Franklin Delano Roosevelt (; January 30, 1882 April 12, 1945), commonly known as FDR, was an American statesman and political leader who served as the 32nd President of the United States from 1933 until his death in 1945. A Democrat, he won a record four presidential elections and emerged as a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century. He directed the United States government during most of the Great Depression and World War II. As a dominant leader of his party, he built the New Deal Coalition, realigning American politics into the Fifth Party System and defining American liberalism throughout the middle third of the 20th century. He is often rated by scholars as one of the three greatest U.S. Presidents, along with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
Roosevelt was born in 1882 to an old, prominent Dutch-American family from Dutchess County, New York and attended Groton School. He went on to graduate from Harvard College in 1903 and attended Columbia Law School. At age 23 in 1905, he married Eleanor Roosevelt, and the couple went on to have six children. He entered politics in 1910, serving in the New York State Senate, and then as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President Woodrow Wilson. In 1920, presidential candidate James M. Cox selected Roosevelt as his running mate, but the Cox/Roosevelt ticket lost to the Republican ticket of Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge. In 1921, Roosevelt contracted a paralytic illness, which left his legs permanently paralyzed. Due to his disability, Roosevelt believed that his political career was over. His wife Eleanor and his political advisor Louis Howe convinced him otherwise. He attempted to recover from the illness and founded the treatment center in Warm Springs, Georgia for people with poliomyelitis. Roosevelt returned to political life when he nominated Alfred E. Smith at the 1924 Democratic National Convention. At Smith’s behest, Roosevelt successfully ran for Governor of New York in 1928. He was in office from 1929 to 1933 and served as a reform governor, promoting the enactment of programs to combat the depression besetting the United States at the time.
In the 1932 presidential election, Roosevelt defeated incumbent Republican president Herbert Hoover in a landslide to win the nation’s highest political office. Roosevelt took office while the United States was in the midst of the worst economic crisis in its history. Energized by his personal victory over his paralytic illness, Roosevelt relied on his persistent optimism and activism to renew the national spirit. During his first 100 days in office, Roosevelt spearheaded unprecedented federal legislation and issued a profusion of executive orders that instituted the New Deala variety of programs designed to produce relief (government jobs for the unemployed), recovery (economic growth), and reform (through regulation of Wall Street, banks and transportation). He created numerous programs to support the unemployed and farmers, and to encourage labor union growth while more closely regulating business and high finance. His support for the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 added to his popularity, helping him win re-election by a landslide in 1936. The economy improved rapidly from 193337, but then relapsed into a deep recession in 193738. The bipartisan Conservative Coalition that formed in 1937 prevented his packing the Supreme Court, and blocked almost all proposals for major liberal legislation (except the minimum wage, which did pass). When the war began and unemployment ended, conservatives in Congress repealed the two major relief programs, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). However, they kept most of the regulations on business. Along with several smaller programs, major surviving programs include the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Wagner Act, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and Social Security.
With World War II looming after 1938 with the Japanese invasion of China and the aggression of Nazi Germany, Roosevelt gave strong diplomatic and financial support to China and the United Kingdom, while remaining officially neutral. His goal was to make America the “Arsenal of Democracy“, which would supply munitions to the Allies. In March 1941, Roosevelt, with Congressional approval, provided Lend-Lease aid to Britain and China. Following the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, which he famously called “a date which will live in infamy“, Roosevelt sought and obtained the quick approval on the following day for Congress to declare war on Japan and, a few days later, on Germany. Assisted by his top aide Harry Hopkins, and with very strong national support, he worked closely with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in leading the Allies against Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and Fascist Italy in World War II. He supervised the mobilization of the U.S. economy to support the war effort, and also ordered the internment of 100,000 Japanese American civilians. As an active military leader, Roosevelt implemented a war strategy on two fronts that ended in the defeat of the Axis Powers, and he initiated the development of the world’s first atomic bomb. His work also influenced the later creation of the United Nations and Bretton Woods. Roosevelt’s physical health seriously declined during the war years, and he died 11 weeks into his fourth term. He was then succeeded by his vice president Harry S. Truman, and a few months after Truman was sworn in, the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leading to Japan’s unconditional surrender to end World War II.
Early life and education
One of the oldest Dutch-American families in New York State, the Roosevelts distinguished themselves in areas other than politics. One ancestor, Isaac Roosevelt, had served with the New York militia during the American Revolution.
