The 32nd President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was born on January 30, 1882 to James Roosevelt and Sara Ann Delano. James was a land-owner and businessmen who was a widower and married Sara Delano in 1880, she was twenty-six years his junior. Sara, one of the five beautiful Delano sisters, came from a family of considerable means and was notable both for her aristocratic manner and her independent streak. Franklin was the only child of a wealthy family of English descent who was raised in an atmosphere of privilege. Sara Roosevelt proved especially dedicated to Franklin, spending almost all of her energies raising him. This unending devotion would continue throughout her long life.
Franklin spent his youth near Hyde Park, about fifty miles north of New York City, on a large estate and farm tended by hundreds of workers. He was insulated from the outside world and schooled at home by tutors until he was 14 years old. His parents sent him to Groton School, a private school that educated the sons of some of the most wealthy and powerful American families. It aimed to instill in its students a mental and physical toughness, who have a desire to serve the public.
After graduating from Groton, Franklin went to Harvard College in 1900 and became the editor of Harvard’s student newspaper, the Crimson. In his second year he proposed to a Boston heiress, Alice Sohier, who turned him down. Franklin was introduced to Eleanor Roosevelt, in 1902 on a train to Tivoli, New York, she was the niece of President Theodore Roosevelt, making her his distant cousin.
He graduated from Harvard in 1903 with degree in history. In 1904, Franklin entered Columbia Law School but dropped out when he passed the New York Bar exam in 1907. Franklin was first employed at the Wall Street firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn, dealing mainly with corporate law.
Franklin and Eleanor had fallen deeply in love but had one obstacle to overcome, Franklin’s over protective mother. In 1904 Franklin told his mother that he was in love with Eleanor and planned to marry her, his mother, who didn’t know of the courtship, insisted that they wait one year. Delayed, but not denied, Franklin and Eleanor married on March 17, 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt gave the bride away.
The couple had six children, Anna Eleanor, James, Franklin Delano, Jr., Elliott, Franklin and John Aspinwall. Franklin was not involved in raising the children, he was occupied with his work and believed that child-rearing was his wife’s, or nanny’s, job. The children played important roles in Franklin’s life after he was affected by polio.
Franklin practiced corporate law in New York for three years but disliked being a lawyer. He enjoyed new challenges and meeting people, he was looking to follow his role model, Theodore Roosevelt, and decided to enter politics. He had no prior experience, but being a Roosevelt and having wealth, and influence was enough to get him elected to the New York Senate as a Democrat in 1910. He won re-election to the state senate in 1912 and became friends with the political journalist Louis Howe, who would become his chief political adviser for the next two decades.
In the 1912 presidential elections, Franklin supported Woodrow Wilson’s election for President. When Woodrow Wilson was elected the Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, asked Franklin to serve as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. He accepted without hesitation, his mentor, Teddy Roosevelt, had been assistant secretary of the Navy in the first McKinley administration.
In 1914 Franklin decided to run for the U.S. Senate seat of New York but he didn’t gain White House support and failed to win the Democratic nomination. He continued to serve as the assistant secretary of the Navy for a total of seven years and emerged as an advocate for a “big Navy,” which won him supporters among active and retired Navy personnel.
Franklin began a romantic relationship with Eleanor’s social secretary, Lucy Mercer. In 1918 Eleanor found out about the affair and offered Franklin a divorce, but he refused. He knew that a divorce would prevent him from achieving a career in American politics. He promised Eleanor that he would never see Mercer again, but did occasionally still see her. His political career was safe, but his relationship with Eleanor was no longer intimate, they maintained a political and social partnership and Eleanor constructed a life of her own and found intellectual and emotional satisfaction with people other than her husband. Franklin was also romantically linked to Marguerite “Missy” LeHand and Princess Martha of Sweden.
Franklin resigned from his post at the Navy to be a candidate for the Vice Presidential elections in 1920 but was beaten by a wide margin by Warren G. Harding, the Republic candidate. He returned to New York and started practicing law again.
During the summer of 1921, the 39 year old Franklin was vacationing at Campobello Island, his second home on the Canadian Atlantic coast. After a swim in the cold waters and a two-mile hike home, he woke up the next morning feverish and his left leg felt numb. Within a day he was partly paralyzed from the abdomen down, he had contracted a viral inflammation of the spinal column called “Polio,” a terrifying and rampant disease in the 1920s that had no cure.
Franklin went through years of arduous and painful rehabilitation and eventually regained some of his lost mobility. He maintained an upbeat, positive, and energetic attitude that he would fully recover. His zest for life and confidence grew in the face of his trials and he displayed remarkable courage and an unrelenting will, Eleanor would later remark: “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.”
