Franklin D. Roosevelt Denies Communist Agenda

Franklin D. Roosevelt Denies Communist Agenda

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Section Summary

Franklin Roosevelt was a wealthy, well-educated, and popular politician whose history of polio made him a more sympathetic figure to the public. He did not share any specifics of his plan to bring the country out of the Great Depression, but his attitude of optimism and possibility contrasted strongly with Hoover’s defeated misery. The 1932 election was never really in question, and Roosevelt won in a landslide. During the four-month interregnum, however, Americans continued to endure President Hoover’s failed policies, which led the winter of 1932–1933 to be the worst of the Depression, with unemployment rising to record levels.

When Roosevelt took office in March 1933, he infused the country with a sense of optimism. He still did not have a formal plan but rather invited the American people to join him in the spirit of experimentation. Roosevelt did bring certain beliefs to office: the belief in an active government that would take direct action on federal relief, public works, social services, and direct aid to farmers. But as much as his policies, Roosevelt’s own personality and engaging manner helped the country feel that they were going to get back on track.

Review Question

Answer to Review Question

  1. Roosevelt recruited his “Brains Trust” to advise him in his inception of a variety of relief and recovery programs. Among other things, the members of this group pushed for a new national tax policy addressed the nation’s agricultural problems advocated an increased role for the federal government in setting wages and prices and believed that the federal government could temper the boom-and-bust cycles that rendered the economy unstable. These advisors helped to craft the legislative programs that Roosevelt presented to Congress.


Brains Trust an unofficial advisory cabinet to President Franklin Roosevelt, originally gathered while he was governor of New York, to present possible solutions to the nations’ problems among its prominent members were Rexford Tugwell, Raymond Moley, and Adolph Berle

interregnum the period between the election and the inauguration of a new president when economic conditions worsened significantly during the four-month lag between Roosevelt’s win and his move into the Oval Office, Congress amended the Constitution to limit this period to two months

HISTORY How Congress Exposed, Defunded and Stopped Domestic U.S. Government Propaganda in 1943

During World War II, the federal government’s Office of War Information (OWI), where Voice of America (VOA) radio broadcasts for overseas audiences were started in 1942, produced news and factual war information, but it also produced mildly partisan and sometimes deceptive pro-Soviet propaganda for newspapers and radio in the United States until the U.S. Congress, responding to bipartisan concerns and protests, defunded such domestic propaganda activities by the Executive Branch during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s wartime presidency.

Even during the war, there was bipartisan weariness about any U.S. administration propagandizing to Americans at taxpayers’ expense and concern about government-hired journalists advancing their own domestic partisan agenda or foreign interests. How the U.S. Congress handled these problems during World War II and immediately after the war may offer lessons for managing U.S.-funded international media outreach today and for protecting the Voice of America from partisan-driven journalism, either at the direction of the White House or by officials in charge of VOA, as well as by U.S. government-employed journalists themselves expressing their own partisan or ideological preferences at the expense of truth, objectivity, balance and the VOA Charter. These lessons could be applied to today’s taxpayer-funded Voice of America in its current U.S. federal government parent agency — the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) — both undergoing a leadership change amid accusations of past and potentially future partisan bias, and fears of foreign propaganda from China, Iran and Russia seeping into VOA’s current programs. In 1943, the U.S. Congress exposed and stopped most of the Executive Branch’s domestic propaganda activities by eliminating most of the funding for the government’s domestic media outreach while preserving funding for Voice of America’s overseas radio broadcasts. After the war, restrictions on domestic distribution of VOA programming were written into law and journalists hired by VOA were subjected to much stricter security background checks.

Much of OWI’s and VOA’s propaganda output in World War II radio programs and in print was anti-Nazi and anti-Japanese. U.S. government news and information broadcasts and press releases were in many cases truthful on major facts, but in some instances important material facts were omitted or distorted and opinions were selected and crafted to deceive foreign and domestic audiences. This usually happened when OWI and VOA officials and journalists felt that negative information about America’s all important military ally—the communist Soviet Union—needed to be censored and replaced with false claims of Stalin’s presumed support for democracy to protect the alliance against Hitler’s Germany and to advance U.S. war aims. They also tried, however, to promote their own radically Left-wing personal ideological agenda which favored Moscow and various communist parties, sometimes even against the wishes of the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon.

Pro-Soviet OWI and VOA journalists, among them VOA’s first chief news writer and editor Howard Fast who later joined the Communist Party USA, became an editor of the party’s newspaper The Daily Worker and in 1953 received the Stalin Peace Prize, repeated and promoted Soviet lies and disinformation, both in the United States and abroad. While some glorification of Stalin and lies were tolerated or even encouraged by the Roosevelt White House, in several instances VOA propagandists acted on their own. In a few incidents, their pro-Soviet and pro-communist zeal put at risk U.S. diplomacy and lives of American soldiers and resulted in a public rebuke from President Roosevelt, and long after the war from former President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

As pro-Soviet and communist propaganda became a matter of concern among some members of Congress, the Office of War Information also came under severe criticism for what many U.S. lawmakers, especially opposition Republicans, saw as misuse of taxpayers’ money to propagandize to Americans in favor of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Democratic Party. Domestic partisan propaganda was not, however, a major feature in wartime Voice of America broadcasts. It was mild compared to what can be seen in today’s U.S. media, including some of VOA’s current program output. During World War II, OWI and VOA programmers produced materials that could be viewed as overly supportive of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency, but they did not openly attack his domestic political rivals among Republicans. Their subtle partisan propaganda, however, still triggered a strong and effective pushback in the U.S. Congress.

Republicans and some conservative Democrats feared that if domestic U.S. government propaganda from the Executive Branch during the war were not challenged and stopped, it could eventually become a threat to American democracy. Members of Congress from both parties, especially whose districts had large numbers of immigrants from East-Central Europe, were also concerned about pro-Soviet influence in Voice of America wartime broadcasts. At the same time, a few Democratic members of Congress who had a naively favorable view of communism and Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, defended OWI and VOA officials and journalists.

Congressional defenders of the wartime U.S. propaganda agency were only partially successful in protecting its budget. In 1943, the U.S. Congress cut practically all funding for OWI’s domestic propaganda activities and even came close to de-funding Voice of America overseas broadcasts. Republicans were not the only ones complaining about Soviet and communist influence at the Office of War Information and the Voice of America. Liberal Democrats and friends of President Roosevelt in the State Department put pressure on the White House and the agency to get rid of VOA’s first director, John Houseman, who was responsible for hiring many of his pro-Soviet communist friends and associates to work on producing VOA broadcasts. He was forced to resign under pressure in mid-1943, but many of his hires as well as other pro-Soviet officials continued working for the agency for the remainder of the war, and in some cases even until the late 1940s.

While domestic partisan propaganda by the U.S. government was largely stopped, pro-Soviet propaganda continued in VOA programs for several more years. After the war, VOA changed from broadcasting Soviet propaganda lies to generally avoiding criticism of the Soviet Union until more pressure from Congress and the passage of the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act, which called for much stricter security checks on all Voice of America and State Department employees, eventually led to programming changes and more reporting on Soviet and other communist human rights violations. The 1948 Smith-Mundt Act also prohibited the Voice of America from distributing its programs in the United States in order to minimize the danger of U.S. government-funded and managed information programs becoming a vehicle for influencing American voters.

Some of these 1948 Smith-Mundt Act restrictions on domestic distribution of VOA programs were lifted in 2013 by the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act, which was introduced in 2010 by Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA) and Congressman Mac Thornberry (R-TX), made part of a larger piece of legislation in 2012, and went into effect on July 2, 2013. However, by that time most VOA programs were already easily accessible to Americans on the Internet. The Voice of America is now still prohibited by U.S. law from actively marketing its programs to American media and directly to Americans, but some of it happens automatically, especially through social media.

The Voice of America currently placed in the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), previously known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), has engaged in unprecedented levels of domestic propaganda during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. Had the Voice of America done something like this during World War II, it could have risked being immediately shut down by both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. Compared to today’s programs from the Voice of America, which also include repetition of unchallenged propaganda from China, Iran and Russia, U.S. government’s domestic propaganda in 1943 may seem minor, but during World War II it received a lot of attention from members of Congress. Wartime domestic Executive Branch propaganda programs were quickly de-funded while pro-Soviet propaganda in Voice of America broadcasts was frequently exposed and criticized by U.S. lawmakers until it was largely eliminated in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Disclosure: Ted Lipien is a co-founder and supporter of BBG Watch – USAGM Watch. This article was published by online Cold War Radio Museum.

The Rise of Franklin Roosevelt

Franklin Roosevelt was part of the political establishment and the wealthy elite, but in the 1932 presidential campaign, he did not want to be perceived that way. Roosevelt felt that the country needed sweeping change, and he ran a campaign intended to convince the American people that he could deliver that change. It was not the specifics of his campaign promises that were different in fact, he gave very few details and likely did not yet have a clear idea of how he would raise the country out of the Great Depression. But he campaigned tirelessly, talking to thousands of people, appearing at his party’s national convention, and striving to show the public that he was a different breed of politician. As Hoover grew more morose and physically unwell in the face of the campaign, Roosevelt thrived. He was elected in a landslide by a country ready for the change he had promised.


By the 1932 presidential election, Hoover’s popularity was at an all-time low. Despite his efforts to address the hardships that many Americans faced, his ineffectual response to the Great Depression left Americans angry and ready for change. Franklin Roosevelt, though born to wealth and educated at the best schools, offered the change people sought. His experience in politics had previously included a seat in the New York State legislature, a vice-presidential nomination, and a stint as governor of New York. During the latter, he introduced many state-level reforms that later formed the basis of his New Deal as well as worked with several advisors who later formed the Brains Trust that advised his federal agenda.

Roosevelt exuded confidence, which the American public desperately wished to see in their leader ((Figure)). And, despite his affluence, Americans felt that he could relate to their suffering due to his own physical hardships he had been struck with polio a decade earlier and was essentially paralyzed from the waist down for the remainder of his life. Roosevelt understood that the public sympathized with his ailment he likewise developed a genuine empathy for public suffering as a result of his illness. However, he never wanted to be photographed in his wheelchair or appear infirm in any way, for fear that the public’s sympathy would transform into concern over his physical ability to discharge the duties of the Oval Office.

Roosevelt also recognized the need to convey to the voting public that he was not simply another member of the political aristocracy. At a time when the country not only faced its most severe economic challenges to date, but Americans began to question some of the fundamental principles of capitalism and democracy, Roosevelt sought to show that he was different—that he could defy expectations—and through his actions could find creative solutions to address the nation’s problems while restoring public confidence in fundamental American values. As a result, he not only was the first presidential candidate to appear in person at a national political convention to accept his party’s nomination but also flew there through terrible weather from New York to Chicago in order to do so—a risky venture in what was still the early stages of flight as public transportation. At the Democratic National Convention in 1932, he coined the famous phrase: “I pledge myself to a new deal for the American people.” The New Deal did not yet exist, but to the American people, any positive and optimistic response to the Great Depression was a welcome one.

Hoover assumed at first that Roosevelt would be easy to defeat, confident that he could never carry the eastern states and the business vote. He was sorely mistaken. Everywhere he went, Hoover was met with antagonism anti-Hoover signs and protests were the norm. Hoover’s public persona declined rapidly. Many news accounts reported that he seemed physically unwell, with an ashen face and shaking hands. Often, he seemed as though he would faint, and an aide constantly remained nearby with a chair in case he fell. In contrast, Roosevelt thrived on the campaign. He commented, “I have looked into the faces of thousands of Americans, and they have the frightened look of lost children.”

The election results that November were never really in question: With three million more people voting than in 1928, Roosevelt won by a popular count of twenty-three million to fifteen million. He carried all but six states while winning over 57 percent of the popular vote. Whether they voted due to animosity towards Hoover for his relative inactivity, or out of hope for what Roosevelt would accomplish, the American public committed themselves to a new vision. Historians identify this election as the beginning of a new Democratic coalition, bringing together African Americans, other ethnic minorities, and organized labor as a voting bloc upon whom the party would rely for many of its electoral victories over the next fifty years. Unlike some European nations where similar challenges caused democratic constitutions to crumble and give way to radical ideologies and authoritarian governments, the Roosevelt administration changed the nation’s economic fortunes with reforms, preserved the constitution, and expanded rather than limited the reach of democratic principles into the market economy. As a result, radical alternatives, such as the Fascist movement or Communist Party, remained on the margins of the nation’s political culture.


After the landslide election, the country—and Hoover—had to endure the interregnum , the difficult four months between the election and President Roosevelt’s inauguration in March 1933. Congress did not pass a single significant piece of legislation during this period, although Hoover spent much of the time trying to get Roosevelt to commit publicly to a legislative agenda of Hoover’s choosing. Roosevelt remained gracious but refused to begin his administration as the incumbent’s advisor without any legal authority necessary to change policy. Unwilling to tie himself to Hoover’s legacy of failed policies, Roosevelt kept quiet when Hoover supported the passage of a national sales tax. Meanwhile, the country suffered from Hoover’s inability to further drive a legislative agenda through Congress. It was the worst winter since the beginning of the Great Depression, and the banking sector once again suffered another round of panics. While Roosevelt kept his distance from the final tremors of the Hoover administration, the country continued to suffer in wait. In part as a response to the challenges of this time, the U.S. Constitution was subsequently amended to reduce the period from election to inauguration to the now-commonplace two months.

Any ideas that Roosevelt held almost did not come to fruition, thanks to a would-be assassin’s bullet. On February 15, 1933, after delivering a speech from his open car in Miami’s Bayfront Park, local Italian bricklayer Giuseppe Zangara emerged from a crowd of well-wishers to fire six shots from his revolver. Although Roosevelt emerged from the assassination attempt unscathed, Zangara wounded five individuals that day, including Chicago Mayor Tony Cermak, who attended the speech in the hopes of resolving any long-standing differences with the president-elect. Roosevelt and his driver immediately rushed Cermak to the hospital where he died 19 days later. Roosevelt’s calm and collected response to the event reassured many Americans of his ability to lead the nation through the challenges they faced. All that awaited was Roosevelt’s inauguration before his ideas would unfold to the expectant public.

