The only American president to serve more than 2 terms. Led the US in World War II. Polio at 39 kept him in a wheelchair for life. Married to Eleanor Roosevelt, known for a high-pitched voice and rumored lesbian relationship with Lorena Hickock.
On March 17, 1905, Roosevelt married Eleanor despite the fierce resistance of his mother. Eleanor's uncle, Theodore Roosevelt, stood in at the wedding for Eleanor's deceased father Elliott. (Eleanor had lost both parents by age ten.) The young couple moved into Springwood, his family's estate, where FDR's mother became a frequent house guest, much to Eleanor's chagrin. The home was owned by Roosevelt's mother until her death in 1941 and was very much her home as well. As for their personal lives, Franklin was a charismatic, handsome and socially active man. In contrast, Eleanor was shy and disliked social life, and at first stayed at home to raise their children. Although Eleanor had an aversion to sexual intercourse, and considered it "an ordeal to be endured"; they had six children, the first four in rapid succession:
Roosevelt's dog, Fala, also became well known as Roosevelt's companion during his time in the White House, and was called the "most photographed dog in the world"
In the State election of 1910, Roosevelt ran for the New York State Senate from the district around Hyde Park in Dutchess County, which had not elected a Democrat since 1884. The Roosevelt name, with its associated wealth, prestige, and influence in the Hudson Valley, and the Democratic landslide that year, carried him to the state capital in Albany.
In 1914, Roosevelt made an ill-conceived decision to run for the U.S. Senate seat for New York.
In July 1920, overshadowed by the Newport sex scandal and its coverage in the Providence Journal and New York Times, Roosevelt resigned as Assistant Secretary of the Navy to run for Vice President. In a series of speeches in his campaign for Vice President, Roosevelt claimed (tongue-in-cheek) that as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, he wrote the constitution which the U.S. imposed on Haiti in 1915. The 1920 Democratic National Convention chose Roosevelt by acclamation as the candidate for Vice President of the United States
In August 1921, while the Roosevelts were vacationing at Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada, Roosevelt contracted an illness diagnosed then as polio which resulted in permanent paralysis from the waist down; this diagnosis has since been questioned
When Roosevelt was inaugurated March 4, 1933 (32 days after Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany), the U.S. was at the nadir of the worst depression in its history. A quarter of the workforce was unemployed. Farmers were in deep trouble as prices fell by 60%. Industrial production had fallen by more than half since 1929. Two million were homeless. By the evening of March 4, 32 of the 48 states - as well as the District of Columbia - had closed their banks. The New York Federal Reserve Bank was unable to open on the 5th, as huge sums had been withdrawn by panicky customers in previous days. Beginning with his inauguration address, Roosevelt began blaming the economic crisis on bankers and financiers, the quest for profit, and the self-interest basis of capitalism:
Primarily this is because rulers of the exchange of mankind's goods have failed through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and have abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men. True they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence....The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.
Historians categorized Roosevelt's program as "relief, recovery and reform." Relief was urgently needed by tens of millions of unemployed. Recovery meant boosting the economy back to normal. Reform meant long-term fixes of what was wrong, especially with the financial and banking systems. Roosevelt's series of radio talks, known as fireside chats, presented his proposals directly to the American public. In 1934 FDR paid a visit to retired Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who mused about the President: "A second class intellect. But a first class temperament."
In contrast to his first term, little major legislation was passed in FDR's second term. There was the Housing Act of 1937, a second Agricultural Adjustment Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938, which created the minimum wage. When the economy began to deteriorate again in late 1937, Roosevelt asked Congress for $5 billion in WPA relief and public works funding. This managed to eventually create as many as 3.3 million WPA jobs by 1938. Beyond this, however, the president recommended to a special congressional session only a permanent national farm act, administrative reorganization and regional planning measures, which were leftovers from a regular session. According to Burns, this attempt illustrated Roosevelt's inability to decide on a basic economic program.
The Supreme Court became Roosevelt's primary focus during his second term, after the court overturned many of his programs. In particular in 1935, the Court unanimously ruled that the National Recovery Act (NRA) was an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power to the president. Roosevelt stunned Congress in early 1937 by proposing a law allowing him to appoint up to six new justices, what he referred to as a "persistent infusion of new blood." This "court packing" plan ran into intense political opposition from his own party, led by Vice President Garner, since it upset the separation of powers and gave the President control over the Court. Roosevelt's proposal to expand the court failed; nevertheless by 1941 Roosevelt had appointed eight of the nine justices of the court which began to ratify his policies.
Roosevelt had massive support from the rapidly growing labor unions, but now they split into bitterly feuding AFL and CIO factions, the latter led by John L. Lewis. Roosevelt pronounced a "plague on both your houses," but labor's disunity weakened the party in the elections from 1938 through 1946.
