Franklin Roosevelt promissed the American people a "roendevous with destiny." His presidency faced the greast crisis of the American nation since the Civil War. He proceeded to restore the faith of the American people in their goverenment, alieviated the worst deprivations of the depression, implemented fundamental social reform, and led the nation to save the world from a terrible tyranny. Roosevelt preceived the dangers of NAZI Germany and playd a major role of leading America from self imposed isolation to theleadership of a powerful coaltion which he named the United Nations. While still controversial, the Roosevelt presidency is undeniably the most important of the 20th century.
The Great Depression of the 1930s was the worst economic slump ever to affect the United States. It was not just a national economic crisis, but one which spread to virtually every country. The greatest calamity to befall Americans in
the 20th century was the Great Depression--a worse calamity than even two world wars. The Depression began with the Wall Street stock market crash in October 1929. Soon business were going under and Americans were losing their jobs. All Americans were affected. Eventually about one-third of all wage earners were unemployed and many who
kept their jobs saw their earmings fall. President Hoover who had engineered a humanitarian miracle in Europe during World War was unable to break away from the mindset that the Government should not intervene in the economy. President Roosevelt was elected by a landslide in
1932. He brought emergy and new ideas to Washington and the Federal Government initiated programs that would have been rejected out of hand only a few years
ago. Roosevelt was willing to use the Government to solve economic and social problems besetting Americans. The people loved him, electing him to an
unprecedented third and fourt term. The propertied class or "economic royalists" as he called them, hated him. Roosevelt's program was called the New Deal and
the many programs initaited help change the face of the United States: Social Security, the Tennessee Valley Authority, rural electrification, the Works Progress
Administration (WPA), protection for union organizers, and many others. The conservative-dominated Federal Courts struck down WPA, but many New Deal
programs endure to this day. The great novel to emerge from the Depression was John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath which addressed to problems of rural
Americans and the dust bowl. Urban Americans of course also suffered. While the New Deal brought relief to many desperate Americans, the Depression lingered
until orders for war material from Europe began to flood into America in the late 1930s. The rest of the world was also affected by the Depression. Britain and
France also struggled with the economic down turn. The response in Germany and Japan was totlalitarianism, militarism, and finally war.
America less than a year after Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover's impressive victory was struck by the Wall Street Crash (1929). President Hoover's unwillingness to act decisevely meant that America lapsed into the Great Depression. The Republicans stuck with President Hoover, but withoyt enthusiam--in sharp contrast to 1928. The economic devestation virtusally preordained that the Democrats would win the 1932 election. The question was only who would win the Democratic nomination. Following his reelection as governor in 1930, Roosevelt began to campaign for the presidency. While the economic depression damaged Hoover and the Republicans, Roosevelt's bold efforts to combat it in New York enhanced his reputation. In Chicago in 1932, Roosevelt won the nomination as the Democratic Party candidate for president. He broke with tradition and flew to Chicago to accept the nomination in person. He then campaigned energetically calling for government intervention in the economy to provide relief, recovery and reform. His activist approach and personal charm helped to defeat Hoover in November 1932 by 7 million votes. The land-slide Democratic election victory resulted in a major realignment of American politics. A great deal has been written about President Roosevelt's New Deal. At first historians were mosly lauditory, but in recent years some economits have claimed the New Deal prolonhed the Depression. That is difficult to assess. What many New Deal critics fail to pappreciate is how bad the econonomic situation was when President Roosevelt took office. Tge social fabric of the nation was fraying. The danger that more radical figures might have gained influence if bold action had not been taken.
The Depression worsened in the months preceding Roosevelt's inauguration, March 4, 1933. Factory closings, farm foreclosures, and bank failures increased, while unemployment soared. Roosevelt faced the greatest crisis in American history since the Civil War.
