Franklin D. Roosevelt, often referred to by his initials FDR, was an American politician who served as the 32nd president of the United States from 1933 until his death in 1945.
A member of the Democratic Party, he won a record four presidential elections and became a central figure in world events during the first half of the 20th century.
Roosevelt directed the federal government during most of the Great Depression, implementing his New Deal domestic agenda in response to the worst economic crisis in U.S. history.
As a dominant leader of his party, he built the New Deal Coalition, which realigned American politics into the Fifth Party System and defined American liberalism throughout the middle third of the 20th century.
His third and fourth terms were dominated by World War II, which ended shortly after he died in office.
He is rated by scholars as one of the three greatest U.S. presidents, along with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, but has also been subject to substantial criticism.
- Full name: Franklin Delano Roosevelt
- Profession: American politician
- 32nd U.S. President
- Born: 30 January 1882, Hyde Park, New York, United States
- Died: 12 April 1945, Little White House Historic Site, Georgia, United States
- Presidential term: 4 March 1933 – 12 April 1945
- Succeeded by: Harry S. Truman
- Children: Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr., Anna Roosevelt Halsted
About Franklin D Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882, in the Hudson Valley town of Hyde Park, New York, to businessman James Roosevelt I and his second wife, Sara Ann Delano.
Roosevelt’s parents, who were sixth cousins, both came from wealthy old New York families, the Roosevelts, the Aspinwalls and the Delanos, respectively.
Roosevelt’s patrilineal ancestor migrated to New Amsterdam in the 17th century, and the Roosevelts flourished as merchants and landowners.
The Delano family progenitor travelled to the New World on the Mayflower, and the Delanos prospered as merchants and shipbuilders in Massachusetts.
Franklin had a half-brother, James “Rosy” Roosevelt, from his father’s previous marriage.
Roosevelt grew up in a wealthy family. His father, James Roosevelt I, graduated from Harvard Law School in 1851, but chose not to practice law after receiving an inheritance from his grandfather, James Roosevelt.
Roosevelt’s father was a prominent Bourbon Democrat who once took Franklin to meet President Grover Cleveland in the White House.
Sara was the dominant influence in Franklin’s early years. She once declared, “My son Franklin is a Delano, not a Roosevelt at all.”
James, who was 54 when Franklin was born, was considered by some as a remote father, though biographer James MacGregor Burns indicates James interacted with his son more than was typical at the time.
Roosevelt learned to ride, shoot, row, and to play polo and lawn tennis. He took up golf in his teen years, becoming a skilled long hitter.
He was club champion in his late teen years at the small golf club on Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada, where his family had a summer cottage.
He learned to sail early, and when he was 16, his father gave him a sailboat.
Frequent trips to Europe—he made his first excursion at the age of two and went with his parents every year from the ages of seven to fifteen—helped Roosevelt become conversant in German and French.
Except for attending public school in Germany at age nine, Roosevelt was home-schooled by tutors until age 14.
He then attended Groton School, an Episcopal boarding school in Groton, Massachusetts, joining the third form.
Its headmaster, Endicott Peabody, preached the duty of Christians to help the less fortunate and urged his students to enter public service.
Peabody remained a strong influence throughout Roosevelt’s life, officiating at his wedding and visiting him as president.
Like most of his Groton classmates, Roosevelt went to Harvard College. Roosevelt was an average student academically, and he later declared, “I took economics courses in college for four years, and everything I was taught was wrong.”
He was a member of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity and the Fly Club, and served as a school cheerleader.
Roosevelt was relatively undistinguished as a student or athlete, but he became editor-in-chief of The Harvard Crimson daily newspaper, a position that required great ambition, energy, and the ability to manage others.
Roosevelt’s father died in 1900, causing great distress for him. The following year, Roosevelt’s fifth cousin Theodore Roosevelt became President of the United States.
Theodore’s vigorous leadership style and reforming zeal made him Franklin’s role model and hero.
Roosevelt graduated from Harvard in 1903 with an A.B. in history. He entered Columbia Law School in 1904, but dropped out in 1907 after passing the New York bar exam.
In 1908, he took a job with the prestigious law firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn, working in the firm’s admiralty law division.
Roosevelt was born in Hyde Park, New York, to a Dutch American family made well known by the reputation of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, and William Henry Aspinwall.
FDR graduated from Groton School and Harvard College and attended Columbia Law School but left after passing the bar exam to practice law in New York City.
In 1905, he married his fifth cousin once removed, Eleanor Roosevelt. They had six children, of whom five survived into adulthood.
He won election to the New York State Senate in 1910, and then served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President Woodrow Wilson during World War I. Roosevelt was James M. Cox’s running mate on the Democratic Party’s 1920 national ticket, but Cox was defeated by Republican Warren G. Harding.
In 1921, Roosevelt contracted a paralytic illness, believed at the time to be polio, and his legs became permanently paralyzed.
While attempting to recover from his condition, Roosevelt founded the treatment center in Warm Springs, Georgia, for people with poliomyelitis.
In spite of being unable to walk unaided, Roosevelt returned to public office by winning election as Governor of New York in 1928.
He served as governor from 1929 to 1933, promoting programs to combat the economic crisis besetting the United States.
In the 1932 presidential election, Roosevelt defeated Republican President Herbert Hoover in a landslide.
Roosevelt took office in the midst of the Great Depression, the worst economic crisis in U.S. history.
During the first 100 days of the 73rd United States Congress, Roosevelt spearheaded unprecedented federal legislation and issued a profusion of executive orders that instituted the New Deal—a variety of programs designed to produce relief, recovery, and reform.
He created numerous programs to provide relief to the unemployed and farmers while seeking economic recovery with the National Recovery Administration and other programs.
He also instituted major regulatory reforms related to finance, communications, and labour, and presided over the end of Prohibition.
He harnessed radio to speak directly to the American people, giving 30 “fireside chat” radio addresses during his presidency and becoming the first American president to be televised.
The economy having improved rapidly from 1933 to 1936, Roosevelt won a landslide re-election in 1936.
However, the economy then relapsed into a deep recession in 1937 and 1938. After the 1936 election, Roosevelt sought passage of the Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937 (the “court packing plan”), which would have expanded the size of the Supreme Court of the United States.
The bipartisan Conservative Coalition that formed in 1937 prevented passage of the bill and blocked the implementation of further New Deal programs and reforms.
Major surviving programs and legislation implemented under Roosevelt include the Securities and Exchange Commission, the National Labour Relations Act, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Social Security, and the Fair Labour Standards Act of 1938.
The United States re-elected FDR in 1940 for his third term, making him the only U.S. President to serve for more than two terms.
With World War II looming after 1938, Roosevelt gave strong diplomatic and financial support to China, the United Kingdom and eventually the Soviet Union while the U.S. remained officially neutral.
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, an event he famously called “a date which will live in infamy”, Roosevelt obtained a congressional declaration of war on Japan, and, a few days later, on Germany and Italy.
Assisted by his top aide Harry Hopkins and with very strong national support, he worked closely with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in leading the Allied Powers against the Axis Powers.
Roosevelt supervised the mobilization of the U.S. economy to support the war effort, and implemented a Europe first strategy, making the defeat of Germany a priority over that of Japan.
He also initiated the development of the world’s first atomic bomb, and worked with the other Allied leaders to lay the groundwork for the United Nations and other post-war institutions.
Roosevelt won re-election in 1944, but with his physical health declining during the war years, he died in April 1945, less than three months into his fourth term.
The Axis Powers surrendered to the Allies in the months following Roosevelt’s death, during the presidency of his successor, Harry S. Truman.