Franklin D. Roosevelt is one of the most important and influential American political figures in the 20th century. Elected four times in office, his twelve years in the White House proved to be a testament to American courage, especially when faced with great challenges such as the Great Depression and the Second World War.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, often called FDR, was born to James and Sara Delano Roosevelt in January 30, 1882 at Hyde Park, New York. (Potts, 5) The Roosevelt family was a rather affluent and Franklin was educated most of his younger years with tutors. In 1900, he enrolled at Harvard University and ended his college career at Columbia University Law School. (Potts, 7) On St. Patrick’s Day, 1905, Franklin married Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, a distant cousin and the niece of President Theodore Roosevelt.
Franklin Roosevelt greatly admired his fifth cousin, President Theodore Roosevelt who ascended to the presidency during Franklin’s freshman year at Harvard. On several instances, Franklin visited the White House to discuss issues with his cousin Teddy. It is inevitable then that Franklin would have a growing interest in joining politics.
He entered public service just as his cousin did, but as a Democrat in New York, a known Republican state. This proved to be a liability and problems arose but eventually, in 1910, Franklin was elected to the New York Senate. (Coker, 11) Three years later, in 1913, President Wilson appointed him Assistant Secretary of the Navy, something he had in common with his cousin Teddy. In the years that passed Franklin proved his mettle in politics and became the 1920 Democratic nominee for Vice President.
Things went well in Franklin’s life until at age 39, in the summer of 1921, he got a stricken with poliomyelitis. This was a major setback but never deterrence to his courage. Franklin fought hard to be able to use his legs again through swimming. At the dramatic 1924 Democratic Convention, Franklin appeared, wearing crutches, to nominate Alfred E. Smith as “the Happy Warrior.” In 1928 Roosevelt became Governor of New York. (Friedel, 69) By this time, the economy is collapsing and as governor, he retained his reformist stance pushing for the conservation of the state aid to the unemployed citizens.
His political career eventually reached its culmination when he was nominated for the 1932 presidency by the Democrat party. In his acceptance of his nomination, he said “I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people.” This was what he came to be known for and in November 1932, Franklin was elected to his first term in as president of the United States. His administration became synonymous to the new deal he had pushed for in his campaign. (Heale, 3)
It was not an easy term though. When he was elected for president, Franklin had inherited a lot of problems. This was the time when America was at the depth of the Great Depression and by March, four months into his presidency, 13,000,000 Americans were unemployed, and almost every bank was closed.
The first “hundred days” of his office proved to be difficult. In these days Franklin had Congress implement a sweeping program to resurrect the ailing business and agriculture, to give relief to the unemployed and to those about to lose their homes and farms. He pushed for reform, especially through the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt showed the people that something can be done. He gained immense admiration by helping the American people regain faith in themselves. He brought direction and hope as he assured prompt, vigorous action towards the depression. As Franklin asserted in his Inaugural Address, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” This was precisely the attitude of his administration that created impact.
In three years, the FDR administration led the United States to some measure of recovery, but the experimental and aggressive nature of Roosevelt’s New Deal program had turned up the noses of businessmen and bankers. They feared his ventures, were dismayed by the allowed deficits in the budget and being taken off the gold standard, and more so, the businessmen and bankers alike were hated the concessions to labor. Sensing this, Roosevelt created a new program of reform: Social Security, larger taxes on the wealthy, new controls over banks and public utilities, and a massive relief program for the unemployed.
This new burst in legislation helped Roosevelt to a re-election in 1936. Roosevelt brought in more reforms to his administration. Feeling he had a favorable and popular mandate, he then sought legislation to enlarge the Supreme Court, which had been creating problems with his New Deal policies. Roosevelt lost the Supreme Court battle, but this sparked a revolution in constitutional law. Thereafter, the Government could legally regulate the economy. (Friedel, 69)
During the latter part of his second term however, foreign crises loomed over domestic problems. In 1939 the war in Europe broke out and the fear that America would get entangled in this gave Roosevelt an opportunity to get elected again in 1940. This was defiance to what should have been a maximum of two presidential terms. (Heale, 4)
Nevertheless, Roosevelt received strong support from big cities and on his third term as president, he pledged the United States to the “good neighbor” policy, transforming the Monroe Doctrine from a unilateral American manifesto into arrangements for mutual protection against assailants. He also struggled to keep the United States out of the war in Europe through neutrality legislation but at the same time he pledged to help reinforce nations in danger. In 1940, when France fell and England came under siege, he began to send Great Britain all possible aid except actual military involvement.
Inevitably though, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. That day, Roosevelt directed all of the America’s resources and manpower and the nation plunged into global war.
Roosevelt, in the years after, devoted careful thought in his dealings and strategies with other nations and allies. He was crucial in the planning of a United Nations, wherein, he hoped, international differences and difficulties could be solved. Roosevelt proved to be highly influential throughout the war but towards the end of the war, his health worsened, and on April 12, 1945, while at Warm Springs, Georgia, Roosevelt died of a cerebral hemorrhage, thus ending the longest presidential term in American history. (Friedel, 69)
Coker, Jeffrey W. Franklin D. Roosevelt: a biography. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2005
Freidel, Frank. Presidents of the United States of America. DIANE Publishing, 1994
Heale, M. J. Franklin D. Roosevelt: the New Deal and war. Routledge, 1999
Potts, Steve. Franklin D. Roosevelt. Capstone Press, 2006