The new president undertook immediate actions to initiate his New Deal. To halt depositor panics, he closed the banks temporarily. Then he worked with a special session of Congress during the first "100 days" to pass recovery legislation which set up alphabet agencies such as (Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) to support farm prices and the (Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to employ young men. Other agencies assisted business and labor, insured bank deposits, regulated the stock market, subsidized home and farm mortgage payments, and aided the unemployed. These measures revived confidence in the economy. Banks reopened and direct relief saved millions from starvation. But the New Deal measures also involved government directly in areas of social and economic life as never before and resulted in greatly increased spending and unbalanced budgets which led to criticisms of Roosevelt's programs. However, the nation-at-large supported Roosevelt, electing additional Democrats to state legislatures and governorships in the mid-term elections. Another flurry of New Deal legislation followed in 1935 including the establishment of the Works
Projects Administration (WPA) which provided jobs not only for laborers but also artists, writers, musicians, and authors, and the Social Security Act which provided unemployment compensation and a program of old-age and survivors' benefits. Roosevelt managed to achieve needed social legislation in a still very conservative country. His genius was in pursuing "nobel objectives within the tactics of the feasible". [Freidel]
The Democrats at their convention in Philadelphia enthuiastically renominated President Roosevelt. The President had not solved the Depression, but most Americans believed he was concerned about them and making things better. The Republicans in Cleveland nominated Kansas Governor Alfred M. Landon. Landon and the Republican attacked the New Deal while supporting its objectives. President Roosevelt conducted an active campaign, traveling by train and speaking on the radio. The President's use of radio was nothing short of masterful. His Fire Side chats had made a personal connection with the American people that would remain unbroken throughtout his presidency. Most Republicans failed to understand that their had been a sea-change in how Americans viewed government. They made a major issue out of the New Deal, focusing on Social Security. It was passed in 1935 and due to go into effect in 1937. The Republicans charged that Social Security was a fraud. This was the first time the Republicans took on Social Security, but it would not be the last. Roosevelt resonded with a robust defense of Social Security just a few days before the election. A Literary Digest poll predicted a Republican victory. The pole was conducted over the telephobne and no one thought of correcting the results for Democratic voters who could not afford a telephone. The President easily defeated Govenor Landon in one of the greatest landslides in American political history. Along with his personal victory, the Presidebt helped widen the Democratic margins in the House and Senate.
President Roosevelt and the American peoplw were still focused on the Depression for much of the Second Term. Frustrated by the Supre Court's actions overturning major New Deal programs. embarked on a ill-advised effort to pack the court. This was one of the President's rare political misteps, but it was a big one. This and an economic down turn resulted in a major victory for Republicans and conservative Democrats in the 1938 Congressuoinal byelection. This essentially made him a lame-duck, a president with failed programs facing an independent-minded if not hostile Congress. The unwritten no third term precedent seem to mean that his presidency was over. Yet there was a tremndeous reservoir of support for the President among the American public. And as events unfolded in Europe, isolationist minded Americans began to respond to the President's leadership--his efforts to save Britain and prepare America for the war that was to come..
After his overwhelming victory in 1936, Roosevelt took on the critics of the New Deal, namely, the Supreme Court which had declared various legislation unconstitutional, and members of his own party. In 1937 he proposed to add new justices to the Supreme Court, but critics said he was "packing" the Court and undermining the separation of powers. His proposal was defeated, but the Court began to decide in favor of New Deal legislation. During the 1938 election he campaigned against many Democratic opponents, but this backfired when most were reelected to Congress. These setbacks, coupled with the recession that occurred mid-way through his second term, represented the low-point in Roosevelt's presidential career.
Historians have probably given more attention to President Roosevelts New Deal and efforts to end the Depression than his World war II leadership. This is probably he was at the center of the Washington struggle with the Depression. With the onset of the War, the generals and admirals who conducted the war weremore in the limelight. Of all the World war II leaders, Roosevelt was probably the most effective, primarily because he appointed effective commndrs and listened to their professional military advise. He played an active role. The Tokyo bombing (1942) and Torch (1942) were both ininiatives he pushed, but primrily he left military operations to the professionals. Historians have increasingly come to see his war leadership and a great exercise in presidential leadership. [Beschloss] And here it was not his leadership once American was forced into the War. Much more is impressive are his actions leading up the War which prepared the ground work for victory. These actions included supporting Britain, Lend Lease, naval building, air force expansion, and confronging the isolationists. These policies resulted in intense criticism by the isolationists and their Republican allies. And he had to act before the 1940 election, putting his reelection in danger.
As War approached, President Roosevelt and the conservative-dominate Congrss elected in 1938 essentially ended the New Deal. Roosevelt, however, managed to secure the passage of onre last New Deal meassure.
The election of 1940 was one of the most important in American history. Some of the President's inimtes were suprised when he decided to run for a third term. Politucally he could not be seen as wanting a precedent-shatering third term. He thus had his political operatives stage a draft Rossevelt movement at the Chicago Convention. The Republicans nominated a dynamic Indiana businessman, Wendell Willkie. He was supported by most newspapers, which was always the case for Republican candidates during the Roosevelt years. The isolation movement in America was still very strong, although the fall of France had begun to change public opinion. Important elements of the Republican Party were strongly isolationist. Willkie in an act of considerable political courage broke with the isolantionists and condemned Hitler. He also supported the draft (conscription) bill which despite the fall of France was still very controversial.
