As we approach the end of the 20th century, the figure of Franklin Roosevelt looms ever more imposing in the minds of Americans.
In the two centuries or so of our history, it has happened that a few of our leaders—a very few—became symbols of some powerful idea, one that left a permanent imprint on the life of our country. Thomas Jefferson is one such symbol.
With Jefferson, it is the idea of a free, self-governing people, dedicated to the enjoyment of their God-given natural rights, in their work, their communities, and the bosom of their families.
Abraham Lincoln symbolizes a rather different idea—of America as a great centralized nation-state, supposedly dedicated to individual freedom, but founded on the unquestioned authority and power of the national government in Washington.
And now Franklin Roosevelt, too, has come to represent a certain conception of America, one that is worlds apart from Jefferson’s vision, and different from anything that even Lincoln could have imagined.
Roosevelt stands for the national government as we know it today, a vast, unfathomable bureaucratic apparatus that recognizes no limits whatsoever to its power, either at home or abroad.
Internationally, it gives every evidence of intending to run the whole world, of extending its hegemony—now that the Soviet Union is no more—to every corner of the globe. Domestically, it undertakes, through an annual budget of close to $2 trillion, to assuage every real or invented social ill and thus enters into every aspect of the people’s lives.
In particular, it is engaged in what even a couple of decades ago would have seemed fantastic—a campaign to annihilate freedom of association, subjecting the American people to a program of radical social engineering, in order to transform their voluntarily held traditional beliefs and values and way of life.
More than anyone else, Franklin Roosevelt is responsible for creating the Leviathan State that confronts us today.
In his own time, FDR had many influential enemies in business, politics, and the press, men and women who recognized what he was doing to the Republic they loved and who fought him tenaciously. They were proud to be known as “Roosevelt-haters.” Today, however, practically the whole of the political class in the United States has been converted into idolaters of Franklin Roosevelt.
This state of affairs was epitomized last May, when the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C. Situated on a 7.5-acre site by the Tidal Basin, it includes an 800-foot wall, si waterfalls, outdoor galleries, and nine sculptures. Congress voted $42.
5 million to fund the memorial, Republicans (those wild revolutionaries) joining Democrats with equal enthusiasm.
No one breathed a word about Roosevelt’s failure to end the Depression, his lying us into war, his warm friendship with Joseph Stalin, and similar milestones in his long career—the major controversy was over whether or not he should be shown with his signature jaunty cigarette-holder. (In deference to the forces of political correctness, he wasn’t.)
Most revealing was that self-styled conservative organs such as National Review and the American Spectator joined in the hosannas. It is a sign of how far things have moved that abject adulation of Franklin Roosevelt is now the order of the day even at the Wall Street Journal.
The Journal has long been supposed to be the voice of American business, a quality paper that stood for the market economy and limited government, and so was the counterpart to the New York Times in the American press.
On the occasion of the dedication of the FDR memorial, the Journal expressed its opinion through an article by one of its editors, a certain Dorothy Rabinowitz (who used to review movies). Rabinowitz was outraged that Edward Crane, president of the Cato Institute, had dared to refer to her hero as “a lousy president.” No, she insisted, Roosevelt was a great one.
Why? Well, because of “the depth of his hold on minds and hearts,” because in the midst of the Depression he gave the people hope, because he stood firm against Hitler, because when he died even Radio Tokyo called him a “great man.
” Roosevelt’s many enemies, in his time and even now, never had any good reason to condemn this man who changed America so radically; they were merely “maddened by hatred of him.” In all of Rabinowitz’s effusion there were no hard facts, no analysis, no argument (and certainly no mention of FDR’s great friend Joseph Stalin—a lot more about this later). It was all sentimental gush. And so the Wall Street Journal enters the age of Oprah Winfrey journalism.
Such productions by FDR’s devotees are by no means mere exercises in historical myth-making. They perform a vital political function for the anti-freedom forces in contemporary America.
Simply put: the glorification of Franklin Roosevelt means the validation of the Leviathan State.
Thus it is of great importance to those on the freedom side to understand who this man really was, what he really stood for, and what, as a matter of historical truth, he inflicted on the American Republic.
Franklin Roosevelt was born in 1882, in the family mansion overlooking the Hudson River, on the 1300-acre estate that came to be known as Hyde Park.
On his father, James’s, side, Franklin could trace his ancestry back to the middle of the 17th century, when a forebear immigrated from Holland to what was then New Amsterdam. Part of the family settled in Oyster Bay, Long Island, eventually producing Franklin’s distant cousin, Theodore.