Determined to overcome the opposition of conservative Democrats in Congress (mostly from the South), Roosevelt involved himself in the 1938 Democratic primaries, actively campaigning for challengers who were more supportive of New Deal reform. His targets denounced Roosevelt for trying to take over the Democratic party and to win reelection, used the argument that they were independent. Roosevelt failed badly, managing to defeat only one target, a conservative Democrat from New York City.
In the November 1938 election, Democrats lost six Senate seats and 71 House seats. Losses were concentrated among pro-New Deal Democrats. When Congress reconvened in 1939, Republicans under Senator Robert Taft formed a Conservative coalition with Southern Democrats, virtually ending Roosevelt's ability to get his domestic proposals enacted into law. The minimum wage law of 1938 was the last substantial New Deal reform act passed by Congress.
Roosevelt's third term was dominated by World War II. Roosevelt slowly began re-armament in 1938, although he was facing strong isolationist sentiment from leaders like Senators William Borah and Robert Taft. By 1940, re-armament was in high gear, with bipartisan support, partly to expand and re-equip the Army and Navy and partly to become the "Arsenal of Democracy" supporting Britain, France, China and (after June 1941), the Soviet Union. As Roosevelt took a firmer stance against the Axis Powers, American isolationists (including Charles Lindbergh and America First) vehemently attacked the President as an irresponsible warmonger. Roosevelt initiated FBI and Internal Revenue Service investigations of his loudest critics, though no legal actions resulted. Unfazed by these criticisms and confident in the wisdom of his foreign policy initiatives, FDR continued his twin policies of preparedness and aid to the Allied coalition. On December 29, 1940, he delivered his Arsenal of Democracy fireside chat, in which he made the case for involvement in the war directly to the American people. A week later he delivered his famous Four Freedoms speech laying out the case for an American defense of basic rights throughout the world.
The homefront was subject to dynamic social changes throughout the war, though domestic issues were no longer Roosevelt's most urgent policy concern. The military buildup spurred economic growth. By 1941, unemployment had fallen to under 1 million. There was a growing labor shortage, accelerating the Great Migration of African Americans, farmers and rural populations to manufacturing centers. To pay for increased government spending, in 1941 FDR proposed that Congress enact an income tax rate of 99.5% on all income over $100,000; when the proposal failed, he issued an executive order imposing an income tax of 100% on income over $25,000, which Congress rescinded.
When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Roosevelt agreed to extend Lend-Lease to the Soviets. Thus, Roosevelt had committed the U.S. to the Allied side with a policy of "all aid short of war." Execution of the aid fell victim to foot dragging in the administration so FDR appointed a special assistant, Wayne Coy, to expedite matters. Later that year a German submarine fired on the U.S. destroyer Greer and Roosevelt declared that the U.S. Navy would assume an escort role for Allied convoys in the Atlantic as far east as Great Britain and would fire upon German ships or submarines (U-boats) of the Kriegsmarine if they entered the U.S. Navy zone. This "shoot on sight" policy effectively declared Naval war on Germany and was favored by Americans by a margin of 2-to-1.
Roosevelt and Churchill conducted a highly secret bilateral meeting in Argentia, Newfoundland, and on August 14, 1941, concluded their Atlantic Charter, conceptually outlining global goals following the war; this was the first of several wartime conferences. In July 1941, Roosevelt had ordered Henry Stimson, Secretary of War to begin planning for total American military involvement. The resulting "Victory Program," under the direction of Albert Wedemeyer, provided the President with the estimates necessary for the total mobilization of manpower, industry, and logistics to defeat the "potential enemies" of the United States. The program also planned to dramatically increase aid to the Allied nations and to have ten million men in arms, half of whom would be ready for deployment abroad in 1943. Roosevelt was firmly committed to the Allied cause and these plans had been formulated before the Attack on Pearl Harbor by the Empire of Japan.
Congress was debating a modification of The Neutrality Act in October 1941, when the USS Kearny, along with other ships, engaged a number of U-boats south of Iceland; the Kearny took fire and lost eleven crewmen. As a result, The Neutrality Act to permit the arming of the merchant marine passed both houses, though by a slim margin.
In 1942, war production increased dramatically, but fell short of the goals established by the President, due in part to manpower shortages. The effort was also hindered by numerous strikes by union workers, especially in the coal mining and railroad industries, which lasted well into 1944. The White House became the ultimate site for labor mediation, conciliation or arbitration. One particular battle royal occurred, between Vice-President Wallace, who headed the BEW, and Jesse Jones, in charge of the RFC; both agencies assumed responsibility for acquisition of rubber supplies and came to loggerheads over funding. FDR resolved the dispute by dissolving both agencies.
