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Franklin D. Roosevelt

b. Jan. 30, 1882, Hyde Park, N.Y., U.S.

d. April 12, 1945, Warm Springs, Ga.

Shorter biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt

in full FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, byname FDR 32nd president of the United States (1933-45), the only person to be elected to the office four times. In an effort to spur the nation's recovery from the Great Depression, he expanded the federal government's powers through a series of programs and reforms known as the New Deal. He was also a major Allied leader during World War II. The modern role of the United States government, in both its domestic and foreign policies, owes much to the changes that Roosevelt helped bring about.

Early life and political growth

Roosevelt was the only son of James and Sara Delano Roosevelt. The Roosevelts lived in unostentatious and genteel luxury, dividing their time between the Hudson River Valley and European resorts. They often took young Franklin to Europe; he was taught privately at home and was reared to be a gentleman, responsible toward those less fortunate. At 14, Roosevelt, a rather shy youth, entered Groton School (Groton, Massachusetts), modeled after the great public schools of England, where wealthy young men were trained to exercise Christian stewardship through public service.

After he entered Harvard in 1900, Franklin Roosevelt threw himself into undergraduate activities. His strenuous extracurricular and social life left him relatively little time for his academic studies, in which his record was undistinguished. He was, however, influenced by his economics professors, who modified traditional laissez-faire views with advocacy of government regulation of economic activities, but, even more, Roosevelt fell under the spell of the progressive president, his glamorous distant relative Theodore Roosevelt, a fifth cousin.

During his final year at Harvard, Franklin became engaged to Theodore Roosevelt's niece, Eleanor Roosevelt, who was then active in settlement work in New York City; they were married on March 17, 1905. Eleanor helped open young Roosevelt's eyes to the deplorable living conditions of the underprivileged in the slums.

New York social life interested Roosevelt more than did his studies at Columbia University School of Law. As soon as he passed the New York bar examination, he discontinued his schooling. This attitude of indifference toward the legal profession carried over into Roosevelt's years as a clerk with the distinguished Wall Street firm of Carter, Ledyard & Milburn, defense counsel in several spectacular antitrust cases.

Early political activities

His admiration for his cousin Theodore, who continued to urge young men of substance to enter public service, led Roosevelt toward politics. His opportunity came in 1910 when the Democratic leaders of Dutchess County, New York, persuaded him to undertake an apparently futile campaign for the state senate. Roosevelt, whose branch of the family had always been Democratic, hesitated only long enough to make sure his distinguished Republican relative would not speak against him.

State senator

He campaigned so strenuously that, with the aid of a Republican schism and his famous name, he won the election. Roosevelt, not quite 29, quickly won statewide and even some national attention by leading a small group of Democratic insurgents who refused to vote for the nominee of Tammany Hall, the New York City organization. For three months Roosevelt helped hold the insurgents firm, until Tammany switched to another candidate.

Roosevelt became the foremost champion in the New York Senate of the upstate farmers, and in the process he converted to the full program of progressive reform. From the New York City legislators, whom he had earlier scorned and now continued to fight, he learned much of the give-and-take of politics. Among them were James J. Walker, later mayor of New York City; Robert Ferdinand Wagner, who became a leading U.S. senator; and Alfred E. Smith, later governor of New York. Roosevelt gradually abandoned his patrician airs and attitude of superiority.

Before the end of 1911, Roosevelt supported the presidential boom for Gov. Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey, the leading Democratic progressive. An attack of typhoid fever kept Roosevelt from participating in the 1912 campaign, but, even without making a single public appearance, he was reelected to the state senate. This was because of publicity by an Albany newspaperman, Louis McHenry Howe, who saw in the tall, handsome young Roosevelt a promising politician. Howe served Roosevelt for the rest of his life with a jealous loyalty.

Assistant secretary of the navy

For his work on behalf of Wilson, Roosevelt was rewarded in March 1913 with an appointment as assistant secretary of the navy under Josephus Daniels. Roosevelt loved the sea and naval traditions, and he knew more about them than did his superior, with whom he was frequently impatient. Roosevelt tried with mixed success to bring reforms to the navy yards, which were under his jurisdiction, meanwhile learning to negotiate with labour unions among the civilian employees. After war broke out in Europe, Roosevelt became a vehement advocate of preparedness; following U.S. entrance, he built a reputation as an effective administrator. In the summer of 1918 he made an extended tour of naval bases and battlefields overseas. During much of his seven years as assistant secretary, he had been less than loyal to Daniels, but in the end he came to appreciate his superior's skill in dealing with Southern congressmen and his solid worth as an administrator.