Roosevelt attended events of the New York society Sons of the American Revolution, and joined the organization while he was president. His paternal family had become prosperous early on in New York real estate and trade, and much of his immediate family’s wealth had been built by Roosevelt’s maternal grandfather, Warren Delano, Jr., in the China trade, including opium and tea.
Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882, in the Hudson Valley town of Hyde Park, New York, to businessman James Roosevelt I and Sara Ann Delano. His parents were sixth cousins and both were from wealthy old New York families. They were of mostly English descent; Roosevelt’s patrilineal great-grandfather, Jacobus Roosevelt III, was of Dutch ancestry, and his mother’s maiden name, Delano, could be traced to French Huguenot immigrant ancestors of the 17th century. Their only child was to have been named Warren, but Sara’s infant nephew of that name had recently died. Their son was named for Sara’s uncle Franklin Hughes Delano.
Roosevelt grew up in an atmosphere of privilege. Reportedly, when James Roosevelt took his five-year-old son to visit President Grover Cleveland in the White House, the busy president told Franklin, “I have one wish for you, little man, that you will never be President of the United States.” Sara was a possessive mother. James, who was 54 when Franklin was born, was considered by some as a remote father, though biographer James MacGregor Burns indicates James interacted with his son more than was typical at the time. Sara was the dominant influence in Franklin’s early years; she once declared, “My son Franklin is a Delano, not a Roosevelt at all.” She also made him wear dresses, and keep his hair long during this time. Frequent trips to Europehe made his first excursion at the age of two and went with his parents every year from the ages of seven to fifteenhelped Roosevelt become conversant in German and French. Roosevelt and his tutor were arrested by police four times in one day in the Black Forest for minor offenses that may have affected the future president’s view of German character. He thought that the Germans were rude, as he noticed they were constantly claiming they were better than others. This would later affect him as president, as he claimed that his experience gave him a deeper understanding of Germany than most diplomats. He learned to ride, shoot, row, and play polo and lawn tennis. He took up golf in his teen years, becoming a skilled long hitter. He learned to sail and when he was 16, his father gave him a sailboat.
Roosevelt attended Groton School, an Episcopal boarding school in Groton, Massachusetts; 90% of the students were from families on the social register. He was strongly influenced by its headmaster, Endicott Peabody, who preached the duty of Christians to help the less fortunate and urged his students to enter public service. Forty years later Roosevelt said of Peabody, “It was a blessing in my life to have the privilege of guiding hand”, and the headmaster remained a strong influence throughout his life, officiating at his wedding and visiting Roosevelt as president.
Peabody recalled Roosevelt as “a quiet, satisfactory boy of more than ordinary intelligence, taking a good position in his form but not brilliant”, while a classmate described Roosevelt as “nice, but completely colorless”; an average student, he only stood out in being the only Democratic student, continuing the political tradition of his side of the Roosevelt family. Roosevelt remained consistent in his politics; immediately after his fourth election to the presidency, he defined his domestic policy as “a little left of center”.
Like all but two of his twenty one Groton classmates, Roosevelt went to Harvard College in nearby Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he lived in a suite that is now part of Adams House, in the “Gold Coast” area populated by wealthy students. His mother Sara moved to Boston in 1900 to be closer to her son. Roosevelt was again an average student academically, and he later declared, “I took economics courses in college for four years, and everything I was taught was wrong.” He was a member of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity and the Fly Club.
Roosevelt was undistinguished as a student or athlete, but he became editor-in-chief of The Harvard Crimson daily newspaper, a position that required great ambition, energy, and the ability to manage others. While he was at Harvard, his fifth cousin Theodore “T.R.” Roosevelt, Jr. (18581919) became President of the United States. Theodore’s vigorous leadership style and reforming zeal made him Franklin’s role model and hero. The younger Roosevelt remained a Democrat, campaigning for Theodore’s opponent William Jennings Bryan. Later, in the 1900s, his father died, causing a great distress for him, leaving Roosevelt alone with his mother, who was rather controlling. He eventually distanced away from her, for independence. In mid-1902, Franklin was formally introduced to his future wife Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (18841962), who was Theodore’s niece, on a train to Tivoli, New York (they had met briefly as children). Eleanor and Franklin were fifth cousins, once removed. She was the daughter of Elliott Bulloch Roosevelt (186094) and Anna Rebecca Hall (186392) of the Livingston family. At the time of their engagement, Roosevelt was twenty-two and Eleanor nineteen. He graduated from Harvard in 1903 with an A.B. in history. He later received an honorary LL.D. from Harvard in 1929.
