The Early Years
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was born on January 30th, 1882, in Hyde Park, New York. He was born into a wealthy, prominent family that had made their fortune in real estate and trade. The only child of James and Sara Ann Delano Roosevelt, Franklin lived a very privileged childhood. He was educated by private tutors until the age of 14 when he began attending Groton School for boys, a prestigious preparatory school for boys in Massachusetts. Roosevelt graduated from Groton in 1900 and went on to attend Harvard University.
At Harvard, he joined the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity and became editor of the Harvard Crimson newspaper. He graduated in just three years. During his final year at Harvard, he became engaged to his fifth cousin Eleanor Roosevelt, the niece of his idol and distant relative, Theodore Roosevelt. They married on March 17, 1905. Franklin moved on to Columbia University Law School and in 1907 he passed the bar and left Columbia early. For the next few years, Franklin practiced law in New York but he did not find his career fulfilling. He made a decision to enter public service and delved into the world of politics, a career that had always held his interest.
FDR The Politician
In 1910 at the young age of 28, FDR ran for the New York State Senate. Despite a strong Republican family background as well as a strong Republican history in his district, Roosevelt ran on the Democratic ticket and with the help of his well-respected last name, was the first Democrat to be elected in 16 years. Roosevelt was reelected in 1912 and served as chair of the agricultural committee, where he was successful in passing farm and labor bills and social welfare programs. During the same year, FDR supported Woodrow Wilson at the Democratic National Convention, who returned the favor by appointing him Assistant Secretary to the Navy. This was the exact position Theodore Roosevelt had used to propel himself toward presidency. Two short years later, FDR ran for the US Senate seat for New York but was unsuccessful. Strongly against the political machines in New York, he was unable to get the support needed to win the election. In 1920 Roosevelt’s political career gained national exposure when he accepted the nomination for vice president alongside James M. Cox. They were soundly defeated by Republican Warren G. Harding, however, the election gave Roosevelt the boost into publicity that his career needed.
Just as Roosevelt felt that his political career was really beginning to boom, tragedy struck as he was diagnosed with polio. At that time, polio had no known cure. Roosevelt decided to remove himself from politics in order to focus on rehabilitation and recovery. After four years out of the public eye, Roosevelt decided to return to politics despite being wheelchair bound and hesitant to the public reaction of his disability. However, the public reaction was one of compassion and his career continued to advance once again. By 1928 he was governor of New York, and after serving two terms, he ran for President in 1932.
The 32nd President
Franklin Roosevelt became the 32nd President of the United States in 1933 with John Nance Garner as his Vice President. The United States was in the middle of the Great Depression, and FDR used this to his advantage as he campaigned against the Republicans whom he blamed for the failing economy. His platform of hope called for government intervention that would prove relief, recovery, and reform to the economy. Roosevelt won the election with 472 electoral votes to a mere 59 for current Republican President Herbert Hoover. FDR took the office of presidency in March of 1933, to a nation with nearly a quarter of the workforce unemployed, hundreds of bank closures, and the greatest economic crisis the country had ever seen. What Roosevelt accomplished in the first 100 days of Presidency was unprecedented. He immediately set forth in his efforts to turn the economy around with what became famously known as Roosevelt’s New Deal. In contrast to the small government, free-market philosophy of Hoover, FDR sought for radical and immediate changes. In his New Deal, he promised American’s that his respond to the depression would be with bold, consistent experimentation and he followed through with just that. In his first 100 days in office, FDR passed 15 major bills through Congress as a part of his promised New Deal.
The New Deal
October 29th, 1929 will forever be known in American economic history as Black Tuesday, the day the stock market crashed, and the country plummeted into the Great Depression. Soon after, banks failed, the money supply diminished, companies went bankrupt, and unemployment skyrocketed. President Hoover sought for patience from citizens, arguing that the economic crisis would pass and the government need not intervene. However, it became clear that this was no ordinary crisis, and Roosevelt recognized government intervention was of the utmost importance to save the country. As soon as Roosevelt took office, he set forth his plan for a New Deal.
FDR’s first act as president was to declare a four-day banking holiday, in which time Congress drafted the Emergency Banking Bill of 1933. The bill stabilized the banking system by putting the federal government behind it, in an effort to restore public faith in the banking system. Next, FDR signed the Glass-Steagall Act which created the FDIC and provided federally insured deposits. The Civil Conservation Corps was a successful New Deal program that provided work for 3 million young men. The program sent young men to the nation’s forests where they dug ditches, built reservoirs, and planted trees for $30 a month. The Works Progress Administration, another work relief program, employed more than 8.5 million people to build bridges, roads, airports, and public buildings and parks. The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) and the National Recovery Act (NRA) addressed employment issues by regulating the number of hours worked per week and banning child labor. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) was yet another implementation of Roosevelt’s New Deal, this one giving $3 billion to states for work relief programs. The Agricultural Adjustment Act provided loans for farmers facing bankruptcy, and The Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC) saved thousands of homes from foreclosure.
Just as FDR had promised, he provided bold and consistent experimentation. He tried various methods to ease the Depression and although some were not successful, he continued on with new approaches. His effectiveness with Congress was unrivaled and it allowed him to make a sweeping reform. While the New Deal did not end the Great Depression, it helped the American people enormously not only by taking care of basic needs, but by providing hope that sustained them throughout the recovery.