Paralytic attack

At the 1920 Democratic convention Roosevelt was nominated for vice president. He campaigned vigorously with the presidential nominee, James M. Cox, on behalf of U.S. entrance into the League of Nations. After a Republican landslide, Roosevelt became a vice president of the Fidelity & Deposit Company of Md., a bonding company, entered into numerous business schemes (some of a speculative nature), and remained active in Democratic politics. Suddenly, in August 1921, while on vacation at Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Roosevelt was severely stricken with poliomyelitis. He suffered intensely and for some time was almost completely paralyzed, but he soon began predicting (as he did for some years) that he would quickly regain the use of his legs. His mother wished him to retire to Hyde Park, but his wife and his secretary, Louis Howe, felt it essential to his morale that he remain active in his career and in politics. Because Roosevelt could not himself go to political gatherings, his wife attended for him, acting as his eyes and ears (a service she frequently performed for him during the rest of his life). Under the tutelage of Howe, she overcame her shyness and became an effective political worker and speaker. Because he could not run for office for the time being, Roosevelt was able to function effectively as a sort of premature "elder statesman," trying to promote unity between the urban and rural wings of the Democratic Party. Himself a rural Democrat, he nominated Gov. Al Smith of New York, the favourite of the city faction, at the 1924 and 1928 Democratic conventions.

Smith urged Roosevelt to run for governor of New York in 1928 to strengthen the ticket. Roosevelt was reluctant; he still could not walk without braces and assistance. In the years since 1921 he had worked incessantly to try to regain the use of his legs--for several winters he swam in warm Florida waters and, beginning in 1924, in the mineralized water at Warm Springs, Georgia. Wishing to share with others the beneficent effect of the warm water and a systematic program of therapy, Roosevelt in 1927 established the Warm Springs Foundation, a nonprofit institution for the care of polio victims. He wished to develop Warm Springs further and to continue treatments in the hope of regaining full use of his legs.

Governor of New York

Nevertheless, despite these concerns and his feeling that 1928 was not a propitious year to run on the Democratic ticket, Roosevelt succumbed to strong persuasion and accepted the nomination. When he began campaigning by automobile, he demonstrated that he had retained his youthful buoyance and vitality; he also showed that he had matured into a more serious and human person. Opponents raised the question of his health, but his vigorous campaigning effectively disposed of the issue. Smith was defeated in Herbert Hoover's landslide, and he failed to carry New York state; but Roosevelt won by 25,000 votes.

Succeeding Smith as governor, Roosevelt decided he must establish his own type of administration. He did not keep Smith's closest adviser nor did he depend upon Smith for advice. Smith, already stung by his defeat for the presidency, was hurt and alienated. Whereas Smith had built his reputation on administrative reform, Roosevelt concentrated upon a program to give tax relief to farmers and to provide cheaper public utilities for consumers. The appeal of this program in upstate New York, coupled with the effects of the deepening Depression, led to Roosevelt's reelection in 1930 by the overwhelming plurality of 725,000 votes. (See Great Depression.)

During his first term as governor, Roosevelt's policies, except on the power issue, were scarcely further to the left than those of President Hoover in Washington, D.C. But during Roosevelt's second term, as the Depression became more catastrophic in its effects, he acted to mobilize the machinery of the state government to aid the economy. In the fall of 1931 he obtained legislation establishing the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration, the first of the state relief agencies. Throughout his four years, he was successful in most of his bouts with the Republican legislature, sharpening skills that would prove vital in the future. And, increasingly, beginning with some slight speculation in November 1928, he was being talked of as the most likely Democratic presidential nominee in 1932. After his spectacular victory in 1930, he was so conspicuous a target for the Republicans and for rival Democratic aspirants that he had no choice but to begin immediately and quietly to obtain support for the convention. Because it then took a two-thirds vote in the Democratic convention to nominate, a leading contender could be stopped with relative ease. It soon became apparent that Roosevelt's strongest opposition would come from urban and conservative Eastern Democrats still loyal to Smith; his strongest support was in the South and the West.

Progressives and intellectuals found Roosevelt's overall program attractive, but many feared that he was weak because he sidestepped Republican challenges to oust corrupt Democratic officials in New York City. The opposition became stronger when John Nance Garner of Texas, speaker of the House of Representatives, won the California primary.


