civil rights protection for blacks and other minorities, and environmental and consumer protection, became the major domestic policy goals of Roosevelt's Democratic, and to some extent, his Republican, successors in the presidency, as well as most Democrats and some Republicans in Congress. Likewise, opponents and critics of Roosevelt's policies and his conduct as president devoted much time and effort after his death to stop the further advance of New Deal-based liberalism in domestic policy and to counter what they regarded as the "imperial presidency" that began with Franklin D. Roosevelt.



Burns, James MacGregor. Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox. 1956.

Leuchtenburg, William E. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932–1940. 1963.

Maney, Patrick J. The Roosevelt Presence: A Biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 1992.

McElvaine, Robert S. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 2002.

Savage, Sean J. Roosevelt: The Party Leader. 1991.

Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. Age of Roosevelt, Vol. 3: The Politics of Upheaval. 1960.

Ward, Geoffrey C. A First-Class Temperament. 1989.

Sean J. Savage

Roosevelt, Franklin D.

views updated May 14 2018

Franklin D. Roosevelt

born january 30, 1882hyde park, new york

died april 12, 1945 warm springs, georgia

thirty-second president of the united states

Frances Perkins, in The Roosevelt I Knew">

"[Election] campaigns always stimulated Roosevelt enormously. He liked going around the country. He enjoyed the freedom and getting out among the people. His personal relationship with crowds was on a warm, simple level of a friendly, neighborly exchange of affection.…"

frances perkins, in the roosevelt i knew

Franklin D. Roosevelt, the thirty-second president of the United States and commonly referred to as FDR, is the only person in U.S. history to be elected president four times. After serving as New York's governor from 1929 to 1933, Roosevelt entered the White House in March 1933, during the worst economic crisis the nation had ever experienced, the Great Depression. With charm, an optimistic grin, and a willingness to surround himself with able advisers, Roosevelt brought hope to most Americans. He also brought a fundamental change in federal government by greatly expanding its powers. He then successfully guided the nation through World War II (1939–45). To many he was the savior of democracy and architect of the modern bureaucratic state. Roosevelt had an unusual ability to mobilize the nation in times of crisis and maintain a high level of public support.

Life among the privileged

Franklin Roosevelt was an only child born to James Roosevelt and Sara Delano Roosevelt on the family's Hyde Park estate in the Hudson River valley of Dutchess County, New York, in January 1882. The Roosevelts primarily lived off family wealth accumulated in the early nineteenth century from maritime trade. Young Franklin grew up in an affluent social environment of great security and comfort, detached from the larger world, which was increasingly dominated by industrial giants. Through his early school years he was privately tutored at home, and a tutor accompanied him during the family's frequent European travels. In 1891 when Franklin was just nine years old, his father had the first in a series of heart attacks that left him largely an invalid. Young Franklin learned to subdue his emotions and always present a calm and cheerful appearance to his frail father. Later in life as president, this practice would be one of his greatest assets, especially when addressing the American people in times of trouble.

In 1896, at age fourteen, Roosevelt left home to attend Groton Preparatory School, a Massachusetts boarding school. It was the first time he attended school with others, and he felt socially awkward. He was too slight of build to make his mark in athletics. But although he was a social outsider during his four years there, Roosevelt felt the influence of the Groton experience. The school further strengthened his Episcopal Christian values, which emphasized a civil duty to serve the less fortunate. Through Groton Roosevelt became involved in religious and charity work, including work at a boys' club in Boston, Massachusetts.

Raised in a genteel environment at home and educated at Groton, where controversies were few, young Roosevelt developed no strong political views, but rather remained open to varying ideas and philosophies. His inward reserve was masked by a cheerful personality and an outward self-assurance that gave him a persuasive manner with others. A future trademark of Roosevelt's public speaking was the genial greeting "My friends."

Roosevelt entered Harvard in 1900. During his first year of college, his father died and his mother moved to Boston to be near Franklin. At Harvard he proved quite adept at making friends; in fact, his social life often seemed to outweigh his academic studies. His many extracurricular activities included being editor of the student newspaper. While at Harvard, Roosevelt became very taken with the progressive politics of his distant cousin Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919). Theodore, elected vice president in the 1900 presidential elections, advocated increased government involvement in the U.S. economy. Theodore Roosevelt became president in September 1901 when President William McKinley (1843–1901; served 1897–1901) was assassinated. Franklin was also taken with Theodore's niece, Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962; see entry), who was active in New York City charities serving the poor. Distant cousins, Franklin and Eleanor saw each other more and more frequently over the next few years, sometimes at White House events. Outwardly they seemed like opposite personalities, with Eleanor being very serious and reserved, but inwardly they shared many traits, including intelligence and compassion for others. Franklin graduated from Harvard in 1904 and married Eleanor in March 1905. Theodore Roosevelt gave Eleanor away at the wedding. Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt would have four sons and a daughter.

Early politics and the navy

Roosevelt entered Columbia Law School in 1905. Though he did not receive a degree, he did pass New York's bar exam (a test, once passed, that allows a person to legally practice law in a particular U.S. state) and began work as a law clerk for a prestigious law firm in New York City. Greatly influenced by Theodore Roosevelt, young Franklin had a strong interest in public service. The Democratic Party leaders of Dutchess County, New York, invited him to run for the state senate in 1910. Surprisingly, at just twenty-eight years of age, Roosevelt won the election. He enthusiastically began building a political record based on representing the farming interests of upstate New York and aggressively opposing the big-city Democratic political machine (an organization that tightly controls a political party's activities in a particular city or region) known as Tammany Hall. Tammany Hall had great control of New York politics since the early nineteenth century and had been the subject of various scandals concerning corruption. Advocating an open and honest government, Roosevelt easily won reelection in 1912.

In early 1913 newly elected president Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924; served 1913–21) appointed Roosevelt assistant secretary of the navy, a position Theodore Roosevelt had held in his rise to the presidency. Relishing the Washington, D.C., atmosphere, Roosevelt performed well in the quickly expanding navy department. Making a name for himself, Roosevelt participated in naval shipyard labor issues involving unions and the navy's civilian workers. Active in the Democratic Party, Roosevelt unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 1914. With the United States entering World War I (1914–18) in 1917, Roosevelt assumed important duties overseeing military operations in the North Atlantic.

Personal and political downturns

In 1918 the relationship between Eleanor and Franklin changed when she discovered a romantic relationship between her husband and her social secretary, Lucy Mercer. Though they remained married, Franklin and Eleanor's relationship became less intimate and based more on shared career goals and mutual respect for each other.

After seven years as assistant secretary of the navy, Roosevelt had attracted the attention of national Democratic Party leaders. In 1920 the party nominated him to run as the vice presidential candidate with presidential nominee James M. Cox (1870–1957), governor of Ohio. Roosevelt resigned his naval post for the campaign. Though they were soundly defeated by Republican candidate Warren G. Harding (1865–1923; served 1921–23), Roosevelt demonstrated strong campaigning skills and made many new influential friends.

Roosevelt's life took a dramatic turn in August 1921 when he contracted polio (a viral disease that can cause damage to the central nervous system resulting in paralysis or loss of muscle tissue). Within only a few days he had lost use of both legs. Told he would never walk again, Roosevelt retreated to his Hyde Park estate for the next seven years, relentlessly searching for a cure. During this time he tried various forms of therapy and became attracted to the spa-like baths in Warm Springs, Georgia. Roosevelt bought an old resort hotel there and made it into a center for treating polio victims. Roosevelt learned ways of concealing his paralysis from the public. When he was in public, he wore heavy leg braces and supported
himself with a cane and the arm of another person, often one of his sons. Throughout the rest of Roosevelt's life the press very quietly cooperated in not reporting the condition. As a result, the public knew little of his condition, and most people were unaware that Roosevelt was confined to a wheel-chair when not in public. Very few photographs were taken of him in a wheelchair. Though Roosevelt did not reveal his own suffering in public, his condition likely gave him great sympathy for others who suffered in life.

Triumphant rebound

During the years Franklin spent rebuilding his strength, Eleanor and his personal adviser, Louis M. Howe (1871–1936), kept the Roosevelt name alive in New York politics. They constantly updated Franklin on important issues. At Howe's direction Eleanor made many public appearances while Howe dealt with Franklin's correspondence. Roosevelt also maintained some physical presence in the party by making the nomination speeches for Alfred Smith (1873–1944) at the Democratic National Convention in 1924 and 1928. Ready for a return to public service, Roosevelt agreed to run for governor of New York in 1928. Conducting his typically energetic and upbeat campaign, Roosevelt easily won the election.

Louis M. Howe

Though he was little known to the public, Louis McHenry Howe (1871–1936) was the most influential political adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt during Roosevelt's sensational rise in the Democratic Party from 1911 to 1936. Howe was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on January 14, 1871. His father owned the Saratoga Sun newspaper. Young Howe never went to college but began working as a reporter for his father's paper at age seventeen. He became coeditor at twenty-one years of age.

Throughout his youth Howe suffered from major health problems, including a presumed heart condition, asthma, and severe bronchitis attacks. In addition, a cycling accident left permanent black pitted scars on his face. He was barely 5 feet tall, gruff, and disheveled in appearance, often wearing the same clothes for several days. His sickly look was described as "ghoulish," and he was sometimes called a "gnome." He often joked about his own appearance.

As a reporter Howe was intrigued with politics and political power. He had a keen ability to interpret the actions of others and to sense the public's mood. Howe first met Roosevelt in 1911, when Roosevelt was still a first-term state senator. Roosevelt's fight against the prevailing Democratic political machine (an organization that tightly controls a political party's activities in a particular city or region), known as Tammany Hall, gained Howe's respect. Tammany Hall had held considerable influence in New York politics since the early nineteenth century and various scandals concerning corruption had tarnished its image with many voters. Immediately, Howethought the tall, charming, and ambitious Roosevelt was future president material. Howe offered to combine his skills and experience with Roosevelt's youthful enthusiasm and charisma. He became Roosevelt's personal adviser and, counseling him to shed his aristocratic mannerisms and his air of self-righteousness, helped Roosevelt expand his appeal to the American public. Howe directed Eleanor Roosevelt as well, urging her to become more visible to the public and influencing her public speeches. While Roosevelt served four years as New York governor (1929–33), Howe quietly worked behind the scenes, paving the path toward the presidency.

When Roosevelt won the presidential election of 1932, Howe moved into the White House along with the Roosevelts and advised the president daily. Though losing some influence to other advisers, Howe remained the one person who could bluntly challenge Roosevelt on issues. Howe was largely a mystery to both the press and the public. He was so private that no one knows how much he actually shaped the president's and the First Lady's decisions. However, given some critical political mistakes Roosevelt made after Howe's death in 1936, it is possible that Howe's influence was indeed large, and certainly it was sorely missed. Howe was labeled "kingmaker" by the news media for building Roosevelt's exceptionally high popularity and helping him maintain it for such a long period of time during such grave national crises. Howe received a state funeral in the White House.

While he was governor, Roosevelt faced the difficult task of providing leadership during the early Great Depression years. Roosevelt was one of the first political leaders to take government action to relieve the economic suffering. Late in 1931 he established the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration to assist needy New York families. He also developed a public power company to deliver electricity at lower rates, and he reduced taxes for farmers. With his landslide reelection as governor in 1930, he became a potential Democratic nominee for president in 1932.

Roosevelt won a tough presidential nomination battle at the Democratic convention, held in Chicago in July 1932. Immediately flying to Chicago from New York, he was the first Democratic nominee to accept the nomination in person at the convention. In his acceptance speech Roosevelt promised "a new deal for the American people." The public welcomed Roosevelt's charm and broad grin, which contrasted with President Herbert Hoover 's (1874–1964; served 1929–33; see entry) stern, unsympathetic manner. Hoover was so unpopular that Roosevelt did not have to offer many details about what he proposed to do if he was elected president. However, with his distinct progressive philosophy, it was clear that he would make extensive use of the government to spur economic recovery. Relying on his personal adviser, Howe, and surrounded by great intellectual talent (including three technical advisers recruited from Columbia University, who were known as the Brain Trust ; see entry), Roosevelt gradually revealed a plan for bringing recovery to various sectors of the nation's economy. Roosevelt easily won the presidential election over Hoover. In February 1933 in Miami, Florida, a lone gunman made an assassination attempt on the president-elect. The city's mayor was killed during the assault. Roosevelt's aides were awestruck by his calm and seemingly unperturbed manner through the whole ordeal, even with the mayor dying in his arms en route to the hospital.

Roosevelt entered the White House in March 1933 at the depth of the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. Most banks were closed, thirteen million workers were unemployed, and industrial production had fallen 44 percent from its 1929 levels. Despite the overwhelming national concerns, people could not help but notice the change of mood within the White House. Literally overnight the formal and sedate air of Hoover and his staff gave way to the lively and self-confident Roosevelt White House. In The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt Eleanor described the sense of security Franklin conveyed to the troubled American people:

i have never known a man who gave one a greater sense of security.… i never knew him to face life or any problem that came up with fear, and i have often wondered if that courageous attitude was not communicated to the people of the country.… he believed in the courage and ability of men, and they responded.

A popular national leader

Restoring calm to the worried nation, Roosevelt established one landmark program after another, reshaping the U.S. government through his New Deal programs. He also began a series of radio addresses, called "fireside chats," in which he informally spoke directly to the general public on important issues and explained why he was taking certain actions. He used a calm, reassuring, friendly voice and simple language.

Having been raised comfortably on inherited wealth, Roosevelt did not have a high regard for the importance of money and did not believe the business ethic should dominate society. Roosevelt was irritated by business's opposition to his programs, which he believed were saving the U.S. economy. In early 1935 the president charted a new legislative course emphasizing government regulation of business, increased taxation of the wealthy, and antitrust activity (breakup of business monopolies that restrict competition). The business community reacted strongly, accusing Roosevelt of promoting socialism (an economic system in which the government owns and operates the means of production). Business leaders argued that the programs undermined free market economics, unconstitutionally expanded government powers, and created a welfare state in which people became dependent on government handouts. Nonetheless, Roosevelt's popularity soared again. He was reelected in a landslide victory in 1936, and the Democratic majority increased in both houses of Congress. For the first time a broad coalition of various groups combined their support for the Democratic candidate. The coalition included black Americans, farmers, the poor, women, and the working class in addition to traditional liberals and progressives. Together these groups came to be known as the Democratic Coalition, and they would propel Democratic candidates for decades to come.

