The world has known many great leaders, especially in the post-Civil War era. Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Harry Truman all rank with the most prominent leaders of all time. However, in my opinion President Franklin Roosevelt made the most difference out of anybody in this century. He began a new era in American history by ending the Great Depression that the country had succumbed to in 1929. Without him ending the Depression, who knows where this country could have gone? His social reforms gave most people a new perspective on government. Government was not only expected to protect the people from foreign invaders and affairs, but to protect against poverty and joblessness in one’s own country as well. He not only changed the country for the better of everyone, he also made substantial gains on what a president could do for his country. His accomplishments as president will never be duplicated. Public opinion was so overwhelmingly for him that he was elected to office four times, which most likely will never be duplicated again. His reign in office came at, by the far and away, the most difficult time in American history. Not only did he accept the challenges at hand, he rose to the occasion and took this country to another level.
Roosevelt was born on January 30 near New York City. He graduated from Harvard in 1904 and attended Law School. Although he didn’t get his law degree, he was admitted to the New York bar in 1907. He was elected to the New York senate in 1910 and was appointed by Woodrow Wilson as assistant secretary of the navy, a post he held during World War I.
Roosevelt ran for vice-president in 1920 and lost. In 1921, he was stricken with polio, which left his legs paralyzed. Twice he was elected Governor of New York and in 1932, he defeated Herbert Hoover for President. After taking office, Roosevelt immediately took drastic action to respond to the Great Depression. He promoted labor laws the benefited unions and Social Security.
Re-elected for unprecedented third and fourth terms in 1940 and 1944, Roosevelt was the American leader through almost all of World War II. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Georgia on April 12, 1945, shortly before the end of the war.
Roosevelt went all out in 1931 in order to prepare for the election of 1932. He took some chances, but they ended up paying off in the end. Never attempted before, he started a nationwide radio address, outlining a program to meet the economic problems of the nation. He coined the term “forgotten man” to mean all of those who had been hard hit by the evils of the depression. These radio addresses were the start to what he called the “fireside chats”. Without TV to occupy most people’s time, most American families who had gathered around a radio listened to these “fireside chats”.
Roosevelt’s competition was fairly tough the first time he ran for office. Not only did he barely win the election, he also had trouble winning the nomination for his own party. He was up against John Nance Garner (who would be his Vice Presidential running mate), Newton D. Baker, Alfred E. Smith. For three ballots, Roosevelt held a large lead, but lacked the two-thirds margin necessary for victory. He was desperately going to need some help to win this one. His campaign manager then promised John Garner the vice presidential nomination, which he grudgingly accepted. Although John didn’t want to be vice president, he figured Vice President is better than no President at all. Due to this deal, Roosevelt took the presidential nomination on the fourth ballot.
Roosevelt made a dashing introduction at the Chicago convention by being the first nominee to ever write an acceptance speech. It was his first in a long line of great, powerful speeches to come. The last line in his speech, “I pledge to you, I pledge to myself, to a new deal for the American people”, fired the audience up. During the November campaign against Hoover, Roosevelt talked about a few parts of his “New Deal”.
He spoke of relief and public works money. He wanted to develop a plan to cut agricultural overproduction.
However, Roosevelt was quite vague about other plans. He mentioned little about his plans for industrial recovery or labor laws. He talked very little of foreign policy during the campaign. Many believe that he was simply trying to home in on the problems that the American public saw most prominent at the time, which would obviously win him votes. But when it came to election day, Roosevelt seemed like the only viable alternative to Herbert Hoover, who many blamed for the Great Depression. Given this fact Roosevelt could have said just about anything and won the presidency that year. Experts on the subject thought that it was all the administrations leading up to Hoover that doomed the country before him, but public perception was against him. Most American’s stuck to their opinion despite the facts. Roosevelt won with 22,821,857 votes compared to Hoover’s 15,761,841. He also won the electoral 472 to 59. The voters had sent large majorities of Democrats to both houses as well, which helped Roosevelt to accomplish more by pushing through more bills, which his own party supported.
As expected, a landslide won Roosevelt’s second election. The public was quite impressed with his accomplishments in his previous term. He received 27,751,491 popular votes and carried 46 states with 523 electoral votes. His opponent only received 16,679,491 popular votes to go with 8 electoral. This reflected the nation’s confidence in Roosevelt, more than his opponent’s own faults and flaws. The nation, under Roosevelt had come a long way, but still had a long way to go. He didn’t deny this fact, stating in his inauguration address, “I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, and ill-nourished”. He knew he had his work cut out for him. Roosevelt ran again in 1940. The Republicans based their campaign on the tradition that no President had ever gone for a third term in succession. To counter this, Roosevelt put the spotlight on his administration’s achievements. Because of the risky situation abroad, many felt that Roosevelt’s expertise was needed in case war broke out. The election results were closer this time. Roosevelt received 27,243,466 popular votes and 449 electoral votes, compared to Wilkie who received 22,334,413 popular votes and 82 electoral votes. This was a milestone for him, winning for the third time in a row, something that most likely will never be achieved again.
