Biography by ashrafp


									President:    Franklin Delano Roosevelt

A Life in Brief

Faced with the Great Depression and World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt, nicknamed "FDR,"
guided America through its greatest domestic crisis, with the exception of the Civil War, and
its greatest foreign crisis. His presidency -- which spanned twelve years -- was unparalleled,
not only in length but in scope. FDR took office with the country mired in a horrible and
debilitating economic depression that not only sapped its material wealth and spiritual
strength, but cast a pall over its future. Roosevelt’s combination of confidence, optimism, and
political savvy – all of which came together in the experimental economic and social
programs of the ―New Deal‖ -- helped bring about the beginnings of a national recovery.

In foreign affairs, FDR committed the United States to the defeat of the fascist powers of
Germany, Japan, and Italy, and led the nation and its allies to the brink of victory. This
triumph dramatically altered America’s relationship with the world, guiding the United States
to a position of international prominence, if not predominance. By virtue of its newfound
political and economic power, as well as its political and moral leadership, the United States
would play a leading role in shaping the remainder of the twentieth century.

Franklin Roosevelt also forged a domestic political revolution on several fronts. In politics,
FDR and the Democratic Party built a power base which carried the party to electoral, if not
ideological, dominance until the late 1960s. In governance, FDR’s policies, especially those
comprising the New Deal, helped redefine and strengthen both the American state and,
specifically, the American presidency, expanding the political, administrative, and
constitutional powers of the office.

Political Rise and Personal Tragedy

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born in 1882 in Hyde Park, New York, to James and Sara
Roosevelt. James Roosevelt was a land-owner and businessman of considerable, but not
awesome, wealth. FDR grew up under the watchful eyes of his mother, whose devotion to her
only child was considerable, and a host of nannies. At age 14, Franklin’s parents sent him to
the Groton School, a prestigious boarding school in Massachusetts. At Groton, FDR grew
increasingly fond of his distant cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, a rising star in the Republican
Party. FDR went on to Harvard College, where he spent more time on the college newspaper
than he did on his studies. While at Harvard, FDR apparently declared himself a Democrat
and began courting his distant cousin, Eleanor Roosevelt (also known as ER).

Franklin and Eleanor were married in New York City in 1905, a few months after FDR began
law school at Columbia. Roosevelt had little interest in the law, however, and his attention
soon turned to politics. He ran successfully for the New York State Senate in 1910 and was
re-elected in 1912. In 1913, he joined the Wilson administration as assistant secretary of the
Navy and played a key role in readying the United States for entry into the world war. FDR
was roundly praised for his efforts and the leaders of the Democratic Party tabbed him as a
Democrat to watch. Indeed, in 1920, the party named him its vice-presidential candidate.
Although the ticket of James Cox and FDR lost, FDR’s future seemed bright.

Tragedy struck, however, in 1921. Roosevelt contracted polio, a terrifying and incurable
disease that left him paralyzed in his legs. Only through an arduous rehabilitation process --
and with the support of his wife, his children, and his close confidantes -- was FDR able to
regain some use of his legs. In the 1920s, he invested a considerable part of his fortune in
rehabilitating a spa in Warm Springs, Georgia, whose curative waters aided his own
rehabilitation. In later years, the cottage he built there would be called ―the Little White
House.‖ Though polio devastated FDR physically, his steely will seemed to grow stronger as
he fought through his recovery. Eleanor later said of this time: "I know that he had real fear
when he was first taken ill, but he learned to surmount it. After that I never heard him say he
was afraid of anything."

Successful Governor and Presidential Candidate

FDR’s political comeback began in earnest in 1928 when he won the governorship of New
York. The crash of the stock market in October 1929 served as a harbinger of tougher times
to come and led Governor Roosevelt to focus on combating the state’s economic woes. FDR
implemented a number of innovative relief and recovery initiatives -- unemployment
insurance, pensions for the elderly, limits on work hours, and massive public works projects --
that established him as a liberal reformer. FDR’s efforts also won him reelection as governor
in 1930, a rare feat in the midst of depression.

By the presidential election season of 1932, the Great Depression had only worsened and
showed no signs of abating. Democrats turned to FDR, a popular and successful two-term
governor with a recognizable last name, to challenge President Hoover. Promising a "New
Deal" for the American people, FDR was swept into office in a landslide. In his inaugural
address, Roosevelt gave hope to dispirited Americans throughout the nation, assuring them
that they had "nothing to fear but fear itself."

Fighting the Great Depression

President Franklin Roosevelt’s ―New Deal‖ fought the Great Depression on a number of
fronts. In the famous "First Hundred Days" of his presidency, FDR pushed through legislation
that reformed the banking and financial sectors, tried to cure the ills afflicting American
agriculture, and attempted to resuscitate American industry. To meet the immediate crisis of
starvation and the dire needs of the nation's unemployed, FDR provided direct cash relief for
the poor and jobs programs. Roosevelt’s reassuring "fireside chats," in which he spoke to the
nation via radio about the country’s predicament, calmed a worried public.

In 1935, FDR took the New Deal in a more liberal direction, overseeing the enactment of
some of the most far-reaching social and economic legislation in American history. The
Wagner Act allowed labor unions to organize and bargain collectively, conferring on them a
new legitimacy. The Social Security Act set up programs designed to provide for the needs of
the aged, the poor, and the unemployed, establishing a social welfare net that, at least
theoretically, covered all Americans. By the end of his second term, FDR and his advisers
insisted that the federal government should stimulate the national economy through its
spending policies, a strategy that held sway for the next thirty years.

All of these actions, though, could not end the Great Depression. Only American mobilization
for war in the early 1940s brought the United States out of its economic doldrums. Nor did
New Deal programs, because they reflected the biases of 1930s American politics and
culture, offer the same aid to all Americans; white men generally received better benefits than
women, blacks, or Latinos.

Nonetheless, FDR did much to reshape the United States. With Roosevelt as its presidential
candidate, the Democratic Party won again in 1936, signaling the beginning of 30 years of
political dominance that extended long after FDR’s death. With FDR in the White House, the
federal government played a greater role than ever before in managing the American
economy and in protecting the welfare of the American people. In short, FDR oversaw major
and important changes in American politics and governance that would define life in the
United States for most of the twentieth century.

World War II

In addition to changing life at home, Roosevelt permanently altered America’s role in the
world. Hamstrung in the 1930s by domestic economic woes and a strong isolationist bloc in
Congress and the public, FDR confronted Germany and Japan only tentatively as those
powers looked to establish dominance in Europe and Asia, respectively. Nevertheless,
Roosevelt did extend massive amounts of aid to Great Britain as that nation successfully held
out against the Nazi onslaught during 1940 and 1941 Working with America’s allies in the
Pacific, FDR also tried to contain the Japanese threat.

Japan’s surprise attack on the American Navy at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 officially
brought the United States into World War II. FDR proved a talented war-time leader and, by
1943, the United States military, along with its allies, had turned the tide against both
Germany and Japan. But Roosevelt did not live to see the war's end., In April 1945, just
weeks before the German surrender, the president collapsed and died of a cerebral

Under Roosevelt’s leadership, the United States emerged from World War II as the world’s
foremost economic, political, and military power. FDR’s contributions to domestic life during
his presidency were just as vital. While his ―New Deal‖ did not end the Great Depression,
Roosevelt’s leadership gave Americans hope and confidence in their darkest hours and
fundamentally reshaped the relationship between the federal government and the American
people. FDR so dominated American politics that he almost single-handedly launched the
Democratic Party into a position of prolonged political dominance.. During his tenure, FDR
also lifted both the standing and power of the American presidency to unprecedented heights.
More broadly, however, his New Deal programs, marked a substantial turning point in the
nation’s political, economic, social, and cultural life.

Life Before the Presidency

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born to James and Sara Roosevelt in 1882. James was a
land-owner and businessmen of considerable, but not awesome, wealth from New York. He
likely joined the Democratic Party in the 1850s and identified with the party for the remainder
of his life, although he voted for Republicans on a number of occasions. A widower, he
married Sara Delano, who was twenty-six years his junior, in 1880. Sara, one of the five
beautiful Delano sisters, came from a family of considerable means and was notable both for
her aristocratic manner and her independent streak.

Franklin spent his youth near Hyde Park, about fifty miles north of New York City, on a large
estate and farm tended by hundreds of workers. Insulated from the outside world and
schooled at home by tutors until a teenager, Franklin had limited contact with his peers.
Nonetheless, the family atmosphere was one of support and affection for the only child. Sara
Roosevelt proved especially dedicated to Franklin, spending almost all of her considerable
energies raising him. This unending devotion would continue throughout her long life,
although not without deleterious consequences.

An Exclusive Upbringing

When Franklin was 14 years old, Sara and James sent him to the Groton School, his first
serious schooling outside the home. Groton was an exclusive private school that educated
the sons of some of the most wealthy and powerful American families. It aimed to instill in its
students both mental and physical toughness and a desire to serve the public. Franklin’s
years at Groton were difficult. The school’s rigorous social hierarchy rewarded boys who were
good athletes or displayed a rebellious streak. FDR had neither quality and he thus was
never among the most popular of Groton boys, although his letters to his parents barely
hinted at these failings. During his years at Groton, FDR grew quite admiring of his distant
cousin Theodore Roosevelt, a close friend of Groton’s rector and a rising political star in the
Republican Party.

After graduating from Groton, FDR went to
Harvard College in 1900. He had only been
in school for a few weeks when his father,
who had suffered from a heart ailment for the
previous decade, passed away. At Harvard,
Roosevelt threw himself into a wide array of
extracurricular activities, helping his social
standing but hurting his grades, which were
mostly average. After receiving his
undergraduate degree in 1903 he returned for
a year of graduate work; more important, he
became editor of Harvard's student
newspaper, the Crimson. While at Harvard,              FDR and the Groton football team. (1899)
FDR apparently declared himself a member
of the Democratic Party, although he remained fond of then-President Theodore Roosevelt.

FDR also began paying more attention to members of the opposite sex. In his second year at
Harvard, he proposed to a Boston heiress, Alice Sohier, who turned him down. He quickly
turned his attentions to his distant cousin, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (also known as ER.)
Eleanor was diffident, serious, and intelligent, as well as the niece of President Theodore
Roosevelt, all qualities that won her several suitors. While they had been admiring
acquaintances as children, Franklin and Eleanor fell deeply in love as young adults. One
obstacle remained, however: FDR’s mother, Sara, was so protective of her son that it is
doubtful she would have approved of any possible match. When, in 1904, FDR revealed to
his mother that he was in love with Eleanor and that the two planned to marry, Sara – who
had not known of the courtship -- insisted that they wait one year. Delayed, but not denied,
Franklin and Eleanor married on March 17, 1905. President Theodore Roosevelt gave the
bride away. Between 1906 and 1916, the Roosevelts had six children, one of whom died as
an infant.

A few months before his marriage, Franklin began law school at Columbia University. He
attended for two years, never graduated, and displayed neither an aptitude nor a passion for
the law. He did pass the bar, though, and worked for a few years at the New York City law
firm of Carter, Ledyard, and Milburn. In 1910, however, fellow Democrats from upstate asked
Roosevelt to run for political office. He quickly agreed. Although historians are unsure of
FDR’s precise motives for entering politics, a few reasons seem central. First, FDR truly
disliked being a lawyer. Second, he enjoyed meeting new challenges and new people, both of
which were integral to political life. Third, politics offered him the opportunity to be a leader,
which appealed to his sense of self and conformed to his understanding of his role in the
world. Finally, FDR’s immense admiration for former President Theodore Roosevelt spurred
him to try his hand at politics.

On the Rise

Roosevelt ran for the state senate from Dutchess County in upstate New York, a region
dominated by Republicans. He was a good candidate because of his name, his family’s
wealth, and his seemingly endless reservoir of energy, which allowed him to campaign
tirelessly on a clean-up-government platform. FDR won the race by over a thousand votes,
the clear beneficiary of his own efforts and a split in the Republican Party between
progressives and conservatives.

In the state senate, Roosevelt proved a staunch defender of the farmers in his district, who
were mostly Republicans, and a determined opponent of the Tammany Hall political machine
that essentially ran New York City’s Democratic Party. He even went so far as to oppose
Tammany’s choice for the U.S. Senate seat, earning him the enmity of that powerful group of
politicians. Roosevelt’s politics in these years were essentially of the progressive, new
nationalist variety. Like his distant relative, former President Teddy Roosevelt, he generally
believed that the government had to play a role in creating and maintaining a fair and
equitable society, and in protecting individuals from concentrations of economic or political

In 1912, FDR won re-election to the state senate and, just as important, forged a friendship
with the political journalist Louis Howe, who would become his chief political adviser over the
next two decades. FDR did not finish out his term, however. Roosevelt had backed the
progressive governor of New Jersey, Woodrow Wilson, in his successful campaign for the
presidency in 1912. Wilson noted FDR’s support and wanted to find a place for the young
Democrat in his administration. When Wilson’s secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels,
asked Roosevelt to serve as his assistant secretary, FDR accepted without hesitation. It was
lost on no one that Teddy Roosevelt had been assistant secretary of the Navy in the first
McKinley administration.