Glee over the resounding victory was short-lived. Supreme Court rulings in 1935 and 1936 struck down some key New Deal programs, greatly angering Roosevelt. With his strong reelection support, Roosevelt felt bold and introduced a radical plan to revise the Supreme Court by adding justices that he would appoint. Called the "court-packing" plan by the press and opponents, the proposal attracted enormous opposition. Even supporters feared that Roosevelt was grabbing for too much power. It was one of his first grave political mistakes following the death of his longtime personal adviser Louis Howe. The Court, under intense pressure, did become more favorable to Roosevelt's programs in its rulings. Roosevelt was also able to fill seven vacancies on the Court between 1937 and 1941. However, the damage was done, and valuable support was lost. Southern Democrats formed a coalition with Republicans that would strongly influence the 1938 congressional elections. In addition, a new economic recession hit in August 1937, discouraging the general public, who had thought the Depression was ending. (Roosevelt carefully used the term "recession," another word for economic depression, when addressing the public in late 1937 so as not to rouse the raw emotions associated with the word "depression.") Roosevelt was able to resurrect government spending for relief, and the economy rebounded once again. However, conservative Republicans and Southern Democrats in Congress would try to block any further progressive reform legislation proposed by Roosevelt.

Saving democracy

By 1939 foreign issues were gaining greater attention. With the rise of dictatorships in Germany, Japan, and Italy and the growth of communism in the Soviet Union, the threat of radical politics and war was steadily growing. The U.S. public and Congress had maintained a strong isolationist perspective (opposition to involvement in any foreign affairs) since World War I. Roosevelt therefore had to act cautiously through the 1930s in dealing with foreign issues. Following Germany's invasion of Poland in September 1939, Britain and France declared war on Germany. World War II (1939–45) had begun. While officially taking a neutral position, Roosevelt was clearly sympathetic toward Britain and its allies. When Germany launched attacks into Western Europe in early 1940, eventually capturing Paris, France, the American public's support for U.S. action increased. Following an unprecedented reelection to a third term as president in November 1940, Roosevelt became much bolder in mobilizing the United States to support Britain in the war.

On December 7, 1941, Japanese forces made a surprise bombing attack on U.S. military bases at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, killing over two thousand American military personnel and destroying many military ships and airplanes. Within the next few days the United States plunged into war on two fronts, Europe and the Pacific. For the next several years Roosevelt provided firm, steady, inspirational leadership to the nation while leaving the detailed orchestration of war to a group of highly capable military and corporate leaders. Roosevelt ended any further efforts at domestic reform legislation and put up little resistance in 1943 when Congress ended several New Deal programs. The massive U.S. wartime spending essentially ended the Great Depression and brought full employment.

Fala, the Presidential Dog

Murray of Falahill ("Fala"), a black Scottish terrier, was born on September 9, 1940, and was trained by Margaret (Daisy) Suckley. Fala moved into the White House in November 1940 to become the faithful and much loved companion of President Franklin Roosevelt. Fala slept on a chair in the president's bedroom. A typical Scottie, Fala would always find a way to get his exercise; he could be seen and heard racing up and down White House stairs and in and out of rooms. Every day before placing Fala's dinner bowl on the floor, Roosevelt asked Fala to do his "Supper Act," which included sitting up and rolling over. Fala loved to go for rides with the president in his open car. Fala brought joy and laughter not only to the president but to Americans dealing with the trials of World War II.

Accompanying the president on many trips throughout the world, Fala performed for dignitaries such as England's Winston Churchill. Fala sailed on the presidential yacht and on the battle cruiser Tuscaloosa. He was even the subject of a rumor: As the story was told, Fala was accidentally left in the Aleutian Islands, and the president sent a destroyer to pick him up—at the cost of two to three million taxpayer dollars. The president turned the false rumor into a political asset by saying in a campaign speech before his 1944 reelection that even his little dog was slandered by political opponents. According to Roosevelt, Fala's "Scotch soul was furious."

When Franklin Roosevelt died in 1945, Fala attended the funeral with almost a human presence. Eleanor Roosevelt said that Fala never adjusted to his master being gone. Living with Eleanor at Hyde Park, Fala never stopped waiting for his master to return. His legs would straighten and his ears perked up when sirens of a police escort approached the house, announcing important visitors. Fala perhaps hoped to see the president coming down the drive as he had so often. Fala died in 1952 and was buried next to President Roosevelt at Hyde Park. Fala is the first pet to be honored with a statue at a presidential memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C.

By mid-1944, with victory on the horizon, Roosevelt began focusing more on the nature of the world following the war. In July 1944 he hosted a forty-four-nation conference at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, to plan for the postwar monetary systems. Still believing that government had a responsibility to protect the economic security of American citizens, Roosevelt promoted the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, more commonly known as the G.I. Bill. The bill provided generous housing, education, and other benefits to war veterans.

Roosevelt won reelection again in November 1944, securing a fourth term as president. However, his health was clearly fading; he suffered from advanced heart disease. In February 1945 Roosevelt met with British leader Winston Churchill (1874–1965) and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin (1879–1953) at the Yalta Conference to determine postwar occupation of Germany and to discuss creation of the United Nations to help avoid future wars. Roosevelt appeared to be in very poor health at the meetings. In April 1945 Roosevelt traveled to his retreat in Warm Springs, Georgia, for a much needed rest. On April 12, while an artist painted his portrait, Roosevelt suddenly collapsed from a massive cerebral hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain). He died only a few hours later. The nation was plunged into profound grief; one of its most beloved leaders had passed away.

A giant figure

Franklin Roosevelt is recognized as one of the great figures of the twentieth century. He served an unprecedented twelve years as president of the United States, leading the nation through the major crises of the Great Depression and World War II. Through his New Deal programs, Roosevelt established a new perspective—that government should provide an economic safety net for its citizens in times of trouble—and laid the foundation for liberal social reform in the 1960s, including the Great Society programs of President Lyndon Johnson (1908–1973; served 1963–69). Roosevelt is not without his critics. Some historians argue that he was foremost a politician, too ready to satisfy the short-term desires of the voting public rather than working for the long-term goals of the nation. For example, important civil rights issues received little attention. Racial discrimination continued largely un-challenged, including in the armed forces, which remained racially segregated through World War II. Also during World War II, thousands of Japanese Americans were forced from their homes and confined to internment camps for two years, from 1942 to 1944, despite lack of any evidence of their dis-loyalty to the United States. The United States also made minimal efforts to assist European Jews trying to flee from the oppression of Nazi Germany. Nonetheless, Roosevelt immediately stopped the dramatic decline of the national economy in early 1933, successfully guided the nation through a massive and complex world war, and laid the foundation for the postwar international order that led to the formation of the United Nations.

Numerous tributes to Roosevelt have been made. The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library was built near his home at Hyde Park, New York. His image appears on the dime in U.S. currency and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C., in 1997.

For More Information


Freidel, Frank. Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Rendezvous with Destiny. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1990.

Graham, Otis L., Jr., and Meghan R. Wander, eds. Franklin D. Roosevelt:His Life and Times, An Encyclopedic View. Boston, MA: G. K. Hall, 1985.

Lash, Joseph P. Eleanor and Franklin. New York, NY: New American Library, 1971.

Perkins, Frances. The Roosevelt I Knew. New York, NY: Viking Press, 1946.

Rollins, Alfred B., Jr. Roosevelt and Howe. New York, NY: Knopf, 1962.

Roosevelt, Eleanor. The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt. New York, NY: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1961.

Roosevelt, Eleanor. This I Remember. New York, NY: Harper, 1949.

Roosevelt, Franklin D. The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt. 5 vols. New York, NY: Random House, 1938–50.

Web Sites

Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum. (accessed on September 10, 2002).

The New Deal Network. (accessed on September 10, 2002).

Roosevelt University - Center for New Deal Studies. (accessed on September 10, 2002).

Roosevelt, Franklin D.

views updated May 09 2018

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Born January 30, 1882
Hyde Park, New York
Died April 12, 1945
Warm Springs, Georgia

32nd president of the United States (1932-1945)

Considered one of America's greatest leaders, Franklin D. Roosevelt was the only president to be elected to four terms in office. Both beloved and controversial, he took charge at a turbulent time in American history. The Great Depression (1929-39) caused widespread suffering as many people lost their jobs, homes, and businesses and some people wondered whether the United States could survive as a democracy. Roosevelt's solution was a set of programs and reforms he called the "New Deal," many of which have survived to the present day. Not all of them were successful, but Roosevelt's energy and optimism gave many Americans the strength they needed to carry on. In the same determined way, he led his country through World War II and helped its citizens to feel that the sacrifices made and many lives lost were not in vain.

A child of privilege

Roosevelt came from a very privileged background. Born on his wealthy family's estate in Hyde Park, New York, he was the only child of Sara Delano and James Roosevelt. He was a distant cousin of Theodore Roosevelt, who was to serve as president from 1901 to 1909. He remained close to his devoted, domineering mother all his life, but his father (who was twenty-six years older than his mother) was often ill and somewhat distant.

Roosevelt's childhood was sheltered but happy. As a young boy he did not attend school but was taught at home by a tutor, and he often traveled to Europe with his parents. He was bright and energetic and loved sports and outdoor activities.

At fourteen, Roosevelt went to the exclusive Groton School in Massachusetts, an academy founded by Rector Endicott Peabody that encouraged its young male students to fulfill their responsibilities to society. Roosevelt took seriously the school's philosophy of public service.

A young husband and lawyer

In 1900 Roosevelt entered Harvard University, where he studied history and government. His academic performance was not spectacular but he had an active social life and took part in many outside activities, including serving as editor in chief of the Harvard Crimson, the university's undergraduate newspaper. It was during his years at Harvard that Roosevelt developed his leadership abilities and strong political beliefs.

During his senior year, Roosevelt became engaged to his distant cousin Eleanor, who was the niece of Teddy Roosevelt. His mother did not approve of the match and tried to change his mind, but nevertheless the couple married on March 17, 1905, with Eleanor's famous uncle walking her down the aisle. Over the years the couple would have six children (one of whom died as a baby) and Eleanor would prove to be both a supportive partner to her husband and a dynamic leader in her own right.

After graduating from Harvard, Roosevelt attended New York's Columbia University Law School. In 1907 he joined a New York law firm, but he did not especially like the work. He decided to run for the New York Senate, and in 1910 became the first Democrat senator elected in New York in fifty years. As senator, Roosevelt worked hard to end the corruption that had overtaken much of New York's government.

An education in politics

Roosevelt supported the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson, in the election of 1912 (even though he was running against Teddy Roosevelt). After Wilson's victory, Roosevelt was appointed assistant secretary of the navy. Roosevelt served in this position until after World War I, gaining valuable experience in how to work with a variety of people and opinions and how to deal with Congress.

At the 1920 Democratic convention Roosevelt was nominated to be the vice presidential candidate with James M. Cox as the presidential nominee. Cox and Roosevelt lost the election to Republican Warren G. Harding, but the campaign had taught Roosevelt much about running for office and public speaking. When it was over, he returned to New York to practice law.

Polio changes his life

A year later an event occurred that dramatically changed Roosevelt's life. While vacationing at his family's summer home on Campobello Island near New Brunswick, Canada, Roosevelt came down with polio, a serious disease that causes paralysis. As a result, Roosevelt could no longer move his legs; his back, arms, and hands were also affected.

At first Roosevelt was deeply depressed by his illness, but eventually he regained his positive outlook. His mother told him he should retire, but Eleanor encouraged him to continue in public life. He began a program of vigorous exercise and overcame the partial paralysis of his back, arms, and hands, and after some time he was even able to walk occasionally with the help of canes and braces. Although his legs grew very thin and weak from lack of use, his arms became very strong.

For the rest of his life, Roosevelt would spend most of his time in a wheelchair. The public remained largely unaware of this fact because the press rarely mentioned it and only published photographs that showed Roosevelt standing or sitting at a desk. Roosevelt's condition benefited him in some ways, because it helped him to develop greater patience and self-control, and it made him more aware of and sympathetic to the problems suffered by other people. Roosevelt was often admired for the courageous manner he dealt with his physical challenges. When, for instance, he made his way to the podium to give a speech at the 1924 Democratic convention, supported by his sixteen-year-old son James, he received a standing ovation from the audience.

Governor of New York

With Eleanor's help, Roosevelt remained knowledgeable and politically connected during this tough time, and he remained deeply interested in social problems. In 1928 he was elected governor of New York in a close election. The next year, the stock market crashed (most stocks lost their value, and investors lost their money), and the years of economic hardship known as the Great Depression had begun.

Faced with a high unemployment rate in his state, Roosevelt set up a system of direct relief for workers who had lost their jobs. His popularity soared and he was reelected in 1930, gaining a nationwide reputation as a leader with bold new ideas.

A new deal for the American people

During those rough first years of the Great Depression, Roosevelt was mentioned as a possible presidential candidate, and in 1932 he was nominated by the Democrats. He broke a longstanding tradition by flying to the convention to accept the nomination in person. In his acceptance speech he told the delegates, "I pledge you, I pledge myself to a new deal for the American people," a new deal that would include both direct relief and reform measures to prevent future economic depressions.

During the campaign that followed, Roosevelt appeared in thirty-eight states, dispelling any concerns over his physical health. He won a huge victory over President Herbert Hoover (whom many Americans blamed for the country's problems) and was inaugurated on March 4, 1933.

Even before he was sworn in, Roosevelt began working on the nation's problems, which were perhaps the worst it had ever faced. About fifteen million workers (one-quarter of the workforce) were unemployed. Many banks had closed, wiping out the savings people had worked their whole lives to collect. A huge number of people were homeless, and charities could not feed or house most of them. Young people lacked the money to attend or finish college, and many of them took to the roads to look for work. In the past, the government would not have been responsible for solving these problems, but Roosevelt believed that government had to help.

Trying new solutions

In his inaugural address, Roosevelt promised Americans that the country would recover from these terrible times. He pledged that he would experiment with new solutions to solve the problems of society, and he urged people to keep calm and to be courageous: "The only thing we have to fear," he told them, "is fear itself."

