Franklin D. Roosevelt
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- FDR redirects here. For other uses, see FDR (disambiguation).
|Term of office||March 4, 1933 – April 12, 1945|
|Preceded by||Herbert Hoover|
|Succeeded by||Harry S. Truman|
|Date of birth||January 30, 1882|
|Place of birth||Hyde Park, New York|
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (January 30, 1882 – April 12, 1945), 32nd President of the United States (1933-1945), the longest-serving holder of the office and the only person to be elected President more than twice (he was elected four times, and served just over 12 years), was one of the central figures of 20th century history. Born to wealth and privilege, he overcame a crippling illness to place himself at the head of the forces of reform. To the public he was usually known as FDR. He was one of the most popular presidents in American history, leading the nation as it emerged from the Great Depression and through World War II.
Franklin Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882, at Hyde Park, in the Hudson River valley in upstate New York. His father, James Roosevelt (1828–1900), was a wealthy landowner and vice-president of the Delaware and Hudson Railway. The Roosevelt family (see Roosevelt family tree) had lived in New York for more than 200 years: Claes van Rosenvelt, originally from Haarlem in the Netherlands, arrived in New York (then called Nieuw Amsterdam) in about 1650. In 1788, Isaac Roosevelt was a member of the state convention in Poughkeepsie which voted to ratify the United States Constitution - a matter of great pride to his great-great-grandson Franklin.
In the 18th century the Roosevelt family had divided into two branches, the "Hyde Park Roosevelts", who by the late 19th century were Democrats, and the "Oyster Bay Roosevelts", who were Republicans. President Theodore Roosevelt, an Oyster Bay Republican, was Franklin(i)s fifth cousin. Despite their political differences, the two branches remained friendly: James Roosevelt met his wife, at a Roosevelt family gathering at Oyster Bay, and Franklin was to marry Theodore(i)s niece.
Roosevelt(i)s mother Sara Ann Delano (1854–1941) was of French Protestant (Huguenot) descent, her ancestor Phillippe de la Noye having arrived in Massachusetts in 1621. Her mother was a Lyman, another very old American family. Franklin was her only child, and she was an extremely possessive mother. Since James was a rather remote father (he was 54 when Franklin was born), Sara was the dominant influence in Franklin(i)s early years. He later told friends that he was afraid of her all his life (a factor that may have contributed to his inability to stand up to her on matters of race). He received his early education at home under her supervision.
Roosevelt grew up in an atmosphere of privilege. He learned to ride, to shoot, to row and to play polo and lawn tennis. Frequent trips to Europe made him conversant in German and French. He acquired a conventional set of upper class attitudes, and a streak of anti-Semitism from his mother which he was never able to fully shake. The fact that his father was a Democrat, however, set him apart to some extent from most other members of the Hudson Valley aristocracy. The Roosevelts believed in public service, and were wealthy enough to be able to spend time and money on philanthropy.
This was reinforced by Roosevelt(i)s schooling at Groton, an elite Episcopal boarding school in Massachusetts. He was heavily influenced by the headmaster, Endicott Peabody, who preached the duty of Christians to help the less fortunate and urged his students to enter public service—although most of them in fact entered banks and Wall Street law firms. Roosevelt graduated from Groton in 1900, and naturally progressed to Harvard University, where he enjoyed himself in conventional fashion and graduated with an A.B. (arts degree) in 1904 without much serious study. While he was at Harvard his fifth cousin Theodore Roosevelt became President, and his vigorous leadership style and reforming zeal made him Franklin(i)s role model. In 1903 he met his future wife Eleanor Roosevelt, Theodore(i)s niece, at a White House reception. (They had previously met as children, but this was their first serious encounter).
Roosevelt next attended the Columbia Law School. He passed the bar exam and completed the requirements for a law degree in 1907 but did not bother to actually graduate. In 1908 he took a job with the prestigious Wall Street firm of Carter, Ledyard and Milburn, dealing mainly with corporate law. Meanwhile he had become engaged to Eleanor, despite the fierce resistance of Sara Delano Roosevelt, who was terrified of losing control of Franklin. They were married in March 1905, and moved into a house bought for them by Sara, who became a frequent house-guest, much to Eleanor(i)s mortification. Eleanor was painfully shy and hated social life, and at first she desired nothing more than to stay at home and raise Franklin(i)s children, of which they had six in rapid succession: Anna Eleanor (1906–1975), James (1907–1991), Franklin Delano, Jr. (March to November 1909), Elliott (1910–1990), a second Franklin Delano Jr. (1914–1988), and John Aspinwall (1916–1981).
