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Important Terms, People, and Events


Groton -   · A small boys' school in western Massachusetts, started under the leadership of Reverend Endicott Peabody. The school had the support of many of the leading men in America, including J.P. Morgan, and attracted the children of the wealthiest and most prominent families in America, including young Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was sent to Groton at the age of fourteen.
Harvard -   ·  One of America's first institutions of higher learning, this was the place where most of the country's most prominent individuals, including Theodore and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, received their education.
Tammany Hall  -   · Originally one of many patriotic societies set up in many American societies, the one in New York City was the only one that endured. The party gained power by seducing the new immigrant vote with patronage in the form of food, clothing, jobs, and fuel. Though plagued by corruption on every level, the party's leaders or "bosses" were heavily influential in New York politics for decades. FDR's struggle and reconciliation with the bosses of Tammany Hall was one of the defining characteristics of his time in the New York legislature.
Progressivism  -   ·  As the country became increasingly aware of the problems of rapid urbanization and industrialization in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Progressive movement responded to these changes by advocating urban reform and attacking corruption. Progressivism in state and national government, a movement in which FDR played a large role, succeeded under the leadership of Woodrow Wilson in fighting trusts and monopolies, reforming the currency system and restricting child labor. Progressivism finally lost its momentum in the wake of WWI, and it was not until the New Deal that the spirit of reform once again entered the nation.
New Deal -   · A term first used in Roosevelt's speech at the Democratic nomination convention in Chicago in 1932, the New Deal was the name given to his program of reforms. The legislation that comprised the New Deal was passed in two rounds. The legislation passed during the first Hundred Days was aimed at recovery and relief, and included the AAA, CCC, PWA, and the NRA. The second round of legislation comprised of more long-term reform such as the Social Security System, labor reform, and farmers' subsidies. The New Deal was the signal of a substantial change in the role of American government in its citizens' lives. For the first time, the government took responsibility for the basic welfare of its citizens, a radical departure from its earlier structure.
Isolationism  -   ·  After the shocking horrors of World War I, in which thousands of men died in a war across the seas, the country became prey to isolationist tendencies. Woodrow Wilson faced a country so adamant to close its eyes to the world beyond its borders that he could not convince the nation to join the League of Nations, which eventually collapsed without US participation. The late entry of the United States into the Second World War was due to the isolationist sentiment that gripped the nation.
Brain Trust  -   · The Brain Trust was the nickname coined by New York newspapers for the group of political advisors that Roosevelt gathered together to help him gain the presidential nomination in 1932. The group included political scientist Raymond Moley and the lawyer Adolf Berle. They wrote the momentous "Forgotten Man" speech, which Roosevelt delivered in 1932, confirming his progressive agenda and gaining him much positive publicity.
The Hundred Days  -   · Immediately upon entering office, the enthusiastic President Roosevelt called Congress to an Emergency Session that lasted from March 9 through June 16, 1933, in which the body passed all the major legislation of the first New Deal. This included the creation of the CCC, the AAA, the NRA, and the Emergency Banking Act.
Fireside Chats -   · Roosevelt had employed the radio to good advantage since his days as governor of New York. He used the radio to speak directly to the people, using his skill at oratory to good advantage. The first Fireside Chat delivered the weekend before the banks were to reopen set the standard for those to follow. He explained his reasoning behind the proposed legislation and the intended beneficial effects. He also used the medium to convey his perennial optimism to the people. When the banks reopened the next morning, deposits outranked withdrawals for the first time in months, revealing that FDR's assurances were received with trust and his boundless optimism was contagious. The Fireside Chats are one of the most memorable features of Roosevelt's Presidency.
Court-packing plan  -   ·  Roosevelt proposed the bill in the afterglow of his 1936 landslide election, miscalculating the public's reaction to an attack on what most people considered to be one of the pillars of American democracy. Roosevelt proposed that he be allowed to add another member to the Supreme Court for every member over seventy who had not retired, under the pretense that the Court was not able to handle its caseload. This bill was quickly vetoed by his own party and greatly decreased Roosevelt's power.
Lame duck period  -   · Before amendments were passed that changed this situation, there was a period of more than four months between the time that presidents were elected and the time that they were inaugurated. During this period the old President had very little power in office because of his impending departure, hence his title of lame duck.
