Image credit: Elias Goldensky “Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933” Library of Congress. No known restrictions on publication. No copyright renewal.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The 31st president of the United States of America. A presidential icon. A hero to the war torn world. The first president to speak directly to the public through a series of radio broadcasts called “Fireside Chats.” His ambitious slate of New Deal programs helped to pull the nation to its feet during the Great Depression. He led the United States from isolationism to victory over Nazi Germany and its allies in World War II. He spearheaded the successful wartime alliance between Britain, the Soviet Union, and the U.S. He helped to lay the groundwork for the post-war peace organization that would become the United Nations. The only American president in history to be elected to office four times.
As early as 1937, FDR warned the American public about the dangers posed by rigid regimes in Germany, Italy, and Japan, though he stopped short of suggesting America should abandon its isolationist policy. After World War II broke out in September 1939, however, Roosevelt called a special session of Congress in order to revise the country’s existing neutrality acts and allow Britain and France to purchase American arms on a “cash-and-carry” basis. Germany captured France by the end of June 1940, and Roosevelt persuaded Congress to provide more support for Britain, now left to combat the Nazi menace on its own. Despite the two-term tradition for presidents in place since the time of George Washington, Roosevelt, having already served two terms, decided to run for re-election again in 1940. He defeated Wendell L. Wilkie by nearly 5 million votes.
Roosevelt increased his support of Great Britain with passage of the Lend-Lease Act in March 1941 and met with Prime Minister Winston Churchill in August aboard a battleship anchored off Canada. In the resulting Atlantic Charter, the two leaders declared the “Four Freedoms” on which the post-war world should be founded: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
On December 8, 1941, the day after Japan bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt appeared before a joint session of Congress, which declared war on Japan. The first president to leave the country during wartime, Roosevelt spearheaded the alliance between countries combating the Axis, meeting frequently with Churchill and seeking to establish friendly relations with the Soviet Union and its leader, Joseph Stalin. Meanwhile, he spoke constantly on the radio, reporting war events and rallying the American people in support of the war effort, as he had for the New Deal–a series of programs and projects instituted during the Great Depression that aimed to restore prosperity to the American people. His swift action helped to stabilize the economy and provide jobs and relief to those who were suffering.
In 1944, as the tide of war turned toward the Allies, a weary and ailing Roosevelt managed to win election to a fourth term in the White House. The following February, he met with Churchill and Stalin in the Yalta Conference, where Roosevelt got Stalin’s commitment to enter the war against Japan after Germany’s impending surrender. The Soviet leader kept that promise, but failed to honor his pledge to establish democratic governments in the eastern European nations then under Soviet control. The “Big Three” also worked to build foundations for the post-war international peace organization that would become the United Nations.
After Roosevelt returned from Yalta, he was so weak that he was forced to sit down while addressing Congress for the first time in his presidency. In early April 1945, he left Washington and traveled to his cottage in Warm Springs, Georgia, where he had long before established a nonprofit foundation to aid polio patients. On April 12, Roosevelt suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage. He died later that day and was succeeded in office by his vice president, Harry S. Truman. Truman had rather large shoes to fill. FDR had presided over the Great Depression and most of World War II, leaving an indelible stamp on American politics for several decades. He also left Truman with the difficult decision of whether or not to continue to develop and, ultimately, use the atomic bomb. Shockingly, FDR had kept his vice president in the dark about the bomb’s development and it was not until Roosevelt died that Truman learned of the Manhattan Project.
Roosevelt’s death marked a critical turning point in U.S. relations with the Soviet Union, as his successor, Truman, decided to take a tougher stance with the Russians. Roosevelt had been elected president of the United States four times and had served for over 12 years. He had seen the United States through some of its darkest days; from the depths of the Great Depression through the toughest times of World War II. In early 1945, shortly after being sworn in for his fourth term as president, Roosevelt was on the verge of leading his nation to triumph in WWII. Germany teetered on the brink of defeat, and the Japanese empire was crumbling under the blows of the American military.
He had been a figure of hope and power to all the American people and many prisoners of war of the Axis powers would be told of his death in a way that was meant to demoralize and break them. This is the powerful figure he struck. His death took the world wholly by surprise. The first stage of his journey to his final resting place was to be driven past the polio foundation where scores of patients that he had helped and been benefactor for mourned his passing. A special train returned the president to Washington from Warm Springs, Georgia on April 14. People lined along the railway, for almost the entire journey of 730 miles to pay their respects to their fallen and adored leader. In Washington, his coffin was carried on a caisson in a military guard of honor procession from Union Station to the White House. On a six horse pulled field artillery caisson, escorted by representatives of every branch of the United States military forces, at least 500,000 people watched silently in the hot April sun in tearful silence. The coffin was brought in the historic East Room where, only 80 years before, Abraham Lincoln had rested. Roosevelt would remain there for about five hours. Hundreds of mourners gathered in the East Room where he lay in state. Thousands more gathered outside along the iron fences. After a simple funeral service, the caisson returned to Union Station and the coffin was placed aboard a train to be taken for burial at his family’s home in Hyde Park, New York. The nation and the world mourned.
History. President Franklin D. Roosevelt dies. History. 2019. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/president-franklin-d-roosevelt-dies
The Death of President Franklin Roosevelt, 1945. Eyewitness to History. 2008. http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/fdrdeath.htm
C-Span. President Franklin Roosevelt Funeral. 2019. https://www.c-span.org/video/?298665-1/president-franklin-roosevelt-funeral