Franklin Delano Roosevelt (January 30, 1882–April 12, 1945), often referred to as FDR, was the 32nd (1933–1945) President of the United States. He was elected to an unprecedented four terms, and died in office — he remains the only U.S. president elected more than twice, and he will remain so due to the Twenty-Second Amendment. His main impact was the institution of major economic and social assistance programs in response to the Great Depression (known as the New Deal), leading the country through a successful involvement in World War II, and helping in the formation of the United Nations.
Roosevelt's four presidential election victories led to the 22nd Amendment to the United States Constitution, which bars anyone from being elected to the office of president more than twice (or once, if that person served more than two years of another president's term). Since then, the only president eligible to have served more than eight years was Lyndon Johnson (The 22nd Amendment didn't apply to Harry Truman, because he was president when it was adopted).
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a semi-distant cousin to the earlier President Theodore Roosevelt. As such, the two Roosevelts are the only confirmed pair of cousins to have both served as President of the United States.
Roosevelt was born on Monday, January 30, 1882 in Hyde Park, New York to James Roosevelt and Sara Delano of the prominent Delano family. He died on Thursday, April 12, 1945 in Warm Springs, Georgia, of a cerebral hemorrhage at age 63, leaving the famous Unfinished Portrait.
Education and Marriage
Roosevelt graduated from Harvard University in 1904, and from Columbia Law School with a J.D. in 1908 before taking a job with a prestigious Wall Street firm. On Friday, Saint Patrick's Day, 1905, he married Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, a distant cousin, who was the favorite niece of Theodore Roosevelt, his fifth cousin. They had six children:
- Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, Thursday, May 3, 1906–Monday, December 1, 1975
- James Roosevelt, Monday, December 23, 1907–Tuesday, August 13, 1991
- The first Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr., Thursday, March 18, 1909–Monday, November 1, 1909
- Elliott Roosevelt, Friday, September 23, 1910–Saturday, October 27, 1990
- The second Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr., Monday, August 17, 1914–Wednesday, August 17, 1988
- John Aspinwall Roosevelt, Monday, March 13, 1916–Monday, April 27, 1981
Roosevelt suffered from polio from the age of 39, which left him with severe difficulty in moving. He often used a wheelchair, but took efforts to hide this disability throughout his life. In fact, there are only two known photographs of Roosevelt in his wheelchair. Even as President, rather than be seen in his braces or in his wheelchair, Roosevelt walked with the aid of a Secret Service bodyguard. However, a highly controversial statue of Roosevelt sitting in a wheelchair was commissioned in Washington, DC in 2001 at the urging of advocates for the disabled.
From the age of one until 1936, Roosevelt spent his summers at Campobello Island, New Brunswick but because of his worsening polio, in later years he had to spend much of his time in Warm Springs, whose namesake warm springs provided him and others relief from their symptoms, and where he built the Little White House, now a Georgia state historic site.  (http://www.fdr-littlewhitehouse.org) He also created the town's Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation, which continues to help others with physical disabilities to this day.  (http://www.rooseveltrehab.org)
Government Positions held by Roosevelt prior to his presidency include:
Roosevelt also was a candidate for Vice President of the United States, serving as running mate to Ohio Governor James M. Cox on the Democratic ticket in 1920. The Cox/Roosevelt ticket was defeated by the Republican ticket of Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge.
Assassination and Coup d'État Attempt
On February 15, 1933, after his victory in the 1932 election, President-elect Roosevelt was nearly assassinated in Miami, Florida. Chicago mayor Anton J. Cermak was killed. The assassin, Giuseppe Zangara of Chicago, was convicted of murder and executed in the electric chair on March 20, 1933.
In 1933 Major General Smedley Darlington Butler came forward to Congress to reveal a coup d'état plot against President Roosevelt sponsored by big-money interests.
Roosevelt's Presidential campaign in 1932 saw the New York governor committing himself to battling the Great Depression, promoting a platform with "Three R's—relief, recovery and reform." He coined the term "New Deal" when he stated: "I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people."
Roosevelt's ebullient public personality, conveyed through his declaration that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," and his "fireside chats" on the radio did a great deal alone to help restore the nation's confidence. Above, Roosevelt gives one of his fireside chats.
In reference to the Great Depression, Roosevelt proclaimed "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" in his inauguration speech on (Saturday, March 4, 1933). Roosevelt's first weeks in office were called The Hundred Days, as during the first part of his administration he authored and approved a flurry of Congressional acts to institute immediate change and keep the nation's economy from destabilizing. He instituted a four-day "banking holiday" two days after he took office: a four-day period in which all banks in the country closed, allowing the institutions a brief period to recover and reorganize. During this time of crisis Roosevelt addressed the nation for the first time as President on Sunday, March 12, 1933 in the first of many "Fireside Chats."
