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Franklin Delano Roosevelt - a Benevolent King

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt:

A Benevolent King


Isaac Graham


FDR Changed the very idea of what it meant to be president of the United States. FDR used his genius political skills and charisma to direct this nation into his own dreams. His ability to communicate encouragement and confidence to the American people aided his presidency more than his legislations. Winston Churchill likened his first meeting with FDR to "uncorking a bottle of champagne." All future presidents would be forced to reckon with his legacy.

The Beginning

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882. He was so sickly that he almost did not survive, and his worried parents held off naming him for two months. His father was James Roosevelt, a graduate of Union College and Harvard Law School, though not a practicing lawyer. James lived a life similar to an English country gentleman, with a large estate at Hyde Park in New York. Sara Delano, James Roosevelt's second wife, came from a family background equally distinguished as the Roosevelt's. His age and her difficulty giving birth to Franklin prevented them from having any more children, and Franklin grew up as their beloved only child. His relationship with his parents, especially his mother, was very strong. It was her unshakeable faith in him that many believe gave him the self-confidence that enabled him to succeed later in life.

French and German governesses educated Roosevelt until he was fourteen, and he spent most of his free time riding on the estate and playing alone. He accompanied his parents on their travels to Europe and to all their social engagements. This youth spent in the company of adults helped him develop a charm that would prove indispensable later in life, unable to relate to many children his own age. This proved to be a drawback when his parents sent him away to the Groton School, a recently opened school that had the backing of many of the leading men in America, such as J.P. Morgan. Roosevelt's experience at Groton was a personal disappointment because of his inability to win over his peers as he had won over his parents and their associates. It may have been the bitter memories of his years at Groton that made FDR determined to become a leader at Harvard, which he entered at the turn of the century. Unlike many of his fellow classmates, who were used to living the life of the idle rich, FDR set the pace with his enthusiasm and energy. He studied subjects that would be of great use to him in his political career--history, government, economics, English and public speaking. He lived in one of the three-room apartments on Mt. Auburn St., nicknamed the "Gold Coast" because of the wealth of the residents. He sat at the Groton table at one of the eating houses of Cambridge and joined the Fly Club, one of Harvard's many exclusive organizations, when he was passed over by the more exclusive Porcellian Club. FDR cut quite a figure in Boston society, and was especially popular with the women. He was elected editor-in-chief of the Harvard Crimson, partly because of his enthusiasm and partly because his connections to the White House through the Roosevelt family allowed him access to stories other students could not get. Unlike his distant cousin Teddy Roosevelt's stellar academic achievements, FDR's grades were mostly Bs and Cs, and he was awarded the Phi Beta Kappa key later in life only as an honor.

The Chosen Running Mate

It was during his late college years that FDR met and fell in love with Eleanor Roosevelt, a distant cousin whom he had first met at a family Christmas party in 1898. Eleanor had had a very different family experience from FDR. Her father had doted on her, but her mother had separated from him because of his alcoholism. Her mother, who had once been a great beauty, mocked Eleanor for her plainness and favored her other children. Both Eleanor's mother and brother died of disease when Eleanor was eight years old, and she was sent to live with her grandmother. In 1894, two years later, her father passed away. Eleanor's unstable family life may have caused many of her anxieties about being unloved, unattractive, and unworthy of other people's affections. Despite the differences in FDR's and Eleanor's upbringings, both of them seemed to be driven by the same insecurity: they desperately needed the acceptance of those around them.

The young couple was married in March of 1905 in New York, where FDR was attending law school at Columbia and Eleanor was working in one of the settlement houses. At the ceremony, Eleanor was given away by none other than her uncle, President Teddy Roosevelt himself. Eleanor and Franklin had five children: Anna, James, Elliott, Franklin, Jr., and John.

Action and Ambition

FDR's inspiration to enter politics was the success of his cousin, Teddy Roosevelt, who became president when Franklin was still in school. While working as a law clerk, FDR boasted to his coworkers that he had already planned his path to the presidency, a path that greatly resembled his relative's. Indeed, politics came calling even before Roosevelt had a chance to act on his own. John Mack, the Democratic District Attorney in New York, came to the office to get some papers signed and offered Roosevelt the chance to run for the Assembly Seat that would be left vacant when a current Assembly member ran for State Senator. FDR was so elated by the opportunity that when the Assembly member decided to stay in his position, he ran for the State Senate seat himself.

FDR won his seat into the State Senate. The victory was as much a reflection of his good luck as his hard work: the Republican Party, having split into two because of Teddy Roosevelt's clash with Taft's policies in office, did not put up as good fight as it was capable of. This luck was to follow FDR throughout his political career, helping him to always be in the right place at the right time. Another example of this would occur early in his political career. On the morning of Woodrow Wilson's inauguration, FDR met with Joseph Daniels, Wilson's appointee for Secretary of the Navy. Daniels asked FDR to be his Assistant Secretary, thinking that he and Roosevelt would complement each other nicely. Daniels was not nautical, whereas Roosevelt had been an avid sailor since his youth and loved ships. Daniels was a Southerner, FDR a blueblood Yankee. Thus, on March 17, 1913, FDR found himself at his Uncle Teddy Roosevelt's old desk in the Navy department



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