Roosevelt entered Columbia Law School in 1904, but dropped out in 1907 after passing the New York bar exam. Many years later, he posthumously received a J.D. from Columbia Law School. In 1908, he took a job with the prestigious Wall Street firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn, dealing mainly with corporate law.
Marriage and affairs
On March 17, 1905, Roosevelt married Eleanor (née Roosevelt) in New York City, despite the fierce resistance of his mother. While she did not dislike Eleanor, Sara Roosevelt was very possessive of her son, believing he was too young for marriage. She attempted to break the engagement several times. Eleanor’s uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt, stood in at the wedding for Eleanor’s deceased father Elliott, as Eleanor was his favorite niece. (Eleanor had lost both parents by age ten.)
The young couple moved into Springwood, his family’s estate at Hyde Park, where Roosevelt’s mother became a frequent house guest, much to Eleanor’s chagrin. The home was owned by Roosevelt’s mother until her death in 1941 and was very much her home as well. In addition, Franklin Roosevelt and his mother Sara did the planning and furnishing of a town house she had built for the young couple in New York City; she had a twin house built alongside, with connections on every floor. Eleanor never felt it was her house.
Biographer James MacGregor Burns said that young Roosevelt was self-assured and at ease in the upper class. In contrast, Eleanor at the time was shy and disliked social life, and at first stayed at home to raise their several children. Although Eleanor had an aversion to sexual intercourse and considered it “an ordeal to be endured”, they had six children, the first four in rapid succession:
- Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (1906 1975)
- James Roosevelt II (1907 1991)
- Franklin Roosevelt (1909 1909)
- Elliott Roosevelt (1910 1990)
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr. (1914 1988)
- John Aspinwall Roosevelt II (1916 1981)
Roosevelt welcomed fatherhood, and he and Eleanor suffered greatly when their third child, named for Franklin, died of heart disease in infancy in 1909. Eleanor soon was pregnant again and gave birth to another son, Elliott, less than a year later. The fifth child and fourth son, born in 1914, was also named for Franklin.
Roosevelt had various extra-marital affairs, including one with Eleanor’s social secretary Lucy Mercer, which began soon after she was hired in early 1914. In September 1918, Eleanor found letters revealing the affair in Roosevelt’s luggage, when he returned from World War I. Franklin contemplated divorcing Eleanor, but Sara objected strongly and Lucy would not agree to marry a divorced man with five children. Franklin and Eleanor remained married, and Roosevelt promised never to see Lucy again. Eleanor never truly forgave him, and their marriage from that point on was more of a political partnership. Franklin’s mother told him that if he divorced his wife, it would bring scandal upon the family, and she “would not give him another dollar.”
Franklin broke his promise to Eleanor. He and Lucy maintained a formal correspondence, and began seeing each other again in 1941, perhaps earlier. The Secret Service gave Lucy the code name “Mrs. Johnson”. Lucy was with Roosevelt on the day he died in 1945. Despite this, Roosevelt’s affair was not widely known until the 1960s.
Roosevelt’s son Elliott claimed that his father had a 20-year affair with his private secretary, Marguerite “Missy” LeHand. Another son, James, stated that “there is a real possibility that a romantic relationship existed” between his father and Princess Märtha of Sweden, who resided in the White House during part of World War II. Aides began to refer to her at the time as “the president’s girlfriend”, and gossip linking the two romantically appeared in the newspapers.
The effect of these flirtations or affairs upon Eleanor Roosevelt is difficult to estimate. “I have the memory of an elephant. I can forgive, but I cannot forget,” she wrote to a close friend. After the Lucy Mercer affair, any remaining intimacy left their relationship. Eleanor soon thereafter established a separate house in Hyde Park at Val-Kill, and increasingly devoted herself to various social and political causes independently of her husband. The emotional break in their marriage was so severe that when Roosevelt asked Eleanor in 1942in light of his failing healthto come back home and live with him again, she refused. He was not always aware of when she visited the White House, and for some time she could not easily reach him on the telephone without his secretary’s help; he, in turn, did not visit her New York City apartment until late 1944.