In 1944 the President requested that Congress enact legislation which would tax all unreasonable profits, both corporate and individual, and thereby support his declared need for over ten billion in revenue for the war and other government measures. The Congress passed a revenue bill raising 2 billion, which FDR vetoed, though Congress in turn overrode
Party leaders insisted that Roosevelt drop Henry A. Wallace, who had been erratic as Vice President and was too pro-Soviet. James F. Byrnes of South Carolina, a top FDR aide, was considered ineligible because he had left the Catholic Church and Catholic voters would not accept him. Roosevelt replaced Wallace with Missouri Senator Harry S. Truman, best known for his battle against corruption and inefficiency in wartime spending. The Republicans nominated Thomas E. Dewey, the liberal governor of New York. The opposition lambasted FDR and his administration for domestic corruption, bureaucratic inefficiency, tolerance of Communism, and military blunders. Labor unions, which had grown rapidly in the war, threw their all-out support behind Roosevelt. In a relatively close 1944 election, Roosevelt and Truman won 53% of the vote and carried 36 states. The President campaigned in favor of a strong United Nations, so his victory symbolized support for the nation's future participation in the international community.
Due to the President's health and the ongoing state of war, the President's fourth inauguration was held on the White House lawn
The President left the Yalta Conference on February 12, 1945, flew to Egypt and boarded the USS Quincy operating on the Great Bitter Lake near the Suez Canal. Aboard Quincy, the next day he met with Farouk I, king of Egypt, and Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia. On February 14, he held a historic meeting with King Abdulaziz, the founder of Saudi Arabia, a meeting some historians believe holds profound significance in U.S.-Saudi relations even today. After a final meeting between Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Quincy steamed for Algiers, arriving February 18, at which time Roosevelt conferred with American ambassadors to Britain, France and Italy. At Yalta, Lord Moran, Winston Churchill's physician, commenting on Roosevelt's ill health, said that he was a dying man.
When Roosevelt returned to the United States, he addressed Congress on March 1 about the Yalta Conference, and many were shocked to see how old, thin and frail he looked. He spoke while seated in the well of the House, an unprecedented concession to his physical incapacity. Roosevelt opened his speech by saying, "I hope that you will pardon me for this unusual posture of sitting down during the presentation of what I want to say, but...it makes it a lot easier for me not to have to carry about ten pounds of steel around on the bottom of my legs." Still in full command mentally, he firmly stated "The Crimean Conference ought to spell the end of a system of unilateral action, the exclusive alliances, the spheres of influence, the balances of power, and all the other expedients that have been tried for centuries- and have always failed. We propose to substitute for all these, a universal organization in which all peace-loving nations will finally have a chance to join."
During March 1945, he sent strongly worded messages to Stalin accusing him of breaking his Yalta commitments over Poland, Germany, prisoners of war and other issues. When Stalin accused the western Allies of plotting a separate peace with Hitler behind his back, Roosevelt replied: "I cannot avoid a feeling of bitter resentment towards your informers, whoever they are, for such vile misrepresentations of my actions or those of my trusted subordinates."
On March 29, 1945, Roosevelt went to the Little White House at Warm Springs, Georgia, to rest before his anticipated appearance at the founding conference of the United Nations. On the afternoon of April 12, Roosevelt said, "I have a terrific pain in the back of my head." He then slumped forward in his chair, unconscious, and was carried into his bedroom. The president's attending cardiologist, Dr. Howard Bruenn, diagnosed a massive cerebral hemorrhage (stroke). At 3:35 pm that day, Roosevelt died. As Allen Drury later said, "so ended an era, and so began another." After Roosevelt's death, an editorial by The New York Times declared, "Men will thank God on their knees a hundred years from now that Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the White House".
In his later years at the White House, when Roosevelt was increasingly overworked, his daughter Anna Roosevelt Boettiger had moved in to provide her father companionship and support. Anna had also arranged for her father to meet with his former mistress, the now widowed Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd. Shoumatoff, who maintained close friendships with both Roosevelt and Mercer, rushed Mercer away to avoid negative publicity and implications of infidelity. When Eleanor heard about her husband's death, she was also faced with the news that Anna had been arranging these meetings with Mercer and that Mercer had been with Franklin when he died.
On the morning of April 13, Roosevelt's body was placed in a flag-draped coffin and loaded onto the presidential train. After a White House funeral on April 14, Roosevelt was transported back to Hyde Park by train, guarded by four servicemen, one each from the Army, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard. As was his wish, Roosevelt was buried in the Rose Garden of the Springwood estate, the Roosevelt family home in Hyde Park on April 15. Eleanor, who died in November 1962, was buried next to him.
Roosevelt's death was met with shock and grief across the U.S. and around the world. His declining health had not been known to the general public. Roosevelt had been president for more than 12 years, longer than any other person, and had led the country through some of its greatest crises to the impending defeat of Nazi Germany and within sight of the defeat of Japan as well.
Less than a month after his death, on May 8, the war in Europe ended. President Harry Truman, who turned 61 that day, dedicated Victory in Europe Day and its celebrations to Roosevelt's memory, and kept the flags across the U.S. at half-staff for the remainder of the 30-day mourning period. In doing so, Truman said that his only wish was "that Franklin D. Roosevelt had lived to witness this day."