At the 1932 convention Roosevelt had an early majority of the delegates but seemed blocked by a combination of the Smith and Garner forces. On the third ballot, Garner allowed his delegates to be thrown to Roosevelt; in return, Garner was nominated for the vice presidency.

First term

In the campaign of 1932 the Depression was the only issue of consequence. Roosevelt, displaying smiling confidence, campaigned throughout the country, outlining in general terms a program for recovery and reform that came to be known as the New Deal. In a series of addresses carefully prepared by a team of speech writers, popularly called the Brain Trust, he promised aid to farmers, public development of electric power, a balanced budget, and government policing of irresponsible economic power. He declared in his most notable speech in San Francisco: "Private economic power is . . . a public trust as well." His program appealed to millions who were nominally Republicans, especially Western progressives. Roosevelt received 22,822,000 popular votes in the election to Hoover's 15,762,000; the electoral vote was 472 to 59. The Democrats also won substantial majorities in both houses of Congress.

Inauguration as president

Roosevelt took office on March 4, 1933. Following the election, President Hoover had sought Roosevelt's cooperation in stemming the deepening economic crisis that culminated in the closing of banks in several states during February 1933. But Roosevelt refused either to accept responsibility without the accompanying power or to subscribe to Hoover's proposals for reassuring business; Hoover himself granted that his proposals would mean "the abandonment of 90 per cent of the so-called new deal."

When Roosevelt took office, most of the nation's banks were closed, industrial production was down to 56 percent of the 1929 level, 13,000,000 or more persons were unemployed, and farmers were in desperate straits. Even the congressional leaders were so shaken that for the time being they were ready to follow Roosevelt's recommendations.

In his inaugural address Roosevelt promised prompt, decisive action and somehow conveyed to the nation some of his own unshakable self-confidence. "This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper," he asserted, ". . . the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." For the moment, people of all political views were Roosevelt's allies, and he acted swiftly to obtain enactment of the most sweeping peacetime legislative program in U.S. history.

The Hundred Days

Through a broad array of measures, Roosevelt first sought quick recovery and then reform of the malfunctions in the economic system that he thought had caused the collapse. He tried to aid each of the main interest groups in the U.S. economy and, at a time when the Democrats were the minority political party, to hold the backing of many who were previously Republicans. His choice of Cabinet members indicated his efforts to maintain a consensus; it was geographically and politically balanced, containing both liberal and conservative Democrats, three Republicans, and, for the first time, a woman--Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins.

He also directed his legislative program toward a broad constituency. The prelude was the enactment of several conservative measures, to inspire confidence among businessmen and bankers. First Roosevelt ended depositors' runs on banks by closing all banks until Congress, meeting in special session on March 9, could pass a cautious measure allowing those in a sound condition to reopen (Roosevelt also strongly favoured banking reform, but it came later). In March, Roosevelt redeemed one of his most important campaign pledges by introducing a program of drastic government economy. He firmly believed in economy and never became a convert to the Keynesian views so often attributed to him. The emergency banking and economy acts brought him the enthusiastic support of an overwhelming proportion of the electorate but, he pointed out at the time, could do little to bring real recovery.

Roosevelt was already preparing, and he soon sent to Congress, a series of messages and draft bills proposing the program that comprised the early New Deal. Roosevelt first obtained from Congress federal funds for the relief of human suffering. Congress established the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), which granted funds to state relief agencies for direct relief. It also established a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which at its peak employed 500,000 young men in reforestation and flood-control work; it was a favourite project of Roosevelt's and remained popular through the New Deal. Mortgage relief aided other millions of persons, both farmers and homeowners. The key loan agency of the New Deal was the previously established Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), the powers of which were broadened so that it could make loans to small enterprises as well as to large. Although at the time Roosevelt did not envisage public spending as the primary role of these relief agencies, the agencies poured so much money into the economy that within several years they were stimulating recovery.

