Franklin D. Roosevelt Biography, career, education, spouse, marriage, family and cause of death


Franklin Delano Roosevelt, better known by his initials FDR, was an American statesman and politician who served as the 44th governor of New York from 1929 to 1932, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1913 to 1920, and a senator from the New York State Senate from 1911 to 1913.

Roosevelt studied law in New York City after graduating from Columbia Law School, Harvard College, and Groton School. He was elected to the New York State Senate in 1910, and during World War I, he worked for President Woodrow Wilson as the Navy’s Assistant Secretary.

In the 1920 US presidential election, Roosevelt served as James M. Cox’s running mate on the Democratic Party ticket. However, Cox lost to Republican Warren G. Harding. Roosevelt got a paralytic disease in 1921, rendering his legs permanently crippled.

By winning the 1928 New York gubernatorial race, he entered politics once more. During his tenure as governor of New York, which lasted from 1929 to 1933, he promoted policies aimed at reversing the Great Depression that was then afflicting the country. Roosevelt easily defeated Herbert Hoover, a Republican running for president, in the 1932 election.

Roosevelt initiated ground-breaking federal legislation during his first 100 days in office and issued a plethora of executive orders that launched the New Deal.

He established a number of initiatives to aid farmers and the unemployed while pursuing economic recovery through the National Recovery Administration and other initiatives. He also oversaw the repeal of Prohibition and implemented significant regulatory reforms in the areas of labor, communications, and finance.

The economy had grown quickly since 1933, which helped Roosevelt win reelection by a wide margin in 1936. However, in 1937 and 1938, the economy fell back into a severe recession. Roosevelt later tried unsuccessfully to get the 1937 Judicial Procedures Reform Bill passed.

In order to prevent the introduction of additional New Deal programs and changes, the conservative coalition was established in 1937. In 1940, he successfully ran for reelection, making him the first American president to hold office for more than two terms.

With World War II looming after 1938 in addition to the Japanese invasion of China and the aggression of Nazi Germany, Roosevelt gave strong diplomatic and financial support to China as well as the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union while the United States remained officially neutral.

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, he obtained a declaration of war on Japan the next day, and a few days later, on Germany and Italy.

He worked closely with other country leaders in leading the Allies against the Axis powers.

A Europe-first strategy was devised by Roosevelt, who also managed the mobilization of the American economy to support the war effort.

He led the development of the first atomic bomb in history in addition to laying the groundwork for the United Nations and other post-war organizations.

He was re-elected in 1944, but died in 1945 as a result of the war’s dreadful and lasting consequences on his physical health.

Many of Roosevelt’s decisions, including his ordering the incarceration of Japanese Americans in concentration camps, have come under heavy criticism since his death.

Roosevelt, however, consistently ranks among the top American presidents according to historical analyses.

Early life and marriage

He worked closely with other country leaders in leading the Allies against the Axis powers. A Europe-first strategy was devised by Roosevelt, who also managed the mobilization of the American economy to support the war effort.

He led the development of the first atomic bomb in history in addition to laying the groundwork for the United Nations and other post-war organizations.

He was re-elected in 1944, but died in 1945 as a result of the war’s dreadful and lasting consequences on his physical health.

Many of Roosevelt’s decisions, including his ordering the incarceration of Japanese Americans in concentration camps, have come under heavy criticism since his death.

Roosevelt, however, consistently ranks among the top American presidents according to historical analyses.

After obtaining an inheritance from his grandfather, James Roosevelt, his father decided not to pursue law after earning a degree from Harvard Law School.

Franklin Roosevelt once went to see Grover Cleveland, a well-known Bourbon Democrat, who told him: “My little fellow, I am making a crazy request for you. You might never be elected as president of the United States.

The primary caregiver for Franklin during his formative years once remarked, “My son Franklin is a Delano, not at all a Roosevelt.”Some people thought James, who was 54 when Franklin was born, was a distant parent, but according to writer James MacGregor Burns, James interacted with his son more frequently than was normal at the period.