Thus Roosevelt immediately started demonstrating his ability to inspire confidence in others, to share with them his own hope and optimism. His willingness to give the federal government a bigger role in American life made him different from previous presidents, and his warm personality, energy, self-confidence, and positive approach to life made people like and trust him. He gained the support of a wide range of citizens, including farmers, labor union members, both poor and middle-class city-dwellers, and African Americans (who switched their loyalty from the Republicans—the party of President Abraham Lincoln—to support Roosevelt).

An excellent communicator

Roosevelt was popular partly because of his excellent communication skills. He believed in having a good relationship with the press, so he held two press conferences a week and always made the transcripts of what he'd said available to the public.

But one of his most important accomplishments was his understanding of the power of radio and the central role it played in American homes. Every week, Roosevelt delivered a radio broadcast called a "Fireside Chat," in which he spoke to his listeners in an informal, relaxed way—addressing them as "My friends" and making them feel that he was talking to each of them directly while discussing important issues.

100 days of change

Roosevelt's first term as president began with a special, 100-day session of Congress that passed an unusually high number of measures. First Roosevelt declared a "bank holiday" that temporarily closed all banks (which provided relief for banks and panicked investors); then he pushed through a law that allowed only the most sound banks to reopen, so that people felt secure about their money.

To combat the unemployment problem, Roosevelt felt people would keep their self-respect if they were offered jobs rather than money. With that in mind he sponsored such programs as the Civilian Conservation Corps, which put 2.5 million young men to work in parks and forests; the National Youth Administration, which gave part-time work to two million high school and college students; and the Works Progress Administration, which employed eight million people in the building of roads, schools, dams, and other projects.

Other major programs started during Roosevelt's first term included the Agricultural Adjustment Act, which helped farmers increase their income by reducing surpluses and raising prices; the Tennessee Valley Authority, through which dams were built to control floods and produce low-cost electricity; and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which protected bank deposits up to $5,000.

A more difficult second term

In 1936 Roosevelt ran for president again and won in a landslide, gaining 61 percent of the popular vote over Governor Alf Landon of Kansas. At the beginning of his second term, he was criticized for trying to reorganize the Supreme Court (which had opposed a number of his New Deal proposals). But soon after his reelection the Supreme Court approved some important programs, including the National Labor Relations (Wagner) Act, which guaranteed workers the right to join unions; the Social Security Act, offering citizens protection from poverty in old age, sickness, and unemployment; and the Fair Labor Standards Act, which established a minimum wage for workers.

During Roosevelt's second term as president, business leaders and Republicans criticized his policies, claiming that they were wasteful and that they gave government too large a role in people's lives. Roosevelt's popularity was also hurt when he cut government spending, causing another economic downturn and the loss of about two million jobs. Nevertheless, his supporters continued to credit him not only with making real improvements but with helping Americans to stay calm when, all over the world, hard times were leading to the rise of dictators (absolute rulers).

Dictators gain power

Roosevelt was well aware that leaders like Adolf Hitler (1889-1945; see entry) of Germany, Benito Mussolini (1883-1945; see entry) of Italy, and Hideki Tojo (1884-1948; see entry) of Japan were gaining power by restricting their people's freedoms. He believed that the United States should get involved in trying to control these dictators because they threatened the survival of democracy everywhere. At this point in history, however, the majority of the American people did not agree with him. They had experienced World War I (1914-1918) and had come out of it as isolationists: they did not want to become involved in the problems of other countries.

In September 1939 Germany invaded Poland; Great Britain and France responded by declaring war on Germany. The next year, Roosevelt was reelected (becoming the first American president to serve three terms), but by a slimmer margin than in previous elections. Meanwhile, his desire to help the Allies (the name for the countries fighting against Germany; at the beginning of the war this included Great Britain and France) in their war against the Nazis had only increased, even though public opinion still favored isolationism.

The arsenal of democracy

France was quickly defeated by the Germans in May 1940, leaving Great Britain to face the Germans alone.

Pledging to make the United States the "great arsenal of democracy" (by which he meant the provider of weapons and other equipment the Allies would use to defend their countries), Roosevelt got Congress to approve an exchange program by which the United States gave Great Britain fifty destroyers (ships equipped with high-powered guns) in return for the use of British naval bases close to the United States.

As Great Britain withstood months of heavy bombing raids by the Germans, Roosevelt kept working to provide support for them. He pushed through a law setting up a Lend-Lease Program, through which supplies and weapons sent to those fighting against the Axis nations (Germany, Italy, and eventually Japan) could be paid for after the war. Roosevelt met with British prime minister Winston Churchill (1874-1965; see entry) in August 1941 to sign the Atlantic Charter. In this agreement Great Britain and the United States expressed their common opposition to tyranny and their commitment to setting up an international peace keeping organization.

Japan attacks Pearl Harbor

Meanwhile, in the Pacific region, Japan had attacked China as well as other areas of Asia that had been controlled by Great Britain and France. To force the Japanese to stop their aggressive actions, Roosevelt put a halt to trade with Japan. This led to Japan's decision to launch a devastating surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack occurred early on the morning of December 7, 1941, sinking or damaging battleships and killing more than 2,500 people.

Americans were shocked and angered by the surprise attack. The next day, calling December 7 "a day which will live in infamy," Roosevelt declared war on Japan. In 1940 Germany, Japan, and Italy had signed the Tripartite Pact, in which they agreed to defend each other if any of them went to war. A few days after the United States declared war on Japan, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. Just as Roosevelt had inspired the American people to have faith and determination to overcome the Great Depression, he now called upon them to resist military aggression and dictatorship.

Preparing the nation for war

During the early months of the war, Roosevelt put together an extraordinary team of generals and admirals to lead the U.S. war effort, while he presided over the most important strategic decisions. He began to gear the U.S. economy toward preparing for war, starting up a number of agencies to handle such tasks as processing recruits (those who had volunteered or been drafted to serve) into the armed forces or producing the weapons and tanks the military would need. Other important steps he took during the first few years of the war included setting up the Manhattan Project to research the possibility of building an atomic bomb (see J. Robert Oppenheimer entry) and persuading twenty-six countries to join the organization to be named the United Nations.

Although Roosevelt and his military commanders thought the Allies should first invade Europe and attack Germany on its own soil, they were finally persuaded by the British to attack first in North Africa, where British troops had been battling Germany's Afrika Korps under the able command of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (1891-1944; see entry). They also invaded Sicily (an island off the Italian mainland) and Italy. In the Pacific theater (where only about 15 percent of Allied resources would be sent), the Allied forces also fought their way up through the region's many island chains toward Japan.

Victories in Europe, and a massive invasion

As the Allies carried on their successful military campaign in Europe, defeating the Germans in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy, the Soviet Union struggled mightily against the German invaders in their own country. Germany had invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. The Soviets lost about twenty million lives in the fighting but managed to keep the German forces from overtaking the whole country. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin (1879-1953; see entry)—a controversial figure due to his brutal policies against his own people—joined Roosevelt and Churchill at several major conferences throughout the war. At Casablanca in early 1943, Roosevelt and his colleagues declared that they would accept only "unconditional surrender" by the Axis nations; and at Quebec in August 1943 they planned a massive invasion of France to take place the next spring.

After six months of preparation under the direction of General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969; see entry), the invasion that had been nicknamed "Operation Overlord" took place. On June 6, 1944, about 150,000 Allied troops landed on the heavily defended beaches of the Normandy region of northern France. By the time a month had passed, about a million soldiers were pushing on across France toward Germany, stopped only briefly by a German counteroffensive (called the Battle of the Bulge) in December in the Ardennes region. In March 1945, they crossed the Rhine River into Germany, and by May the Germans were forced to surrender.

A short fourth term

In November 1944, Roosevelt had been elected to a fourth term. By now the massive spending of the wartime period had wiped out the Great Depression, and many of Roosevelt's New Deal reforms had been eliminated. Most Americans appreciated Roosevelt's strong leadership during the crisis of World War II. Some critics claim that he had made some serious mistakes including actually allowing the attack on Pearl Harbor to occur, relocating Japanese Americans to internment camps, not ordering that the military be desegregated, and not doing enough to help Jewish refugees.

In February 1945 Roosevelt traveled to a conference of Allied leaders held at Yalta in the Soviet Union. With Churchill and Stalin, he discussed plans to bring the war to a close and how Europe would be rebuilt after the war. Some would later fault Roosevelt for trusting Stalin too much and allowing the Soviet Union too much control of Eastern Europe. At the time, though, Roosevelt thought this was necessary in order to ensure that the Soviet Union would continue to fight for the Allies.

After his return from Yalta, Roosevelt went to Warm Springs, Georgia, where he owned a small home and where he had established a foundation to help other polio victims. He often went to Warm Springs for rest and recovery; for some time, he had been in poor health with heart problems and other ailments. On April 12, 1945, Roosevelt died from a cerebral hemorrhage (bleeding of the brain). Later the same day, Vice President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972; see entry) was sworn in as the nation's thirty-third president. It would be up to Truman to lead the nation out of war and into peacetime.

"Let us move forward … "

Thousands of Americans gathered to watch as Roosevelt's body was taken north by train. He was buried on the grounds of his estate at Hyde Park, under a stone that bore only his name and years of birth and death. The last words he dictated on the day before his death are, perhaps, more expressive of his lifelong philosophy: "The only real limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith."

Where to Learn More


Davis, Kenneth S. FDR: Into the Storm, 1937-1940. New York: Random House, 1993.

Freedman, Russell. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. New York: Clarion Books,1990.

Freidel, Frank Burt. Franklin Delano Roosevelt: A Rendezvous with Destiny.Boston: Little, Brown, 1972.

Goodwin, Doris Kearns. No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.

Heinrichs, Waldo H. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the American Entry Into World War II. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Morgan, Ted. FDR: A Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985.

Potts, Steve. Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Photo-Illustrated Biography. Mankato, MN: Bridgestone Books, 1996.

Franklin D. Roosevelt led the United States through two of its most difficult periods, the Great Depression and World War II.

"First Lady Of The World" Eleanor Roosevelt

Before Franklin D. Roosevelt, the United States had never had a president who served for four terms. Similarly, the United States never had a First Lady like Roosevelt's wife Eleanor. She changed the way the nation viewed the role of the president's spouse.

Born into a wealthy family in 1884 in New York City, Eleanor was the niece of Theodore Roosevelt, who was president of the United States from 1901 to 1909. She was an awkward, shy girl who felt especially lonely after the deaths of both her parents before she was ten years old.

At age eighteen, like all rich young women of her set, she had to enter society and begin attending parties and dances. This was painful for such a shy girl, but she did often get to see her fifth cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was a student at Harvard University. The two fell in love and were married on March 17, 1905. Their first child was born a year later, and over the next nine years they had five more children (one died as a baby).

When Franklin became a New York state senator, Eleanor took up the role of the senator's wife. She felt uncomfortable at first but soon adapted to her new position, though her shyness returned somewhat when the couple moved to Washington, D.C., after Franklin was named assistant secretary of the navy.

In the summer of 1921, Franklin contracted polio, which paralyzed his legs and endangered his political career. Political advisor Louis Howe advised Eleanor to become more active in public life so that her husband would not be forgotten while he recovered. She became an active member of the state's Democratic Party and was soon one of its leaders. In a few years Franklin was ready to resume his career, but in the meantime her own career was also blossoming.

Eleanor's growing interest in the problems of the unemployed and other disadvantaged people led to such activities as writing newspaper articles, starting and teaching at a special school for poor children, and helping to set up a furniturefactory to give jobless people work. When Franklin was elected governor of New York, Eleanor began to travel all over the state and reported back to him on how people were living and what they were thinking.

Franklin was elected to his first term as president in 1932, and Eleanor began building a reputation as the most active, outspoken First Lady in American history. One of the topics Eleanor felt most strongly about was civil rights. She continually encouraged her husband to consider equal opportunities for African Americans in his New Deal programs. In 1939, she resigned her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) organization when they refused to allow African American singer Marian Anderson to appear at Constitution Hall in Philadelphia; Eleanor also arranged for Anderson to sing at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.

Eleanor also used her influence to push for more equality for women, and to encourage women to fight for their rights. One way she did so was to create a White House Women's Press Corps and to make a rule that only women reporters could attend her press conferences, which meant that newspapers had to hire at least one woman.

Having seen the devastating effects of World War I Eleanor was a staunch promoter of international peace. During World War II, she made several goodwill tours as her husband's representative in England, the South Pacific, and the Caribbean.

After the death of her husband in 1945, Eleanor continued to play a very public role in American life. She was chosen to serve as part of the first U.S. delegation to the new United Nations, in which position President Harry Truman called her the "First Lady of the World." Eleanor was instrumental in writing the UN's Declaration on Human Rights and took part in the formation of UNICEF (the UN's fund for children). She continued to write articles and books and remained involved in Democratic politics. Eleanor died in 1962.

Roosevelt, Franklin D.

views updated May 09 2018

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Born January 30, 1882

Hyde Park, New York

Died April 12, 1945

Warm Springs, Georgia

Thirty-second president of the United States

Franklin D. Roosevelt, commonly referred to as FDR, was the thirty-second president of the United States. Largely owing to the home front uncertainties of World War II (193945), Roosevelt is the only U.S. president to have been elected four times. Roosevelt entered the White House in March 1933 at the height of the Great Depression (192941). The Great Depression, which began in the fall of 1929, was the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. Approximately 25 percent of the nation's workforce was unemployed as business activity dramatically slowed, and many Americans did not have enough food. Roosevelt's charm, broad grin, and willingness to surround himself with able advisors brought hope to most Americans, first during the Depression and then through the war. Through his years as president, Roosevelt greatly expanded the powers of the federal government and reshaped the Democratic Party. To many in the United States and throughout the world, Roosevelt was the savior of democracy by defeating the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) and restoring the U.S. economy. Roosevelt had an incredible ability to mobilize the nation in times of crisis and maintain a high level of public support during trying times.

A privileged upbringing

An only child, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born to James and Sara Delano Roosevelt on January 30, 1882. The family was wealthy and lived on their Hyde Park estate in the Hudson River Valley of Dutchess County, New York. Their ancestors had accumulated the wealth from maritime trade in the early nineteenth century. Through his early school years young Franklin was privately tutored, both at home and on the family's frequent European travels. A major change came in Franklin's life in 1891 when his father suffered the first in a series of heart attacks, leaving him largely incapacitated. Young Franklin learned to hide his emotions, always presenting a calm and cheerful appearance to his frail father. This manner would be one of his greatest personal assets later in life while leading the nation through the Depression and war.

