Franklin Delano Roosevelt


Fast Facts About FDR:

"Born: January 30, 1882, in Hyde Park, New York Died: April 12, 1945, in Warm Springs, Georgia Nickname: "FDR" Married: Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), on March 17, 1905 Religion: Episcopalian Education: Graduated from Harvard College (1903); attended Columbia Law School, 1904-7 Political Party: Democrat Career: Lawyer; author, member of New York State Legislature, 1911-13; Assistant Secretary of the Navy, 1913-20; Vice President of Fidelity and Deposit Company, 1921-28; Governor of New York, 1929-33, President of the United States, 1933-45 Domestic Policy Highlights: Great Depression, New Deal Program, Court-Packing Plan Foreign Policy Highlights: "Good Neighbor Policy," Destroyer Deal, Lend-Lease Act, Anglo-American Alliance, Teheran and Yalta Conferences, planning of United Nations

A Life in Brief

Faced with the Great Depression and World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt, nicknamed "FDR," guided America through its greatest foreign crisis, and, with the exception of the Civil War, its greatest domestic crisis. His four terms in office are unparalleled, not only in length but in scope. Like Lincoln, Roosevelt was uncompromising in achieving his vision of what was best for America. Enabled by brilliant vision and political skills, it was ultimately Roosevelt's deep compassion for the plight of everyday Americans that connected him to the populace and allowed him to redefine the American presidency with vast new political, administrative and constitutional powers.

The Roosevelts were as close as one can come to royalty in America. By birth or by marriage, FDR was related to no less than eleven presidents, including Theodore Roosevelt, his fifth cousin. An only child, FDR was sent to the most prestigious schools in the United States and abroad. His childhood was an endless parade of European vacations, aristocratic country parties with other elite families, sailing, and horses. His father was a staunch Democrat, actively involved in philanthropy, a trait that greatly influenced his son. Upon meeting President Grover Cleveland in the White House at the age of five, the president told him: "My little man, I am making a strange wish for you. It is that you will never be president of the United States."

Political Rise and Personal Tragedy

Bored in law school and sick of his job as a law clerk, Franklin couldn't wait to jump into politics. In 1910 he became a New York state senator and quickly made a name for himself when he opposed the corrupt Tammany Hall political machine running New York at the time. With his reputation as a hard working, charismatic reformer, FDR earned key positions in Woodrow Wilson's administration. As Wilson's assistant secretary of the Navy, Roosevelt did an excellent job of mobilizing congressional support for the Navy for World War I. In 1920 FDR ran unsuccessfully for vice president on the James Cox ticket, losing to Republican Warren Harding.

The next year, tragedy struck. Roosevelt contracted polio, a terrifying and rampant disease in the 1920s that left him paralyzed in his legs and unable to walk without heavy braces. There was no cure in sight. To make matters worse, in early 20th century America, the handicapped were considered "invalids" and encouraged to be reclusive. Undaunted, and with great support from his wife, Eleanor, he undertook rigorous therapy in an attempt to regain use of his muscles. Though the disease devastated him physically, Roosevelt gained internal strength from the struggle. Eleanor later said of this time: "I know that he had real fear when he was first taken ill, but he learned to surmount it. After that I never heard him say he was afraid of anything." Throughout his public life, FDR would go to great lengths to disguise his disability. Indeed, countless Americans never suspected a thing!

Successful Governor and Presidential Candidate

In 1922, FDR became governor of New York. The U.S. economy was fundamentally unsound, and Governor Roosevelt predicted that a crash would soon come. The stock market crash of 1929 destroyed the savings and livelihood of millions of Americans, but then-President Hoover's policies did more harm than good. Meanwhile in New York, FDR implemented relief initiatives that foreshadowed his future strategy in fighting the Great Depression: unemployment insurance, pensions for the elderly, limits on work hours, and massive public works projects. His popularity allowed him to gain reelection as governor, a rare feat in the midst of depression.