Eleanor became more involved in politics, she would represent Franklin and helped him to repair his damaged relationship with the New York Democratic Party. At the 1928 Democratic Convention he dramatically appeared on crutches to nominate Alfred E. Smith as “the Happy Warrior.” That same year he became Governor of New York and worked to establish a number of social programs, he was reelected for a second term as Governor.
Franklin was an obvious choice for the Democratic Party in the 1932 Presidential elections. The campaign was conducted under the shadow of the Great Depression and gave Democrats an upper hand from the Republicans, who were blamed for the Depression. Franklin’s buoyant spirit, optimistic outlook and charming mannerism helped him beat Republican candidate, Herbert Hoover, with 57% of the votes.
America was undergoing its greatest period of crisis. Between 1929 and 1933, 5,000 American banks collapsed, one in four farms went into foreclosure, and an average of 100,000 jobs vanished each week. By the time Franklin took office on March 4, 1933, there were 13 million American’s unemployed.
In the first widely broadcast inaugural address on the radio, Franklin boldly declared that “This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and prosper…[T]he only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Standing true to his campaign promise, Franklin provided relief, recovery and reform to American in a program he called ‘New Deal.’ A large number of the unemployed where put to work through various programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps which employed young men who built a number of National Park structures that are still used today. He also began speaking directly to the American people by holding “fireside chats,” which broadcasted to a radio audience of some 60 million people, it would help to restore public confidence and prevent harmful bank runs. Encouraged by Eleanor, Franklin appointed more women to federal posts than any previous president and also included black Americans in federal job programs.
Franklin enjoyed collecting stamps, bird-watching, playing cards, or swimming in the pool he had built at the White House. He was an out-going person who liked the company of others, and hosted a cocktail hour each day for those closest to him. He regularly entertained friends and acquaintances, as well as political allies and visiting dignitaries, at the White House.
By 1935 the Nation had achieved some recovery, but businessmen and bankers were turning more and more against Franklin’s New Deal program. They feared his experiment of taking the Nation off the gold standard and allowing deficits in the budget. Franklin responded with a new program of reform, Social Security, heavier taxes on the wealthy, new controls over banks and public utilities, and an enormous work relief program for the unemployed.
In 1936 he was re-elected for a second term by a heavy margin, during Franklin’s second term the Supreme Court casted a stern eye on his suggested reforms and overturned many of them. Furious by this, Franklin proposed a new law which allowed him to appoint judges, but everyone, including Democrats, voted against it, it would’ve gave the President control over the Court as well. The labour unions which backed him were also split up, thus weakening the party elections from 1938 until 1946.
In Europe, Adolf Hitler’s rise to power was starting a new World War. The Neutrality Acts passed in the 1930s helped the United States from getting involved in foreign conflicts. The United States adopted an isolationist policy in foreign affairs after World War One. But in 1939, Franklin sought ways to support Britain and France as military conflicts emerged in Asia and Europe. He openly defied the neutrality act and declared France and Great Britain as America’s ‘first line of defense’ against Germany.
By December 1939, Franklin was being called “The Sphinx” by reporters and cartoonists because of his secrecy whether he would run for a third term. At the annual Gridiron Dinner for White House correspondents on December 9, 1939, the president was presented with an 8-foot tall Sphinx statue in his likeness. Franklin decided to run for an unprecedented third term in 1940, breaking the tradition set by George Washington that limited Presidents to eight years in office. He secretly felt that no one but himself had the experience to lead America in these trying times.
Campaigning against Republican candidate Wendell Willkie, Franklin won the 1940 elections with 55% votes, nearly 5 million votes more than Wilkie. Much of Franklin’s third term was dominated by the Second World War. He was tagged as a warmonger, but didn’t care much about the criticism and focused on preparing the United States for war and providing aid to the Allied coalition.
The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, 16 warships and battleships were damaged and 3,000 American military personnel and civilians killed. The United States entered World War II and focused on stopping the German advances in the Soviet Union and North Africa, invade western Europe to crush Germany, save China and defeat Japan.
American forces were sent to the Pacific in 1942 and started to defeat Germany in Europe through a series of invasions, North Africa in November 1942, Sicily and Italy in 1943, and then the D-Day invasion of Europe in 1944. His four sons joined the military during the war, James joined the Marines, John and Franklin joined the Navy and Elliott served in the Air Force.
By 1944 Franklin’s health was declining, but he let his fellow Democrats know that he was willing to run for a fourth term. Democrats, even conservative southerners, backed Franklin as their party’s best chance for victory. Franklin decided against running with his current vice president, and chose Senator Harry Truman of Missouri. Together they won with 53% votes and won the Electoral College by a count of 432 to 99.
After his forth inauguration Franklin traveled to Egypt to attend the Yalta Conference where he met the Emperor of Ethiopia and the Saudi Arabia founder. Upon returning he briefed Congress on the Yalta Conference and went to rest at Warm Springs, Georgia.