The five surviving Roosevelt children all led tumultuous lives overshadowed by their famous parents. They had between them fifteen marriages, ten divorces and twenty-nine children. All four sons were officers in World War II and were decorated, on merit, for bravery. Their postwar careers, whether in business or politics, were disappointing. Two of them were elected briefly to the House of Representatives but none attained higher office despite several attempts. One even became a Republican.
In 1910 he ran as a machine Democrat for the New York State Senate from the district around Hyde Park, which had not elected a Democrat since 1884. The Roosevelt name, a lot of Roosevelt money and the big Democratic sweep of that year were enough to get him elected. In the state capital Albany, he became leader of a group of reform Democrats who opposed the Irish-American Tammany Hall machine which dominated the state Democratic Party. Roosevelt was young (30 in 1912), tall, handsome, and well spoken, and soon became a popular figure among New York Democrats. When Woodrow Wilson was elected President in 1912, Roosevelt was offered the post of Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Roosevelt was more interested in elective office: in 1914 he ran for the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate, but was handily defeated in the primary by Tammany Hall-backed James W. Gerard. Nevertheless the Navy post was to be the making of his career.
Between 1913 and 1917 Roosevelt campaigned to expand the Navy (in the face of considerable opposition from pacifists in the administration such as the Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan), and founded the United States Navy Reserve to provide a pool of trained men who could be mobilized in wartime. He was also involved in the frequent American interventions in the affairs of Central American and Caribbean countries: he personally wrote the constitution which the U.S. imposed on Haiti in 1915. When the U.S. entered World War I in April 1917, Roosevelt became the effective administrative head of the United States Navy, since the Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, had been appointed mainly for political reasons and was widely considered to be not up to the job.
Roosevelt soon developed a life-long affection for the Navy. He also showed great administrative talent, and quickly learned to negotiate with Congress and other government departments to get budgets approved and a rapid expansion of the Navy pushed through. He became an enthusiastic advocate of the submarine, and also of means to combat the German submarine menace to Allied shipping: he proposed building a mine barrage across the North Sea from Norway to Scotland. In 1918 he visited Britain and France to inspect American naval facilities — during this visit he met Winston Churchill for the first time. With the end of the war in November 1918, he was in charge of demobilization, although he opposed plans to completely dismantle the Navy.
The 1920 Democratic National Convention chose Roosevelt as the candidate for Vice-President of the United States on the ticket headed by Governor James M. Cox of Ohio. After eight years of Democratic government and twenty years of progressivism, however, the country was ready for a change, and the Cox-Roosevelt ticket was heavily defeated by Republican Warren Harding(i)s Return to Normalcy. Roosevelt then retired to a New York legal practice, but few doubted that he would soon run for public office again.
Roosevelt was a charismatic, handsome and socially active man, while his wife Eleanor was shy and retiring, and furthermore was almost constantly pregnant during the decade after 1906. Roosevelt soon found romantic and sexual outlets outside his marriage. One of these was Eleanor(i)s social secretary Lucy Mercer, with whom Roosevelt began an affair soon after she was hired in early 1914. In September 1918, Eleanor found letters in one of Franklin(i)s suits which revealed the affair. Eleanor was both mortified and angry, and confronted him with the letters, presenting Franklin with an ultimatum: stop seeing Lucy or get a divorce. Franklin(i)s mother Sara Roosevelt soon learned of the crisis, and decisively intervened. She argued that a divorce would ruin Roosevelt(i)s political career, and pointed out that Eleanor would have to raise five children on her own if she divorced him. Since Sara was financially supporting the Roosevelts, this was a strong incentive to preserve the marriage.
Eventually a deal was struck. The facade of the marriage would be preserved, but sexual relations would cease. Sara would pay for a separate home at Hyde Park for Eleanor, and she would also fund Eleanor(i)s philanthropic interests. When Franklin became President—as Sara was always convinced he would—Eleanor would be able to use her position to support her causes. Eleanor accepted these terms, and in time Franklin and Eleanor developed a new relationship as friends and political colleagues, while living separate lives. Franklin continued to see various women, including his secretary Missy LeHand.
In August 1921, while the Roosevelts were vacationing at Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Roosevelt was stricken with poliomyelitis, a viral infection of the nerve fibers of the spinal cord, probably contracted while swimming in the stagnant water of a nearby lake. The result was that Roosevelt was totally and permanently paralyzed from the waist down. At first the muscles of his abdomen and lower back were also affected, but these eventually recovered. Thus he could sit up and, with aid of leg-braces, stand upright, but he could not walk. Unlike in other forms of paraplegia, his bowels, bladder and sexual functions were not affected.
Although the paralysis resulting from polio had no cure (and still does not, although the disease is now very rare in developed countries), for the rest of his life Roosevelt refused to believe that he was permanently paralyzed. He tried a wide range of therapies, but none had any effect. Nevertheless, he became convinced of the benefits of hydrotherapy, and in 1926 he bought a resort at