The Hudson Valley Roosevelts tended to marry well, mainly into affluent families of English descent—by the time Franklin came on the scene he was, despite his name, of nearly purely English heritage. His mother, Sara, was from an equally prominent family, the Delanos.
Franklin was his doting parents’ only child. While by no means fabulously rich, the family was of the sort that mingled freely with the Astors and the Vanderbilts and the rest of the high society of nearby New York City.
Until the age of 14, Franklin was tutored at home. Not at all a bookish boy, he loved nature and, above all, boating on the Hudson and at the family summer home in Campobello, Maine. He developed a passion for stamp-collecting, which he pursued all his life.
His admirers later claimed that this hobby gave him great insight into the geography, resources, and character of all the world’s nations—more pro-Roosevelt blather. He often visited New York and toured Europe every year with his parents.
The inevitable word to describe the Roosevelts and their lifestyle is patrician.
Franklin’s prep school was Groton, near New London, Massachusetts, as close to an English “public” (i. e., private) school as one could get on this side of the Atlantic.
The whole ethos of the place was “Old English,” an attempt to copy the educational experience of schools such as Eton and Harrow, whose job it was to shape the future ruling class of the great world empire.
At Groton, Franklin lived and studied among the progeny of his own class, those who felt themselves to be the fated future leaders of American business, education, religion, and, above all, politics.
Ironically, a fellow Grotonian in Franklin’s day was the young Robert McCormick, whose father owned the Chicago Tribune—ironically, because Colonel McCormick, as he was known in later life (after his service in the First World War), went on to become the greatest and best-known “Roosevelt-hater” of them all.
Franklin was a mediocre student at Groton in every respect. His top grades were no better than B, he did not stand out in debating or sports, nor was he particularly popular with the other boys.
In 1900, he went on to Harvard, where he showed as little interest in studies or ideas as he had at prep school. Franklin coasted through college with the traditional “gentleman’s C” average that was perfectly acceptable in the sons of the elite at that time.
His social life, however, improved dramatically. Franklin was already beginning to display the affability and charm that so bedazzled politicians and the press in the years ahead. Of course, his popularity was helped along by his family name.
Cousin Theodore had been elected vice president, and then, in 1901, through the assassination of William McKinley, had become president of the United States.
It was only natural that Franklin, already toying with the idea of a career in politics, should pay close attention to the doings of his presidential relation.
Theodore was the first president in the distinctively modern mold: he had a sense of drama and timing and a natural grasp of how to exploit the press to create a persona for himself in the eyes of the people.
Beyond that, TR, as he was commonly known, had a rare ability to make personal use of popular causes and resentments. It was the age of “progressivism,” a vague term, but one that connoted a new readiness to use the power of government for all sorts of grand things. H.L.
Mencken, the great libertarian journalist and close observer and critic of presidents, compared him to the German kaiser, Wilhelm II, and shrewdly summed him up: “The America that [Theodore] Roosevelt dreamed of was always a sort of swollen Prussia, truculent without and regimented within.”
Particularly fascinating to Franklin must have been the way TR was able to turn his patrician background to his advantage. After all, in the past, the Americans had shown themselves wary of upper-class leaders, who were suspected of being insufficiently “democratic” and not in tune with the people.
What TR did brilliantly was to introduce caesarism into American politics. This term refers to the political strategy adopted by Julius Caesar to gain power. Although himself from a wealthy and high-born family, Caesar castigated his fellow patricians and appealed instead to the lower classes for support.
They, in turn, loved the favors they received from on high, and, perhaps even more, the sight of Caesar trouncing and humbling his fellow blue bloods. Julius Caesar was thus one of history’s great demagogues; and ever since his time the tactic of a politician from society’s elite pandering to the “have-nots” against the upper classes has been known by his name.
In fabricating his persona as the great “trustbuster,” Theodore Roosevelt’s form of American caesarism proved wildly successful.
While Franklin was learning from his cousin’s political stratagems, he also entered into a closer personal relationship with the Oyster Bay branch of the family.
Looking around for a bride, he had become acquainted with the daughter of one of TR’s younger brothers, and after a whirlwind courtship won her hand.
In 1905, in a suitably elaborate ceremony, Theodore Roosevelt gave away his niece, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, to Franklin in marriage. Eleanor proved herself to be an astonishing phenomenon and deserves our close scrutiny in her own right.