So what was Roosevelt’s plan? Before he took office, it seems likely that he was not entirely sure. Certain elements were known: He believed in positive government action to solve the Depression he believed in federal relief, public works, social security, and unemployment insurance he wanted to restore public confidence in banks he wanted stronger government regulation of the economy and he wanted to directly help farmers. But how to take action on these beliefs was more in question. A month before his inauguration, he said to his advisors, “Let’s concentrate upon one thing: Save the people and the nation, and if we have to change our minds twice every day to accomplish that end, we should do it.”

Unlike Hoover, who professed an ideology of “American individualism,” an adherence that rendered him largely incapable of widespread action, Roosevelt remained pragmatic and open-minded to possible solutions. To assist in formulating a variety of relief and recovery programs, Roosevelt turned to a group of men who had previously orchestrated his election campaign and victory. Collectively known as the “Brains Trust” (a phrase coined by a New York Times reporter to describe the multiple “brains” on Roosevelt’s advisory team), the group most notably included Rexford Tugwell, Raymond Moley, and Adolph Berle. Moley, credited with bringing the group into existence, was a government professor who advocated for a new national tax policy to help the nation recover from its economic woes. Tugwell, who eventually focused his energy on the country’s agricultural problems, saw an increased role for the federal government in setting wages and prices across the economy. Berle was a mediating influence, who often advised against a centrally controlled economy, but did see the role that the federal government could play in mediating the stark cycles of prosperity and depression that, if left unchecked, could result in the very situation in which the country presently found itself. Together, these men, along with others, advised Roosevelt through the earliest days of the New Deal and helped to craft significant legislative programs for congressional review and approval.


March 4, 1933, dawned gray and rainy. Roosevelt rode in an open car along with outgoing president Hoover, facing the public, as he made his way to the U.S. Capitol. Hoover’s mood was somber, still personally angry over his defeat in the general election the previous November he refused to crack a smile at all during the ride among the crowd, despite Roosevelt’s urging to the contrary. At the ceremony, Roosevelt rose with the aid of leg braces equipped under his specially tailored trousers and placed his hand on a Dutch family Bible as he took his solemn oath. At that very moment, the rain stopped and the sun began to shine directly on the platform, and those present would later claim that it was as though God himself was shining down on Roosevelt and the American people in that moment ((Figure)).

Bathed in the sunlight, Roosevelt delivered one of the most famous and oft-quoted inaugural addresses in history. He encouraged Americans to work with him to find solutions to the nation’s problems and not to be paralyzed by fear into inaction. Borrowing a wartime analogy provided by Moley, who served as his speechwriter at the time, Roosevelt called upon all Americans to assemble and fight an essential battle against the forces of economic depression. He famously stated, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Upon hearing his inaugural address, one observer in the crowd later commented, “Any man who can talk like that in times like these is worth every ounce of support a true American has.” To borrow the popular song title of the day, “happy days were here again.” Foregoing the traditional inaugural parties, the new president immediately returned to the White House to begin his work to save the nation.

Visit the American Presidency Project to listen to Roosevelt’s first inaugural speech and identify ways he conveyed optimism and a spirit of community to his listeners.

Section Summary

Franklin Roosevelt was a wealthy, well-educated, and popular politician whose history of polio made him a more sympathetic figure to the public. He did not share any specifics of his plan to bring the country out of the Great Depression, but his attitude of optimism and possibility contrasted strongly with Hoover’s defeated misery. The 1932 election was never really in question, and Roosevelt won in a landslide. During the four-month interregnum, however, Americans continued to endure President Hoover’s failed policies, which led the winter of 1932–1933 to be the worst of the Depression, with unemployment rising to record levels.

When Roosevelt took office in March 1933, he infused the country with a sense of optimism. He still did not have a formal plan but rather invited the American people to join him in the spirit of experimentation. Roosevelt did bring certain beliefs to office: the belief in an active government that would take direct action on federal relief, public works, social services, and direct aid to farmers. But as much as his policies, Roosevelt’s own personality and engaging manner helped the country feel that they were going to get back on track.

Review Questions

Which of the following best describes Roosevelt’s attempts to push his political agenda in the last months of Hoover’s presidency?

  1. Roosevelt spoke publicly on the issue of direct relief.
  2. Roosevelt met privately with Hoover to convince him to institute certain policy shifts before his presidency ended.
  3. Roosevelt awaited his inauguration before introducing any plans.
  4. Roosevelt met secretly with members of Congress to attempt to win their favor.

Which of the following policies did Roosevelt not include among his early ideas for a New Deal?

  1. public works
  2. government regulation of the economy
  3. elimination of the gold standard
  4. aid to farmers

What was the purpose of Roosevelt’s “Brains Trust?”

Roosevelt recruited his “Brains Trust” to advise him in his inception of a variety of relief and recovery programs. Among other things, the members of this group pushed for a new national tax policy addressed the nation’s agricultural problems advocated an increased role for the federal government in setting wages and prices and believed that the federal government could temper the boom-and-bust cycles that rendered the economy unstable. These advisors helped to craft the legislative programs that Roosevelt presented to Congress.

The Great Depression

The Great Depression began with the stock market crash of 1929, which sent Wall Street into a frenzied panic and wiped out the savings and investments of millions of investors.   As people became increasingly anxious about the security of their money, they withdrew their funds in cash, leading to bank failures across the country.  

While President Herbert Hoover implemented certain economic policies at the time to stimulate the economy, they were significantly constrained, in accordance with his conservative political philosophy. He operated on the belief that the economy could heal itself without excessive intervention by the federal government.   The depression persisted, as the economy shrunk from failed industries and businesses, and unemployment rates skyrocketed.  

In 1933, FDR defeated President Hoover in the presidential election.   While campaigning, FDR introduced Keynesian economic theory and promised that he would use the federal government to stimulate economic growth to end the Great Depression.   In his First Inaugural Address, FDR rallied the nation to support massive government spending.  


  • FDR was born January 30, 1882.
  • FDR was a mediocre and unpopular student at Groton and Harvard.
  • FDR became a failed lawyer (without a degree) in 1907, which explains his morals.
  • 1910-1913 - NY State Senator. He told Rosenman in 1928 about his time as Senator: "I remember they used to call us socialists and radicals in those days."
  • 1913-1920 - Assistant Secretary of Navy (he later bragged that during WWI he had "thrown money around like water"). FDR played the most sordid sort of ward politics with Navy contracts.
  • VP candidate in 1920.
  • THE BUTCHER OF HAITI - In July 1915 FDR, as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, personally led US Marines into Haiti to overturn the only independent black republic besides Abyssinia. By all accounts, FDR administered Haiti brutally and cruelly with no regard for lives. Even in 1920 after gross atrocities were reported in the media, FDR claimed responsibility but when that caused an uproar, he denied responsibility. In the campaign of 1920 President Harding said this: "Practically all we know is that thousands of native Haitians have been killed by American Marines, and that many of our own gallant men have sacrificed their lives at the behest of an Executive department in order to establish laws drafted by the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. I will not empower an Assistant Secretary of the Navy to draft a constitution for helpless neighbors in the West Indies and jam it down their throats at the point of bayonets borne by US Marines."
  • SELF-CONFESSED FELON - 1 February 1920 before an audience of 1500 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, FDR said, "Two months after the war was declared, I saw that the Navy was still unprepared and I spent $40,000 for guns before Congress gave me or anyone permission to spend the money." This action had been opposed by the President. FDR further boasted that he had "committed enough illegal acts" to be impeached and jailed for "999 years." (Cook, pp 265-266)
  • PERJURER 1921 - A Senate subcommittee concluded that FDR had committed perjury before a Naval Court of Inquiry about his investigation of a homosexual corruption ring at the Newport, RI, Naval Station. FDR, as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, had approved the use of decoys to entrap homosexuals (young sailors were instructed in and ordered by FDR's men to perform homosexual acts and the details truly are unprintable). When it became an issue he had lied about it to the Court. He had signed an order for investigators to go "to the limit" but he denied under oath that he had read what he had signed and swore he had no idea what was in the order. On June 11, 1919, FDR had personally taken charge of every aspect of the case, the most extensive systematic persecution of homosexual men in American history. When the facts emerged FDR denied he knew anything about it and if he had known about it he said he would have stopped it. FDR's testimony under oath at the May 1920 Navy Board of Inquiry was the height of arrogance. How did he suppose evidence for sodomy could be obtained, he was asked. FDR:"As a lawyer, I had no idea. That is not within the average lawyer's education." Did you realize as a lawyer or a man of intelligence that the investigation of such matters, very often has led to improper actions? FDR:"I never had such an idea. Never entered my head. " How did you think evidence of these things could be obtained? FDR:"I didn't think. If I had thought I would have supposed they had someone under the bed or looking over the transom." (Cook pp 267-271 and Ward pp 488-490) The Senate subcommittee also found "Roosevelt's actions displayed an utter lack of moral perspective." (Ward pp 571-572) FDR, who had always reacted to stress with illness, was so stressed that his immune system misfunctioned and he immediately contracted polio on the publication of the Senate report.
  • FDR contracted polio in 1921. Keeping this disability from the public has been called a "splendid deception." However, objectively the voters were deprived of important information about a candidate for the highest office. In May 1944 after he suffered a heart attack, doctors told FDR that if he wanted to avert death that he could not work more than 4 hour days. After this prescription, FDR decided to run for his 4th term. In 1944 he spent 200 days away from the White House in rest or travel undertaken for his health. From FDR's perspective this was simply a self-serving deception, a fraud on the people. It damaged the country. He was utterly unfit for his high office long before the election. The lives of millions depended on the judgment of a man whose mind was warped by arteriosclerosis and the strong medication digitalis. It was a sordid deception. FDR also had cancer.
  • Until he became President, FDR always struggled financially. He never made more than $25,000 a year as a lawyer, which he had to give up in early 1923 because of his polio, and he flopped in the stock market. His only business was his Warm Springs, GA, resort, bought with his mother's money, which he ran as a quack health spa. As a condition of running for governor in 1928 he had a Democrat kingmaker named Raskob pay off his $250,000 debt.
  • 1928 FDR became Governor of New York by means of massive vote fraud in Buffalo. The seeds of the Great Depression were first sown in New York State when FDR was governor.
  • 1932 FDR turned himself into a corkscrew at the Democratic Convention to get the nomination.

New Deal - Toward a Soviet America

"The tone and tendency of liberalism. is to attack the institutions of the country under the name of reform and to make war on the manners and customs (and freedom) of the people under the pretext of progress." --Disraeli, "Speech in London"

"There is in Chicago and in a very large part of the country, more suffering than there was in 1933 when the President came into office. It is a common sight to see children salvaging food from garbage cans." Grace Abbott to the DNC. Labor leader John L. Lewis told the NAACP in 1940 that "Mr. Roosevelt made depression and unemployment a chronic fact in American life." Herbert Hoover, 1928 Democrat Presidential Nominee Alfred E. Smith, and the 1924 Democrat Presidential Nominee John Davis all called the New Deal communistic. Admitting the failure of the New Deal, FDR said in October of 1937, "I'm sick and tired of being told by the cabinet, by Henry and everybody else what's the matter with the country and nobody suggests what I should do." Gottfried Haberler, Professor of Economics at Harvard and President of the American Economic Association and the world's leading authority on depressions, called the failure of the New Deal a policy disaster "unparalleled in other countries." Winston Churchill said in 1937: "The Washington administration has waged so ruthless a war on private enterprise that the US. is actually. leading the world back into the trough of depression." The New Deal was repudiated by the voters in 1938 and the Republicans took effective control of Congress. FDR made the depression worse and prolonged it, including the FDR recessions of 1937 and 1939. When he was elected there were 11,586,000 unemployed and in 1939 - seven years later- there were still 11,369,000 unemployed. In 1932 there were 16,620,000 on relief and in 1939 - after seven years - there were 19,648,000 on relief. The war eventually ended it. FDR supporter Merle Thorpe wrote in 1935, "We have given legislative status, either in whole or in part, to eight of the ten points of the Communist Manifesto of 1848 and, as some point out, done (sic) a better job of implementation than Russia." Colonel Sactuary's pamphlet Is the New Deal Communist? made a 35 point comparison of it to Marx's 1848 program.

Every choice made in the New Deal, whether it was one that moved recovery or not, was a choice unerringly true to the essential design of totalitarian government -

  1. To extend the power of executive government, to rule by decrees and rules and regulations of its own making between 1933 and 1943 FDR issued 3,556 Executive orders
  2. To strengthen its hold on the economic life of the nation
  3. To extend power over the individual - the domestication of individuality
  4. To degrade the parliamentary principle
  5. To impair the independent Constitutional judicial power
  6. To weaken all other powers - private enterprise and finance, state and local government.
  7. It is almost amusing that FDR built a cult of personality just as Hitler and Stalin did - it is necessary in a tyranny because in rule by men, loyalty is not to law or country but to a person. Power then depends on such a cult.
I'm so tired - Oh so tired - of the whole New Deal
Of the juggler's smile the barker's spiel.
Tired of taxes on my ham and eggs
Tired of payoffs to political yeggs.
I'm tired of farmer's goose-stepping to laws
Of millions of itching job-holder's paws
Of Fireside Talks over commandeered mikes
Of passing more laws to stimulate strikes.

I'm tired of the hourly-increasing debt
I'm tired of promises still to be met
Of eating and sleeping by Government plan
Of calmly forgetting the Forgotten Man.
I'm tired of every new brain-trust thought
Of the ship of state - now a pleasure yacht.
I'm tired of cheating the courts by stealth
And terribly tired of sharing my wealth.
I'm tired and bored with the whole New Deal
With its juggler's smile and barker's spiel.


U.S. Population (1935). 120,000,000
46,000,000 Eligible for Old Age Pension
30,000,000 Children prohibited from working
30,000,000 Government employees
13,999,998 Unemployed

The most profound writing on the New Deal is Garet Garrett's The Revolution Was

The definitive analysis of the New Deal and one of the greatest speeches of all time is "The Facts in the Case" by Al Smith given January 25, 1936, to the American Liberty League. You can get a free Acrobat Reader at

"The 1942 act sharply changed tax policy in the US. The income tax base more than doubled in size, as the number of tax payers increased from 13M to 28M, while 50M were paying the victory tax. In 1943, yet another new tax bill introduced Americans to tax with-holding for the 1st time. By the end of the war, millions of new tax payers had been drawn into the tax net, & individual & corporate income taxes accounted for 3/4 of the nation¹s federal tax burden -- up from less than 40% before the war. Before the war,

7% of the public paid some income taxes at the height of the war, 64% of the population did so. 4M Americans were income tax payers in 1939 the number rose to 43M by 1945. Income taxes had by 1945 become almost as inevitable as death for Americans. " --- John H. Makin & Norman J. Ornstein 1994 _Debt & Taxes_ pg 101. Lenin wrote that "Taxation with its offspring inflation, is the vital weapon to displace the system of free enterprise."

