"The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something." —FDR is full of great quotes.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (January 30, 1882 — April 12, 1945) was the longest serving President in American history, serving three full terms and starting his fourth when he died. He served from 1933 to 1945, taking over for Herbert Hoover and making way for Harry Truman after his death, and he was the tenth President from the Democratic Party. No other President had even won a third term. And, thanks to the 22nd Amendment, no President since will be able to challenge his length of service (barring the very unlikely event of the 22nd being repealed). Roosevelt led the country through The Great Depression and World War II, and his domestic reforms and foreign policy accomplishments have forever changed the United States.
Roosevelt was from a very wealthy family based in New York. He was the fifth cousin of a previous President, Theodore Roosevelt, who was ironically from the other party. A corporate lawyer before turning his attention to politics, the Democratic friends of his family convinced FDR to run for the state Senate in 1910. President Woodrow Wilson, a fellow Democrat, appointed Roosevelt Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1913, where he advocated modernizing and building up the Navy and also helped organize overseas plans during World War I. Roosevelt was the Democratic ticket's Vice President in the 1920 elections, but the Republicans won a landslide that year. Following this defeat, FDR managed to organize a political comeback and become Governor of New York in 1929. The Great Depression broke out that same year, and Roosevelt created several social programs to combat unemployment in his state. Having gained nationwide attention, Roosevelt ran for the presidency in 1932, and won by a huge landslide against unpopular incumbent Herbert Hoover. At his first inauguration, he famously declared "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."note A quote originated by Henry David Thoreau Along with winning another huge landslide in 1936, the Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress by significant margins for all of his presidency (though the Republicans were clearly closing in towards the end), which meant that Roosevelt was practically free to pass anything he wanted. After his victory, Inauguration Day got moved from March 4th to January 20th, where it's been to this day. FDR and the Democrats won so many times by creating a coalition of state party bosses, political machines, unions, minorities, farmers, and Southerners that would make the Democrats the majority party in the country for another few decades. Between Roosevelt's first victory in 1932 and Richard Nixon breaking the coalition in 1968, only one Republican, Dwight D. Eisenhower, occupied the White House.
He actually spent much of his adult life paralyzed from the waist down due to what was probably polio (some modern researchers believe that it might have been Guillain–Barré syndrome), having contacted the disease in 1921. This includes his Presidency, making him one of America's three handicapped Presidents, betwixt his cousin Theodore (who was asthmatic as a child), and John F. Kennedy (who had type 2 autoimmune polyendocrine syndrome, which was the source of both his ulcerative colitis, and his Addison's disease). There was less scrutiny of public figures back then, which he combined with trick photography, leg braces that let him stand and walk short distances by swiveling, immense upper-body strength to hold himself up with the podium and other tactics to ease the public away from questioning why he was never pictured standing up on his own. (He was almost always leaning on somebody or something in the photos that show him standing.) When photos were taken without permission, the Secret Service would smash the reporter's camera to make sure the newspapers wouldn't publish it. His battle with polio had a profound affect on him - before he was the privileged son of a wealthy family, but now he experienced real struggle and hardship. His recovery from what was then a potentially deadly disease inspired him, giving him the outlook that no odds were impossible. It is often said that his fight with the disease allowed him to connect with the poor and "the forgotten man," even though he lived all his life in luxury, because his own hardships helped him to understand their own. Roosevelt was also something of a Magnificent Bastard, capable of manipulating anyone with his sheer charm and infectious personality.
Roosevelt named his policies to combat the Depression the "New Deal." They were put into action with the intent of lifting the country out of the Great Depression and preventing a possible revolution. It was known for its three R's: Relief (providing government care and jobs for the unemployed and those in poverty), Recovery (stopping and pushing back the growing Depression) and Reform (regulating Wall Street and other businesses, and going after businessmen who were either corrupt or helped cause the Depression). Due to Democrat majorities in both chambers of Congress, he managed to pass most of his proposals, especially early in his presidency. During his first "Hundred Days" in the White House, Congress passed an unprecedented number of bills; as a result, the first few months of a new presidency are going to be compared to the policy successes of FDR's. To gain support for his policies, Roosevelt would often turn to the public with his "fireside chats" - radio addresses about 30 minutes long where he would talk about the bill before Congress and how he thought it would benefit the American people and the economy. He delivered about thirty of these, and they were more popular than any other show during the decade. Several New Deal organizations were known primarily by their initials, and were often referred to as Roosevelt's "alphabet soup." There were many, many New Deal agencies and programs, and they completely changed the relationship between the government and the economy in the United States. Some major initiatives from the FDR presidency include:
Repealing Prohibition: After over a decade of the 18th amendment, which outlawed the consumption of alcohol, it was pretty clear that the law was unenforceable and that it was just giving more power to organized crime, which was selling alcohol to people behind the police's back (and often right in front of them). FDR managed the 21st amendment's passage through Congress and the states, thus ending the silly little experiment.
Banking reform: Two days after entering office, he declared a "banking holiday" and closed all banks for a week. Congress then passed the Emergency Banking Relief Act and the Glass-Steagall Banking Reform Act, which helped the federal government regulate the banks and insure deposits. Within a month, a billion dollars were added back into America's banks. One of the major lasting New Deal programs, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), was created as part of his banking programs. Also, let's say something about Glass-Steagall. The law said that banks can not use government-provided loans or government-insured deposits to make risky investments - since the purpose of those loans is to provide stability to the banks, it is wrong for them to be used in banking practices that could potentially cause instability. This part of the act was repealed Bill Clinton (and not Ronald Reagan, as some people remember) and the banks were allowed to use these loans. In hindsight, this was a cause of the Great Recession.
