Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the 32nd (1933-1945) President of the United States. He was elected to an unprecedented four terms of office - the only U.S. president elected more than twice. His main contributions were the instituting of major economic and social assistance programs, leading the country through a successful involvement in World War II and the formation of the United Nations.
He was born on January 30, 1882 in Hyde Park, New York, and died on April 12, 1945 in Warm Springs, Georgia of a cerebral hemorrhage. He suffered from polio at the age of 39, which left him with severe moving difficulty in his legs. He often used a wheelchair when moving from one place or another. He took efforts to hide this disability throughout his life, and he tried not to be seen in his wheelchair. When a statue in his honor was commissioned in Washington, DC in 2001, controversy erupted because the statue consisted of Roosevelt sitting in a wheelchair. This was seen by many as a move towards political correctness, while some have even described it as a form of historical revisionism.
He graduated from Ivy League Harvard University in 1904, and from Ivy League Columbia Law School with a J.D. in 1908 before taking a job with a prestigious Wall Street firm. On St. Patrick's Day, 1905, he married Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, a distant cousin, who was the favorite niece of Theodore Roosevelt, his fifth cousin. Government Positions include: Assistant Secretary of the Navy, 1913-1920; Governor of New York, 1929-1933.
Roosevelt's Presidential campaign in 1932 saw the New York governor committing himself to battling the Great Depression, promosing a platform with "Three R's - relief, recovery and reform." He coined the term "New Deal" when he stated: "I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people." On February 15, 1933 after his victory in the 1932 election, President-elect Roosevelt was nearly assassinated in Miami, Florida (the assassin did manage to kill Chicago, Illinois Mayor Anton J. Cermak). In reference to the Great Depression, Roosevelt gave his "We have nothing to fear, but fear itself" inauguration speech (March 4, 1933). Roosevelt's first weeks in office were called The Hundred Days, as during the first part of his administration he authored and approved a flurry of Congressional acts to institute immediate change and keep the nation's economy from destabilizing. He insituted a four-day "banking holiday" two days after he took office: a four-day period in which all banks in the country closed, allowing the institutions a brief period to recover and reorganize. During this time of crisis Roosevelt addressed the nation for the first time as President on March 12, 1933 in the first of many "Fireside Chats."
Of the various reform programs initiated by the Roosevelt administration, the most far-reaching and influential was the institution of the Social Security system, a form of welfare that was meant to provide support for low-income and elderly citizens.
In 1935-1936, the Supreme Court struck down eight of FDR's New Deal programs. In response Roosevelt submitted to Congress in February of 1937 a plan for "judicial reform," which proposed adding a justice for every justice over the age of 70 who refused to retire, up to a maximum of 15 total. This came to be known as his attempt to "pack" the Court.
In 1937, Roosevelt became the first U.S. President to be inaugurated on January 20th, following adoption of the 20th amendment. Prior to this, Presidents had been sworn into office on March 4th.
Campaigning for reelection in 1940 against Wendell L. Willkie, Roosevelt said that he would not send American boys to fight in foreign wars. Some have suggested Roosevelt had prior knowledge of the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and welcomed it as a way to get the U.S. into World War II. Others point out, that while U.S. code-breakers had broken Japanese codes in Washington, D.C. and knew something was about to happen, communication delays prevented the messages for getting to Pearl Harbor until 4 hours after the attack.
On January 14, 1943 Roosevelt became the first President of the United States to travel via airplane while in office with his flight from Miami, Florida to Morocco to meet with Winston Churchill to discuss World War II. The meeting was concluded on January 24.
In hindsight, perhaps the most controversial decision Roosevelt made was Executive Order 9066 which resulted in the internment in concentration camps of 110,000 Japanese nationals and American citizens of Japanese descent on the West Coast. Considered a major violation of civil liberties, it was even opposed at the time by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover as well as Eleanor Roosevelt as well as many other groups. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Executive Order. Others have criticised him for failing to do anything to disrupt the Nazi operations in perpetrating the Holocaust despite having intelligence of the atrocity.
Some have said of all the American Presidents of the 20th century, that he was the most loved and most hated. He was so well known, he was referred to by his initials, FDR. Historians have often cited him as one of the three United States Presidents whose influence and leadership set a standard for greatness, along with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
Roosevelt was the first President to regularly address the American public through the medium of radio. He instituted a tradition of weekly radio speeches, which he called "fireside chats." These "chats" gave him the opportunity to take his opinions to the American people, and they often bolstered his popularity as he campaigned for various changes. During World War II the Fireside Chats were seen as important morale boosters for Americans at home.
One speech he is famous for delivering was his State of the Union Address in 1941. This speech is also known as the Four Freedoms Speech. His address to Congress and the nation on December 8, 1941 following the attack on Pearl Harbor entered history with the phrase, "December Seventh, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy."
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