Recovery measures

The two key recovery measures of the New Deal were acts to restore farm prosperity and to stimulate business enterprise. The first act, in 1933, established the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), the objective of which was to raise farm prices and increase the proportion of the national income going to farmers. The principal means was through subsidies given to growers of seven basic commodities in return for their willingness to reduce production. The subsidies were to be paid from a processing tax on the commodities. Roosevelt accepted this scheme as a temporary expedient, which Congress would enact because a majority of farm organization leaders favoured it. He also hoped to raise farm prices through mild inflation. Roosevelt envisaged a program, following farm recovery, of extensive rural planning--moving farmers from submarginal to better lands and luring some of the unemployed from metropolises to rural and village life. In 1935 Roosevelt obtained the Resettlement Administration, which gave some aid to smaller, poorer farmers. When the Supreme Court invalidated the processing tax in 1936, he switched the AAA program to one of soil conservation. Nevertheless, throughout the New Deal, farm leaders and Congress succeeded in maintaining an agricultural program the major emphasis of which was to raise farm prices. Thanks to this legislation and several years of drought, production fell, and farm income gradually improved. But not until 1941 did it reach even the inadequate level of 1929. (See agricultural economics.)

The demand of businessmen for government stabilization and of labour for a shorter workweek led Roosevelt to recommend to Congress the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) of 1933. It was a two-pronged program. On one side was a $3,300,000,000 appropriation for public works. Had this money been poured into the economy rapidly, it would probably have done much to bring recovery, but Roosevelt wanted to be sure it would be spent soundly on self-liquidating public works, through the Public Works Administration (PWA). Because careful planning took time, the PWA did not become an important factor until late in the New Deal. On the other side of the NIRA was a National Recovery Administration (NRA), to administer codes of fair practice within given industries. At first under a "blanket code," then under specific codes negotiated by representatives of each industry and labour, minimum wages, maximum hours, and fair trade practices were established within each industry. The codes were designed to stabilize production, raise prices, and protect labour and consumers. Consumers received scant protection, but labour received guarantees on wages and hours and also the right to bargain collectively. During the summer of 1933 there was a quick flurry of recovery as manufacturers produced goods in anticipation of sale at higher prices under the codes; the boom collapsed by fall because prices had risen faster than purchasing power.

By February 1934 the code making was over, but far too many--557 basic codes and 208 supplementary ones--had come into existence, containing innumerable provisions that were difficult to enforce. By 1935 the business community, which had demanded the NRA at the outset, was becoming disillusioned with it and blaming Roosevelt for its ineffectiveness. In May the Supreme Court, in the Schechter decision, invalidated the code system. Despite shortcomings, however, the NRA had aided several highly competitive industries, such as textiles, and brought reforms that were re-enacted in other legislation: federal wages-and-hours regulation, collective-bargaining guarantees, and abolition of child labour in interstate commerce.

In the fall of 1933 Roosevelt had already turned to other expedients for bolstering the economy. He experimented with "managed currency," driving down the gold content of the dollar and tripling the price of silver through large purchases. These efforts brought only small price increases at home, but they improved the position of the United States in foreign trade by making dollars cheaper abroad. In January 1934 Roosevelt stabilized the gold content of the dollar at 59.06 percent of its earlier value. Managed currency created a significant precedent, even though it did little to bring recovery at the time.

Altogether, by the fall of 1934 Roosevelt's program was bringing a limited degree of recovery, but it was alienating conservatives, including many businessmen. They contended that much of the program was unconstitutional, that it created uncertainties for business that hampered recovery, and that the lowering of the gold content of the dollar had deprived holders of government obligations of their just return. At the same time, many of the underprivileged who were still in serious difficulties felt that the New Deal had not gone far enough. They were ready to listen to demagogic leaders offering still more. In the 1934 mid-term election they voted overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates for Congress; but there was a danger that in the 1936 presidential election they might vote for a third-party candidate to the left of Roosevelt.

Reform measures

To meet the threat to his political coalition from the left, Roosevelt emphasized reform in his annual message to Congress in January 1935. This was less a shift from a first to a second New Deal than it was a rush to enact reform measures that Roosevelt had long been planning. In 1933 he had obtained the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), to provide flood control, cheap hydroelectric power, and regional planning for an impoverished region. At his recommendation also, Congress had enacted two laws to protect investors: the Truth-in-Securities Act of 1933 and an act establishing the regulatory Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 1934.