When it was time for Roosevelt’s third term to end, he initially said he wanted to retire. However, he later declared that he felt it was his duty to serve if his country called on him. Much of this feeling was based on the idea that it would be a bad thing for the country to change leadership in the middle of the war. Many of the president’s advisors felt he would not live through a fourth term. Because of his condition, the Vice President nomination for the 1944 election became very important. Harry Truman of Missouri was chosen to fill the spot.
Again the Republican’s argument was term length. No President should serve for 16 years, they declared. The opposing argument by the Democrats was that no country should “change horses in mid-stream”. Roosevelt drove around the streets of New York City in a rainstorm and then made a speech to show that his health was not a major issue. Roosevelt received 25,602,505 votes and 432 electoral votes and his Republican opponent received 22,013,372 popular votes and 99 electoral votes.
By the time Roosevelt was inaugurated on March 4, 1933, the economic situation was desperate. Between 13 and 15 million Americans were unemployed. Thousands lived in cardboard shacks called “hoovervilles”. Even more were standing in bread lines hoping to get a few crumbs for their family. Panic-stricken people hoping to rescue their deposits had forced 38 states to close their banks. The Depression hit all levels of the social scale. In one of his addresses, he pushed confidence with his statement, “the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself”. He pushed his presidential power to the limit. He made the bold request to Congress to allow him “broad executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were invaded by a foreign foe.”
Because of the Depression, there were “runs” to the bank that people were making to pull their deposits out in return for paper cash and gold. Many banks were not fit to handle this rush. Roosevelt declared a “bank holiday” that began on March 6, 1933 and lasted for four days. All banks in the nation were closed until the Department of Treasury could examine each one’s fiscal situation. Those that were determined to be in sound financial condition were allowed to reopen. Those banks that had been badly operated were not allowed to reopen. During the FDR administration, 5,504 banks had closed and deposits of nearly $3.5 billion dollars were lost. Shortly after the President restored confidence in the banks, what is now known as the “100 days” began on March 9 and ended on June 16, 1933.
The President at once began to submit recovery and reform laws for congressional approval. Congress passed nearly all the important bills that he requested, most of them by large majorities. The fact that there was a Democratic party majority in both houses helped speed things along. What emerged from these 100 days was a 3-fold focus, RELIEF-RECOVERY-REFORM. One of the relief actions was known as the Emergency Relief Act. This established the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) and he pushed an appropriation of $500 million to be spent immediately for quick relief. The Reforestation Act of 1933 killed two birds with one stone. First, it helped stop and repair some of the environmental damage that had occurred as a result of the industrial revolution. More importantly, however, it created the Civilian Conservation Corps, which eventually employed more than 2 1/2 million men at various camps. Projects included reforestation, road construction, soil erosion and flood control as well as national park development.
The Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) was designed to raise crop prices and raise the standard of living for American farmers. Production was cut to increase demand, therefore raising the price. Also, various subsides were set up to add to the farmers income. It also gave the president the power to inflate the currency by devaluating its gold content or the free coinage of silver and issue about $3 billion in paper currency. The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), another recovery measure, was designed to balance the interests of business and labor and consumers/workers and to reduce unemployment. This act set codes of anti-trust laws and fair competition, as well as setting a new standard still existing today- minimum wage.
NIRA also established the Public Works Administration (PWA), which supervised the building of roads and public buildings at a cost of $3.3 billion to Uncle Sam.
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was the first agency to work much like a private enterprise. The goal of the TVA was to reform one of the poorest parts of the country, the Tennessee River Valley. The TVA was responsible for the construction and management of power plants, dams, electricity, flood control systems and the development of navigation systems.
The Federal Securities Act required the government to register and approve all issues of stocks and bonds. This act also created the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which regulates exchanges and transactions of securities. Other reforms included the HomeOwners Refinancing Act, which established mortgage money for homeowners to refinance and the Banking Act of 1933, which created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. It was empowered to guarantee individual bank deposits up to $5000. After the initial 100 days, reform continued throughout the first part of the Roosevelt Administration.
FDR was also empowered to fix the values of the dollar by weighing its value in gold. He later set the price of gold at $35 per ounce, which in turn stabilized markets. The Silver Purchase Act followed, allowing the government to have not only gold in the Treasury, but silver as well- valued at 1/3 the price of gold.
In Roosevelt’s Annual Address to Congress on January 4, 1935, he outlined phase two of the New Deal. The federal government would withdraw from the direct relief, leaving it up to state and local governments. A program of social reforms would also be included in the second half of the New Deal. This would include social security for the aged, unemployed and ill, as well as slum clearance and better housing.