FDR's alter ego, Harry Hopkins, was famous for the quote "We will tax and tax, spend and spend, elect and elect." Hopkins also said, "This country does not know what real heavy taxation is."

Roosevelt establishes diplomatic relations with Soviet Union, Nov. 16, 1933

On this day in 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ended nearly 16 years of frozen American relations with the Soviet Union. The breakthrough came after one-on-one negotiations in Washington between FDR and Maxim Litvinov (1876-1951), the Soviet commissar for foreign affairs.

Roosevelt in a letter to the Soviet foreign ministry, wrote: “I trust that the relations now established between our peoples may forever remain normal and friendly, and that our nations henceforth may cooperate for their mutual benefit and for the preservation of peace of the world.”

On Dec. 6, 1917, with the United States having entered World War I, President Woodrow Wilson broke off diplomatic relations with Russia, shortly after the Bolsheviks had seized power from the Tsarist regime after the “October Revolution.”

In the wake of the revolution, Wilson withheld recognition because the newly installed government refused to honor prior debts to the United States incurred by the overthrown Tsarist government, ignored pre-existing treaty agreements with other nations, and seized American property.

It did not help matters, from Washington’s viewpoint, when the Bolsheviks concluded a separate peace with Germany in March 1918 that ended Russian involvement in World War I. Despite continuing commercial links between the United States and the Soviet Union throughout the 1920s, Wilson’s successors upheld his policy of nonrecognition.

Fighting his party in Congress didn’t work for FDR. It won’t work for Trump.

Sitting next to Sen. Dean Heller, an opponent of the Senate Republicans’ bill replacing the Affordable Care Act, at lunch on Wednesday, President Trump mused: “He wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?”

During the luncheon, Trump also issued a veiled threat that he would campaign against Republicans who obstructed his agenda. The lunch came on the heels of news that the White House has courted a number of potential primary challengers to Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who at times has criticized Trump and refused to endorse him during last year’s campaign.

The president uses these threats to try to bend members of Congress to his will and mete out revenge against those who dare challenge him. But taking personal battles to party primaries is a hazard with the potential to undermine the president’s legislative agenda. Nearly 80 years ago, another New Yorker, Franklin D. Roosevelt, gambled his prestige on an attempt to purge conservative dissenters from the Democratic Party — and lost.

The misguided campaign demonstrates the danger of a president allowing emotion and an inflated sense of his power to overcome his better political judgment. Roosevelt’s failed purge energized and emboldened conservatives in both parties they coalesced into a majority coalition in Congress that thwarted his domestic agenda for the remainder of his presidency, stopping the New Deal in its tracks.

Roosevelt’s efforts to shape the Democratic Party were not abnormal. Modern presidents play a prominent party leadership role by recruiting candidates, setting the partisan agenda and boosting supportive lawmakers. But when hubris, vengeance and frustration, rather than cold political calculation, drive party-building efforts, it can backfire and harm both the party and the president.

For all of Roosevelt’s achievements and political skill, he was not immune to arrogance occasionally clouding his political judgment. In 1936, Roosevelt crushed Kansas Governor Alf Landon by more than 11 million votes and the president believed this overwhelming victory gave him license to pursue his progressive agenda. However, despite Democratic control of Congress, Roosevelt’s perceived mandate was illusory.

A recession in 1937 triggered criticism of Roosevelt’s economic policies. Many conservative Southern Democrats also suspiciously eyed Roosevelt’s now infamous “court-packing” plan, which called for an expansion of the Supreme Court from 9 to as many as 15 Justices — meaning Roosevelt would immediately nominate six new justices. By packing the court with Roosevelt appointees, the proposal transparently aimed to remove an impediment to Roosevelt’s agenda after the court struck down such New Deal programs as the National Recovery Act and the Agricultural Adjustment Act.

To conservative senators like Millard Tydings of Maryland and Ellison Smith of South Carolina, both Democrats, the court-packing plan, along with Roosevelt’s reorganization of the executive branch, smacked of dictatorial impulses. They and their allies were determined to prevent Roosevelt from making the state more powerful and intrusive in the lives of Americans than it had ever been before.

Roosevelt found it especially galling that these Democrats opposed his agenda on Capitol Hill while embracing his administration’s popular programs on the campaign trail. This subterfuge drove Roosevelt to wage a primary campaign against potentially vulnerable conservative Democrats. “They have no idea what’s going to happen,” the president promised political confidant James Farley. “They’ll be sorry yet.”

While pique motivated Roosevelt, he also believed that as the leader of the Democratic Party, he needed sharpen the party’s ideological consistency and ensure that it clearly stood for a set of principles. As the president charged during a fireside chat in June 1938, “An election cannot give a country a firm sense of direction if it has two or more national parties which merely have different names but are as alike in their principles and aims as peas in the same pod.”

However, many of Roosevelt’s most trusted advisers, less blinded by ire and frustration, counseled that the purge was a mistake. “Boss, I think you’re foolish,” Farley lamented. The move alarmed the press. Many editorial writers branded it “Roosevelt’s Purge” — a phrase recalling the murders of members of the Communist Party at the hands of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin a few years earlier. Others accused the president of trying to create a party of “Hitler yes men,” or further increase his executive powers.

But despite the warnings and negative coverage, Roosevelt plunged ahead. As the summer progressed, he boarded a 10-car train for a trip through the South. In states like Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas, Roosevelt pummeled his conservative opponents and sang the praises of their more liberal primary challengers.

Yet for all of Roosevelt’s confidence, charisma and popularity, his purge failed. While the president and his programs were popular throughout the nation, residents of the states Roosevelt visited resented his interference. As the campaign progressed, Roosevelt discovered that his chosen candidates were no match for the entrenched and well managed political machines that many of his targets had at their disposal.

It was not Franklin Roosevelt’s finest hour. As his handling of World War II would demonstrate, Roosevelt was at his best when he could optimistically communicate thoughtful arguments about issues he believed were in the national interest. But when he allowed hubris and a thirst for vengeance to override those natural instincts, as in the case of the court-packing plan or the attempted purge of 1938, he stumbled.

The failed purge had long-lasting consequences for Roosevelt’s agenda. That fall, the GOP gained 81 seats in the House and eight in the Senate. When the new Congress convened in 1939, the deep reservoir of liberal support that had propelled the New Deal’s early legislative success had vanished. Instead, the president confronted a newly assertive conservative coalition determined to resist any and all of his proposals. While the conservatives lacked the support to roll back the core of the New Deal, neither could Roosevelt advance any new programs. Dreams like national health insurance were dead.

How FDR Saved Capitalism

W ith the coming of the Great Depression in the 1930s, a sharp increase in protest and anticapitalist sentiment threatened to undermine the existing political system and create new political parties. The findings of diverse opinion polls, as well as the electoral support given to local radical, progressive, and prolabor candidates, indicate that a large minority of Americans were ready to back social democratic proposals. It is significant, then, that even with the growth of class consciousness in America, no national third party was able to break the duopoly of the Democratic and Republican Parties. Radicals who operated within the two-party system were often able to achieve local victories, but these accomplishments never culminated in the creation of a sustainable third party or left-wing ideological movement. The thirties dramatically demonstrated not only the power of America’s coalitional two-party system to dissuade a national third party but also the deeply antistatist, individualistic character of its electorate.

Illustration by Taylor Jones for the Hoover Digest.

The politics of the 1930s furnishes us with an excellent example of the way the American presidential system has worked to frustrate third-party efforts. Franklin D. Roosevelt played a unique role in keeping the country politically stable during its greatest economic crisis. But he did so in classic or traditional fashion. He spent considerable time wooing those on the left. And though many leftists recognized that Roosevelt was trying to save capitalism, they could not afford to risk his defeat by supporting a national third party.

The Nation Shifts to the Left

Powerful leftist third-party movements emerged in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and New York. In other states, radicals successfully advanced alternative political movements by pursuing a strategy of running in major-party primaries. In California, Upton Sinclair, who had run as a Socialist for governor in 1932 and received 50,000 votes, organized the End Poverty in California (EPIC) movement, which won a majority in the 1934 Democratic gubernatorial primaries. He was defeated after a bitter business-financed campaign in the general election, though he secured more than 900,000 votes (37 percent of the total). By 1938, former EPIC leaders had captured the California governorship and a U.S. Senate seat.

In Washington and Oregon, the Commonwealth Federations, patterning themselves after the social democratic Cooperative Commonwealth Federation of Canada, won a number of state and congressional posts and controlled the state Democratic Parties for several years. In North Dakota, the revived radical Nonpartisan League, still operating within the Republican Party, won the governorship, a U.S. Senate seat, and both congressional seats in 1932 and continued to win other elections throughout the decade. In Minnesota, the Farmer-Labor Party captured the governorship and five house seats. Wisconsin, too, witnessed an electorally powerful Progressive Party backed by the Socialists.

The Socialist and Communist Parties grew substantially as well. In 1932 the Socialist Party had 15,000 members. Its electoral support, however, was much broader, as indicated by the 1932 presidential election, in which Norman Thomas received close to 900,000 votes, up from 267,000 in 1928. The Socialist Party’s membership had increased to 25,000 by 1935. As a result of leftist enthusiasm for President Roosevelt, however, its presidential vote declined to 188,000 in 1936, fewer votes than the party had attained in any presidential contest since 1900. The Communist Party, on the other hand, backed President Roosevelt from 1936 on, and its membership grew steadily, numbering between 80,000 and 90,000 at its high point in 1939. Communists played a role in “left center,” winning electoral coalitions in several states, notably California, Minnesota, New York, and Washington.

A 1933 booklet promotting Upton Sinclair’s run for California governor.

National surveys suggest that the leftward shift in public opinion during the 1930s was even more extensive than indicated by third-party voting or membership in radical organizations. Although large leftist third parties existed only in Minnesota, New York, and Wisconsin, three Gallup polls taken between December 1936 and January 1938 found that between 14 and 16 percent of those polled said they would not merely vote for but “would join” a Farmer-Labor Party if one was organized. Of those interviewees expressing an opinion in 1937, 21 percent voiced a readiness to join a new party.

If the Great Depression, with all its attendant effects, shifted national attitudes to the left, why was it that no strong radical movement committed itself to a third party during these years? A key part of the explanation was that President Roosevelt succeeded in including left-wing protest in his New Deal coalition. He used two basic tactics. First, he responded to the various outgroups by incorporating in his own rhetoric many of their demands. Second, he absorbed the leaders of these groups into his following. These reflected conscious efforts to undercut left-wing radicals and thus to preserve capitalism.

Franklin Roosevelt demonstrated his skill at co-opting the rhetoric and demands of opposition groups the year before his 1936 reelection, when the demagogic Senator Huey Long of Louisiana threatened to run on a third-party Share-Our-Wealth ticket. This possibility was particularly threatening because a “secret” public opinion poll conducted in 1935 for the Democratic National Committee suggested that Long might get three to four million votes, throwing several states over to the Republicans if he ran at the head of a third party. At the same time several progressive senators were flirting with a potential third ticket Roosevelt felt that as a result the 1936 election might witness a Progressive Republican ticket, headed by Robert La Follette, alongside a Share-Our-Wealth ticket.

To prevent this, Roosevelt shifted to the left in rhetoric and, to some extent, in policy, consciously seeking to steal the thunder of his populist critics. In discussions concerning radical and populist anticapitalist protests, the president stated that to save capitalism from itself and its opponents he might have to “equalize the distribution of wealth,” which could necessitate “throw[ing] to the wolves the forty-six men who are reported to have incomes in excess of one million dollars a year.” Roosevelt also responded to the share-the-wealth outcry by advancing tax reform proposals to raise income and dividend taxes, to enact a sharply graduated inheritance tax, and to use tax policy to discriminate against large corporations. Huey Long reacted by charging that the president was stealing his program.

President Roosevelt also became more overtly supportive of trade unions, although he did not endorse the most important piece of proposed labor legislation, Senator Robert Wagner’s labor relations bill, until shortly before its passage.

Raymond Moley, an organizer of Roosevelt’s “brain trust,” emphasized that the president, through these and other policies and statements, sought to identify himself with the objectives of the unemployed, minorities, and farmers, as well as “the growing membership of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), Norman Thomas’ vanishing army of orthodox Socialists, Republican progressives and Farmer-Laborites, Share-the-Wealthers, single-taxers, Sinclairites, Townsendites [and] Coughlinites.”

Destroying the Third-Party Threat

Beyond adopting leftist rhetoric and offering progressive policies in exchange for support from radical and economically depressed constituencies, President Roosevelt also sought to recruit the actual leaders of protest groups by convincing them that they were part of his coalition. He gave those who held state and local public office access to federal patronage, particularly in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and New York, where strong statewide third parties existed. Electorally powerful non-Democrats whom Roosevelt supported included Minnesota governor Floyd Olson (Farmer-Labor Party), New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia (American Labor Party), and Nebraska senator George Norris (Independent), as well as Wisconsin governor Philip La Follette and his brother, Senator Robert La Follette Jr. (both Progressive Party).

Booklets from the American Communist Party from the 1930s.

This strategy had an impact. In 1937, Philip La Follette’s executive secretary told Daniel Hoan, the Socialist mayor of Milwaukee, that a national third party never would be launched while Roosevelt was “in the saddle,” because Roosevelt had “put so many outstanding liberals on his payroll [that] . . . any third party movement would lack sufficient leadership.” The president told leftist leaders that he was on their side and that his ultimate goal was to transform the Democratic Party into an ideologically coherent progressive party in which they could hope to play a leading role. A few times he even implied that, to secure ideological realignment, he personally might go the third-party route, following in the footsteps of his cousin Theodore Roosevelt.