Additional legislation in 1935 did much to undermine the appeal of demagogues to the needy, especially the Social Security Act, which included unemployment insurance and old-age insurance. For workers still unemployed, Congress created the Works Progress Administration (WPA), to provide relief that would stem the erosion of their skills and self-respect (between 1935 and 1941 the WPA employed an average of 2,100,000 workers, and by the end of 1935 it was already bringing a marked measure of recovery by pouring billions of dollars into the economy). For workers who were employed, the National Labor Relations Act (the Wagner Act), only belatedly accepted by Roosevelt, strengthened the government guarantees of collective bargaining and created a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to adjudicate labour disputes. The Public Utility Holding Company Act, also of 1935, regulated the control holding companies had over operating public utility companies. A new 1935 tax measure, labelled by its opponents the "soak-the-rich" tax, raised the levies on persons with large incomes and on big corporations and became a significant factor in redistributing U.S. income.

Second term

These measures effectively undercut the left-wing opposition to Roosevelt, but they further alienated conservatives. He ran for reelection in 1936 with the firm support of farmers, labourers, and the underprivileged; and the epithets that the extreme right hurled at him merely helped unify his following. The Republican nominee, Gov. Alfred Mossman Landon of Kansas, a moderate, could do little to stem the Roosevelt tide. Roosevelt received 27,752,000 popular votes to Landon's 16,680,000 and carried every state except Maine and Vermont.

Supreme Court fight

The only hope of conservatives to thwart the New Deal was for the Supreme Court to invalidate its key measures. Following the Schechter decision, the court in 1936 ruled against the AAA processing taxes, and cases challenging the Social Security Act and the Wagner Act were also pending. Roosevelt, beginning his second term with a massive mandate, was determined to remove this threat. Believing that the measures were well within the scope of the Constitution and that the reasoning of the justices was old-fashioned and at fault, he proposed early in 1937 the reorganization of the court, including the appointment of as many as six new justices. The proposal, labelled by opponents as a courtpacking scheme, touched off a vehement debate in which many of Roosevelt's previous supporters in and out of Congress expressed their opposition. Meanwhile, in the spring of 1937, the Supreme Court upheld both the Wagner Act and the Social Security Act. With the need for the court plan dissolving, its enemies managed by summer to bring about its defeat. This was a severe political blow for Roosevelt, even though the new decisions by the court opened the way for almost unlimited government regulation of the economy.

(See Supreme Court of the United States, Court-Packing Plan.)

Growing opposition

Roosevelt's prestige dropped further in the summer of 1937, when much of the public blamed him for labour difficulties that grew out of organizing drives in the steel, automobile, and other mass-production industries. Operating under the protection of the Wagner Act, the unions engaged in strikes that often resulted in violence. Roosevelt himself preferred paternalistic government aid to all workers, such as the wages-and-hours guarantees of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. But union membership jumped to about 9,500,000 by 1941, while most middle class people returned to the Republican Party.

A sharp economic recession in the fall of 1937 added to Roosevelt's troubles. There had been substantial recovery by 1937; but Roosevelt, wishing to balance the budget, had curtailed government spending drastically, sending the economy plummeting back toward 1932 levels. Businessmen blamed the New Deal spending policies; Roosevelt blamed the businessmen and inaugurated an antimonopoly program. In October 1937 massive government spending began again, and by June 1938 the crisis was past.

From 1938 on, many of the conservative Southern Democrats heading key congressional committees openly opposed the New Deal. In 1938 Roosevelt tried unsuccessfully to defeat several of them in the primaries and was inveighed against as a dictator trying to conduct a "purge." Democrats won the November elections, but the Republicans gained 80 seats in the House and seven in the Senate, permitting a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats that could thwart the President.

Nevertheless, the second Roosevelt administration saw the passage of some notable reform legislation, extending and improving earlier legislation and moving into some new fields. The development of soil conservation to stem erosion and the large-scale construction of public works, including public housing and slum clearance, also occurred during these years. Many New Deal innovations, such as social security, the agricultural program, the TVA, and the SEC, had now become accepted as permanent functions of the federal government.

Foreign policy

By 1939 foreign policy was overshadowing domestic policy. Even before taking office, Roosevelt had endorsed Hoover's refusal to recognize Japanese conquests in Manchuria. From the outset of his administration, Roosevelt was deeply involved in foreign-policy questions, mostly relating to the Depression. In the early summer of 1933 he refused to support international currency stabilization at the London Economic Conference, but by 1934 he had stabilized the dollar and had begun helping France and Great Britain to keep their currencies from being undermined by dictator nations. In November 1933 Roosevelt recognized the government of the Soviet Union in the mistaken hope that he could thus promote trade. Greater opportunities seemed to exist in negotiating reciprocal trade agreements with numerous nations--a program that began in 1935--and in fostering more cordial relations with Latin American nations. In his first inaugural address Roosevelt had pledged himself to the "policy of the good neighbor." Secretary of State Cordell Hull had interpreted this to mean no unilateral U.S. intervention in Latin America; but, gradually, as European war became imminent, the Good Neighbor Policy led to collective-security and mutual-defense agreements.

