Franklin D. Roosevelt: Life, Presidency & Death

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FDR (1882 – 1945)

Famed for his brave leadership during the Great Depression and World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt (commonly called FDR) was the 32nd President of the United States from March 4, 1933 to April 12, 1945.  His unprecedented 12-year stay in the White House was characterized by strong resilience in the face of unrelenting difficulties. Owing to FDR’s moving speeches, as well as sound economic policies, the U.S. was able to pull itself out of dire economic problems.

On the global stage, FDR’s strong alliance with the Soviet Union and Great Britain helped crush Axis powers- Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan.  We present a complete history of the life, presidency and death of FDR.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Childhood

The 32nd President of the United States of America, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was born on January 30, 1882 at his parents’ New York estate. The exact place of his birth is said to be at Hudson Valley- close to Hyde Park in New York. Franklin Roosevelt came from a powerful political family of Dutch origins.

FDR parents were James Roosevelt I and Sara Ann Delano. James was a Harvard Law School graduate that followed in his ancestors footsteps and became a very successful business man. As a result of his numerous ventures, James did not have much interaction with FDR as Sara Ann had with FDR.

Early Education and College Years

As the only child of his parents, Franklin was given the best form of education at elite schools. Prior to that, he was privately tutored right up until the age of 14.

The young FDR often went on family trips and vacations in Europe. It was around this time that FDR became moderately fluent in French and German. Around the age of 9, FDR’s parents even enrolled him in a public school in Germany.

Growing up, FDR was fond of polo, lawn tennis, golf and horse riding. He also loved sailing.

After his homeschooling days were over, FDR went to Groton School in Groton Massachusetts to start his form three. Over there, the young FDR got immensely influenced by the headmaster of the school- Endicott Peabody.

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An FDR quote about his education

After Groton School, FDR went to college at Harvard College. He did not excel that much at Harvard. At Harvard, he worked with The Harvard Crimson.

In 1900, FDR mourned the loss of his father. It was a very difficult period for Roosevelt. However, the Roosevelts soon smiled and celebrated when a member of their family– Theodore Roosevelt- got elected as the 29th President of the United States. Theodore Roosevelt was FDR’s fifth cousin. Taking Cousin Theodore as his role model, FDR started harboring ambitions of one day becoming a U.S. president himself.

Shortly after Harvard, FDR proceeded to Columbia Law School. However, he quit the program in 1907 because he did not see himself practicing law. FDR did however pass the bar exams. Subsequently, FDR got an appointment as a clerk at Carter Ledyard & Milburn.

Marriage and Children

The relationship between Eleanor and FDR started in 1902. They met while FDR was in college. The two were actually distant cousins- fifth cousins once removed. It also turned out that Eleanor was President Theodore Roosevelt’s niece.

Three years after their meeting, FDR proposed to Eleanor. The two got married in New York City on March 17, 1905. Because Eleanor’s father had passed away, the honors fell on her uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt, to give her out at the wedding.

The couple made their home at FDR’s family home at Hyde Park. Together, they had six children: Anna, James, Elliot, Franklin I, Franklin II, and John.  However, in 1909, the first Franklin child of FDR died at a very young age.

Entry into Politics

As stated above, Roosevelt always saw himself making a career in politics. His distant cousin, President Theodore Roosevelt, helped fuel this dream of his.

Unlike Theodore, however, FDR joined the Democratic Party. In the 1910 New York State Senate election, he got a nomination from the party to contest for a seat. Riding on the reputation of Roosevelt’s family name, FDR swept his way to victory.

In the 1912 general elections, FDR opted to throw his weight behind Woodrow Wilson instead of his cousin, Theodore Roosevelt. His support helped Woodrow win the elections.

For his support, President Woodrow Wilson made FDR his Assistant Secretary of the Navy. He brought several changes to the Navy department. Most notable of them was the merit-based promotion system. FDR run the Navy department in a just and effective manner from 1913 to 1920. This earned him the admiration and respect of unions in the Navy. Never once did the unions go on strike during his time at the Navy Department. Furthermore, Roosevelt was instrumental in coordinating naval efforts all throughout World War I.

In 1920, James M. Cox picked FDR as his running mate in the 1920 US Presidential election. The pair eventually lost, massively, to Republicans Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge.

Read More: Major Causes of World War I

Battle with Polio

In 1921, FDR was diagnosed with Poliomyelitis while holidaying at Campobello Island. The illness affected his mobility; and from the waist down to his legs, he struggled moving. FDR’s disability was a well-kept secret for several years. The White House made sure that the public did not see FDR in a wheel chair.