In order to end the 1930s general bank crisis, Roosevelt issued an executive order and, with the Emergency Bank Relief Act (March 1933) and the Gold Reserve Act (January 1934), outlawed the circulation and private possession of United States gold coins for general circulation, with an exemption for collector coins. This act declared that gold coins were no longer legal tender in the United States, and people had to turn in their gold coins for other forms of currency. This act took the United States off the gold standard, and it also effected the removal of the statement that United States paper currency could be exchanged for gold at any of the nation's banks.
Of the various reform programs initiated by the Roosevelt administration, the most far-reaching and influential was the institution of the Social Security system, a form of welfare that was meant to provide support for low-income and elderly citizens. Some critics claim that this, and other entitlement programs of Roosevelt's, were an attempt to "buy some people’s votes with other people’s money."
In 1935–1936, the Supreme Court, which was dominated by conservatives with a narrow view of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, the basis of much New Deal legislation, struck down eight of FDR's New Deal programs.
In response Roosevelt submitted to Congress in February of 1937 a plan for "judicial reform," which proposed adding a justice for every justice over the age of 70 who refused to retire, up to a maximum of 15 total. This came to be known as his attempt to "pack" the Court. Up to this point in his presidency, no vacancy on the Supreme Court had arisen, despite him now being in his second term—an exceptionally unusual occurrence and one that presumably added to his frustrations. Though the plan failed in Congress, as a threat to the Court it may have had its desired effect. In a move cynically referred to as "the switch in time that saved nine", one of the conservative justices, Owen Roberts, inexplicably shifted his vote in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, changing the ideological balance of the Court. This episode is often referred to as the "Constitutional Revolution of 1937" and it ushered in a period wherein the Supreme Court largely abdicated its role in limiting the scope of federal power, in particular as regards economic intervention and regulation. It was not until the Rehnquist Court that the Supreme Court began to once again assert its power to over the scope of federal power. It was not long before time allowed Roosevelt to further have his way on the bench, as vacancies allowed Roosevelt to eventually fill all nine seats with his appointments–the most of any presidency except George Washington's.
Easily winning re-election in 1936, Roosevelt became the first U.S. President to be inaugurated after the adoption of the Twentieth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Prior to this, presidents had been sworn into office on March 4th, but he was inaugurated on January 20th in 1937.
Also in 1937, Roosevelt delivered "The Quarantine Speech" in Chicago. In it he compared the outbreak of international violence to that of a communicable disease needing to be quarantined. This speech began debates over just how much the United States should be concerned with international diplomacy. News media responded that the speech represented "an attitude and not a program".
Frustrated with the opposition to his proposals in his own party's conservative wing, in 1938, Roosevelt openly campaigned against five southern Democratic senators, including Georgia's Sen. Walter F. George, hoping to purge the Democratic party of its conservative wing. Roosevelt's efforts were unsuccessful, however, as all five of the targeted senators won re-election.
Election to Third Term
In an unprecedented move, Roosevelt sought a third consecutive term in 1940. Unlike the 1936 election where he won the Democratic nomination uncontested, in 1940 he was opposed by several candidates, the most noteworthy of which was his own Vice President, John Nance Garner.
Roosevelt went on to defeat Garner for his party's nomination, then defeated Republican nominee Wendell L. Willkie in a landslide to win the election. Joining him as Vice President to replace Garner was Henry Agard Wallace.
World War II
Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, President Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill at the Cairo Conference
Roosevelt proclaimed that he would not send American boys to fight in foreign wars. However, in 1941 the conflicting interests of Japan and the United States in Asia and the Pacific, especially in China, resulted in a breakdown of diplomatic relations to the point where war seemed inevitable (see entry for Hull note).
Some have suggested Roosevelt had prior knowledge of the Sunday, December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and welcomed it as a way to get the U.S. into World War II. Others point out, that while U.S. code-breakers had broken Japanese diplomatic codes (they would later break Japanese Naval codes) in Washington, D.C. and knew something was about to happen, communication delays prevented the messages from getting to Pearl Harbor until 4 hours after the attack. In addition, the Japanese fleet that attacked Pearl Harbor had been observing radio silence and some of the ships involved were believed by the U.S. Navy to still be in port in Japan.