Currency reform: FDR temporarily took the American dollar off the gold standard, arguing that it was a chief cause of the Depression's rapid inflation. After a year, he put the country back on the gold standard, but he also made it so that paper money was the only way to legally pay off debts. At the end of his presidency, Roosevelt created what is known as the Bretton Woods system, which basically tied the world economy to the American economy and its gold supplies for the next few decades. Richard Nixon would later take the country off of it in 1971.
Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC): Employed millions of young men to help with conservation projects during the Depression. The money was sent back to their families, and the young men, who probably would have turned to crime to gain food and money, were fed, clothed, housed, and trained by the organization. They planted trees in the Dust Bowl of the Great Plains, which helped the region become farm-able again. Like the other Roosevelt, FDR was in favor of conservation projects.
Federal Emergency Relief Act (FERA): Gave billions of dollars to the states so that they could fund relief programs. It ended in 1935 when FDR passed Social Security.
Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA): One of the worst ones, easily. This paid farmers to grow fewer crops. That way, FDR argued, the smaller supply of crops would provide higher income for farmers. Surplus food was literally destroyed by the federal government, rather than given to the hungry across the country as charity. On the other hand, the income for most farmers did go up. This was later ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA): One of the regions hit hardest by the Depression was the area around the Tennessee River in the Deep South. Roosevelt built 20 dams there, which prevented flooding and provided electricity to millions of households for the first time. Still in place today, and it has started to move towards nuclear power.
Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC): Provided millions of dollars in mortgage to struggling American families so that they could keep their homes. Dissolved in 1950.
National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA): Created two programs. The National Recovery Administration (NRA), which made businesses in the same industry work together to set stable prices on their products, and the Public Works Administration (PWA), a workers program which spent billions of dollars creating public works, which varied from murals to the Golden Gate Bridge. Businesses which joined the NRA were supposed to place a blue eagle logo in front of their stores. The Supreme Court ruled the NRA to be unconstitutional, but the PWA continued until World War II.
Civil Works Administration (CWA): Another workers program, this provided temporary jobs for the unemployed, giving them things to do like building roads and airports or raking leaves. Ended after only a few months because it was too expensive.
The Securities Act of 1933, also called the Truth in Securities Act (or the '33 Act if you're a corporate/securities lawyer), and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (or the '34 Act if you're a corporate/securities lawyer), were a one-two punch squarely aimed at preventing stock-market and other financial bubbles. The '33 Act regulated the "primary market" in corporate shares—especially IPOs, but also subsequent new issues of stock—by requiring businesses and stockbrokers to make full disclosures on a stock before they are allowed to sell it to investors, and effectively outlawing insider trading. The '34 Act regulated the "secondary market" in shares and other securities (i.e. what we usually think of as "Wall Street"), placing extensive regulation on the exchanges where securities were bought and sold (hence the name), and established the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to enforce both the '33 and '34 Acts; the SEC is one of the remaining New Deal agencies. The SEC's first head, by the way, was John F. Kennedy's father.
Indian Reorganization Act: After decades of the federal government trying to force the assimilation of Native Americans, FDR switched policies and ensured that the federal government would protect their traditions, limit the sale of their tribal land, and gave them more self-government.
Federal Communications Commission (FCC): Another one that is still around. Regulates the radio, telephone, television, and other communication businesses.
Federal Housing Administration (FHA): Provides loans to those who wish to buy homes or renovate them. Still in place.
Works Progress Administration (WPA): The largest peacetime jobs program up to this point in American history; only Dwight D. Eisenhower's Interstate Highway System has surpassed it. At its peak, over 8 percent of the work force was employed by the administration. The workers built roads and buildings, helped in offices and factories, and created artworks, books, and music. Several well-known people, such as painter Jackson Pollack and playwright Arthur Miller, were employed by the WPA. Future President Lyndon Johnson, a huge admirer of Roosevelt, was head of his local division of one WPA agency, the National Youth Administration (NYA), which employed thousands of teenagers (Johnson was a schoolteacher in the five secondsnote OK, it was six years. between completing his education and winning a seat in Congress). Thousands of hospitals and schools were built by WPA workers. This was his favorite of all his New Deal programs.
Rural Electrification Administration (REA): Gave out loans to farmers in order to provide their households with electricity. Raised the living standards of millions, with 80% of the country's rural population gaining electricity in less than a decade.
National Labor Relations Act: Also known as the Wagner Act, after Senator Robert F. Wagner of New York. Guarantees that workers have the right to collective bargaining and collective action. Also gave them the right to organize and form unions, while also outlawing company-owned unions. Created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to investigate suspected unfair labor practices and mediate between business and labor, a function it still serves today. In 1947, a Republican-controlled Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act, which gutted several parts of the Wagner Act and gave states the right to pass "right-to-work" laws. This is... divisive, to say the least.