In 1896 at fourteen years of age, Franklin left home to attend Groton Preparatory School, a Massachusetts boarding school. It was the first time for Franklin to attend school with others his age. Though feeling very awkward socially, Franklin was greatly influenced by the Groton experience, which reinforced the family Episcopal values of a civic duty to serve the less fortunate. Through Groton, Franklin performed religious and charity work at places such as a boys club in Boston.

Franklin Roosevelt entered Harvard in 1900. His father died during his first year and his mother moved to Boston to be near him. At Harvard his social life flourished as he assumed many extracurricular activities, including president of the Harvard student newspaper. He also became more seriously interested in politics, particularly the progressive movement led by his distant cousin Theodore Roosevelt (18581919; served 190109), who was elected vice president in 1900. Progressivism called for an increased role of government in solving the nation's social and economic problems. Theodore became president in September 1901 following the assassination of President William McKinley (18431901; served 18971901). Franklin Roosevelt's buoyant personality and outward self-assurance gave him a persuasive but nonthreatening manner with others. A future trademark of Roosevelt's public speaking was his genial greeting, "My friends."

Theodore's niece, Eleanor Roosevelt (18841962; see entry), also caught Franklin's attention. Eleanor was active in New York City charities serving the poor. The two distant cousins increasingly saw each other through the next few years, including at White House events. Outwardly they seemed opposite in personality. Eleanor was very serious and reserved. However, they shared intelligence and a compassion for others. Franklin graduated from Harvard in 1904 and married Eleanor in March 1905. Theodore gave Eleanor away in the wedding. Franklin and Eleanor had four sons and a daughter.

Early politics and the navy

Franklin Roosevelt entered Columbia Law School in 1905. Though not receiving a degree, he passed New York's bar exam and began work as a law clerk for a prestigious Wall Street law firm in New York City. Roosevelt's strong interest in public service was known to the Democratic Party leaders of Dutchess County. They invited him to run for the state senate in 1910. At twenty-eight years of age, Roosevelt surprisingly won the election. An advocate for an open and honest government at a time when political corruption was dominant in New York politics, Roosevelt easily won reelection in 1912.

In early 1913 newly elected President Woodrow Wilson (18561924; served 191321), a democrat, appointed Roosevelt assistant secretary of the navy, a position Theodore Roosevelt had earlier held in his rise to the presidency. Franklin loved the Washington, D.C., atmosphere, and made a name for himself by personally resolving naval shipyard labor issues involving unions and the navy's civilian workers. Roosevelt ran for the U.S. Senate in 1914, but was unsuccessful. When the United States entered World War I (191418) in 1917, Roosevelt held an important position overseeing naval operations in the North Atlantic. It was during this time, in 1918, that his relationship with Eleanor took a different course. She discovered a romantic relationship between Franklin and her personal secretary, Lucy Mercer. They remained married, but their relationship became less intimate and based more on shared political goals and a mutual respect for each other.

A rising political star

After seven years as assistant secretary of the navy, Roosevelt in 1920 was selected vice presidential running mate for Ohio governor James M. Cox (18701957). Roosevelt resigned his naval post for the campaign. Though they soundly lost, Roosevelt showed strong campaigning skills and made many new influential friends.

Roosevelt's life took another dramatic change in August 1921 when he became ill with polio-like symptoms. Within only a few days his legs were paralyzed. Given no hope of walking again, Roosevelt retreated to the family's Hyde Park estate for the next seven years to recover while desperately hoping for a cure. While trying various forms of therapy he discovered spa-like baths in Warm Springs, Georgia. Roosevelt bought an old resort hotel at Warm Springs and transformed it into a center for treating polio victims. Through time, Roosevelt learned how to conceal his paralysis from the public. He would wear heavy leg braces and support himself with a cane and the arm of another person, often one of his sons. Throughout the rest of his life the media very quietly cooperated in not reporting his disability. Few photographs were taken of him in a wheelchair. As a result, the public knew little of his confinement to a wheelchair when not in public view. The experience gave him even greater sympathy for those who suffered in life.

A triumphant comeback

While Roosevelt was rebuilding his strength, Eleanor and others kept his political career alive. Eleanor made many public appearances, and her husband on occasion made speeches at Democratic national meetings. Ready for a return in 1928, Roosevelt successfully won the New York governorship. Tackling the serious economic issues of the early Great Depression years in the populous state, Roosevelt proved very popular. His landslide reelection victory in 1930 made him a favorite for the next Democratic presidential candidate for 1932.

During the 1932 presidential campaign, Roosevelt's charm and broad grin sharply contrasted with President Herbert Hoover's (18741964; served 192933) stern manner. As a result, Roosevelt easily won the election. Roosevelt's calm, reassuring manner was put to a test in February 1933 when a lone gunman made an assassination attempt on his life in Miami, Florida. Roosevelt escaped injury, and his aides were awestruck by his seemingly unperturbed manner as the city's mayor, who was shot instead of Roosevelt, lay dying in his arms as they were rushed away from the shooting scene to the hospital.

Establishing a calm

Roosevelt entered the White House in March 1933 at the depth of the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. Most banks were closed, thirteen million workers were unemployed, and industrial production had fallen 44 percent from its 1929 levels. The nation was in turmoil. As he would during World War II, Roosevelt casually spoke directly to the nation through a series of radio addresses, called "Fireside Chats," on important issues, explaining why he was taking certain actions. He used his calm, friendly voice and simple language. With calm soon restored to a worried nation, Roosevelt established one landmark economic and social program after another, collectively known as the New Deal, reshaping the U.S. government.

Roosevelt's popularity soared as a broad coalition of voters including black Americans, farmers, the poor, women, and the working class, in addition to traditional liberals and progressives, came together to support his reelection in 1936. Roosevelt won by a landslide. This newly formed Democratic Coalition would propel Democratic candidates for decades to come.

Supporting Britain

Despite his popularity, by late 1937 Roosevelt's grip on Congress lessened. A growing coalition of conservative Republicans and Southern Democrats in Congress began blocking further reform legislation proposed by Roosevelt. In addition, international events were gaining greater attention from Roosevelt. With the rise of military dictatorships in Germany, Japan, and Italy, the threat of war was steadily growing in both Europe and Asia. The general public and Congress still held a strong mood of isolationism (avoiding foreign commitments or involvement) since World War I. Roosevelt therefore had to very cautiously develop foreign policy. Following Germany's invasion of Poland in September 1939, Britain and France declared war on Germany. World War II had begun. While voicing a neutral position to please the public, Roosevelt clearly supported Britain and its allies.

Atlantic Charter

As late as August 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was still dealing with an American public and Congress reluctant to become entangled in the war raging in Europe. The president had to convince the home front about the need to at least help Britain and perhaps even enter the war itself. On August 14 Roosevelt met with British leader Winston Churchill (18741965) for five days on warships in the North Atlantic off the Newfoundland coast of Canada. Together they identified the goals for going to war against Nazi Germany. These goals were captured in a document known as the Atlantic Charter.

In the Charter, the two leaders declared that all nations should live safely within their own borders, free from outside threat, that no changes in national boundaries should occur without approval of those living within the affected areas, that citizens have the right to choose their own form of government, and that the high seas should be safe for trade and travel. Any aggressor nation posing a threat should be disarmed. They went further to proclaim that global cooperation should seek to raise labor standards, increase the social security of the general population, and promote international trade. Regarding war, they also affirmed that the United States and Great Britain were not seeking increased power or wealth.

The Charter, reflecting the war aims identified by Roosevelt in his famous "Four Freedoms" speech to the American public in January 1941, directly influenced the Declaration of United Nations signed by twenty-six nations on January 1, 1942, shortly after the United States formally entered the war. The surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in December 1941 finally rallied the home front fully behind Roosevelt. However, most Americans went to war simply to defend life as they knew it in their home front community and not to promote the ideals of the Atlantic Charter.

In the fall of 1939 Roosevelt had Congress repeal the Neutrality Acts that had banned the United States from selling weapons and supplies to foreign countries. He then initiated a "cash and carry" program in which Britain paid cash for war materials and had to carry them back to Britain in their own ships. In the spring of 1940 German military forces swept into Western Europe, eventually capturing Paris, France, in June. The U.S. public mood shifted more toward Roosevelt's perspective. In September 1940 Roosevelt traded fifty aging destroyers to Britain for seven military bases in the Caribbean. In November 1940 Roosevelt won an unprecedented reelection to a third presidential term. His victory largely resulted from the public's fear of what was coming. They wanted to keep a comfortable and familiar person in the White House.

After his reelection in November 1940, Roosevelt became much bolder in mobilizing the United States for war. The following month he delivered his historic "Arms for Democracy" speech in which he proposed the Lend-Lease program. With Britain running out of money, this program would provide a continued supply of arms without Britain having to pay cash. In March 1941 Congress responded with passage of the Lend-Lease Act. In August 1941 Roosevelt met with British leader Winston Churchill (18741965) on a U.S. naval ship off Newfoundland, Canada. They signed the Atlantic Charter, which defined the war aims of the two nations. Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Roosevelt extended the Lend-Lease program to the Soviets in November. Meanwhile, Roosevelt also placed a strict trade embargo (ban on trade with a foreign nation) on Japan and froze Japanese assets in the United States.

War arrives

War finally arrived at the doorstep of the United States on December 7, 1941, when Japanese forces carried out a surprise bombing attack on U.S. military bases at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack killed more than two thousand American military personnel and destroyed many military ships and airplanes. Within the next few days the United States plunged into war on two fronts: Europe and the Pacific.

For the next few years Roosevelt provided firm, steady inspirational leadership to the nation while leaving the detailed orchestration of war to a group of highly capable military and corporate leaders. These included Republicans

Henry L. Stimson (18671950; see entry) as secretary of war and Frank Knox (18741944) as secretary of the navy. The president wanted to create a more bipartisan (involving both political parties) approach to the war effort. As he had during the Great Depression, Roosevelt created numerous temporary war agencies to coordinate activities. Roosevelt's participation focused more on the larger strategic decision making such as emphasizing the war in Europe first over the Pacific front and attacking German forces first in North Africa rather than in Europe. The president also authorized the Manhattan Project early in the war to develop the atomic bomb, later used by President Harry S. Truman (18841972; served 194553) to end the war with Japan in August 1945.

The invasion of North Africa began in November 1942. Allied forces pushed the fight from there into Sicily and Italy by the summer of 1943. Meanwhile, beginning with the battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942, U.S. forces fought from island to island across the Pacific. Roosevelt ended any further efforts at domestic reform legislation and provided little resistance in 1943 when Congress ended several New Deal programs. The massive U.S. wartime spending, converting production of consumer goods to wartime materials, essentially ended the Great Depression and brought full employment.

Roosevelt met with Churchill again in January 1943 in Casablanca, Morocco, and once more in November 1943 in Tehran, Iran. At Tehran they met with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin (18791953) for the first time. Roosevelt and Churchill promised Stalin they would invade France by spring of 1944 and Stalin promised to attack Japan once the European war was over. The Soviets could also keep parts of Poland that it had recently captured in pushing German forces back.

Postwar concerns

By mid-1944 eventual victory was taking shape. Roosevelt began to look more toward the nature of the world following war. Based on the Atlantic Charter, twenty-six nations signed the United Nations Declaration. In July 1944 he hosted an international conference at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, to plan for a postwar world economy. Out of the conference came the International Monetary Fund and an international bank to assist European and Asian nations in their recovery from war.

Still believing government had a responsibility toward the economic security of American citizens, Roosevelt played a role in the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, more commonly known as the GI Bill. The bill provided generous housing, educational, and other benefits to war veterans.

By the November 1944 elections, Allied troops had regained most of France and captured all the Pacific islands east of Japan including the Philippines. They were closing in on both German and Japanese soil. Nevertheless, the public felt uncertain about postwar conditions, both the domestic economy and international relations with the Soviet Union. As a result, Roosevelt won reelection again in November 1944 for a fourth term. However, Roosevelt was suffering from advanced arteriosclerosis (heart disease), and his health was markedly fading. In January 1945 Roosevelt met with British leader Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin at Yalta in the Soviet Union to determine postwar occupation of Germany and create an international organization to help avoid future wars. Roosevelt was visibly in very poor health at the meetings.

In April 1945, with the war in Europe winding down, Roosevelt traveled to his spa in Warm Springs for a much-needed rest. On April 12, while an artist painted his portrait, Roosevelt suddenly collapsed from a massive cerebral hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain). He died only a few hours later. The nation was plunged into profound grief as one of its most beloved leaders had passed away.

A giant figure

Roosevelt is recognized as one of the great world figures of the twentieth century. He served an unprecedented twelve years as U.S. president, leading the nation through two major prolonged crises, the Great Depression and World War II. Roosevelt established an expanded view of governmentthat it should provide an economic safety net for its citizens in times of trouble.

However, some important issues were not addressed during Roosevelt's time in office. Civil rights issues received little attention and racial discrimination continued largely unchallenged. The armed forces remained racially segregated throughout World War II. In addition, 110,000 Japanese Americans were placed in internment camps from 1942 to 1944 despite lack of any evidence of disloyalty to the United States. The United States also made minimal efforts to assist European Jews trying to flee from the oppression of Nazi Germany in the late 1930s. Nonetheless, Roosevelt immediately stopped the dramatic decline of the national economy in the 1930s and successfully guided the nation through a massive and complex world war. He laid the foundation for the postwar international order, including formation of the United Nations.

Numerous tributes to Roosevelt include the Roosevelt Presidential Library built near his home at Hyde Park, New York. His image was placed on the dime in U.S. currency, and the Roosevelt Monument was dedicated in Washington, D.C., in 1997.

For More Information


Freidel, Frank. Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Rendezvous with Destiny. Boston: Little, Brown, 1990.

Goodwin, Doris Kearns. No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, the Home Front in World War II. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.

Meacham, Jon. Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship. New York: Random House, 2003.

Roosevelt, Eleanor. The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt. New York: Da Capo Press, 1992.

Web sites

Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum. (accessed on July 25, 2004).