In 1938, he created the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. The foundation made so many strides in the enhancement of polio vaccines. Some political historians opine that the reason why FDR was so passionate about providing social security to disabled workers had to do with his personal struggle disability.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s tenure as Governor of New York

After his 1924 general election defeat as vice-presidential candidate, FDR turned his attention to his beloved state- New York. He contested the governorship election and won by defeating Albert Ottinger in 1928.

His famous “fireside chats” began around this time. He developed very good oratory skills that allowed him to give his state the needed inspiration during several crises. And when the economic crisis of the Great Depression (around 1929) came knocking, FDR put apt communication and oratory skills to good use. He frequently broadcast motivational messages to his state. Obviously, those speeches were backed by strong economic reforms in his New York State.

His economic reforms became more liberal right after the 1929 stock market crash. In his state, FDR was instrumental in the formation of the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration. The program helped a lot of economically struggling families in New York.

His tiring efforts paid off, and he was re-elected governor of New York for a second time. FDR’s reputation and management skills were so renowned, both within and outside his state, that he was tipped to for the White House job. Most people even tagged him as the “second coming of Roosevelt”- a reference to his other cousin- President Theodore Roosevelt.

FDR’s First Presidential Term

The Democratic National Convention voted Roosevelt as the Democratic Party presidential candidate for the 1932 general election. His campaign promise of giving the U.S. a “New Deal” was well received by the country.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

FDR’s quote after accepting the Democratic Party nomination for the 1932 general election

In the 1932 elections, FDR defeated incumbent President Hoover resoundingly. Americans from all walks of life wanted someone new- someone who could liberate them out of the Great Depression. Roosevelt campaign therefore resonated with the public. Additionally, the Democrats swept a number of seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

As the 32nd president of the U.S., FDR continued giving charged public speeches to the American public. The goal of those conferences and radio broadcasts was to instill confidence in the public as they went through a very difficult economic period. FDR’s speeches were termed as “fireside Chats”; and at some point in time they were broadcast to about 60 million Americans.

One of his first initiatives during his first 100 days in office came in the form of the Emergency Banking Relief Act of 1933. Banks were forced to close for a couple of days in the week. This was to allow them briefly restructure. A few weeks after the passage of the Banking Act, 75 percent of the banks re-opened.

Roosevelt’s New Deal was comprehensive enough. It factored in all sectors of the American economy. Funds and Commissions were set up to provide economic relief and reforms. The president’s programs, as well as the numerous acts passed by Congress, helped create key American institutions such as Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), the Public Works Administration (PWA), Civilian Conservation Corps  (CCC), Tennessee Valley authority  (TVA), and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

In the nutshell, Roosevelt Administration’s efforts were aimed at: creating sustainable jobs; reforming the financial sector through the Federal Deposit insurance Corporation (FDIC) to safeguard people’s deposits; and supervising the stock market and curb excesses or abuses of big companies.

FDR’s Second term as President

Prior to seeking re-election in 1936, FDR launched his “Second New Deal” in 1935. This deal comprised a series of economic and social reforms targeted at the micro-level of the economy. For example, he charged Congress to pass the Social Security Act of 1934. The Act was designed to protect unemployed, disabled workers and pensioners from falling into financial ruins. To fund these sorts of social reforms, FDR placed taxes on big firms and super-rich people in America. FDR’s form of tax scheme was popularly termed as “Soak-the-rich” taxes.

Furthermore, the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and the Securities Act of 1933 helped found the Securities and Exchange Commission on June 6, 1934. The Commission’s mandate is to enforce U.S. security laws in the securities industry and stock exchange market.

FDR may have gotten carried away when he attempted to increase the number of Supreme Court judges from 9 to 15. This was in response to the U.S. Supreme Court constantly nullifying some of the reforms in the New Deal.

To FDR’s surprise, there was a bipartisan rejection of those Supreme Court reforms. The “court-packing”, as it was termed back then, is commonly considered as one of FDR’s most significant failures.

FDR’s Third Term and Heroics during World War II

Long before World War II broke out, the U.S. maintained a neutrality policy. What this meant was that the U.S. did not get involved in any way whatsoever in the brewing conflict in Europe.

Many of its European allies campaigned for the U.S. to come out of its isolation policy and join in the efforts to nip in the bud rising extremism in Europe. However, the U.S. did not budge. It continued to dialog extensively with aggressor nations like Germany and Japan.

In 1939, however, FDR introduced the “cash and carry” basis of purchasing of American arms. Perceived rogue and autocratic countries were forced to pay in cash before receiving American ammunition.