Social Security: By far the most important legacy of the New Deal, Social Security is the welfare program of the United States. Yes, the US was the only major industrial nation which didn't have a welfare program until after the Great Depression began. We will Never Live It Down, we know. It provides money to the unemployed, the handicapped, needy families with children, and the retired elderly. Americans pay money into it through their taxes, and then they get it back either during rough times or when they reach retirement age (it's between either 65 or 67, depending on when you were born). You get a Social Security number when you are born - keep those secret from others, because if someone else knows it they can access a lot of your private information and finances. Later Presidents have expanded Social Security to more and more citizens, the most notable being Lyndon Johnson creating Medicaid and Medicare. Currently, over 50 million people in the United States receive Social Security benefits, and it makes up about one third of the government's spending. It's probably the most acclaimed government agency in the United States, with only the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the FBI rivaling it. Lately, there has been a lot of debate about what to do with Social Security now that the baby boomer generation is starting to retire, which means that way more people than ever will be receiving retirement benefits while proportionally less people than before are in the work force paying for these benefits. The widening income inequality over the past few decades hasn't helped either.note Another issue is Social Security disability "abuse": people with questionable disabilities obtaining disability pensions for the handicapped, which is particularly bad because it means that the recipient can't try to find even the meagerest work without giving up the assistance (unlike people receiving old-age benefits or food stamps). On the other hand, most "abusers" live in areas where it is difficult to find work and have little prospect of being hired anyway—e.g. being over 50 and therefore highly unattractive as a new hire but under 65 and thus ineligible for Social Security old-age benefits—and have been bumped off other forms of social assistance.
Banking Act of 1935: Reformed the Federal Reserve System and made it a much more efficient body, and also made it more independent.
Farm Security Administration (FSA): Gave millions of tenant farmers and sharecroppers the chance to buy their own land. Also set up several labor camps for migrant farmers, like the ones in The Grapes of Wrath.
Keynesian economics: The United States adopted the economic policies of British economist John Maynard Keynes in the face of a recession in 1937.note The vast majority of economists believe that the recession was caused by FDR taking money out of his programs in an attempt to balance the budget. Keynes said that deficit spending would stabilize the economy and provide more jobs and more money. Whether he was right divides economists to this day, but nearly all Presidents after FDR continued to use some form of Keynesian economic policies since.
Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA): Better known by its nickname Fannie Mae. Founded in 1938 as part of the same affordable-housing impetus as HOLC, Fannie Mae provided federal money to banks to provide mortgages, and created a liquid market in mortgage-backed securities (a function in which it was joined by Freddie Mac in 1970). Still exists today; the "mortgage-backed securities" thing that Fannie facilitated came to cause the biggest economic contraction since the Depression, so there is some irony here.
Fair Labor Standards Act: Passed in 1938, this was the last major New Deal legislation. It established a minimum wage, a maximum number of weekly work hours (originally set at 44 hours per week, but now it's just 40), and higher payment if they work overtime. Banned most child labor, the exception being agriculture. Still a landmark in protecting worker's rights.
As you can see, the Supreme Court was not a huge fan of several New Deal agencies. FDR, frustrated that the Court kept defeating his plans (especially since he had yet to place a single man on the Court yet), announced in 1937 a plan to expand the Court by up to six new members. Even many Democrats were shocked at this "Court packing scheme," and it was defeated by Congress in the biggest political failure of FDR's presidency. Still, the Court did start ruling in favor of the New Deal programs after that, and some of the older Justices started to retire. FDR appointed eight of the nine Justices on the Court when he died, including the Chief Justice. Many people on both sides of the political spectrum complain about the unprecedented power that FDR held during his presidency, with the harshest to this day saying that Roosevelt was practically a dictator. Truth be told, except Abraham Lincoln, none of the others come close to matching the authority Roosevelt wielded during his twelve years.
Whether the New Deal had any effect, and whether this effect was positive, is still hotly debated. Even some in his own administration disagreed on it being effective — some felt that it swung too close to socialism, while others felt that Roosevelt didn't go far enough.note For what it is worth, Socialist Party head Norman Thomas, when asked whether Roosevelt's New Deal was socialist, said that “Mr. Roosevelt did not carry out the Socialist platform, unless he carried it out on a stretcher.” Nevertheless, what isn't argued is the fact that, during World War II, the rapid military buildup effectively ended the Depression, with most able-bodied men serving in the military and those who weren't (along with many of America's women) working in factories producing the war material. It was on the basis of this industrialization that the prosperity of ensuingdecades was built. Still, a lot of Roosevelt's reforms and surviving programs have been credited by many for preventing another horrible economic catastrophe from happening since and for overseeing a relatively stable economy most of the time. Even the currenteconomic recession does not even compare to the horror that was the Great Depression, when at least one third of the country went to bed hungry. He also gains some points for being fairly progressive when it came to minorities and women. Along with the very visible role his wife Eleanor played in government, he also appointed the first woman to the Cabinet, Frances Perkins (she was Secretary of Labor), and a lot of other well-known women of the time were prominent advisers for his administration. Additionally, FDR had a group of African American advisers known as the "Black Cabinet" who helped him shape bills to be more fair towards blacks, a major accomplishment during the Jim Crow era. During WWII, when black leaders threatened to march on Washington in protest of discrimination in federal hiring, he gave an executive order ending any further discrimination. These actions helped plant some seeds of the post-war Civil Rights Movement and moving the black vote into the Democratic Party after it had been in Republican hands since the days of Lincoln. Unfortunately, he backed off on supporting an anti-lynching bill, reasoning (correctly) that it would cost the vote of Southerners in Congress and cost him support for his other major legislation, which were not-incidentally benefiting poor blacks more than any other government policies since Reconstruction. Indeed, while he didn't do as much as later Presidents, FDR gave more help to minorities and women than most President before him and probably did as much as could have been done for them at the time. The Executive Office of the President was created in 1939 in order to expand the number of agencies under executive control and help better organize the executive branch.