FDR loved being assistant secretary of the Navy. With Louis Howe as his assistant,
Roosevelt oversaw the daily business of the Department of the Navy, including the
ceremonial activities that FDR loved. But FDR also tried to shape the development of U.S.
naval policy more generally -- a prerogative traditionally of the secretary rather than the
assistant secretary. Here, FDR emerged as a dogged advocate of a ―big Navy,‖ which won
him his fair share of supporters among active and retired Navy personnel. During the world
war in Europe, FDR consistently argued that the United States needed to improve its military
capabilities. This position put him at odds with much of the Wilson administration, which
feared any steps that might appear to violate America’s declared neutrality. In 1917, FDR
emerged as a forceful advocate of U.S. entry into the conflict. Once in the war, FDR
supervised much of the Navy’s contribution to the American effort.

Politics was never far from FDR’s mind while working in Washington. In 1914, he tried (and
failed) to win the Democratic nomination for an open New York seat in the U.S. Senate. He
learned an important lesson, though: to succeed in New York politics he needed to mend
fences with Tammany Hall. During World War I, Roosevelt endangered his political career in
one other, much more significant, way as well. During his tenure in the Wilson Administration,
FDR began a romantic relationship with Lucy Mercer, who was Eleanor’s social secretary. In
1918, ER discovered the affair and offered FDR a divorce. He refused, in large part, because
he knew that a divorcee could never succeed in American politics. He promised Eleanor that
he would never see Mercer again – a vow he broke repeatedly later in life. While his political
career was safe, his personal relationship with ER, already attenuated because she found
being his wife stultifying, was further eroded; while they remained partners, they were no
longer intimates in a loving and warm marriage. Eleanor set out to construct a life of her own,
one in which she could find intellectual and emotional satisfaction with people other than her
husband. Eleanor and Franklin’s relationship was thereafter more of a political and social
partnership than a loving and passionate marriage.

His service in the Wilson administration only augmented FDR’s reputation among Democrats,
and the party tapped him in 1920 as its vice presidential candidate. Although the ticket of
FDR and presidential nominee James Cox lost in a rout to a Republican slate led by Warren
Harding, FDR acquitted himself well, and his political future seemed bright. With the
Democrats out of power, Roosevelt returned to the private sector, accepting a position as
vice president of Fidelity and Deposit Company, a financial firm. His world, however, was
about to be turned upside down.

Years of Pain and Comeback

During the summer of 1921, Roosevelt vacationed at Campobello Island, his treasured
second home on the Canadian Atlantic coast. After a swim in the cold waters and a two-mile
hike home, he went to bed very tired. The next morning he was feverish and his left leg felt
numb. By the following day he was partly paralyzed from the abdomen down. He had
poliomyelitis—a viral inflammation of the spinal column. "Polio" was a terrifying and rampant
disease in the 1920s, a mysterious crippler with no cure. Franklin Roosevelt would never
recover the full use of his legs and spent much of the rest of his life in a wheelchair. But
through years of arduous and painful rehabilitation (and with the assistance of canes, leg
braces, wheelchairs, and aides), he did regain some of his lost mobility, even learning to
―walk‖ by using his hips to swing his atrophied legs forward. This partial recovery was
remarkable, given the extent to which the disease had ravaged his muscles.

ER and Louis Howe were invaluable to FDR during his convalescence, tending to his physical
needs and offering him encouragement. But they followed the lead of their extraordinary
patient. FDR maintained his upbeat, positive, and energetic attitude and seemingly never
wavered in his belief that he would fully recover. His zest for life and confidence -- always his
defining characteristics -- grew rather than shrank in the face of his trials. He displayed
remarkable courage and an indefatigable will, of which Eleanor would later remark: ―I know
that he had real fear when he was first taken ill, but he learned to surmount it. After that I
never heard him say he was afraid of anything.‖
Roosevelt stayed active in politics during his long recovery, largely because of Howe and ER.
Howe kept FDR abreast of the latest news and urged FDR to keep up extensive
correspondence with leading Democrats. Just as important, Howe encouraged Eleanor to
become more involved in New York’s Democratic Party, where she could serve as FDR’s
legs, eyes, and ears. Such activities were a boon to ER, for they allowed her to work on the
progressive causes in which she truly believed, providing her with a life of her own.

In 1922, FDR aided fellow Democrat Alfred Smith’s campaign for the governorship of New
York. Two years later, he supported Smith’s unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential
nomination. Smith earned the nomination in 1928, with Roosevelt’s backing. Knowing FDR’s
popularity in New York, Smith asked Roosevelt to run for that state’s governorship in the
hope that FDR’s candidacy would prop up Democratic support in the state. Republicans
dominated the national elections that year and Herbert Hoover crushed Smith. (See Hoover
biography, Campaigns and Elections section, for details.) Roosevelt, however, eked out a
victory by one half of a percentage point and won New York's gubernatorial election.

As governor of New York, FDR was in a prime position to run for the White House. In truth,
though, FDR’s activities throughout the 1920s, along with ER’s and Howe’s help, had
resuscitated his political career. His public appearances – he ―walked‖ to the podium in 1928
at the Democratic National Convention to nominate Smith – helped dispell rumors about his
illness. Just as important, FDR built alliances with Democrats from all over the nation during
these years, especially in the rural South and West. He even mended fences with Tammany
Hall (to which Smith was affiliated) and reached out to the local Democratic parties in the
East, whose constituencies were largely urban, Catholic, and ethnic. These alliances would
prove crucial in the future.

Governor Roosevelt and the Great Depression

Governor Roosevelt, though, had a more immediate problem on his hands: the Great
Depression. The American economy of the 1920s, while prosperous, was fundamentally
unsound. The economy did not collapse at once, nor for one particular reason. Historians
have identified four interwoven and reinforcing causes of the nation’s most severe economic
crisis: the overly speculative and unstable foundations of the American financial sector;
structural weaknesses in both American agriculture and industry; and the frailty of the
international economy in the late 1920s and the early 1930s.

America’s financial sector in the late 1920s was a house of cards. American businesses in
the 1920s increasingly raised capital either by soliciting private investment or by selling stock.
Over two million Americans poured their savings into the stock market, and many more into
investment schemes. But there was little or no regulation of these companies and these
supposed investment opportunities, nor much oversight of the process. Too often, Americans
put their money into ―get rich quick‖ schemes which had no chance of long-term financial
return, or into companies that made no real profits – and sometimes no actual products!

The stock market proved particularly volatile during the 1920s. It soared from 1924 through
1929; the New York Times index of industrial stocks grew from 124 points to 449 points in the
summer of 1929 alone. Investors bought stocks ―on margin,‖ meaning they produced only a
small down-payment and borrowed the rest from their broker or bank. As long as the stock
increased in value, all was well. The investor would later sell the stock, repay the broker or
the bank, and pocket the profit.
But as the economy slowed in 1929 -- with fewer consumer purchases, creeping
unemployment, and higher interest rates -- stock owners tried to sell, but found no buyers; the
market tumbled. Two days in particular, October 24 (―Black Thursday) and October 29 (―Black
Tuesday‖), saw investors desperately trying to dump stocks. On the latter day, brokers sold
over 16 million shares. The slide continued for more than two years, with one estimate
claiming that investors lost nearly $75 billion.

―The Great Crash,‖ as it came to be known, was only one cause of the economic depression
that followed. American farmers suffered in the 1920s, with their income one-third of the
national average. The chief problem was overproduction. American farmers benefited from
new technologies that increased their productivity, but the glut of product, along with
overseas competition, caused prices at market to drop precipitously. Farm earnings
plummeted further when the economic crisis began in 1929 as urban areas lacked the
income to purchase agricultural goods. With American farmers earning less, they could not
pay their bills and mortgages. Rural banks failed without these payments, placing more
pressure on a banking system already shaky, due to the stock market crash. After 1932,
drought conditions plagued the Midwest, further compounding existing problems.

If the economic outlook looked bleak from the nation’s fields, they appeared just as dreary
from its factory floors. While industrial productivity and profits increased in the 1920s, wages
remained stagnant. These profits, more often than not, were placed in the in the stock market
or in speculative schemes, rather than re-invested in new factories or used to fund new
businesses, both of which (theoretically) would create new jobs. The combination of
agricultural woes and industrial stagnation conspired to grind America’s economy to a halt in
the early 1930s.

Moreover, the world economy was suffering from a general slowdown in the late 1920s. The
Treaty of Versailles that ended the Great War required Germany to pay reparations to France
and Britain, which, in turn, owed money to American banks. The German economy, wrecked
by the war, could not sustain these payments, and the German government turned to the
United States for cash. Europe’s economic health, then, was built on a web of financial
arrangements and hinged on a robust American economy.

Each of these factors helped create and sustain a severely unequal distribution of wealth in
the United States, where a tiny minority possessed incredible riches. Five percent of the
populace held nearly a third of the money and property. Over 80 percent of Americans held
no savings at all. Moreover, the American economy depended upon consumption, but
because of the stagnation in wages, the collapse of agricultural markets, and rising
unemployment (all of which led to the growing gap between rich and poor), most Americans
could not buy the products that made the economy hum. Wealthier Americans, by contrast,
failed to spend their money, choosing instead to invest it. It was a consumer economy in
which few consumed.

Between 1929 and 1933, 5,000 American banks collapsed, one in four farms went into
foreclosure, and an average of 100,000 jobs vanished each week. By 1932, over 12 million
Americans -- nearly one-quarter of the workforce -- were unemployed. Statistics alone,
however, cannot tell the story of the ―Great Depression.‖ For tens of millions, it was a time of
panic and poverty, hunger and hopelessness. The nation’s will sagged and its future seemed,
at least to some, in doubt.

President Hoover took substantive steps to alleviate the crisis, but accomplished little. His
political fortunes sagged accordingly. In New York, Governor Roosevelt reacted slowly at
first, hoping, much like Hoover, that the economy would turn around. When it did not, FDR
determined that ―there is a duty on the part of government to do something about this.‖ He
supported lower taxes for farmers and urged the state to develop public power utilities. As the
depression deepened, FDR got the New York state legislature to pass a public works
program for the unemployed and to grant relief to the needy. All of these actions established
FDR’s credentials as a liberal reformer.

Roosevelt won re-election in 1930, no mean feat for a governor serving during the Great
Depression. President Hoover faced no such rosy outlook. As the Great Depression
worsened in the early 1930s, Republican prospects for the 1932 presidential election
withered. The Democrats, on the other hand, looked to the rising star of their party, Franklin
D. Roosevelt.

Campaigns and Elections

The Campaign and Election of 1932

Political observers in the early 1930s were of decidedly mixed opinion about the possible
presidential candidacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Many leaders of the Democratic Party saw in
Roosevelt an attractive mixture of experience (as governor of New York and as a former vice
presidential candidate) and appeal (the Roosevelt name itself, which immediately associated
FDR with his remote cousin, former President Theodore Roosevelt.)

FDR’s record as governor of New York -- and specifically his laudable, if initially conservative,
efforts to combat the effects of the depression in his own state -- only reinforced his place as
the leading Democratic contender for the 1932 presidential nomination. Under the watchful
eyes of his political advisers Louis Howe and James Farley, FDR patiently garnered support
from Democrats around the country, but especially in the South and the West. In preparation
for his presidential bid, Roosevelt consulted a group of college professors, dubbed the
―Brains Trust‖ (later shortened to the ―Brain Trust‖), for policy advice.

Other observers, however, were not so
sanguine about his abilities or chances.
Walter Lippmann, the dean of political
commentators and a shaper of public
opinion, observed acidly of Roosevelt: "He is
a pleasant man who, without any important
qualifications for the office, would very much
like to be president." FDR’s Democratic Party,
moreover, was both factionalized and
ideologically splintered. Several other
candidates sought the nomination, including
Speaker of the House John Nance Garner of
Texas (who found support in the west) and
the party’s 1928 candidate, Alfred Smith (who       FDR campaigning in Indianapolis with 'Abolish Bread Lines'
                                                               sign in view. (Oct. 20, 1932)
ran strong in the urban northeast). The party
further split on two key social issues: Catholicism and prohibition. Smith was a Catholic and
wanted to end prohibition, which pleased Democrats in the northeast, but angered those in
the south and west.
In 1932, though, the key issue was the Great Depression, not Catholicism or prohibition,
which gave Democrats a great opportunity to take the White House back from the
Republicans. While FDR did not enter the Democratic convention in Chicago with the
necessary two-thirds of the delegates, he managed to secure them after promising Garner
the vice-presidential nomination. FDR then broke with tradition and flew to Chicago by
airplane to accept the nomination in person, promising delegates ―a new deal for the
American people.‖ FDR’s decision to go to Chicago was politically necessary: he needed to
demonstrate to the country that even though his body had been ravaged by polio, he was
robust, strong, and energetic.

