Roosevelt, Franklin Delano
1882­1945

Thirty­second U.S. president; born in Hyde Park, N.Y. Born into the patrician family (of Dutch descent) that produced his distant cousin Theodore Roosevelt, as well as his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, he was educated in Europe and at Harvard and Columbia Law School. Admitted to the New York bar in 1907, he served as a progressive state senator (1911­13) and assistant navy secretary (1913­20) before running unsuccessfully as vice-president on the 1920 Democratic ticket. After a crippling attack of polio in 1921 (he would never again walk without assistance), he resumed his political career, becoming governor of New York (1929­33) and seeming to take on a new sense of purpose. With the country in a deep depression, he easily defeated Herbert Hoover in 1932. As president, he moved decisively and set the pattern for the modern liberal Democratic Party with a social and economic program called the "New Deal." An array of agencies and departments, many hastily created in his first months in office, were designed to stimulate the economy, put people to work, and simply to create hope - the Tennessee Valley Authority, Civilian Conservation Corps, Securities and Exchange Commission, Work Projects Administration, and the Social Security Administration, among others. Some of these organizations were short-lived; others became fixtures of the American way of life. While the nation's economy did not fully revive until wartime, his actions earned Roosevelt the gratitude of working people that outweighed the hatred of conservatives. In fact, he himself was not all that interested in either the details of his programs nor in any ideological theories; he was motivated largely by a desire to keep the U.S.A. a functioning and fair society, and to this end he surrounded himself with first­rate people; a person of ordinary intellect and tastes, his mixture of casual optimism and natural sympathies managed to appeal to everyone from artsy intellectuals to disenfranchised minorities. Reelected by a landslide in 1936, he won unprecedented third and fourth terms in 1940 and 1944. Having maintained neutrality in the face of European hostilities in the late 1930s, his administration began supplying arms to the allies by 1940 and then led the nation into World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (December 1941). Having seen the nation through the war, and helped plan, with other allied leaders, the postwar world and the United Nations, Roosevelt died less than four weeks before the German surrender. The object of constant attacks during his presidency­he was regarded as everything from "a traitor to his class" to a would-be dictator­he would suffer somewhat from posthumous revelations about an extramarital relationship and by charges that he conceded too much in negotiations with Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill, but most historians and informed people continue to regard FDR as one of the three or four greatest American presidents.

Except where noted, data in the BIOGRAPHY7 Online Database is from the AND Reference Database, which incorporates the Cambridge Encyclopedia Database. Copyright 8 1997, AND Reference Data Ltd., Oxford, UK. and The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, edited by J S. Bowmen. Copyright 8 1995 Cambridge University Press. Reproduced with permission.

 

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