When Roosevelt was president, his dog Fala also became well known as his companion during his time in the White House. Fala was called the “most photographed dog in the world”.
Franklin and Eleanor at Campobello Island, Canada, in 1904
Early political career
State senator and Tammany antagonist
In the state election of 1910, Roosevelt ran for the New York State Senate from the district around Hyde Park in Dutchess County, which was strongly Republican, having elected one Democrat since 1856. The local party chose him as a paper candidate because his Republican cousin Theodore was still one of the country’s most prominent politicians, and a Democratic Roosevelt was good publicity; the candidate could also pay for his own campaign. Surprising almost everyone, due to his aggressive and effective campaign, the Roosevelt name’s influence in the Hudson Valley, and the Democratic landslide that year, Roosevelt won the election.
Taking his seat on January 1, 1911, Roosevelt immediately became the leader of a group of “Insurgents” who opposed the bossism of the Tammany machine dominating the state Democratic Party. The U.S. Senate election, which began with the Democratic caucus on January 16, 1911, was deadlocked by the struggle of the two factions for 74 days, as the new legislator endured what a biographer later described as “the full might of Tammany” behind its choice, William F. Sheehan. (Popular election of US Senators did not occur until after a constitutional amendment later that decade.) On March 31, compromise candidate James A. O’Gorman was elected, giving Roosevelt national exposure and some experience in political tactics and intrigue; one Tammany leader warned that Roosevelt should be eliminated immediately, before he disrupted Democrats as much as his cousin disrupted the Republicans. Roosevelt soon became a popular figure among New York Democrats, though he had not as yet become an eloquent speaker. News articles and cartoons began depicting “the second coming of a Roosevelt” that sent “cold shivers down the spine of Tammany”.
Despite a bout of typhoid fever, and due to the help of Louis McHenry Howe who ran his campaign, Roosevelt was re-elected for a second term in the state election of 1912, and served as chairman of the Agriculture Committee. His success with farm and labor bills was a precursor to his New Deal policies twenty years later. By this time he had become more consistently progressive, in support of labor and social welfare programs for women and children; cousin Theodore was of some influence on these issues. Roosevelt, again in opposition to Tammany Hall, supported southerner Woodrow Wilson‘s successful bid in the 1912 presidential election, and thereby earned an informal designation as an original Wilson man.
Roosevelt’s support of Wilson led to his appointment in 1913 as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels. Roosevelt had a lifelong affection for the Navyhe had already collected almost 10,000 naval books and claimed to have read all but oneand was more ardent than his boss Daniels in supporting a large and efficient naval force. As assistant secretary, Roosevelt worked to expand the Navy and founded the United States Navy Reserve. Against reactionary older officers such as Admiral William Bensonwho claimed he could not “conceive of any use the fleet will ever have for aviation”Roosevelt personally ordered the preservation of the navy’s Aviation Division after the war, despite publicly opining that Billy Mitchell‘s warnings of bombs capable of sinking battleships were “pernicious”. Roosevelt negotiated with Congressional leaders and other government departments to get budgets approved. He opposed the Taylor “stop-watch” system, which was hailed by shipbuilding managers but opposed by the unions. Not a single union strike occurred during his seven-plus years in the office, during which Roosevelt gained experience in labor issues, government management during wartime, naval issues, and logistics, all valuable areas for future office.
Roosevelt was still relatively obscure, but his friends were already speaking of him as a future president; he reportedly began talking about being elected to the presidency as early as 1907. In 1914, Roosevelt made an ill-conceived decision to run for the U.S. Senate seat for New York. The decision was doomed for lack of Wilson administration backing. He was determined to take on Tammany again at a time when Wilson needed them to help marshal his legislation and secure his future re-election. He was soundly defeated in the Democratic primary election for the United States Senate by Tammany Hall-backed James W. Gerard, by a margin of 3-to-1. Roosevelt learned a valuable lesson, that federal patronage alone, without White House support, could not defeat a strong local organization.
