The Roosevelts and the Royals by Will Swift
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franklin d. roosevelt

Born January 30, 1882

Died April 12, 1945

Married Eleanor Roosevelt March 17, 1905

Six Children

Franklin was born in January, 1882, in Hyde Park, New York, at the family home, Springwood, which was one of the important houses overlooking the Hudson River. Franklin’s father, James Roosevelt, American country squire and peripatetic traveler, taught Franklin to love Britain and to emulate the lifestyle of an English gentleman. His mother Sara, born into the wealthy Delano family, always thought of herself and her son as American aristocrats.

Though Franklin was an energetic and happy child, Sara monitored her son closely. Frighteningly blind to her autocratic ways, Sara would later claim, "We never tried to influence him against his own inclinations or shape his life." After his father’s first heart attack when Franklin was eight, Sara grew even more possessive of her son. Franklin experienced social rejection at Groton prep school and at Harvard. He was devastated when he did not receive an invitation to join Porcellian, the exclusive social club that counted among its members his father, James, and his idol President Theodore Roosevelt. Underneath his buoyant sociability and seductive charm, Franklin would always possess a sense of himself as a socially inadequate outsider.

After graduating from Columbia law school, Franklin began his career at a Wall Street law firm. Neither particularly gifted nor interested in business or law, over the years, he indulged in a number of ill-advised business schemes, yet he always managed to emerge from them scandal-free, his sunny and solid reputation intact. In 1910, New York politicians took note when he won an upset victory over the heavily favored and well-connected Republican opponent in a battle for the state senate. Franklin’s astute politicking in Albany brought him to the attention of Woodrow Wilson’s new administration; in March 1913, he was appointed assistant secretary of the navy. After America entered World War One, he sailed off to Europe to see the action, and make international political connections including King George V in London.

In 1920, he was chosen as the Democrats’ vice presidential candidate, running with Ohio Governor James Cox. The two of them were trounced by Republicans Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge, but with his eloquent and vigorous campaigning, Franklin had further advanced his claim to be the heir apparent to the Roosevelt name and progressive political legacy. In August 1921, Franklin Roosevelt sailed a yacht to Campobello, his family’s summer home in Maine, for his annual vacation, and promptly came down with poliomyelitis. With extraordinary determination, Franklin experimented with every possible cure and exercised constantly. He used two-thirds of his personal money to purchase a rundown spa at Warm Springs, Georgia, so that he and others could take its bubbling waters that literally buoyed him into walking movement.

FDR continued his physical and political rehabilitation for four more years, until he narrowly won the governorship of New York in 1928. Two years later he won reelection overwhelmingly, and considered a run for the White House. That Roosevelt would win the presidency was almost a foregone conclusion. Following the traumatic stock market crash in 1929, the country had lapsed into what was being called the "Hoover Depression." With Eleanor at his side, Franklin campaigned vigorously to prove that he could be effective and vigorous despite his disability. He carried 42 of 48 states.

With his "New Deal" policies, he and the First Lady helped Americans regain a sense of faith and hope. In his famous Inaugural Address, he told the American people, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." In his first hundred days as president, FDR pushed an unprecedented amount of legislation through Congress. The Emergency Banking Relief Act put the banks and their reopening under federal control; the Civilian Conservation Corps hired young men to plant trees and restore areas ruined by forest fires; and the Public Works Administration employed millions to build schools, airports, hospitals, public buildings, and roads, as well as funding the arts and adult education programs. At the end of his first term Roosevelt created new reforms including Social Security, controls over banks and public utilities, and a work relief program for the unemployed.

In 1936 he was re-elected by a top-heavy margin. Feeling he was armed with a popular mandate, he sought legislation to enlarge the Supreme Court, which had been invalidating key New Deal measures. Roosevelt lost the Supreme Court battle, but a revolution in constitutional law took place. In the late 1930s he foresaw the danger of the totalitarian governments taking over Europe, and did his best to provide support for the European democracies without alienating the strongly isolationist U.S. Congress and populace. When the Nazis attacked both England and France in 1940, he found creative ways to give them aid without declaring war. His lend-lease program provided U.S. destroyers to Britain in exchange for lease of critical British naval bases.

He bucked tradition and won a third term in 1940 and a fourth in 1944. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, he skillfully mobilized U.S. manpower and resources and guided them in a two-fronted war in Europe and Asia. He also made plans for a United Nations, which would stabilize the crucial relations between the United States and Russia and mediate international differences. The effort of coordinating the war and lifting up the American people during the war years wore him out. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage in April 1945 while he was recuperating from his war efforts at Warm Springs, Georgia. He was buried at Hyde Park.

Winston Churchill eulogized Roosevelt as "the greatest champion of freedom who has ever brought comfort and help from the New World to the Old" and a leader who "had raised the strength, might and glory" of the United States to a "height never attained by any nation in history."

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The White House Biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

The Roosevelts and the Royals
Franklin and Eleanor, The King and Queen of England, and the Friendship that Changed History

by Will Swift
John Wiley & Sons: June 2004; ISBN: 0-471-45962-3; Hardcover; 384 pages
Now available at Amazon,, or your local bookstore