Foreign policy prior to American entry in WWII was marked by the "Good Neighbor Policy" towards Latin America. Basically, the United States decided to finally stop interfering in those countries so much and stop sending the military to occupy those countries. In addition to improving relations tremendously (which helped keep them away from joining the Axis during the war), it also created many new jobs and helped end a lot of racism Americans felt towards their southern neighbors. (Notice how Ricky in I Love Lucy was portrayed in positive light in the stuffy, whitewashed 1950's.) Then the Cold War happened and all of that ended, sadly. Also on the positive side, FDR signed a bill in 1934 granting independence to the Philippines in ten years; this was delayed by another two years because of the Japanese invasion. Diplomatic relations were finally extended to the Soviet Union. As it became clear that another world war was approaching, the United States initially passed a number of bills asserting its neutrality and banning certain types of exchanges with countries in war. Once it actually started, however, Roosevelt realized the danger that Germany and Japan (and Italy) presented, and he convinced Congress to start a massive Lend-Lease Program in order to aid the UK and China to prevent them from being conquered, saying that the United States must be "the arsenal of democracy." When Adolf Hitler invaded the USSR, he extended the program to Joseph Stalin as well. While Roosevelt initially did not want to break the two-term tradition, events in Europe convinced him to run again in 1940. While a huge shock to people at the time, the clear majority of voters thought that he would be the best leader to help them through a possible war and he won by another huge margin. There were some clashes between American and German ships/submarines during 1941, and the US was essentially an unofficial Allied Power in the months before Pearl Harbor.
Roosevelt gave a very famous speech the day after the Pearl Harbor attacks when he went to Congress to ask for war, stating that it will be "a date which will live in infamy." Within hours, Congress voted almost unanimously for war.note People who remember World War I history very well may remember that the only woman in Congress in 1917 voted no for the war, saying that she could not, as the only woman representing 50% of the country, in good faith say that the majority of American women want to send their husbands, brothers, and sons to fight overseas. Coincidentally, she ended up getting voted back into the House many years later for a single term which just so happened to be the one where FDR asked for a declaration of war. She also voted no, and was the only one, as she was a committed pacifist. Needless to say, this was not a popular vote and the police had to escort her to her home that night. Roosevelt was facing more problems considering he and Churchill had agreed on a Europe First approach to this war, and Roosevelt faced an uphill battle convincing Congress to agree to it with the war on the Japanese now in progress. As it turned out, Roosevelt got lucky; Hitler made one of his greatest foreign policy blunders and declared war on the United States both in hopes of Japan attacking the USSR in support and allow his U-Boats to openly attack the US Navy escorts supporting British convoys in their portion of the Atlantic. This wiped out any domestic politic opposition to participating in the European Theatre of World War II and Roosevelt was able to join that fight with full fury.
FDR played a very major role in planning military operations during World War II. He had previously served as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy during World War I, so he knew how to organize a war. Roosevelt met with the UK's Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, just months before Pearl Harbor and outlined their plan for a post-war world, including the founding of the United Nations. The two also agreed on a plan to initially keep Japan at bay while they take care of Hitler in Europe, both because he posed the risk of defeating both the UK and the Soviet Union and because they were worried that Stalin would potentially conquer all of continental Europe if they left Germany to him. Thanks largely to FDR's planning and to great generals in the military, the Allied Powers were able to halt the Axis advance and eventually push them back. In Europe, after American and British forces pushed the Axis out of North Africa, they launched an assault on Italy and forced Benito Mussolini out of power, and later launched a daring but brilliant land invasion of northern France in 1944 that eventually led to the American and British occupation of western Germany. Meanwhile, in the Pacific, an "island-hopping" strategy was formed, where the Navy would send men to conquer strategically-necessary islands but blockade other enemy-held islands until they surrendered. Plans to create atomic weapons were given the OK by FDR at Albert Einstein's request - he initially thought they would be prepared in time to use them against Germany, but they were completed after Germany's surrender. Roosevelt traveled around the world a number of times to meet with Churchill, Stalin, China's Chiang Kaishek, and other Allied leaders to plan military operations and discuss what to do after the war. At home, major rations were placed on domestic products, unions agreed not to strike (and very few of them did, remarkably), and everyone bought war bonds to help fund the military. Roosevelt also won another landslide in 1944.
Probably the worst thing he did in office was authorize the internment of Japanese Americans on the West Coast during WWII. 120,000 people, of whom more than three-fifths were American citizens, were rounded up and put in prison camps solely for being of Japanese descent. Even J. Edgar Hoover, not known for being the most racially sensitive man in the world, questioned this decision. Another thing that could compete was when he continued the Mexican Repatriation (a movement that began in the Hoover presidency) that saw over 500,000 Mexicans forcefully deported back to Mexico (sadly most of whom were legal U.S citizens).
Roosevelt died in 1945, after twelve years of aggressively combating both the Great Depression at home and the Axis Powers abroad. He was only 63, but photos◊ of him just before his death make him look like he was at least 80. The man literally worked himself to death. A shocked nation mourned the loss of their leader, and Vice President Harry Truman suddenly found himself in charge of the country.