Willkie at first criticized Roosevelt for violating the no third term tradition. The election was fouught during the NAZI Blitz on Britain. President Roosevelt responding to plans from Prime Miniser Churchill increasingly desperate pleas for assistance. In another act of political courage, President Roosevelt announced plans to turn over 50 World War I destroyers and other supplies to Britain in exchange for bases in the Caribbean. Wilkie supported the deal, but criticized Roosevelt for not first obtaining Congressional approval. By this time Wilkie had closed much of the emense gap between him and Roosevelt in the polls. As is so often the case in elections, feeling that victory was actually within his grasp, began to claim that Roosevelt was dragging the United States into War. Roosevelt worried by Wilkie's rise in the polls
reacted in a Boston speech with his much repeated assurance that, "I'm not going to send your boys to fight in foreign wars." Usually he added, "Unless we are attacked". This time he didn't. He told ads that it was obvious. Roosevelt in the end won the election with 27 million votes, Wilkie had 22 million. While this was a substantial vote for Roosevelt, it was 5 million more votes than the two previous Republican candidates. Roosevelt thus became the only American president to serve more than two terms. Over coming the no third term convention was a major step in American political life. Most isolationists voted against Roosevelt, despite the fact that Wilkie was no isolationist. Other Americans voted for Roosevelt, preferring a trusted leader to address arising from the war in Europe. While the campaign had become bitter. After the election, Wilkie decided to use his influence to help President Roosevelt save Britain.
World War II involved enveloped virtually every part of the world during the years 1939-45. The principal belligerents were the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) and the Allies (France, Great Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union, and, China). The Soviet Union, while not a member of the Axis, was until the German invasion in June 1941, a virtual ally of the Germans-seizing territory from neigboring states and occupying the Baltic states. To most observers it looked like German had essentually won the War in 1940 and 41, seizing most of SWestern Europe and North Africa. Then in 6-months the direction of the War was fundamentally altered when in Hitler attacked the Soviet Union bringing that enormous country into the War on the Allied side (in effect switching sides) and Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor bringing America into the War. World War II was the central event of the 20th century. It not only was the largest most destructive war in human history, but it also fundamentally changed social, economicm and political trends in Europe, North America and Asia. While the focus of most studies of the War are primarily on the titantic military campaigns, weapons, and leaders, children also played a role in the War. They in many ways the people most affected by the War. Millions were killed as a result of military action and the genocidal policies of Germany and Japan. The Germans in particular targeted Jewish children in the Holocaust. Children denied food and housing and in many cases orphaned died in large numbers in occupied countries. Germans kidnapped large numbers of blond children which they regarded as stolen genetic property. Many children were involved in the fighting. The Germans at the end of the War were using young teenagers, but all sides used large numbers of older teenagers. Ine of the many impacts of World War II was on fashion. Quite a range of fashion shifts occurred during and after World War II. Some of the major changes included: an increasing shift to casual dress, less elaborate fashions, the disappearance of knickers, short pants began to be worn as summer attire, American boys stop wearing kneesocks and long stockings, American Scouts and Cubs begin wearing long pants, "T" shirts and jeans became a mainstay of American boyhood, short hair styles become popular for boys in America after the War.
President Roosevelt by 1939 was concentrating increasingly on foreign affairs with the outbreak of war in Europe. New Deal reform legislation diminished, and the ills of the Depression would not fully abate until the nation mobilized for war.
When Hitler attacked Poland in September 1939, Roosevelt stated that, although the nation was neutral, he did not expect America to remain inactive in the face of NAZI aggression. Roosevelt had preceived the dangers of NAZI Germany as soon as Hitler bcame Chancellor in January 1933, even before his own inaguration. One historian describes a "strong, almost religious, dislike". [Freidel, p. 123-124.] The President played a major role of leading America from self imposed isolation to the leadership of a powerful coaltion which he named the United Nations. Accordingly, he worked tirly to make American aid available to Britain, France, and China and to obtain an amendment of the Neutrality Acts which rendered such assistance difficult. He also took measures to build up the armed forces in the face of isolationist opposition. With the fall of France in 1940, the American mood and Roosevelt's policy changed dramatically. Congress enacted a draft for military service and Roosevelt signed a "lend-lease" bill in March 1941 to enable the nation to furnish aid to nations at war with Germany and Italy. America, though a neutral in the war and still at peace, was becoming the "arsenal of democracy", as its factories began producing as they had in the years before the Depression.