Franklin Roosevelt ran his 1936 presidential campaign as a progressive coalition, not as a Democratic Party activity. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. has described Roosevelt’s tactics as follows:

As the campaign developed, the Democratic party seemed more and more submerged in the New Deal coalition. The most active campaigners in addition to Roosevelt—[Harold] Ickes, [Henry] Wallace, Hugh Johnson—were men identified with the New Deal, not with the professional Democratic organization. Loyalty to the cause superseded loyalty to the party as the criterion for administration support. . . . It was evident that the basis of the campaign would be the mobilization beyond the Democratic party of all the elements in the New Deal coalition—liberals, labor, farmers, women, minorities.

Roosevelt was reelected by an overwhelming majority in 1936. Yet his second term proved much less innovative than his first. This was due, in part, to several Supreme Court decisions during 1936 striking down various New Deal laws as unconstitutional and the president’s subsequent inability to mobilize popular protest against the Court. Reacting to a perceived shift in the public mood to the right, particularly from 1938 on, Roosevelt substantially reduced his reform efforts. The change, however, did not lead to a loss of leftist support. The Communist Party, following its Soviet-dictated Popular Front policy, actively opposed efforts in a number of states to create independent radical anti-Roosevelt political campaigns. Sounding like a moderate liberal group, it increased its membership, formed large front groups, and generally expanded its influence in the labor movement.

The economic crisis of the 1930s presented American radicals with their greatest opportunity to build a third party since World War I, but the constitutional system and the brilliant way in which Franklin Delano Roosevelt co-opted the left prevented this.

On the assumption that the 1937–38 recession had undermined Roosevelt’s prestige, Wisconsin governor Philip La Follette attempted in 1938 to create a new third party, the National Progressives of America. The president responded with a renewed effort to co-opt such opposition.

The midterm elections in November 1938, however, made it unnecessary for President Roosevelt to react to a possible electoral threat from the left. Both the Wisconsin Progressive Party and the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party suffered crushing defeats, losing most of their congressional seats, and Republicans badly defeated both Philip La Follette in Wisconsin and Elmer Benson in Minnesota in their gubernatorial reelection campaigns. Although unhappy about the Republicans’ gaining 81 seats in the House, 8 seats in the Senate, and 13 governorships, the president noted that some good things had occurred: “We have on the positive side eliminated Phil La Follette and the Farmer-Labor people in the Northwest as a standing Third Party Threat.”

Although party divisions became more class based, efforts to build a national left-wing third party failed. This cannot be explained by any absence of protest or popular support for radical efforts. Several developments attest to the growth of class conflict and the vigor of anticapitalist feeling that resulted from the Great Depression: mass demonstrations of the unemployed, the aggressive tactics and radical views of farm groups, widespread militancy and disdain for private property exhibited by many groups of workers, leftist views expressed by large minorities in the opinion surveys, and, finally, the strong and disparate electoral support given to leftist third parties and organized factions within the major parties in New York, Washington, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, and California.

Franklin Roosevelt succeeded in undercutting the growth of left-wing political movements in the mid-1930s by adopting much of the rhetoric of the left and co-opting many of its leaders.

President Roosevelt recognized that the long-range interests of his coalition and the Democratic Party were best served by encouraging radical groups, whether inside or outside the party, to feel as though they were part of his political entourage. Thus, as we have seen, he showed a willingness to endorse local and statewide third-party or independent candidates and give them a share of federal patronage. In return, they were expected to support the president’s reelection.

Time and again between 1935 and 1940, meetings to lay the basis for a national third party went awry because those involved recognized that the bulk of their constituencies favored reelecting the president. And, in the last analysis, most radical, labor, and minority-group leaders supported the president as well. Certainly these leaders objected to particular Roosevelt policies, to his compromises with conservatives, and, in some cases, to his refusals to back their group or organization in some major conflict. Nevertheless, they concluded that a government in which they could play a part, which had shown some responsiveness to their concerns, and which acknowledged their importance was far preferable to a Republican administration with strong links to business.

The fact that left-wing parties did not make significant inroads during the Great Depression dramatically demonstrated not only the power of America’s coalitional two-party system to dissuade a national third party but also the deeply antistatist, individualistic character of its electorate.

The economic crisis of the 1930s was more severe in the United States than in any other large society except Germany. It presented American radicals with their greatest opportunity to build a third party since World War I, but the constitutional system and the brilliant way in which Franklin Delano Roosevelt co-opted the left prevented this. The Socialist and Communist Parties saw their support drop precipitously in the 1940 elections. America emerged from the Great Depression as the most antistatist country in the world.

Adapted from the book It Didn’t Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States, by Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marks, published by W. W. Norton. Used by permission of W. W. Norton and Company.

Available from the Hoover Press is Breaking with Communism: The Intellectual Odyssey of Bertram D. Wolfe, edited by Robert Hessen. To order, call 800-935-2882.



Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882, in the Hudson Valley town of Hyde Park, New York, to businessman James Roosevelt I and his second wife, Sara Ann Delano. Roosevelt's parents, who were sixth cousins, [4] both came from wealthy old New York families, the Roosevelts, the Aspinwalls and the Delanos, respectively. Roosevelt's patrilineal ancestor migrated to New Amsterdam in the 17th century, and the Roosevelts flourished as merchants and landowners. [5] The Delano family progenitor, Philip Delano, traveled to the New World on the Fortune in 1621, and the Delanos prospered as merchants and shipbuilders in Massachusetts. [6] Franklin had a half-brother, James "Rosy" Roosevelt, from his father's previous marriage. [7]

Roosevelt grew up in a wealthy family. His father James graduated from Harvard Law School in 1851, but chose not to practice law after receiving an inheritance from his grandfather, James Roosevelt. [7] Roosevelt's father was a prominent Bourbon Democrat who once took Franklin to meet President Grover Cleveland in the White House. [8] The president said to him: "My little man, I am making a strange wish for you. It is that you may never be President of the United States." [ citation needed ] His mother Sara was the dominant influence in Franklin's early years. [9] She once declared, "My son Franklin is a Delano, not a Roosevelt at all." [4] James, who was 54 when Franklin was born, was considered by some as a remote father, though biographer James MacGregor Burns indicates James interacted with his son more than was typical at the time. [10]

Roosevelt learned to ride, shoot, row, and play polo and lawn tennis. He took up golf in his teen years, becoming a skilled long hitter. [11] He learned to sail early, and when he was 16, his father gave him a sailboat. [12]

Education and early career

Frequent trips to Europe — he made his first excursion at the age of two and went with his parents every year from the ages of seven to fifteen — helped Roosevelt become conversant in German and French. Except for attending public school in Germany at age nine, [13] [14] Roosevelt was home-schooled by tutors until age 14. [15] [ page needed ] He then attended Groton School, an Episcopal boarding school in Groton, Massachusetts, joining the third form. [16] [ page needed ] Its headmaster, Endicott Peabody, preached the duty of Christians to help the less fortunate and urged his students to enter public service. Peabody remained a strong influence throughout Roosevelt's life, officiating at his wedding and visiting him as president. [17] [18]

Like most of his Groton classmates, Roosevelt went to Harvard College. [19] Roosevelt was an average student academically, [20] and he later declared, "I took economics courses in college for four years, and everything I was taught was wrong." [21] He was a member of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity [22] and the Fly Club, [23] and served as a school cheerleader. [24] Roosevelt was relatively undistinguished as a student or athlete, but he became editor-in-chief of The Harvard Crimson daily newspaper, a position that required great ambition, energy, and the ability to manage others. [25]

Roosevelt's father died in 1900, causing great distress for him. [26] The following year, Roosevelt's fifth cousin Theodore Roosevelt became President of the United States. Theodore's vigorous leadership style and reforming zeal made him Franklin's role model and hero. [27] Franklin graduated from Harvard in 1903 with an A.B. in history. He entered Columbia Law School in 1904 but dropped out in 1907 after passing the New York Bar Examination. [28] [b] In 1908, he took a job with the prestigious law firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn, working in the firm's admiralty law division. [30]

Marriage, family, and affairs

In mid-1902, Franklin began courting his future wife Eleanor Roosevelt, with whom he had been acquainted as a child. [31] Eleanor and Franklin were fifth cousins, once removed, and Eleanor was a niece of Theodore Roosevelt. [32] They began corresponding with each other in 1902, and in October 1903, [16] [ page needed ] Franklin proposed marriage to Eleanor. [33]

On March 17, 1905, Roosevelt married Eleanor, despite the fierce resistance of his mother. [34] While she did not dislike Eleanor, Sara Roosevelt was very possessive of her son, believing he was too young for marriage. She attempted to break the engagement several times. [35] Eleanor's uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt, stood in at the wedding for Eleanor's deceased father, Elliott. [36] The young couple moved into Springwood, his family's estate at Hyde Park. The home was owned by Sara Roosevelt until her death in 1941 and was very much her home as well. [37] In addition, Franklin and Sara Roosevelt did the planning and furnishing of a townhouse Sara had built for the young couple in New York City Sara had a twin house built alongside for herself. Eleanor never felt at home in the houses at Hyde Park or New York, but she loved the family's vacation home on Campobello Island, which Sara gave to the couple. [38]

Biographer James MacGregor Burns said that young Roosevelt was self-assured and at ease in the upper-class. [39] In contrast, Eleanor at the time was shy and disliked social life, and at first, stayed at home to raise their several children. As his father had, Franklin left the raising of the children to his wife, while Eleanor in turn largely relied on hired caregivers to raise the children. Referring to her early experience as a mother, she later stated that she knew "absolutely nothing about handling or feeding a baby." [40] Although Eleanor had an aversion to sexual intercourse and considered it "an ordeal to be endured", [41] she and Franklin had six children. Anna, James, and Elliott were born in 1906, 1907, and 1910, respectively. The couple's second son, Franklin, died in infancy in 1909. Another son, also named Franklin, was born in 1914, and the youngest child, John, was born in 1916. [42]

Roosevelt had several extra-marital affairs, including one with Eleanor's social secretary Lucy Mercer, which began soon after she was hired in early 1914. [43] In September 1918, Eleanor found letters revealing the affair in Roosevelt's luggage. Franklin contemplated divorcing Eleanor, but Sara objected strongly and Lucy would not agree to marry a divorced man with five children. [44] Franklin and Eleanor remained married, and Roosevelt promised never to see Lucy again. Eleanor never truly forgave him, and their marriage from that point on was more of a political partnership. [45] Eleanor soon thereafter established a separate home in Hyde Park at Val-Kill, and increasingly devoted herself to various social and political causes independently of her husband. The emotional break in their marriage was so severe that when Roosevelt asked Eleanor in 1942 — in light of his failing health — to come back home and live with him again, she refused. [46] He was not always aware of when she visited the White House and for some time she could not easily reach him on the telephone without his secretary's help Roosevelt, in turn, did not visit Eleanor's New York City apartment until late 1944. [47]

Franklin broke his promise to Eleanor to refrain from having affairs. He and Lucy maintained a formal correspondence, and began seeing each other again in 1941, or perhaps earlier. [48] [49] Lucy was with Roosevelt on the day he died in 1945. Despite this, Roosevelt's affair was not widely known until the 1960s. [46] Roosevelt's son Elliott claimed that his father had a 20-year affair with his private secretary, Marguerite "Missy" LeHand. [50] Another son, James, stated that "there is a real possibility that a romantic relationship existed" between his father and Crown Princess Märtha of Norway, who resided in the White House during part of World War II. Aides began to refer to her at the time as "the president's girlfriend", [51] and gossip linking the two romantically appeared in the newspapers. [52]

New York state senator (1910–1913)

Roosevelt held little passion for the practice of law and confided to friends that he planned to eventually enter politics. [53] Despite his admiration for his cousin Theodore, Franklin inherited his father's affiliation with the Democratic Party. [54] Prior to the 1910 elections, the local Democratic Party recruited Roosevelt to run for a seat in the New York State Assembly. Roosevelt was an attractive recruit for the party because Theodore was still one of the country's most prominent politicians, and a Democratic Roosevelt was good publicity the candidate could also pay for his own campaign. [55] Roosevelt's campaign for the state assembly ended after the Democratic incumbent, Lewis Stuyvesant Chanler, chose to seek re-election. Rather than putting his political hopes on hold, Roosevelt ran for a seat in the state senate. [56] The senate district, located in Dutchess County, Columbia County, and Putnam County, was strongly Republican. [57] Roosevelt feared that open opposition from Theodore could effectively end his campaign, but Theodore privately encouraged his cousin's candidacy despite their differences in partisan affiliation. [54] Acting as his own campaign manager, Roosevelt traveled throughout the senate district via automobile at a time when many could not afford cars. [58] Due to his aggressive and effective campaign, [59] the Roosevelt name's influence in the Hudson Valley, and the Democratic landslide in the 1910 United States elections, Roosevelt won, surprising almost everyone. [60]

Though legislative sessions rarely lasted more than ten weeks, Roosevelt treated his new position as a full-time career. [61] Taking his seat on January 1, 1911, Roosevelt immediately became the leader of a group of "Insurgents" who opposed the bossism of the Tammany Hall machine that dominated the state Democratic Party. In the 1911 U.S. Senate election, which was determined in a joint session of the New York state legislature, [c] Roosevelt and nineteen other Democrats caused a prolonged deadlock by opposing a series of Tammany-backed candidates. Finally, Tammany threw its backing behind James A. O'Gorman, a highly regarded judge whom Roosevelt found acceptable, and O'Gorman won the election in late March. [62] Roosevelt soon became a popular figure among New York Democrats, though he had not yet become an eloquent speaker. [60] News articles and cartoons began depicting "the second coming of a Roosevelt" that sent "cold shivers down the spine of Tammany". [63]

Roosevelt, again in opposition to Tammany Hall, supported New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson's successful bid for the 1912 Democratic nomination, earning an informal designation as an original Wilson man. [64] The election became a three-way contest, as Theodore Roosevelt left the Republican Party to launch a third party campaign against Wilson and sitting Republican President William Howard Taft. Franklin's decision to back Wilson over Theodore Roosevelt in the general election alienated some members of his family, although Theodore himself was not offended. [65] Wilson's victory over the divided Republican Party made him the first Democrat to win a presidential election since 1892. Overcoming a bout with typhoid fever, and with extensive assistance from journalist Louis McHenry Howe, Roosevelt was re-elected in the 1912 elections. After the election, he served for a short time as chairman of the Agriculture Committee, and his success with farm and labor bills was a precursor to his New Deal policies twenty years later. [66] By this time he had become more consistently progressive, in support of labor and social welfare programs for women and children cousin Theodore was of some influence on these issues. [67]