By the presidential election season in 1932, America's misery was worse than ever, and it showed no sign of abating. In this atmosphere, the popular two-term governor from New York secured the Democratic nomination on his party's fourth convention ballot. Promising aggressive government intervention and a "New Deal" for the American people, FDR was swept into office in a landslide. In his inaugural address, Roosevelt gave hope to dispirited Americans throughout the nation, assuring them, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."

Pulling out of the Great Depression

In the "First Hundred Days" of his presidency, FDR pushed through a vast amount of legislation highlighted by a reformed banking program, agricultural subsidy laws, and a new plan for industrial recovery. His reassuring "fireside chats" calmed the nation via the new medium of radio. To meet the immediate crisis of starvation and the dire needs of the nation's unemployed, FDR provided for direct cash relief for the poor, and established the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Public Works Administration. Thousands of men throughout the country began working to build bridges, roads, and sewage systems and to plant trees and clean up beaches. His Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) guaranteed the bank savings of American families, just as it does today.

By the end of his second term, Roosevelt had institutionalized the role of the federal government as the economic guarantor and stimulator of the American economy. Nevertheless, America was unable to fully recover from the depression until mobilization began for World War II. Roosevelt had tried to convince Americans to fight the economic scourge as if it were an invading foreign army; coincidentally, it took a real war in Europe and Asia to bring America fully out of the Depression.

World War II

Through his "Lend-Lease" policy, FDR was able to get around previous commitments of American neutrality to help arm Britain and the Soviet Union in the face of German aggression. Responding to Japanese atrocities in Manchuria, Roosevelt enforced an embargo of American oil and steel on Japan, which some historians claim precipitated the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The day following this devastating attack on America's Pacific Fleet, Roosevelt secured a declaration of war against Japan with a stirring speech to Congress (calling December 7 "a day that will live in infamy"). Roosevelt ordered the internment of 110,000 mainland Americans of Japanese ancestry in guarded relocation camps, many of them in the desert. The president supported the development of atomic bomb, which would be used months after his death.

Despite the nation's misgivings about his health, Roosevelt was elected to a fourth term in office in 1944. Following his inauguration, he met with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin at Yalta to plan for the postwar world. But Roosevelt did not live to see the war's end. In April of 1945, the president collapsed and died of a cerebral hemorrhage, just weeks before the German surrender.

As a young man, Roosevelt had fallen deeply in love with his fifth cousin (once removed) Eleanor, and married her in 1905 despite his mother's objections. She thought Eleanor was not attractive or poised enough for her son. Having lost her own parents as a child, the bride was given away by her uncle, Teddy Roosevelt. Franklin and Eleanor would have six children, although one died in infancy. More liberal than her husband, Eleanor urged him to actively work for social justice and civil rights. After the war, Eleanor became the very conscience of the Democratic Party, the grand spokeswoman of the liberal agenda. Presidents Truman and Kennedy would appoint her to important United Nations positions during their administrations before her death in 1962.

The two men widely considered our greatest presidents, Lincoln and Roosevelt, instituted "constitutional dictatorships" in wartime. Both used their constitutional prerogatives, even when it meant skirting laws passed by Congress, to get things done in times of peril. Both saved the nation in its critical moments, and managed to do so while still presiding over free and fair elections that might have brought their political opponents to office."


"Soundly defeated Herbert Hoover in the 1932 election by a popular vote of 22,809,638 to 15,758,901 and an electoral vote of 472 to 59. Was reelected in 1936 over Alfred Landon by votes of 27,752,869 to 16,674,665 and 523 to 8, again in 1940 over Wendell L. Willkie by votes of 27,307,819 to 22,321,018 and 449 to 82, and yet again in 1944 over Thomas E. Dewey by votes of 25,606,585 to 22,014,745 and 432 to 99; the only president elected 4 times. Since age 39 his legs were paralyzed. Garner, Wallace, and Truman were his vice-presidents."

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