Part 2: 1905-1914
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, whom Franklin took as his wife and life-long helpmate, was quite a phenomenon in her own right. In our time, Eleanor Roosevelt (as she was always known) has become a kind of secular saint, an icon perhaps more sacred than FDR himself.
Even to breathe a hint of criticism of her, in today’s climate of opinion, is to commit blasphemy. Hillary Rodham Clinton has claimed Eleanor as her role model (if not her personal confidant).
That is not surprising, considering that Eleanor pioneered the role, which Hillary has tried desperately to play, of a president’s wife who continually and conspicuously involves herself in the nation’s politics.
Before Eleanor, first ladies might very well have exercised influence behind the scenes; in the unique case of Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, she actually governed the country for a short while to cover up her husband’s incapacity in his last months. But in bygone days, presidential wives as a rule kept a low profile.
After all, they had been elected to nothing, nor had they undergone close scrutiny through any process of nomination and confirmation. It was looked on as unseemly for them to exploit the prestige and power of their husbands’ office to meddle openly in political affairs.
Eleanor broke decisively with that tradition. In the years to come, indeed virtually until her death in 1962, she was to write and speak on public issues practically nonstop (leading a former friend turned bitter enemy, the journalist Westbrook Pegler, to dub her, cruelly, La Boca Grande, “Big Mouth”).
Often her stands made news, helping to publicize one or another of her favorite causes. She lectured around the country, spoke on the radio, even held press conferences (a first for the wife of a president).
She wrote hundreds of thousands of words, many of them in her syndicated column, “My Day” (again, her critics could not resist the jibe that it should have been called “My Daze”), and she had millions of readers for her endless verbiage. Yet—as with Hillary today—her prominence in the public eye was in no way a victory for feminism.
Nothing that Eleanor was or did or accomplished on her own warranted anyone’s paying the slightest attention to her banal opinions. It was solely by virtue of her husband’s office—on account of his accomplishments—that Eleanor Roosevelt exercised any influence at all.
We know a great deal concerning her family, her early life, her education (or rather, lack of it), and her feelings about herself and those around her, because Eleanor kept telling the world all about it, in books and articles for decades on end.
Her father was Theodore Roosevelt’s younger brother, her mother another child of inherited wealth and social prominence.
Yet while Eleanor was born into the same class as Franklin, in contrast to her husband’s pampered childhood, she had a father who was an alcoholic and died in a sanitarium and a mother who died when Eleanor was a small child.
Eleanor was given little tutoring and no formal education, except for a brief stint in a convent in France and three years at a school for upper-class girls run by an aging French lady, a friend of the family, in London. In her grandmother’s home, she was lonely and isolated—by her own description, an unattractive and gauche young woman with few friends or acquaintances.
Eleanor “came out” in New York society and quickly attached herself to her handsome and debonair cousin. A whirlwind courtship ended in marriage in 1905 while Franklin was still a law student at Columbia.
Presumably the groom found much to admire in the young Eleanor, even aside from her family connections and an inheritance that brought in an income of $25,000 a year.
In time, she gave him five children and raised them with loving care, while suffering, as she complained again and again, from the domineering interference of her mother-in-law, the matriarch Sara.
In her outlook, Eleanor began as a typical product of her milieu, entertaining the vaguely “progressive” views that were de rigueur among the women of her class. She was all for Uplift—woman suffrage, a national child labor amendment, government tinkering with this and that, and, above all, Prohibition.
In those early years she was a fervent supporter of the “noble experiment,” the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act. In 1924, when her husband had become a leading figure in Democratic politics, Eleanor chaired a platform subcommittee at the national convention which called for vigorous enforcement of Prohibition. This she continued to work and agitate for to the very end.
That the prohibition of alcohol was a massive assault on individual rights, that it turned America’s cities into gangsters’ killing fields meant as little to her as exactly the same catastrophic results of drug prohibition mean to, say, a William Bennett today.
What was important was that an enlightened, progressive government should show the benighted people the proper and decent way to live—according to Eleanor’s sadly parochial understanding of life.
How WWII United FDR and Al Smith
As Franklin Roosevelt embarked on his campaign for president in 1932, the only thing he had to fear was another Democrat. And that other Democrat’s name was Al Smith.
It was a virtual given that the incumbent president, Republican Herbert Hoover, would be denied a second term.
The country was mired in the Great Depression and the Hoover White House seemed to be unable to cope with the catastrophe.
