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7 Unknown Facts About President Franklin Roosevelt

7 Unknown Facts About President Franklin Roosevelt

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Entering his second term as governor of New York, Franklin Roosevelt ascended to the presidency in 1932 amidst the throes of the Great Depression. Confronting the economic crisis head-on, he swiftly implemented measures to restore public confidence, including a bank holiday and a series of radio broadcasts, famously known as “fireside chats,” directly addressing the nation. Roosevelt’s ambitious New Deal initiatives and reforms fundamentally reshaped the federal government’s role in the lives of Americans.

Securing reelection with substantial victories in 1936, 1940, and 1944, FDR guided the United States through a transformative journey from isolationism to triumph over Nazi Germany and its allies during World War II.

Instrumental in forging a successful wartime alliance among Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States, he played a key role in establishing the groundwork for the post-war peace organization that eventually evolved into the United Nations. Remarkably, Roosevelt holds the distinction of being the sole American president elected to office four times, his presidency tragically concluding with his death in April 1945.

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Franklin Roosevelt: Formative Years and Career Beginnings

On January 30, 1882, Franklin Delano Roosevelt entered the world on an expansive estate close to the village of Hyde Park, New York. He was the sole offspring of his affluent parents, James and Sara Delano Roosevelt. Receiving his education from private tutors and prestigious institutions such as Groton and Harvard, Roosevelt early on developed an admiration for and sought to emulate his fifth cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, who assumed the presidency in 1901.

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During his college years, Roosevelt’s affections turned toward Theodore’s niece and his distant cousin, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt. Their union took place in 1905, resulting in the birth of a daughter, Anna Roosevelt, and four sons who reached adulthood: James Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt Jr., Elliott Roosevelt, and John A. Roosevelt. Unfortunately, a fifth son named Franklin Roosevelt Jr. passed away in infancy.

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After pursuing legal studies at Columbia University, Roosevelt spent several years serving as a clerk at a Wall Street law firm. In 1910, he ventured into politics, securing a Democratic victory in the predominantly Republican Dutchess County for a state senate seat. In 1913, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Roosevelt as the assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy.

He remained in this role for the ensuing seven years, undertaking a journey to Europe in 1918 to inspect naval bases and battlefields following the United States’ entry into World War I.

FDR’s Struggle with Polio and Governorship Triumph

In 1921, at the age of 39, Franklin Roosevelt received a polio diagnosis that left him unable to walk. Temporarily withdrawing from public life, he dedicated himself to rehabilitation at his Hyde Park residence.

Through regular swimming sessions in the Astor pool, he gradually regained strength, reaching a point where he could stand with braces by the spring of 1922. Seeking further recovery, Roosevelt journeyed to Warm Springs, Georgia, in 1924, ultimately purchasing the locale and transforming it into a rehabilitation facility for individuals afflicted with polio.

Supported by his wife and loyal advocate, journalist Louis Howe, Roosevelt commenced his return to public life. Despite his illness, he engaged in issuing statements on contemporary issues and maintained correspondence with Democratic leaders.

Eleanor Roosevelt played a vital role in sustaining her husband’s public image by speaking across New York State and organizing the women’s division of the Democratic Party.

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In 1924, Franklin made a triumphant appearance at the Democratic National Convention, where he nominated Governor Alfred E. Smith of New York for president, although Smith did not secure the nomination, and the Democrats were defeated in the general election.

In 1928, he once again endorsed Smith, and this time, the nomination proved successful. Yielding to Smith’s persuasion, he decided to contest the gubernatorial election in New York. Although Smith faced defeat against Herbert Hoover, Roosevelt emerged victorious in the gubernatorial race. As the economic depression deepened following the 1929 stock market crash, Governor Roosevelt adopted increasingly liberal policies.

Notably, he established the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (TERA), focused on providing employment opportunities for the unemployed. By 1932, TERA was aiding nearly one in every 10 families in New York.

