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Franklin D. Roosevelt

Plot Overview


Important Terms, People, and Events

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born on January 30,1882. He was born as the beloved only child of James Roosevelt and Sara Delano Roosevelt, both from very good families. He lived a privileged life as a child, taught first by governesses, then attending the newly opened Groton school at fourteen, and Harvard University for his undergraduate degree. He was well respected was elected editor-in-chief of the college paper. Inspired to run for office by his distant cousin "Uncle" Teddy Roosevelt, Roosevelt ran for his first public office, State Senator in New York, in 1910. In three years, aided by his shrewd political acumen and the power of the Roosevelt name and money, he was chosen Assistant Secretary of the Navy, sitting at the same desk that Teddy Roosevelt had sat at in Washington just a few years before.

It was in August of 1921, between political offices, that FDR was suddenly paralyzed in both legs due to polio. The end to his previously active lifestyle of swimming and sailing brought renewed fervor to his political ambitions, and perhaps because of his own suffering, made him more acutely aware of the problems of the people he was representing in office. In 1928, he was elected to the governorship in New York. After a stint as a generous depression spender there, he was nominated for the presidency in 1932. He was pitted against Herbert Hoover, who had failed to give the country direct aid for its suffering due to the Great Depression. Roosevelt knew that the only course to take in campaign and office was to promise that the government would be responsible for the welfare of the people. He was elected with fifty-seven percent of the popular vote. In his inaugural address he promised to wage war against the depression, and that he certainly did. In his first term, he asked Congress into two emergency sessions, each about one hundred days in length, and pushed a series of legislation through it each time which created the major acts and administrative bodies of the New Deal.

Roosevelt began by solving the banking crisis, shutting down banks for four days until they could be reopened on a firmer basis, and then passed the Emergency Banking Act to give federal assistance to those banks that were sound. Through the strength of his optimism alone which he conveyed to the nation over the radio on the first of his many "Fireside Chats," he managed to quell the flow of withdrawals from the banks. Emboldened by his success, he pushed through legislation that created organizations such as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) which paid young men to work on conservation projects under the Army's supervision, and the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) which subsidized farmers for limiting acreage and taxed processors of products to pay for subsidies, and many more.

Opposition to FDR's policies came from the left and right–from the left because he did not do enough to redistribute the wealth of the nation, and from the right because of fears that the long arms of government would strangle liberty. Indeed, most of his New Deal programs petered out by 1938 without achieving a real end to the Depression. By then, Roosevelt had replaced his fervor for social reform with concern for how to deal with the fighting in Europe. Nonetheless, Roosevelt's far-sighted reforms had changed the goals of American government for good. For the first time, the government had undertaken the care of the welfare of the people, and it would continue this commitment into the future.

Though FDR's policies prevented the bottom from falling out of the American economy, it took the advent of World War II to put a real end to the Great Depression. Although Americans were in the grip of severe isolationist sentiment at this time, Roosevelt did his best to aid the Allies despite resistance from Congress. When the United States was finally provoked into entering the war after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, FDR created an especially able team of leaders whom he did not question. He set himself to work in mobilizing the domestic front to reach the unthinkably high goals of production levels that he himself had set, knowing from World War I and his experience as Assistant Secretary of the Navy that the war would be won by the country with the greatest resources.

When the Allies showed signs of winning the war, FDR turned his attention increasingly to the order of the post-war world. He realized that peace after World War II could only be guaranteed by the great powers of the world, and therefore created the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, and negotiated peace–albeit a peace that was the basis for much trouble to come in the Cold War–with Stalin and Churchill, the fellow leaders of the Allies.

Although Roosevelt is often criticized for having no clear path while in office, the changes that the American government underwent during his twelve years tenure were unmistakably flavored by his temperament. The government during the New Deal showed unprecedented responsibility for the basic welfare of its citizens, a fundamental change that endures till today. The United Nations was created after World War II and has become the single most important international organization. Roosevelt negotiated the peace with the Soviet Union, which would ultimately create the basis for the Cold War and the Iron Curtain. Indeed, though not all his accomplishments proved favorable in the long run, all of them actions left a significant mark on American history. Indeed, it is difficult to see how Roosevelt could not leave such an indelible mark, spending twelve years in a position of power that most men only hold for four, all the while with greater independence and autonomy from party politics and advisors than his followers and most of his predecessors. Roosevelt, without question, lent an unmistakable flavor to the Presidency that continues to linger on today.

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