Franklin Delano Roosevelt life and biography

Franklin Delano Roosevelt picture, image, poster

Franklin Delano Roosevelt biography

Date of birth : 1882-01-30
Date of death : 1945-04-12
Birthplace : Hyde Park, New York, United States
Nationality : American
Category : Politics
Last modified : 2010-07-14
Credited as : President of the United States, ,

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt, also known as: Franklin D. Roosevelt, born January 30, 1882 in Hyde Park, New York, United States - died April 12, 1945 in Warm Springs, Georgia, United States was ranked as one of the greatest presidents in the history of the United States.


Few presidents in U.S. history have provoked such extremes of opinion as Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the twelve years and three months that he led his country through some of the darkest days of its existence. On the one hand was the anger and even hatred he inspired among many businesspeople and most of the wealthier members of society. On the other was the genuine affection millions of ordinary citizens felt for the man who had appeared on the national scene with an infectious grin and seemingly boundless energy at a time when everyone and everything was mired in despair and lethargy. Scholars still debate some of the major policies of his administration, but on one point they agree: Roosevelt definitely ranks among the top half-dozen men ever to serve as president of the United States.

He was born into a life of wealth and privilege at Springwood, his family's 600-acre estate along the Hudson River, about halfway between New York City and Albany. His father, James Roosevelt, was a country gentleman and sometime businessman. His mother, Sara Delano, came from an equally well-to-do background. Franklin was their only child and as such grew up happy and secure with the loving attention of both his parents, especially his strong-willed mother.

Until he was fourteen, Roosevelt was tutored privately at home. Traveling occupied much of his free time; he usually accompanied his parents on their frequent trips abroad, for example, and he spent summers at the family's vacation home in Maine. His formal education began at Groton prep school, where he was a good, but not brilliant, student. Upon entering Harvard University in 1900, Roosevelt plunged into a wide range of activities that made him well known on campus. He went out for sports teams and served as editor of the undergraduate newspaper. Charming, handsome, and very wealthy, he enjoyed an active social life that left him little time for his studies.

Shortly after graduating in 1904, he became engaged to his distant cousin, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt. To many people, it was a complete mismatch; the shy and awkward Eleanor seemed to have little in common with the good-looking and popular Franklin. Nevertheless, the two were married on March 17,1905. Their partnership was an important influence on their later lives. From her husband, Eleanor learned to become more assertive; from his wife, Franklin gained an appreciation for the problems of the poor and the underprivileged.

From Harvard, Roosevelt went on to Columbia University Law School. After passing the New York State bar exam in 1907, he left school and went to work for a New York City law firm. In 1910, he answered the call from some local Democrats and entered the race for state senator from his home district, Hyde Park, normally a Republican stronghold. To nearly everyone's surprise, Roosevelt won by a substantial margin and immediately began making a name for himself in state politics. He easily won re-election in 1912 and at the same time attracted the attention of the new president, Woodrow Wilson, on whose behalf Roosevelt had campaigned vigorously. Shortly after the election came a job offer from Washington, and in 1913 the young and enthusiastic New Yorker resigned from the state senate to become assistant secretary of the navy, a position he held throughout World War I. The lessons he learned about preparedness during that national crisis served him well in later years.

In 1920, Roosevelt was nominated for the vice-presidency on a ticket that featured Ohio governor James Cox for president. Promising to continue Wilson's policies, including his rather unpopular belief that the United States should increase its involvement in world affairs, the Democrats lost in a landslide to Republicans Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. Stunned by this overwhelming rejection, Roosevelt decided to leave politics for a while and concentrate instead on managing his family's financial affairs and dabbling in business. But in August, 1921, all of his plans were put on hold when he contracted polio. The illness left his legs completely paralyzed and brought on a deep depression. Eleanor and his longtime friend Louis Howe encouraged the thirty-nine-year-old Roosevelt to stay active in politics. Their unwavering support helped restore his fighting spirit, and although he never gave up hope that some day he would be cured, he made up his mind never to appear dependent or defeated.

He spent most of the 1920s building up his strength and trying to walk again at a mineral-water health spa in Warm Springs, Georgia. The intensive physical therapy he received there enabled Roosevelt to move himself from his wheelchair into another chair and stand with the help of heavy steel leg braces and support from a podium or table; later he used crutches or canes to walk a few steps. He also learned to ride a horse and drive a specially-equipped car. But it was still a tremendous adjustment for a man as energetic and dynamic as Roosevelt to suddenly find himself so dependent on others for his basic needs. He rarely spoke of the difficulties he faced, but he was extremely conscious of his image and always made an effort to smile and display a positive attitude.

