Franklin D. Roosevelt – The Life of President Franklin Roosevelt

Kodachrome color photograph of Franklin Roosevelt (center), Winston Churchill (left) and Joseph Stalin (right) sitting at the Yalta Conference.
(Left to Right) Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin at the Yalta Conference, 9th February 1945.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the 32nd President of the United States of America from March 1933 to his death in April 1945. He is best known for his role in pulling the U.S. out of the Great Depression and leading the nation through World War II. Because of his many accomplishments, Roosevelt is consistently considered by historians to be one of the best presidents the nation has ever had.

Franklin Roosevelt’s Early Life

Franklin Roosevelt as a child photographed alongside his father James Roosevelt in 1895.
Franklin D. Roosevelt as a child with his father, James Roosevelt, 1895. LEARN MORE
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Franklin Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882, in Hyde Park, New York. His parents, James and Sara Roosevelt, were wealthy and ensured that their only child was taught through either themselves or private tutors in his early years. Roosevelt attended Harvard University, graduating with a BA in History in 1903. It was during this time that he fell in love with his distant cousin, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, whom he married in 1905. From Harvard, Franklin Roosevelt studied law at Columbia University and began to work at a New York City law firm. 

In his youth, FDR took great interest and admiration in his fifth cousin (and uncle of Eleanor), Theodore Roosevelt, who was elected president while FDR was at Harvard. Inspired by his cousin, Franklin Roosevelt entered the political scene in 1910 when he ran for and won a New York state senate seat. He did not remain in this position for long, however. In 1913, FDR was appointed as the assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy by President Woodrow Wilson. Interestingly, this position was also once held by Theodore Roosevelt before he became President. Once the United States entered World War I, Franklin D. Roosevelt led the Navy through much of its efforts to assist with the war

Early Political Career of Franklin Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, three-quarter length portrait, seated, facing left as Asst. Sect. of the Navy.
Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Roosevelt, 1913.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

After the war ended, Franklin Roosevelt was nominated to be Vice President for James M. Cox in the election of 1920. President Wilson’s desire to join the League of Nations, however, pushed voters away from the Democratic Party, and Republican Warren Harding was elected President instead. The following year, Roosevelt was diagnosed with polio which left him unable to walk. He then became more private in his life as he attempted to regain his strength. In 1924, He even purchased a resort at Warm Springs, Georgia, to turn into a rehabilitation facility for those that were also suffering from Polio. 

In 1928, Roosevelt successfully ran for the governorship of New York. His time as governor was met with hardship, as the stock market crash of 1929 caused the economy to enter what is now referred to as the Great Depression. To assist his constituents, Roosevelt created the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (TERA), which assisted one out of every ten New York families in finding a job. While Americans blamed President Hoover for the depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt and his liberal policies became increasingly popular. So, Roosevelt ran for the presidency in 1932 and won by a landslide, with seven million more popular votes and eight times as many electoral votes as Hoover.

Franklin Roosevelt’s First Term as President

The economic system of America was already in great disarray by the time Franklin Roosevelt took office. In his first month, 13 million Americans were unemployed, and most banks had shut their doors. FDR understood that to combat the banking crisis, he needed the trust of the American people. So, he began holding national radio addresses known as “fireside chats,” where he promised economic improvement and discouraged citizens from worsening the crisis through more bank runs. These broadcasts instilled confidence in the President and his policies. 

After the Emergency Banking Relief Act was pushed through, 75% of American banks could reopen within a week. This act and many other pieces of legislation passed during Franklin Roosevelt’s first 100 days in office became known as Roosevelt’s New Deal. New departments were created to assist Americans, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the Public Works Administration (PWA). Franklin D. Roosevelt also created other governmental bodies to help to prevent another economic depression. This included creating the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to regulate the stock market and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to protect the bank accounts of depositors. 

In 1935, FDR pushed forward a piece of legislation that continues to benefit millions of Americans today: the Social Security Act. This legislation provided Americans with unemployment and disability benefits and pensions for old age. Congress also increased taxes on the wealthy and large corporations to help fund the new programs. 

FDR’s Second Term

Franklin Roosevelt meets future President Lyndon B. Johnson and shakes his hand.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt shakes hands with a young Lyndon B. Johnson in Galveston, Texas, on May 12, 1937. 
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

By the election of 1936, the economy had made progress. It was still far from a complete recovery, however, as eight million Americans remained unemployed. Despite this, Roosevelt was still able to win his reelection in a landslide. His opponent, Republican Alfred M. Landon, could only win the states of Vermont and Maine. It was clear that Roosevelt had the American people at his side.