Roosevelt, Franklin Delano

views updated Jun 11 2018


Franklin Delano Roosevelt served as the thirty-second president of the United States from 1933 to 1945. During his unprecedented four terms in office, Roosevelt established himself as a towering national leader, leading the United States out of the Great Depression through the active involvement of the federal government in the national economy. The federal government grew dramatically in size and power as Congress enacted Roosevelt's new deal program. As president, Roosevelt was responsible for the creation of social security, federal labor laws, rural electrification programs, and myriad projects that assisted farmers, business, and labor. During world war ii Roosevelt's leadership was vital to rallying the spirits of the citizenry and mobilizing a wartime economy. Nevertheless, Roosevelt was a controversial figure. Many economic conservatives believed his programs owed more to state socialism than to free enterprise.

Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882, in Hyde Park, New York, the only son of James and Sara Delano Roosevelt. The young Roosevelt was taught to be a gentleman and to exercise Christian stewardship through public service. He graduated from Harvard University in 1904 and in 1905 wed eleanor roosevelt, the niece of his fifth cousin, President theodore roosevelt.

Roosevelt attended Columbia University Law School but left without receiving a degree when he passed the New York bar exam in 1907.

In 1910 Roosevelt was elected to the New York Senate as a member of the democratic party. Reelected in 1912, he resigned in 1913 to accept an appointment from President woodrow wilson as assistant secretary of the Navy. For the next seven years, Roosevelt proved an effective administrator and an advocate of reform in the U.S. Navy.

Roosevelt was nominated for vice president on the 1920 Democratic party ticket. He waged

FDR's Court Packing Plan

A conservative bloc of judges emerged on the U.S Supreme Court during the 1920s. Their conservatism was marked by a restrictive view of the federal government's power to enact a certain class of regulations falling under the heading of "administrative law." Federal administrative law is an area of law comprised of orders, rules, and regulations that are promulgated by executive branch agencies that have been delegated quasi-lawmaking power by Congress. Justices pierce butler, james mcreynolds, george sutherland, and willis van devanter denied that the federal Constitution gave Congress the power to delegate its lawmaking function, arguing that Article II of the Constitution expressly limited the executive branch to a law enforcement role. By the advent of the 1930s, Butler, McReynolds, Sutherland, and Van Devanter had become known as the "Four Horseman" because they consistently voted to strike down every federal law that involved any congressional delegation of lawmaking power to the executive branch.

The Four Horsemen were usually joined by Justice owen roberts and Chief Justice charles hughes, two conservatives of a more moderate and centrist temperament. Pitted against the conservative block was the so-called "liberal wing" of the Court, comprised of Justices benjamin cardozo, louis brandeis, and harlan stone. The Court's composition presented a potential problem for Democrat presidential candidate Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), who had promised voters a "New Deal" during the 1932 election. After FDR took the oath of office, it became clear that his new deal entailed the creation of a vast federal regulatory bureaucracy designed to stimulate the U.S. economy and pull it out of the depression.

The potential problem FDR faced transformed into an immediate crisis during 1935, when the Supreme Court issued a series of decisions that struck blows at the heart of the New Deal. First, the Court struck down the Frazier-Lemke Act, a law that provided mortgage relief to farmers. Louisville Joint Stock Land Bank v. Radford, 295 U.S. 555, 55 S.Ct. 854, 79 L.Ed. 1593 (U.S. 1935). Next the Court upheld a provision of the Federal Trade Commission Act that prohibited the president from replacing a commissioner except for cause, thereby thwarting FDR's attempt to bring the agencies in line with his regulatory policies. Humphrey's Executor v. United States, 295 U.S. 602, 55 S.Ct. 869, 79 L.Ed. 1611 (U.S. 1935). Finally, the Court invalidated the National Industrial Recover Act, which authorized the president to prescribe codes of fair competition to bring about industrial recovery and rehabilitation. The Court said that Congress could not delegate such sweeping lawmaking powers to the executive branch without violating separation-of-powers principles in the federal constitution. A.L.A. Schechter Poultry Corporation v. United States, 295 U.S. 495, 55 S.Ct. 837, 79 L.Ed. 1570 (U.S 1935).

FDR postponed making an issue over the Court's decisions during the 1936 presidential campaign. But the Court continued invalidating important New Deal programs, including the Agricultural Adjustment Act and the National Bituminous Coal Act. In some of these cases Chief Justice Hughes sided with the three dissenting liberal justices, leaving Justice Roberts as the swing vote. Emboldened by his landslide victory, FDR unveiled what critics called the "Court Packing Plan."

The plan, which FDR announced on February 5, 1937, would have given the president the power to add one justice for every Supreme Court justice over age 70, up to a total of six. The older justices were not able to handle the increasing workload, FDR explained, so the additional justices would improve the Court's efficiency.

Much of the nation saw through FDR's explanation. Newspaper editors, Republicans, southern and moderate Democrats, leaders of the organized bar, and even the three liberals on the Supreme Court condemned the plan as a blatant effort to politicize the Court. Roosevelt, however, remained committed to the plan and continued pushing Congress to enact it. By April the Supreme Court appeared to have received the president's message.

In nlrb v. jones & laughlin steel corp., 301 U.S. 1, 30, 57 S.Ct. 615, 621, 81 L.Ed. 893 (1937), the Supreme Court by a 5–4 vote upheld the constitutionality of the national labor relations board, a federal regulatory agency that investigates and remedies unfair labor practices. Justice Roberts cast the deciding vote. Thereafter Roberts typically voted to uphold the constitutionality of New Deal legislation that was challenged before the Court. Journalists called Roberts' change of heart "the switch in time that saved nine." Combined with Van Devanter's retirement later that year, which allowed FDR to replace him with a justice more amenable to federal regulatory programs, Roberts' move to the left of the political spectrum doomed the Court Packing Plan, as both Congress and the American people realized that the president had achieved his goal without subverting the Court.

Throughout U.S. history presidents have sought to mold the federal courts in their own political image. On balance presidents have filled the courts with high quality judges possessing strong intellects and fair-minded temperaments. On occasion, however, presidents have also become frustrated with the federal bench, especially the Supreme Court. But never has any president attempted to do what President Roosevelt tried to accomplish through the Court Packing Plan, namely change the rules of the game by which vacancies on the Court are created and filled.

Neither death nor resignation on the Court was giving the president the opportunity to shape the Court in the fashion he desired. By proposing to expand the court to as many as 15 justices, FDR could have wielded influence over the Court's jurisprudence for the next generation or two. But he could also have compromised the independence of the federal judiciary by turning it into an overtly political branch. Article III of the U.S. Constitution gives federal courts the power to interpret and apply the laws passed by Congress and enforced by the executive branch. Federal judges are given life tenure to insulate them from political pressures. FDR tried to alter that equation with the Court Packing Plan. Although the Supreme Court eventually placed its imprimatur of approval on the New Deal, the Court Packing Plan was defeated in what history has deemed a victory for the independence of the federal judiciary.

further readings

McKenna, Marian C. 2002. Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Constitutional War: The Court-Packing Crisis of 1937. New York: Fordham Univ. Press.

a vigorous campaign in support of the presidential nominee, James M. Cox, but the Republican ticket headed by warren g. harding soundly defeated Cox and Roosevelt. After the election Roosevelt joined a Maryland bonding company and began investing in various business schemes.

Roosevelt's life changed in August 1921, when he was stricken with poliomyelitis while vacationing at Campobello Island, New Brunswick. Initially, Roosevelt was completely paralyzed, but over several years of intense therapy, he made gradual improvement. His legs, however, suffered permanent paralysis. For the rest of his life, he used a wheelchair and could walk only a few steps with the help of leg braces.

Eleanor Roosevelt believed her husband's recovery depended on his reentry into New York politics. She attended meetings, made speeches, and reported back to him on the political events of the day. By 1924 Roosevelt was at the Democratic National Convention nominating Governor Alfred E. Smith of New York for president. Smith, who lost the presidential elections in 1924 and 1928, showed Roosevelt the ways of New York state politics and pushed him to run for governor in 1928. A reluctant Roosevelt won by a narrow margin, but soon was governing as if he had won by a landslide. With the stock market crash of October 25, 1929, the United States was thrown into a national economic depression of unprecedented severity. As governor, Roosevelt set up the first state public relief agency and tried to find ways to spark an economic recovery. His landslide reelection in 1930 made him the logical candidate to face the Republican president herbert hoover in the next presidential election.

Roosevelt was nominated for president on the third ballot of the 1932 Democratic National Convention. During the campaign Roosevelt called for the federal government to take action to revive the economy and end the suffering of the thirteen million unemployed people. Hoover advocated a more limited role for the federal government in the national economy. Roosevelt easily defeated Hoover and brought with him large Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress.

Roosevelt took office on March 4, 1933, at a time when the economy appeared hopeless. In his inaugural address he reassured the nation that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." He proposed a New Deal for the people of the United States and promised to use the power of the executive branch to address the economic crisis.

During his first hundred days in office, Roosevelt sent Congress many pieces of legislation that sought to boost economic activity and restore the circulation of money through federally funded work programs. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) provided unemployment relief and an opportunity for national service to young workers, while promoting conservation through reforestation and flood control work. Federal funds were given to state relief agencies for direct relief, and the Reconstruction Finance Company was given the authority to make loans to small and large businesses.

The centerpieces of Roosevelt's New Deal legislation were the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) of 1933 (7 U.S.C.A. § 601 et seq.) and the national industrial recovery act (NIRA) of 1933 (48 Stat. 195). The AAA sought to raise farm prices by giving farmers federal subsidies if they reduced their agricultural production.

The NIRA was a comprehensive attempt to manage all phases of U.S. business. It established the national recovery administration (NRA) to administer codes of fair practice within each industry. Under these codes labor and management negotiated minimum wages, maximum hours, and fair-trade practices for each industry. The Roosevelt administration sought to use these codes to stabilize production, raise prices, and protect labor and consumers. By early 1934 there were 557 basic codes and 208 supplementary ones. In 1935, however, the Supreme Court struck down the NIRA in A.L.A. Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, 295 U.S. 495, 55 S. Ct. 837, 79 L. Ed. 1570.

In 1935 Roosevelt and the Congress passed the social security act (42 U.S.C.A. § 301 et seq.), a fundamental piece of social welfare legislation that provided unemployment compensation and pensions for those over the age of sixty-five. More groundbreaking legislation came with the passage of the wagner act, also known as the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935 (29 U.S.C.A. § 151 et seq.), which recognized for the first time the right of workers to organize unions and engage in collective bargaining with employers.

Roosevelt handily defeated Republican Alfred M. Landon, the governor of Kansas, in the 1936 presidential election. In his second term, however, Roosevelt met more resistance to his legislative initiatives. Between 1935 and 1937, the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional eight New Deal programs that attempted to regulate the national economy. Most of the conservative justices who voted against the New Deal statutes were over the age of seventy. Roosevelt responded by proposing that justices be allowed to retire at age seventy at full pay. Any justice who declined this offer would be forced to have an assistant with full voting rights. The assistant, of course, as a Roosevelt appointee, would be more likely to be sympathetic to the president's political ideals. This plan to "pack" the Court was met with hostility by Democrats and Republicans and rejected as an act of political interference. Despite the rejection of his plan, Roosevelt ultimately prevailed. In 1937 the Supreme Court upheld the Wagner Act in nlrb v. jones and laughlin steel corp., 301 U.S. 1, 57 S. Ct. 615, 81 L. Ed. 893, signaling an end to the invalidation of New Deal laws that sought to reshape the national economy. From Jones onward the Court permitted the federal government to take a dominant role in matters of commerce.

By 1937 the national economy appeared to be recovering. In the fall of 1937, however, the economy went into a recession, accompanied by a dramatic increase in unemployment. Roosevelt responded by instituting massive government spending, and by June 1938 the economy had stabilized.

During the late 1930s, Roosevelt had also become preoccupied with foreign policy. The rise of adolf hitler and Nazism in Germany, coupled with a militaristic Japanese government that had invaded Manchuria in 1933, created international tensions that Roosevelt realized might come to involve the United States. U.S. foreign policy had traditionally counseled against entanglements with other nations, and the 1930s had seen a resurgence of isolationist thought. Roosevelt, while publicly agreeing with isolationist legislators, quietly moved to enhance U.S. military strength.

"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."
—Franklin Delano Roosevelt

With the outbreak of World War II in Europe in August 1939, Roosevelt sought to aid Great Britain and France against Germany and Italy. The Neutrality Act of 1939 (22 U.S.C.A. § 441), however, prohibited the export of arms to any belligerent. With some difficulty Roosevelt secured the repeal of this provision so that military equipment could be sold to Great Britain and France.

In 1940 Roosevelt took the unprecedented step of seeking a third term. Although there was no constitutional prohibition against a third term, President george washington had established the tradition of serving only two terms. Nevertheless, Roosevelt was concerned about the approach of war and decided a third term was necessary to continue his plans. He defeated the Republican nominee, Wendell L. Willkie, pledging that he would keep the United States out of war. Roosevelt's margin of victory in the popular vote was closer than in 1936, but he still won the electoral college vote easily.

Following his reelection, Roosevelt became more public in his support of the Allies. At his urging, Congress moved further away from neutrality by passing the lend-lease act of 1941 (55 Stat. 31). Lend-Lease provided munitions, food, machinery, and services to Great Britain and other Allies without immediate cost.

The United States entered World War II following the Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. Roosevelt rallied a stunned citizenry and began the mobilization of a wartime economy. In his public speeches and "fireside chats" on the radio, Roosevelt imparted the strong determination that the United States would prevail in the conflict. He met with Winston Churchill, the prime minister of Great Britain, and joseph stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, several times during the war to discuss military strategy and to plan power-sharing in the postwar world. Roosevelt, who needed the Soviet Union's cooperation in defeating Germany, sought to minimize conflicts with Stalin over postwar boundaries in Europe.

In 1944 Roosevelt decided to run for a fourth term. Though his health had seriously declined, he wished to remain commander in chief for the remainder of the war. The republican party nominated Governor thomas e. dewey of New York for president, but again Roosevelt turned back the challenge, winning 432 electoral votes to Dewey's 99.

In February 1945 Roosevelt traveled to Yalta in the Crimea to meet with Churchill and Stalin. Germany was on the edge of defeat, but Japan's defeat did not appear imminent. Stalin accepted Roosevelt and Churchill's offer of territorial concessions in Asia in return for his promise that the Soviet Union would enter the war against Japan once Germany was defeated. At Yalta the leaders reaffirmed earlier agreements and made plans for the establishment of democratic governments in eastern Europe. The Yalta agreements were not clearly written, however, and therefore were open to differing interpretations by the Allies. Within a month after Yalta, Roosevelt sent a sharp message to Stalin concerning Soviet accusations that Great Britain and the United States were trying to rob the Soviets of their legitimate territorial interests.