Lend-Lease -   · When WWII broke out in Europe, an isolationist Congress passed a series of Neutrality Acts to guarantee that the US would not get involved in another bloody conflict, one of which stated that munitions would only be sold to warring nations on a cash and carry policy. FDR was a staunch supporter of aid to Britain, if not of full out war, and invented the lend-lease plan to circumvent the Neutrality Acts when he received a letter from Churchill desperately pleading for more arms. Roosevelt decided that rather than selling munitions to Britain, Americans could lend or lease resources as necessary. This plan allowed Britain to continue fighting the war.


World War I  -  An assassination of the Archduke of Austria by a young Serbian sparked a war that was to be termed the "Great War" by those who lived through it. World War I began in Europe because of the number of secret alliances and treaties made between the various states. America's entry into the war in 1917 provided useful training for FDR, the future war President who was then Assistant Secretary of the Navy.
Newport Sex Scandal -  Roosevelt was accused by Republican legislators of involvement in a homosexuality scandal at a Newport navy base that had been under his control during his time at the Navy department. It was testament to his political wiles that he managed to escape this ordeal with his political cachet intact.
Polio -  Roosevelt was vacationing with his family at Campobello during one of his rare times without a political position when he was suddenly paralyzed by polio. Although doctors were initially optimistic, they soon realized that Roosevelt would never walk again without help. Many cite this event as changing profoundly Roosevelt's basic nature, giving him the humanity and empathy that he had previously lacked.
The Great Depression  -  Although it had all the characteristics of traditional economic crises, the Great Depression was singularly long and powerful, inflicting poverty and suffering on a scale heretofore unseen in the business cycle in America. Possible causes include the unequal distribution of wealth during the 1920s, unsound investment practices, and severe cutback in foreign trade due to both worldwide depression and the institution of high tariffs. The Great Depression only ended with the advent of war in the 1940s, when the burgeoning munitions industries ended rampant unemployment.
Yalta Conference  -  This meeting of Churchill, Stalin, and FDR in the Black Sea city of Yalta (from February 4–11, 1945) was held to discuss the shape of the post-war world. The Yalta conference was buoyed by impending Allied victory in Europe. The conferees reaffirmed their commitment to unconditional surrender from Germany, made plans for dividing Germany for occupation, made compromises on the future of Poland and the other Eastern European states, and agreed that Russia would enter the war in Asia if needed after the end of war on the Continent. The shape of the United Nations was also agreed upon as well as the voting procedures. Russia was given two extra votes to mollify Stalin's complaint that America and Britain had a far greater number of countries in their sphere of influence. FDR was sharply criticized for his inability to prevent Russian takeover of Eastern Europe and for allowing the creation of the foundation of the Cold War.
Pearl Harbor  -  Japanese planes hit this harbor on the Southern Coast of the island of Oahu in Hawaii on December 7, 1941. In this devastating attack on the United States, eight battleships, eleven other naval vessels, and 188 aircraft were destroyed. The death toll was 2,280 soldiers and sixty-eight civilians, and 1,109 people were wounded. Although FDR was accused by some historians of being complicit in the attack on Pearl Harbor as a means of inciting the country into entering the war, the toll taken on American life and military equipment is far too much for Roosevelt to have even known about the attack beforehand and allowed it to happen. The day after the incident, the US declared war on Japan. Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the US.


James Roosevelt -  A wealthy American who lived his life approximating that of an English country gentleman, James Roosevelt went out of his way to ensure that he had nothing to do with politics. He met Sara Delano, who was many years his junior, and married her immediately. FDR was their only son.
Sara Delano -  Known for her beauty and wealth, Sara Delano came from a family that rivaled the Roosevelt name for prestige. She married very young and her near-death during Franklin's birth prevented her from having any more children. She doted on FDR, especially after the death of her husband, and often tried to keep him under her control by controlling his purse strings.
Theodore Roosevelt  -  Theodore Roosevelt was the 26th President of the United States. He is famous for his enormous personality, a trait that outranks his acts as President in the memory of most Americans. He was a firm believer in the extension of America's sphere of influence, adding the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, which allowed him to intervene in the private affairs of Latin American and Caribbean countries. Although Roosevelt handpicked his successor, Taft, he grew angry with his policies and ran against him and Woodrow Wilson in the next election. By splitting the Republican vote, he gave Wilson the win.