Assistant Secretary of the Navy (1913–1919)

Roosevelt's support of Wilson led to his appointment in March 1913 as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, the second-ranking official in the Navy Department after Secretary Josephus Daniels. [68] Roosevelt had a lifelong affection for the Navy — he had already collected almost 10,000 naval books and claimed to have read all but one — and was more ardent than Daniels in supporting a large and efficient naval force. [69] [70] With Wilson's support, Daniels and Roosevelt instituted a merit-based promotion system and made other reforms to extend civilian control over the autonomous departments of the Navy. [71] Roosevelt oversaw the Navy's civilian employees and earned the respect of union leaders for his fairness in resolving disputes. [72] Not a single strike occurred during his seven-plus years in the office, [73] during which Roosevelt gained experience in labor issues, government management during wartime, naval issues, and logistics, all valuable areas for future office. [74]

In 1914, Roosevelt made an ill-conceived decision to run for the seat of retiring Republican Senator Elihu Root of New York. Though Roosevelt won the backing of Treasury Secretary William Gibbs McAdoo and Governor Martin H. Glynn, he faced a formidable opponent in the Tammany-backed James W. Gerard. [75] He also lacked Wilson's backing, as Wilson needed Tammany's forces to help marshal his legislation and secure his 1916 re-election. [76] Roosevelt was soundly defeated in the Democratic primary by Gerard, who in turn lost the general election to Republican James Wolcott Wadsworth Jr. Roosevelt learned a valuable lesson, that federal patronage alone, without White House support, could not defeat a strong local organization. [77] After the election, Roosevelt and the boss of the Tammany Hall machine, Charles Francis Murphy, sought an accommodation with one another and became political allies. [78]

Following his defeat in the Senate primary, Roosevelt refocused on the Navy Department. [79] World War I broke out in July 1914, with the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire seeking to defeat the Allied Powers of Britain, France, and Russia. Though he remained publicly supportive of Wilson, Roosevelt sympathized with the Preparedness Movement, whose leaders strongly favored the Allied Powers and called for a military build-up. [80] The Wilson administration initiated an expansion of the Navy after the sinking of the RMS Lusitania by a German submarine, and Roosevelt helped establish the United States Navy Reserve and the Council of National Defense. [81] In April 1917, after Germany declared it would engage in unrestricted submarine warfare and attacked several U.S. ships, Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war. Congress approved the declaration of war on Germany on April 6. [82]

Roosevelt requested that he be allowed to serve as a naval officer, but Wilson insisted that he continue to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. For the next year, Roosevelt remained in Washington to coordinate the mobilization, supply, and deployment of naval vessels and personnel. [83] In the first six months after the U.S. entered the war, the Navy expanded fourfold. [84] In the summer of 1918, Roosevelt traveled to Europe to inspect naval installations and meet with French and British officials. In September, he returned to the United States on board the USS Leviathan, a large troop carrier. On the 11-day voyage, the pandemic influenza virus struck and killed many on board. Roosevelt became very ill with influenza and a complicating pneumonia, but he recovered by the time the ship landed in New York. [85] [86] After Germany signed an armistice in November 1918, surrendering and ending the fighting, Daniels and Roosevelt supervised the demobilization of the Navy. [87] Against the advice of older officers such as Admiral William Benson—who claimed he could not "conceive of any use the fleet will ever have for aviation"—Roosevelt personally ordered the preservation of the Navy's Aviation Division. [88] With the Wilson administration coming to an end, Roosevelt began planning for his next run for office. Roosevelt and his associates approached Herbert Hoover about running for the 1920 Democratic presidential nomination, with Roosevelt as his running mate. [89]

Campaign for vice president (1920)

Roosevelt's plan to convince Hoover to run for the Democratic nomination fell through after Hoover publicly declared himself to be a Republican, but Roosevelt nonetheless decided to seek the 1920 vice presidential nomination. After Governor James M. Cox of Ohio won the party's presidential nomination at the 1920 Democratic National Convention, he chose Roosevelt as his running mate, and the party formally nominated Roosevelt by acclamation. [90] Although his nomination surprised most people, Roosevelt balanced the ticket as a moderate, a Wilsonian, and a prohibitionist with a famous name. [91] [92] Roosevelt had just turned 38, four years younger than Theodore had been when he received the same nomination from his party. Roosevelt resigned as Assistant Secretary of the Navy after the Democratic convention and campaigned across the nation for the Cox–Roosevelt ticket. [93]

During the campaign, Cox and Roosevelt defended the Wilson administration and the League of Nations, both of which were unpopular in 1920. [94] Roosevelt personally supported U.S. membership in the League of Nations, but, unlike Wilson, he favored compromising with Senator Henry Cabot Lodge and other "Reservationists." [95] The Cox–Roosevelt ticket was defeated by Republicans Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge in the presidential election by a wide margin, and the Republican ticket carried every state outside of the South. [96] Roosevelt accepted the loss without issue and later reflected that the relationships and good will that he built in the 1920 campaign proved to be a major asset in his 1932 campaign. The 1920 election also saw the first public participation of Eleanor Roosevelt who, with the support of Louis Howe, established herself as a valuable political ally. [97]

After the election, Roosevelt returned to New York City, where he practiced law and served as a vice president of the Fidelity and Deposit Company. [98] He also sought to build support for a political comeback in the 1922 elections, but his career was derailed by illness. [98] While the Roosevelts were vacationing at Campobello Island in August 1921, he fell ill. His main symptoms were fever symmetric, ascending paralysis facial paralysis bowel and bladder dysfunction numbness and hyperesthesia and a descending pattern of recovery. Roosevelt was left permanently paralyzed from the waist down. He was diagnosed with poliomyelitis at the time, but his symptoms are now believed to be more consistent with Guillain–Barré syndrome – an autoimmune neuropathy which Roosevelt's doctors failed to consider as a diagnostic possibility. [99]

Though his mother favored his retirement from public life, Roosevelt, his wife, and Roosevelt's close friend and adviser, Louis Howe, were all determined that he continue his political career. [100] He convinced many people that he was improving, which he believed to be essential prior to running for public office again. [101] He laboriously taught himself to walk short distances while wearing iron braces on his hips and legs by swiveling his torso, supporting himself with a cane. [102] He was careful never to be seen using his wheelchair in public, and great care was taken to prevent any portrayal in the press that would highlight his disability. [103] However, his disability was well known before and during his presidency and became a major part of his image. He usually appeared in public standing upright, supported on one side by an aide or one of his sons. [104]

Beginning in 1925, Roosevelt spent most of his time in the Southern United States, at first on his houseboat, the Larooco. [105] Intrigued by the potential benefits of hydrotherapy, he established a rehabilitation center at Warm Springs, Georgia, in 1926. To create the rehabilitation center, he assembled a staff of physical therapists and used most of his inheritance to purchase the Merriweather Inn. In 1938, he founded the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, leading to the development of polio vaccines. [106]

Roosevelt maintained contacts with the Democratic Party during the 1920s, and he remained active in New York politics while also establishing contacts in the South, particularly in Georgia. [107] He issued an open letter endorsing Al Smith's successful campaign in New York's 1922 gubernatorial election, which both aided Smith and showed Roosevelt's continuing relevance as a political figure. [108] Roosevelt and Smith came from different backgrounds and never fully trusted one another, but Roosevelt supported Smith's progressive policies, while Smith was happy to have the backing of the prominent and well-respected Roosevelt. [109]

Roosevelt gave presidential nominating speeches for Smith at the 1924 and 1928 Democratic National Conventions the speech at the 1924 convention marked a return to public life following his illness and convalescence. [110] That year, the Democrats were badly divided between an urban wing, led by Smith, and a conservative, rural wing, led by William Gibbs McAdoo, on the 101st ballot, the nomination went to John W. Davis, a compromise candidate who suffered a landslide defeat in the 1924 presidential election. Like many others throughout the United States, Roosevelt did not abstain from alcohol during the Prohibition era, but publicly he sought to find a compromise on Prohibition acceptable to both wings of the party. [111]

In 1925, Smith appointed Roosevelt to the Taconic State Park Commission, and his fellow commissioners chose him as chairman. [112] In this role, he came into conflict with Robert Moses, a Smith protégé, [112] who was the primary force behind the Long Island State Park Commission and the New York State Council of Parks. [112] Roosevelt accused Moses of using the name recognition of prominent individuals including Roosevelt to win political support for state parks, but then diverting funds to the ones Moses favored on Long Island, while Moses worked to block the appointment of Howe to a salaried position as the Taconic commission's secretary. [112] Roosevelt served on the commission until the end of 1928, [113] and his contentious relationship with Moses continued as their careers progressed. [114]

As the Democratic Party presidential nominee in the 1928 election, Smith, in turn, asked Roosevelt to run for governor in the state election. [115] Roosevelt initially resisted the entreaties of Smith and others within the party, as he was reluctant to leave Warm Springs and feared a Republican landslide in 1928. [116] He agreed to run when party leaders convinced him that only he could defeat the Republican gubernatorial nominee, New York Attorney General Albert Ottinger. [117] Roosevelt won the party's gubernatorial nomination by acclamation, and he once again turned to Howe to lead his campaign. Roosevelt was also joined on the campaign trail by Samuel Rosenman, Frances Perkins, and James Farley, all of whom would become important political associates. [118] While Smith lost the presidency in a landslide, and was defeated in his home state, Roosevelt was elected governor by a one-percent margin. [119] Roosevelt's election as governor of the most populous state immediately made him a contender in the next presidential election. [120]

Upon taking office in January 1929, Roosevelt proposed the construction of a series of hydroelectric power plants and sought to address the ongoing farm crisis of the 1920s. [121] Relations between Roosevelt and Smith suffered after Roosevelt chose not to retain key Smith appointees like Moses. [122] Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor established a political understanding that would last for the duration of his political career she would dutifully serve as the governor's wife but would also be free to pursue her own agenda and interests. [123] He also began holding "fireside chats", in which he directly addressed his constituents via radio, often using these chats to pressure the New York State Legislature to advance his agenda. [124]

In October 1929, the Wall Street Crash occurred, and the country began sliding into the Great Depression. [125] While President Hoover and many state governors believed that the economic crisis would subside, Roosevelt saw the seriousness of the situation and established a state employment commission. He also became the first governor to publicly endorse the idea of unemployment insurance. [126]

When Roosevelt began his run for a second term in May 1930, he reiterated his doctrine from the campaign two years before: "that progressive government by its very terms must be a living and growing thing, that the battle for it is never-ending and that if we let up for one single moment or one single year, not merely do we stand still but we fall back in the march of civilization." [127] He ran on a platform that called for aid to farmers, full employment, unemployment insurance, and old-age pensions. [128] His Republican opponent could not overcome the public's criticism of the Republican Party during the economic downturn, and Roosevelt was elected to a second term by a 14% margin. [129]

With the Hoover administration resisting proposals to directly address the economic crisis, Roosevelt proposed an economic relief package and the establishment of the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration to distribute those funds. Led first by Jesse I. Straus and then by Harry Hopkins, the agency assisted well over one-third of New York's population between 1932 and 1938. [130] Roosevelt also began an investigation into corruption in New York City among the judiciary, the police force, and organized crime, prompting the creation of the Seabury Commission. Many public officials were removed from office as a result. [131]

As the 1932 presidential election approached, Roosevelt increasingly turned his attention to national politics. He established a campaign team led by Howe and Farley and a "brain trust" of policy advisers. [132] With the economy ailing, many Democrats hoped that the 1932 elections would result in the election of the first Democratic president since Woodrow Wilson.

Roosevelt's re-election as governor had established him as the front-runner for the 1932 Democratic presidential nomination. Roosevelt rallied the progressive supporters of the Wilson administration while also appealing to many conservatives, establishing himself as the leading candidate in the South and West. The chief opposition to Roosevelt's candidacy came from Northeastern conservatives such as Al Smith, the 1928 Democratic presidential nominee. Smith hoped to deny Roosevelt the two-thirds support necessary to win the party's presidential nomination at the 1932 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and then emerge as the nominee after multiple rounds of balloting.

