Franklin D. Roosevelt

WWII and Roosevelt's Last Days

In November of 1943, Churchill and Roosevelt traveled to Tehran to meet with Stalin for the first time. Roosevelt desperately tried to establish a personal relationship with the Russian leader, as he realized that the peace of the world after the war depended upon the cooperation of the great world powers. Many critics of Roosevelt feel that he was far too naïve about Russian intentions and set the building blocks for the development of the Cold War by appeasing Stalin's requests before the end of World War II. Yet, Roosevelt's attempts to build a friendship with Stalin were characterized not by naïveté but by a clash of goals. Roosevelt's farsightedness in foreign policy is demonstrated in his convention of the International Monetary Conference at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in July of 1944, a meeting that created the International Monetary Fund to stabilize world currencies and aid in reconstruction and development of nations after the war's end. The IMF has continued to play an important role in distribution of aid to developing nations even today. FDR also persuaded twenty-six countries to sign the UN Declaration, a statement of principles that extended the Atlantic Charter that he and Churchill had signed in Newfoundland replaced Wilson's crumbled League of Nations.

In 1944, Roosevelt agreed without resistance to be the Democratic candidate for president, although people close to him say that he was more interested in retiring to Hyde Park and playing the role of elder statesman. His ailing health and constant complaints of fatigue may have been the reason for his lack of protest at Harry Truman of Missouri replacing Wallace as his running mate. FDR defeated Thomas Dewey of New York with fifty-three percent of the vote–an easy win because the Allies, under his leadership, were surely winning the war. On June 6, 1944, the Allied forces finally landed on the Normandy coast of France. In August, they liberated Paris and in another month had nearly driven the Germans out of all of France.

Roosevelt again traveled to meet with Churchill and Stalin, this time in Yalta. The leaders came to an agreement on the post-war occupation of Germany, the Soviet Union's participation in the Pacific War if necessary, and the creation of what later became the United Nations. However, the same issues the leaders had evaded at the earlier conference–such as the fate of Poland and other Eastern European countries–were discussed again without agreement, and weak compromises were instated in their stead. To historians today gifted with hindsight, the outlines of the Cold War are clearly visible in the agreements that came out of Yalta. Indeed, many cite Yalta as emblematic of Roosevelt's political naïveté in trusting Stalin. Yet, at the time, when FDR returned from Yalta, the country greeted him with great pomp, and all, including Roosevelt himself, felt that the talks had been a great success. He had realized early on that the Soviet Union and the United States were to be the great powers of the world, and had done his best to enmesh them in a net of mutual obligations and goodwill to guarantee peace in the coming years.

While in public life Roosevelt was basking in the upcoming victory of WWII, his personal life was lonelier than it had ever been. His mother, with whom he had always maintained a close relationship, had died in 1941. His four sons were all serving overseas. Missy LeHand, his faithful secretary, had suffered a serious stroke in 1941 and died in 1944, and Eleanor was traveling the country with her own social agenda. When Roosevelt called for cocktail hour in the White House, there sometimes would be no one there, not even Harry Hopkins, who had married and moved out of the White House. For companionship, FDR turned to women– to his daughter Anna, to two cousins, and a series of charming women who would defer to him in the way that his wife never did. He also re- ignited his relationship with Lucy Mercer, now Lucy Rutherford, a widower. Whether or not their relationship in his last days was more than a strong friendship is unclear, although Roosevelt kept the meetings secret from Eleanor. He went for a vacation to Warm Springs in March of 1945, just a few short months before the end of the war, and asked Lucy to come. On April 12, 1945, Franklin Delano Roosevelt suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage and passed away in the afternoon.

"We have learned that we cannot live alone at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations–far away. We have learned the simple truth as Emerson said, that "the only way to have a friend is to be one."

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

More Help

From the SparkNotes Blog