In March 1917, after Germany initiated its unrestricted submarine warfare campaign, Roosevelt asked Wilson for permission to fit the naval fleet out for war; the request was denied. He became an enthusiastic advocate of the submarine and of means to combat the German submarine menace to Allied shipping: he proposed building a mine barrier across the North Sea from Norway to Scotland. In 1918, he visited Britain and France to inspect American naval facilities. Roosevelt wanted to provide arms to the merchant marine; knowing that a sale of arms was prohibited, he asked Wilson for approval to lease the arms to the mariners. Wilson ultimately approved this by executive order, and a precedent was set for Roosevelt to take similar action in 1940.
During these war years, Roosevelt worked to make peace with the Tammany Hall forces, and in 1918 the group supported others in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade him to run for governor of New York. He very much wanted to get into a military uniform, but the armistice took shape before this could materialize; Wilson reportedly ordered Roosevelt to not resign. With the end of World War I in November 1918, Roosevelt was in charge of demobilization, although he opposed plans to completely dismantle the Navy.
Roosevelt and all his children were sickened during the 1918 flu pandemic, but all survived. In 1919, newspapers in Newport, Rhode Island, criticized Roosevelt over his handling of what came to be known as the Newport sex scandal. Much more threatening was the fact that Roosevelt and his wife, then living in Washington, across the street from Attorney General Alexander Mitchell Palmer, narrowly missed becoming casualties of an anarchist’s bomb that exploded at Palmer’s house, which they had walked past just minutes before. Their own residence was close enough that one of the bomber’s body parts landed on their doorstep.
Campaign for Vice President
The 1920 Democratic National Convention chose Roosevelt by acclamation as the vice-presidential candidate with its presidential candidate, Governor James M. Cox of Ohio. Although his nomination surprised most people, Roosevelt was considered as bringing balance to the ticket as a moderate, a Wilsonian, and a prohibitionist with a famous name. Roosevelt had just turned 38, four years younger than Theodore had been when he received the same nomination from his party. The CoxRoosevelt ticket was defeated by Republicans Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge in the presidential election by a wide margin. Roosevelt returned to New York to practice law and joined the newly organized New York Civitan Club.
Paralytic illness (1921)”]
While the Roosevelts were vacationing at Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada in August 1921, Roosevelt fell ill. His main symptoms were fever; symmetric, ascending paralysis; facial paralysis; bowel and bladder dysfunction; numbness and hyperesthesia; and a descending pattern of recovery. Roosevelt was left permanently paralyzed from the waist down. He was diagnosed with poliomyelitis at the time, but his symptoms are more consistent with GuillainBarré syndrome an autoimmune neuropathy which Roosevelt’s doctors failed to consider as a diagnostic possibility. In 1926, his belief in the benefits of hydrotherapy led him to found a rehabilitation center at Warm Springs, Georgia. In 1938, he founded the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, leading to the development of polio vaccines.
At the time, Roosevelt convinced many people that he was improving, which he believed to be essential prior to running for public office again. He laboriously taught himself to walk short distances while wearing iron braces on his hips and legs by swiveling his torso, supporting himself with a cane. He was careful never to be seen using his wheelchair in public, and great care was taken to prevent any portrayal in the press that would highlight his disability. However, his disability was well known before and during his Presidency and became a major part of his image. Few photographs of Roosevelt in his wheelchair are known; they include two taken by his cousin and confidante Margaret Suckley, another taken by a sailor aboard the USS Indianapolis in 1933, and another published in a 1937 issue of Life magazine. Film clips of the “walk” he achieved after his illness are equally rare. He usually appeared in public standing upright, supported on one side by an aide or one of his sons. Roosevelt used a car with specially designed hand controls.
Governor of New York (192932)”]
Roosevelt maintained contacts and mended fences with the Democratic Party during the 1920s, especially in New York. Although he initially had made his name as an opponent of New York City‘s Tammany Hall machine, Roosevelt moderated his stance against that group as well. He helped Alfred E. Smith win the election for governor of New York in 1922, and in 1924 was a strong supporter of Smith against his cousin, Republican Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. Roosevelt gave nominating speeches for Smith at the 1924 and 1928 Democratic conventions; the speech at the 1924 election marked a return to public life following his illness and convalescence.
As the Democratic Party presidential nominee in the 1928 election, Smith in turn asked Roosevelt to run for governor in the state election. Roosevelt was nominated by the Democrats by acclamation. While Smith lost the Presidency in a landslide, and was defeated in his home state, Roosevelt was narrowly elected governor, by a one-percent margin. As a reform governor, he established a number of new social programs, and was advised by Frances Perkins and Harry Hopkins.
