Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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Roosevelt, Franklin Delano

Roosevelt, Franklin Delano (dĕlˈənō) (rōˈzəvĕlt), 1882–1945, 32d President of the United States (1933–45), b. Hyde Park, N.Y.

Early Life

Through both his father, James Roosevelt, and his mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, he came of old, wealthy families. After studying at Groton, Harvard (B.A., 1904), and Columbia Univ. school of law, he began a career as a lawyer. In 1905 he married a distant cousin, a niece of Theodore Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt. They had five children: Anna Eleanor, James, Elliott, Franklin D., Jr., and John A. Both Franklin D., Jr., and James served terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Political Start

His political career began when he was elected (1910) to the New York state senate. He became the leader of a group of insurgent Democrats who prevented the Tammany candidate, William F. Sheehan, from being chosen for the U.S. Senate. Roosevelt allied himself firmly with reform elements in the party by his vigorous campaign for Woodrow Wilson in the election of 1912. Appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy, he served in that position from 1913 to 1920 and acquired a reputation as an able administrator. In 1920 he ran as vice presidential nominee with James M. Cox on the Democratic ticket that lost overwhelmingly to Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge.

Affliction and Return to Politics

The following summer, while vacationing on Campobello Island, N.B., Roosevelt was stricken with poliomyelitis. He was paralyzed from the waist down, but by unremitting effort he eventually recovered partial use of his legs. Although crippled to the end of his life, his vigor reasserted itself. He found the waters at Warm Springs, Ga., beneficial, and there he later established a foundation to help other victims of poliomyelitis. Encouraged by his wife and others, he had retained his interest in life and politics and was active in support of the candidacy of Alfred E. Smith in the Democratic conventions of 1924 and 1928.

Persuaded by Smith, Roosevelt ran for the governorship of New York and was elected (1928) by a small plurality despite the defeat of the Democratic ticket nationally. Roosevelt's program of state action for general welfare included a farm-relief plan, a state power authority, regulation of public utilities, and old-age pensions. Roosevelt was reelected governor in 1930, and, to deal with the growing problems of the economic depression, he in 1932 surrounded himself with a small group of intellectuals (later called the Brain Trust) as well as with other experts in many fields. Although his program showed him to be the most vigorous of the governors working for recovery, the problems still remained.


New Deal

In July, 1932, Roosevelt was chosen by the Democratic party as its presidential candidate to run against the Republican incumbent, Herbert C. Hoover. In November, Roosevelt was overwhelmingly elected President. He came to the White House at the height of crisis—the economic structure of the country was tottering, and fear and despair hung over the nation. Roosevelt's inaugural address held words of hope and vigor to reassure the troubled country—“Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”—and at the same time to prepare it for a prompt and unprecedented emergency program—“This Nation asks for action, and action now. We must act and act quickly.” He did act quickly. During the famous “Hundred Days” (Mar.–June, 1933), the administration rushed through Congress a flood of antidepression measures.

Finance and banking were regulated by new laws that loosened credit and insured deposits; the United States went off the gold standard; and a series of government agencies—most notably the National Recovery Administration, the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, and the Public Works Administration—were set up to reorganize industry and agriculture under controls and to revive the economy by a vast expenditure of public funds. The Civilian Conservation Corps (1933) conserved and developed the country's natural resources while employing more than three million. (A committed conservationist, Roosevelt created 29 national parks and monuments, as many national forests, and 140 national wildlife refuges during his presidency.) The government took a direct role in infrastructure development to promote economic development with the establishment of the Tennessee Valley Authority (1933) and the Rural Electrification Administration (1935). The Securities and Exchange Commission was set up (1934) to regulate banks and stock exchanges. The Works Progress Administration (later the Work Projects Administration) was intended to offer immediate work programs for many unemployed, while the legislation for social security was a long-range plan for the future protection of the worker in unemployment, sickness, and old age.

The vast, many-faceted program of the New Deal was fashioned with the help of many advisers. Some of the Brain Trust had accompanied Roosevelt to Washington, and counselors, such as Raymond Moley, Rexford Guy Tugwell, and Adolf A. Berle, Jr., were important advisers in the early years, as were some members of the cabinet, including Henry A. Wallace, Harold L. Ickes, Frances Perkins, Cordell Hull, and James A. Farley. Among his other counselors was Harry L. Hopkins. There was sometimes dissension within the ranks of these advisers; a counselor breaking from the group and denouncing the policies of the administration—and sometimes the President himself—became a familiar occurrence. The steady and rapid buildup of the program and the forceful personality of Roosevelt offset early opposition. His reassuring “fireside chats,” broadcast to the nation over the radio, helped to explain issues and policies to the people and to hold for him the mandate of the nation.