Eleanor Roosevelt -  After a difficult childhood, Eleanor married FDR when they were both very young. Initially constrained by the duties of being a wife and a mother, Eleanor's discovery that her husband was having an affair freed her to come into her own politically. Her liberal thinking and progressive ideals pushed FDR to further extremes in his policies. She often embraced causes and figures that he had overlooked and used her position to get them national attention. She was the first socially conscious and active First Lady, and set a fine example for all presidential spouses after her to follow.
Woodrow Wilson -  Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the United States. He began his career in academia, becoming president of Princeton University, and his academic air was obvious his speeches and his ideals. He was one of the most morally upright presidents in American history. He passed laws by directly addressing Congress, the first President to do so since Jefferson's time, and speaking directly to the public to gain their support. His achievements include leading the country through WWI, fighting trusts and monopolies at home, and implementing reforms such as child labor laws and solutions for the problems of urbanization. His biggest disappointment, which he carried with him to the grave, was his inability to convince an isolationist America and Congress to enter the League of Nations after the war.
Louis Howe -  FDR met Howe when Howe interviewed him about his involvement in the insurgency against Tammany Hall. Howe presented the case in Roosevelt's favor in the papers, but both saw more potential in each other, as friends and as political allies. Howe's first success as FDR's campaign manager was running his campaign for the Senate without a candidate (Roosevelt was sick with typhoid). The partnership and friendship eventually led to the White House, where Roosevelt considered Howe his most trusted and objective advisor. The partnership did not end until Howe finally succumbed to a lifetime of gnawing illness, and Roosevelt never found an advisor who he trusted as much, a great drawback to him especially in the court-packing case.
Joseph Daniels -  Daniels had been appointed by Wilson to be Secretary of the Navy, and asked Roosevelt on the morning of the inauguration whether he wanted to be his assistant. Daniels was the opposite of everything that Roosevelt was. He was a Southern, while FDR was a blueblood Yankee. He had no knowledge of ships, whereas FDR was an avid sailor. He also staunchly opposed Roosevelt's policies during WWI. Unlike FDR, who believed that military preparedness was essential, Daniels, like most Americans who watched the war across the Atlantic with detachment, did not believe in preparing for a war that the country was not planning to enter.
Lucy Mercer  -  Lucy Mercer came from a distinguished family whose fortune had dwindled and was forced to work for society women in order to make her means. She became Eleanor Roosevelt's social secretary while she was in Washington for the first time during her husband's tenure as Assistant Secretary of War. During this time, Lucy began a love affair with FDR, which was abruptly ended when Eleanor discovered their letters upon FDR's return from Europe. Lucy eventually married Lord Rutherford, a widower many years her senior. Near the end of his life, FDR rekindled his acquaintance with her, this time probably as a strong friendship. Regardless of the nature of their relationship, what is sure is that Lucy provided companionship to FDR during his loneliest years in the White House, a service that his daughter Anna Roosevelt, and other members of his family, greatly appreciated.
Frances Perkins -  Perkins was Roosevelt's Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945. She had built up her career in New York as a reformist, becoming the authority on factory hygiene and safety, and lobbying for shorter hours and safer workplaces for New York's workers. Governor Al Smith initially appointed her to his administration, but it was FDR who appointed her to significant positions of power among his cabinet. Her appointment as Secretary of Labor marked the first female in the presidential Cabinet in the United States, and was roundly criticized by conservative leaders throughout the nation. Her most important achievement in office was the Social Security Act.
John Nance Garner  -  Garner was a Senator from Texas who served as Roosevelt's vice president for his first two terms. Garner was also a candidate for the presidency in the 1932 election, and the Democratic Party convention was bitterly divided on which candidate to choose. Rather than see his party fall victim to division, Garner gave his 100 votes to Roosevelt, giving him the nomination. Although he had no interest in the Vice-presidency, thinking it rightly a powerless job, Roosevelt offered him the post in return and he accepted for two terms.
Winston Churchill  -  Churchill first made a name for himself as a journalist covering the Boer War. He was first elected to Parliament in 1900 as a Conservative. His party affiliation soon changed to Liberal, and he reached the position of chancellor of the exchequer while a Constitutionalist. He was chosen Prime Minister in 1940. Neither a financial innovator–his conservatism was known to rankle John Maynard Keynes–nor a supporter of labor nor colonial self- determination, his popularity as a British statesman came from his masterful handling of the Second World War. His refusal to back down from Hitler inspired his countrymen, and his excellent relationship with Roosevelt, in which he gracefully acknowledged his position of the leader of the less powerful nation, was the keystone of the Great Alliance. He also attended a great number of international conferences and negotiated a place of importance for Great Britain in the twentieth century and beyond.
