Franklin Roosevelt: Family

Franklin D. Roosevelt was born in Hyde Park, New York on January 30, 1882, the son of James Roosevelt and Sara Delano Roosevelt. Both were scions of wealthy families. His parents each in their own destinct way had a huge impact in molding their son's character. HPC and HBC biographies are largely short summaries of presidents and other important individuals. We do, however, atempt to look at the various individual's childhood in detail. An individual's character is formed in childhood. Often we can not unlock the family privacy to fully understand the dynamic involved. But with Franklin Roosevelt we know a great deal and the figure that emerges as the greatest figure in life is his mother Sarah. While Sarah may have caused Eleanor constant irritations, the American people can think this young mother for forming the boy who became president.

Father (1828-1900)

Franklin's father James (1828-1900) was a wealthy New York land owner. He was descended from Nicholas Roosevelt, whose father had emigrated from Holland to New Amsterdam in the 1640's. One of Nicholas' two sons, Johannes, fathered the line that ultimately produced President Theodore Roosevelt. The other son, Jacobus, was James' great-great-grandfather. I have no information on James' childhood or clothes as a boy. James graduated from Union College (1847) and Harvard Law School, married, had a son, and took over his family's extensive holdings in coal and transportation. The family's fortune was made in shipping, especially with the China trade. Despite substantial losses in speculative ventures, he remained wealthy enough to journey by private railroad car, to live graciously on his Hudson River estate at Hyde Park, and to travel extensively. His father, a semiretired railway executive, was a cousin of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the U.S. The two had a close and loving relationship. Looking at the photographis it looks like James Roosevelt was too old to engage with an active little boy. But photography at the time was a still static art and in fact the two became very close companions. One biographer writes, "They were such a gay pair when they went off on long rides together." [Ward, p. 120.] His father did not play the disciplinarian role that was common at the time. He had a great impact on molding Franklin's values, especially a sence of responsibility for those less fortunate. That simple lesson taught by James Roosevelt was to have a profound impact on the history of the American Republic and countless millions of people.


Figure 2.--Franklin is the older boy wearing a sailor suit in this 1890 photograph. He is pictured with his mothers parents (the Delanos) and seven cousins. The image is unclear. The two boys at the left are wearing dresses or smocks.

Mother (1854-1941)

There were four key women in Frabklin Roosevelt's life. Best known of course was Eleanor, but hardly the most important or cloesest. The most important woman was Sarah Delano. (Thecother two were Lucy Mercer and Missy Lehand.) Franklin's mother Sarah was both the great constant in his life and the most important influence. She was as devoted and doting as a mother could be. She was also the disciplarian in the family. Her approach was always to correct Franklin in private and to use disappointment as the principle tool. Sarah was a Delano and James' second wife. They married 4 years after James' first wife died in 1876, James met and married Sara Delano, a sixth cousin. She, too, was a member of the Hudson River aristocracy. Her father, one of James' business associates, had made and lost fortunes in the China trade before settling with his wife and 11 children on the west bank of the Hudson. Sara had sailed to China as a girl, attended school abroad, and moved in high social circles in London and Paris. Though only half her husband's age of 52 at the time of her marriage in 1880, she settled in happily at Hyde Park. Their marriage was serene until broken by James' death in 1900 when Franklin was 18. The Roosevelts were a mostly Republican family as was customary for the wealthy elite of the late 19th Century. The family was related to President Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin visited the White House as a youth. As a Harvard undergraduate he idealized Presidenr Roosevelt. Sara Delano raised Franklin in luxurious circumstances, but she stressed to the boy that with his place in society came responsibilities for the less fortunate. Historians ask the question as how a president raised in luxury could have developed a concern for the least fortunate in American society came. Of course his suffering as a polio victim was a factor, but the principal answer is that it came from Sarah. [Smith] This was the in effect the thrust of the New Deal. Much of the wealthy in America, the economic royalists as he called them, never forgave him and he was considered to be a traitor to his class. In reality, he probably saved them. Even as an adult, his mother played an important role in Franklin's life--too great a role for Elenor. When a friend in 1910 suggested that Franklin run for the New York legislature, he replied, "Sounds like a good idea, I'll have to discuss it with mother." And it was Sarah who stepped in decisively to ensure that Franlkin and Eleanor did not divorce when Ekeanor found out about Lucy Mercer.

Brother (1854-1927)

Franklin had a much older half-brother from his father's first marriage--James Roosevelt. He was an adult by the time that Franklin was born and thus more of an uncle. He did not play a major role in Franklin's life, but is of interest because he demonstrates what Franklin could have been. Not only did James have some money from his father, but he married Helen Astor bring even more money. His prncipal occupation in life was amusing himself with trips to Europe and Bermuda. James had virtually no ambition. Franklin also could have done this, especially after he contracted polio. There was no need for him to have worked. He could have just chosen to amuse himself and live on his famikly wealth as James did. But for some reason associated with his character he chose as his cousin Theodore woukd have said, "to enter the arena". The difference between the two is particularly interesting in that they had the same father, afather that was very influential in Franklin's life. James' favotite activity was coaching, a sport he acquired during ne if his trips to England. [Ward, p. 133.] James was known as Rosy within the famuky and he and Helen had two children. Their son was known as Taddy. He was slightly older and bigger than Franklin who never cared much for him. In fact Taddy proved to be a troubled boy. Franklin did, however, did get on better with Taddy's sister Helen.

Sources

Smith, Jean Edward. FDR.










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Created: 4:51 PM 8/4/2007
Last edited: 4:51 PM 8/4/2007