Roosevelt entered the convention with a delegate lead due to his success in the 1932 Democratic primaries, but most delegates entered the convention unbound to any particular candidate. On the first presidential ballot of the convention, Roosevelt received the votes of more than half but less than two-thirds of the delegates, with Smith finishing in a distant second place. Speaker of the House John Nance Garner, who controlled the votes of Texas and California, threw his support behind Roosevelt after the third ballot, and Roosevelt clinched the nomination on the fourth ballot. With little input from Roosevelt, Garner won the vice-presidential nomination. Roosevelt flew in from New York after learning that he had won the nomination, becoming the first major-party presidential nominee to accept the nomination in person. [133]

In his acceptance speech, Roosevelt declared, "I pledge you, I pledge myself to a new deal for the American people. This is more than a political campaign. It is a call to arms." [134] Roosevelt promised securities regulation, tariff reduction, farm relief, government-funded public works, and other government actions to address the Great Depression. [135] Reflecting changing public opinion, the Democratic platform included a call for the repeal of Prohibition Roosevelt himself had not taken a public stand on the issue prior to the convention but promised to uphold the party platform. [136]

After the convention, Roosevelt won endorsements from several progressive Republicans, including George W. Norris, Hiram Johnson, and Robert La Follette Jr. [137] He also reconciled with the party's conservative wing, and even Al Smith was persuaded to support the Democratic ticket. [138] Hoover's handling of the Bonus Army further damaged the incumbent's popularity, as newspapers across the country criticized the use of force to disperse assembled veterans. [139]

Roosevelt won 57% of the popular vote and carried all but six states. Historians and political scientists consider the 1932–36 elections to be a political realignment. Roosevelt's victory was enabled by the creation of the New Deal coalition, small farmers, the Southern whites, Catholics, big city political machines, labor unions, northern African Americans (southern ones were still disfranchised), Jews, intellectuals, and political liberals. [140] The creation of the New Deal coalition transformed American politics and started what political scientists call the "New Deal Party System" or the Fifth Party System. [141] Between the Civil War and 1929, Democrats had rarely controlled both houses of Congress and had won just four of seventeen presidential elections from 1932 to 1979, Democrats won eight of twelve presidential elections and generally controlled both houses of Congress. [142]

As president, Roosevelt appointed powerful men to top positions but made all the major decisions, regardless of delays, inefficiency or resentment. Analyzing the president's administrative style, historian James MacGregor Burns concludes:

The president stayed in charge of his administration. by drawing fully on his formal and informal powers as Chief Executive by raising goals, creating momentum, inspiring a personal loyalty, getting the best out of people. by deliberately fostering among his aides a sense of competition and a clash of wills that led to disarray, heartbreak, and anger but also set off pulses of executive energy and sparks of creativity. by handing out one job to several men and several jobs to one man, thus strengthening his own position as a court of appeals, as a depository of information, and as a tool of co-ordination by ignoring or bypassing collective decision-making agencies, such as the Cabinet. and always by persuading, flattering, juggling, improvising, reshuffling, harmonizing, conciliating, manipulating. [143]


Roosevelt was elected in November 1932 but, like his predecessors, did not take office until the following March. [d] After the election, President Hoover sought to convince Roosevelt to renounce much of his campaign platform and to endorse the Hoover administration's policies. [144] Roosevelt refused Hoover's request to develop a joint program to stop the downward economic spiral, claiming that it would tie his hands and that Hoover had all the power to act if necessary. [145] The economy spiraled downward until the banking system began a complete nationwide shutdown as Hoover's term ended. [146] Roosevelt used the transition period to select the personnel for his incoming administration, and he chose Howe as his chief of staff, Farley as Postmaster General, and Frances Perkins as Secretary of Labor. William H. Woodin, a Republican industrialist close to Roosevelt, was the choice for Secretary of the Treasury, while Roosevelt chose Senator Cordell Hull of Tennessee as Secretary of State. Harold L. Ickes and Henry A. Wallace, two progressive Republicans, were selected for the roles of Secretary of the Interior and Secretary of Agriculture, respectively. [147] In February 1933, Roosevelt escaped an assassination attempt by Giuseppe Zangara, who expressed a "hate for all rulers." Attempting to shoot Roosevelt, Zangara instead mortally wounded Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, who was sitting alongside Roosevelt. [148] [149]

First and second terms (1933–1941)

When Roosevelt was inaugurated on March 4, 1933, 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 had fallen by 60%. Industrial production had fallen by more than half since 1929. Two million people were homeless. By the evening of March 4, 32 of the 48 states – as well as the District of Columbia – had closed their banks. [150]

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. Through Roosevelt's series of radio talks, known as fireside chats, he presented his proposals directly to the American public. [151] Energized by his personal victory over his paralytic illness, Roosevelt relied on his persistent optimism and activism to renew the national spirit. [152]

First New Deal (1933–1934)

On his second day in office, Roosevelt declared a four-day national "bank holiday" and called for a special session of Congress to start March 9, on which date Congress passed the Emergency Banking Act. [153] The act, which was based on a plan developed by the Hoover administration and Wall Street bankers, gave the president the power to determine the opening and closing of banks and authorized the Federal Reserve Banks to issue banknotes. [154] The ensuing "First 100 Days" of the 73rd United States Congress saw an unprecedented amount of legislation [155] and set a benchmark against which future presidents would be compared. [156] When the banks reopened on Monday, March 15, stock prices rose by 15 percent and bank deposits exceeded withdrawals, thus ending the bank panic. [157] On March 22, Roosevelt signed the Cullen–Harrison Act, which effectively ended federal Prohibition. [158]

Roosevelt presided over the establishment of several agencies and measures designed to provide relief for the unemployed and others in need. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), under the leadership of Harry Hopkins, was designed to distribute relief to state governments. [159] The Public Works Administration (PWA), under the leadership of Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, was created to oversee the construction of large-scale public works such as dams, bridges, and schools. [159] The most popular of all New Deal agencies – and Roosevelt's favorite – was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which hired 250,000 unemployed young men to work on local rural projects. Roosevelt also expanded a Hoover agency, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, making it a major source of financing for railroads and industry. Congress gave the Federal Trade Commission broad new regulatory powers and provided mortgage relief to millions of farmers and homeowners. Roosevelt also made agricultural relief a high priority and set up the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA). The AAA tried to force higher prices for commodities by paying farmers to leave land uncultivated and to cut herds. [160]

Reform of the economy was the goal of the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) of 1933. It sought to end cutthroat competition by forcing industries to establish rules of operation for all firms within specific industries, such as minimum prices, agreements not to compete, and production restrictions. Industry leaders negotiated the rules which were approved by NIRA officials. Industry needed to raise wages as a condition for approval. Provisions encouraged unions and suspended antitrust laws. NIRA was found to be unconstitutional by the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court in May 1935 Roosevelt strongly protested the decision. [161] Roosevelt reformed the financial regulatory structure of the nation with the Glass–Steagall Act, creating the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to underwrite savings deposits. The act also sought to curb speculation by limiting affiliations between commercial banks and securities firms. [162] In 1934, the Securities and Exchange Commission was created to regulate the trading of securities, while the Federal Communications Commission was established to regulate telecommunications. [163]

Recovery was pursued through federal spending. [164] The NIRA included $3.3 billion (equivalent to $65.97 billion in 2020) of spending through the Public Works Administration. Roosevelt worked with Senator Norris to create the largest government-owned industrial enterprise in American history — the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) — which built dams and power stations, controlled floods, and modernized agriculture and home conditions in the poverty-stricken Tennessee Valley. Executive Order 6102 declared that all privately held gold of American citizens was to be sold to the U.S. Treasury and the price raised from $20 to $35 per ounce. The goal was to counter the deflation which was paralyzing the economy. [165]

Roosevelt tried to keep his campaign promise by cutting the federal budget — including a reduction in military spending from $752 million in 1932 to $531 million in 1934 and a 40% cut in spending on veterans benefits — by removing 500,000 veterans and widows from the pension rolls and reducing benefits for the remainder, as well as cutting the salaries of federal employees and reducing spending on research and education. But the veterans were well organized and strongly protested, and most benefits were restored or increased by 1934. [166] Veterans groups such as the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars won their campaign to transform their benefits from payments due in 1945 to immediate cash when Congress overrode the President's veto and passed the Bonus Act in January 1936. [167] It pumped sums equal to 2% of the GDP into the consumer economy and had a major stimulus effect. [168]

Second New Deal (1935–1936)

Roosevelt expected that his party would lose several races in the 1934 Congressional elections, as the president's party had done in most previous midterm elections, but the Democrats picked up seats in both houses of Congress. Empowered by the public's apparent vote of confidence in his administration, the first item on Roosevelt's agenda in the 74th Congress was the creation of a social insurance program. [169] The Social Security Act established Social Security and promised economic security for the elderly, the poor and the sick. Roosevelt insisted that it should be funded by payroll taxes rather than from the general fund, saying, "We put those payroll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and unemployment benefits. With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program." [170] Compared with the social security systems in western European countries, the Social Security Act of 1935 was rather conservative. But for the first time, the federal government took responsibility for the economic security of the aged, the temporarily unemployed, dependent children, and the handicapped. [171] Against Roosevelt's original intention for universal coverage, the act only applied to roughly sixty percent of the labor force, as farmers, domestic workers, and other groups were excluded. [172]

Roosevelt consolidated the various relief organizations, though some, like the PWA, continued to exist. After winning Congressional authorization for further funding of relief efforts, Roosevelt established the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Under the leadership of Harry Hopkins, the WPA employed over three million people in its first year of existence. The WPA undertook numerous construction projects and provided funding to the National Youth Administration and arts organizations. [173]

Senator Robert Wagner wrote the National Labor Relations Act, which guaranteed workers the right to collective bargaining through unions of their own choice. The act also established the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to facilitate wage agreements and to suppress the repeated labor disturbances. The Wagner Act did not compel employers to reach an agreement with their employees, but it opened possibilities for American labor. [174] The result was a tremendous growth of membership in the labor unions, especially in the mass-production sector. [175] When the Flint sit-down strike threatened the production of General Motors, Roosevelt broke with the precedent set by many former presidents and refused to intervene the strike ultimately led to the unionization of both General Motors and its rivals in the American automobile industry. [176]

While the First New Deal of 1933 had broad support from most sectors, the Second New Deal challenged the business community. Conservative Democrats, led by Al Smith, fought back with the American Liberty League, savagely attacking Roosevelt and equating him with Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. [177] But Smith overplayed his hand, and his boisterous rhetoric let Roosevelt isolate his opponents and identify them with the wealthy vested interests that opposed the New Deal, strengthening Roosevelt for the 1936 landslide. [177] By contrast, labor unions, energized by the Wagner Act, signed up millions of new members and became a major backer of Roosevelt's reelections in 1936, 1940 and 1944. [178]

Biographer James M. Burns suggests that Roosevelt's policy decisions were guided more by pragmatism than ideology and that he "was like the general of a guerrilla army whose columns, fighting blindly in the mountains through dense ravines and thickets, suddenly converge, half by plan and half by coincidence, and debouch into the plain below." [179] Roosevelt argued that such apparently haphazard methodology was necessary. "The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation," he wrote. "It is common sense to take a method and try it if it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something." [180]

Re-election, 1936

Though eight million workers remained unemployed in 1936, economic conditions had improved since 1932 and Roosevelt was widely popular. An attempt by Louisiana Senator Huey Long and other individuals to organize a left-wing alternative to the Democratic Party collapsed after Long's assassination in 1935. [181] Roosevelt won re-nomination with little opposition at the 1936 Democratic National Convention, while his allies overcame Southern resistance to permanently abolish the long-established rule that had required Democratic presidential candidates to win the votes of two-thirds of the delegates rather than a simple majority. [e] The Republicans nominated Kansas Governor Alf Landon, a well-respected but bland candidate whose chances were damaged by the public re-emergence of the still-unpopular Herbert Hoover. [183] While Roosevelt campaigned on his New Deal programs and continued to attack Hoover, Landon sought to win voters who approved of the goals of the New Deal but disagreed with its implementation. [184]

In the election against Landon and a third-party candidate, Roosevelt won 60.8% of the vote and carried every state except Maine and Vermont. [185] The Democratic ticket won the highest proportion of the popular vote. [f] Democrats also expanded their majorities in Congress, winning control of over three-quarters of the seats in each house. The election also saw the consolidation of the New Deal coalition while the Democrats lost some of their traditional allies in big business, they were replaced by groups such as organized labor and African Americans, the latter of whom voted Democratic for the first time since the Civil War. [186] Roosevelt lost high-income voters, especially businessmen and professionals, but made major gains among the poor and minorities. He won 86 percent of the Jewish vote, 81 percent of Catholics, 80 percent of union members, 76 percent of Southerners, 76 percent of blacks in northern cities, and 75 percent of people on relief. Roosevelt carried 102 of the country's 106 cities with a population of 100,000 or more. [187]

Supreme Court fight and second term legislation

Supreme Court appointments by President Franklin D. Roosevelt [188]
Chief JusticeHarlan Fiske Stone1941–1946
Associate JusticeHugo Black1937–1971
Stanley Forman Reed1938–1957
Felix Frankfurter1939–1962
William O. Douglas1939–1975
Frank Murphy1940–1949
James F. Byrnes1941–1942
Robert H. Jackson1941–1954
Wiley Blount Rutledge1943–1949

The Supreme Court became Roosevelt's primary domestic focus during his second term after the court overturned many of his programs, including NIRA. The more conservative members of the court upheld the principles of the Lochner era, which saw numerous economic regulations struck down on the basis of freedom of contract. [189] Roosevelt proposed the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937, which would have allowed him to appoint an additional Justice for each incumbent Justice over the age of 70 in 1937, there were six Supreme Court Justices over the age of 70. The size of the Court had been set at nine since the passage of the Judiciary Act of 1869, and Congress had altered the number of Justices six other times throughout U.S. history. [190] Roosevelt's "court packing" plan ran into intense political opposition from his own party, led by Vice President Garner, since it upset the separation of powers. [191] A bipartisan coalition of liberals and conservatives of both parties opposed the bill, and Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes broke with precedent by publicly advocating the defeat of the bill. Any chance of passing the bill ended with the death of Senate Majority Leader Joseph Taylor Robinson in July 1937. [192]

Starting with the 1937 case of West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, the court began to take a more favorable view of economic regulations. That same year, Roosevelt appointed a Supreme Court Justice for the first time, and by 1941, seven of the nine Justices had been appointed by Roosevelt. [g] [193] After Parish, the Court shifted its focus from judicial review of economic regulations to the protection of civil liberties. [194] Four of Roosevelt's Supreme Court appointees, Felix Frankfurter, Robert H. Jackson, Hugo Black, and William O. Douglas, would be particularly influential in re-shaping the jurisprudence of the Court. [195] [196]

With Roosevelt's influence on the wane following the failure of the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937, conservative Democrats joined with Republicans to block the implementation of further New Deal programs. [197] Roosevelt did manage to pass some legislation, including the Housing Act of 1937, a second Agricultural Adjustment Act, and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938, which was the last major piece of New Deal legislation. The FLSA outlawed child labor, established a federal minimum wage, and required overtime pay for certain employees who work in excess of forty-hours per week. [198] He also won passage of the Reorganization Act of 1939 and subsequently created the Executive Office of the President, making it "the nerve center of the federal administrative system." [199] When the economy began to deteriorate again in late 1937, Roosevelt asked Congress for $5 billion (equivalent to $90.01 billion in 2020) in relief and public works funding. This managed to eventually create as many as 3.3 million WPA jobs by 1938. Projects accomplished under the WPA ranged from new federal courthouses and post offices to facilities and infrastructure for national parks, bridges and other infrastructure across the country, and architectural surveys and archaeological excavations — investments to construct facilities and preserve important resources. Beyond this, however, Roosevelt recommended to a special congressional session only a permanent national farm act, administrative reorganization, and regional planning measures, all of which were leftovers from a regular session. According to Burns, this attempt illustrated Roosevelt's inability to decide on a basic economic program. [200]

Determined to overcome the opposition of conservative Democrats in Congress, Roosevelt became involved in the 1938 Democratic primaries, actively campaigning for challengers who were more supportive of New Deal reform. Roosevelt failed badly, managing to defeat only one target, a conservative Democrat from New York City. [201] In the November 1938 elections, Democrats lost six Senate seats and 71 House seats, with losses 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 enact his domestic proposals. [202] Despite their opposition to Roosevelt's domestic policies, many of these conservative Congressmen would provide crucial support for Roosevelt's foreign policy before and during World War II. [203]