When Roosevelt began his run for a second term in May 1930, he reiterated his doctrine from the campaign two years before: “that progressive government by its very terms, must be a living and growing thing, that the battle for it is never ending and that if we let up for one single moment or one single year, not merely do we stand still but we fall back in the march of civilization.” In this campaign for re-election, Roosevelt needed the good will of the Tammany Hall machine in New York City to succeed; his Republican opponent, Charles H. Tuttle, used Roosevelt’s connection with Tammany Hall’s corruption as an election issue. As the election approached, Roosevelt began preemptive efforts by initiating investigations of the sale of judicial offices. He was directly involved, as he had made a routine short-term court appointment of a Tammany Hall man who was alleged to have paid Tammany $30,000 for the position. His Republican opponent could not overcome the public’s criticism of the Republican Party for current economic distress in the Great Depression, and Roosevelt was elected to a second term by a margin of 14%.
1932 presidential election
Roosevelt’s strong base in the most populous state in the nation made him an obvious candidate for the Democratic nomination, which was hotly contested in light of incumbent Herbert Hoover‘s vulnerability. Al Smith was supported by some city bosses, but had lost control of the New York Democratic party to Roosevelt. Roosevelt built his own national coalition with personal allies such as newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, Irish leader Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., and California leader William Gibbs McAdoo. When Texas leader John Nance Garner announced his support of Roosevelt, he was given the vice-presidential nomination.
Breaking with tradition of the time, Roosevelt traveled to Chicago to accept the nomination in person. In his acceptance speech, Roosevelt declared, “I pledge you, I pledge myself to a new deal for the American people… This is more than a political campaign. It is a call to arms.” The election campaign was conducted under the shadow of the Great Depression in the United States, and the new alliances which it created. Roosevelt and the Democratic Party mobilized the expanded ranks of the poor as well as organized labor, ethnic minorities, urbanites, and Southern whites, crafting the New Deal coalition. At that time, African Americans in the South were still disfranchised, as they had been since the turn of the century. Southern states had passed a variety of requirements making voter registration more difficult, which served to exclude most blacks and many poor whites from the political system.
Economist Marriner Eccles observed that “given later developments, the campaign speeches often read like a giant misprint, in which Roosevelt and Hoover speak each other’s lines.” Roosevelt denounced Hoover’s failures to restore prosperity or halt the downward slide, and he ridiculed Hoover’s huge deficits. Roosevelt campaigned on the Democratic platform advocating “immediate and drastic reductions of all public expenditures,” “abolishing useless commissions and offices, consolidating departments and bureaus, and eliminating extravagances” and for a “sound currency to be maintained at all hazards.” On September 23, Roosevelt made the gloomy evaluation that, “Our industrial plant is built; the problem just now is whether under existing conditions it is not overbuilt. Our last frontier has long since been reached.” Hoover damned that pessimism as a denial of “the promise of American life… the counsel of despair.” The prohibition issue solidified the “wet vote” for Roosevelt, who noted that repeal would bring in new tax revenues.
Roosevelt won 57% of the vote and carried all but six states. Historians and political scientists consider the 193236 elections a realigning election that created a new majority coalition for the Democrats, made up of organized labor, northern blacks, and ethnic Americans such as Italian-Americans, Polish-Americans and Jews. This transformed American politics and started what is called the “New Deal Party System” or (by political scientists) the Fifth Party System.
After the election, Roosevelt refused Hoover’s requests for a meeting to develop a joint program to stop the downward spiral and calm investors, claiming publicly it would tie his hands, and that Hoover had all the power to act if necessary. Unofficially, he told reporters that “it is not my baby”. The economy spiraled downward until the banking system began a complete nationwide shutdown as Hoover’s term ended. In February 1933, Roosevelt escaped an assassination attempt. Giuseppe Zangara, who expressed a “hate for all rulers,” attempted to shoot Roosevelt. He shot and mortally wounded Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak who was sitting alongside Roosevelt, but his attempt to murder Roosevelt failed when an alert spectator, Lillian Cross, hit his arm with her purse and deflected the bullet. Roosevelt leaned heavily on his “Brain Trust” of academic advisers, especially Raymond Moley, when designing his policies; he offered cabinet positions to numerous candidates, but some declined. The cabinet member with the strongest independent base was Cordell Hull at State. William Hartman Woodin at Treasury was soon replaced by the much more powerful Henry Morgenthau, Jr.