One of the first acts of the New Deal, Phase II was the Emergency Relief Act. By Executive Order, Roosevelt created three new relief agencies in 1935. The first would be the Work Progress Administration (WPA), which would spend $11 billion on temporary construction jobs. This increased the national purchasing power. Another part of the Emergency Relief Act was the Resettlement Administration (RA). Its goals were to improve the condition of farm families not already benefiting from AAA, prevent waste by unprofitable farming operations or improper land use and projects such as flood control and reforestation.
Another aid to the farmer was the Rural Electrification Administration (REA). Its goals were to provide electricity to isolated areas where private utility companies did not see it profitable to run lines and set up service. The year of 1935 brought with it numerous reform efforts. These were the final efforts of the New Deal before the nation geared up for war. A Revenue Act of 1935 capped off the New Deal with a tax on the rich and a tax break on the middle class.
One of the most important and lasting effects of the Roosevelt Administration was his into push for the Social Security Act of 1935. This was an innovative plan that was supposed to lead to a nation-wide retirement system. A tax was levied on the employee, which was met dollar for dollar by the employer. This tax went into a special fund operated by the Social Security Administration. Later in life, when a person reached retirement, they could draw the money out of this account that they had placed in for the last few decades.
The Supreme Court was fairly conservative, and attempted to shoot holes in many of Roosevelt’s New Deal Programs. It felt that Roosevelt had taken his legislative presidential power to recommend legislation too far, and that Congress was equally responsible for allowing him to usurp the powers for reasons of what Roosevelt claimed was a “national emergency”. FDR was infuriated at the actions of the Court. He thought of them as nine old men who were living in days gone by– far too conservative to see the economic and social needs of today. He soon began to plan retribution.
Two days after inviting the Justices to a formal social function at the White House, he called upon his staff to write up the Judicial Reform Act of 1937. Essentially, this document alleged that the Judicial Branch of the federal government was overwhelmed. The Act described a desperate situation in which reform and recovery issues were not flowing through government on a timely basis–simply because the Supreme Court was backed up. His answer to solve the dilemma was to use his executive power of appointment and place more Justices on the Court. Another section of the Act suggested that at age 70 (most of the Justices were above this age), each Justice would be supplemented with an additional Justice. This meant up to 15 Supreme Court Justices serving at one time. Roosevelt hoped to load the Court with social liberal Democrats who would not oppose his New Deal Programs. This became known as his “Court Packing Scheme”. After a long period of embarrassing debate, the Senate rejected Roosevelt’s proposal. This, in turn, caused Roosevelt to reject the Senate. Roosevelt used his diplomatic and military powers in the later part of his Administration nearly as much as he used his executive and legislative powers in the first half.
When the Great Depression hit in the 1930’s, America became even more concerned with its own problems. However, seeing the importance of a global view and seeing the possible impact of World War II, Roosevelt directed the country toward nations abroad. Roosevelt described his foreign policy as that of a good neighbor. The phrase came to be used to describe the US attitude toward the countries of Latin America. Under the policy, the United States took a stronger lead in promoting good will among these nations. Roosevelt was the first to sign reciprocal trade agreements with the Latin American countries, including Brazil, Columbia, Costa Rica, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti and Nicaragua. In 1935, the US signed treaties of non-aggression and conciliation with six Latin American nations. This desire to spread ties across the Western Hemispheres led to reciprocal trade agreements with Canada. Roosevelt also used personal diplomacy by taking trips to various Latin American nations. In July 1934, he became the first American president to visit South American in his trip to Columbia. In 1936, he attended the Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace, in Buenos Aires.
Roosevelt used his diplomatic power of recognition to resume trading between the Soviet Union and the US. The recognition was given to the Soviet government in November of 1933. This was the first attempt at civil relations since the Russian Revolution in 1917. In 1933, for the first time in 16 years, the two nations exchanged representatives. In 1937, Japan, at war with China, attacked a US river gunboat, the USS Panay, on the Yangtze River, killing two US citizens. This event infuriated the American public as well as the Roosevelt Administration. However, the US protested the Japanese action rather than demanding action taken against them. Roosevelt used his diplomatic power and refused to recognize the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo in Northern China until there was an official apology. Shortly after Roosevelt’s statement, Japan made an official apology to the US and offends to pay for the damages in full.
It is without question that FDR is one of the greatest leaders ever to grave the face of this earth. From his powerful, motivational speeches, to the fact that he was the leader of the most powerful nation in the world for 16 years, the facts are perfectly clear. Franklin Delano Roosevelt is well-deserving as being selected as the “Outstanding Individual of the Twentieth Century”.