In 1936, Roosevelt was reelected by a large majority over his Republican opponent, Alfred M. Landon, who won the electoral votes of only two states. However, the impetus of reform had begun to slow. The opposition (generally conservative) turned more bitter toward “that man in the White House,” whom they considered a “traitor to his class.” Quarrels and shifts among supporters in the government continued to have a divisive effect. The action of the Supreme Court in declaring a number of the New Deal measures invalid—notably those creating the National Recovery Administration and the Agricultural Adjustment Administration—spurred the opponents of Roosevelt and tended to reduce the pace of reform. Roosevelt tried to reorganize the court in 1937, but failed (see Supreme Court). He failed, too, in his attempt to “purge” members of Congress who had opposed New Deal measures; most of those opponents were triumphant in the elections of 1938. However, the dynamic force of the administration continued to be exerted and to impress foreign observers.

The War Years

Apart from extending diplomatic recognition to the USSR (1933), the main focus of Roosevelt's foreign policy in the early years was the cultivation of “hemisphere solidarity.” His “good neighbor” policy toward Latin America, which included the signing of reciprocal trade agreements with many countries, greatly improved relations with the neighboring republics to the south. In addition, from his earliest days in office, e.g., in his 1935 state of the union speech, Roosevelt made it clear that the United States was not only threatened by the domestic Depression but by fascism abroad as well, and he condemned isolationism. By 1938 the international skies were black, and as the power of the Axis nations grew, Roosevelt spoke out against aggression and international greed.

Although the United States refused to recognize Japan's conquest of Manchuria and decried Japanese aggression against China, negotiations with Japan went on even after World War II had broken out in Europe. After the fighting started, the program that Roosevelt had already begun—to build U.S. strength and make the country an “arsenal of democracy”—was speeded up. In the summer of 1940, after the fall of France and while Great Britain was being blitz-bombed by the Germans, aid to Britain (permitted since relaxation of the Neutrality Act) was greatly increased, and in 1941 lend-lease to the Allies was begun. In the presidential election of 1940 both of the major parties supported the national defense program and aid to Britain but opposed the entry of the United States into the war.

In accepting the nomination for that year Roosevelt broke with tradition; never before had a President run for a third term. Some of his former associates were vocal in criticism. John N. Garner, who had been Vice President, was alienated, and the new vice presidential candidate was Henry A. Wallace. James A. Farley, who had been prominent in managing the earlier campaigns, fell away. John L. Lewis, with his large labor following, bitterly denounced Roosevelt. The Republican candidate, Wendell Willkie, had much more support than Roosevelt's earlier opponents, but again the President won, if by a closer margin.

The story of his third administration is primarily the story of World War II as it affected the United States. The first peacetime selective service act came into full force. In Aug., 1941, Roosevelt met British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at sea and drafted the Atlantic Charter. The United States was becoming more and more aligned with Britain, while U.S. relations with Japan grew steadily worse.

On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor plunged the United States into the war. Much later, accusations of responsibility for negligence at Pearl Harbor, and even for starting the war, were leveled at Roosevelt; historians disagree as to the validity of these charges. Roosevelt was, however, responsible to a large extent for the rapid growth of American military strength. He was not only the active head of a nation at war but also one of the world leaders against all that the Axis powers represented. His diplomatic duties were heavy. There was no conflict within the United States over foreign policy, and the election that occurred in wartime was again largely on domestic issues.

In 1944, Roosevelt, who had chosen Harry S. Truman as his running mate, was triumphant over the Republican Thomas E. Dewey. The turn in the fortunes of war had already come, and the series of international conferences with Churchill, Joseph Stalin, Chiang Kai-shek, and others (see Casablanca Conference; Quebec Conference; Tehran Conference; Yalta Conference) began increasingly to include plans for the postwar world. Roosevelt spoke eloquently for human freedom and worked for the establishment of the United Nations.

On Apr. 12, 1945, not quite a month before Germany surrendered to the Allies, Franklin Delano Roosevelt died suddenly from a cerebral hemorrhage. He was buried on the family estate at Hyde Park (much of which he donated to the nation). The Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial Library is there. Roosevelt's character and achievements are still hotly debated by his fervent admirers and his fierce detractors. However, no one denies his immense energy and self-confidence, his mastery of politics, and the enormous impact his presidency had on the development of the country.


