Franklin D Roosevelt (1882-1945) was four times elected President of the United States, serving his country in peace and war.
He was the son of a wealthy landowner and was born in Hyde Park in New York State, where he grew up to enjoy riding, shooting, polo, tennis and boating.
In 1905 he married Anna Eleanor Roosevelt who was the niece of his distant cousin President Theodore Roosevelt.
In 1907 he began to practice as a lawyer in New York but contact with Theodore Roosevelt made him interested in politics and in 1910 he was elected as a Democrat to the New York Senate. (There are two main political parties in the United States – the Democratic and the Republican parties.)
When Woodrow Wilson became President in 1912 he chose Roosevelt as Assistant Secretary of the Navy.
He was extremely successful in this appointment and in 1920 was chosen for the Vice Presidency, but the Democrats were defeated in the election and Roosevelt went back to his legal work. In 1921 he had an attack of polio myelitis (infantile paralysis) which left him paralysed from the waist down. By sheer will power he taught himself in 3 years to move about on crutches. His years of suffering and helplessness gave him great determination and helped him to understand those who were the victims of misfortune.
In 1924 he returned to public affairs. Four years later he was elected Governor of New York State and in 1930 was re-elected.
His success in that office led, in 1932, to his election as President of the United States. He promised a “new deal” for the millions who had been thrown out of work by the economic depression or business failure, which had begun in 1929.
When Roosevelt became President there were in the United States about 12,000,000 unemployed and 5,000,000 families depending on charity. Many shops, factories, farms and banks were closed or idle. Roosevelt’s emergency programme gave the nation new hope.
Although not a Socialist, he believed in bold Government action when necessary. He set the unemployed to work on a huge scale on public buildings, forestry, road making and flood control. The Social Security Act provided unemployment relief and old age pensions. He persuaded the government to lend money to farmers faced with ruin through debt. He put industry and banking on their feet again.
In 1938 Roosevelt was re-elected. At home he arranged for new welfare laws and abroad he tried to check the quarrelsome attitude of the German and Italian dictators but he was hampered by American opinion which wanted to keep out of European squabbles. At the outbreak of war in 1939 the United States was neutral, but when Hitler overran France in the summer of 1940 Roosevelt persuaded America of the importance of helping the United Kingdom, which he steadily supported, and strengthened the Armed Forces.
In 1940 Roosevelt defied tradition by becoming for the third time a candidate for the Presidency. Again he was elected and promised that the Unites States would be ‘an arsenal of democracy’ and supply the allies with war material.
In August 1941 the Japanese attacked the Unites States base at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii and America found itself at war with Japan, Germany and Italy. Roosevelt, as President and Commander in Chief, decided to have 11,000,000 men in the armed forces and to use American factories for the production of masses of aircraft, tanks and guns.
He and Winston Churchill planned the Allies’ war effort at several meetings in the United States, Europe and Asia, at some of which the Russian leader Stalin was also present.
In 1944 there was another Presidential Election in which Roosevelt once more succeeded. He had already described ‘the four freedoms’ that he wanted to see established everywhere – freedom of speech and worship and freedom from want and fear – and now he looked ahead to the United Nations, which was to be established in April 1945. He made an exhausting journey to Yalta in the USSR to discuss plans for it with Stalin but died soon after his return. He had not lived to see the Allied victories, but he knew before he died that they must come soon.
“The more you circulate on your own travels, the better citizen you become, not only of your own country but the world as a whole” Franklin Delano Roosevelt.