Education and early career

As a youngster, Roosevelt picked up the skills necessary for riding, shooting, and sailing as well as polo, tennis, and golf from the time he was two years old until he was fifteen, Roosevelt traveled frequently to Europe, which helped him pick up German and French.

Roosevelt was homeschooled by tutors until the age of 14, with the exception of nine, when he began attending public school in Germany.

Later, he went to the boarding Episcopal school Groton School in Groton, Massachusetts.He was not one of the Groton students who were more well-liked, better athletic, and more rebellious.

Endicott Peabody, the school’s headmaster, talked on how Christians have a responsibility to assist the less fortunate and exhorted his students to work in government.

Peabody continued to have a significant impact on Roosevelt throughout his life, officiating at his wedding and paying him visits as president.

Like most of his Groton classmates, Roosevelt went to Harvard College. He was a member of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity and the Fly Club, and served as a school cheerleader.

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Roosevelt was relatively undistinguished as a student or athlete, but he became editor-in-chief of The Harvard Crimson daily newspaper, a position that required ambition, energy, and the ability to manage others.

He later said, “I took economics courses in college for four years, and everything I was taught was wrong.

In 1900, Roosevelt’s father passed away, which devastated him deeply. The following year, Theodore Roosevelt, Roosevelt’s fifth cousin, was elected president of the United States.

Franklin looked up to Theodore as a role model and hero because of his tenacious leadership style and reforming zeal.

He earned an A.B. in history from Harvard in 1903 after three years of study. He stayed on for a fourth year, taking graduate classes and working as the Harvard Crimson’s editor.

He enrolled at Columbia University’s law school in 1904 but left after passing the New York Bar Exam in 1907.In 1908, he took a job with the prestigious law firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn, working in the firm’s admiralty law division.


He met Boston heiress Alice Sohier during his second year of college and proposed to her, but she declined.Franklin then started pursuing Eleanor Roosevelt, a niece of Theodore Roosevelt and his kid acquaintance and fifth cousin once removed.

After his mother’s opposition, Franklin proposed to Eleanor in 1903, and on March 17, 1905, they were wed.Elliott, Eleanor’s father, had passed away, and her uncle Theodore, who was president at the time, had married the bride.

The young couple settled in Springwood, and Sara Roosevelt built a home next to her own for herself. Franklin and Sara Roosevelt also gave the pair a townhouse in New York City.

However, Eleanor liked the family’s holiday property on Campobello Island, which Sara also gave the couple. Eleanor never felt at home in the properties in Hyde Park or New York.

Accordingto Burns, the youthful Roosevelt was confident and at ease in society, whereas Eleanor was shy and despised social life at the time and first kept at home to raise their children.

As his father had, Franklin left the raising of the children”Although Eleanor thought sex was “an ordeal to be endured”, she and Franklin had six children. Anna, James, and Elliott were born in 1906, 1907, and 1910, respectively.

The couple’s second son, Franklin, died in infancy in 1909. Another son, also named Franklin, was born in 1914, and the youngest child, John, was born in 1916.

Roosevelt had several extra-marital affairs, including with Eleanor’s social secretary Lucy Mercer, soon after she was hired in 1914, and discovered by Eleanor in 1918. Franklin contemplated divorcing Eleanor, but Sara objected, and Lucy would not marry a divorced man with five children.

Franklin and Eleanor remained married, and Roosevelt promised never to see Lucy again. Eleanor never forgave him, and their marriage became more of a political partnership.

Eleanor soon established a separate home in Hyde Park at Val-Kill, and devoted herself to social and political causes independent of her husband.

The emotional break in their marriage was so severe that when Roosevelt asked Eleanor in 1942—in light of his failing health—to come back home and live with him again, she refused.