In the early New Deal years, Roosevelt not only pursued programs of economic nationalism but, like most Americans, was also intent upon keeping the United States out of any impending war. He thus supported a series of neutrality laws, beginning with the Neutrality Act of August 1935. Roosevelt moved toward a new policy in 1937, after Japan began a major thrust into northern China. In October, speaking in Chicago, he proposed that peace-loving nations make concerted efforts to quarantine aggressors. He seemed to mean nothing more drastic than the breaking off of diplomatic relations, but the proposal created such national alarm that during ensuing months he was slow to develop a collective-security position. He quickly accepted Japanese apologies when the U.S. gunboat "Panay" was sunk on the Yangtze River in December 1937. Relations between the United States and Japan gradually worsened, but the rapid domination of Europe by Adolf Hitler of Germany was more threatening.

The outbreak of war

When World War II began in Europe in September 1939, Roosevelt called Congress into special session to revise the Neutrality Act to permit belligerents to buy arms on a "cash-and-carry" basis. With Hitler's aggressions and the fall of France in the spring and early summer of 1940, Roosevelt and Congress turned to defense preparations and "all aid short of war" to Great Britain. Roosevelt even gave Great Britain 50 overage destroyers in exchange for eight Western Hemisphere bases. Isolationists, fearing U.S. involvement in the war, debated hotly with those who felt the national self-interest demanded aid to Britain.

The third and fourth terms

In the 1940 presidential campaign the Republicans nominated Wendell L. Willkie, who agreed with Roosevelt's foreign policy. Both candidates pledged to keep the nation out of foreign war; but isolationists tended to support Willkie, while those favouring strong measures against Hitler swung toward Roosevelt. By a closer margin than before--27,244,000 to 22,305,000 popular votes and 449 electoral votes to 82--Roosevelt was elected to an unprecedented third term.

Through 1941 the nation moved gradually closer toward actual belligerency with Germany. After a bitter debate in Congress, Roosevelt in March 1941 obtained the Lend-Lease Act, enabling the United States to finance aid to Great Britain and its allies. Preventing submarines from sinking goods en route to Europe gradually involved more drastic protection by the U.S. Navy; in the fall Roosevelt authorized the navy to "shoot on sight" at German submarines. Meanwhile, in August, on a battleship off Newfoundland, Roosevelt met with Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Great Britain and signed a joint press release proclaiming an Atlantic Charter to provide national self-determination, greater economic opportunities, freedom from fear and want, freedom of the seas, and disarmament. (See Churchill, Sir Winston Leonard Spencer.)

U.S. entry into the war

Yet it was in the Pacific that war came to the United States. Japan, bound in a treaty of alliance with Germany and Italy, the so-called Axis, extended its empire in East Asia. Roosevelt, viewing these moves as part of Axis world aggression, began to deny Japan supplies essential to its war making. Throughout 1941 the United States negotiated with Japan, but proposals by each side were unsatisfactory. Roosevelt did not want war with Japan in the fall of 1941, but he miscalculated in thinking the Japanese were bluffing. By the end of November he knew that Japanese fleet units and transports were at sea and that war was imminent; an attack in Southeast Asia and perhaps on the Philippines seemed likely. To Roosevelt's angered surprise, the Japanese, on December 7, 1941, struck Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. On December 8, at Roosevelt's request, Congress voted a war resolution within four hours; on December 11, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. (See Franklin D. Roosevelt, Declaration of war against Japan.)

Roosevelt made concessions to the conservatives in Congress in order to obtain support in prosecuting the war. Several New Deal agencies were abolished. At a press conference Roosevelt asserted that "Dr. Win the War" had replaced "Dr. New Deal" but that this was to be only for the duration of the war. Roosevelt also fought resourcefully although not always successfully against inflationary pressures.

One of the immediate problems after Pearl Harbor was to build up massive production for war. Roosevelt had begun experimenting in 1939 with various defense agencies to mobilize the economy. Eventually, a workable organization had evolved. At the time of Pearl Harbor, U.S. war production was already nearly as great as that of Germany and Japan combined; by 1944 it was double the total of all Axis nations.

