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Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the thirty-second president of the United States of America. He served as president from March 4, 1933, until his death on April 12, 1945. He was elected president four times, more than any other American president.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882, in Hyde Park, New York. He was the only child of James and Sara (Delano) Roosevelt. A graduate of the Groton School and Harvard University, he also attended the law school of Columbia University before becoming an attorney in 1907.
Like his father, Franklin D. Roosevelt was a Democrat, but he wanted to follow the career path of his Republican cousin, President Theodore Roosevelt (1901–1909). As a young attorney, Roosevelt became active in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. In 1910 he was elected to the New York state senate. An admirer and supporter of Democratic president Woodrow Wilson (1913–1921), Roosevelt was appointed assistant secretary of the navy in 1913. Like Wilson, Roosevelt supported an active, leading role for the United States in the League of Nations after World War I.
After the Democratic national convention nominated James Cox for president and Roosevelt for vice president in 1920, the Democratic Party decisively lost the 1920 presidential election. In 1921 Roosevelt was stricken by polio, which permanently paralyzed his legs. After resuming his political activism, Roosevelt became closely allied with Democratic governor Alfred E. Smith of New York; he also relied on his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, who served as a political operative. After Smith was nominated for president in 1928, Roosevelt, at Smith’s request, ran for governor. While Smith lost the 1928 presidential election by a landslide, Roosevelt was narrowly elected governor of New York.
For a Democratic governor, Roosevelt was unusually popular in heavily Republican rural areas of upstate New York. He advocated such policies as state-sponsored rural electrification, property tax relief for farmers, and the state construction of paved farm-to-market roads. He directly communicated to New Yorkers through radio broadcasts, and increased public works and relief spending when the economy worsened after 1929. Reelected in 1930, Roosevelt emerged as the leading candidate for the 1932 Democratic presidential nomination.
Citing his rural-oriented policies as governor, Roosevelt emphasized agricultural and rural economic issues as he gained greater political support in the South and West while the Great Depression worsened. Competing against Smith, Speaker of the House John N. Garner, and several minor candidates, Roosevelt was nominated for president at the 1932 Democratic national convention. He chose Garner as his running mate.
The Great Depression helped Roosevelt to easily defeat Republican president Herbert Hoover in 1932. In his campaign speeches and 1933 inaugural address, Roosevelt promised bold, innovative presidential leadership to combat economic suffering and reform the economy. Roosevelt’s domestic policies, collectively known as the New Deal, included public works programs, the Social Security Act of 1935, stricter federal regulation of banks and the stock market, agricultural subsidies, legal powers for labor unions, and a national minimum wage. Roosevelt’s landslide reelection in 1936 solidified changes in American voting behavior that caused a Democratic realignment which lasted until 1968.
During his second term (1937–1941), Roosevelt was less successful in realizing his domestic policy agenda. The rejection of his “court-packing bill” in 1937 and Republican gains in the 1938 elections increased opposition in Congress to further New Deal legislation. After the outbreak of World War II in Europe in 1939, Roosevelt concentrated on foreign and defense policies. Before the United States entered World War II following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Roosevelt assisted Great Britain against Nazi Germany through military and economic aid, despite strong isolationist opinion in the United States.
In his treatment of African Americans, Roosevelt generally deferred to the pro-segregation beliefs and policies of white Southern Democrats who dominated Congress and the Democratic Party. He never submitted a civil rights bill to Congress and only reluctantly created a Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) after black civil rights leaders threatened a march on Washington. New Deal programs, especially the Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps, were often racially segregated and discriminatory. Roosevelt did not publicly support federal anti-lynching legislation and the American military remained racially segregated during World War II.
Roosevelt was reelected president in 1940 and 1944 by narrower margins. During the period of American participation in World War II (1941–1945), Roosevelt converted the U.S. economy’s productive capacity for military and foreign aid purposes and developed military and political alliances with Great Britain and the Soviet Union to defeat Germany and Japan. He also secretly authorized the development of atomic bombs and promoted the creation of the United Nations and the establishment of the concept and practice of international human rights.
- Burns, James MacGregor. 1970. Roosevelt: The Soldier of Freedom. New York: Konecky and Konecky.
- Leuchtenburg, William E. 1963. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932–1940. New York: Harper and Row.
- Savage, Sean J. 1991. Roosevelt: The Party Leader, 1932–1945. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.
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