Conservation and the environment

Roosevelt had a lifelong interest in the environment and conservation starting with his youthful interest in forestry on his family estate. Although Roosevelt was never an outdoorsman or sportsman on Theodore Roosevelt's scale, his growth of the national systems were comparable. [6] Roosevelt was active in expanding, funding, and promoting the National Park and National Forest systems. [204] Under Roosevelt, their popularity soared, from three million visitors a year at the start of the decade to 15.5 million in 1939. [205] The Civilian Conservation Corps enrolled 3.4 million young men and built 13,000 miles (21,000 kilometres) of trails, planted two billion trees, and upgraded 125,000 miles (201,000 kilometres) of dirt roads. Every state had its own state parks, and Roosevelt made sure that WPA and CCC projects were set up to upgrade them as well as the national systems. [206] [207]

GNP and unemployment rates

Unemployment rates [h]
Year Lebergott Darby
1929 3.2 3.2
1932 23.6 22.9
1933 24.9 20.6
1934 21.7 16.0
1935 20.1 14.2
1936 16.9 9.9
1937 14.3 9.1
1938 19.0 12.5
1939 17.2 11.3
1940 14.6 9.5

Government spending increased from 8.0% of gross national product (GNP) under Hoover in 1932 to 10.2% of the GNP in 1936. The national debt as a percentage of the GNP had more than doubled under Hoover from 16% to 40% of the GNP in early 1933. It held steady at close to 40% as late as fall 1941, then grew rapidly during the war. [209] The GNP was 34% higher in 1936 than in 1932 and 58% higher in 1940 on the eve of war. That is, the economy grew 58% from 1932 to 1940 in eight years of peacetime, and then grew 56% from 1940 to 1945 in five years of wartime. [209] Unemployment fell dramatically during Roosevelt's first term. It increased in 1938 ("a depression within a depression") but continually declined after 1938. [208] Total employment during Roosevelt's term expanded by 18.31 million jobs, with an average annual increase in jobs during his administration of 5.3%. [210] [211]

Foreign policy (1933–1941)

The main foreign policy initiative of Roosevelt's first term was the Good Neighbor Policy, which was a re-evaluation of U.S. policy toward Latin America. The United States had frequently intervened in Latin America following the promulgation of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, and the United States had occupied several Latin American nations in the Banana Wars that had occurred following the Spanish–American War of 1898. After Roosevelt took office, he withdrew U.S. forces from Haiti and reached new treaties with Cuba and Panama, ending their status as U.S. protectorates. In December 1933, Roosevelt signed the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, renouncing the right to intervene unilaterally in the affairs of Latin American countries. [212] Roosevelt also normalized relations with the Soviet Union, which the United States had refused to recognize since the 1920s. [213] He hoped to renegotiate the Russian debt from World War I and open trade relations, but no progress was made on either issue and "both nations were soon disillusioned by the accord." [214]

The rejection of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919–1920 marked the dominance of isolationism in American foreign policy. Despite Roosevelt's Wilsonian background, he and Secretary of State Cordell Hull acted with great care not to provoke isolationist sentiment. The isolationist movement was bolstered in the early to mid-1930s by Senator Gerald Nye and others who succeeded in their effort to stop the "merchants of death" in the U.S. from selling arms abroad. [215] This effort took the form of the Neutrality Acts the president asked for, but was refused, a provision to give him the discretion to allow the sale of arms to victims of aggression. [216] Focused on domestic policy, Roosevelt largely acquiesced to Congress's non-interventionist policies in the early-to-mid 1930s. [217] In the interim, Fascist Italy under Benito Mussolini proceeded to overcome Ethiopia, and the Italians joined Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler in supporting General Francisco Franco and the Nationalist cause in the Spanish Civil War. [218] As that conflict drew to a close in early 1939, Roosevelt expressed regret in not aiding the Spanish Republicans. [219] When Japan invaded China in 1937, isolationism limited Roosevelt's ability to aid China, [220] despite atrocities like the Nanking Massacre and the USS Panay incident. [221]

Germany annexed Austria in 1938, and soon turned its attention to its eastern neighbors. [223] Roosevelt made it clear that, in the event of German aggression against Czechoslovakia, the U.S. would remain neutral. [224] After completion of the Munich Agreement and the execution of Kristallnacht, American public opinion turned against Germany, and Roosevelt began preparing for a possible war with Germany. [225] Relying on an interventionist political coalition of Southern Democrats and business-oriented Republicans, Roosevelt oversaw the expansion of U.S. airpower and war production capacity. [226]

When World War II began in September 1939 with Germany's invasion of Poland and Britain and France's subsequent declaration of war upon Germany, Roosevelt sought ways to assist Britain and France militarily. [227] Isolationist leaders like Charles Lindbergh and Senator William Borah successfully mobilized opposition to Roosevelt's proposed repeal of the Neutrality Act, but Roosevelt won Congressional approval of the sale of arms on a cash-and-carry basis. [228] He also began a regular secret correspondence with Britain's First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, in September 1939 — the first of 1,700 letters and telegrams between them. [229] Roosevelt forged a close personal relationship with Churchill, who became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in May 1940. [230]

The Fall of France in June 1940 shocked the American public, and isolationist sentiment declined. [231] In July 1940, Roosevelt appointed two interventionist Republican leaders, Henry L. Stimson and Frank Knox, as Secretaries of War and the Navy, respectively. Both parties gave support to his plans for a rapid build-up of the American military, but the isolationists warned that Roosevelt would get the nation into an unnecessary war with Germany. [232] In July 1940, a group of Congressmen introduced a bill that would authorize the nation's first peacetime draft, and with the support of the Roosevelt administration, the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 passed in September. The size of the army would increase from 189,000 men at the end of 1939 to 1.4 million men in mid-1941. [233] In September 1940, Roosevelt openly defied the Neutrality Acts by reaching the Destroyers for Bases Agreement, which, in exchange for military base rights in the British Caribbean Islands, gave 50 WWI American destroyers to Britain. [234]

Election of 1940

In the months prior to the July 1940 Democratic National Convention, there was much speculation as to whether Roosevelt would run for an unprecedented third term. The two-term tradition, although not yet enshrined in the Constitution, [i] had been established by George Washington when he refused to run for a third term in the 1796 presidential election. Roosevelt refused to give a definitive statement as to his willingness to be a candidate again, and he even indicated to some ambitious Democrats, such as James Farley, that he would not run for a third term and that they could seek the Democratic nomination. However, as Germany swept through Western Europe and menaced Britain in mid-1940, Roosevelt decided that only he had the necessary experience and skills to see the nation safely through the Nazi threat. He was aided by the party's political bosses, who feared that no Democrat except Roosevelt could defeat Wendell Willkie, the popular Republican nominee. [235]

At the July 1940 Democratic Convention in Chicago, Roosevelt easily swept aside challenges from Farley and Vice President Garner, who had turned against Roosevelt in his second term because of his liberal economic and social policies. [236] To replace Garner on the ticket, Roosevelt turned to Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace of Iowa, a former Republican who strongly supported the New Deal and was popular in farm states. [237] The choice was strenuously opposed by many of the party's conservatives, who felt Wallace was too radical and "eccentric" in his private life to be an effective running mate. But Roosevelt insisted that without Wallace on the ticket he would decline re-nomination, and Wallace won the vice-presidential nomination, defeating Speaker of the House William B. Bankhead and other candidates. [236]

A late August poll taken by Gallup found the race to be essentially tied, but Roosevelt's popularity surged in September following the announcement of the Destroyers for Bases Agreement. [238] Willkie supported much of the New Deal as well as rearmament and aid to Britain but warned that Roosevelt would drag the country into another European war. [239] Responding to Willkie's attacks, Roosevelt promised to keep the country out of the war. [240] Roosevelt won the 1940 election with 55% of the popular vote, 38 of the 48 states, and almost 85% of the electoral vote. [241]

Third and fourth terms (1941–1945)

The world war dominated FDR's attention, with far more time devoted to world affairs than ever before. Domestic politics and relations with Congress were largely shaped by his efforts to achieve total mobilization of the nation's economic, financial, and institutional resources for the war effort. Even relationships with Latin America and Canada were structured by wartime demands. Roosevelt maintained close personal control of all major diplomatic and military decisions, working closely with his generals and admirals, the war and Navy departments, the British, and even with the Soviet Union. His key advisors on diplomacy were Harry Hopkins (who was based in the White House), Sumner Welles (based in the State Department), and Henry Morgenthau Jr. at Treasury. In military affairs, FDR worked most closely with Secretary Henry L. Stimson at the War Department, Army Chief of Staff George Marshall, and Admiral William D. Leahy. [242] [243] [244]

Lead-up to the war

By late 1940, re-armament was in high gear, partly to expand and re-equip the Army and Navy and partly to become the "Arsenal of Democracy" for Britain and other countries. [245] With his Four Freedoms speech in January 1941, Roosevelt laid out the case for an Allied battle for basic rights throughout the world. Assisted by Willkie, Roosevelt won Congressional approval of the Lend-Lease program, which directed massive military and economic aid to Britain, and China. [246] In sharp contrast to the loans of World War I, there would be no repayment after the war. [247] As Roosevelt took a firmer stance against Japan, Germany, and Italy, American isolationists such as Charles Lindbergh and the America First Committee vehemently attacked Roosevelt as an irresponsible warmonger. [248] When 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." [249] By July 1941, Roosevelt authorized the creation of the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (OCIAA) to counter perceived propaganda efforts in Latin America by Germany and Italy. [250] [251]

In August 1941, Roosevelt and Churchill conducted a highly secret bilateral meeting in which they drafted the Atlantic Charter, conceptually outlining global wartime and postwar goals. This would be the first of several wartime conferences [252] Churchill and Roosevelt would meet ten more times in person. [253] Though Churchill pressed for an American declaration of war against Germany, Roosevelt believed that Congress would reject any attempt to bring the United States into the war. [254] In September, 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. According to historian George Donelson Moss, Roosevelt "misled" Americans by reporting the Greer incident as if it would have been an unprovoked German attack on a peaceful American ship. [255] This "shoot on sight" policy effectively declared naval war on Germany and was favored by Americans by a margin of 2-to-1. [256]

Pearl Harbor and declarations of war

After the German invasion of Poland, the primary concern of both Roosevelt and his top military staff was on the war in Europe, but Japan also presented foreign policy challenges. Relations with Japan had continually deteriorated since its invasion of Manchuria in 1931, and they had further worsened with Roosevelt's support of China. [257] With the war in Europe occupying the attention of the major colonial powers, Japanese leaders eyed vulnerable colonies such as the Dutch East Indies, French Indochina, and British Malaya. [258] After Roosevelt announced a $100 million loan (equivalent to $1.8 billion in 2020) to China in reaction to Japan's occupation of northern French Indochina, Japan signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy. The pact bound each country to defend the others against attack, and Germany, Japan, and Italy became known as the Axis powers. [259] Overcoming those who favored invading the Soviet Union, the Japanese Army high command successfully advocated for the conquest of Southeast Asia to ensure continued access to raw materials. [260] In July 1941, after Japan occupied the remainder of French Indochina, Roosevelt cut off the sale of oil to Japan, depriving Japan of more than 95 percent of its oil supply. [261] He also placed the Philippine military under American command and reinstated General Douglas MacArthur into active duty to command U.S. forces in the Philippines. [262]

The Japanese were incensed by the embargo and Japanese leaders became determined to attack the United States unless it lifted the embargo. The Roosevelt administration was unwilling to reverse the policy, and Secretary of State Hull blocked a potential summit between Roosevelt and Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe. [j] After diplomatic efforts to end the embargo failed, the Privy Council of Japan authorized a strike against the United States. [264] The Japanese believed that the destruction of the United States Asiatic Fleet (stationed in the Philippines) and the United States Pacific Fleet (stationed at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii) was vital to the conquest of Southeast Asia. [265] On the morning of December 7, 1941, the Japanese struck the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor with a surprise attack, knocking out the main American battleship fleet and killing 2,403 American servicemen and civilians. At the same time, separate Japanese task forces attacked Thailand, British Hong Kong, the Philippines, and other targets. Roosevelt called for war in his "Infamy Speech" to Congress, in which he said: "Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan." In a nearly unanimous vote, Congress declared war on Japan. [266] After the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, antiwar sentiment in the United States largely evaporated overnight. On December 11, 1941, Hitler and Mussolini declared war on the United States, which responded in kind. [k] [267]

A majority of scholars have rejected the conspiracy theories that Roosevelt, or any other high government officials, knew in advance about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. [268] The Japanese had kept their secrets closely guarded. Senior American officials were aware that war was imminent, but they did not expect an attack on Pearl Harbor. [269] Roosevelt had expected that the Japanese would attack either the Dutch East Indies or Thailand. [270]

War plans

In late December 1941, Churchill and Roosevelt met at the Arcadia Conference, which established a joint strategy between the U.S. and Britain. Both agreed on a Europe first strategy that prioritized the defeat of Germany before Japan. The U.S. and Britain established the Combined Chiefs of Staff to coordinate military policy and the Combined Munitions Assignments Board to coordinate the allocation of supplies. [271] An agreement was also reached to establish a centralized command in the Pacific theater called ABDA, named for the American, British, Dutch, and Australian forces in the theater. [272] On January 1, 1942, the United States, Britain, China, the Soviet Union, and twenty-two other countries (the Allied Powers) issued the Declaration by United Nations, in which each nation pledged to defeat the Axis powers. [273]

In 1942, Roosevelt formed a new body, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which made the final decisions on American military strategy. Admiral Ernest J. King as Chief of Naval Operations commanded the Navy and Marines, while General George C. Marshall led the Army and was in nominal control of the Air Force, which in practice was commanded by General Hap Arnold. [274] The Joint Chiefs were chaired by Admiral William D. Leahy, the most senior officer in the military. [275] Roosevelt avoided micromanaging the war and let his top military officers make most decisions. [276] Roosevelt's civilian appointees handled the draft and procurement of men and equipment, but no civilians – not even the secretaries of War or Navy – had a voice in strategy. Roosevelt avoided the State Department and conducted high-level diplomacy through his aides, especially Harry Hopkins, whose influence was bolstered by his control of the Lend Lease funds. [277]