Roosevelt’s campaign for president was necessarily cautious. His opponent, President
Herbert Hoover, was so unpopular that FDR’s main strategy was not to commit any gaffes
that might take the public’s attention away from Hoover’s inadequacies and the nation’s
troubles. FDR traveled around the country attacking Hoover and promising better days
ahead, but often without referring to any specific programs or policies. Roosevelt was so
genial – and his prescriptions for the country so bland – that some commentators questioned
his capabilities and his grasp of the serious challenges confronting the United States.

On occasion, though, FDR hinted at the shape of the New Deal to come. FDR told Americans
that only by working together could the nation overcome the economic crisis, a sharp contrast
to Hoover’s paeans to American individualism in the face of the depression. In a speech in
San Francisco, FDR outlined the expansive role that the federal government should play in
resuscitating the economy, in easing the burden of the suffering, and in insuring that all
Americans had an opportunity to lead successful and rewarding lives.

                             1932 Presidential Election Results
                                  (48 States in the Union)

Candidate                 Party          Popular Vote (% of Total)*         Electoral Votes
Franklin Roosevelt        Democrat       22,809,638 (57.4%)                 472
Herbert Hoover            Republican     15,758,901 (39.7%)                 59
Norman Thomas             Socialist      881,951 (2.2%)                     0

* Because candidates receiving less than 1 percent of the popular vote are omitted from this
table, the sum of the listed percentages of popular votes earned may not total 100.

The outcome of the 1932 presidential contest between Roosevelt and Hoover was never
greatly in doubt. Dispirited Americans swept the fifty-year-old FDR into office in a landslide in
both the popular and electoral college votes. Voters also extended their approval of FDR to
his party, giving Democrats substantial majorities in both houses of Congress. These
congressional majorities would prove vital in Roosevelt’s first year in office.

The Campaign and Election of 1936

FDR entered the 1936 election with a strong, but not invincible, hand. The economy remained
sluggish and eight million Americans still were without jobs. Critics from various points on the
political spectrum -- such as Father Coughlin and Dr. Francis Townsend -- had spent much of
the previous two years attacking the President. (They supported Representative William
Lemke of the newly formed Union Party in the 1936 election.) Likewise, by 1936 FDR had lost
most of the backing he once held in the business community because of his support for the
Wagner Act and the Social Security Act.

Republicans, though, had few plausible candidates to challenge FDR in 1936. They settled
on Alfred "Alf" Landon, a two-term governor of Kansas who was the only Republican
governor to win reelection in 1934. Nominated on the first ballot at the Republican convention
in Cleveland, Landon was a moderate conservative -- and notoriously lackluster public
speaker – who the party hoped could take votes from FDR in the rural Midwest. Unfortunately
for Landon, his moderation was often drowned out during the campaign by the conservative
clamor emanating from the Republican Party, as well as from his running mate, Chicago
publisher Frank Knox.

Roosevelt seemed to relish the attacks of Republicans, maintaining that he and his New Deal
protected the average American against the predations of the rich and powerful, Referring to
―business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking,‖ FDR crowed, ―Never
before have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are
unanimous in their hate for me -- and I welcome their hatred.‖ Roosevelt’s supporters
believed their candidate understood and sympathized with them. As one worker put it in
1936, Roosevelt ―is the first man in the White House to understand that my boss is a son of a
(expletive.)‖ FDR won the election in a walk, amassing huge majorities in the popular vote
and in the Electoral College.

What the 1936 election made most clear was that because of FDR and the New Deal, the
Democratic Party was now the majority party in the nation. Roosevelt had put together what
came to be called the ―New Deal Coalition,‖ an alliance of voters from different regions of the
country and from racial, religious and ethnic groups. The coalition combined southern
Protestants, northern Jews, Catholics and blacks from urban areas, labor union members,
small farmers in the middle west and Plains states, and liberals and radicals. This diverse
group, with some minor alterations, would power the Democrats for the next thirty years --
and it was Roosevelt who put it together.

                             1936 Presidential Election Results
                                  (48 States in the Union)

Candidate                 Party          Popular Vote (% of Total)*        Electoral Votes
Franklin Roosevelt        Democrat       27,752,869 (60.8%)                523
Alfred Landon             Republican     16,674,665 (36.5%)                8
William Lemke             Union          882,479 (1.9%)                    0

* Because candidates receiving less than 1 percent of the popular vote are omitted from this
table, the sum of the listed percentages of popular votes earned may not total 100.

The Campaign and Election of 1940

In 1940, Roosevelt decided to run for an unprecedented third term, breaking the tradition set
by George Washington that limited Presidents to eight years in office. FDR had been coy
about his future for most of his second term, but finally told confidantes that he would run only
if the situation in Europe deteriorated further and his fellow Democrats drafted him as their
candidate. Nazi Germany’s successful invasion of Western Europe and defeat of France in
the spring of 1940 took care of the former condition; FDR’s political operatives, especially
Chicago mayor Ed Kelly, arranged for the latter. Not all Democrats, most notably long-time
political adviser James Farley and Vice President John Garner, were pleased with FDR’s
decision to break from Washington’s precedent. And conservative southern Democrats
strenuously objected to FDR’s vice presidential choice, Secretary of Commerce Henry
Wallace, a former progressive Republican, but now a staunch liberal New Dealer.

Republicans chose Wendell L. Willkie of Indiana, a corporate lawyer and president of a utility
company, as their candidate. It was an unconventional choice. Willkie had voted for FDR in
1932 and had been a Democrat until 1938. While he opposed FDR’s public power policies,
especially the TVA, Willkie actually supported much of the New Deal’s domestic legislation
and was an internationalist in foreign affairs -- controversial positions in a party with its share
of vigorous New Deal opponents and isolationists. In many respects, Willkie was just the type
of liberal Republican that FDR wanted to lure into the Democratic Party

                              1940 Presidential Election Results
                                   (48 States in the Union)

Candidate                  Party          Popular Vote (% of Total)*          Electoral Votes
Franklin Roosevelt         Democrat       27,307,819 (54.8%)                  449
Wendell Wilkie             Republican     22,321,018 (44.8%)                  82

* Because candidates receiving less than 1 percent of the popular vote are omitted from this
table, the sum of the listed percentages of popular votes earned may not total 100.

During the initial weeks of the election season, FDR looked strong even though he
campaigned only from the White House. Willkie proved lackluster on the stump and he
seemed to agree with much of FDR’s domestic and foreign agenda. In late September,
though, Willkie began to tighten the race, largely by charging that if FDR won a third term,
―you may expect that we will be at war.‖ Roosevelt countered that he would not send
Americans to fight in ―any foreign war.‖ Over its last month, the campaign degenerated into a
series of outrageous accusations and mud-slinging, if not by the two candidates themselves
then by their respective parties. On election day, FDR won 55 percent of the popular vote and
the electoral votes of thirty-eight states. Willkie gained only ten states, but for Republicans
even this was an improvement over their dismal showing in 1936.

The Campaign and Election of 1944

In 1944, in the midst of war, Roosevelt made it known to fellow Democrats that he was willing
to run for a fourth term. Democrats, even conservative southerners who had long been
suspicious of FDR’s liberalism, backed Roosevelt as their party’s best chance for victory.
FDR received all but 87 of the votes of the 1,075 delegates at the Democratic National
Convention. The real intrigue came with the Democratic nomination for vice president. FDR
decided against running with his current vice president, the extremely liberal Henry Wallace,
fearing that Wallace’s politics would open a rift in the party between liberals (concentrated in
the northeast) and conservatives (largely hailing from the south.) Instead, Senator Harry
Truman of Missouri, who had the backing of the south, the big-city bosses in the party, and at
least the tacit approval of FDR, took the vice-presidential nomination.

                             1944 Presidential Election Results
                                  (48 States in the Union)

Candidate                 Party          Popular Vote (% of Total)*        Electoral Votes
Franklin Roosevelt        Democrat       25,606,585 (53.5%)                432
Thomas Dewey              Republican     22,014,745 (46.0%)                99

* Because candidates receiving less than 1 percent of the popular vote are omitted from this
table, the sum of the listed percentages of popular votes earned may not total 100.

Republicans nominated Thomas Dewey, the popular governor of New York State, chosen
with only one Republican delegate voting against him. Dewey ran as a moderate Republican,
promising not to undo the social and economic reforms of the New Deal, but instead to make
them more efficient and effective. Dewey, like Willkie four years earlier, was an
internationalist in foreign affairs, voicing support for a postwar United Nations. One of
Dewey’s most effective gambits was to raise discreetly the age issue. He assailed the
President as a ―tired old man‖ with ―tired old men‖ in his cabinet, pointedly suggesting that the
President’s lack of vigor had produced a less than vigorous economic recovery.

FDR, as most observers could see from his weight loss and haggard appearance, was a tired
man in 1944. But upon entering the campaign in earnest in late September, 1944, Roosevelt
displayed enough passion and fight to allay most concerns and to deflect Republican attacks.
With the war still raging, he urged voters not to ―change horses in mid-stream.‖ Just as
important, he showed some of his famous campaign fire. In a classic speech before the
International Brotherhood of Teamsters, FDR belittled the Republican attacks on him.
Recalling the charges from a Minnesota congressman who accused FDR of sending a
battleship to Alaska to retrieve his dog Fala, FDR nearly chortled ―These Republican leaders
have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or my sons. No, not content with that
they now include my little dog Fala. Wll, of course, I don’t resent attacks, and my family don’t
resent attacks, but Fala does resent them.‖ With his audience abuzz, FDR delivered his
punch-line: ―I am accustomed to hearing malicious falsehoods about myself . . . But I think I
have a right to resent, to object to libelous statements about my dog.‖

On election day, voters returned Roosevelt to the White House. He garnered almost 54% of
the popular vote – to Dewey’s 46% - and won the Electoral College by a count of 432 to 99.
Even though the Republicans had improved their totals in both the popular and electoral
votes, they could not unseat FDR.

Domestic Affairs

FDR’s mandate as a first-term President was clear and challenging: rescue the United States
from the throes of its worst depression in history. Economic conditions had deteriorated in the
four months between FDR’s election and his inauguration. Unemployment grew to over
twenty-five percent of the nation’s workforce, with more than twelve million Americans out of
work. A new wave of bank failures hit in February 1933. Upon accepting the Democratic
nomination, FDR had promised a "New Deal‖ to help America out of the Depression, though
the meaning of that program was far from clear.

In trying to make sense of FDR’s domestic policies, historians and political scientists have
referred to a ―First New Deal,‖ which lasted from 1933 to 1935, and a ―Second New Deal,‖
which stretched from 1935 to 1938. (Some scholars believe that a ―Third New Deal‖ began in
1937 but never took root; the descriptor, likewise, has never gained significant currency.)
These terms, it should be remembered, are the creations of scholars trying to impose order
and organization on the Roosevelt administration’s often chaotic, confusing, and contradictory
attempts to combat the depression; Roosevelt himself never used them. The idea of a ―first
―and ―second‖ New Deal is useful insofar as it reflects important shifts in the Roosevelt
administration’s approach to the nation’s economic and social woes. But the boundaries
between the first and second New Deals should be viewed as porous rather than concrete. In
other words, significant continuities existed between the first and second New Deals that
should not be overlooked.

One thing is clear: the New Deal was, and
remains, difficult to categorize. Even a
member of FDR’s administration, the
committed New Dealer Alvin Hansen,
admitted in 1940 that ―I really do not know
what the basic principle of the New Deal is.‖
Part of this mystery came from the President
himself, whose political sensibilities were
difficult to measure. Roosevelt certainly
believed in the premises of American
capitalism, but he also saw that American
capitalism circa 1932 required reform in order
to survive. How much, and what kind of,
reform was still up in the air. Upon entering     FDR delivering a fireside chat. (Sept. 30, 1934)
the Oval Office, FDR was neither a die-hard
liberal nor a conservative, and the policies he enacted during his first term sometimes
reflected contradictory ideological sources.