Further, there had been messages to the commanders in Pearl Harbor to be alert for potential war. After the attack they said that they believed any attack would start in the Phillipines or elsewhere in the Far East. At best the conspiracies can only justifiably claim that FDR knew an attack by the Japanese was going to happen somewhere in the Pacific; not that it was going to take place at Pearl Harbor. This has not prevented people from claiming otherwise.
On Monday, May 18, 1942, Roosevelt wrote a private letter to William Lyon Mackenzie King, Prime Minister of Canada, in which he discusses that the USA and Canada agree on an unwritten plan aiming to disperse French-Canadians in order to assimilate them more quickly.
On Thursday, January 14, 1943 Roosevelt became the first President of the United States to travel via airplane while in office with his flight from Miami, Florida to Morocco to meet with Winston Churchill to discuss World War II. The meeting was concluded on Sunday, January 24.
In hindsight, perhaps the most controversial decision Roosevelt made was Executive Order 9066 which resulted in the internment in concentration camps of 110,000 Japanese nationals and American citizens of Japanese descent on the West Coast. Considered a major violation of civil liberties, it was even opposed at the time by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (who may have done it out of malice for FDR), Eleanor Roosevelt as well as many other groups. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Executive Order. Others have criticised him for failing to do anything to disrupt the Nazi operations in perpetrating the Holocaust despite having intelligence of the atrocity.
Roosevelt was the first President to regularly address the American public through the medium of radio. He instituted a tradition of weekly radio speeches, which he called "fireside chats." These "chats" gave him the opportunity to take his opinions to the American people, and they often bolstered his popularity as he campaigned for various changes. During World War II the fireside chats were seen as important morale boosters for Americans at home.
One speech he is famous for delivering was his State of the Union Address in 1941. This speech is also known as the Four Freedoms Speech. His address to Congress and the nation on Monday, December 8, 1941 following the attack on Pearl Harbor entered history with the phrase, "December Seventh, 1941—a date which will live in infamy." Following that speech, the U.S. openly entered World War II with the Allies.
Election to Fourth Term
Though seen by many in the Democratic Party to already be physically ailing to a point where it was unclear if he could serve another four year term, there was little question that, in time of war, "FDR" would be the party's candidate for a fourth term in the 1944 elections.
Vice President Henry Wallace had alienated much of the Democratic leadership during his four years in office, and was seen as far too agrarian (and by some, even communist) in his political philosophy. With this in mind and mindful of Roosevelt's health, they persuaded Missouri Senator Harry S. Truman to join Roosevelt on the Democratic ticket in 1944.
The Roosevelt/Truman ticket won the election, held on November 7, 1944, defeating popular Republican challenger Thomas E. Dewey.
Presidency: Supreme Court appointments
Roosevelt appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:
- Hugo Black (AL) August 19, 1937–September 17, 1971
- Stanley Forman Reed (KY) January 31, 1938–February 25, 1957
- Felix Frankfurter (MA) January 30, 1939–August 28, 1962
- William O. Douglas (CT) April 17, 1939–November 12, 1975
- Frank Murphy (MI) February 5, 1940–July 19, 1949
- Harlan Fiske Stone (Chief Justice, NY) July 3, 1941–April 22, 1946
- James Francis Byrnes (SC) July 8, 1941–October 3, 1942
- Robert H. Jackson (NY) July 11, 1941–October 9, 1954
- Wiley Blount Rutledge (IA) February 15, 1943–September 10, 1949
Presidency: New government agencies
Ailing from the stresses of three and a half long years of war and worn down by polio, excessive cigarette smoking, congestive heart disease, and other illnesses, Roosevelt died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage while on retreat at Warm Springs, Georgia on April 12, 1945. He was only 63 years old. Harry S. Truman, who had served just 82 days as Vice President was sworn in later that day to succeed him.
Less than a month later, on May 8, came the moment FDR fought for--V-E Day. President Truman, who celebrated his 61st birthday that day, and many world leaders, including British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, dedicated the victory to the memory of Roosevelt, as a tribute to his commitment towards ending the war in Europe.
Since 1946, Roosevelt's portrait appears on the obverse of the U.S. dime.
The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C. was dedicated May 2, 1997.
Roosevelt Island, in New York City, home of 9,500, site of an as-yet unbuilt memorial.
F.D. Roosevelt State Park near Warm Springs, Georgia is named for him and was once his favorite picnic site in Georgia.
Roosevelt's estate in Hyde park, Springwood, is the site of the Home Of Franklin D Roosevelt National Historic Site maintained by the National Park Service. Also on the site are his presidential library and museum, maintained by the National Archives.