Franklin D. Roosevelt

By Austin Yattoni

Early Life

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882, in in the Hudson River Valley in the state of New York. The Roosevelt's were a very wealthy family, and being an only child, the world seemed to revolve around Franklin growing up. He was taught by private tutors until he was 14. In 1886, Franklin Roosevelt went to the Groton School. It was a boys only school, filled with a bunch of athletes and Franklin didn't really fit in. He tried to please the teachers and got involved in public service.

After graduating from Groton in 1900, Roosevelt attended Harvard University. He was an average C student, but he was a member of the fraternity that edited the school newspaper, and got his degree in three years. His last year at Harvard, he engaged Elanor Roosevelt, and married her on March 17, 1905.

Franklin then went to Columbia University to study law, and he passed the bar exam in 1907. He then practiced law in New York for three years, living the upper class life he was accustomed to. However, he found law boring and wished to do bigger things.

Early Political Career

In 1910, Franklin Roosevelt ran for state senator in New York. He ran for the democrat party which is something that had never been done if his family before. He campaigned hard and won the election. Once elected, he opposed some of the big ideas of the democratic party, which brought national attention to him.

He was reelected in 1912, and at the National Democratic Convention, he supported Woodrow Wilson, the presidential candidate, and he was rewarded with Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Franklin's idol, Theodore Roosevelt, used this position to launch himself into presidency, and Franklin hoped to do the same. Roosevelt was very energetic and didn't like being second in charge to the less energetic Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

In 1914, he decided to run for the U.S. Senate for New York. He was doomed from the start. He lacked support from President Wilson because he needed to pass Democratic reforms to assure his reelection. Wilson couldn't support Roosevelt who had too many political enemies. However, Roosevelt thrived on personal relationships, was seen at the best parties, and considered by many women to be very attractive. He developed a love affair with Lucy Mercer that lasted for four years before Elanor Roosevelt found out. Roosevelt agreed to an ultimatum to stop seeing her, but continued anyways.

Roosevelt accepted the nomination for vice president as Jame's Cox's running mate in the 1920 election. They were easily defeated by the Republican Candidate Warren G. Harding, but the experience gave Roosevelt national exposure.


In 1921, he was diagnosed with Polio while on vacation in Canada. He wouldn't accept the fact that he had Polio and tried several treatments to cure the disease but nothing worked. For a time, he restricted himself to being a victim of Polio, but Eleanor and other political friends urged him to continue at politics. Over the years, he taught himself to walk short distances using his braces, and tried never to be seen in public using his wheelchair. He also tried to improve his political image during this time. He went to the 1924 and 1928 Democratic National Conventions to nominate Al Smith for governor. This helped improve how he was viewed in the Democratic political machine.


Al Smith urged Roosevelt to run for Governor of New York in 1928. He won the election and it gave him confidence to do more. By 1930, Republicans were being blamed for the Great Depression and Roosevelt sensed an opportunity. He began his run for the presidency, calling for government intervention in the economy to provide relief, recovery and reform. He defeated Herbert Hoover in 1932 and became the President of the United States. By the time Roosevelt took office in March of 1933, there were 13 million unemployed Americans, and hundreds of banks were closed. Roosevelt faced the greatest crisis in American history since the Civil War.

In his first 100 days, President Franklin Roosevelt proposed sweeping economic reform, calling it the "New Deal." He ordered the temporary closure on all banks to halt the run on deposits. He formed a "Brain Trust" of economic advisers who designed the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the National Recovery Administration, and many other organizations to help regulate the U.S. economy and keep something like the Great Depression from ever happening again.

By 1936, the economy showed signs of improvement. Gross national product was up 34 percent, and unemployment had dropped from 25 percent to 14 percent. But Franklin Roosevelt faced criticism for increased government spending, unbalanced budgets, and what some perceived as moving the country toward socialism. Several New Deal acts were declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Roosevelt retaliated by proposing to "pack" the court with justices more favorable to his reforms. Many in Congress, including some Democrats, rejected the idea. By 1938, negative publicity, a continuing sluggish economy, and Republican victories in mid-term elections virtually ended Roosevelt's ability to pass more reform legislation.

Third Term as President

Early in 1940, Roosevelt had not publicly announced that he would run for an unprecedented third term as president. But privately, with Germany's victories in Europe and Japan's growing dominance in Asia, he felt that only he had the experience and skills to lead America in such trying times.

In 1941, Roosevelt had America's factories help supply the Allied Powers in World War II. As American's learned more about the war, the idea of being an isolationist slowly disappeared. Roosevelt took advantage of the situation and increased the amount of supplies sent to the Allies, and also the size of the Army and Navy. Hopes of keeping America out of the war ended with the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Roosevelt helped develop a strategy to defeat Germany through a series of invasions. The first one in North Africa in November 1942, then Sicily and Italy in 1943, followed by the D-Day invasion of Europe in 1944.

Final Years

The stress of war, however, began to take its toll on Franklin Roosevelt. In March 1944, hospital tests indicated he had atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure. In spite of this, and because the country was deeply involved in war, there was no question that Roosevelt would run for another term as president. He selected Missouri Senator Harry S. Truman as his running mate, and together they defeated Republican candidate Thomas E. Dewey.

In February 1945, Franklin Roosevelt attended the Yalta Conference with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet General Secretary Joseph Stalin to discuss post-war reorganization. He then returned to the United States and the sanctuary of Warm Springs, Georgia. On the afternoon of April 12, 1945, Roosevelt suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage and died.

His sudden death took America by surprise. A whole generation of Americans had grown up knowing no other president. His social programs during the Great Depression redefined the role of government in Americans' lives. His role during World War II established the United States' leadership on the world stage. His 12 years in the White House set a precedent for the expansion of presidential power and redefined liberalism for generations to come.