This ideological and political incoherence shrank in significance however, next to what
former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes described as a ―first class
temperament,‖ exemplified by the President’s optimism, self-confidence, pragmatism, and
flexibility. Above all, FDR was an optimist, offering hope to millions of Americans who had
none. His extreme self-confidence buoyed an American public unsure of the future or even
present course. This intoxicating mix made FDR appear the paragon of leadership, a father-
figure who reassured a desperate nation in his inaugural address that ―the only thing we have
to fear is fear itself.‖ FDR also brought to the White House a pragmatic approach to
governance. He claimed he would try something to end the depression, and if it worked he
would move on to the next problem. If it failed, he would assess the failure and try something

Lifting America out of the Depression was a large task. To help him, FDR depended on a
sizeable coterie of advisers to a degree unprecedented in the history of the presidency. FDR
brought many veterans of his governorship to Washington. Raymond Moley, a professor of
public law and a member of the ―Brain Trust,‖ joined the administration, as did Harry Hopkins,
who ran New York’s program for the unemployed. Francis Perkins, who had known FDR
since their days in the state legislature, became the first women ever to hold a cabinet office,
taking charge at the Department of Labor. In the main, these advisers were political liberals.

With this collection of advisers, FDR set up his White House staff. Eschewing a hierarchical
form of organization, or even one with each aide given a clearly delineated duty, Roosevelt
instead meted out tasks to his advisers, sometimes charging them with similar duties.
Additionally, FDR often appointed advisers of clashing temperaments and beliefs to the same
policy issue, leading to internal confrontations and squabbling. The benefits of this system
were that FDR received political and policy advice from a range of advisers with different
ideological predilections and political connections. It also left the President with an array of
options and allowed him to forge a consensus within his own administration about the
direction, both in terms of policy and politics, of his presidency. Finally, it produced a degree
of flexibility in the policymaking process, which harmonized with Roosevelt’s often
experimental approach to the New Deal. The main drawback to this type of governance was
that the New Deal often appeared to be moving in several directions, many of them
contradictory, all at once.

The First New Deal: Saving Capitalism?

The First New Deal began almost immediately upon Roosevelt’s assumption of the
presidency. FDR invoked the ―analogue of war‖ as he spurred Congress towards a flurry of
legislative activity that became known as the ―Hundred Days‖ -- from March to June 1933 -- in
which the new President won passage of numerous bills designed to end the nation’s
economic troubles. In general, the First New Deal looked to stabilize the U.S. financial
system, provide relief and jobs to the suffering, and reenergize America’s capitalist economy.
He sought to achieve this last objective by building partnerships between business and
government to resuscitate industrial production. In carrying forward this agenda, FDR began
to recreate the role of the federal government in American economic and political life.

Banking and Finance

FDR’s immediate task upon his inauguration was to stabilize the nation’s banking system. On
March 6, Roosevelt declared a national ―bank holiday‖ to end a run by depositors seeking to
withdraw their money from faltering banks. FDR also called Congress into emergency
session where the legislature enacted, nearly sight unseen, the President’s banking proposal.
Under this plan, the federal government would inspect all banks, re-open those that were
sufficiently solvent, re-organize those that could be saved, and close those that were beyond
repair. On March 12, FDR went on the radio -- giving the first of many ―fireside chats‖ -- to
explain his plan to Americans and to assure them that their money would be safe in the re-
opened banks. During the following weeks, Americans returned nearly $1 billion dollars to
bank vaults.

FDR then won a significant number of other reforms related to the nation’s financial sector. In
May 1933, he signed the Securities Act, which required corporations and stockbrokers to
release accurate information about stocks to investors. In June 1933, he signed the Glass-
Steagall Act, which created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, guaranteeing the
savings of average citizens, and prevented commercial banks from engaging in investment
banking, which they had been carrying on in scandalous fashion. In 1934, the Securities and
Exchange Act created the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which was charged
with regulating financial markets.
Roosevelt in 1933 took America off the gold standard, and the Banking act of 1935 gave the
country a central banking mechanism for the first time. A reorganized Reconstruction Finance
Corporation (RFC) spun off subsidiaries such as the Federal National Mortgage Association
(―Fannie Mae‖) that, along with the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) made it possible for
millions of Americans to buy or renovate homes. Taken together, these innovations, one write
has said, marked the beginning of the end of Wall Street’s domination of finance capitalism‖
and ―represented the shift of economic power form the lower part of Manhattan, where it had
been for over a century, to Washington.‖

Relief and Jobs

To meet the immediate crisis of starvation and the dire needs of the nation's unemployed,
FDR established several public relief programs in 1933. The Federal Emergency Relief
Administration (FERA) made direct cash allocations available to states for immediate
payments to the unemployed.

                                                      The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) put
                                                      300,000 young men to work in 1,200 camps
                                                      planting trees, building bridges, and cleaning
                                                      beaches. Finally, the Civil Works
                                                      Administration (CWA) spent almost $1 billion
                                                      on public works projects, including airports
                                                      and roads. Roosevelt shut the CWA after only
                                                      four months, however, because it was so

                                                           The benefits of these three programs were
                                                           obvious: they provided relief for millions of
                                                           Americans on the verge of outright starvation
                                                           and gave unemployed Americans jobs.
                                                           Conservative attacked relieve programs as
                                                           handouts to the undeserving por and derided
    President Roosevelt signing the Emergency Banking Act. the CCC and CWA as ―make work‖ projects
                        (Mar. 9, 1933)
                                                           that added little to American society. In fact,
Americans in the twenty-first century continue to enjoy the picnic tables, the cabins, and the
forest roads built by FDR’s ―tree army.‖

Agricultural and Rural America

In the hope of spurring the recovery of American agriculture, Roosevelt asked Congress to
pass the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA), which it did in May 1933. FDR and his advisers
believed that overproduction had caused gluts in the farm market, dropping prices, and, in
turn, sending farmers’ incomes plummeting. The AAA aimed to inflate farmers’ incomes by
offering cash incentives to farmers who agreed cut production. The AAA originally covered
wheat, corn, cotton, hogs, milk, rice, and tobacco, but Congress added new commodities to
the program in the ensuing years.

Over three million farmers joined the AAA program in its first year, and farm income did
increase by more than fifty percent between 1932 and 1935. Despite these impressive gains,
the benefits of the AAA too often accrued to large farm-owners rather than the millions of
poor white and African-American tenant farmers and sharecroppers who lived in abject
poverty. Moreover, AAA policies stressed the lowering of production – which in a few cases in
1933 meant that crops were plowed under and livestock killed. With many Americans hungry
and ill-clothed, critics labeled such policies ―utterly idiotic.‖

Roosevelt also believed it imperative to reduce poverty in rural areas. The Farm Credit
Association, another offshoot of the RFC, lent more than a billion dollars to families to save
their farms from foreclosure. The Federal Emerency Relief Administration and the
Resettlement Administration sponsored experimental rural communities and greenbelt towns.
The Farm Security Administration (FSA) enabled tenant farmers to buy farms and built
modern labor camps for migrants like John Steinbeck’s fictional Joads. Perhaps nothing did
more to rescue the farm family from isolation than the Rural Electrification Administration
(REA) which brought electricity for the first time to millions of rural homes and with it such
conveniences as radios and washing machines.

The REA is only one example of FDR’s interest in public power, which he had sponsored as
governor of New York. Huge dams -- Grand Coulee and Bonneville -- transformed the
economy of the Pacific Northwest. Still more important was the Tennessee Valley Authority
(TVA). The Tennessee Valley stretched some 40,000 square miles from Virginia to
Mississippi and was the poorest region in the nation. The TVA aimed to marshal the area’s
natural resources into an engine of economic uplift by building dams and power plants that
would bring jobs, electricity, and flood control to the Valley. A number of Tennessee Valley
natives criticized the TVA for displacing thousands of people -- usually poor farmers -- to
make way for power plants and dams. But by the end of the 1930s, the TVA had brought
millions of southern Americans electric power, roads, and jobs in regions that previously had
no phones, electric lights, or stable employment. In later years, the TVA’s dams and power
plants wreaked havoc on the environment by spewing pollution. The TVA however, also did a
great deal to restore badly eroded hillsides, and another New Deal agency, the Soil
Conservation Service, trained farmers in the proper methods of cultivation. As Theodore
Roosevelt is the father of forest conservation, Franklin Roosevelt is the father of soil

Resuscitating American Industry

Finally, in some of the most controversial legislation of his administration, Roosevelt set out to
help American industry get back onto its feet. The centerpiece of his industrial recovery
program was the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) that Congress passed in June
1933. Drawing its inspiration from the federal government’s efforts at economic planning
during World War I and the voluntary trade associations of the 1920s, the NIRA provided for
national economic planning as opposed to individualistic and competitive, laissez-faire

The NIRA created two new agencies, the Public Works Administration (PWA) and the
National Recovery Administration (NRA). The PWA, run by Secretary of the Interior Harold
Ickes, had a budget of over $3 billion. Overseeing the construction of large-scale public works
(including such landmarks San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and New York City’s
Triborough Bridge), it hoped to stimulate the economy by creating jobs and, more important,
by generating orders for materials that American industry produced. To some degree, the
PWA accomplished this mission, although Ickes was such a scrupulous administrator --
sometimes scrutinizing contracts line by line -- that he failed to spend all the money available
to him.

The NRA, however, was the cornerstone of FDR’s plan for industry. It proposed a business-
government partnership in which business leaders, under the watchful eye of the NRA, would
draft fair codes of competition regulating prices and wages. The codes would also outlaw
cutthroat practices, such as below-cost sales and child labor. Unhealthy competition between
businesses would thus become a thing of the past, spurring job creation and economic
growth. Additionally, section 7a of the NIRA guaranteed labor the right to organize and
bargain collectively. As an enticement to business, the NIRA suspended anti-trust laws that
had been reviled by business leaders since the beginning of the twentieth century.

Under the leadership of General Hugh Johnson, the NRA attempted to rally public support to
its program, hoping that public pressure, rather than federal government power, would
compel American industry to support the NRA. Johnson held rallies and parades and urged
businesses which had agreed to the codes to put the NRA’s symbol, the Blue Eagle, in their
store fronts. In sum, the NRA signified FDR’s belief that business, with a little push from
government, could regulate itself.

This strategy proved inadequate, and perhaps naive. Businesses heeded the codes when
they saw fit, and ignored them when it served their purposes. Small business owners
complained, with good reason, that big businesses dominated the code-drafting process and
looked to drive their smaller competitors out of the market. Labor unions enjoyed a new-found
legitimacy -- symbolized by the millions of workers who joined – but found that businesses
ignored provisions that guaranteed worker’s wages and hours. By the end of 1933, it was
clear that the NRA was anything but a success.

New Deal Critics

FDR promised an energetic attack on the
Great Depression with his New Deal. He kept
his word, urging Congress to pass laws which
established dozens of New Deal programs.
But the New Deal accumulated a record of
notable failures as well as successes. Mixed
results were not the only enemy of the early
New Deal, however. A host of critics arose on
the Political Left and Right to attack Roosevelt
and his policies. In 1934, conservative
businessmen -- and dissident Democrats like
1928 presidential candidate Al Smith --
formed the American Liberty League, which
tarred the New Deal as a radical and un-                 President Roosevelt (1943)
American assault upon the basic principles of capitalism and free enterprise.

Others criticized FDR for not doing enough for those hardest hit by the Depression: the poor,
the elderly, and the working class. Democratic Senator Huey Long of Louisiana was an early
supporter of the New Deal, but soon accused FDR of falling captive to American business
interests. Long insisted that his ―share our wealth‖ plan of income redistribution would ―make
every man a king.‖ Another early supporter of the New Deal, Detroit’s Father Charles
Coughlin, took to the radio airwaves in 1934 to tell his estimated 40 million listeners that the
key to ending the depression was ―free silver‖ -- the populist solution of the 1890s. Finally, Dr.
Francis Townsend, a California physician, attacked FDR for not doing enough to help elderly

Another powerful opponent of FDR’s New Deal initiatives came from within the government:
the United States Supreme Court. In a series of landmark cases, the Court struck down some
of the most important pieces of New Deal legislation. In the May 1935 Schechter decision, the
Court invalidated the NIRA on the grounds that Congress had improperly delegated its
powers to the Executive and that it unconstitutionally interfered with intra-state commerce. In
1936, the Court’s Butler decision shut down the AAA because of its tax provisions. FDR
legitimately worried that the Court might reject most of the New Deal’s legislation as
unconstitutional. Moreover, growing criticism of the New Deal -- from the Left, from the Right,
and from within the government -- revealed that FDR’s popular support might be ebbing as
the 1936 presidential election came into view.