Roosevelt's letters (4 vol., 1947–50) were edited by his son E. Roosevelt, and his public papers and addresses (13 vol., 1938–50, repr. 1969) by S. I. Rosenman. See particularly the works of F. Freidel; biographies by J. Gunther (1950), J. M. Burns (1956 and 1970), A. M. Schlesinger, Jr. (3 vol., 1957–60), R. G. Tugwell (1967), K. S. Davis (5 vol., 1986–2004); C. Black (2003), R. Jenkens (2003), J. E. Smith (2007), and R. Dallek (2017); R. E. Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins (rev. ed. 1950); S. I. Rosenman, Working with Roosevelt (1952, repr. 1972), H. I. Ickes, The Secret Diary (3 vol., 1953–54, repr. 1974), D. R. Fusfeld, The Economic Thought of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Origins of the New Deal (1956, repr. 1969); J. M. Blum, Roosevelt and Morgenthau (1970); J. P. Lash, Eleanor and Franklin (1971); J. Bishop, FDR's Last Year (1974); R. T. Goldberg, The Making of Franklin D. Roosevelt (1982); W. Heinrich, Threshold of War (1988); P. Collier with D. Horowitz, The Roosevelts (1994); D. K. Goodwin, No Ordinary Time (1994); R. H. Jackson, That Man (2003); J. Meacham, Franklin and Winston (2003); J. Alter, The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope (2006); A. J. Badger, FDR: The First Hundred Days (2008); A. Cohen, Nothing to Fear (2009); A. Roberts, Masters and Commanders (2009); B. Solomon, FDR v. the Constitution (2009); H. Rowley, Franklin and Eleanor (2010); J. Shesol, Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt v. the Supreme Court (2010); J. F. Simon, F.D.R. and Chief Justice Hughes (2012); I. Kitznelson, Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time (2013); A. J. Lichman and R. Breitman, FDR and the Jews (2013); N. Hamilton, The Mantle of Command (2014), Commander in Chief (2016), and War and Peace (2019); D. Brinkley, Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America (2016); J. Lelyveld, His Final Battle: The Last Months of Franklin Roosevelt (2016).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Roosevelt, Franklin Delano


Born Jan. 30, 1882, in Hyde Park, N. Y.; died Apr. 12, 1945, in Warm Springs, Ga. US statesman; president from 1933 to 1945.

Roosevelt was the son of a wealthy landowner and entrepreneur. His family had extensive political connections in the northeastern states. Educated as a lawyer, he attended Groton, a privileged private school, and Harvard and Columbia universities. In 1905 he married a distant relative, Eleanor Roosevelt, a niece of T. Roosevelt. He worked for a law firm from 1907 to 1910, when he was elected to the New York State Senate. He was a member of the Democratic Party. As assistant secretary of the navy from 1913 to 1920, during W. Wilson’s administration, Roosevelt advocated the strengthening of US naval power. In 1920 he was the Democratic Party’s candidate for vice-president. Defeated in the election, he returned to private law practice and entrepreneurial concerns.

Stricken with poliomyelitis in August 1921, Roosevelt never fully regained the use of his legs. Despite his illness, Roosevelt played an increasingly prominent role in the leadership of the Democratic Party. In 1928 he was elected governor of New York.

During the world economic crisis of 1929–33, with the exacerbation of the class struggle in the USA, Roosevelt gained popularity by criticizing the reactionary policy of the ruling Republican Party. The candidate of the Democratic Party, he was elected president in 1932. After taking office in 1933, he adopted a number of emergency measures instituting government regulation of the economy. Roosevelt believed that these measures could reinvigorate the economy and save the capitalist system. Under pressure from the toiling masses, the Roosevelt administration also made some concessions in social legislation.

Roosevelt’s reforms, which were collectively referred to as the New Deal, signified a new stage in the development of state-monopoly capitalism in the USA. In 1936, Roosevelt was re-elected with the decisive support of the popular masses. The New Deal had limited, contradictory results, owing to the class character of bourgeois reformism, but Roosevelt continued to enjoy the support of the majority of voters. He was the only president in US history to be elected to a third (1940) and fourth term (1944).