Early in the war, Roosevelt decided that an effective international organization should be established after the war to replace the league of nations. At Yalta, Roosevelt pressed for the creation of the united nations as a mechanism to preserve world peace. A conference attended by fifty nations was scheduled to begin on April 25, 1945, in San Francisco, California, to draft a United Nations charter. Roosevelt had planned to attend, but his health had steadily declined since the 1944 election.

Instead, Roosevelt went to his retreat in Warm Springs, Georgia, where he had begun his rehabilitation from polio in the 1920s. He died there on April 12, 1945. Vice President harry s. truman succeeded Roosevelt. On May 7 the war in Europe ended with Germany's surrender; four months later, on September 2, Japan also surrendered, ending the war in the Pacific.

further readings

Jenkins, Roy. 2003. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. New York: Times Books.

Kline, Stephan O. 1999. "Revisting FDR's Court Packing Plan: Are the Current Attacks on Judicial Independence So Bad?" McGeorge Law Review 30 (spring).

McElvaine, Robert S. 2002. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.


"First Inaugural Address" (Appendix, Primary Document); New Deal.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

views updated May 23 2018

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945), thirty-second president of the United States, led the nation out of the Great Depression and later into World War II. Before he died, he cleared the way for peace, including establishment of the United Nations.

Franklin Roosevelt was born on Jan. 30, 1882, of his father's second marriage, to Sara Delano, the daughter of a prominent family. The Roosevelts had been moderately wealthy for many generations. Merchants and financiers, they had often been prominent in the civic affairs of New York. When Franklin was born, his father was 51 years old and semiretired from a railroad presidency, and his mother was 28. Franklin was often in the care of governesses and tutors, until at the age of 14 he went to Groton School. Here he received a solid classical, historical, and mathematical training and was moderately good at his studies. His earnest attempts at athletics were mostly defeated because of his tall, ungainly frame.

Roosevelt wanted to go to Annapolis, but his parents insisted on preparation for the position natural for the scion of the Delano and Roosevelt families, so he entered Harvard University. He was a reasonably good student and found a substitute for athletics in reporting for the Harvard newspaper, of which he finally became editor. While seeming to be a Cambridge socialite, he spent an extra year studying public affairs. He also met and determined to marry his cousin, Eleanor, to his mother's annoyance. Eleanor was the daughter of Elliott Roosevelt, a weak member of the family who had died early. Raised by relatives, she received a lady's education but little affection. She was shy and retiring, but Franklin found her warm, vibrant, and responsive.

Despite his mother's opposition, they were married in 1905, and Franklin entered Columbia University Law School. He prepared for the bar examinations and without taking a degree became a lawyer and entered a clerkship in the Wall Street firm of Carter, Ledyard and Milburn. He took his duties lightly, however, and it was later recalled that he had remarked to fellow clerks that he meant somehow to enter politics and finally to become president. There was never any doubt of his ambition.

Roosevelt's chance came in 1910. He accepted the Democratic nomination for the New York Senate and was elected. Opportunity for further notice came quickly. Although his backing had come from Democrats affiliated with New York City's notorious Tammany Hall, he joined a group of upstate legislators who were setting out to oppose the election of Tammany's choice for U.S. senator. The rebels were successful in forcing acceptance of another candidate.

Much of Roosevelt's wide publicity from this struggle was managed by Albany reporter Louis McHenry Howe, who had taken to the young politician and set out to further his career. (This dedication lasted until Roosevelt was safely in the White House.) The Tammany fight made Roosevelt famous in New York, but it also won him the enmity of Tammany. Still, he was reelected in 1912. That year Woodrow Wilson was elected president; Roosevelt had been a campaign worker, and his efforts had been noticed by prominent party elder Josephus Daniels. When Daniels became secretary of the Navy in Wilson's Cabinet, he persuaded Wilson to offer Roosevelt the assistant secretaryship.

Assistant Secretary of the Navy

As assistant secretary, Roosevelt began an experience that substituted for the naval career he had hoped for as a boy. Before long he became restless, however, and tried to capture the Democratic nomination for U.S. senator from New York. Wilson and Daniels were displeased. Daniels forgave him, but Wilson never afterward really trusted the brash young man. This distrust was heightened later by Roosevelt's departure from the administration's policy of neutrality in the years preceding World War I. Roosevelt openly favored intervention, agitated for naval expansion, and was known to be rather scornful of Daniels, who kept the Navy under close political discipline.

America soon entered the war, however, and Roosevelt could work for a cause he believed in. At that time there was only one assistant secretary, and he had extensive responsibilities. Howe had come to Washington with him and had become his indispensable guardian and helper. Together their management of the department was creditable.

Though Roosevelt tried several times to leave his civilian post to join the fighting forces, he was persuaded to remain. When the war came to an end and Wilson was stricken during his fight for ratification of the Versailles Treaty, there was an obvious revulsion throughout the United States from the disappointing settlements of the war. It seemed to many that the effort to make the world safe for democracy had resulted in making the world safe for the old empires.

The Allied leaders had given in to Wilson's insistence on the creation of the League of Nations only to serve their real interest in extending their territories and in imposing reparations on Germany. These reparations were so large that they could never be paid; consequently the enormous debts the Allies owed to the United States would never be paid either. The American armies had saved Europe and the Europeans were ungrateful. Resentment and disillusion were widespread.

The Republican party had the advantage of not having been responsible for these foreign entanglements. In 1920 they nominated Warren G. Harding, a conservative senator, as their presidential candidate. The Democrats nominated Governor James Cox of Ohio, who had had no visible part in the Wilson administration; the vice-presidential candidate was Roosevelt.

It was a despairing campaign; but in one respect it was a beginning rather than an ending for Roosevelt. He made a much more noticeable campaign effort than the presidential candidate. He covered the nation by special trains, speaking many times a day, often from back platforms, and getting acquainted with local leaders everywhere. He had learned the professional politician's breeziness, was able to absorb useful information, and had an infallible memory for names and faces. The defeat was decisive; but Roosevelt emerged as the most representative Democrat.

Victim of Poliomyelitis

Roosevelt retreated to a law connection in New York's financial district again and a position with a fidelity and deposit company. But in the summer of 1921, vacationing in Canada, he became mysteriously ill. His disease, polio-myelitis, was not immediately diagnosed. He was almost totally paralyzed, however, and had to be moved to New York for treatment. This was managed with such secrecy that for a long time the seriousness of his condition was not publicized. In fact, he would never recover the use of his legs, a disability that seemed to end his political career. His mother, typically, demanded that he return to Hyde Park and give up the political activities she had always deplored. He could now become a country gentleman. But Eleanor, joined by Howe, set out to renew his ambition.

Roosevelt's struggle during the convalescence of the next few years was agonizing and continually disappointing. Not much was known then about rehabilitation, and he resorted to exhausting courses of calisthenics to reactivate his atrophied muscles. In 1923 he tried the warm mineral waters of Warm Springs, Ga., where exercise was easier. He was so optimistic that he wrote friends that he had begun to feel movement in his toes. It was, of course, an illusion.

Roosevelt invested a good part of his remaining fortune in the place. It soon became a resort for those with similar ailments. The facilities were overwhelmed, but gradually an institution was built up, and the medical staff began to have more realistic knowledge of aftereffects. There were no cures; but lives could be made much more tolerable. Meanwhile Roosevelt, realizing that cures were impossible, turned to the encouragement of prevention. (Ultimately, an effective vaccine was found.)

New York Governor

While at Warm Springs in 1928, Roosevelt was called to political duty again, this time by Al Smith, whom he had put in nomination at the Democratic conventions of 1924 and 1928. Almost at once, however, it became clear that Smith could not win the election. He felt, however, that Roosevelt, as candidate for governor, would help to win New York. Roosevelt resisted. He was now a likely presidential candidate in a later, more favorable year for the Democrats; and if he lost the race for the governorship, he would be finished. But the New Yorkers insisted, and he ran and was narrowly elected.

Roosevelt began the 4 years of his New York governorship that were preliminary to his presidency, and since he was reelected 2 years later, it was inevitable that he should be the candidate in 1932. Since 1929 the nation had been sunk in the worst depression of its history, and Herbert Hoover's Republican administration had failed to find a way to recovery. This made it a favorable year for the Democrats.

First Term as President

It would be more true to say that Hoover in 1932 lost than that Roosevelt won. At any rate, Roosevelt came to the presidency with a dangerous economic crisis at its height. Industry was paralyzed, and unemployment afflicted some 30 percent of the work force. Roosevelt had promised that something would be done, but what that would be he had not specified.

Roosevelt began providing relief on a large scale by giving work to the unemployed and by approving a device for bringing increased income to farmers, who were in even worse straits than city workers. Also, he devalued the currency and enabled debtors to discharge debts that had long been frozen. Closed banks all over the country were assisted to reopen, and gradually the crisis was overcome.

In 1934 Roosevelt proposed a comprehensive social security system that, he hoped, would make another such depression impossible. Citizens would never be without at least minimum incomes again. Incidentally, these citizens became devoted supporters of the President who had given them this hope. So in spite of the conservatives who opposed the measures he collectively called the New Deal, he became so popular that he won reelection in 1936 by an unprecedented majority.

Second and Third Terms

Roosevelt's second term began with a struggle between himself and the Supreme Court. The justices had held certain of his New Deal devices to be unconstitutional. In retaliation he proposed to add new justices who would be more amenable. Many even in his own party opposed him in this attempt to pack the Court, and Congress defeated it. After this there ensued the familiar stalemate between an innovative president and a reluctant Congress.

Nevertheless in 1940 Roosevelt determined to break with tradition and run for a third term. His reasons were partly that his reforms were far from finished, but more importantly that he was now certain of Adolf Hitler's intention to subdue Europe and go on to further conquests. The immense productivity and organizational ability of the Germans would be at his disposal. Europe would be defeated unless the United States came to its support.

The presidential campaign of 1940 was the climax of Roosevelt's plea that Americans set themselves against the Nazi threat. He had sought to prepare the way in numerous speeches but had had a most disappointing response. There was a vivid recollection of the disillusion after World War I, and a good many Americans were inclined to support the Germans rather than the Allied Powers. So strong was American reluctance to be involved in another world war that in the last speeches of this campaign Roosevelt practically promised that young Americans would never be sent abroad to fight. Luckily his opponent, Republican Wendell Willkie, also favored support for the Allies. The campaign, won by a narrow majority, gave Roosevelt no mandate for intervention.

Roosevelt was not far into his third term, however, when the decision to enter the war was made for him by the Japanese, whose attack on Pearl Harbor caused serious losses to American forces there. Almost at once the White House became headquarters for those who controlled the strategy of what was now World War II. Winston Churchill came immediately and practically took up residence, bringing a British staff. Together the leaders agreed that Germany and Italy must have first attention. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commander in the Pacific, was ordered to retreat from the Philippines to Australia, something he was bitterly reluctant to do. But Roosevelt firmly believed that the first problem was to help the British, and then, when Hitler turned East, to somehow get arms to the Soviets. The Japanese could be taken care of when Europe was safe.

Hitler's grand strategy was to subdue the Soviet Union, conquer North Africa, and link up with the Japanese, who were advancing rapidly across the Eastern countries. Roosevelt wanted an early crossing of the English Channel to retake France and to force Hitler to fight on two fronts. Churchill, mindful of the fearful British losses in World War I, instead wanted to attack the underbelly of Europe, cut Hitler's lines to the East, and shut him off from Africa. The invasion of Europe was postponed because it became clear that elaborate preparation was necessary. But Allied troops were sent into Africa, with Gen. Dwight Eisenhower in command, to attack Field Marshal Erwin Rommel from the rear. Eventually an Allied crossing to Sicily and a slow, costly march up the Italian peninsula, correlated with the attack across the English Channel, forced the Italian collapse and the German surrender.

Meanwhile MacArthur was belatedly given the support he needed for a brilliant island-hopping campaign that drove the Japanese back, destroyed their fleet, and endangered their home island. After the German surrender, the Pacific war was brought to an end by the American atomic bomb explosion over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. By this time Roosevelt was dead. He had not participated in that doubtful decision; but he had been, with Churchill, in active command during the war until then.

Roosevelt had gone to Warm Springs early in 1945, completely exhausted. He had recently returned from a conference of Allied leaders at Yalta, where he had forced acceptance of his scheme for a United Nations and made arrangements for the Soviet Union to assist in the final subjugation of Japan. The strain was visible as he made his report to the nation.

At Warm Springs he prepared the address to be used at San Francisco, where the meeting to ratify agreements concerning the United Nations was to be held; but he found himself unable to enjoy the pine woods and the gushing waters. He sat wan and frail in his small cottage, getting through only such work as had to be done. He finished signing papers on the morning of April 12, 1945. Within hours, he suffered the massive cerebral hemorrhage that killed him.

A special train carried Roosevelt's body to Washington, and there he lay in the White House until he was taken to Hyde Park and buried in the hedged garden he himself had prepared. His grave is marked by a plain marble slab, and his wife is buried beside him. He had given the estate to the nation, and it is now a shrine much visited by those who recall or have heard how great a man he was for his time.

Further Reading

Samuel I. Rosenman, ed., The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt (1938-1950), includes selected messages to Congress, speeches, executive orders, and transcripts from press conferences. There is also a collection of Roosevelt's letters edited by Elliott Roosevelt, F. D. R.: His Personal Letters (4 vols., 1947-1950). Eleanor Roosevelt, This I Remember (1949), is a frank account by Roosevelt's wife. Frances Perkins, The Roosevelt I Knew (1946), and Samuel I. Rosenman, Working with Roosevelt (1952), personal accounts, are helpful in assessing Roosevelt's character and work methods.