Roosevelt Assumes the Presidency

Securing reelection as governor in 1930, Franklin D. Roosevelt positioned himself as a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination two years later. Departing from tradition, he made a personal appearance in Chicago to accept the nomination, famously committing to “a new deal for the American people.”

In the subsequent general election, Roosevelt, confident and buoyant, secured a resounding victory over the incumbent Hoover, who had come to symbolize the enduring challenges of the Great Depression.

Moreover, Democrats secured substantial majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Upon his inauguration on March 4, 1933, Roosevelt faced a nation in the grip of a dire Depression, with 13 million individuals unemployed. In the first inaugural address widely broadcast on the radio, Roosevelt boldly proclaimed, “This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and prosper… [T]he only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Embarking on the consequential first 100 days of his presidency, Roosevelt initiated a temporary closure of all banks, awaiting the passage of reform legislation by Congress. Simultaneously, he introduced the practice of holding open press conferences and delivering regular national radio addresses, establishing a direct line of communication with the American people.

The inaugural “fireside chat,” focused on the banking crisis, reached an audience of approximately 60 million, significantly contributing to the restoration of public confidence and averting detrimental bank runs. Following the enactment of the Emergency Banking Relief Act, a remarkable three out of every four banks were operational within a week.

Roosevelt and the Transformative New Deal

Within FDR’s initial “Hundred Days,” crucial legislation laid the foundation for some of the most significant programs and institutions emblematic of Roosevelt’s New Deal. Among these were the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), the Public Works Administration (PWA), the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).

Comprising initiatives aimed at offering economic relief to workers and farmers, generating employment for the unemployed, and implementing financial system reforms, Roosevelt’s agenda included the establishment of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to safeguard depositors’ accounts and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to oversee the stock market and prevent the abuses that precipitated the 1929 crash.

In 1935, as signs of economic recovery emerged, Roosevelt urged Congress to pass a new wave of reforms, known as the “Second New Deal.” This set of measures included the groundbreaking Social Security Act, providing Americans with unemployment benefits, disability assistance, and pensions for old age, as well as the creation of the Works Progress Administration.

Additionally, the Democratic-led Congress enacted tax increases on large corporations and affluent individuals, colloquially termed the “soak-the-rich” tax.

Roosevelt’s Re-Election and the Controversy of ‘Court-Packing’

Despite stirring controversy, Roosevelt secured an overwhelming victory in the 1936 re-election, defeating Governor Alfred M. Landon of Kansas.

Faced with resistance from the Supreme Court regarding his New Deal initiatives, Roosevelt proposed a court expansion plan, aiming to appoint a new justice for each sitting justice aged 70 or older.

After intense debate, Congress rejected this “court-packing” strategy, marking a significant setback for FDR. Nevertheless, the Court experienced a sudden shift, subsequently upholding both the Social Security Act and the Wagner Act (officially the National Labor Relations Act).

Amid labor unrest and a downturn in the economy in 1937, Roosevelt’s approval ratings suffered.

However, the crisis subsided by the following year. Although Republicans made gains in the midterm congressional elections, forming an alliance with conservative Democrats that obstructed further reform legislation, Roosevelt faced a new challenge on the international stage by the end of 1938, as support for the New Deal diminished.

FDR and the Era of World War II

As early as 1937, Franklin D. Roosevelt cautioned the American public about the threatening hard-line regimes in Germany, Italy, and Japan, yet he refrained from advocating a departure from the nation’s isolationist stance.

However, with the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, Roosevelt convened a special session of Congress to amend the existing neutrality acts, enabling Britain and France to purchase American arms through a “cash-and-carry” approach.

By the close of June 1940, Germany had captured France, prompting Roosevelt to rally Congress for increased support to Britain, now confronting the Nazi threat alone. Despite the tradition of presidents limiting themselves to two terms, a precedent established by George Washington, Roosevelt chose to seek re-election in 1940, securing victory over Wendell L. Wilkie by nearly 5 million votes.

Expanding his backing for Great Britain, Roosevelt signed the Lend-Lease Act in March 1941 and held crucial discussions with Prime Minister Winston Churchill in August aboard a battleship anchored off Canada.

