the early years
Franklin D. Roosevelt was born in Hyde Park, New York on January 30, 1882. He was the son of James Roosevelt and Sara Delano Roosevelt. His parents and private guardians provided almost all of his formative education. He attended Groton (1896-1900), a prestigious preparatory school in Massachusetts, and received a bachelor’s degree in history from Harvard in just three years (1900-03). Roosevelt then studied law at Columbia University in New York. when he passed the bar exam in 1907, he left school without earning a degree. for the next three years he practiced law at a prominent new york city law firm. He entered politics in 1910 and was elected to the New York State Senate as a Democrat from his traditionally Republican home district.
Meanwhile, in 1905, he had married a distant cousin, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, who was a niece of President Theodore Roosevelt. The couple had six children, five of whom survived infancy: Anna (1906), James (1907), Elliott (1910), Franklin, Jr. (1914) and John (1916).
roosevelt was re-elected to the state senate in 1912 and supported woodrow wilson’s candidacy at the democratic national convention. As a reward for his support, Wilson appointed him Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1913, a post he held until 1920. He was an energetic and efficient administrator, specializing in the business side of naval administration. This experience prepared him for his future role as Commander-in-Chief during World War II. Roosevelt’s popularity and success in naval affairs resulted in his being nominated for Vice President by the Democratic Party in 1920 in a ticket led by James M. cox from ohio However, popular sentiment against Wilson’s plan for US participation in the League of Nations propelled Republican Warren Harding to the presidency, and Roosevelt returned to private life.
While vacationing on Campobello Island, New Brunswick, in the summer of 1921, Roosevelt contracted polio (infantile paralysis). despite valiant efforts to overcome his crippling disease, he never regained the use of his legs. Over time, he established a foundation in Warm Springs, Georgia, to help other victims of polio, and inspired as well as led the March of Dimes program that ultimately funded an effective vaccine.
With the encouragement and help of his wife, Eleanor, and his political confidant, Louis Howe, Roosevelt resumed his political career. In 1924 he appointed Governor Alfred E. Smith of New York for president at the Democratic National Convention, but Smith lost the nomination to John W. Davis in 1928 Smith became the Democratic nominee for president and arranged for Roosevelt’s nomination to succeed him as Governor of New York. smith lost the election to herbert hoover; but roosevelt was elected governor.
Following his re-election as governor in 1930, Roosevelt began campaigning for the presidency. while the economic depression hurt hoover and the republicans, roosevelt’s bold efforts to combat it in new york improved his reputation. In Chicago in 1932, Roosevelt won the nomination as the Democratic Party’s candidate for president. He broke with tradition and flew to Chicago to accept the nomination in person. he then campaigned vigorously for government intervention in the economy to provide relief, recovery, and reform. His activist approach and personal charm helped defeat Hoover in November 1932 by seven million votes.
the great depression
The depression worsened in the months before Roosevelt took office on March 4, 1933. Factory closings, farm foreclosures, and bank failures increased, while unemployment soared. roosevelt faced the greatest crisis in american history since the civil war. he took immediate action to initiate his new deal programs. to stop the panic of depositors, he closed the banks temporarily. He then worked with a special session of Congress for the first “100 days” to pass recovery legislation establishing alphabet agencies like the AAA (Farm Adjustment Administration) to support farm prices and the CCC (Civil Conservation Corps). to employ young people. other agencies helped businesses and jobs, insured bank deposits, regulated the stock market, subsidized home and farm mortgage payments, and helped the unemployed. These measures reactivated confidence in the economy. banks reopened and direct aid saved millions of people from starvation. But the New Deal measures also involved the government directly in areas of social and economic life like never before and resulted in much higher spending and unbalanced budgets that led to criticism of Roosevelt’s programs. However, the nation generally supported Roosevelt and elected additional Democrats to state legislatures and governorships in the midterms.
Another flurry of New Deal legislation followed in 1935, including the establishment of the Works Projects Administration (WPA) which provided jobs not only for laborers but also for artists, writers, musicians, and authors, and the Security Act that provided unemployment compensation and an old-age and survivor benefit program.
roosevelt easily defeated alfred m. Landon in 1936 and then defeated by minor margins Wendell Willkie in 1940 and Thomas E. Dewey in 1944. He thus became the only US president to serve more than two terms.
After his landslide victory in 1936, Roosevelt faced off against critics of the New Deal, namely the Supreme Court, which had declared several laws unconstitutional, and members of his own party. in 1937 he proposed adding new justices to the supreme court, but critics said he was “stuffing up” the court and undermining the separation of powers. His proposal was rejected, but the court began to decide in favor of the new deal legislation. During the 1938 elections he campaigned against many Democratic opponents, but failed when the majority was re-elected to Congress. These setbacks, along with the recession that occurred midway through his second term, represented the nadir of Roosevelt’s presidential career.
World War II
In 1939, with the outbreak of the war in Europe, Roosevelt was increasingly concentrating on foreign affairs. new deal reform legislation abated, and the evils of the depression would not fully abate until the nation mobilized for war.
when hitler attacked poland in september 1939, roosevelt stated that although the nation was neutral, he did not expect america to remain inactive in the face of nazi aggression. Consequently, he tried to make American aid available to Britain, France, and China and to obtain a change in the neutrality laws that made such aid difficult. he also took steps to strengthen the military in the face of isolationist opposition.
With the fall of France in 1940, the American mood and Roosevelt’s policies changed dramatically. Congress enacted a draft for the draft and Roosevelt signed a Lend-Lease bill in March 1941 to allow the nation to provide aid to nations at war with Germany and Italy. The United States, though neutral in the war and still at peace, was becoming the “arsenal of democracy” as its factories began producing as they had in the pre-Depression years.
The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, followed four days later by German and Italian declarations of war against the United States, plunged the nation irrevocably into war. Roosevelt exercised his powers as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, a role he played actively. he worked with and through his military advisers, overriding them when necessary, and took an active role in choosing top field commanders and making decisions regarding wartime strategy.
moved to create a “grand alliance” against the axis powers through the “united nations declaration”, on January 1, 1942, in which all nations fighting against the Axis agreed not to make a separate peace and committed to a peacekeeping organization (now the United Nations) after the victory.
He prioritized the Western European front and had General George Marshall, Chief of Staff, plan a containment operation in the Pacific and organize an expeditionary force for an invasion of Europe. The united states and its allies invaded north africa in november 1942 and sicily and italy in 1943. the d-day landings on the beaches of normandy in france on june 6, 1944 were followed by the allied invasion of germany six months later. In April 1945, victory in Europe was certain.
the endless stress and strain of the war literally wore roosevelt out. in early 1944, a complete medical examination revealed serious heart and circulatory problems; and although his doctors placed him on a strict regimen of diet and medication, the pressures of war and domestic politics weighed heavily on him. While vacationing in Warm Springs, Georgia, on April 12, 1945, he suffered a massive stroke and died two and a half hours later without regaining consciousness. he was 63 years old. his death came on the eve of complete military victory in europe and within months of victory over japan in the pacific. president roosevelt was buried in the rose garden of his estate in hyde park, new york.