Roosevelt and Churchill had begun to correspond when Churchill entered the Government as First Lord of the Admiralty in September 1939. It was a remarkable correspondence and was to continue throughout World War II between the two men who would play key roles in effect saving Western Civilization. [Tarapani] One historian was to refer to it as "the supreme partnership". They were two very different men both in character and outlook, but Roosevelt was aware of Churchill's long struggle to alert Britain to the dangers posed by Hitler and the NAZIs. The men were so different with such different vissions of their respective countries' interests that on has to wonder if any series of events short of the rise of Hitler would have drawn them together. [Schlesinger] Churhchill's goal was to draw America into the War. Roosevelt at first still hoped that Hitler could be stopped without using American troops. President Roosevelt played a key role in forging the great Arsenal of Democracy that would in the end play a key role in saving Britain and destroying the Axis.
The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, followed four days later by Germany's and Italy's declarations of war against the United States, brought the nation irrevocably into the war. Roosevelt became the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, a role he actively carried out. He worked with and through his military advisers, overriding them when necessary, and took an active role in choosing the principle field commanders and in making decisions regarding wartime strategy. The President moved to create a "Grand Alliance" against the Axis powers through "The Declaration of the United Nations", January 1, 1942, in which all nations fighting the Axis agreed not to make a separate peace and pledged themselves to a peace-keeping organization (now the United Nations) on victory. He gave priority to the western European front and had General George Marshall, Chief of Staff, plan a holding operation in the Pacific and organize an expeditionary force for an invasion of Europe. The United States and its allies invaded North Africa in November 1942 and Sicily and Italy in 1943. The D-Day landings on the Normandy beaches in France, June 6, 1944, were followed by the allied invasion of Germany six months later. By April 1945 victory in Europe was certain.
The New Deal and social legislation was put aside to fight the War. Roosevelt saw the importantance of maintaining national unity to persue the War. This is in sharp contrast of President Bush approach with the Iraq War which he has used in part as cover to persue his conservative agenda. While the New Deal was put aside, measures such as the executive order prohibiting discrimination in war industries was a very important step in laying the foundation for the Civil Rights movement, providing good paying jobs for large number of blacks. The hiring of women in war industries was also to have a major impact n post-War America. One legisltive measure did had a powerful impact on America--the G.I. bill. The educational opportunities and hekp in buting the homes, trnsformed the lives of millions of Americans.
There was not doubt as to who the Democrats would nominate in 1944 with World War II still raging. The President had left the Democrats in doubt as to his intentions in 1940. This time there was no Roosevely chcanery. The only question at the convention was who would they would nominae for vice-president. Vice-President Henry Wallace was unpopular with party professionals, especially in the South. Senator Truman was chosen as Vice President at the 1944 Democrtaic Convention, primarily because party bosses were concerned about left-leaning Vice President Henry Wallace. He was at the time relatively unknown to the American people. President Roosevelt allowed the Convention to choose his running mate. There were three major Republican candidates: Wendell Willkie who won the nomination in 1940 candidate; Ohio Senator Robert Taft who was the most prominant conservatives; and New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey who was noteable for his crime-busting efforts. Taft withdrew from the contest. And in the important Wisconsin primary, Dewey decissively defeated both Wilkie and General Douglas MacArthur. The Republicans nominated Dewey at their convention. The President's health was obviously declining. You can see it in the photographs taken in 1944. The public seems to have dismissed this. Govenor Dewey attempted to raise the issue, but to little effect. The War was going well both in Europe and the Pacific. The Republicans could only snipe at the President, actually taken on his wll known dog--Falla. Primarily they attacked the New Deal. These attacks had little resonance in a country absorbed with the War. And voters remembered that it was the President who warned about Hitller and the Japanese militarists when the Republicans were largely isolantionists. Roosevelt easily defeated Govenor Dewey in the election to win his fourth term. Curiously other than Maine and Vermont, the only states Dewey carried were in the Farm Belt of the Mid-West and West. These seems an unusual accomplishment for a suave New York govenor, especially as President Roosevelt's New Deal had attempted to address the farm problem. It would be Dewey's failure to hold the Farm Belt that would cost him the presidency in 1948.
The Fourth Inagural was an extremely muted affair. With the War still going on in Europe and the Pacific, it was considered inappropriate to hold festiitis like innagural balls. The President's address was only 600 words. Thinking about the future, he foused on the dangers of isolationism, remembering American poliies after World War I. He decklared that Wirld War II had taught the American people to "live as men and not as ostriches". There was, hoewever, to be no actual fourth term. At the time, inagurations took place in March and the President died in April, only days before the NAZI capitulation. This ended the War in Europe, a victory in which the President had played such a key role. President Roosevelt was suceeded by Vice President Harry Truman who had not been involved in the War planning and who had rarely met with the President. Vice President Truman had not even been informed about the Atomic bomb. Mrs Roosevelt rushed to Warm Springs. When she later met with President Truman, he asked her if he could do anything. Mrs. Roosevelt replied, "No Harry, is there anything we can do for you."