The Second New Deal

Roosevelt, as a result, began to change direction, inaugurating what scholars have come to
call the ―Second New Deal.‖ In the summer of 1935, during what became known as the
―Second Hundred Days‖ (June to August, 1935) FDR won passage of a slew of progressive
legislation that almost single-handedly dedicated the United States government to providing a
minimum level of social and economic protection for all Americans. Three major initiatives
represented the administration’s turn to the political left: the Works Progress Administration
(WPA); the Wagner-Connery National Labor Relations Act (or the Wagner Act, for short); and
the Social Security Act.

In April -- prior to the beginning of the Second Hundred Days -- Congress approved the
Emergency Relief Appropriation Act, creating the WPA .Under the leadership of Harry
Hopkins, the WPA aimed to give unemployed Americans jobs rather than signing them up for
the dole. By 1937, three million Americans were receiving WPA checks for building schools,
hospitals, and airports. and for pursuing cultural projects in theatre, music, literature, and
history. Together with the PWA, the WPA transformed the face of the land -- from La Guardia
Airport and the Triborough Bridge in New York to the Orange Bowl in Miami to the Oregon
Coastal Highway. The National Youth Administration (NYA), an agency of the WPA, trained
and employed hundreds of thousands of teenagers and made it possible for many more
young people, including the future playwright Arthur Miller, to work their way through college.

FDR also belatedly threw his support behind the Wagner-Connery National Labor Relations
Act, which had been languishing in Congress. This legislation guaranteed labor unions the
right to organize and bargain collectively – and established the National Labor Relations
Board to enforce these rights. It also curbed employer use of ―unfair labor practices,‖ like
blacklisting union organizers or unionized workers. Because of the legitimacy conferred on
unions by the Wagner Act, the legislation came to be known as the ―Magna Carta‖ for
American labor unions. With this new political power, union membership swelled to over 13
million Americans during World War II.

Finally, in August, FDR signed the Social Security Act of 1935. Long a goal of liberals, this
bill, like the Wagner Act, had been stalled in Congress until FDR declared it vital legislation.
With its passage came programs like Old Age Assistance (Title I), Old Age Insurance (Title
II), Unemployment Insurance (Title III), Aid to Dependent Children (Title IV) and Aid to the
Blind (Title V). Taken together, these programs represented a significant commitment to
developing a welfare state in the United States.

This phase of the New Deal did not constitute an uninterrupted revolution of progressive
legislation. Roosevelt proposed a tax scheme in 1935 that would have greatly increased the
tax bills of wealthy Americans and corporations. Conservatives in Congress, however,
watered down the proposal considerably. Likewise, FDR’s attempt to break up large public
utilities holding companies with the Public Utilities Holding Company Act ignited a political
firestorm on Capitol Hill that resulted in a weakened bill – and one that eventually benefited
the utilities.

The reforms wrought by FDR’s ―Second New Deal‖ also had several weaknesses. The WPA,
for all its efforts, failed to lift the country out of its economic doldrums. The Social Security Act
financed its programs through deductions from workers’ paychecks, which actually stunted
economic growth by muting consumer purchasing power. Moreover, the programs and
benefits of the Social Security Act were not distributed evenly among all Americans.
Agricultural workers (who were likely to be African-Americans or Mexican-Americans of both
sexes) and domestic servants (often African-American women) were not eligible for old-age
insurance (what is now commonly referred to as ―social security‖); farm laborers also were
ineligible for unemployment insurance. Likewise, since many of these Social Security
programs were administered by state governments, the size of benefits varied widely,
especially between the north and the south.

Reorganizing the Government

FDR’s policies were wildly popular with large segments of the American population, as his
overwhelming victory in 1936 made clear. At his inauguration in 1937, FDR vowed to
continue fighting for the nation’s underprivileged, the ―one third of nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-
nourished.‖ FDR understood, though, that despite his victory in the 1936 election, his New
Deal program was by no means safe. The Supreme Court and a phalanx of Republicans and
conservative Democrats had at various times proven hostile to FDR’s New Deal. FDR set out
in his second term to remove these roadblocks. All too often, however, he encountered stiff

The Supreme Court topped FDR’s list of concerns. If the Court had ruled the centerpiece of
the early New Deal unconstitutional, FDR reasoned, it was likely to do the same to
subsequent programs, such as the Social Security Act, when they appeared on the Court’s
docket. Roosevelt’s best hope was for the composition of the Court to change. But older,
conservative justices opposed to FDR’s program refused to retire -- and some of the most
ardent New Deal supporters surmised that these jurists simply refused to die -- so FDR
sought a more systematic way to shield his policies from court action.

In early February, 1937, he proposed legislation that would expand the membership of the
Court, adding a new justice for every sitting justice over the age of seventy-five. This
maneuver would have put six new Roosevelt-appointed justices on the Court, giving FDR a
comfortable majority that could be expected to validate the New Deal. Though most of the
press erupted in fury, denouncing FDR as a would-be dictator, he had so large a majority in
both houses of Congress (5-1 in the Senate, 4-1 in the House) that political commentators
expected the bill to pass. But in late-March the Court began to uphold state and federal social
legislation in what has been called ―the switch in time that saved nine.‖ When the bill finally
reached the Senate floor in July, Roosevelt no longer had the votes he needed. He claimed,
though, with good reason, that though he had lost the battle he had won the war, for never
again did the Court strike down a New Deal law. Scholars differ on why the Court changed,
but they almost all agree that what happened in 1937 was nothing less than a ―Constitutional
Revolution.‖ From that day to this, the Court has not invalidated a single piece of major New
Deal legislation regulating business or expanding social rights.

In addition to revamping the Supreme Court, FDR believed that he needed to reform and
strengthen the Presidency, and specifically the administrative units and bureaucracy charged
with implementing the chief executive’s policies. During his first term, FDR quickly found that
the federal bureaucracy, specifically at the Treasury and State Departments, moved too
slowly for his tastes. FDR often chose to bypass these established channels, creating
emergency agencies in their stead. ―Why not establish a new agency to take over the new
duty rather than saddle it on an old institution?‖ asked the President. ―If it is not permanent,‖
he continued, ―we don’t get bad precedents.‖

FDR would look at other ways to increase his administrative and bureaucratic power. His
1937 plan for executive reorganization called for the President to receive six full-time
executive assistants, for a single administrator to replace the three-member Civil Service
Commission, for the President and his staff to assume more responsibility in budget planning,
and for every executive agency to come under the control of one of the cabinet departments.
The President's conservative critics pounced on the plan, seeing it as an example of FDR’s
imperious and power-hungry nature; Congress successfully bottled up the bill. But in 1939,
Congress did pass a reorganization bill that created the Executive Office of the President
(EOP) and allowed FDR to shift a number of executive agencies (including the Bureau of the
Budget) to its watch. While FDR did not get the far-reaching result he sought in 1937, the
1939 legislation strengthened the Presidency immeasurably.

Some of the more liberal measures of the New Deal encountered stiff resistance in Congress,
often from conservative Southerners within the President’s own party. As a result, FDR
attempted in 1938 to purge conservative congressional Democrats by supporting their more
liberal opponents in the party’s primaries. He went after Senators Millard Tydings (MD),
―Cotton Ed‖ Smith (SC), and Walter George (GA), as well as seven other conservative
Democrats. FDR’s plan failed miserably; of the ten Democrats he targeted for ouster, only
one lost. The others returned to Washington even more antagonistic toward the President.
In addition, many other Democrats resented the President’s meddling in local affairs.

Economic Collapse and a Slow Recovery

These controversies, largely political in scope, occurred against the backdrop of a collapsing
economy. Beginning in the fall of 1937, industrial production fell by 33 percent, national
income dropped by 12 percent, and industrial stock prices plummeted by 50 percent. Nearly 4
million people lost their jobs, and the total number of unemployed increased to 11.5 million.
The ―Roosevelt recession‖ occurred largely because the President, along with some of his
advisers (led by Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau) were determined to balance
the federal budget and had, as a result, reduced government spending. In 1936, the
government contributed $4.1 billion to consumer purchasing power, versus less than $1
billion in 1937.
The recession hit hard and, at first, Roosevelt chose to maintain his fiscally conservative
course. In April 1938, worried that a continuing recession and the appearance of White
House inactivity would doom Democrats in the 1938 congressional mid-term elections, FDR
jettisoned Morgenthau’s advice. Instead, he listened to Harry Hopkins and other advisers
who believed that government spending on relief and public works would revive the
economy -- even if such spending produced ever larger deficits. Their rationale for this
approach was that the depression was the product of under-consumption and that putting
money in the hands of consumers -- ―priming the pump‖ -- would stimulate consumer
spending and perk up the economy. Accordingly, FDR asked Congress for a $5 billion relief
program, which passed in the spring and summer of 1938.

Despite this infusion of federal money into the economy, the nation still suffered from under-
consumption and lay mired in depression. In 1939, over 19 percent of the nation’s work force
remained unemployed. Stock prices had yet to recover from the crash of the late
1920s. Despite the New Deal, the U.S. economy in 1940, though considerably improved, had
not yet regained its former vigor.

In hindsight, many economists and historians claim that FDR’s strategy of ―deficit-spending‖
and ―pump-priming‖ was sound, but that $5 billion was too small to jump-start the nation’s
economy. Nonetheless, as the historian Alan Brinkley has argued, a generation of economic
policymakers adopted the view that the manipulation of government fiscal policies was the
key to maintaining a healthy economy. As a result, this approach colored federal efforts to
regulate the economy for the next thirty years.

The War Years

World War II, not the New Deal, brought an end to the Great Depression. The war sparked
the kind of job creation and massive public and private spending that finally lifted the United
States out of its economic doldrums. It was a mammoth effort in which the vast majority of
America's industrial and human resources were brought to bear. Great ships were built in
weeks, then in days. American-made vehicles all but put the entire Russian Army on wheels.
Airplanes emerged from factories in days. American industry churned out guns, munitions,
and clothing. Women and African-Americans benefited greatly from this war-time economy,
as the former joined the workforce in unprecedented numbers while the latter left the rural
and poor South to find industrial employment, as well as voting rights and a less oppressive
legal and social system, in the North.

Sacrifice was the word of the day. The nation’s two main labor union federations, the AFL and
the CIO, agreed not to strike. Americans, sometimes begrudgingly, submitted to the federal
government’s rationing of everything from gasoline to shoes to food. New automobiles,
radios, and other big-ticket items were virtually unavailable for purchase. In addition to
rationing, the government coordinated the use of raw materials and the production of staple
goods. Indeed, during the war the federal government played an even larger role in the
functioning of the American economy than it did during the New Deal. In the process, the
Roosevelt administration ran up massive deficits.

This extraordinary economic mobilization came with great costs. African-Americans still lived
as second-class citizens, helping fight a war against racist and oppressive nations while
enduring racism and oppression at home. The new jobs they moved into often paid poorly
and offered little chance for advancement. World War II, though, was also a time of advance
for African-Americans. The NAACP multiplied its membership, and the Supreme Court struck
down the white primary. Women, while joining the workplace at great rates, still suffered from
sex discrimination once on the job. They earned less than men for doing the same work and
received few opportunities for promotion. Yet, as with African-Americans, women made
permanent gains during the war. Some historians have even seen in World War II the origins
of the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s.

Finally, in the wake of the hysteria following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, loyal
Americans of Japanese descent, over 110,000 persons, were relocated by the Roosevelt
administration to prison camps. Many of them stayed there until the war’s conclusion, even as
their sons died in Europe fighting Nazi Germany. It was one of the most disgraceful acts in
American history, one sanctioned by FDR and validated by the Supreme Court. Only in the
1980s did the American government admit its flagrant violation of the constitutional rights of
these American citizens.

Foreign Affairs

Through his first six years in office, Franklin Roosevelt spent much of his time trying to bring
the United States out of the Great Depression. The President, however, certainly did not
ignore America’s foreign policy as he crafted the New Deal. Roosevelt, at heart, believed the
United States had an important role to play in the world, an unsurprising position for someone
who counted Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson among his political mentors. But
throughout most of the 1930s, the persistence of the nation’s economic woes and the
presence of an isolationist streak among a significant number of Americans (and some
important progressive political allies) forced FDR to trim his internationalist sails. With the
coming of war in Europe and Asia, FDR edged the United States into combat. Japan’s attack
on Pearl Harbor, however, brought the United States fully into the conflict.

Balancing Internationalism and Economic Problems at Home

In contrast to President Hoover, who believed that the Depression arose from international
circumstances, Roosevelt believed that the nation’s economic woes were largely home-
grown. As a result, FDR rejected Hoover’s numerous entreaties (delivered during the period
between FDR’s election and inauguration) that the incoming administration support Hoover’s
approach to the upcoming London Economic Conference. Hoover hoped that in London the
United States and other leading industrial nations would devise a currency stabilization
program and pledge its support for the international gold standard.