His wife Eleanor Roosevelt (a fifth cousin; Teddy was her father Elliot's elder brother and, since Elliot died young, T.R.—who was President at the time—gave her away at the weddingnote Also, T.R. famously joked at the time that "there's nothing like keeping the name in the family.") was the first First Lady to actually take an open role in government (Woodrow Wilson's wife did in secret when he had a stroke). She became hated by many, an experience she would share with several of her successors, including Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton, and Michelle Obama. She was viciously insulted as being ugly. The Roosevelts had a complex relationship. After she first learned Franklin cheated on her with her secretary, Lucy Mercer, Eleanor offered him a divorce, but Franklin declined—both for the sake of his political career and because his mother (who had something of a rivalry with Eleanor) threatened to disinherit him if he did. They never shared a bedroom after that, but their working relationship was respectful, for the time. Some have also suggested that she had a lesbian relationship with a close friend. As Franklin's polio prevented him from traveling, Eleanor became his eyes and ears, and a great political tool. When disgruntled veterans marched on Washington during Hoover's administration, wanting their pensions early because of the Depression, it was noted that Hoover sent the army to drive them away, while FDR sent his wife to give them charitable goods. During the FDR presidency, Eleanor traveled across the country and raised support for the poor, women, and minorities. She famously arranged for black opera singer Marian Anderson to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial after she was denied by group of all-white women to perform in Constitution Hall. Eleanor continued to play a prominent role in global politics after her husband's death, most notably when she drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for the UN in 1948. For her years of service to the world bringing attention to human rights, Truman named her "First Lady of the World."
The Republican-controlled Congress amended the Constitution after he died, so no one else can serve for more than eight years (or up to ten if they take over for less than two years of another president's term). This turned out, ironically, to primarily affect Republicans: only two Democratic presidents (Bill Clinton and Barack Obama) and three Republicans (Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush) so far have actually served long enough to be affected by the term limit. (Sitting President Harry Truman was grandfathered in by the amendment; Lyndon Johnson served less than two years of John F. Kennedy's first and only term and could have run for one more term. Both of them chose not to run again for political and personal reasons. Additionally, Richard Nixon was elected to two terms but resigned during his second due to political scandals.)
Not long after FDR was elected, a number of major business leaders formed a conspiracy to initiate a coup and put in place a business-friendly dictatorship. Nope, not joking. This is one Conspiracy Theory which actually happened. It was revealed by Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, who was approached by these men to be the face of the operation. The Congressional committee formed to investigate this confirmed what he was saying, but they covered up the full details of the plot and prosecuted no one involved. The full details of the plot are unknown, with some of the more hysterical followers claiming that it included leaders of such companies as US Steel, J.P. Morgan, Remington Arms, Standard Oil, and the Bushfamily. In all likelihood it probably wasn't that big, but that a plot to overthrow FDR was formed is a confirmed truth.
The official presidential retreat, Camp David, was built during his first term, but it was known as Shangri-La at the time. During the patriotism of World War II, the Pledge of Allegiance was adopted by Congress as the country's formal pledge. The Jefferson Memorial was completed during his time, too. He was the first President to appear on television. In 1932, he opened the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, making him the first person who was at some point President to open the games but not the first sitting President to do so (that would be Ronald Reagan in 1984); Roosevelt opened them because he was the state governor during the games.
FDR is on the dime. While he was President, he founded the March of Dimes, a non-profit organization to provide aid for families whose children were diagnosed with polio. It funded the discovery of Jonas Salk's polio vaccine in the 1950's. People would donate a dime to the organization; they were in every city, and many people donated. Almost right after his death, Congress voted to put his face on the 10-cent coin to honor his work with the March of Dimes.
He's consistently ranked by scholars and the public as one of the greatest Presidents in American history, next to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
Tropes Present in FDR's Life and Legacy
Batman Gambit: How he got Harry Truman to be his running mate. In 1944, the Democratic Party leadership decided that Henry Wallace was too liberal to be Vice President for Roosevelt's fourth term; the leadership knew that FDR's health was not what it once was, and that his Vice President would be very likely to become President. They eventually settled on Truman as an acceptable next President, but there was just one problem: Truman didn't want to be VP. As a result, the leaders brought Truman to a hotel room, where Roosevelt was waiting to speak to him over the phone from Washington. Roosevelt excoriated Truman for threatening Democratic party unity during wartime, and (seemingly) hung up in a huff. Little did Truman know that this whole thing had been carefully rehearsed in exactly the way required to get at one of Truman's weak points: he was nothing if not a Democratic loyalist, and accusing him of breaking party unity was tantamount to calling him a traitor. Truman accepted, and the rest is history.
Big Good: Questionable morality aside, he was the beacon of leadership for the Americans during World War II, alongside Winston Churchill, and is still considered by many to be among the greatest American presidents in history.
Bring It: In a speech given in his re-election campaign, he made an open statement about the wealthy backers of his challenger (he cracked down on wall street to try to correct the actions that caused the stock market crash of 1929), he said this to the big businesses who opposed him:
We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred!
How about this one from the 1940 campaign:
I consider it a public duty to answer falsifications with facts. I will not pretend that I find this an unpleasant duty. I am an old campaigner and I LOVE a GOOD FIGHT!
Bury Your Disabled: Guess which one of the major World War II political leaders was the first to die.
Canine Companion: Fala, a Scottish Terrier. So famous that FDR discovered during one vacation that his cruise's crew was cutting off pieces of Fala's hair for themselves as souvenirs!
Fala is so famous that he has a statue in the FDR Memorial.
Does that make Fala the first ever presidential pet to be immortalized in statuary?
Supposedly, Fala is also the inspiration for the dog token in the original Monopoly.
Deadpan Snarker: FDR was famous for using this against opponents who criticized him for taking Fala abroad on state business, and the public loved him for it!