Except for the triumphant moment in 1924 when he attended the Democratic National Convention and walked slowly and painfully to the stage to deliver the speech nominating Alfred E. Smith for president, Roosevelt stayed out of politics while he fought to regain the use of his legs. But in 1928, he reluctantly agreed to run for governor of New York. He won the election and, as head of a populous, high-profile state, became a national political figure. He threw himself into the job with enthusiasm, obtaining valuable administrative experience and developing many social improvement programs. Well liked and well respected, he was easily reelected to a second term in 1930.

Meanwhile, the 1929 stock market crash and subsequent economic depression were beginning to ravage the country, and Republican president Herbert Hoover was saddled with much of the blame. On the eve of the 1932 national elections, the economy was in a state of near-total collapse, with bank failures, massive unemployment, homelessness, and starvation dominating the news. Pessimistic and discouraged voters were ripe for a change, and the buoyantly confident Franklin Delano Roosevelt--the Democratic party's choice for president--seemed full of hope for the future and promised reforms that stressed "a new deal for the American people." Support for him was enormous, and on election day, he won in a landslide.

Roosevelt went to work immediately after his inauguration on bringing his "New Deal" to life. Advised by a group of economists, educators, and other experts dubbed the "Brain Trust," he set about revamping the economy without destroying capitalism. Flexible and open minded, he was willing to try anything that seemed reasonable and did not hesitate to toss out what wasn't working and take a risk on a new approach.

For example, only two days after he took office, Roosevelt closed all of the banks and set up a committee to determine the soundness of each one before allowing it to reopen. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) was established to guarantee bank deposits and put an end to panic-induced failures. To address the urgent problems of starvation and unemployment, he created a veritable "alphabet soup" of programs and agencies, among them the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), the Civilian Works Administration (CWA), the Public Works Administration (PWA), the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and the National Recovery Administration (NRA). He proposed the Agricultural Adjustment Act, which paid farmers to cut back on production and thus force up prices. More significant legislation was passed during his first term (much of it during the first one hundred days) than in any other four-year period in U.S. history.

While these quick and decisive measures gave Americans a reason to hope and boosted Roosevelt's popularity, they alarmed some observers who feared that too much power was ending up in the hands of the federal government--especially the president. Critics also accused him of undermining capitalism with his "socialist" programs. Their objections grew louder as the reforms continued. In 1935, for instance, the Social Security Act marked the beginning of the government's commitment to furnish pensions to the sick and elderly. That same year, the Wagner Act guaranteed collective bargaining and prohibited employer interference with union activities, prompting a tremendous growth in unions and touching off violent confrontations between employees and management.

Roosevelt made a point of explaining all these programs to the American public via informal radio broadcasts, "fireside chats" as they were called. They added immeasurably to his popularity and gave him the opportunity to appeal directly to the people in a manner that conveyed warmth and sincere concern for their well-being.

By the time the 1936 election was held, Roosevelt's standing among voters was at an all-time high, and again he won in a landslide. However, much of his second term was spent fighting to preserve the reforms he had instituted during his first term. His biggest and most damaging battle was with the Supreme Court, which had begun to rule some of the New Deal legislation unconstitutional. Roosevelt proposed that he be allowed to appoint additional justices for every member age seventy or older who chose not to retire. (At the time, six justices qualified, four of whom were conservatives.) The plan met with almost universal rejection; angry opponents condemned it as an attempt to "pack" the Court and accused Roosevelt of being a dictator. He even failed to win the support of his fellow Democrats, some of whom were concerned that the New Deal was adding too many government regulations and turning the country into a massive welfare state. The defeat was an embarrassment to the administration, and even though seven justices eventually retired (allowing Roosevelt to replace them with liberals), the days of the New Deal reforms were numbered as Congress began questioning their long-term impact.

During the late 1930s, Roosevelt grew increasingly preoccupied with the disturbing news from Europe that Germany once again appeared to be preparing for war. With the painful experience of World War I still fresh in many minds, Americans were fiercely isolationist and opposed any attempt by Roosevelt to become openly involved. Even after war broke out in September, 1939, and early German victories threatened France and Great Britain, the prevailing sentiment continued to favor neutrality while supporting the notion that perhaps "something" should be done to help.