After 12 years as the President of the United States, Franklin suffered from a massive cerebral hemorrhage and passed away on April 12, 1945. His body was placed in a flag-draped coffin and loaded onto the presidential train. Hundreds of thousands of people, many with tears in their eyes, lined the train route carrying his body from Georgia to Washington, D.C., and then to Hyde Park. Franklin was buried in Hyde Park, New York, on April 15, 1945.
Eleanor remained active in politics and encouraged the United States to join and support the United Nations, she became its first delegate. She served as the first chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights, and oversaw the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, she also chaired the John F. Kennedy administration’s Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. When she passed away on November 7, 1962, she was regarded as “one of the most esteemed women in the world” and was called “the object of almost universal respect” in her New York Times obituary. In 1999, she was ranked ninth in the top ten of Gallup’s List of Most Widely Admired People of the 20th Century.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself–nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
“Freedom of speech is of no use to a man who has nothing to say and freedom of worship is of no use to a man who has lost his God.”
“Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves — and the only way they could do this is by not voting.”
“War is a contagion.”
“Our national debt after all is an internal debt owed not only by the Nation but to the Nation. If our children have to pay interest on it they will pay that interest to themselves. A reasonable internal debt will not impoverish our children or put the Nation into bankruptcy.”
“The True conservative seeks to protect the system of private property and free enterprise by correcting such injustices and inequalities as arise from it. The most serious threat to our institutions comes from those who refuse to face the need for change. Liberalism becomes the protection for the far-sighted conservative.”
“There are as many opinions as there are experts.”
“We … would rather die on our feet than live on our knees.”
“A wise Government seeks to provide the opportunity through which the best of individual achievement can be obtained, while at the same time it seeks to remove such obstruction, such unfairness as springs from selfish human motives.”
“The program for social security that is now pending before the Congress is a necessary part of the future unemployment policy of the government. While our present and projected expenditures for work relief are wholly within the reasonable limits of our national credit resources, it is obvious that we cannot continue to create governmental deficits for that purpose year after year after year. We must begin now to make provision for the future and that is why our social security program is an important part of the complete picture. It proposes, by means of old-age pensions, to help those who have reached the age of retirement to give up their jobs and thus give to the younger generation greater opportunities for work and to give to all, old and young alike, a feeling of security as they look toward old age.”
“Men may differ as to the particular form of governmental activity with respect to industry and business, but nearly all men are agreed that private enterprise in times such as these cannot be left without assistance and without reasonable safeguards lest it destroy not only itself but also our processes of civilization.”
“We must especially beware of that small group of selfish men who would clip the wings of the American Eagle in order to feather their own nests.”
“For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor — other people’s lives. For too many of us life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness.”
“I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people.”
“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.”
“We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.”
“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
“A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned to walk forward.”
“The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”
“We count, in the future as in the past, on the driving power of individual initiative, on the incentive of fair private profit, strengthened of course with the acceptance of those obligations to the public interest which rest upon us all.”
“Democracy alone, of all forms of government, enlists the full force of men’s enlightened will.”
“Be sincere, be brief, be seated.”
“I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen men coughing out their gassed lungs. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen two hundred limping exhausted men come out of line-the survivors of a regiment of one thousand that went forward forty-eight hours before. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.”
“To those people who say that our expenditures for public works and for other means for recovery are a waste that we cannot afford, I answer that no country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources. Demoralization caused by vast unemployment is our greatest extravagance. Morally, it is the greatest menace to our social order. Some people try to tell me that we must make up our minds that for the future we shall permanently have millions of unemployed just as other countries have had them for over a decade. What may be necessary for those other countries is not my responsibility to determine. But as for this country, I stand or fall by my refusal to accept as a necessary condition of our future a permanent army of unemployed. On the contrary, we must make it a national principle that we will not tolerate a large army of unemployed, that we will arrange our national economy to end our present unemployment as soon as we can and then to take wise measures against its return. I do not want to think that it is the destiny of any American to remain permanently on relief rolls.”
“The success of our whole national program depends, of course, on the cooperation of the public–on its intelligent support and its use of a reliable system.”
“Let us not be afraid to help each other—let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and Senators and Congressmen and Government officials but the voters of this country.”
“This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper.”
“It is possible that when the banks resume a very few people who have not recovered from their fear may again begin withdrawals. Let me make it clear to you that the banks will take care of all needs except of course the hysterical demands of hoarders–and it is my belief that hoarding during the past week has become an exceedingly unfashionable pastime in every part of our nation. It needs no prophet to tell you that when the people find that they can get their money–that they can get it when they want it for all legitimate purposes–the phantom of fear will soon be laid. People will again be glad to have their money where it will be safely taken care of and where they can use it conveniently at any time. I can assure you, my friends, that it is safer to keep your money in a reopened bank than it is to keep it under a mattress.”