Roosevelt appointed powerful men to top positions but made certain he made all the major decisions, regardless of delays, inefficiency or resentment. Analyzing the president’s administrative style, historian James MacGregor Burns concludes:
The president stayed in charge of his administration…by drawing fully on his formal and informal powers as Chief Executive; by raising goals, creating momentum, inspiring a personal loyalty, getting the best out of people…by deliberately fostering among his aides a sense of competition and a clash of wills that led to disarray, heartbreak, and anger but also set off pulses of executive energy and sparks of creativity…by handing out one job to several men and several jobs to one man, thus strengthening his own position as a court of appeals, as a depository of information, and as a tool of co-ordination; by ignoring or bypassing collective decision-making agencies, such as the Cabinet…and always by persuading, flattering, juggling, improvising, reshuffling, harmonizing, conciliating, manipulating.
First term (19331937)
When Roosevelt was inaugurated March 4, 1933, the U.S. was at the nadir of the worst depression in its history. A quarter of the workforce was unemployed. Farmers were in deep trouble as prices fell by 60%. Industrial production had fallen by more than half since 1929. Two million people were homeless. By the evening of March 4, 32 of the 48 states as well as the District of Columbia had closed their banks. The New York Federal Reserve Bank was unable to open on the 5th, as huge sums had been withdrawn by panicky customers in previous days. Beginning with his inauguration address, Roosevelt began blaming the economic crisis on bankers and financiers, the quest for profit, and the self-interest basis of capitalism:
Primarily this is because rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and have abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men. True they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence… 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. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.
Historians categorized Roosevelt’s program as “relief, recovery and reform.” Relief was urgently needed by tens of millions of unemployed. Recovery meant boosting the economy back to normal. Reform meant long-term fixes of what was wrong, especially with the financial and banking systems. Through Roosevelt’s series of radio talks, known as fireside chats, he presented his proposals directly to the American public. In 1934, Roosevelt paid a visit to retired Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., who mused about the President: “A second class intellect. But a first class temperament.”
Roosevelt was a hero to major minority groups, especially African Americans, Catholics, and Jews, and was highly successful in attracting large majorities of these voters into his New Deal coalition. He won strong support from Chinese Americans and Filipino Americans, but not Japanese Americans, as he was responsible for their losses due to internship in concentration camps during the war. Roosevelt’s understanding and awareness of problems in the world of the American Indians was questioned during the Hopi Hearings which were held in 1955.
African Americans and Native Americans fared well in two New Deal relief programs, the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Indian Reorganization Act, respectively. Sitkoff reported that the WPA “provided an economic floor for the whole black community in the 1930s, rivaling both agriculture and domestic service as the chief source” of income.
Another significant change was establishment in 1941 of the Fair Employment Practices Committee, to implement Executive Order 8802 prohibiting racial and religious discrimination in employment among defense contractors. This was the first national program directed against employment discrimination. African Americans who gained defense industry jobs in the 1940s shared in the higher wages; in the 1950s they had gained in relative economic position, about 14% higher than other blacks who were not in such industries. Their moves into manufacturing positions were critical to their success.
Roosevelt needed the support of the powerful white Southern Democrats for his New Deal programs, and blacks were still disenfranchised in the South. He decided against pushing for federal anti-lynching legislation. It was not likely to pass and the political fight might threaten his ability to pass his highest priority programsthough he did denounce lynchings as “a vile form of collective murder”. The frequency of lynchings had declined since the early decades of the century, in part due to the African Americans’ Great Migration out of the South; millions were still leaving it behind.
Historian Kevin J. McMahon claims that strides were made for the civil rights of African Americans. In Roosevelt’s Justice Department, the Civil Rights Section worked closely with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Roosevelt worked with other civil rights groups on cases dealing with police brutality, lynching, and voting rights abuses.
Beginning in the 1960s, FDR was charged with not acting decisively enough to prevent or stop the Holocaust.
The issue of desegregating the armed forces did not arise, but in 1940 Roosevelt appointed former federal judge William H. Hastie, an African American, to be a civilian aide to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson. On the home front on June 25, 1941, Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802, forbidding discrimination on account of “race, creed, color, or national origin” in the hiring of workers in defense related industries. This was a precursor to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to come decades later.