Although only two Democrats had been elected president since the Civil War—Woodrow Wilson and Grover Cleveland—it seemed certain that 1932 would be a Democratic year.
Roosevelt launched his campaign in January of 1932. Then, in early February, came a bolt from the political blue: His predecessor as governor of New York, Smith, announced that he would accept his party’s nomination if it were offered to him. He wouldn’t campaign for it, he said, but he wouldn’t turn it down, either.
It was friend versus friend, and it proved to be the beginning of one of the epic feuds in 20th century American politics.
Smith had previously told friends, including several who worked for Roosevelt, that he would not be a candidate for president. His sons had lost a great deal of money in the stock market crash of 1929, and Smith’s job as president of the Empire State Building paid well. He couldn’t afford to run for president, he said.
And then he changed his mind, and the battle was on. Men and women who worked for both men, who considered both men friends, had to choose sides. The New York Democratic Party, the most important political organization in the country at the time, was deeply divided. It was friend versus friend, and it proved to be the beginning of one of the epic feuds in 20th century American politics.
Roosevelt entered the convention in Chicago with the most delegates, but not enough for the two-third majority required. Smith’s forces were determined to block Roosevelt, and after three ballots, they seemed to be succeeding.
But two men in FDR’s camp who got their start in politics with Smith, James Farley and Edward Flynn, helped cut a deal with the Texas and California delegations who were backing House Speaker Jack Garner of the Lone Star State.
Garner became Roosevelt’s running mate, and Texas and California delivered the nomination to FDR, crushing Smith’s dreams of another bid for the White House.
Franklin D Roosevelt: The man who conquered fear
Americans celebrate Franklin D Roosevelt as the president who led them out of the Great Depression of the 1930s and through the greatest global conflict in history. He ranks alongside Jefferson, Lincoln and Wilson as an architect of dramatic change in his own society.
For all his famous informality of manner, he was perhaps the most regal leader the United States has ever had, revelling in the exercise of executive power. From his first day in the White House, he showed himself undaunted by any challenge.
He pursued a vision of social justice, and of restraint upon the unbridled capitalism of America's previous century, which was perceived as revolutionary, although he never addressed the great evil of racial segregation.
Today, as the world faces an economic crisis that some believe is as grave as that of the Thirties, Roosevelt's record in office is scanned and weighed by modern politicians, to discover whether his example has anything to teach them about how to climb back from the pit. The words of his inauguration speech on 4 March 1933 once more echo around the world: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror that paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Sharing the full story, not just the headlines
When he took office, nearly a third of America's workforce was unemployed. Many banks were closed and tottering on the brink of collapse. Business confidence was broken, the nation was rudderless.
At his death, the US was the richest and most powerful nation on Earth, the position it has held ever since. Few historians doubt that Roosevelt deserves a large part of the credit for this achievement.
Although some of his policies remain shrouded in controversy, he mobilised the American genius in a way few of its leaders have matched, either in peace or war.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born into the hereditary aristocracy of upstate New York, the inheritor of 17th-century Dutch immigrants whose descendants had ever since been growing a fortune based upon land speculation.
His father, James, was a 52-year-old widower with one son when he married 26-year-old Sara Delano, whose family had made their own pile in the China trade. Franklin was born on 30 January 1882 at the Roosevelts' Springwood estate, beside the Hudson river at Hyde Park.
He became his mother's adored only child. The family lived the lives of country gentry, surrounded by servants and estate workers. James repeatedly declined offers of public office, or indeed of any employment.
He took his son on long summer trips to Europe and at home trained him to inspect herds, cherish trees and confine social exchanges to his own kind. The Roosevelts were famously snobbish.
Franklin was tutored at home until he was 14, then taken in his father's private railroad car to enrol at the exclusive Groton school, before moving on to Harvard. The boy had no contact with mainstream America, very little with its cities, and none with hardship.
He sailed his own 21ft boat, collected stamps, shot birds that were then stuffed and mounted by a local taxidermist, and read voraciously and retentively. His social life was restricted to a tiny circle of those whom Sara deemed acceptable.
In a letter home, he offered consolation for James's distress at losing his butler: “Don't let Papa worry about it, after all there are plenty of good butlers in the world.” A lofty observation from a teenager of any social class.
He loved school, became a star debater, and displayed an early inclination towards a political life. He showed a hostility towards imperialism that would stick: “Hurrah for the Boers! I entirely sympathise with them.” At university, he edited the Harvard Crimson, and joined all the “right” societies.