Adolf Hitler  -  Hitler began his career as a high school dropout and art school reject. He was always violently anti-Semitic and blamed the loss of WWI, in which he fought for the Bavarian army, on the Jews and Marxists. He became chairman of a political group of nationalist veterans called the National Socialists, or the Nazis. In 1923, he was arrested after leading the "beer hall Putsch," an attempted coup in Munich. In prison, he wrote his famous treatise Mein Kampf (My Struggle) which was full of lust for power and anti-Semitic sentiments. Upon his release from prison, he began in speeches to provide Germans suffering from rabid inflation and war debt, scapegoats and dreams of world domination. By 1933 he had been appointed chancellor of a coalition cabinet, which he changed into a dictatorship by killing off his opposition. Frenzied German supporters addressed him as the Fuhrer, and with the death of his President, all leadership of the country was embodied in Hitler's diminutive person. Hitler was now poised to pursue his plans for world domination. He became first Mussolini's ally and turned Italy effectively into a German satellite. He signed a non-aggression pact with Stalin to invade Poland, but violated it in 1941 by invading Russia. By this time, Hitler had taken complete control of military strategy to disastrous consequences. By July of 1944, the German army was wasted and his former colleagues attempted to assassinate him. Finally on April 30, 1945, Hitler and his mistress, Eva Braun, committed suicide in the basement of a bunker rather than face the complete defeat of Germany.
Benito Mussolini  -  Although Mussolini was originally a member of the Socialist party, he abruptly turned nationalist during WWI, and rose to the rank of corporal in the Italian army. In the postwar period he and his followers practiced aggressive nationalism and practiced terrorism during times of unrest in Italy. He finally was asked by King Emmanuel III to form a cabinet. He quickly turned his role as premier into a fascist dictatorship, and organized the country along those lines. Mussolini's followers addressed him as "il Duce," or "leader." His ambition to restore Italy to its former glory was expressed in his instatement of monuments and support to extreme nationalist groups. His attack on Ethiopia led to Italy's isolation from the rest of Europe and drove Mussolini to join ranks with Hitler in his plans to annex Austria. His implementation of Hitler's anti-Semitic and other policies in Italy were not greeted with support and he was eventually denounced by the Fascist council and arrested, and later shot.
Joseph Stalin  -  Stalin rose to power in the administration under Lenin. The relationship between Stalin and Lenin is not well understood, and although Lenin regarded Stalin as a good administrator, he was not considered a great theoretician or leader. After Lenin's death, Stalin outmaneuvered Trotsky and a number of other contenders for the leadership of the Communist party and rose to power. Under Stalin's rule, the totalitarian state was glorified rather than the state disappearing as Marx envisioned. He maintained his power by destroying all opposition brutally in the famous political purges of the 1930s. Stalin signed the non-aggression treaty with Hitler because he desperately desired to stay out of WWII. The attack from Germany in 1941 took him entirely by surprise. Stalin proved to be an able military leader and diplomat in WWII, fighting the only front in Europe for most of the war, and negotiating in the conferences at Tehran and Yalta for the creation of satellite states to protect Russian borders in the future.
Harry Hopkins -  Harry Hopkins was an eager social worker in New York. While Roosevelt was governor of New York, he put Hopkins in charge of the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration. Hopkins willingness to spend federal money freely for welfare during hard times endeared him to Roosevelt. Hopkins soon became one of Roosevelt's most trusted advisors, running the successful Civil Works Administration which helped Americans survive the harsh winter from 1933–1934 and the Works Progress Administration, which put millions to work, including writers and artists such as Steinbeck and de Kooning on projects for public display. Hopkins lived in the White House until Roosevelt's last term when he married and left, and remained to his death, one of FDR's closest friends.
Herbert Hoover  -  By trade a businessman in the mining industry, Hoover first made a political name for himself chairing the Commission for Relief in Belgium during the First World War. He later became Secretary of Commerce for Harding and Coolidge. He became the 31st President of the United States in 1928, and it was not long before the country fell into the depths of the Great Depression. Hoover, a staunch conservative who firmly believed in the basic soundness of the economy, was reluctant to increase federal involvement. He did approve the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which gave out loans not available elsewhere. However, most Americans saw him as impotent against the economic crisis. He was roundly defeated in the election of 1932 by an optimistic and, most importantly, vigorous Roosevelt.

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