Franklin D. Roosevelt served longer than any other president of the United States. He held office from 1933 until his death in 1945 at the beginning of his fourth term. During his presidency he led the United States through two great crises –the Great Depression of the 1930’s and World War II. Roosevelt was a man of unusual charm and great optimism which he was able to communicate to others.
He had a broad smile and an easygoing way of nodding agreement to whatever proposals were made to him. But beneath his outward friendliness was an inner reserve and an iron will. He became one of the most beloved as well as one of the most hated U. S.
presidents. His admirers emphasized the way in which he met the nation’s problems. They praised him for insisting that the federal government must help the underprivileged and that the United States must share in the responsibility for preserving world peace. Roosevelt’s opponents denounced him for increasing the role of the government in the economic life of the country and claimed that he unnecessarily involved the United States in World War II. Yet friend and foe alike agreed that Roosevelt made a vital impact upon his times and that his policies exerted great influence on the future. Roosevelt was born on a comfortable estate overlooking the Hudson River at Hyde Park, New York, on January 30, 1882.
He had a pleasant, sheltered childhood. His father, James Roosevelt, was a well-to-do investor and vice president of a small railroad. His mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, came from a wealthy family of New England origin. During his childhood Franklin was taught by a governess and was taken on frequent trips to Europe. Once his father took him to the White House to see President Grover Cleveland. Cleveland, saddened and worn by the burdens of office, said he hoped that young Franklin would never have the misfortune of becoming president.
At 14, Roosevelt entered Groton School in Massachusetts. From Groton he went to Harvard College where he concerned himself more with social life and other activities than with his studies. He was especially proud of the fact that he was president (chief editor) of the Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper. He graduated in 1904 and went on to Columbia University Law School. Meanwhile, he had become engaged to his slim, attractive distant cousin, Eleanor Roosevelt. At the wedding in 1905, Eleanor’s uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt (who was Franklin’s fifth cousin), gave her in marriage.
Roosevelt was an indifferent law student and did not bother to complete work for his degree after passing his bar examination. Nor was he much interested in his work with a prominent Wall Street law firm. In 1910 the Democratic leaders in Dutchess County, New York, persuaded Roosevelt to run for the state senate. The senate contest seemed hopeless for a Democrat. Nevertheless, Roosevelt conducted an energetic campaign, touring the Hudson River farming communities in a red Maxwell automobile.
The Republicans were split that year, and the 28- year-old Roosevelt won his first election. Roosevelt supported Woodrow Wilson for the presidential nomination in 1912, and when Wilson became president in 1913, Roosevelt was appointed assistant secretary of the navy. He still seemed too handsome and and too unpredictable dashing from one place to another to be taken very seriously. Yet he was especially successful as an administrator during World War I. He was also achieving a reputation as a rising young progressive. In 1920, at the age of 38, Roosevelt won the Democratic nomination for Vice President, running with the presidential candidate, James M.
Cox (1870- 1957). However the Democrats were buried in the landslide victory of the Republican Warren Harding. Biding his time, Roosevelt entered private business. Then, in the summer of 1921, while vacationing at Campobello Island in Canada, he was suddenly stricken with polio which paralyzed him from the waist down.
Not yet 40, he seemed finished in politics. But his wife, Eleanor, and his private secretary, Louis Howe, felt that his recovery would be aided if he kept his political interests. Eleanor, now the mother of five children (a sixth child had died in 1909), cast aside her acute shyness and learned to .