Roosevelt devised a cash-and-carry program that enabled the United States to sell arms to its friends--provided they paid cash and took away the goods on their own ships. Later, after France fell and left Britain to stand alone against the Nazis, Roosevelt's Lend-Lease Act made it even easier for England and China (which was fighting Japan) to obtain supplies from the United States. This led to charges that the president had all but officially entered the country into war. Such fears escalated after he instituted a draft, increased the defense budget, and declared a national emergency. Meanwhile, he enjoyed immense prestige overseas for his strong stand against Hitler and willingness to do whatever he could to help those he counted among the friends of the United States.

As the 1940 election drew near, Roosevelt decided to run for an unprecedented third term believing he had an obligation to remain in office at such a critical time. The third term became the main campaign issue for his opponent, Wendell Willkie, but it was not an issue for most voters, who returned Roosevelt to the White House.

The threat of war that had loomed for so long became a reality when Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, "a date which will live in infamy," as Roosevelt proclaimed the next day in an appearance before Congress. By December 11, the United States was at war not only with Japan but also with Germany and Italy. From that moment on, the president devoted nearly all of his attention to the war effort. He took steps to speed up industrial production (which effectively eliminated any lingering unemployment) and facilitate the movement of supplies, build up the armed forces, and assemble various boards whose members were charged with overseeing different aspects of the mobilization. He also consulted with American and British military leaders on strategy and met regularly with Allied partners Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin to discuss the progress of the war and plans for the postwar world. Plus, he led to the formation of the United Services Organizations (USO), which would handle the on-leave recreation needs for members of the U.S. armed forces. Roosevelt challenged six civilian agencies--the YMCA, YWCA, National Catholic Community Service, the National Jewish Welfare Board, the Traveler's Aid Association, and the Salvation Army--to coordinate their efforts and pool their resources to form the USO. He became the first USO Honorary Chairman, a position accepted by every President who followed.

All of this activity, coupled with the strain of the war itself (which went very badly for the Allies until late 1942), proved physically exhausting for Roosevelt. As the conflict dragged on, he looked increasingly haggard and seemed less and less his energetic, confident self. In 1944, his deteriorating health was the major campaign issue in the presidential race against Thomas Dewey, governor of New York, but again Roosevelt won easily.

In February, 1945, with Germany just months from certain defeat, Roosevelt met for the last time with Churchill and Stalin at Yalta to discuss postwar borders in Europe, the Soviet role in the war with Japan, and other outstanding issues, including the establishment of the United Nations. Shocked observers noted the president's tired and gaunt appearance and wondered if he was up to the task of confronting Stalin about Soviet ambitions in Eastern Europe and Asia. Ever mistrustful of the Russian leader, Churchill advised taking a hard-line approach and insisted that the time was right to take drastic action against Soviet expansionism. Roosevelt, on the other hand, opposed doing anything that could create a rift among the Allies and thus endanger the peace that was at last within reach. As a result, he gave in to most of Stalin's demands while Churchill steered clear of their discussions and carefully avoided giving any impression that he supported the outcome. In the decades since that historic meeting, critics have hotly debated Roosevelt's wisdom in virtually handing Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union, speculating that his physical condition led him to appease Stalin rather than argue with him.

Roosevelt's health continued to decline in the weeks following the Yalta Conference. That arduous trip had drained much of his energy, but he was not able to get away to Warm Springs for a rest until March 30. Although his stay in Georgia seemed to revive him somewhat, it was clear to those closest to him that he was slipping away. During the afternoon of April 12, 1945, while reviewing some paperwork, he suffered a massive stroke and died less than three hours later. He was succeeded by vice-president Harry S. Truman.

Roosevelt's death triggered among many Americans a deep sense of personal loss. For many, he was the only president they had ever known, a benevolent father figure who, remarked Bruce Bliven in the New Republic, "never seemed overwhelmed by his burdens.... He was a rock of security and confidence in a world of chaos." He was also a hero who never allowed himself to be defeated by self-pity just because polio had taken away the use his legs. Others judged him with somewhat less emotion, criticizing policies and errors in judgment that had brought the United States into war and then lost the peace to the Soviets. And there were those who never reconciled themselves to the economic changes of the 1930s that seemed to come too fast and with too little regard for what they would mean to the future of the country. But to most observers, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a skilled leader and politician who orchestrated major victories over both a shattered economy and a group of nations intent on conquering much of the world. As Bliven noted, "he was the pivotal figure in one of the crucial moments of all history, and ... with his help, the scales were balanced at last in the right direction. By that test alone, he can fairly be called one of the greatest leaders who ever lived."

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