In rejecting Hoover’s approach, FDR essentially embraced a form of economic nationalism
and committed the United States to solving the Depression on its own. He scuttled the
London Economic Conference in the summer of 1933 and devalued the dollar by removing
the United States from the international gold standard. With this latter maneuver, Roosevelt
sought to artificially inflate the value of the American dollar in the hope of putting more
currency into the hands of cash-poor Americans. Unfortunately, this measure further
destabilized the world economy. Roosevelt soon recognized his mistake and his
administration worked with England and France to stabilize the international economic
system, negotiating monetary agreements with those nations in 1936.

Despite his early approach to foreign economic policy, FDR quickly demonstrated his
internationalist leanings. In 1934, FDR won passage of the Reciprocal Trade Agreements
Act, which allowed him to grant ―most favored nation‖ trade status to countries with which the
United States worked out trade agreements. In 1933, Roosevelt dramatically altered
America’s relationship with the Soviet Union, establishing official ties between the two
nations. FDR hoped that improved relations with the U.S.S.R. would expand American trade
opportunities and deter Japanese expansion. Ultimately, the agreement accomplished
neither. Another indication of FDR’s commitment to international cooperation came with his
unsuccessful fight in 1935 for U.S. membership in the World Court.

During this early period in his administration, Roosevelt scored his greatest foreign policy
success through his ―good neighbor‖ policy towards Latin America and countries of the
Western Hemisphere. In actuality, Hoover began the ―Good Neighbor‖ initiative and
Roosevelt merely followed his predecessor’s course. But under FDR’s watch, the last
American troops withdrew from the Caribbean, and the United States abrogated the Platt
Amendment, wherein the government of Cuba had pledged to recognize the right of the
United States to intervene in its country. Moreover, the United States supported the 1933
Pan-American Conference resolution which stipulated that no country had the right to
intervene in the internal or foreign affairs of another country. FDR even accepted Mexico’s
1938 nationalization of its oil industry – which expropriated American assets –rejecting calls
for intervention and ordering the State Department to work out a compensation plan instead.

Confronting Germay and Japan

FDR kept a wary eye on events unfolding in
Europe and Asia during the mid-1930s,
especially the increasingly bellicose behavior
of Japan, Germany, and Italy. Roosevelt
wanted to curb Japan’s growing power in Asia
by supporting China, although this policy had
strict limits. Previously, the Hoover
administration had acquiesced in Japan’s
flagrant occupation in late 1931 of Manchuria,
a Chinese territory, rich in minerals, and the
Roosevelt Administration proved no more             FDR delivering Armistice Day address at ampi-theater at
willing in the intervening years to actively            Arlington National Cemetery. (Nov. 11, 1935)
oppose Japanese aggression. Instead, like
Hoover before him, Roosevelt merely refused to recognize Japanese control of Manchuria.
Likewise, Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 provoked no significant response from the
United States. To be sure, Ethiopia’s dismemberment failed to spur Britain or France to
action, either.

The leaders of Japan and Germany surely noted the democracies’ failure to respond to
aggression in Manchuria and Ethiopia. In Japan, a militarist and expansionist government,
still smarting from what it perceived as shabby treatment in the aftermath of the Great War,
eyed regional domination. Japan’s developing grand strategy involved gaining access to the
oil and other raw materials of East Asia and establishing a colonial empire, or what Japanese
leaders in 1938 called a ―Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.‖ In Germany, Nazi dictator
Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, blaming old enemies and Jews for his country’s woes.
Hitler spoke menacingly of the German people’s need for more living space (―Lebensraum‖)
and his belief in the superiority of the Aryan race. He also flagrantly announced that Germany
would begin to re-arm itself, repudiating disarmament agreements it had signed in the 1920s.
In this ominous environment, the United States adopted an official policy of neutrality. Indeed,
between 1935 and 1939, Congress passed five different Neutrality Acts that forbade
American involvement in foreign conflicts. The impetus for these laws came from a revitalized
American peace movement, the revelations of war-profiteering by American munitions
businesses during the Great War, and a widespread belief among Americans that their
intervention in the European war had been fruitless. Roosevelt tried to water down these laws
–which often made no distinction between the aggressor and the victim – to mixed success.
And while he often talked a tough game, especially in his famous Chicago speech of 1937
which warned of the need to ―quarantine‖ aggressors, the President more often than not
proved unwilling to buck isolationist sentiment.

Unsurprisingly, then, the United States stood idle as Europe moved closer to war. In 1936, a
civil war in Spain erupted, pitting the Republican Spanish government against the fascist
forces of Generalissimo Francisco Franco. Franco received support from Germany and Italy,
while England, France, and the United States – citing their desire to keep the Spanish conflict
from becoming a second world war – ignored the Republican forces’ calls for aid. Franco
emerged victorious in 1939.

Descent into War

Hitler began his ruinous conquest of Europe in 1936, marching his troops into the Rhineland,
a demilitarized zone that bordered France, Belgium, and Germany. In late 1936, Germany
allied with Italy and Japan; it annexed Austria two years later. As Hitler eyed the Sudetenland
(a part of Czechoslovakia), France and Britain, who feared a continent-wide conflict, met with
Hitler at Munich and struck what they thought was a peace-saving bargain: they would
accede to Hitler’s conquest of the Sudetenland in exchange for his agreement not to pursue
more territory. The deal was struck without the participation of the Czechs – and with the
approval of FDR.

Six months later, Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia, in outright defiance of the Munich
agreement. It was clear that Hitler’s next target was Poland, and Britain and France pledged
themselves to its defense. In a masterful diplomatic move, Hitler concluded a non-aggression
pact with the Soviet Union in late August 1939, removing an adversary to his east. On
September 1, 1939, German forces invaded Poland. Britain and France responded by
declaring war on Germany. World War II had begun.

In the Spring of 1940, Hitler turned his attentions towards Western Europe, invading and
conquering Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Norway, and France. Nazi Germany (along with its
allies Italy and the Soviet Union) now controlled all of continental Europe. Only Britain
remained free of the Nazi yoke. In the summer of 1940, Hitler began a massive air war
against England to soften its defenses in preparation for a full-scale invasion of the British

Roosevelt’s sympathies clearly lay with the British and French, but he was hamstrung by the
Neutrality Acts and a strong isolationist bloc in American politics. Upon the outbreak hostilities
in September 1939, FDR re-asserted American neutrality, noting, however, that he could not
―ask that every American remain neutral in thought as well.‖ He did his best, then, to nudge
the United States towards supporting Great Britain, supplying that nation with all aid ―short of
war.‖ This strategy had three main effects. First, it offered Britain both psychological
encouragement and materiel aid, though often more of the former than the latter. Second, it
bought the United States time to shore up its military preparedness, which was inadequate for
a world war. Finally, it made the United States an active, if undeclared, participant in the war.

In the fall of 1939, FDR won a slight revision of the Neutrality Act, which now allowed
belligerents to buy arms in the United States, but only with cash and only if they transported
their purchases themselves, a provision called ―cash and carry.‖ Nearly one year later, the
United States and Great Britain struck a deal in which the Americans loaned the British fifty
mothballed destroyers in return for the use of eight British military bases. And in March 1941,
FDR won enactment of a Lend-Lease program that allowed the British and other allies
continued access to American arms and supplies despite their rapidly deteriorating financial
situation. The huge sum of $7 billion that Congress appropriated would eventually reach more
than $50 billion.

The war took a vital turn that same year. After failing to subdue the British through the air –
the so-called ―Battle of Britain‖ in which the Royal Air Force emerged victorious over the
German Luftwaffe - Hitler made two fateful decisions. First, he launched a massive invasion
of his former ally, the Soviet Union. Second, he tried to conquer the British by choking that
island nation from the sea, ordering Nazi submarines to attack British shipping in the North
Atlantic. The two decisions only drew the United States more deeply into the war. FDR
extended lend-lease aid to the Soviets. More important, he ordered the American Navy to the
North Atlantic first to ―patrol‖ that region and then to ―escort‖ British ships. This latter order
allowed the Navy to fire on German subs at sight. By the fall of 1941, Germany and the
United States were at war in all but name.

Roosevelt’s leadership during this period was crucial, although far from flawless. He and
British prime minister Winston Churchill formed an effective team, and crafted a joint
statement of their nations’ war goals, called the ―Atlantic Charter,‖ in August 1941. This
cooperation extended to both leaders’ subordinates, who began planning in earnest for the
coming war. At home, FDR managed to quiet the isolationist howls that greeted his ―short of
war‖ strategy and to further the process of rebuilding and re-arming America’s military.

Still, FDR rarely staked out policy positions which committed the nation to a clear course of
action. Roosevelt’s actions essentially placed the United States at war but FDR refused to
acknowledge the danger, often responding with evasive answers to press queries about the
difference between the nation being ―short of war‖ and at war. Finally, FDR often proved a
confusing, frustrating, and spotty administrator as he directed the nation’s military and
industrial preparations for war. Prominent members of his cabinet and staff found all these
failures exasperating.

The immense challenges that Roosevelt faced in the European conflict were compounded by
the worsening situation in Asia, and particularly by the downturn in U.S.-Japanese relations.
In 1937, that relationship deteriorated further after Japan attacked China, a nation to which a
number of Americans had a strong attachment. FDR offered aid to China, although the
neutrality laws and the power of the isolationist bloc in American politics ensured that such
assistance remain extremely limited. Instead, FDR’s strategy, in concert with other Western
nations, was to contain and isolate Japan economically and politically. If he could keep the
―Japanese dog‖ -- as Churchill referred to Japan -- at bay, FDR reasoned that he could deal
with what he saw as the more pressing German problem. In practical terms, FDR also
realized how difficult it would be for the United States to prepare for -- much less to fight --
wars simultaneously in Asia and Europe.

The strategy turned out to have significant drawbacks. By isolating Japan, the United States
and its allies exacerbated Japan’s fears of being denied access to the resources it needed to
prosecute further its war in China. By the summer of 1941, Japan’s leaders felt increasingly
hemmed in by a coalition of America, Britain, China, and the Dutch (the ABCD powers) and
adopted overtly aggressive foreign and military policies.

Japan invaded southern Indochina in the summer of 1941 to secure industrial supplies it
deemed necessary to maintain its empire and military advantage. The Roosevelt
administration responded by freezing Japan’s assets in the United States, and restricting its
access to petroleum products. Japanese leaders were both furious and even more convinced
that the United States imperiled their national interest. Roosevelt and his advisers,
meanwhile, girded for war.

War came, but in a most unexpected fashion. On December 7, 1941, Japan launched a
surprise attack against the United States at Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii, America’s
vital outpost in the Pacific. The attack greatly damaged, but did not devastate, America’s
Pacific fleet, whose aircraft carriers were at sea. Congress declared war on Japan on
December 8; three days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States, which
the U.S. Congress acknowledged in a resolution accepting the state of war. By December
1941, the United States had finally entered the war – now a true world war -- as a participant,
following several years as an interested and active bystander. The country would never be
the same.

World War II

The fortunes of the Allies looked bleak in the first months of 1942. By January, the British and
the Soviets – who in May would sign a formal treaty of alliance -- appeared to have halted the
Nazi onslaught, at least temporarily. By no means, however, were these two nations, even
with American aid, ready to turn the war decisively in their favor, especially with the Nazis in
control of Western Europe and the American war machine still in varying states of readiness.
Moreover, during the first months of 1942, German submarines sent nearly one million tons of
Allied shipping to the bottom of the Atlantic. In Asia, Japan racked up a string of victories over
the United States and its British and Dutch allies as it moved from island to island, evicting
Allied defenders; the United States suffered costly defeats in the Philippines (April and May),
as well as in the Pacific at the Battle of Java Sea (February).

Allied strategy, agreed upon by the United States and Britain before America had entered the
war, called for the United States to fight a holding action in the Pacific while the Allies
concentrated on the defeat of Nazi Germany. America’s first significant gains, however, came
against Japan as the U.S. Navy scored a series of victories in 1942, first in the Coral Sea in
early May and then at Midway Island in June, effectively halting the Japanese advance. In
Europe, the Soviet Union absorbed devastating attacks from the German Army on the
Eastern front, with the Nazis advancing to within thirty miles of Moscow.

In the North Atlantic, British and American ships -- utilizing the convoy
                                                      strategy and superior technology -- reduced
                                                      the effectiveness of German submarines. By
                                                      November, Britain and the United States were
                                                      able to mount a coordinated offensive against
                                                      Germany, launching an attack in North Africa.