These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don't resent attacks, and my family doesn't resent attacks, but Fala does resent them. You know, Fala is Scotch, and being a Scottie, as soon as he learned that the Republican fiction writers in Congress and out had concocted a story that I had left him behind on the Aleutian Islands and had sent a destroyer back to find him - at a cost to the taxpayers of two or three, or eight or twenty million dollars- his Scotch soul was furious. He has not been the same dog since. I am accustomed to hearing malicious falsehoods about myself - such as that old, worm-eaten chestnut that I have represented myself as indispensable. But I think I have a right to resent, to object to libelous statements about my dog!
He actually had to stop several times because his audience were laughing so loudly.
When he consented to be wheeled into the House chamber to address a joint session of Congress on March 1, 1945, and even referred to his leg braces at the start of the speech, his audience was shocked. Six weeks later he was dead.
Disproportionate Retribution: After Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which allowed the military to designate "military areas" as "exclusion zones," from which "any or all persons may be excluded," meaning that local commanders could impose "restrictions" on anyone it deemed a threat; primarily US citizens and immigrants of Japanese, Italian and/or German descent. Curfews, loss of property and possessions, mandatory evacuation from their homes and concentration into internment camps were among such restrictions. These were done without trials, hearings or due process, which bypassed the authority of the Attorney General and the courts. The Supreme Court formally approved of the arrangement in Korematsu v. United States 323 U.S. 214 (1944), a case which embarrasses the Court today even more than Dred Scott v. Sandford and Plessy v. Ferguson (since unlike Korematsu, the Court at least had the opportunity to correct the mistake; since no similar cases have appeared before the Court since 1944, Korematsu technically remains good law). George Takei and Mister Miyagi were among the prisoners.
Drinking On Duty: Of course, everyone of that class took a little tipple during working hours, things got really out of hand when Winston Churchill visited The White House in the winter of 1941-42. The two of them—the leaders of two of the top four powers in the world—took decisions affecting the fate of the entire world while absolutely sloshed at about 2:00 in the morning, occasionally getting up to some pretty odd antics (like the one time FDR ran into Churchill while he was bathing—"Great men have nothing to hide from one another"). They turned out to be excellent decisions. Go figure.
Friendly Enemy: FDR and Wendell Willkie, his opponent in the 1940 Presidential election. This stemmed from several things: their being Not So Different in their attitudes towards American intervention in World War II, Willkie being a Graceful Loser and encouraging Republicans to accept Roosevelt's reelection (which alienated him from more conservative Republicans). Roosevelt even used Willkie as an Ambassador-at-Large during his thirdterm. Both Franklin and Eleanor spoke highly of Willkie and eulogized him upon his death in 1944.
Generation Xerox: Similarities to Teddy go well beyond simply the Presidency. Parallels include pissing of New York party bosses constantly, being Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and being nominated Vice President by those he'd pissed off.
Hiding The Handicap: As mentioned, he kept his polio-caused partial paralysis hidden from the public by giving public speeches and presentations either sitting down from his desk, standing behind a podium and using it to support his weight, or by using a walking cane to support himself. Eventually it became so severe that the secret eventually came out, but he served the majority of his 4 terms as President keeping it hidden from the public.
In retrospect, Roosevelt and Churchill's compatibility should have come as a surprise to no-one: they were from similar backgrounds (the Roosevelts were old New York Dutch aristocracy, Churchill's grandfathers were the Duke of Marlborough and a Brooklyn banker), had similar interests (for instance, both had had a hand in running their respective countries' Navies during World War I—FDR as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty), and were both generally fun-loving people, albeit in different ways (FDR was easygoing and a charmer; Churchill was often depressive and a bit of a grump, but still enjoyed social occasions).
However Churchill and Roosevelt disagreed on the continuation of the British Empire, which Roosevelt felt had to go for good. He made it clear to Churchill that after the War, India and other colonies would be given freedom and sovereignty and America would support it. As Gore Vidal pointed out, Churchill felt that Roosevelt wanted to make America the global superpower at England's expense and he personally did not want to be the Prime Minister who lost England her empire.
Insult Backfire: FDR was from one of the wealthiest families in New York, yet it was America's wealthy who hated him more than any other Americans. A wealthy socialite once called him, "a traitor to his class" which was overheard by the press and became so widely quoted that everybody knew the insult. And since this was The Great Depression, when the wealthy weren't held in such high regard, the insult made FDR even more popular among the general public.
Long Runners: The only president to serve more than two terms. Every prior president who'd served two terms prior to FDR had voluntarily retired, although Grant and Theodore Roosevelt later tried and failed to come back. Roosevelt was elected to four terms but died shortly after his fourth term began. The passage of the 22nd Amendment a few years after FDR's death wrote the two-term limit into the Constitution.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Roosevelt did not object to Stalin invading Berlin, in spite of Churchill's vehement protests. He and Churchill also made a number of promises to Stalin in return for further Soviet aid, such as letting him occupy Eastern Europe (in return for promising to allow free elections in those nations, a promise Stalin did not keep and parts of northern China (which also became a communist nation within a few years). This was the start of Soviet military expansion and the precursor to the Cold War. To be fair, Roosevelt and Churchill were actually trying to limit just how much territory the unpredictable Stalin could lay his hands on, and they both knew that trying to fight Stalin just after they defeated Hitler would not have ended well.