Relations with allies

During the war, Roosevelt concentrated upon problems of strategy, negotiations with the nation's allies, and the planning of the peace. From the outset, he took the lead in establishing a grand alliance among all countries fighting the Axis.

Roosevelt met with Churchill in a number of wartime conferences at which differences were settled amicably. Debate at the earlier conferences centred upon the question of a landing in France, which the British succeeded in postponing repeatedly; the great Normandy invasion was finally launched in June 1944. Meanwhile, the United States had followed the British lead in invading North Africa in November 1942, Sicily in July 1943, and Italy in September 1943. At one of the most significant of the meetings, at Casablanca, Morocco, in January 1943, Roosevelt, after previous consultation with Churchill, proclaimed the doctrine of unconditional surrender of the Axis. He seemed to want to avoid the sort of differences of opinion among the Allies and misunderstanding by the Germans that had made trouble at the time of the 1918 Armistice. There is no tangible evidence that the doctrine in any way lengthened the war.

Relations with the Soviet Union posed a difficult problem for Roosevelt. Throughout the war the Soviet Union accepted large quantities of lend-lease supplies but seldom divulged its military plans or acted in coordination with its Western Allies. Roosevelt, feeling that the maintenance of peace after the war depended upon friendly relations with the Soviet Union, hoped to win Joseph Stalin's confidence. Roosevelt seemed to get along well with Stalin when he and Churchill first met with the Soviet leader at Tehran, Iran, in November 1943. In their optimism, Roosevelt and Churchill seemed not to see realistically that the sort of peace being foreshadowed at Tehran would leave the Soviet Union dominant in Europe.

Meanwhile, the Axis had been suffering serious defeats in both Europe and the Pacific. By February 1945, when the Big Three met again at Yalta in the Crimea, the war seemed almost over in Europe. As for Japan, the United States expected a last-ditch defense that might require another 18 months or more of fighting. Work in developing an atomic bomb was well advanced, but its power was expected to be only a fraction of what it actually turned out to be. Consequently, Roosevelt and his military advisers were eager to obtain Soviet aid in Asia; and, in return for Stalin's promise to enter the war against Japan, Roosevelt and Churchill offered concessions in the Far East. As for eastern Europe, earlier decisions were ratified, and plans were made for the establishment of democratic governments. Had the arrangements for eastern Europe been followed by Stalin in the manner expected by Roosevelt and Churchill, there would have been little room for criticism. But the understandings were not precise enough, and they received different interpretations in the Soviet Union. By mid-March false Soviet accusations against the United States led Roosevelt to send a sharp telegram to Stalin.

Declining health and death

Roosevelt hoped that the establishment of an effective international organization, the United Nations, could maintain the peace in years to come. He planned to attend a conference of 50 nations at San Francisco, opening April 25, 1945, to draft a United Nations charter. But, since January 1944, his health had been declining. His political opponents had tried to make much of this during the campaign of 1944, when he ran for a fourth term against Gov. Thomas E. Dewey of New York. A final burst of vigour on Roosevelt's part, however, seemed to refute the rumours. Roosevelt won by 25,602,000 to 22,006,000 in popular votes and 432 to 99 in electoral votes. But his address to Congress after he returned from Yalta in early 1945 had to be delivered sitting down. He went to Warm Springs for a rest, and there, on April 12, he died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage.


During Roosevelt's years as president, he had relatively little time for personal life. He continued his interest in his lands at Hyde Park. His zest for sailing and his enjoyment in collecting stamps and naval books and prints continued unabated. His tight schedule and the incessant publicity imposed upon him limited the time he could give to his wife, who became an important figure in her own right, and to his five children: Anna Eleanor, James, Elliott, Franklin D., Jr., and John A. As a public figure he was, at the same time, one of the most loved and most hated men in U.S. history. Opponents ascribed to him shallowness, incompetence, trickiness, and dictatorial ambitions. His supporters hailed him as the saviour of his nation's economy and the defender of democracy not only in the United States but throughout the world as well. It was generally conceded that as a political leader he was unexcelled in winning and holding popular support and in retaining, in his administration, leaders of diverse views. Many experts have expressed the opinion that despite occasional confusion and overlapping authority, his administration was unusually effective. He brought even more than this to the office: in 1932 he stated what remained his view through peace and war, "The Presidency . . . is pre-eminently a place of moral leadership." (F.Fr.)

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