                                                              The tide turned against Japan and Germany,
                                                              and in favor of the United States, Britain,
                                                              China, and the Soviet Union, the following
                                                              year. In the Pacific, the United States began
                                                              to tighten the noose around Japanese
                                                              through an island-hopping campaign. The
                                                              Americans won major victories at
  Roosevelt and Churchill at the Casablanca Conference. (Jan. Guadalcanal (February), Bougainville
 9, 1943)                                                     (November), and Tarawa (November). The
                                                              fighting, however, was exceptionally brutal
and casualties were high on both sides; at Tarawa, a 300-acre spit of land, the Americans
took 3,000 casualties.

In Europe, the British and the Americans completed the North Africa campaign in May 1943 a
few months after the Soviets had turned back the Nazis at Stalingrad, the decisive battle on
the Eastern front. Churchill had convinced FDR at the Casablanca conference in January
1943 that the Allies should next invade the ―soft underbelly‖ of Nazi Europe: Italy. Stalin
disagreed – he wanted a major assault on France to force the Nazis to shift troops to Western
Europe – but to no avail; the joint Anglo-American invasion of Italy began in the summer of
1943. It was a brutal and bloody fight that lasted for two years. In November, the ―Big Three‖ -
- FDR, Churchill, and Stalin -- met in Tehran, Iran, where FDR and Churchill promised a
skeptical Stalin that they would invade France in 1944.

Under the command of American General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Allies landed in
northwestern France on June 6, 1944, The ―D-Day‖ operation was a grand success, and
Paris was liberated by the end of the summer. During the fall of 1944, American and British
forces swept across France. The war appeared to be heading towards its final chapter as the
Soviets made quick progress on the Eastern front and the Americans and British closed in on

The Allies made similar gains in Asia in 1944, winning key battles in the Philippines, New
Guinea, Saipan, and Guam. These two latter victories gave the United States control of
islands from which they could launch bombers to attack major Japanese cities from the air.
This air war began in earnest in late 1944, decimating Japan’s industrial centers and
terrorizing its people. The invasion of Japan, however, lay ahead in 1945 and American war
planners feared it would be as bloody as the Pacific campaign that preceded it, only on a
larger scale.

Against the backdrop of these developments, FDR and his aides fleshed out plans for the
structure of the post-war world, a task they undertook beginning in the early 1940s. In 1942,
FDR played a key role in forging a coalition of twenty-six nations which affirmed the ideals set
down the Atlantic Charter; FDR called this coalition the ―United Nations.‖ The President
hoped that the United Nations, as an organization, would outlast the war and thenceforth
adopt a new agenda: world peace and cooperation. At Tehran in 1943, FDR managed to
secure Stalin’s agreement to join that proposed body.
Discussions between FDR, Churchill, and Stalin continued at Yalta, in the Crimea, in January
1945. By this time, FDR was a weak and sick man, run down from his years in office, his
energetic campaigning, and his medical condition. The Yalta meeting, moreover, was
extremely tense. Victory in Europe was almost assured, but the Allies had not yet agreed on
post-war Europe’s political or economic future. Stalin was angry that the Americans and
British had not crossed the English Channel earlier, leaving the Soviets to absorb the brunt of
Germany’s military power. Roosevelt appreciated Stalin’s complaints, though as early as
1943 he was preparing to recognize a Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. For its
part, Moscow interpreted the Yalta arrangements, which included a signed Declaration of
Liberated Europe, as granting it a free hand to set up puppet governments throughout the

One month after Yalta, Allied troops crossed the Rhine River into Germany. German soldiers
were now surrendering in the tens of thousands as the Nazi regime crumbled. As they
advanced, Allied troops uncovered the realities of Hitler’s race policy; the concentration
camps that had been built for resettling and working political prisoners from all over Europe,
and the extermination camps, set up primarily in central and eastern Europe, charged with
exterminating entire groups of people, with Jews as the primary target. FDR and his
administration had known for much of the war that the Nazis were killing Jews - although they
probably did not, and could not, conceive of the scale of this operation. FDR’s policy was to
win the war first, which would in turn stop the killing. Many years later, this policy would come
under attack by those who believed that America could have, and should have, done more to
help European Jews.

As the Allies closed in on Berlin, Hitler, surrounded by a small flock of loyal followers,
implored his armed forces -- now numbering increasing numbers of teenage boys -- to
continue the fight. On the other side of the globe, U.S. forces tightened the ring around
Japan. Franklin D. Roosevelt would not live to celebrate victory over either adversary,

Death of the President

Roosevelt’s health was in decline as FDR prepared in 1944 for both a fourth run at the
presidency and the aftermath of World War II. A March 1944 examination by his doctors
revealed a variety of heart ailments, high blood pressure, and bronchitis. Those close to the
President -- and even those who saw him speak in public -- noted his haggard and weak
appearance, his flagging energy, and his increasing lapses of concentration and memory.
Most of the American public was unaware of the President’s struggles -- though rumors about
FDR’s health often ran wild -- and FDR delivered a few key, command performances in 1944
that quieted concerns. Nonetheless, Roosevelt's election victory over Thomas E. Dewey in
1944, in addition to the Yalta Conference the following February, put the President under
immense strain.
In April 1945, FDR returned to Warm Springs,
Georgia, a destination that had served since
the 1920s as his favorite retreat. There, on
April 12, while sitting for a portrait, he
collapsed and died of a cerebral hemorrhage.
Vice President Harry Truman took the oath of
office the same day.

Roosevelt’s passing stunned the world.
Churchill later described learning of FDR’s
death as comparable to having ―been struck a
physical blow.‖ Stalin, too, was distressed to
learn of FDR’s passing. Many Americans no
doubt agreed with these leaders. Hundreds of
thousands of people, many with tears in their
eyes, lined the train route carrying his body
from Georgia to Washington, D.C., and then        FDR's flag-covered coffin in the East Room. (Apr. 14, 1945)
on to Hyde Park, to pay their final respects. Roosevelt was buried in Hyde Park, New York,
on April 15, 1945.

Family Life

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt had five sons and a daughter, although one son died in
infancy. FDR was not deeply involved in raising his children, in part because he was so
occupied with his work. But he also believed that childrearing was his wife’s (or the family
nanny’s) task. When FDR entered the White House in 1933, his oldest child, Anna, was in her
late twenties and his youngest child, John, was in his late teens. Nonetheless, the children
played important roles in their father’s life while he was President, offering him emotional
comfort, tending to the physical needs of a man withered by polio, and, in some cases,
helping him execute his daily duties as chief executive of the United States government.

Anna moved into the White House in 1933 while going through a divorce from her first
husband and stayed for more than a year. In 1943, she returned to the White House to serve
as her father’s confidential assistant. She accompanied him to the Yalta Conference in 1945
and was with him in Warm Springs Georgia in April 1945 when he suffered a fatal stroke.
Anna’s brother James (the second oldest child) oversaw his father’s presidential campaign in
Massachusetts in 1932 and later served as an assistant (and later secretary) to his father in
1937. James stayed at the White House for less than a year, departing because of the stress
his job entailed and because FDR’s political opponents had charged that he received his
position through mere cronyism. During the war, James joined the Marines, while his brothers
John and Franklin enlisted in the Navy. His other brother, Elliott, served in the Air Force.

FDR’s life at the White House was consumed largely by the heavy duties of leading the
United States through the Depression and the Second World War. But the President still
found time to relax. He enjoyed collecting stamps, bird-watching, playing cards, or swimming
in the pool he had built at the White House. FDR was an extremely out-going man who
relished the company of others, and hosted a cocktail hour each day for those in his inner
circle. He regularly entertained friends and acquaintances, as well as political allies and
visiting dignitaries, at the White House.

The American Franchise
President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s smashing victory in the 1936 presidential election revealed
that the American political landscape had shifted. With FDR at its head, the Democratic Party
put together a formidable coalition whose main components were lower-income groups in the
great cities -- African-Americans, union members, and ethnic and religious minorities, many
from recent immigrant groups -- and the traditional source of Democratic strength, ―the Solid
South.‖ Roosevelt carried every former Confederate state all four times he ran, but no
Democrat has done so since 1944, FDR’s final race. This ―New Deal coalition,‖ as it came to
be known, powered the Democratic Party for the next thirty years. Its strong hold on these
voters was due largely to the social, political, economic, and cultural changes wrought by the
Depression, the New Deal, and World War II.


One important demographic change underlay the experience of African-Americans during the
Roosevelt years. The migration of African-Americans from the South to the urban North,
which began in 1910, continued in the 1930s and accelerated in the 1940s during World War
II. As a result, black Americans during the Roosevelt years lived for the most part either in the
urban North or in the rural South, although the Depression chased increasingly large
numbers of blacks to southern cities as well. In the North, blacks encountered de facto
segregation, racism, and discrimination in housing and public services; nevertheless, they
were able to vote and had better job opportunities. In the South, blacks were disfranchised,
lived under a segregationist regime enforced by violence, and found fewer avenues for
escape from crushing poverty.

No matter where they lived, African Americans were especially hard hit by the Depression. In
the rural south, blacks found it increasingly difficult even to survive. In northern and southern
cities, blacks saw their jobs -- which were usually of the entry level, low paying, and unskilled
or semi-skilled variety -- disappear, either consumed by the faltering economy or snatched up
by desperate unemployed whites. By 1932, over half of blacks in southern cities were
unemployed. The employment situation for African Americans in the urban North was only
marginally better for the growing black middle class. In Harlem, black ownership or
management of property dropped precipitously in the first half of the 1930s.

Did the New Deal improve the lot of African Americans? The record is mixed. The aid
provided by the New Deal to America’s poor -- black and white -- was insufficient. Racism
reared its head in the New Deal, often because federal programs were administered through
local authorities or community leaders who brought their own racial biases to the table. The
Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) offered white landowners cash for leaving their
fields fallow, which they happily accepted; they, however, did not pass on their government
checks to the black sharecroppers and tenant farmers who actually worked the land. Even in
the North, blacks found that New Deal programs did not always treat them as well as whites.

There can be little doubt, however, that the New Deal in many instances was a boon to
African Americans. In one sense, this was a question of degree. Aid to African-Americans
prior to 1933, especially in the South, had been nearly non-existent; the federal help that did
come with the New Deal, therefore, was significant. In addition, New Deal agencies like the
WPA, the Public Works Administration (PWA), and the Farm Security Administration (FSA)
grew more sensitive throughout the 1930s to the needs of African-Americans, largely
because of the leadership of Roosevelt appointees at those agencies. Indeed, African
Americans found significant allies in the administration, from Secretary of the Interior Harold
Ickes to the First Lady herself, Eleanor Roosevelt. Enough blacks, like Mary McLeod
Bethune, found themselves in leadership positions that there was even talk of a ―black
Cabinet‖ of FDR advisers.

Roosevelt’s approach towards civil rights legislation was janus-faced. FDR spoke out against
lynching, found the poll tax reprehensible, and, at the prodding of his wife, met in the White
House with African American civil rights leaders. FDR, though, refused to make an anti-
lynching bill a priority, though, in truth, opposition ot the legislation was so strong that it never
had a chance. In his defense, FDR claimed -- and he was probably correct -- that endorsing
legislation which threatened the South’s racial order would cost him the votes of Southerners
in Congress -- support he desperately needed.

World War II accelerated many of the trends in African-American life that became clear during
the 1930s. Blacks continued to move from rural areas to cities, and more than half a million
moved to the North during the war years. The war brought a surge in public and private
spending that in turn spurred job creation and created a full-employment economy -- which
meant that blacks found both more and better jobs. On the other hand, the growing presence
of blacks in the urban industrial North exacerbated racial tensions with whites. The result was
sometimes deadly violence, as in the riots that shook Detroit in 1943.

Spurred by the U.S. crusade against Nazism, black advocates of civil rights called for a
―double V‖ campaign that would bring victories against fascism abroad and racism at home.
The war years saw the growth of black organizations, like the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Committee (later Congress) for Racial
Equality, dedicated to winning civil rights at home. Blacks even met with some success;
during the summer of 1941, A. Philip Randolph threatened the Roosevelt administration with
a 100,000 person ―March on Washington‖ if discrimination was not ended in the military and
the defense industries. Roosevelt capitulated and issued an Executive Order creating a Fair
Employment Practices Commission (FEPC).

Roosevelt’s performance, then was deeply flawed, but blacks rendered their own verdict
when in 1936 they abandoned their historic allegiance to the Republicans, the party of Abe
Lincoln, and moved in large numbers over to the Democrats, the party of FDR, where they
have been ever since. One of Roosevelt’s severest critics, Ralph Bunch, said the FDR era
―represented a radical break with the past,‖ and W.E.B. Du Bois concluded that Roosevelt
―gave the American Negro a kind of recognition in political life which the Negro had never
before received.‖


The experiences of American women during the Roosevelt years, like the experiences of
African-Americans, were marked by both victories and setbacks. In one respect, women
achieved notable success: in unprecedented numbers, they began to fill important positions
in the federal government. FDR appointed Francis Perkins Secretary of Labor, making her
the first woman to serve in the cabinet. Besides Perkins, women also gained important upper-
level administrative positions in a variety of New Deal agencies and programs. In addition,
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was the most active and prominent woman ever to hold that
honorary title.

