Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or FDR, was born on January 30, 1882 in Hyde Park, New York. He graduated from Harvard and was able to pass the bar exam before completing his studies at Columbia Law School, then practiced law with a powerful firm. He served as a New York State Senator before accepting the post of Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1913. He created the U.S. Naval Reserve and was very active in his role during WWI. He resigned the post in 1920 to pursue the Democratic vice-presidential nomination, which ended in defeat.
FDR went back to the law, but contracted a disease believed to be polio in 1921. He spent the next 7 years rehabilitating from his illness, which left him totally and permanently paralyzed from the waist down. He did publicly support other candidates and spread the perception that he was on the road to complete recovery. He was asked to run for governor of New York in 1928, narrowly winning the race. FDR spent his term on social programs and reforms and won re-election in 1930.
FDR built a coalition of powerful allies and ran a successful campaign for President in 1932 and was seen as a force for action during the troubled economic times. In his inaugural speech, FDR pledged a “New Deal” for the American people and touted the distribution of national wealth. He also promised the repeal of Prohibition. His first 100 days focused on relief for Americans, in which he closed and stabilized the banking system and created the FDIC, relief agencies, the Tennessee Valley Authority and public service jobs. He then cut the budget and created the Securities and Exchange Commission to regulate Wall Street. Prohibition was repealed in 1933, opening up a huge new source of tax revenue.
The Second New Deal created more public sector jobs for the unemployed, set up the Social Security system and secured the rights of Americans to participate in unions. He was reelected in a landslide in 1936.
While FDR had balanced the “regular” budget with his cuts and reforms, the new relief initiatives were funded by entirely by deficit spending. Unemployment almost halved during FDR’s first term in office, but was still at over 14%. It remained high until war conscription began, despite an average yearly job growth of over 5% during his administration. Income taxes were not increased prior to the war, but additional taxes to cover Social Security were implemented.
FDR’s second term featured legislation that ended child labor, created a minimum wage and created the Housing Authority. He also pushed more stimulus legislation to counteract the beginnings of another downturn in the economy. He had several major clashes with the Supreme Court, who ruled that several pieces of New Deal legislation was unconstitutional, due to them overstepping presidential authority. By the end of his second term, much of FDR’s attention was focused on WWII and how to handle relations with allies while staying out of the war. Americans did not want a change of leadership during uncertain times and they elected FDR to an unprecedented third term in 1940.
Adolf Hitler and FDR came into office within weeks of each other and both were instrumental in turning the economic condition of their nations around. Hitler, however, used nationalism to fuel his popularity, which eventually turned into expansionism. FDR found ways to give aid and supplies to allies such as Britain, France and China while still staying in the bounds of the neutrality that most Americans favored. This intensified at the outbreak of WWII in 1939. FDR rejected the policy of neutrality and openly sent arms to allies in Europe, but held off on sending any troops or declaring war. He ordered a military build up in anticipation of open conflict. American inaction ended after the invasion of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 by the Japanese fleet, which cost the lives of thousands of U.S. sailors who had been attacked while they were still sleeping. The U.S. declared war on Japan the next day and declared war on Germany and Italy on December 11, 1941 in response to a declaration of war on the U.S. by those two nations. It has been argued that FDR knew about the attack by the Japanese fleet beforehand, but let it occur so that public opinion would enable him to officially enter the war.
FDR began the internment of Japanese immigrants and their children in response to public fears of terrorism and espionage. From the outset, it was recognized that the greatest threat of U.S. invasion came from the Japanese, who had managed to quickly expand their holdings after Pearl Harbor. Italians and Germans believed to be sympathizers were also arrested or interned.
Meanwhile Germany was fighting on two fronts, having invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. The influx of U.S. troops definitively turned the tide of the war, stopping the German advance and knocking Italy out of the war. The Soviets stalled the Germans and began pushing them out of the USSR and into Eastern Europe. By 1943, it was obvious that the Allies would eventually defeat the Germans. The Battle of Midway in June 1942 turned the momentum in the Pacific Theater, but territory had to be reclaimed an island at a time and the Japanese were fierce fighters willing to risk death before the dishonor of defeat. The Allies began meeting on what to do after the war and how to structure any treaties.
By 1944, both wars were firmly under control. The successful D-Day invasion took place in June of 1944 and the allies were racing toward Germany. FDR was elected to a fourth term, and lead the Yalta Conference in February of 1945, which foreshadowed the beginnings of Soviet expansion and the Cold War. In March 1945, he became ill and retreated to Warm Springs, Georgia to recuperate. He died of a massive stroke on March 12, 1945. His vice-president of two months, Harry S Truman, became President.