However, enemy aliens and people of Japanese ancestry were taken under control. On February 19, 1942, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 that applied to everyone classified as an “enemy alien”, including people who had dual citizenship living in designated high-risk areas that covered most of the cities on the West Coast. Roosevelt personally made the decision regarding 120,000 Japanese citizens and dual citizens forced to leave the West Coast. From 1942 to 1945, they lived in internment camps inland. Those outside the West Coast and in Hawaii were not relocated.
During his presidency, and continuing to a lesser extent today, there has been much criticism of Roosevelt, some of it intense. Critics have questioned not only his policies, positions, and the consolidation of power that occurred due to his responses to the crises of the Depression and World War II, but also his breaking with tradition by running for a third term as president.
By the middle of his second term, much criticism of Roosevelt centered on fears that he was heading toward a dictatorship, by attempting to seize control of the Supreme Court in the court-packing incident of 1937, by attempting to eliminate dissent within the Democratic party in the South during the 1938 elections, and by breaking the tradition established by George Washington of not seeking a third term when he again ran for re-election in 1940. As two historians explain, “In 1940, with the two-term issue as a weapon, anti-New Dealers…argued that the time had come to disarm the ‘dictator’ and to dismantle the machinery.”
As president, Roosevelt was hit from both the right and the left. He came under attack for his supposed anti-business policies, for being a “warmonger”, for being a “Fascist” and for being too friendly to Joseph Stalin. Long after his death, new lines of attack criticized his policies regarding helping the Jews of Europe, incarcerating the Japanese on the West Coast, and opposing anti-lynching legislation.
The rapid expansion of government programs that occurred during Roosevelt’s term redefined the role of the government in the United States, and Roosevelt’s advocacy of government social programs was instrumental in redefining liberalism for coming generations.
Roosevelt firmly established the United States’ leadership role on the world stage, with his role in shaping and financing World War II. His isolationist critics faded away, and even the Republicans joined in his overall policies. After his death, his widow, Eleanor, continued to be a forceful presence in US and world politics, serving as delegate to the conference which established the United Nations and championing civil rights and liberalism generally. Many members of his administration played leading roles in the administrations of Truman, Kennedy and Johnson, each of whom embraced Roosevelt’s political legacy. Reflecting on Roosevelt’s presidency, “which brought the United States through the Great Depression and World War II to a prosperous future”, said FDR’s biographer Jean Edward Smith in 2007, “He lifted himself from a wheelchair to lift the nation from its knees.”
Roosevelt’s home in Hyde Park is now a National Historic Site and home to his Presidential library. His retreat at Warm Springs, Georgia is a museum operated by the state of Georgia. His summer retreat on Campobello Island is maintained by the governments of both Canada and the United States as Roosevelt Campobello International Park; the island is accessible by way of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Bridge.
Washington D.C. hosts two memorials to the former president. The largest, the 7.50-acre Roosevelt Memorial, is located next to the Jefferson Memorial on the Tidal Basin and was dedicated by Bill Clinton in 1997. A much more modest memorial, a block of marble in front of the National Archives building, was erected in 1965.
Roosevelt was honored by the United States Postal Service with a Prominent Americans series 6¢ postage stamp, issue of 1966. He also appears on several other U.S. Postage stamps. Roosevelt was a devoted stamp collector from the age of ten, spending some time almost every day with his collection of 1.25 million stamps. As president, government agencies sent Roosevelt unusual stamps they received in the mail, and the hobby gave him an unusually thorough knowledge of world geography which benefited him during the war. After his death, the collection was sold for $250,000. Among the items was a group of envelopes Roosevelt saved that he received as president; those with compliments were addressed “To the Greatest Man in the World” and “God’s Gift to the U.S.A.,” while less favorable letters arrived in envelopes labeled “F.D. Russianvelt, President of U.S.A., C.I.O.,” “Benedict Arnold 2nd,” and “Rattlesnake Roosevelt.”
Roosevelt is the only President of the United States to serve more than two terms in office; in response to this, the 22nd Amendment limiting Presidential terms was passed by Congress in 1947 and ratified by the states in 1951.
Roosevelt was also widely beloved for his role in repealing Prohibition.