Since several New Deal programs aimed to provide relief and social welfare -- areas in which
women reformers had a long history of expertise -- it comes as little surprise that these same
women found their way into New Deal agencies. The New Deal, however, was not designed
to help women in particular, even if some of its programs, like the WPA and Aid to Dependent
Children, did at least benefit women indirectly. The New Deal’s chief goal, rather, was the
resuscitation of the ―family wage,‖ a term that assumed the husband was the family’s primary
wage-earner and the wife ran the home.

As a result, many New Deal relief, employment, and welfare programs were intended
primarily for men and offered fewer benefits to American women. In some cases, this
targeting was explicit: the 1933 Economy Act prohibited the federal government from hiring
members of the same family, which meant women lost their jobs; the NRA allowed employers
to pay women less than men, even for doing the same job. In some cases, sex discrimination
was more subtle: the Social Security Act did not provide for domestics, large percentages of
whom were women. It should also be noted that sex and race discrimination intersected in
many New Deal programs, a dynamic that left African-American women outside of the
already leaky protective umbrella of the New Deal.

World War II, though, marked an important change in women’s lives in at least two ways.
First, marriage rates spiked in the early 1940s, rising slowly through the second half of the
1930s after the doldrums of the early Depression. These newlyweds would provide the United
States with a ―baby boom‖ during those first several years following the end of the war.
Second, government and private spending during the war produced jobs, many of which --
because men were increasingly joining the military -- went to women. Indeed, women joined
the workforce in such unprecedented numbers -- 19 million undertook wage-work at some
point during the war years -- that ―Rosie the Riveter,‖ the iconic female laborer publicized by
the War Manpower Commission, became a staple of wartime propaganda.


Between 1900 and 1930, the number of persons of Mexican descent living in the American
southwest jumped from 375,000 to well over 1.1 million. Mexicans and Mexican-Americans
found employment, as well as back-breaking and low-paying work, on large farms. The Great
Depression, however, reduced the need for farm labor and caused unemployment among
Mexicans living in the United States and Mexican-Americans to soar. At the behest of
politicians and community leaders in the southwest looking to solve the region’s
unemployment problem, the U.S. government forcibly sent nearly 400,000 Mexicans and
Mexican-Americans (some of them citizens) to Mexico. Those Mexican and Mexican
Americans who remained in the United States faced grinding poverty and little help from the
New Deal, which too often failed to help agricultural workers and people of color.

America’s entry into World War II, however, marked a watershed moment in the history of
Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. Roughly 350,000 Mexican-Americans would serve in the
American military. On the home front, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, like blacks and
women, took advantage of new and more lucrative employment opportunities in military-
related industries. They moved increasingly into urban areas to work these better paying jobs,
though they were not always welcomed with open arms. This racial and ethnic hostility
erupted in June 1943 when rampaging American sailors attacked young Mexican Americans
(known as ―zoot-suiters,‖ in reference to their distinctive style of dress) in the streets of Los
Angeles. The police and military refused to intervene in what became known as the ―zoot suit
riots.‖ The police, in fact, arrested more Mexicans and Mexican-Americans than sailors.

The war had one more important consequence: it reversed the flow of immigrants between
the United States and Mexico yet again. The agricultural sector in the southwest needed
Mexican labor to meet war-time demands, and the U.S. government worked out an
agreement with Mexico for what would be called the ―bracero‖ program, in which Mexicans
came to the United States as temporary workers. The bracero program, which brought more
than 200,000 Mexicans to the United States (the majority to California) during the war,
remained in place until the 1960s.


Between 1933 and 1945, union membership grew from less than 3 million workers to 14
million workers, a number which accounted for nearly thirty percent of all American workers.
This fantastic growth resulted largely from changes in American politics and economics
wrought by the Great Depression and the New Deal. The passage of the NIRA in 1933, with
its ―Section 7a‖ that gave workers the rights to organize and bargain collectively, accelerated
the growth of union membership. After the Supreme Court invalidated the NIRA in 1935,
Congress passed the Wagner Act, which strengthened labor’s rights vis a vis management,
and gave real enforcement powers to the National Labor Relations Board. Workers and
unions now had tangible evidence that the American government stood behind them.

When Roosevelt came to power, almost no factory worker in America belonged to a union. In
no other developed country in the Western world was that true. But during the FDR years, a
new labor coalition, the congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), unionized the steel,
automobile, textile, and other large industries. The CIO, headed by John L. Lewis, chief of the
United Mine Workers, welcomed assembly line laborers, who often came from religious and
ethnic minorities; in contrast, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) was interested primarily
in craft workers, such as carpenters with northern European backgrounds. When in 1937, the
auto workers launched sit-down strikes, Roosevelt refused to sanction the use of force to
dislodge them. As a result, General motors and other firms were compelled to recognize
these new unions. Not until World War II, though, did Henry Ford and other recalcitrant
employers yield.

African-American workers increasingly joined unions to protect their employment rights as
well. One of the most powerful of such organizations was the Sleeping Car Porters’ Union, a
group of railroad-passenger attendants that was almost completely composed of African-
Americans. Led by the tireless, charismatic A. Philip Randolph (1889-1979), the union
languished for years until Roosevelt's legislation made it legally viable. It was the first African-
American union to be allowed into the American Federation of Labor (AFL). In 1935, the
Porters’ Union forced a virulently anti-union company, the makers and operators of Pullman
passenger cars, to sit at the bargaining table with the union's members. After two long years
of struggle, Pullman agreed to terms, a milestone event in American civil rights history.

During World War II, the effort to make the United States the ―arsenal of democracy‖ aided
American workers by making jobs plentiful and raising wages. Most unions agreed to a no-
strike pledge at the beginning of the war. Nonetheless, conflict between labor and
management still arose, largely over who controlled the shop floor, and who set work rates
and salaries. In 1943, half a million coal miners went on strike four separate times to protest
low pay. African-American workers, likewise, still confronted discrimination on the job. When
A. Philip Randolph in 1941 threatened a ―March on Washington‖ to protest discrimination in
military industries and the services, FDR issued an Executive Order directing government
agencies and contractors to hire without regard to race or religion. The Executive Order also
created a Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) to monitor its implementation,
although the commission had no enforcement powers.
Without a doubt, American workers improved their lot during the Roosevelt years. They, and
the unions they joined, achieved a new legitimacy in the American political and economic
arena and received hard-won wage increases, although those wages did not rise as much as
workers wanted. Conservatives in Congress and many business leaders, moreover, still
considered unions illegitimate. The challenges for African-American workers were even
greater. Nonetheless, American workers and the unions that represented them believed that
in Franklin D. Roosevelt, they had an ally in the White House. They would reward him -- and
his Democratic successors -- with their votes and support for years to come.

Recent Immigrants

Although Congress passed a series of immigration laws in the 1920s which essentially halted
the great migration of European immigrants since the last decades of the nineteenth century,
recent immigrants continued to play an important role in American political, economic, and
social life. The Great Depression hit recent immigrants very hard. They often worked in the
low-paying industrial jobs that disappeared during the economic crisis. The ethnic
communities that sustained immigrants as they adapted to life in the United States suffered
too, as local businesses -- from banks to tailors to groceries -- failed.

Starting with the 1928 election, the Democratic Party began to win the votes of recent
immigrants, in large part because candidate Al Smith rejected prohibition and displayed a
sensitivity to life in urban American, where immigrants most often lived. FDR built upon
Smith’s gains in the 1932 general election. The New Deal especially energized recent
immigrants and brought them into the Democratic Party. Roosevelt appointed Jews and
Catholics to important positions in his administration, heartening immigrant newcomers who
reveled in the appointment of their co-religionists. So great a departure was Roosevelt’s
attitude from that of previous Presidents, whose appointments were largely restricted to
white, northern European, Protestant men, that Time magazine featured on the cover of one
of its issues in 1935 two of his advisers, Thomas Corcoran (an Irish Catholic) and Benjamin
Cohen (a Jew).

Most important to the party’s success, however, was the emotional attachment recent
immigrants felt toward FDR. They believed that he was their President and saw him a father-
figure who watched after their interests. It was not unusual in the 1930s for FDR’s picture to
hang in a prominent place in a recent immigrant’s home or business. These new Americans
joined the Democratic party, and they and their children would vote Democratic for the next

Impact and Legacy

Franklin Delano Roosevelt served as President from March 1933 to April 1945, the longest
tenure in American history. He may have done more during those twelve years to change
American society and politics than any of his predecessors in the White House, save
Abraham Lincoln. Of course, some of this was the product of circumstances; the Great
Depression and the rise of Germany and Japan were beyond FDR’s control. But his
responses to the challenges he faced made him a defining figure in American history.

Americans elected Roosevelt President in 1932 because they believed he could combat the
Depression more effectively than his Republican opponent, President Herbert Hoover.
Roosevelt promised a ―new deal‖ and he certainly delivered. By implementing a variety of
innovative policies, FDR was able to pull the United States away from the brink of economic,
social, and perhaps even political, disaster -- and lay the foundation for future stability and

Under FDR, the American federal government assumed new and powerful roles in the
nation’s economy, in its corporate life, and in the health, welfare, and well-being of its
citizens. The federal government in 1935 guaranteed unions the right to organize and bargain
collectively, and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 established a mechanism for putting a
floor under wages and a ceiling on hours that continues to this day. It provided, in 1935,
financial aid to the aged, infirm, and unemployed when they could no longer provide for
themselves. Beginning in 1933, it helped rural and agricultural America with price supports
and development programs when these sectors could barely survive. Finally, by embracing
an activist fiscal policy after 1937, the government assumed responsibility for smoothing out
the rough spots in the American economy.

Writ large, the New Deal sought to insure that the economic, social, and political benefits of
American capitalism were distributed more equally among America’s large and diverse
populace. The New Deal did this to a remarkable degree. But FDR’s New Deal failed to cure
completely the Depression-induced ills of the American economy. By 1940, the percentage of
Americans without jobs remained in double digits and the American people lacked the
purchasing power to jump start the economy. Only American entry into World War II ended
this torpor.

If capitalism was still sick in 1940, democracy was also suffering from various maladies.
African-Americans and women, despite a number of benefits accrued from the New Deal, still
received far fewer of those benefits than white males and, partly as a result, remained at the
bottom of the American economic ladder. The New Deal, moreover, did nothing to ensure
that rights guaranteed to all Americans via the Constitution, such as the right to vote and the
right to a fair trial, were guaranteed to blacks.

If FDR was elected in 1932 to fight the Depression, he was largely re-elected in 1940
because Americans believed he could guide the nation through a period of treacherous
international relations. FDR correctly understood that Japan and Germany threatened the
United States, which in turn endangered the cherished freedoms Americans enjoyed at
home. With the onset of war in 1939, FDR ably guided America’s efforts to aid its allies
without formally entering into hostilities. When Japan and Germany forced his hand in
December 1941, Roosevelt rallied Americans in support of a massive war effort, both at
home and abroad.

FDR hoped that the war would produce a more secure and peaceful post-war world, and he
became a major proponent of a post-war United Nations, in which the United States would be
a leading member. FDR, however, left to his successors the thorny problem of relations with
the Soviet Union, which quickly replaced Germany and Japan as America’s chief global
adversary. Nonetheless, a sea change had occurred in American foreign relations under
FDR. By 1945, the United States had become a global power with global responsibilities --
and its new leaders both understood this new reality and had the tools at their disposal to
shape the world accordingly.

FDR also reshaped the American presidency. Through his ―fireside chats,‖ delivered to an
audience via the new technology of radio, FDR built a bond between himself and the public --
doing much to shape the image of the President as the caretaker of the American people.
Under FDR’s leadership, the President’s duties grew to encompass not only those of the chief
executive -- as implementer of policy -- but also chief legislator -- as drafter of policy. And in
trying to design and craft legislation, FDR required a White House staff and set of advisers
unlike any seen previously in Washington. The President now needed a full-time staff
devoted to domestic and foreign policies, with expertise in these areas, and a passion for
governance. With enactment of the Executive Reorganization bill in 1939, FDR changed the
shape of the White House forever. In sum, President Roosevelt greatly increased the
responsibilities of his office. Fortunately for his successors, he also enhanced the capacity of
the presidency to meet these new responsibilities.

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