The only full biography of Roosevelt is Rexford G. Tugwell, The Democratic Roosevelt (1957). Frank B. Freidel's biography, Franklin D. Roosevelt (3 vols., 1952-1956), was never completed. Rexford G. Tugwell's briefer F. D. R.: Architect of an Era (1967) studies the man and his work, and his The Brains Trust (1968) tells the part played in Roosevelt's presidency by a group of helpers, mostly from Columbia University. The presidential elections involving Roosevelt are covered in Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., ed., History of American Presidential Elections (4 vols., 1971). James MacGregor Burns, Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox (1956), ranks Roosevelt among the great presidents. Basil Rauch, Roosevelt: From Munich to Pearl Harbor, a Study in the Creation of a Foreign Policy (1950), is a detailed, accurate history of events during this period. Written by an Albany newspaper correspondent when Roosevelt was governor, Ernest K. Lindley, The Roosevelt Revolution: First Phase (1933), helped establish Roosevelt as a progressive leader. An authoritative and readable history of Roosevelt's era is provided in the two volumes by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The New Deal in Action, 1933-1939 (1940) and The Crisis of the Old Order (1957). Another account of the period is Basil Rauch, The History of the New Deal, 1933-1938 (1944). □

Roosevelt, Franklin D.

views updated Jun 08 2018

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt was the thirty-second president of the United States. Inaugurated for his first term in 1933, President Roosevelt would be elected for a record total of four terms, though he died shortly after his fourth inauguration in 1945. His skilled leadership during two of the most challenging eras of U.S. history, the Great Depression (1929–41) and World War II (1939–45), would give him a reputation as one of the greatest U.S. presidents.

Early life

Born on January 30, 1882, to a wealthy family in Hyde Park, New York , Franklin Delano Roosevelt enjoyed the benefits of an excellent education.

First trained by personal tutors and governesses and then at the Groton School in Groton, Connecticut , Roosevelt eventually attended Harvard. His studies focused on political science, history, and English. He also devoted himself to working for the student newspaper, The Crimson, where he became managing editor. Roosevelt next enrolled in law school at Columbia University, though he passed the New York bar after only two years of study and left Columbia to work at a reputable law firm.

During his time at Harvard, Roosevelt met his distant cousin, Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962), and married her in 1905. They had six children from 1906 to 1916, five of whom lived to adulthood. Eleanor Roosevelt's own political abilities and social causes would serve to strengthen her husband's ambitions for political office as well as make her, in her own right, a remarkable figure of the time.

Political career

Roosevelt began his political career in 1910 when he was elected as a Democrat to the New York state senate. Though he was a freshman, he was immediately active in the affairs of his political party, and he worked hard in 1912 on behalf of Woodrow Wilson 's (1856–1924; served 1913–21) bid for president. When Wilson won, Roosevelt was rewarded with a position as the assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy . Roosevelt was very dedicated to the position, though his opinions frequently ran counter to those of the Wilson administration, and he often angered his superiors.

Roosevelt remained assistant secretary of the navy through World War I (1914–18), but he left in 1920 when he resigned to run as the Democratic Party 's candidate for vice president. The Republican Party 's ticket of Warren G. Harding (1865–1923; served 1921–23) and Calvin Coolidge (1872–1933) won. But Roosevelt used the campaign as an opportunity to establish political connections across the country, emerging as a leading member of the Democratic Party.

Roosevelt returned to New York City to practice law after the elections. In August 1921, while on vacation, he became gravely ill and was eventually diagnosed with an attack of poliomyelitis, or polio. The disease left him paralyzed from the waist down, though eventually he managed to overcome his disability enough to walk at times with leg braces and a cane or crutches. For a time, it seemed that his political career had come to a sudden halt, but by 1928 his perseverance and determination had resulted in such a recovery that the leader of the Democratic Party invited him to run for governor of New York. The race was close, but Roosevelt won.

In 1928, Roosevelt began the first of his two terms as governor of New York. A year into the term, the country experienced the stock market crash that would mark the beginning of the Great Depression. As governor, Roosevelt worked to improve both rural and urban life and to reduce the effects of the Depression through reforms such as unemployment relief, improved conditions for workers, and pensions for the elderly. New York would be the first state to provide such assistance to those in need, and Roosevelt's successful work as governor foreshadowed the great change he would bring as president.


By 1932, President Herbert Hoover 's (1874–1964; served 1929–33) administration had failed to bring the country relief from the Great Depression. Franklin D. Roosevelt was named the Democratic candidate for president and soundly won the election. With the economic crisis at its height, Roosevelt immediately dedicated himself to the task of creating a flood of legislation aimed at relief, reform, and recovery. Roosevelt's advisors, known as the “brain trust,” worked to establish the overall domestic policy that would become known as the New Deal .

Relief measures included programs designed to assist farmers and unemployed workers who faced impossible financial challenges. Recovery measures were designed to normalize economic activity and to restore faith in the banking system. Measures aimed at reform would work to protect consumers by regulating businesses and providing assistance to the elderly and unemployed. Many of these programs were introduced during the first few months of Roosevelt's term, referred to as the Hundred Days. As the government accepted a much greater responsibility for the general welfare of its citizens and the regulation of the economy, Roosevelt restored a measure of confidence to the country.

Many of the programs that were introduced during Roosevelt's presidency lasted into the twenty-first century. Examples include the Social Security Act (providing retirement payments for workers and benefits for widows, orphans, and the needy), the National Labor Relations Act (establishing the right to choose and join unions without fear of discrimination), the U.S. Housing Act (providing federal housing projects), and the Glass-Steagall Act (establishing federally guaranteed insurance on bank deposits).

Not all of the measures enacted during the Hundred Days were popular. Many Americans, especially businesspeople, thought the New Deal's social programs resembled communism (a system of government in which the state plans and controls the economy, and goods are equally shared among the citizens). Opponents filed lawsuits to challenge the programs as unconstitutional, or in violation of the U.S. Constitution . Many of these cases made it to the U.S. Supreme Court , where the Court overturned some of the legislation. Roosevelt's frustrations over these decisions ultimately led to one of the most unpopular actions of his presidency.

Court packing plan

Because of the reforms that the New Deal introduced, Roosevelt won the 1936 election by carrying forty-eight states. Encouraged by his overwhelming victory and angered by the actions of the Supreme Court, Roosevelt instructed Attorney General Homer S. Cummings (1870–1956) to find a way to neutralize the power of the Court. What Cummings found was a forgotten proposal made in 1913 by the attorney general at the time. The proposal would have empowered the president to appoint a new judge for every federal judge that had not yet retired by the age of seventy.

The 1913 plan had not been crafted to apply to the Supreme Court. President Roosevelt, however, embraced the plan and saw no reason not to apply the idea there. With six of the nine justices (including four conservatives) on the Supreme Court over seventy, the plan would allow the president to appoint a favorable majority to the Court if the plan became law.

Presented as the Judicial Reform Act of 1937, the plan caused an instant uproar among both Republicans and Democrats, the country's two main political parties. Congress failed to support Roosevelt's proposal, which it referred to as a “court packing plan.” Just the idea of the plan, however, pressured the Supreme Court to begin to reverse some of the rulings Roosevelt had disliked. In addition, the natural retirement of older members of the Court allowed Roosevelt to appoint justices friendly to his programs, giving them greater success before the Court.

Failure of the Judicial Reform Act to pass Congress, however, had important implications for the Roosevelt administration. It marked the beginning of a period in which Congress was reluctant to enact more of Roosevelt's creative programs. Conservatives of both parties became increasingly uneasy as the proposed programs became more intrusive and imposed greater regulations on businesses. As a result of the congressional stalemate and the evolution of world events, attention was diverted from the Depression to foreign policy.

World War II

By the mid-1930s, relationships among several nations in Europe and Asia were rapidly deteriorating. The Japanese, who had attacked China in 1932, renewed aggressions in 1937. In 1938, Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) of Germany began his aggressive takeovers by occupying the Rhineland (a demilitarized zone west of the Rhine River in Germany that had been established following World War I), annexing Austria, and seizing Czechoslovakia.

Roosevelt was very aware of the dangers that Hitler posed to the world. Popular opinion in the United States, however, was isolationist in nature. Still remembering the disasters of World War I, Americans preferred a policy of total noninvolvement and neutrality in European affairs.

The result of American opinion was the passage of several laws designed to avoid U.S. involvement in any wars. The Johnson Debt Default Act (1934) prohibited loans to any country that had not yet repaid debts to the United States from World War I. Since only Finland had paid its debts, this effectively eliminated the question of which nations the United States would support.

The Neutrality Act was passed in 1935 when Italy invaded Ethiopia. Originally this law only prohibited arms shipments to warring nations and travel by U.S. citizens on belligerent vessels. In 1936, Congress extended the law, adding a provision forbidding loans or credit to nations at war. As tensions increased and World War II began in September 1939, Roosevelt was helpless to act on any nation's behalf.

Eventually Roosevelt convinced Congress to make some changes in policy. The Neutrality Act of 1939 authorized the sale of arms to those nations that could pay cash and were able to transport the goods by their own means. By 1940, after Germany invaded France, Congress increased taxes and the national debt limit to enable greater defense spending.

Roosevelt finally managed to convince Congress to pass the Lend-Lease Act , which enabled the United States to “loan” resources (specifically arms) to another country with the expectation that these resources would be “returned” at a later date. Though originally intended to assist Britain under siege, the aid would soon extend to thirty-eight nations. Through this indirect means, the United States avoided entering the war but still made an important contribution to the Allies (the nations united against Germany and its supporters, known as the Axis ).

Roosevelt was elected again in 1940, though by a much narrower margin than ever before. Citizens were indicating to Roosevelt their desire not to intervene in the war in spite of events in Europe. Nine months after Roosevelt's third term began, however, the Japanese attacked the American port in Pearl Harbor , Hawaii, on December 7, 1941.

Americans were immediately drawn into the war. Roosevelt, along with British prime minister Winston Churchill (1874–1965) and Soviet Union dictator Joseph Stalin (1879–1953), worked tirelessly to end the aggressions of the Axis nations (Germany, Italy, and Japan). Through many meetings, these Allied leaders made strategies for the war as well as plans for the post-war world. Among the most important developments included formation of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations, organizations for handling international relations.


In April 1945, after the beginning of Roosevelt's fourth term and after the Yalta conference in which Roosevelt finalized plans for his dream of the United Nations, Roosevelt traveled to his vacation home in Warm Springs, Georgia . There he suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage, and he died. A funeral service was held in the White House on April 14 and Franklin Delano Roosevelt was buried in his beloved rose garden at the family estate in Hyde Park, New York.

Harry S. Truman (1884–1972; served 1945–53) inherited the presidency, from which he would carry the nation the rest of the way to victory in the Pacific at the conclusion of World War II and work to establish the formation of the United Nations, completing a dream that Roosevelt had not lived to see come true.

Roosevelt, Franklin D.

views updated May 14 2018

Franklin D. Roosevelt

"A Date Which Will Live in Infamy"

War message delivered to U.S. Congress December 8, 1941

In the years leading up to World War II (1939-45), the government of Japan was run by its military leaders. These men sought to expand Japan's power on the eastern Asian mainland, forming an enormous empire in Asia.

Japanese forces had been fighting in China since July 1937 and by 1940 had taken over much of Southeast Asia. Japan's next targets were the island groups in the southwest Pacific ocean. Alarmed by the Japanese government's quest to dominate Asia, the United States took steps to restrict—but not totally ban—trade with Japan and demanded the nation withdraw its troops from China and French Indochina (now Vietnam). Although the U.S.-imposed trade restrictions interfered with their manufacture of war materials, the Japanese did not buckle under the economic pressure. Japan's military steadfastly refused to remove troops from occupied areas. As a result, U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt took more definitive action in the summer of 1941, cutting off all U.S. trade with Japan—including oil, which was vital to fuel the Japanese war effort. Shortly thereafter, the governments of Great Britain and the Netherlands did the same.

The United States had been on the brink of war with the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) for months, but the events that occurred on the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941, propelled the nation into the very heart of the growing global conflict. During the early morning hours of that Sunday, the Japanese Fleet launched a surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. (Pearl Harbor is located on the southern coast of the Hawaiian island of Oahu [pronounced oh-AH-hoo]. The torpedo planes and bombers that attacked the harbor were launched from Japanese aircraft carriers stationed about 200 miles north of Oahu.)

The raid on Pearl Harbor lasted less than two hours. In that time eighteen American warships were hit. The USS Arizona was destroyed in a fiery explosion. The Nevada and West Virginia were sunk. Approximately 200 planes—most of them on the ground—were destroyed and another 150 were damaged. The Pearl Harbor attack left nearly 2,500 Americans dead and 1,200 wounded. In a radio address to the nation on December 9, 1941, President Roosevelt declared: "We are now in this war. We are all in it—all the way."

Things to remember while reading"A Day Which Will Live in Infamy":

  • Japan had signed the Tripartite Pact on September 27, 1940, thus pledging support to the governments of Germany and Italy. Together, the three nations became known as the Axis Powers.
  • Throughout the autumn of 1941 the United States expected Japan to attack somewhere in the Pacific. Many U.S. officials suspected the Philippine Islands—not Pearl Harbor—to be the prime target for an enemy assault.
  • In 1941, although the United States had not declared war against Germany, a significant portion of the American naval fleet was already engaged in battles with German U-boats in the Atlantic while protecting U.S. and British merchant ships. (See Herbert Werner entry in chapter one for more information about the Battle of the Atlantic.)
  • The attack on Pearl Harbor was the idea of Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander in chief of Japan's navy.
  • By sidelining the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor (putting it out of action by launching a surprise attack), Admiral Yamamoto thought he would clear the way for a Japanese conquest of islands in the western and southern Pacific.
  • Japanese attacks on the Philippines, Guam, and Wake Island followed shortly after the raid on Pearl Harbor.

"A Day Which Will Live in Infamy"

War message delivered to the U.S. Congress, December 8, 1941

Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live ininfamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation and, at thesolicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons hadcommenced bombing inOahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to the Secretary of State [Cordell Hull] a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existingdiplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During theintervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. Very many American lives have been lost. In addition American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.

Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island.

This morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surpriseoffensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand theimplications to the very life and safety of our nation.

As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.

Always will we rememberthe character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome thispremeditated invasion, the American people in theirrighteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make very certain that this form oftreachery shall never endanger us again.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces—with theunbounding determination of our people—we will gain theinevitable triumph—so help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since theunprovoked anddastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire. (Roosevelt, pp. 302-3)

What happened next…

On December 11, 1941, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. While America was scrambling to recover from the raid on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese staged a series of invasions in the Pacific. U.S. military bases on Guam (a U.S. territory in the western Pacific) and Wake Island (located northeast of Guam) were attacked the same day as Pearl Harbor. Japanese forces captured Guam on December 10 and Wake Island on December 23, 1941. On December 25, following a week of steady bombing, Hong Kong fell to Japan. Manila, the capital city of the Philippine Islands, surrendered to the Japanese eight days later, and the southeast Asian island of Singapore, located at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, followed suit in February of 1942.

