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Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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Roosevelt, Franklin Delano (1882-1945) was 32nd president of the United States (1933-1945). Roosevelt served longer than any other president. His unprecedented election to four terms in office will probably never be repeated; the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, passed after his death, denies the right of any person to be elected president more than twice.

Roosevelt held office during two of the greatest crises ever faced by the United States: the Great Depression of the 1930s, followed by World War II. His domestic program, known as the New Deal, introduced far-reaching reforms within the free enterprise system and prepared the way for what is often called the welfare state. His leadership of the Democratic Party transformed it into a political vehicle for American liberalism. Both in peacetime and in war his impact on the office of president was enormous. Although there had been strong presidents before him, they were the exception. In Roosevelt's 12 years in office strong executive leadership became a basic part of United States government. He made the office of president the center of diplomatic initiative and the focus of domestic reform.


Roosevelt was born at his family's estate at Hyde Park, in Dutchess County, New York. He was the only child of James Roosevelt and Sara Delano Roosevelt. James Roosevelt was a moderately successful businessman, with a variety of investments and a special interest in coal. He was also a conservative Democrat who was interested in politics. His home overlooking the Hudson River was comfortable without being ostentatious, and the family occupied a prominent position among the social elite of the area. Sara Delano, 26 years younger than her previously widowed husband, brought to the marriage a fortune considerably larger than that of James Roosevelt. The Delano family had prospered trading with China, and Sara herself had spent some time with her parents in Hong Kong. Thus, Franklin was born into a pleasant and sociable home, with loving parents and congenial, rather aristocratic companions.

A Education

Roosevelt spent his early years at Hyde Park. During the summers he was often taken on European trips, and he also spent much time at a vacation home that James Roosevelt purchased on Campobello Island, on the Bay of Fundy, in New Brunswick, Canada. It was a pleasant life for the young Roosevelt, who was fond of the outdoors. He soon developed a passionate interest in natural history and became an ardent bird watcher. He grew to love outdoor sports and became an expert swimmer and a fine sailor.

His mother supervised his education until he was 14. French-speaking and German-speaking tutors did most of the actual instruction and helped him develop early a talent for those languages. Young Roosevelt was a voracious reader. He was particularly fond of adventure tales, especially those that touched on the sea. He also developed an absorbing interest in stamp collecting, a hobby that taught him both history and geography and that was to afford him pleasure and relaxation during all of his adult life.

Roosevelt's parents sent him off in 1896 for further education. They selected Groton School in Massachusetts, which had a reputation as one of the finest of the exclusive private schools that prepared boys for the Ivy League colleges. Young Roosevelt was a good student, popular with his fellow students as well as with his teachers.

From Groton Roosevelt went on to Harvard College. He entered in 1899, the year before his father died, and remained until 1904. He took his bachelor's degree in 1903 but returned to Harvard in the fall to serve as editor of the student newspaper, The Crimson. He was an above-average student at Harvard, but he devoted a great deal of time to extracurricular activities, and his grades suffered as a consequence. He was particularly interested in history and political economy and took courses in those subjects with outstanding professors. Although he was a competent journalist, his editorials in The Crimson were chiefly concerned with school spirit in athletics and show no sign of growing social consciousness or political awareness. However, he joined a Republican club in 1900, out of boyish enthusiasm for the vice-presidential candidacy of his distant cousin Theodore Roosevelt. In 1904 he cast his first vote in a presidential election for his cousin, who had become president after the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901. Afterward, however, Franklin joined his father's political party, and he probably never again voted for a Republican.

Roosevelt then moved to New York City, where he entered the Columbia University Law School in 1904. Although he attended classes until 1907, he failed to stay on for his law degree after passing the state examinations allowing him to practice law. For the next three years he was a clerk in a prominent law firm in New York City, but the evidence is clear that he had little interest in law and little enthusiasm to be a lawyer.

B Marriage

Well before he finished his work at Columbia, young Franklin Roosevelt had married his distant cousin Anna Eleanor Roosevelt. They had been in love for some time and were determined to marry in spite of the opposition of Franklin's mother. The bride's uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt, was present at the ceremony in New York City on March 17, 1905. Five of their six children grew to maturity: Anna, James, Elliott, Franklin, Jr., and John. The chief problem faced by the young couple during the early years of their marriage was Sara Roosevelt's possessive attitude toward her son. Eleanor's forbearance mitigated this situation, but the problem remained for many years.


Roosevelt formally entered politics in 1910, when he became a candidate for the New York State Senate in a district composed of three upstate farming counties. Democratic leaders had approached young Roosevelt because of his name and local prominence--and because he might be expected to pay his own election expenses. The 28-year-old Roosevelt campaigned hard, stressing his deep personal interest in conservation and other issues of concern in an agricultural area and also his strong support of honest and efficient government. In the first good year for Democrats since the early 1890s he was narrowly elected. He was only the second Democrat to represent his district after the emergence of the Republican Party in 1856.

In the state capitol at Albany, Roosevelt gained statewide publicity as the leader of a small group of upstate Democrats who refused



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