The resulting Atlantic Charter saw the leaders declaring the “Four Freedoms” as the foundation for the post-war world: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

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On December 8, 1941, the day following the Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt addressed a joint session of Congress, which promptly declared war on Japan. Pioneering as the first president to travel abroad during wartime, Roosevelt played a pivotal role in cementing alliances among nations opposing the Axis powers.

Regularly meeting with Churchill and fostering amicable relations with the Soviet Union and its leader, Joseph Stalin, Roosevelt maintained a constant presence on the radio, reporting war developments and rallying the American populace in support of the war effort, akin to his approach during the New Deal era.

Yalta Conference and the Passing of Franklin D. Roosevelt

In 1944, as the tide of war shifted in favor of the Allies, an exhausted and ailing Franklin D. Roosevelt successfully secured a fourth term in the White House.

The subsequent February saw him convene with Churchill and Stalin at the Yalta Conference, during which Roosevelt secured Stalin’s commitment to join the war against Japan following Germany’s imminent surrender.

While the Soviet leader upheld this promise, he ultimately failed to fulfill his commitment to establish democratic governments in the Eastern European nations under Soviet control. The “Big Three” leaders also collaborated on laying the groundwork for the post-war international peace organization that would later become the United Nations.

Upon his return from Yalta, Roosevelt’s physical frailty became apparent, forcing him to sit while addressing Congress for the first time in his presidency. In early April 1945, he departed Washington for his cottage in Warm Springs, Georgia, where he had previously established a nonprofit foundation to aid polio patients. Tragically, Roosevelt suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage and passed away on April 12, 1945. His vice president, Harry S. Truman, succeeded him in office.

Frequently Asked Questions about Franklin D. Roosevelt

1. Who was Franklin D. Roosevelt? Franklin Delano Roosevelt, commonly known as FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States. He served an unprecedented four terms from 1933 to 1945, guiding the nation through the Great Depression and World War II.

2. What is Franklin D. Roosevelt best known for? FDR is best known for his leadership during two of the most challenging periods in American history—the Great Depression and World War II. His New Deal programs aimed to alleviate the economic hardships of the Depression, and he played a key role in the Allied victory during World War II.

3. What was the New Deal? The New Deal was a series of economic and social programs initiated by FDR to address the economic challenges of the Great Depression. It included a range of initiatives such as Social Security, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Public Works Administration.

4. How many terms did Franklin D. Roosevelt serve as president? FDR served as President for four terms. He was elected in 1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944. His presidency marked a departure from the previous two-term tradition.

5. What was the significance of the Fireside Chats? The Fireside Chats were a series of radio broadcasts where FDR spoke directly to the American people. These chats were instrumental in maintaining public confidence, explaining his policies, and providing reassurance during times of crisis, such as the banking crisis of 1933.

6. How did FDR handle World War II? FDR played a crucial role in leading the United States through World War II. Before the U.S. entered the war, he supported Allied nations and later facilitated the alliance between the U.S., the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom. He also played a key role in establishing the United Nations.

7. Why did FDR run for a fourth term? FDR ran for a fourth term in 1944 due to the ongoing challenges of World War II. The war’s complexities and the desire for continuity in leadership led him to seek re-election, which he won.

8. What was the Yalta Conference? The Yalta Conference was a meeting between FDR, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin in February 1945. They discussed post-war arrangements, including the establishment of the United Nations and Stalin’s commitment to joining the war against Japan.

9. How did Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency end? FDR passed away on April 12, 1945, at his cottage in Warm Springs, Georgia, just a few months into his fourth term. He suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage, and Vice President Harry S. Truman succeeded him in office.

10. What is FDR’s legacy? FDR’s legacy is multifaceted. He is remembered for his leadership during times of crisis, the New Deal programs that reshaped the American government’s role, and his contributions to the Allied victory in World War II. His presidency left a lasting impact on the nation’s social and economic policies.

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