The American fight against Japanese forces in the Philippines reached a fever pitch in March of 1942. U.S. troops surrendered to Japan at Bataan (a key island in the northern part of the Philippines) on April 9, 1942, and a nightmarish "Death March" of American and Filipino prisoners of war (POWs) ensued. The captured soldiers were forced to hike 65 miles across the rocky, dusty terrain to their prison camp. By the time it was over, seven thousand of the seventy thousand POWs on the march had died.

But the naval battle at Midway, which took place during the first week in June 1942, marked a turning point in the war in the Pacific. Midway Island is located in the northern Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and Japan. On June 3, 1942, one hundred Japanese warships staged what was supposed to be a surprise attack. Two factors gave American forces the upper hand in the Battle of Midway: (1) Japanese military codes had been deciphered, or broken, by the United States, revealing Japan's battle plan, and (2) American aircraft carriers had not been at Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack. Five were at sea and one was in a California harbor.

Consequently, U.S. aircraft carriers (called "flattops") and bombers were well prepared for the Japanese assault on Midway. After losing four of their own carriers in the battle against American forces, the Japanese retreated. The American victory at Midway was considered revenge for the attack on Pearl Harbor. From that point on, a Japanese invasion of the continental United States was no longer a threat.

In the first half of 1942 the Japanese also captured the Solomon Islands, located north of Australia, and used them as bases to launch further attacks in the Pacific. U.S. Marines landed on Guadalcanal, one of the Solomon Islands, on August 7, 1942. For six months Americans fought on the ground, in the air, and in the shark-infested waters to win control of the Japanese-held island. By January 1943 the Japanese had lost Guadalcanal.

Did you know…

  • When Japan invaded China in 1937—before World War II had even started—a Japanese plane attacked and sank the USS Panay in the Yangtze River. The United States did not launch a counterattack. Later, the Japanese government apologized and promised to end its bombing raids over China. When the air bombings continued, the U.S. government cut exports to Japan.
  • Radio communications between Washington D.C. and Pearl Harbor were hampered by the bad weather on the morning of December 7, 1941.
  • A "Declaration by the United Nations," issued on January 1, 1942, pledged the full cooperation and assistance of twenty-six member nations in the fight against the Axis Powers.
  • When the USS Arizona exploded at Pearl Harbor, 1,177 Americans were killed. In 1962 a memorial bridge and shrine were constructed over the remains of sunken battleship.
  • Admiral Yamamoto, the man behind the attack on Pearl Harbor, was killed on April 18, 1943, when U.S. fighter pilots shot down his plane over the South Pacific.

For More Information


Prange, Gordon W. At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor. New York: Viking Penguin, 1982.

Shapiro, William E. Pearl Harbor. New York: F. Watts, 1984.


Pearl Harbor: 50 Years Later. Turner Entertainment, 1991.

Pearl Harbor: Two Hours That Changed the World. MPI Home Video, 1991.

Web Sites

Pearl Harbor Remembered. [Online] (accessed on September 6, 1999).

The History Place. December 7, 1941-Japanese Bomb Pearl Harbor [Online] (accessed on September 6, 1999).


Allen, Peter. The Origins of World War II. New York: Bookwright Press, 1992.

Dunnahoo, Terry. Pearl Harbor: America Enters the War. New York: F. Watts,1991.

Harris, Mark Jonathan, Franklin Mitchell, and Steven Schechter, eds. The

Homefront: America during World War II. Introduction by Studs Terkel. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1984.

Newsweek, March 8, 1999, pp. 42-4, 49.

New York Times, December 8, 1941, pp. 1, 8.

Roosevelt, Franklin Delano. Nothing to Fear: The Selected Addresses of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1932-1945. Edited by B. D. Zevin. New York: Houghton, 1946.

Ross, Stewart. World Leaders. New York: Thomson Learning, 1993.

Zich, Arthur, and the editors of Time-Life Books. The Rising Sun. "Time-Life Books World War II Series." Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1977.

The Attack on Pearl Harbor: A Sequence of Events

  1. The Japanese Fleet set out from a harbor in the North Pacific at 6:00 A.M.on November 26, 1941 (in Japan).
  2. Twelve days later (having crossed the international date line in the Pacific, adding one day) the aircraft carriers reached their launching point, a little more than 200 miles north of Oahu.
  3. Government officials in Washington, D.C., sent a war-alert message to Hawaii on December 6. The United States was bracing for war with Japan, but an attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor was hardly considered.
  4. Two representatives of the Japanese government were in Washington, D.C., carrying on talks with U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull (1871-1955) on Sunday, December 7, 1941. Peace talks were still going on after the attack on Pearl Harbor had begun.
  5. Japanese bombers began their infamous December 7 run on Pearl Harbor at 7:50 A.M. Hawaii time. Prior to the raid, Japan had not declared war on the United States.
  6. The attack, which lasted 110 minutes, paralyzed the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
  7. President Roosevelt delivered a message to Congress on the morning of December 8.
  8. Two and a half hours after completing his message, Roosevelt signed a formal declaration of war against Japan.

Hideki Tojo

General Hideki Tojo (1884-1948) was the dominant figure in the Japanese government during World War II. Always aggressive and militant, he earned the nickname "Kamisori," meaning "The Razor," for his keen mind. As chief of staff of the Japanese army (1937), minister of war (beginning 1940), and prime minister of Japan (from October 1941 through July 1944), Tojo pushed hard for the expansion of Japanese influence throughout Asia. He authorized the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor in 1941. Four years later, following Japan's surrender to Allied forces (the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union) at war's end, Tojo attempted to commit suicide. He was arrested later in 1945, tried by the Allies as a war criminal, and hanged in Tokyo on December 23, 1948.

Roosevelt, Franklin D.

views updated Jun 11 2018

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Born: January 20, 1882
Hyde Park, New York
Died: April 12, 1945
Warm Springs, Georgia

American president, governor, and politician

Franklin D. Roosevelt, thirty-second president of the United States, led the nation out of the period of economic crisis known as the Great Depression (192939) and later into World War II (193945). Before he died, he cleared the way for peace, including the establishment of the United Nations.

Youth and marriage

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882, into a well-known family. The Roosevelts had been fairly wealthy for many generations. The family had often been important in the civic affairs of New York. When Franklin was born, his father was fifty-one years old and his mother was twenty-eight. As his parents' only child, he did not have to compete with other siblings for their attention. Tutors and governesses (female, live-in teachers) educated him at home until he was fourteen. At this time he attended Groton School, which educated boys of the upper class. The young Roosevelt was thus surrounded by privilege and by a sense of social importance from an early age. His family traveled in elite (high-society) circles, and he even visited the White House to meet President Grover Cleveland (18371908) when he was five years old.

As a young man, Roosevelt attended Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While living in Cambridge, he met and decided to marry his cousin, Eleanor Roosevelt (18841962). The couple married in 1905. At that same time Franklin entered the Columbia University Law School. He became a lawyer and took a job as a clerk in a New York firm. However, he took his duties there lightly. It was later recalled that he had told other clerks that he intended to enter politics and eventually become president.

Entering politics

Roosevelt's opportunity came in 1910. He accepted the Democratic nomination for the New York Senate and was elected. He was reelected in 1912, and that same year Woodrow Wilson (18561924) was elected president of the United States. Roosevelt had worked to support Wilson's run for office, and his efforts were noticed by the important Democrat Josephus Daniels (18621948). When Daniels became secretary of the Navy under Wilson, he persuaded Wilson to offer Roosevelt the assistant secretaryship.

Roosevelt soon became restless in his new position, and he decided to run for the Democratic nomination for U.S. senator of New York. Wilson and Daniels were not pleased, and afterward President Wilson never really trusted Roosevelt. This distrust increased when Roosevelt disagreed with the Wilson administration's policy in the years preceding World War I (191418), the conflict that pitted Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, and other countries against the forces of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and others. Wilson wanted to remain neutralhe wanted to keep the United States from taking sides in the war. Roosevelt openly favored greater engagement in the war. When America finally did enter the war in 1917, Roosevelt worked for a cause he believed in.

After the war came to an end, President Wilson suffered a devastating stroke while fighting to gain American support for the Versailles Treaty, the peace document which set the terms for the war's end. Throughout the United States there was obvious disappointment with the treaty's final terms. Many Americans felt that they would do little to ensure future peace and democracy in the world. Anger and disappointment were widespread.

National politician

The Republican Party had the advantage of not having been responsible for America's role in World War I. In 1920 the Republicans nominated U.S. senator Warren G. Harding (18651923) of Ohio as their candidate for president. The Democrats nominated Ohio governor James Cox (18701957). His vice presidential candidate was Roosevelt.

It was a doomed run for office, but in one respect it was a beginning rather than an ending for Roosevelt. He had covered the nation by special trains, speaking many times a day and meeting local leaders everywhere. Roosevelt and Cox were easily defeated, but Roosevelt emerged as the leading figure in the Democratic party.

Victim of poliomyelitis

After his run for vice president, Roosevelt returned to work in New York City's financial district. But in the summer of 1921 he became mysteriously ill. His disease, which was not immediately diagnosed, was poliomyelitis. Often called simply polio, this infectious disease is caused by a virus and can lead to paralysis. Roosevelt became almost totally paralyzed as a result of this illness. He would never be able to use his legs again, which might have ended his political career. However, Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt's friend Louis McHenry Howe (18711936) set out to renew Roosevelt's ambition.

Roosevelt's struggle during the next few years was very difficult and disappointing. He did exhausting exercises to reactivate his paralyzed muscles. In 1923 he tried the warm mineral waters of Warm Springs, Georgia. Roosevelt invested a good part of his remaining fortune in Warm Springs, and it soon became a resort for those with similar ailments.

New York governor

While at Warm Springs in 1928, Roosevelt was called to political duty again. Al Smith (18731944), the four-time governor of New York, was now running as a Democratic candidate for president. Although it became clear that Smith could not win the national election, Smith felt that Roosevelt, as a candidate for governor, would help to carry New York. Roosevelt resisted, feeling that if he lost the race for the governorship he might lose his own chance to become president. Nevertheless, he ran and was barely elected.

Roosevelt now began the four years of his New York governorship that led to his presidency. By 1930, it was clear that he should be the Democratic candidate for president in 1932. Since 1929 the nation had been struggling in the Great Depression, the worst economic depression of its kind in history, and the Republican administration of then-president Herbert Hoover (18741964) had failed to find a way to help the country recover.

First presidential term

Roosevelt was elected president in 1932. He came to office with a dangerous economic crisis at its height. Some 30 percent of the work force was unemployed. Roosevelt began providing relief on a large scale by giving work to the unemployed and by approving a device for bringing increased income to farmers. He adjusted the U.S. currency (the American money system) so that those in debt could pay what they owed. Banks that were closed all over the country were helped to reopen, and gradually the crisis was overcome.

In 1934 Roosevelt proposed a national social security system that, he hoped, would prevent another such depression. Citizens would never be without at least minimum incomes again, because the new social security system (still in use today) used money paid by employees and employers to provide support to those who were unemployed, retired, and disabled. Many citizens became devoted supporters of the president who had helped them. Roosevelt became so popular that he won reelection in 1936 by an overwhelming majority.

Second and third terms

Roosevelt's second presidential term began with a battle with the Supreme Court. The justices of the court had considered some of his economic programs to be against the principles of the U.S. Constitution. Roosevelt tried to fight the court by adding new justices who would be more accepting of his policies. However, many even in his own party opposed him in this attempt to pack the court, and the Congress defeated it. After this disagreement, relations were suspended between Roosevelt and the Congress. Nevertheless, in 1940 Roosevelt ran for a third presidential term. He was now certain that the leader of Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler (18891945), intended to conquer all of Europe. Roosevelt saw that Europe would fall unless the United States came to its support.

The presidential campaign of 1940 was the climax of Roosevelt's plea that Americans set themselves against the Nazi threat. Many Americans remembered their disappointment after World War I, and many also leaned toward supporting the Germans rather than the group of countries known as the Allies (including Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union). The Allies opposed what were known as the Axis PowersGermany, Italy, and Japan. The American people were so unwilling to be involved in this war that by the end of his campaign Roosevelt practically promised that young Americans would never be sent overseas to fight.

Roosevelt narrowly won the election. He was not far into his third presidential term when the decision to enter the war was made for him. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii, causing serious losses to American forces. At once the White House became headquarters for those who controlled the strategy of World War II. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (18711947) practically began living there. Together the leaders agreed that defeating Germany and Italy was the first priority, rather than focusing on the threat posed by Japan.

The war ends

Hitler's strategy was to defeat the Soviet Union, conquer North Africa, and link up with the Japanese in the East. Roosevelt wanted to retake France, which had been occupied by Germany, and to force Hitler to fight on two fronts. Churchill, however, wanted to attack lower Europe, cut Hitler's lines to the East, and shut him off from Africa. The invasion of Europe was postponed, but Allied troops were sent into Africa. Eventually these forces crossed to the island of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea and made a slow march up the Italian peninsula. At the same time, Allied troops landed on the beaches of France. The twin attacks forced an Italian collapse and the German surrender.

Meanwhile, American general Douglas MacArthur (18801964) drove the Japanese back and destroyed their fleet in the Pacific. After the German surrender, the war came to an end with the American atomic bomb explosion over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Final days

The decision to drop the bombs was not made by Roosevelt, but by the man who followed him, President Harry S. Truman (18841972). Although Roosevelt was elected to a fourth term in 1944, he died before World War II ended. He had gone to Warm Springs in 1945, completely exhausted after having returned from a conference of Allied leaders to set the terms for final peace. At the conference, he had forced other leaders to accept his scheme for a United Nations. On April 12, 1945, he suffered a fatal stroke when an artery ruptured in his brain.

For More Information

Alsop, Joseph. FDR, 18821945: A Centenary Remembrance. New York: Viking, 1982. Reprint, New York: Gramercy Books, 1998.

Burns, James MacGregor. The Three Roosevelts: Patrician Leaders Who Transformed America. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2001.

Freedman, Russell. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. New York: Clarion Books, 1990.

Larsen, Rebecca. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Man of Destiny. New York: Franklin Watts, 1991.

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

Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. The Age of Roosevelt. 3 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957.

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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