 He was not always aware of when she visited the White House and for some time she could not easily reach him on the telephone without his secretary’s help; Roosevelt, in turn, did not visit Eleanor’s New York City apartment until late 1944.

As he and Lucy kept up a formal contact, Franklin broke his pledge to Eleanor and started dating again in 1941 or early.

Elliott Roosevelt, the president’s son, asserted that his father had a 20-year romance with Marguerite “Missy” LeHand, his personal secretary.

Crown Princess Märtha of Norway lived in the White House for a time during World War II, and another son, James, claimed that “there is a real possibility that a romantic relationship existed” between his father and her.

She started to be referred to as “the president’s girlfriend” by aides, and rumors associating the two romantically started to circulate in the media.

Paralytic illness and politics

Following the election, Roosevelt moved back to New York City, where he continued his legal career and held the vice president position at the Fidelity and Deposit Company.

His career was derailed by sickness, but he also tried to rally support for a political comeback in the 1922 elections.

He became unwell in August 1921 when the Roosevelts were on vacation at Campobello Island.

His primary symptoms included fever, facial paralysis, symmetric ascending paralysis, bowel and bladder dysfunction, numbness and hyperesthesia, and a downward pattern of recovery. Roosevelt was found to have polio and was permanently paralyzed from the waist down.

Although a 2003 study clearly supported a diagnosis of Guillain-Barré syndrome, historians have continued to refer to the man’s paralysis under the original diagnosis.

Though his mother favored his retirement from public life, Roosevelt, his wife, and Roosevelt’s close friend and adviser, Louis Howe, were all determined that he continue his political career.

He convinced many people that he was improving, which he believed to be essential prior to run for public office again.

He laboriously taught himself to walk short distances while wearing iron braces on his hips and legs by swiveling his torso, supporting himself with a cane.

He was careful never to be seen using his wheelchair in public, and great care was taken to prevent any portrayal in the press that would highlight his disability.

However, his disability was well known before and during his presidency and became a major part of his image. He usually appeared in public standing upright, supported on one side by an aide or one of his sons.

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Beginning in 1925, Roosevelt spent most of his time in the Southern United States, at first on his houseboat, the Larooco. Intrigued by the potential benefits of hydrotherapy, he established a rehabilitation center at Warm Springs, Georgia, in 1926.

To create the rehabilitation center, he assembled a staff of physical therapists and used most of his inheritance to purchase the Merriweather Inn. In 1938, he founded the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, leading to the development of polio vaccines.

Roosevelt maintained contacts with the Democratic Party during the 1920s, and he remained active in New York politics while also establishing contacts in the South, particularly in Georgia.

He issued an open letter endorsing Al Smith’s successful campaign in New York’s 1922 gubernatorial election, which both aided Smith and showed Roosevelt’s continuing relevance as a political figure.

Roosevelt and Smith came from different backgrounds and never fully trusted one another, but Roosevelt supported Smith’s progressive policies, while Smith was happy to have the backing of the prominent and well-respected Roosevelt.

Roosevelt gave presidential nominating speeches for Smith at the 1924 and 1928 Democratic National Conventions; the speech at the 1924 convention marked a return to public life following his illness and convalescence.

That year, the Democrats were badly divided between an urban wing, led by Smith, and a conservative, rural wing, led by William Gibbs McAdoo.

On the 101st ballot, the nomination went to John W. Davis, a compromise candidate who suffered a landslide defeat in the 1924 presidential election.

Like many others throughout the United States, Roosevelt did not abstain from alcohol during the Prohibition era, but publicly he sought to find a compromise on Prohibition acceptable to both wings of the party.

In 1925, Smith appointed Roosevelt to the Taconic State Park Commission, and his fellow commissioners chose him as chairman.

In this role, he came into conflict with Robert Moses, a Smith protégé, who was the primary force behind the Long Island State Park Commission and the New York State Council of Parks.