The unending stress and strain of the war literally wore Roosevelt out. By early 1944 a full medical examination disclosed serious heart and circulatory problems; and although his physicians placed him on a strict regime of diet and medication, the pressures of war and domestic politics weighed heavily on him. During a vacation at Warm Springs, Georgia, on April 12, 1945 he suffered a massive stroke and died two and one-half hours later without regaining consciousness. He was 63 years old. When Mrs Roosevelt reached Warm Springs, she was ungratiously told by a family member that the President had been seeing Lucy Mercer. She was stunned at hurt, especially when she learned that Anna had helped arrange the meetings. Only on the way backed to Washington by train as crowds of people stood in hinor of their fallen leader, did Mrs Roosevelt fully understood what he had meant to the people. The President's death came on the eve of complete military victory in Europe. Roosevelt had planned to visit Britain after the German surrender to celebrate the victory with his great friend, Prime Minister Churchill. Unfortunately this was not to be.
Within months victory over Japan foolowed in the Pacific. President Roosevelt was buried in the Rose Garden of the family Hyde Park estate in a quiet family ceremony.
FDR is criticised by both conservatives and liberals. For the most part conservatives criticise Roosevelt, as they did when he was alive, for the broad expansion of the Federal Government. Conservatives also criticise his handling of Stalin and the Yalta agreements. Liberals on the other hand criticise Roosevelt for hat he did not do. Two of the greatest weaknesses was the Presidents failure to address the Holocaust and iaction on civil rights. Perhaps the action most deserving of criticism was the approval of internment of Japanese-Americans in 1942.
The expansion of the Federal Government is still debated question today. The current American mind set is the Federal Government is to large. The eventual national assessment of the Federal Government role is still evolving.
It is interesting to note that the conservatives that attack the Yalta accors were the same ones that opposed a adequate national defense and insisted on isolationism. That left the United States in the position that there was no possible way to fight he NAZIs without Russian support and no way to dislodge the Russians from Eastern Europe without another war.
Jewish immigration before the War could not be increased without Congressional apporival. The Congress was not in mood to increase immigration quotas given the high rate of unemoloyment. After the War began the Administration can be criticised, but it is not clear just what was known and what could be done. There were reports reaching London and Washington, but confirming such reports during war is a very difficult thing. We now know what the NAZIs did, but it was such a horendous undertaking that few believed that these reports were accurate.
Probably one of the most valid criticism of the Administration is the internment of the Japanese. While war time hysteria in part explains the interment it was clearly racially based and a great injustice. Japanese living in Pacific coast states were move into concentragtion camps. Japanese Americans in Pacific coast states were interned in concentration or relocation camps as they were called. Italian and German families were also interned, but only aliens or those whose parents have been involved or suspected of involvement in subversive activites. The Japanese were treated differently in part because of Peal Harbor, but racial factors were a significant factor. President Roosevelt in February 1942 signed the order "evacuating" Japanese, most of whom were Japanese citizens, from the West Coast. Like the Germans, American authorities developed euphenisms for what was done to the Japanese. The order only affected the West Coast, not the Japanese on Hawaii. About 127,000 Japanese Americans were interned. It was one of the most grevious violations of the civil rights of American citizens in United States history. While the internment of Japanese Americans was a terrible injustice, depriving them of their property in many instances and their freedom for several years, the camps were quite different than the the NAZI and Japanese concentration camps. The internees were given adequate food and the children attended local schools.
The Roosevelt Administration is often criticised for its lack of action on Civil Rights. But in fact great steps were taken. A priority of the New Deal was bring the South back into the national economy and mainstream. The Tennesee Valley Authority (TVA) was a major part of that effort. Blacks of course benefitted from this as they did from other New Deal programs. Blacks were also giveen access to the war jobs, for many the first decent paying jobs they ever held. Military programs like the Tuskee Airmen paved the way for desegregation after the War. The Administration's Civil Rights record has to be assessed with the need to hold southern democrats in the New Deal coalition. A push on Civil Rights in the 1930s would have failed and it would have threatened the many accomplishments of the New Deal.
Beschloss, Michael. Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789-1889 (Simon & Schuster, 2007), 430p.
Freidel, Frank. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Launching the New Deal (Little Brown: Boston, 1973), 574p.
Freidel, Frank. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Rendezuous with Destiny (Little Brown: Boston, 1990), 710p.
Schlesinger, Arthur Jr. "The Supreme Partnership," The Atlantic Monthly (October 1984).
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