Nuclear program

In August 1939, Leo Szilard and Albert Einstein sent the Einstein–Szilárd letter to Roosevelt, warning of the possibility of a German project to develop nuclear weapons. Szilard realized that the recently discovered process of nuclear fission could be used to create a nuclear chain reaction that could be used as a weapon of mass destruction. [278] Roosevelt feared the consequences of allowing Germany to have sole possession of the technology and authorized preliminary research into nuclear weapons. [l] After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Roosevelt administration secured the funds needed to continue research and selected General Leslie Groves to oversee the Manhattan Project, which was charged with developing the first nuclear weapons. Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to jointly pursue the project, and Roosevelt helped ensure that American scientists cooperated with their British counterparts. [280]

Wartime conferences

Roosevelt coined the term "Four Policemen" to refer to the "Big Four" Allied powers of World War II, the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and China. The "Big Three" of Roosevelt, Churchill, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, together with Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, cooperated informally on a plan in which American and British troops concentrated in the West Soviet troops fought on the Eastern front and Chinese, British and American troops fought in Asia and the Pacific. The United States also continued to send aid via the Lend-Lease program to the Soviet Union and other countries. The Allies formulated strategy in a series of high-profile conferences as well as by contact through diplomatic and military channels. [281] Beginning in May 1942, the Soviets urged an Anglo-American invasion of German-occupied France in order to divert troops from the Eastern front. [282] Concerned that their forces were not yet ready for an invasion of France, Churchill and Roosevelt decided to delay such an invasion until at least 1943 and instead focus on a landing in North Africa, known as Operation Torch. [283]

In November 1943, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin met to discuss strategy and post-war plans at the Tehran Conference, where Roosevelt met Stalin for the first time. [284] At the conference, Britain and the United States committed to opening a second front against Germany in 1944, while Stalin committed to entering the war against Japan at an unspecified date. Subsequent conferences at Bretton Woods and Dumbarton Oaks established the framework for the post-war international monetary system and the United Nations, an intergovernmental organization similar to Wilson's failed League of Nations. [285]

Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin met for a second time at the February 1945 Yalta Conference in Crimea. With the end of the war in Europe approaching, Roosevelt's primary focus was on convincing Stalin to enter the war against Japan the Joint Chiefs had estimated that an American invasion of Japan would cause as many as one million American casualties. In return for the Soviet Union's entrance into the war against Japan, the Soviet Union was promised control of Asian territories such as Sakhalin Island. The three leaders agreed to hold a conference in 1945 to establish the United Nations, and they also agreed on the structure of the United Nations Security Council, which would be charged with ensuring international peace and security. Roosevelt did not push for the immediate evacuation of Soviet soldiers from Poland, but he won the issuance of the Declaration on Liberated Europe, which promised free elections in countries that had been occupied by Germany. Germany itself would not be dismembered but would be jointly occupied by the United States, France, Britain, and the Soviet Union. [286] Against Soviet pressure, Roosevelt and Churchill refused to consent to impose huge reparations and deindustrialization on Germany after the war. [287] Roosevelt's role in the Yalta Conference has been controversial critics charge that he naively trusted the Soviet Union to allow free elections in Eastern Europe, while supporters argue that there was little more that Roosevelt could have done for the Eastern European countries given the Soviet occupation and the need for cooperation with the Soviet Union during and after the war. [288] [289]

Course of the war

The Allies invaded French North Africa in November 1942, securing the surrender of Vichy French forces within days of landing. [290] At the January 1943 Casablanca Conference, the Allies agreed to defeat Axis forces in North Africa and then launch an invasion of Sicily, with an attack on France to take place in 1944. At the conference, Roosevelt also announced that he would only accept the unconditional surrender of Germany, Japan, and Italy. [291] In February 1943, the Soviet Union won a major victory at the Battle of Stalingrad, and in May 1943, the Allies secured the surrender of over 250,000 German and Italian soldiers in North Africa, ending the North African Campaign. [292] The Allies launched an invasion of Sicily in July 1943, capturing the island by the end of the following month. [293] In September 1943, the Allies secured an armistice from Italian Prime Minister Pietro Badoglio, but Germany quickly restored Mussolini to power. [293] The Allied invasion of mainland Italy commenced in September 1943, but the Italian Campaign continued until 1945 as German and Italian troops resisted the Allied advance. [294]

To command the invasion of France, Roosevelt chose General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had successfully commanded a multinational coalition in North Africa and Sicily. [295] Eisenhower chose to launch Operation Overlord on June 6, 1944. Supported by 12,000 aircraft and the largest naval force ever assembled, the Allies successfully established a beachhead in Normandy and then advanced further into France. [276] Though reluctant to back an unelected government, Roosevelt recognized Charles de Gaulle's Provisional Government of the French Republic as the de facto government of France in July 1944. After most of France had been liberated from German occupation, Roosevelt granted formal recognition to de Gaulle's government in October 1944. [296] Over the following months, the Allies liberated more territory from Nazi occupation and began the invasion of Germany. By April 1945, Nazi resistance was crumbling in the face of advances by both the Western Allies and the Soviet Union. [297]

In the opening weeks of the war, Japan conquered the Philippines and the British and Dutch colonies in Southeast Asia. The Japanese advance reached its maximum extent by June 1942, when the U.S. Navy scored a decisive victory at the Battle of Midway. American and Australian forces then began a slow and costly strategy called island hopping or leapfrogging through the Pacific Islands, with the objective of gaining bases from which strategic airpower could be brought to bear on Japan and from which Japan could ultimately be invaded. In contrast to Hitler, Roosevelt took no direct part in the tactical naval operations, though he approved strategic decisions. [298] Roosevelt gave way in part to insistent demands from the public and Congress that more effort be devoted against Japan, but he always insisted on Germany first. The strength of the Japanese navy was decimated in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, and by April 1945 the Allies had re-captured much of their lost territory in the Pacific. [299]

Home front

The home front 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. Unemployment fell in half from 7.7 million in spring 1940 to 3.4 million in fall 1941 and fell in half again to 1.5 million in fall 1942, out of a labor force of 54 million. [m] There was a growing labor shortage, accelerating the second wave of the Great Migration of African Americans, farmers and rural populations to manufacturing centers. African Americans from the South went to California and other West Coast states for new jobs in the defense industry. To pay for increased government spending, in 1941 Roosevelt 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. [301] The Revenue Act of 1942 instituted top tax rates as high as 94% (after accounting for the excess profits tax), greatly increased the tax base, and instituted the first federal withholding tax. [302] In 1944, Roosevelt requested that Congress enact legislation which would tax all "unreasonable" profits, both corporate and individual, and thereby support his declared need for over $10 billion in revenue for the war and other government measures. Congress overrode Roosevelt's veto to pass a smaller revenue bill raising $2 billion. [303]

In 1942, with the United States now in the conflict, war production increased dramatically but fell short of the goals established by the president, due in part to manpower shortages. [304] The effort was also hindered by numerous strikes, especially among union workers in the coal mining and railroad industries, which lasted well into 1944. [305] [306] Nonetheless, between 1941 and 1945, the United States produced 2.4 million trucks, 300,000 military aircraft, 88,400 tanks, and 40 billion rounds of ammunition. The production capacity of the United States dwarfed that of other countries for example, in 1944, the United States produced more military aircraft than the combined production of Germany, Japan, Britain, and the Soviet Union. [307] The White House became the ultimate site for labor mediation, conciliation or arbitration. One particular battle royale occurred between Vice President Wallace, who headed the Board of Economic Warfare, and Jesse H. Jones, in charge of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation both agencies assumed responsibility for the acquisition of rubber supplies and came to loggerheads over funding. Roosevelt resolved the dispute by dissolving both agencies. [308] In 1943, Roosevelt established the Office of War Mobilization to oversee the home front the agency was led by James F. Byrnes, who came to be known as the "assistant president" due to his influence. [293]

Roosevelt's 1944 State of the Union Address advocated that Americans should think of basic economic rights as a Second Bill of Rights. [309] He stated that all Americans should have the right to "adequate medical care", "a good education", "a decent home", and a "useful and remunerative job". [310] In the most ambitious domestic proposal of his third term, Roosevelt proposed the G.I. Bill, which would create a massive benefits program for returning soldiers. Benefits included post-secondary education, medical care, unemployment insurance, job counseling, and low-cost loans for homes and businesses. The G.I. Bill passed unanimously in both houses of Congress and was signed into law in June 1944. Of the fifteen million Americans who served in World War II, more than half benefitted from the educational opportunities provided for in the G.I. Bill. [311]

Declining health

Roosevelt, a chain-smoker throughout his entire adult life, [312] [313] had been in declining physical health since at least 1940. In March 1944, shortly after his 62nd birthday, he underwent testing at Bethesda Hospital and was found to have high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease causing angina pectoris, and congestive heart failure. [314] [315] [316]

Hospital physicians and two outside specialists ordered Roosevelt to rest. His personal physician, Admiral Ross McIntire, created a daily schedule that banned business guests for lunch and incorporated two hours of rest each day. During the 1944 re-election campaign, McIntire denied several times that Roosevelt's health was poor on October 12, for example, he announced that "The President's health is perfectly OK. There are absolutely no organic difficulties at all." [317] Roosevelt realized that his declining health could eventually make it impossible for him to continue as president, and in 1945 he told a confidant that he might resign from the presidency following the end of the war. [318]

Election of 1944

While some Democrats had opposed Roosevelt's nomination in 1940, the president faced little difficulty in securing his re-nomination at the 1944 Democratic National Convention. Roosevelt made it clear before the convention that he was seeking another term, and on the lone presidential ballot of the convention, Roosevelt won the vast majority of delegates, although a minority of Southern Democrats voted for Harry F. Byrd. Party leaders prevailed upon Roosevelt to drop Vice President Wallace from the ticket, believing him to be an electoral liability and a poor potential successor in case of Roosevelt's death. Roosevelt preferred Byrnes as Wallace's replacement but was convinced to support Senator Harry S. Truman of Missouri, who had earned renown for his investigation of war production inefficiency and was acceptable to the various factions of the party. On the second vice presidential ballot of the convention, Truman defeated Wallace to win the nomination. [319]

The Republicans nominated Thomas E. Dewey, the governor of New York, who had a reputation as a liberal in his party. The opposition accused Roosevelt and his administration of domestic corruption, bureaucratic inefficiency, tolerance of Communism, and military blunders. Labor unions, which had grown rapidly in the war, fully supported Roosevelt. Roosevelt and Truman won the 1944 election by a comfortable margin, defeating Dewey and his running mate John W. Bricker with 53.4% of the popular vote and 432 out of the 531 electoral votes. [320] 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. [321]

Death (1945)

When Roosevelt returned to the United States from the Yalta Conference, 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. [322] 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 behind his back a separate peace with Hitler, 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." [323] 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.

In the afternoon of April 12, 1945, in Warm Springs, Georgia, while sitting for a portrait, Roosevelt said "I have a terrific headache." [324] [325] He then slumped forward in his chair, unconscious, and was carried into his bedroom. The president's attending cardiologist, Dr. Howard Bruenn, diagnosed the medical emergency as a massive intracerebral hemorrhage. [326] At 3:35 p.m. that day, Roosevelt died at the age of 63. [327]

The following morning, Roosevelt's body was placed in a flag-draped coffin and loaded onto the presidential train for the trip back to Washington. Along the route, thousands flocked to the tracks to pay their respects. After a White House funeral on April 14, Roosevelt was transported by train from Washington, D.C., to his place of birth at Hyde Park. On April 15 he was buried, per his wish, in the rose garden of his Springwood estate. [328]

Roosevelt's declining physical health had been kept secret from the public. His death was met with shock and grief across around the world. [329] Germany surrendered during the 30-day mourning period, but Harry Truman (who had succeeded Roosevelt as president) ordered flags to remain at half-staff he also dedicated Victory in Europe Day and its celebrations to Roosevelt's memory. [330] World War II finally ended with the signed surrender of Japan in September. [331]

Roosevelt was viewed as a hero by many African Americans, Catholics, and Jews, and he was highly successful in attracting large majorities of these voters into his New Deal coalition. [332] He won strong support from Chinese Americans and Filipino Americans, but not Japanese Americans, as he presided over their internment in concentration camps during the war. [333] African Americans and Native Americans fared well in two New Deal relief programs, the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Indian Reorganization Act, respectively. Sitkoff reports that the WPA "provided an economic floor for the whole black community in the 1930s, rivaling both agriculture and domestic service as the chief source" of income. [334]

Roosevelt did not join NAACP leaders in pushing for federal anti-lynching legislation, as he believed that such legislation was unlikely to pass and that his support for it would alienate Southern congressmen. He did, however, appoint a "Black Cabinet" of African American advisers to advise on race relations and African American issues, and he publicly denounced lynching as "murder." [335] First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt vocally supported efforts designed to aid the African American community, including the Fair Labor Standards Act, which helped boost wages for nonwhite workers in the South. [336] In 1941, Roosevelt established the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) to implement Executive Order 8802, which prohibited racial and religious discrimination in employment among defense contractors. The FEPC was the first national program directed against employment discrimination, and it played a major role in opening up new employment opportunities to non-white workers. During World War II, the proportion of African American men employed in manufacturing positions rose significantly. [337] In response to Roosevelt's policies, African Americans increasingly defected from the Republican Party during the 1930s and 1940s, becoming an important Democratic voting bloc in several Northern states. [335]

The attack on Pearl Harbor raised concerns in the public regarding the possibility of sabotage by Japanese Americans. This suspicion was fed by long-standing racism against Japanese immigrants, as well as the findings of the Roberts Commission, which concluded that the attack on Pearl Harbor had been assisted by Japanese spies. On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which relocated hundreds of thousands of Japanese-American citizens and immigrants. They were forced to liquidate their properties and businesses and interned in hastily built camps in interior, harsh locations. Distracted by other issues, Roosevelt had delegated the decision for internment to Secretary of War Stimson, who in turn relied on the judgment of Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the executive order in the 1944 case of Korematsu v. United States. [338] Many German and Italian citizens were also arrested or placed into internment camps. [339]

Watch the video: The New Deal: Crash Course US History #34


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