Roosevelt accused Moses of using the name recognition of prominent individuals including Roosevelt to win political support for state parks, but then diverting funds to the ones Moses favored on Long Island, while Moses worked to block the appointment of Howe to a salaried position as the Taconic commission’s secretary.

Roosevelt served on the commission until the end of 1928, and his contentious relationship with Moses continued as their careers progressed.

The 1920s were known as the “Peace Years,” and in 1923 Edward Bok launched the $100,000 American Peace Award for the best global peace initiative.

When Roosevelt had free time and an interest, he created a strategy for the competition.

Eleanor Roosevelt was chosen to serve as the prize’s judge, therefore he never submitted it. In his proposal, the League of Nations would be replaced with a new global organization.

Roosevelt supported the League of Nations while running for vice president on the Democratic ticket in 1920, but by 1924, he was ready to abolish it.

Henry Cabot Lodge’s objections in his “Society of Nations” draft were approved. This occurred during the 1919 Senate discussion.

The Monroe concept was dominant in the Western Hemisphere, thus the new Society would avoid getting engaged there. It wouldn’t be able to command any armed forces.

Roosevelt thought deeply about the issue and incorporated some of his 1924 ideas into the design for the United Nations in 1944–1945, even though his plan was never made public.

Election in 1932

Roosevelt concentrated on national politics as the election for president in 1932 got closer.

He established a campaign team directed by Howe and Farley as well as a “brain trust” of policy advisers, the majority of whom were Harvard and Columbia University professors.

Others were less confident in Roosevelt’s chances, including Walter Lippmann, the dean of political pundits, who said of him: “He is a pleasant man who, without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be president.”

However, Roosevelt’s efforts as governor to address the effects of the depression in his own state established him as the front-runner for the 1932 Democratic presidential nomination.

Roosevelt rallied the progressive supporters of the Wilson administration while also appealing to many conservatives, establishing himself as the leading candidate in the South and West.

The chief opposition to Roosevelt’s candidacy came from Northeastern conservatives, Speaker of the House John Nance Garner of Texas and Al Smith, the 1928 Democratic presidential nominee.

Roosevelt entered the convention with a delegate lead due to his success in the 1932 Democratic primaries, but most delegates entered the convention unbound to any particular candidate.

On the first presidential ballot of the convention, Roosevelt received the votes of more than half but less than two-thirds of the delegates, with Smith finishing in a distant second place. Roosevelt then promised the vice-presidential nomination to Garner, who controlled the votes of Texas and California; Garner threw his support behind Roosevelt after the third ballot, and Roosevelt clinched the nomination on the fourth ballot.

Roosevelt flew in from New York to Chicago after learning that he had won the nomination, becoming the first major-party presidential nominee to accept the nomination in person. His appearance was essential, to show himself as vigorous, despite the ravaging disease that disabled him physically.

In his acceptance speech, Roosevelt declared, “I pledge you, I pledge myself to a new deal for the American people… This is more than a political campaign. It is a call to arms.”Roosevelt promised securities regulation, tariff reduction, farm relief, government-funded public works, and other government actions to address the Great Depression.

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 Reflecting changing public opinion, the Democratic platform included a call for the repeal of Prohibition; Roosevelt himself had not taken a public stand on the issue prior to the convention but promised to uphold the party platform.

Otherwise, Roosevelt’s primary campaign strategy was one of caution, intent upon avoiding mistakes that would distract from Hoover’s failings on the economy. His statements attacked the incumbent and included no other specific policies or programs.

After the convention, Roosevelt won endorsements from several progressive Republicans, including George W. Norris, Hiram Johnson, and Robert La Follette Jr. He also reconciled with the party’s conservative wing, and even Al Smith was persuaded to support the Democratic ticket.

Hoover’s handling of the Bonus Army further damaged the incumbent’s popularity, as newspapers across the country criticized the use of force to disperse assembled veterans.

Roosevelt won 57% of the popular vote and carried all but six states. Historians and political scientists consider the 1932–36 elections to be a political realignment.