Besides Republicans and the wealthy, Franklin Roosevelt also found rivals within the Supreme Court. The justices would often strike down key aspects of Roosevelt’s New Deal. In response, FDR sent a bill to Congress that stated he should be able to appoint a new justice to the court for every justice that was 70 or more years old, which would total six. This ‘court-packing’ scheme faced immense opposition from the public, the Court, and Congress. Roosevelt had not realized that the Court was still a highly respected institution. Thus, his plan was seen as undemocratic, and the bill was turned down by Congress. However, the Court then had a change of heart and began to support many aspects of the New Deal, including the Social Securities Act.

By this point, the axis powers had already gained power on the international stage. The U.S. maintained its isolationist policy until France and Britain declared war on Germany in 1939. This event prompted Roosevelt to work with Congress to allow France and Britain to purchase American weapons through a “cash and carry” basis; the two nations would pay in cash and transport the equipment on their own ships.

Franklin Roosevelt in his Third Term and the Second World War

Kodachrome color photograph of Franklin Roosevelt (center), Winston Churchill (left) and Joseph Stalin (right) sitting at the Yalta Conference.
(Left to Right) Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin at the Yalta Conference, 9th February 1945.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1940, Franklin Roosevelt broke tradition by running for a third term. Roosevelt comfortably defeated Republican Wendell L. Willkie by gaining over five times as many electoral votes. The following year, Roosevelt pushed forward the Lend-Lease Act, which stated that the U.S. would lend military supplies to Britain, who would then pay the U.S. back later and in any form deemed appropriate by the President. This policy was eventually extended to other allies, including China and the Soviet Union. 

On December 8, 1941, Franklin Roosevelt met with a joint session of Congress to encourage the declaration of war on Japan. This was a response to the attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor the previous day. Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States, solidifying the nation’s involvement in the war. 

Entering the war was what finally brought the nation out of the Great Depression. As men enlisted to fight overseas, their jobs were replaced by women in mass. African Americans also benefited as they could leave the rural South for Northern industrial jobs. During this time, the federal government began rationing supplies to assist with the war effort, such as gasoline and food.

Many Americans also pressured Franklin Roosevelt to act on domestic safety. There became a fear that Japanese Americans were actively communicating with the Japanese military to coordinate future attacks. Despite there being no evidence of such collusion, Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. This ordered that 120,000 Japanese Americans were to be sent to internment camps led by the military. These people were forced to either sell or abandon their homes and businesses. Although some were eventually released through work permits, all Japanese Americans were not officially released until the Executive Order was rescinded in January 1945. 

The Fourth Term of Franklin Roosevelt

In 1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt won his 4th term in office after securing over four times the number of electoral votes as Republican Thomas E. Dewey. In February of the following year, Roosevelt met with Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at what came to be known as the Yalta Conference. Here, Franklin Roosevelt convinced Stalin to assist the American forces in the Pacific after Germany was to surrender. The “Big Three” leaders also agreed on splitting post-war Germany into four occupation zones that the three and France would split between them. Stalin also agreed to participate in the United Nations that FDR and Churchill had formed in 1941; it was created to maintain international peace after the war. 

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Death

The last photograph ever taken of Franklin Roosevelt, shows him posing seated for a photograph as a reference for a painting.
The last photograph of President Franklin Roosevelt, taken at Warm Springs, Georgia on April 11, 1945.
Credit: FDR Presidential Library & Museum // CC BY 2.0

Leading America through the war had a serious impact on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s health. He became much weaker, and in April 1945, he decided to visit the rehabilitation center he had created in Warm Springs, Georgia. On April 12, 1945, Roosevelt died after experiencing a cerebral hemorrhage. Vice President Harry S. Truman was sworn into office a few hours later.

Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency was during a time of immense uncertainty. Americans were unsure whether the economy would recover or how WWII would play out. They elected Roosevelt consistently because he fought vigorously to save the nation from collapsing both domestically and internationally. The policies that Roosevelt enacted continue to have a large-scale impact on citizens’ lives to this day.

RELATED ARTICLE: President Franklin D. Roosevelt Quiz


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