In foreign policy Roosevelt was a realist. On Nov. 16, 1933, his administration established diplomatic relations with the USSR. Taking into consideration the growing resistance to the expansion of American imperialism in Latin America, Roosevelt proclaimed a Good Neighbor policy, which gave preference to subtle methods of penetrating Latin America.

Roosevelt was aware that fascism posed a threat to the USA, and he condemned the aggressive plans of Germany, Italy, and Japan. With the outbreak of World War II (1939–45), he advocated American support for Great Britain and France against fascist Germany. On June 24, 1941, after fascist Germany attacked the USSR, Roosevelt declared the readiness of the USA to support the struggle of the Soviet people. Opposing reactionary forces in the USA, which adopted anti-Soviet positions, he upheld the idea of rapprochement between the US and the USSR, and he favored providing material assistance to the USSR.

After the US entry into the war in December 1941, Roosevelt made an important contribution to the creation and strengthening of the anti-Hitlerite coalition. Representing the USA at conferences in Tehran (1943) and Yalta (1945), he emphasized the importance of the development of postwar international cooperation and the creation of the UN. He thought highly of the courage and fortitude of the Soviet people in their struggle against the invaders. Roosevelt was a strong advocate of the postwar maintenance and strengthening of US-Soviet cooperation, which he viewed as a very important condition for the preservation of world peace.


Iakovlev, N. N. F. Ruzvel’t—chelovek i politik. Moscow, 1965.
Mal’kov, V. L. “Novyi kurs” ν SShA: Sotsial’nye dvizheniia i sotsial’naia politika. Moscow, 1973.
Rauch, B. The History of the New Deal, 1933–1938. New York [1963].
Schlesinger, A. M. The Age of Roosevelt, vols. 1–3. Boston, 1957–60.
Leuchtenburg, W. E. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932–1940. New York [1963].


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Roosevelt, Franklin Delano

(1882–1945) 32nd president of U.S.; stricken with polio and confined to wheelchair. [Am. Hist.: NCE, 2355]

Roosevelt, Franklin Delano

(1882–1945) 32nd U.S. President; elected to four terms. [Am. Hist.: Hart, 726]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Roosevelt, Franklin Delano

(1882–1945) thirty-second U.S. president; born in Hyde Park, N.Y. Born into the patrician family (of Dutch descent) that produced his distant cousin Theodore Roosevelt, as well as his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, he was educated in Europe and at Harvard and Columbia Law School. Admitted to the New York bar in 1907, he served as a progressive state senator (1911–13) and assistant navy secretary (1913–20) before running unsuccessfully as vice-president on the 1920 Democratic ticket. After a crippling attack of polio in 1921 (he would never again walk without assistance), he resumed his political career, becoming governor of New York (1929–33) and seeming to take on a new sense of purpose. With the country in a deep depression, he easily defeated Herbert Hoover in 1932. As president, he moved decisively and set the pattern for the modern liberal Democratic Party with a social and economic program called the "New Deal." An array of agencies and departments, many hastily created in his first months in office, were designed to stimulate the economy, put people to work, and simply to create hope—the Tennessee Valley Authority, Civilian Conservation Corps, Securities and Exchange Commission, Work Projects Administration, and the Social Security Administration, among others. Some of these organizations were short-lived; others became fixtures of the American way of life. While the nation's economy did not fully revive until wartime, his actions earned Roosevelt the gratitude of working people that outweighed the hatred of conservatives. In fact, he himself was not all that interested in either the details of his programs nor in any ideological theories; he was motivated largely by a desire to keep the U.S.A. a functioning and fair society, and to this end he surrounded himself with first-rate people; a person of ordinary intellect and tastes, his mixture of casual optimism and natural sympathies managed to appeal to everyone from artsy intellectuals to disenfranchised minorities. Reelected by a landslide in 1936, he won unprecedented third and fourth terms in 1940 and 1944. Having maintained neutrality in the face of European hostilities in the late 1930s, his administration began supplying arms to the allies by 1940 and then led the nation into World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (December 1941). Having seen the nation through the war, and helped plan, with other allied leaders, the postwar world and the United Nations, Roosevelt died less than four weeks before the German surrender. The object of constant attacks during his presidency—he was regarded as everything from "a traitor to his class" to a would-be dictator—he would suffer somewhat from posthumous revelations about an extramarital relationship and by charges that he conceded too much in negotiations with Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill, but most historians and informed people continue to regard FDR as one of the three or four greatest American presidents.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.