Roosevelt’s victory was enabled by the creation of the New Deal coalition, small farmers, the Southern whites, Catholics, big city political machines, labor unions, northern African Americans (southern ones were still disfranchised), Jews, intellectuals, and political liberals.

Political scientists refer to the emergence of the New Deal coalition, which significantly changed American politics, as the “New Deal Party System” or the Fifth Party System.

Democrats only prevailed in four of the seventeen presidential contests fought between the Civil War and 1929, but they did so in eight of the twelve contests held between 1932 and 1979, a period during which they frequently had both chambers of Congress in power.

Presidency from 1933 till 1945

Roosevelt, as president, chose strong individuals to key posts but made all the important choices despite delays, inefficiency, or hostility. Burns draws these conclusions after examining the president’s management style:

The president stayed in charge of his administration…by drawing fully on his formal and informal powers as Chief Executive; by raising goals, creating momentum, inspiring a personal loyalty, getting the best out of people…by deliberately fostering among his aides a sense of competition and a clash of wills that led to disarray, heartbreak, and anger but also set off pulses of executive energy and sparks of creativity…by handing out one job to several men and several jobs to one man, thus strengthening his own position as a court of appeals, as a depository of information, and as a tool of co-ordination; by ignoring or bypassing collective decision-making agencies, such as the Cabinet…and always by persuading, flattering, juggling, improvising, reshuffling, harmonizing, conciliating, manipulating.


Roosevelt is widely considered to be one of the most important figures in the history of the United States, as well as one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. Historians and political scientists consistently rank Roosevelt, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln as the three greatest presidents, although the order varies.

Reflecting on Roosevelt’s presidency, “which brought the United States through the Great Depression and World War II to a prosperous future”, biographer Jean Edward Smith said in 2007, “He lifted himself from a wheelchair to lift the nation from its knees.”

His commitment to the working class and unemployed in need of relief in the nation’s longest recession made him a favorite of the blue collar workers, labor unions, and ethnic minorities.

The rapid expansion of government programs that occurred during Roosevelt’s term redefined the role of the government in the United States, and Roosevelt’s advocacy of government social programs was instrumental in redefining liberalism for coming generations.

Roosevelt firmly established the United States’ leadership role on the world stage, with his role in shaping and financing World War II. His isolationist critics faded away, and even the Republicans joined in his overall policies. He also created a new understanding of the presidency, permanently increasing the power of the president at the expense of Congress.

His Second Bill of Rights became, according to historian Joshua Zeitz, “the basis of the Democratic Party’s aspirations for the better part of four decades.” After his death, his widow, Eleanor, continued to be a forceful presence in U.S. and world politics, serving as delegate to the conference which established the United Nations and championing civil rights and liberalism generally.

Some junior New Dealers played leading roles in the presidencies of Truman, John Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson. Kennedy came from a Roosevelt-hating family. Historian William Leuchtenburg says that before 1960, “Kennedy showed a conspicuous lack of inclination to identify himself as a New Deal liberal.”

He adds, as president, “Kennedy never wholly embraced the Roosevelt tradition and at times he deliberately severed himself from it.” By contrast, young Lyndon Johnson had been an enthusiastic New Dealer and a favorite of Roosevelt. Johnson modelled his presidency on Roosevelt’s and relied heavily on New Deal lawyer Abe Fortas, as well as James H. Rowe, Anna M. Rosenberg, Thomas Gardiner Corcoran, and Benjamin V. Cohen.

There has been a lot of criticism of Roosevelt throughout his presidency and to a lesser amount even later. In addition to his policies, stances, and the consolidation of power that resulted from his answers to the crises of the Great Depression and World War II, some have questioned his decision to defy convention and run for a third term as president.

Roosevelt’s policy  towards aiding European Jews, imprisoning Japanese people on the West Coast, and opposing anti-lynching laws came under fire long after his passing.



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