Roosevelt stepped up aid and political support to Britain after France capitulated in 1940. However, the FDR still did not get involved in the conflict.

After defeating (by 5 million more votes) Wendell L Wilkie in the 1940 presidential election, FDR quickly introduced the Lend-Lease Act as a replacement of the “cash and carry” system. The act was intended to help allies such as Britain buy goods and sorely needed arms without necessarily paying for it at that time. Provisions were made for them to pay back in kind or at a later future date.

FDR and British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill maintained a very tight-knit relationship. It was crucial in the latter’s effort in fighting Hitler. The two leaders signed the Atlantic Charter. The charter called for nations across the world to guarantee freedom of Speech and expression, freedom from fear, freedom from want, and freedom of religion.

Response to the Pearl Harbor Attack

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President Franklin D. Roosevelt, at Congress in 1941, signing the declaration of war against Japan. Image Source

On December 8, 1941, the U.S. neutrality policy in the war was thrown out of the window. This was because Imperial Navy of Japan attacked the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor. The attack came in the early hours of Sunday, December 7, 1941.

Less than 24 hours after the Pearl Harbor Attack, Franklin D. Roosevelt convened a Congressional meeting and gave one of the most memorable speeches of the 20th century. Congress declared war on Japan that very day.

For more details about what happened in Congress on December 8, 1941, please read Pearl Harbor: How and Why Japan Attacked the U.S.

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FDR’s famous quote from his Noon Speech to Congress, December 8, 1941

The number and frequency of meetings between FDR and Winston Churchill increased shortly after the declaration of war on Japan. Furthermore, the U.S. was now at war with not just Japan but against Japan’s allies – Germany and Italy. The two countries declared war on the U.S. as well.

Also, the number of speeches given by FDR on radio increased. The president constantly kept in touch with the American public in order to lift their spirits up—spirits that were still reeling from the devastating Great Depression.

World War II Conferences and the “Big Three”

FDR in the Big three

The “Big three”. From left to right: Joseph Stalin, FDR, and Winston Churchill

As Roosevelt started shipping men and military power across the Atlantic, it became apparently clear that there was a need for top-notch coordination efforts. Military minds and generals from U.S. often collaborated brilliantly with other European counterparts to halt the movement of Adolf Hitler.

FDR quickly went to the aid of the Soviets once Hitler marched towards Moscow. Arms and intelligence flowed among the 3 Allied Powers- the U.S., Britain and the U.S.S.R.

The leaders from the Allied Powers (the Big three—FDR, Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill) also took part in several conferences. Most notable of these international conferences was the Yalta Conference held in February 1945. At the conference, Stalin agreed to join the fight against Japan in the Pacific.

Along with their counter parts from Canada and Australia, the “Big Three” made post-war plans and agreements in conferences such as the Casablanca Conference in Morocco (1943) and the Octagon Conference in Quebec, Canada (1944). Conferences of those sorts promoted greater collaboration that allowed the Allied Powers to gradually push back Nazi forces.

READ MORE:

Fourth Term in Office

Back in the U.S., FDR reputation remained relatively untainted as he proceeded into the 1944 election. For the Democrats, there was no better candidate than FDR to help them secure victory in the presidential election.

For a fourth time in a row, FDR cruised his way to victory. By so doing he was now far beyond the traditional two-term limit for U.S. presidents.

Considering the amendments that were made in the U.S. constitution after FDR’s tenure, it is reasonable to say that FDR’s record of four terms (12 years in office) will probably never be surpassed in the foreseeable future.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Death

After the Yalta Conference in 1945, there were telltale signs that FDR’s health was deteriorating. He had started to lose weight, and the stress was getting unbearable. Endless meetings and conferences, both domestic and abroad, had started to take massive toll on his already fragile health.

His doctors advised that he take a break and rest. However, the war in Europe was so close to ending. FDR wanted to completely see it through to end.

In April, 1945, FDR took a brief break. He decided to spend some time at his Warm Springs home in Georgia. A few days into his vacation, FDR complained of incessant headaches. He even made a funny remark by saying: “I have a terrific headache.”

It is believed that FDR died in the late afternoon (at about 3:55 p.m.) of April 12, 1945, America’s longest serving president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, died. Doctors say that the 63-year old president died from cerebral hemorrhage.  Some experts say the hemorrhage was the result of his long-term battle with polio.

As the Constitution demanded, Vice President Harry S. Truman was immediately sworn in as FDR’s replacement.

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