Though his parents were committed Democrats, as was Franklin himself, his role model was his Republican cousin, Theodore, who became President in 1901. The young student's unfailing geniality made him popular enough, but there were those who found him, in the words of one classmate, “bumptious, cocky, conceited”.
How could a young man gifted with good looks, wealth and high intelligence be anything else?
On a trip to England in 1903, he flirted enthusiastically with every pretty girl he met at country house parties. Soon after his return to New York, he fell in love with his cousin Eleanor, the orphan niece of Theodore.
The couple were married in March 1905, the bride being given away by the President. Sara presented them with a New York City town house, though Franklin was still attending Harvard Law School.
On his graduation, he became a clerk with a New York law firm, though it was already plain that his ambitions were focused on political office.
Found in the Archives
FDR and the Democratic National Convention
“I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt
This now famous line was uttered by FDR during his acceptance speech at the 1932 Democratic National Convention. FDR was nominated as the Democrat’s presidential candidate four times – 1932, 1936, 1940 & 1944.
He made history at the 1932 convention by flying to Chicago to accept the nomination in person – a practice which is still in place today.
Aside from those four conventions, FDR also played a role in earlier conventions, and the convention of 1924 marked an important milestone for him and his political career.
1924 – FDR gains national attention
1924 Convention Address
On June 26, 1924 FDR re-entered the public arena at the Democratic National Convention in New York City. Three years before the convention FDR contracted polio, a disease which left him paralyzed from the waist down. Thanks to the work of Louis Howe and Eleanor Roosevelt, FDR was able to stay active in politics while he began his rehabilitation.
In 1924 FDR backed New York Governor Al Smith as the presidential nominee for the Democratic Party, and Smith asked FDR to give his nominating speech at the convention. When on stage, FDR moved to the podium assisted only by his two crutches – a huge feat for him to perform.
In his speech FDR declared Smith to be “The Happy Warrior.” Smith failed to get enough delegates to win the nomination. FDR went on to nominate Smith again at the 1928 convention in Houston. Smith won the Democratic nomination, but lost the presidential election to Herbert Hoover.
Franklin D. Roosevelt delivers nominating speech for Alfred E. Smith at the Democratic convention, Madison Square Garden, New York, New York. June 26, 1924.
1932 – First nomination for President
1932 Convention Address
The 1932 convention pitted FDR, now governor of New York, against Al Smith and many others. The convention that year was held in Chicago, and after four contentious votes FDR was named as the Democratic nominee for the presidency.
When it came time to accept the nomination, FDR broke with tradition and flew to Chicago to address the convention in person. He acknowledged that fact in the beginning of his speech saying, “the appearance before a National Convention of its nominee for President, to be formally notified of his selection, is unprecedented and unusual, but these are unprecedented and unusual times.”
FDR went on to promise action and relief against the hardships caused by the Great Depression and pledged himself to a “new deal” for all Americans.
Franklin D. Roosevelt aboard airplane as it refuels in Cleveland, Ohio on his way to Chicago. July 2, 1932.
1936 – First re-election
1936 Convention Address
Philadelphia was the site for the 1936 convention – a convention which was much calmer than that of 1932. FDR and Vice President John Nance Garner were nominated without the need of a roll call, and on June 27th, FDR addressed the convention.
As he spoke, he talked of the need for freedom from tyranny, both political and economic, and of making government the “embodiment of human charity.” FDR went on to say that “there is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.”
FDR accepts the nomination for the Presidency in speech at Franklin Field, Philadelphia, PA. June 27, 1936.
1940 – An unprecedented third term
1940 Convention Address
1940 brought another convention first. After much speculation, FDR broke with presidential tradition and ran for a third term. While he was easily nominated on the first ballot, the convention was not without some controversy.
This time it lay in the nomination of a vice-presidential candidate. The vote came down to two men, Henry Wallace and William Bankhead. FDR was adamant on Wallace being his running mate, but the convention was less convinced.
While FDR did not attend the convention, Eleanor was instead sent to deliver a speech in hopes of bringing together the party. In her address she called for unified action and support for the President. After her speech the convention voted, and Wallace was nominated. For more on Eleanor’s speech, please visit: http://fdrlibrary.wordpress.com/2011/07/21/found-in-the-archives-9/
Eleanor Roosevelt addresses Democratic National Convention, Chicago, Illinois. July 18, 1940.
1944 – A fourth term & final convention