The Man Wearing the Presidential Mask: Paralyzed and trapped in painful braces merely to fake standing and hobbling while carrying out a constant camapaign to conceal his disablity... yet his mask of unflagging charm and smile (almost) never slipped and never in public.
One of Us: FDR was really, really into stamp collecting. He owned over one million stamps. He even designed a few sketches for the Postal Department!
He was also into design to some degree; he made a fairly significant change to the design of the reverse of the one-dollar bill (flipping the positions of the reverse and obverse of the Great Seal and adding the legend "The Great Seal of the United States" under it) that still stands today. Here's a picture of the order making the change◊.
Politically Correct History: The main heading details his attempts to conceal his lack of use of his legs from the public (the picture at the top is one of the only two showing him using a wheelchair. The other can be seen here◊); the FDR memorial features a statue of him seated in a wheelchair which was added well after the initial design phase because disability rights groups complained that this aspect of his life was being ignored.
He was incredibly reluctant to support an anti-lynching bill at the height of the Ku Klux Klan's racist, ritualistic murder of African Americans. While many certainly feel that he should've at least voiced support for the anti-lynching bill, one could argue that this is where the politician in Roosevelt reared its head more than the leader. Congress had a six-week filibuster on the anti-lynching bill, and it was never brought up for a vote during his presidency. FDR felt this was a losing battle in a predominately racist Congress. At the same time, his New Deal policies put thousands if not millions of blacks to work in the same way as it put many whites to work, both in New Deal jobs and in government positions, so you've gotta take the good with the bad in this case.
Jewish refugees were deported from America, due to the belief that refugees - of any kind - would aggravate the unemployment wrought by the Great Depression. Nevertheless, Roosevelt reversed government policy over this in 1944. He signed Executive Order 9417, creating the War Refugee Board, which was instructed to "take all measures to rescue victims of enemy oppression in imminent danger of death." 200,000 refugees were helped with this policy, although critics argue that Roosevelt would've saved more lives if he had done this earlier.
Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Du Pont, Standard Oil of New Jersey, Davis Oil Co., and the Chase National Bank were all US-based corporations that were licensed to trade with Nazi Germany, with Henry Ford in particular supplying tanks to the Nazis (Ford was probably the single most racist industrialist and prominent Hitler supporter in the US at the time). This trade of course stopped when war was declared in 1941, and was far outweighed by the assistance given to Britain. Roosevelt did not stop them, fearing a scandal might lead to another stock market crash or lower U.S. morale. Corporate leaders also threatened to withdraw support to the US if Roosevelt exposed them.
At a time when agriculture accounted for 30% of the American workforce (and when farm income dropped to 60%), Roosevelt wisely knew that the farmers would take desperate action if a degree of stability wasn't given to them (like almost lynching a judge for not promising not to sign any more mortgage foreclosures). The Agricultural Adjustable Act was made so it raised the value of crops by reducing the amount of crops; the AAA paid farmers to destroy much of their crops, slaughter excess livestock and not plant on part of their land, effectively withdrawing their land from production. The money for these subsidies was generated through an exclusive tax on companies that processed farm products. This mostly benefited richer, land-owning farmers and food processors, with lesser benefits to small farmers and sharecroppers; the poorer farmers weren't able to adjust as quickly as the richer farmers. Turnover from year to year declined sharply, while tenants and cotton cropper (especially the generally lower-income blacks) decreased in number. Nevertheless, it managed to stimulate American agriculture, and most of the landowners allowed their tenants and croppers use the land taken out of cotton production for their own use in growing food and feed crops, increasing their standard of living. To be fair, Roosevelt corrected this via the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act, which was made in response to the AAA being struck down by the Supreme Court (ruled unconstitutional due to the tax on the richer farmers). Landlords were now required to share the payments they received from the government for cutting back production with those who worked on their land; farmers would plant trees and native grass in areas that were less vulnerable to strong winds and storms; and soil erosion (soil being raised by winds) had dropped 65%.
Rousing Speech: He gave at least a few. His first inaugural speech as well as his speech the day after the Pearl Harbor attacks are widely considered to rank among the greatest American speeches.
Throw It In: FDR had speechwriters, but he would often go over their speeches and make his own revisions. Sometimes he'd even ad lib while he was making the speech. One of his most famous quotes is an example of this. In his speech to Congress requesting them to declare war on Japan, the final draft read, "December 7, 1941. A date which will live in world history." FDR wisely realized that accidentally sounded like he approved of Japan's sneak attack of Pearl Harbor, so instead he said, "December 7, 1941. A date which will live in infamy."
If not for Roosevelt's untimely death, the United States almost certainly would not have gotten involved in the Vietnam War. He supported the Viet Minh rebels and opposed allowing the French to regain control over Indochina.
Not just Vietnam. One of the greatest What If moments in American history is Roosevelt's decision to replace incumbent Vice-President Henry Wallace with Harry Truman in 1944. Wallace was a lefty who was friendly towards the Soviet Unionnote until after his retirement, during which he learned of Stalin's atrocities and published an autobiography titled I Was Wrong and strongly opposed Truman's anti-communist "Truman Doctrine". Also, Wallace probably would not have dropped the atomic bomb on Japan.
Roosevelt was almost shot to death before he even took office. On February 15, 1933, Giuseppe Zangara fired shots at FDR while he gave a speech from a car in Miami. However, since Zangara was so short, he had to stand on a chair to see over the crowd, and the chair just happened to be wobbly. FDR escaped injury, although five other people were hit, and one (Mayor of Chicago Anton Cermak) died.
