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President Roosevelt

President Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, often known by his initials - FDR - is the only American president to have served for more than two terms. He was a Democrat who believed in government intervention, and during his presidency, he enacted the famous New Deal. Roosevelt is generally considered to have improved America’s political, economic, and social landscape. Let's find out how he did this!

President Franklin D Roosevelt Facts and Biography

  • FDR was born on 30 January 1882 into a wealthy family in New York City.
  • He was privately educated at home before transferring to Groton, an extremely prestigious private school.
  • He went to Harvard University in 1900.
  • FDR admired Theodore Roosevelt - the president of the US at the time, who also happened to be his distant cousin.
  • He was deeply interested in progressive politics and was a strong advocated of increased government involvement in the economic and social affairs of the country.

Progressivism

A political philosophy that aims to represent the people's interests through social and economic reform

When Roosevelt was elected in 1932, the US was in the midst of its worst-ever economic crisis. The Wall Street Crash in 1929 drove the US into a deep economic depression, which led to huge unemployment and homelessness - it was in this atmosphere that Roosevelt became president, promising a 'New Deal' to the American people.

President Roosevelt's New Deals

The Second New Deal was much more focused on getting Americans back into work and putting money back into their pockets. It was the second phase, if you like, after the First New Deal's programmes to protect the economy from crashing so badly ever again.

Roosevelt and Conflict with the Supreme Court

The US Supreme Court is made up of nine justices (judges) appointed by the president. From the beginning of his presidency, Roosevelt knew that four of the nine existing justices believed in limited government intervention, meaning they were likely to challenge elements of New Deal legislation.

While the Court unanimously upheld much of FDR's New Deal, it struck down some key pieces of legislation, notably the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) in Butler v United States, by a six to three majority (FDR's government quickly rewrote the parts which had been deemed unconstitutional, and it then withstood further legal challenges).

Outrage broke out when the court voted against a New York state law to introduce a minimum wage for women and children in Morehead v New York in 1936 by a five to four majority.

In 1937, Roosevelt suggested the Court Packing Plan, which would allow him to appoint an additional Supreme Court justice for every justice over 70. FDR knew this would tip the house in his favour, as six out of the nine justices were over 70.

This was a huge ordeal, and many expected FDR's bill to be passed. Later in 1937, however, Justice Roberts, having been the key swing vote in several five to four decisions against New Deal legislation, voted to uphold a key piece of the Second New Deal. Support for FDR's court-packing declined, and it was never passed. Nevertheless, it was a victory for Roosevelt, and he was able to pass more of his policies after the contest.

Were the New Deals successful?

Generally, the New Deals were considered a success. Reasons for this include:

  • Decrease in unemployment
  • More government intervention in welfare
  • Relative stimulation of the economy

However, unemployment was still 14% in 1937, which although was significantly lower than 25% in 1933 was still very high. The unemployment rate rose again to 19% in 1937, and it did not improve much until World War II, which brought the US out of the Depression. It is often debated by historians whether Roosevelt’s New Deal would’ve been able to solely end the economic depression without the War.

1938 Midterm elections

Having gained the confidence of the American people, Roosevelt had three consecutive major electoral victories - the 1932 election, 1934 midterms and 1936 election. However, Roosevelt hit a big bump in the 1938 midterms. A major disagreement between the two biggest labour unions, the CIO and AFL, tarnished the reputation of unions in general and led to resentment of the expansion of workers' rights.

That year, the Republicans made major gains in the House and the Senate. They formed an informal alliance with the more conservative Democrats and blocked most of the new New Deal legislation that FDR tried to enact. They even rolled some of it back.

Roosevelt may have had much more re-election difficulty in 1940 had it not been for the turn in attention to the war effort and his strong response.

President Roosevelt's Foreign Policy

Welfare state

When the state or an established group of social institutions provides basic economic security for its citizens

Area of accomplishmentSummary
Economic policy
  • The New Deals helped the economy to grow and unemployment fall.
  • Roosevelt showed grit when challenging the Supreme Court, ultimately succeeding in pushing through more of his New Deal policies.
  • Roosevelt proposed a Second Bill of Rights in 1944 to protect economic rights, such as employment, the right to an adequate income, food, shelter, education, social security and housing.

None of Roosevelt's propositions were specifically enshrined in law, and federal laws codifying rights to social security, healthcare and minimum wage remain extremely contentious in the United States.