“As a nation, we may take pride in the fact that we are softhearted; but we cannot afford to be soft-headed.”
“The most difficult place in the world to get a clear and open perspective of the country as a whole is Washington.”
“The Nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.”
“We must be the great arsenal of Democracy.”
“To a great extent the achievements of invention, of mechanical and of artistic creation, must of necessity, and rightly, be individual rather than governmental. It is the self-reliant pioneer in every enterprise who beats the path along which American civilization has marched. Such individual effort is the glory of America.”
“So many figures are quoted to prove so many things. Sometimes it depends on what paper you read or what broadcast you listen in on.”
“The democratic aspiration is no mere recent phase in human history. It is human history.”
“It seems to me to be equally plain that no business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country. By “business” I mean the whole of commerce as well as the whole of industry; by workers I mean all workers, the white collar class as well as the men in overalls; and by living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level-I mean the wages of decent living.”
“The very employers and politicians and publishers who talk most loudly of class antagonism and the destruction of the American system now undermine that system by this attempt to coerce the votes of the wage earners of this country. It is the 1936 version of the old threat to close down the factory or the office if a particular candidate does not win. It is an old strategy of tyrants to delude their victims into fighting their battles for them. Every message in a pay envelope, even if it is the truth, is a command to vote according to the will of the employer. But this propaganda is worse—it is deceit.”
“We defend and we build a way of life, not for America alone, but for all mankind.”
“An election cannot give a country a firm sense of direction if it has two or more national parties which merely have different names but are as alike in their principles and aims as peas in the same pod.”
“Lives of nations are determined not by the count of years, but by the lifetime of the human spirit. The life of a man is three-score years and ten: a little more, a little less. The life of a nation is the fullness of the measure of its will to live.”
“Wealth in the modern world does not come merely from individual effort; it results from a combination of individual effort and of the manifold uses to which the community puts that effort. The individual does not create the product of his industry with his own hands; he utilizes the many processes and forces of mass production to meet the demands of a national and international market. Therefore, in spite of the great importance in our national life of the efforts and ingenuity of unusual individuals, the people in the mass have inevitably helped to make large fortunes possible. Without mass cooperation great accumulations of wealth would be impossible save by unhealthy speculation.”
“We have faith that future generations will know that here, in the middle of the twentieth century, there came a time when men of good will found a way to unite, and produce, and fight to destroy the forces of ignorance, and intolerance, and slavery, and war.”
“We have survived all of the arduous burdens and the threatening dangers of a great economic calamity. We have in the darkest moments of our national trials retained our faith in our own ability to master or own destiny. Fear is vanishing. Confidence is growing on every side, renewed faith in the vast possibilities of human beings to improve their material and spiritual status through the instrumentality of the democratic form of government. That faith is receiving its just reward. For that we can be thankful to the God who watches over America.”
“Only a very small minority of the people of this country believe in gambling as a substitute for the old philosophy of Benjamin Franklin that the way to wealth is through work.”
“Unhappy events abroad have retaught us two simple truths about the liberty of a democratic people. The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic State itself. That, in its essence, is fascism — ownership of government by an individual, by a group or by any other controlling private power. The second truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if its business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way as to sustain an acceptable standard of living. Both lessons hit home.”
“America has been the New World in all tongues, to all peoples, not because this continent was a new-found land, but because all those who came here believed they could create upon this continent a new life — a life that should be new in freedom.”
“Sometimes the threat to popular government comes from political interests, sometimes from economic interests, sometimes we have to beat off all of them together. But the challenge is always the same—whether each generation facing its own circumstances can summon the practical devotion to attain and retain that greatest good for the greatest number which this government of the people was created to ensure.”
“There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.”
“Taxation according to income is the most effective instrument yet devised to obtain just contribution from those best able to bear it and to avoid placing onerous burdens upon the mass of our people.”
“We are not isolationists except in so far as we seek to isolate ourselves completely from war. Yet we must remember that so long as war exists on earth there will be some danger that even the Nation which most ardently desires peace may be drawn into war.”
“We must scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all our citizens, whatever their background. We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our civilization.”
“Nazi forces are not seeking mere modifications in colonial maps or in minor European boundaries. They openly seek the destruction of all elective systems of government on every continent-including our own; they seek to establish systems of government based on the regimentation of all human beings by a handful of individual rulers who have seized power by force. These men and their hypnotized followers call this a new order. It is not new. It is not order.”
“In nine cases out of ten the speaker or writer who, seeking to influence public opinion, descends from calm argument to unfair blows hurts himself more than his opponent.”
“Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”
“The hopes of the Republic cannot forever tolerate either undeserved poverty or self-serving wealth.”
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The Death of President Franklin Roosevelt, 1945
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