If Smedley Butler's allegations about the "Business Plot" were accurate, then Roosevelt also came rather close to being overthrown in a military coup d'etat in the mid-Thirties.
What the Hell, Hero?: Even the super-paranoid FBI director J. Edgar Hoover (not to be confused with Herbert Hoover) was not happy about Roosevelts' racist policy of Japanese internment.
Many history students have this when they realize that he refused to acknowledge African American Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics and denied him the courtesies that are usually extended to Olympic winners by the President.
At the time, many felt this regarding his attempt to expand the number of Justices in the Supreme Court, specifically so he could appoint guys that agreed with him over the New Deal. It tarnished his credibility for quite a while, and he consequently achieved a Pyrrhic Victory once the Justices retired (or died) later on. In fact, when he died, all but one of the sitting Justices were Roosevelt nominees.
The Mexican Repatriation also counts for those who know about it. Over 500,000 Mexicans, including legal US citizens, were deported back to Mexico. Hoover started it, and Roosevelt did nothing to stop it.
There was a handbook ready for military government of Germany; it advocated a quick restoration of normal life for the German people and reconstruction of Germany. Roosevelt rejected it, dismissing the idea that "only a few" Nazis were responsible for the Holocaust and believing that the German people in general had "been engaged in a lawless conspiracy against the decencies of modern civilization." Sadly, in this case, he was technically correct, as literally every form of German bureaucracy really was involved in cataloging, disenfranchising and transporting Jews during the Holocaust. At the same time, Roosevelt preferred not to rehabilitate the German economy in any way. When asked if he wanted the German people to starve, Roosevelt replied "Why not?"
The German people of today, incidentally, might be thankful for this rather harsh attitude: it informed the strict "de-Nazification" program in postwar Germany, in which the German people as a whole were held responsible for the crimes of the Nazi regime. This instilled in (West) Germany quite possibly the firmest commitment of any country on Earth to peace, human rights, and democracy, and (more cynically) gave Germans exactly the attitude they needed to begin (with the French) the project of European integration (and with it unprecedented German power over the European and global economies).
Played in the film version by Edward Herrmann, who had previously portrayed him in the made-for-TV biopics Eleanor and Franklin and Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years.
Ironically, Harold Gray was a staunchly conservative opponent of the New Deal and was not shy about using Little Orphan Annie as a political platform. FDR and the New Deal are, of course, portrayed positively in the musical, which was written after Gray's death.
The Super Soldier Serum taken by Captain America was, according to some comics, supposed to go to FDR after it had been tested. This would cure the effects of the polio and let him walk on his own again. Cap himself had a bit of hero-worship going on for Roosevelt, and the Sentinel of Liberty miniseries shows that Steve was employed as a mural painter by the WPA. Considering that FDR personally presented him with his indestructible round shield, you can understand the good feeling.
Like most other politicians (and some that aren't even politicians) of the time-period, Roosevelt is a possible (and indeed, the default) Head of State for the USA in Hearts of Iron 2.
He is also a choice for leader of America in Civilization 4, along with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Roosevelt is Industrious and Organized, which gives a boon to production and efficiency.
In Worldwar he dies early, in 1944, due to the extra stress of having to manage a war against alien invaders and constantly being moved around the country. Henry Wallace was still his Vice President, but he had already been killed in an attack on Seattle and so Secretary of State Cordell Hull succeeded FDR as President.
In TL-191 his analogue, known as "Franklin Roosevelt" rather than by his acronym, is the Secretary for Defence under President Charlie La Follette of the Socialist Party. As this is a less high-profile position, he is open about being disabled.
The ghastly number of men returning from both the First and Second Great Wars with missing limbs or other disabilities has made the USA in this timeline more accepting of the disabled (along with earlier acceptance of women's rights and at least some moves toward racial equality, this is one of the few good outcomes of the Crapsack World that is Timeline 191).
A character on Seinfeld is referred to as "FDR", which is then explained to stand for "Franklin Delano Romanowski", a disgruntled hotdog vendor who lives in Jerry and Kramer's building.
In the All in the Family episode "Cousin Maude's Visit", Maude is shown to love Roosevelt, calling him "a saint". Archie's "secret weapon" against her is insulting FDR.
Assassin's Creed II gives him a little bit of a Historical Villain Upgrade, playing off the real life controversies like the Japanese Internment and his court-packing scheme, and implies that he used a Piece of Eden to navigate the country through the Great Depression. He was also apparently one of four Knights Templar in charge of the world's major superpowers, and helped to orchestrate World War II as a way of creating a New World Order. The other three? Churchill, Stalin, and Hitler.
The Venture Bros.: The ghost of Abraham Lincoln confesses that FDR was one of his favorite Presidents. "I loved to watch him sleep. Fate of the world on his polio-ridden shoulders....that was a clear conscience."
Bill Murray played FDR in Hyde Park On Hudson, which depicts his affair with his distant cousin, Margaret Stuckley, with the focus being an important weekend where he had King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visit.
Resistance has FDR appear in a passing mention as having been defeated in the 1940 Election by Noah Grace.
In "When I See an Elephant Fly" from Disney's Dumbo, one of the puns is "I heard a fireside chat", a then-contemporary reference to Roosevelt's fireside chats.
''FDR: American Badass!" is an... unusual spoof of the man's life. He is infected with polio after being bitten by a Nazi werewolf, and discovers that werewolves are in control of the Axis countries and plotting to take over the world with werewolf blood-infested alcohol. Yep.