Foreign policy
  • Intervention in WWII helped the US recover from the Great Depression
  • The Good Neighbour policy represented a shift in US attitudes to Latin America.
The media
  • The prosperity of the Roaring Twenties had put radios in many households for the first time, allowing Roosevelt to communicate directly with US citizens.
  • Roosevelt used newsreels and Fireside Chats to engage with the Ameican people.
Civil rights
  • Roosevelt wanted equality to be extended to all Americans.
  • In June 1941, Executive Order 8802 banned racial discrimination in the US defence industry. It was the first federal action that targeted racial discrimination.

Did you know? FDR's wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, helped to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was signed on 10 December 1948. She campaigned for humanitarian causes throughout her life.

President Roosevelt's Death

Roosevelt won an unprecedented fourth term in office in the 1944 election, in yet another landslide. However, unbeknownst to anyone but his closest allies, his health was in severe decline. He was confined to a wheelchair, and any public appearance was strictly behind a desk - ensuring the public didn't find out.

Roosevelt died suddenly on 12 April 1945 just months before the end of the Second World War, and only shortly after the Potsdam Conference. It was only four months after his inauguration to his fourth term. Under the Constitution, his Vice-President Harry Truman took over. Truman had little experience of foreign affairs, but is generally credited with navigating the end of WWII and the beginning of the Cold War with a degree of success.

Roosevelt's legacy is almost universally praised for his swift and effective response to the Great Depression and his World War II intervention, but there were criticisms which we didn't have room to go into in this article, such as the New Deals not going far enough to help those in rural farming communities.

President Roosevelt - Key takeaways

  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born on 30 January 1882. He was deeply interested in progressive politics and was a strong advocate of increased government involvement in market regulation and welfare.
  • FDR became President on 4 March 1933, after holding multiple political offices. His first two terms were dedicated to recovery from the Great Depression, implementing two "New Deals" to aid recovery and prevent a future economic crisis.
  • Roosevelt's foreign policy was defined by a shift from interventionist to isolationist policies in his first two terms, implementing his Good Neighbour policy towards Latin America. In his second two terms, foreign policy was dominated by World War II.
  • He provided support to the UK, France, and China - support for China greatly angered the Japanese, leading to the attack on Pearl Harbor and the US entry to the War in 1941.
  • FDR died just four months into his fourth term in April 1945, leaving Harry S. Truman to see out the remaining three and a half years of his term.

References

  1. Franklin D Roosevelt, 'Inaugural Address', Washington (4 March 1933).
  2. Ibid.

Frequently Asked Questions about President Roosevelt

President Roosevelt is most famous for his response to the Great Depression, implementing his New Deal policies and seeing the country through its worst-ever economic crisis.

From March 1933 to April 1945

Until the 1950s, there was no limit on the number of terms a US president could serve. A couple of presidents had wanted to run for a third term and been prevented by their party, and some had run a third time and lost the election. After Roosevelt's four wins, Republicans gained the legislative power in the 1950s to enact a Constitutional Amendment, which now provides that a President can only serve two full terms in office.

He forced weak banks to shut and introduced a raft of economic regulations. He then embarked on his New deal programmes, ensuring the US couldn't suffer another crash like it again, and to get Americans back into work and out of poverty.

The day after his inauguration, he implemented a law forcing all banks to close for four days. This meant that the weak, dangerous banks went out of business and only the strong national banks survived.

Final President Roosevelt Quiz

Question

Which Republican politician did Roosevelt admire?

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Answer

His distant cousin, Theodore Roosevelt

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Question

How many terms did FDR serve?

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Answer

Four terms

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Question

What was the name of the series of the evening radio addresses given by FDR?

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Answer

Fireside Chats

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Question

What was Roosevelt's main objective during his first and second terms?

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Answer

To fix the economy and quell the economic depression.

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Question

What was Roosevelt's main objective during his third and fourth terms?

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Answer

These two terms were dominated by the Second World War and foreign policy, although he also focused on the Second Bill of Rights.

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Question

What was the Second Bill of Rights?

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Answer

The Second Bill of Rights was a revision of the Bill of Rights in which FDR proposed that every American regardless of their race and creed should have the same economic rights.

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Question

What American Institution did FDR try to tackle in his second term?

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Answer

The Supreme Court

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Question

What did Roosevelt create during the Second World War?

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Answer

FDR created the Lend and lease agreement, as well as the wartime alliance between the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union.

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Question

When was FDR diagnosed with Polio?

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Answer

1921

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Question

What political party did FDR belong to?

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Answer

The Democratic Party.

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