President Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, often known by his initials - FDR - is the only American president to have served for more than two terms. He was a Democrat who believed in government intervention, and during his presidency, he enacted the famous New Deal. Roosevelt is generally considered to have improved America’s political, economic, and social landscape. Let's find out how he did this!

President Roosevelt President Roosevelt

Create learning materials about President Roosevelt with our free learning app!

  • Instand access to millions of learning materials
  • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams and more
  • Everything you need to ace your exams
Create a free account
Table of contents

    President Franklin D Roosevelt Facts and Biography

    • FDR was born on 30 January 1882 into a wealthy family in New York City.
    • He was privately educated at home before transferring to Groton, an extremely prestigious private school.
    • He went to Harvard University in 1900.
    • FDR admired Theodore Roosevelt - the president of the US at the time, who also happened to be his distant cousin.
    • He was deeply interested in progressive politics and was a strong advocated of increased government involvement in the economic and social affairs of the country.

    Progressivism

    A political philosophy that aims to represent the people's interests through social and economic reform

    President Roosevelt Young FDR StudySmarterPhoto of a young FDR, Wikimedia Commons

    Path to the Presidency

    DateMilestone
    1910Roosevelt was elected as one of New York State's senators, running as a progressive candidate.
    1912Roosevelt was re-elected as senator and thereafter made Assistant Secretary to the Navy by new president Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt had been instrumental in Wilson's presidential election campaign that year.
    1914Roosevelt lost his bid to be elected to a third term in the New York Senate.
    1920James C. Cox selected Roosevelt to be his running mate in the presidential election, but the pair lost to Republicans Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge. Coolidge would go on to succeed Harding as president after Harding's death and win the 1924 election too.

    Even Roosevelt's own home state of New York, where he had served two terms as a senator, voted for the Republican ticket.

    1921Roosevelt was diagnosed with polio - a major blow to his political career. He lost the use of his legs for a time and needed walking aids for the rest of his life, spending the last couple of years in a wheelchair. However, his wife, Eleanor, kept his name alive in the political sphere, campaigning on his behalf and giving speeches all over New York State.
    1928Roosevelt was elected Governor of New York - a Governor is akin to the president of the state.
    1932Roosevelt won the Democratic nomination for the presidency and ran on a progressive ticket with his Southern Democrat colleague, John Nance Garner. They ran against the backdrop of the Great Depression, severely criticising current President Herbert Hoover's failures which led to the Depression, and his response to it. They promised a New Deal for Americans to recover and get the economy back on track. Roosevelt stormed to the presidency, winning 42 of 48 states, 472 electoral college votes to Hoover's 59 and 57.4% of the popular vote - similar to Hoover's vote share only four years earlier.

    Southern Democrats, also sometimes called Dixiecrats, were Democrat politicians from states in the Southern United States, such as Texas, Florida and Mississippi - mainly states that had tried to secede (withdraw) from the US, causing the Civil War in the 1860s. They were traditionally much more conservative than their Democrat counterparts in the West and Northeast of the country, and in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many had slave-owning pasts.

    President Woodrow Wilson was a very controversial Southern Democrat whose election victory in 1912 was celebrated by Southern segregationists. During his tenure, the racist Ku Klux Klan film The Birth of a Nation became the first film to be screened in the White House.

    The term and concept of a "Southern Democrat" declined sharply with Roosevelt's ascension to the presidency, and the social ideologies of the main parties underwent a radical change. It became Republicans who opposed major civil rights reforms in the 1960s, having been the party which abolished slavery in the 1860s.

    Today, while it's almost unthinkable that a Southern State such as Alabama or Louisiana would vote for a Democrat for president, until Roosevelt's presidency, the Deep South was the biggest Democrat stronghold.

    What was America like when Roosevelt became president?

    When Roosevelt was elected in 1932, the US was in the midst of its worst-ever economic crisis. The Wall Street Crash in 1929 drove the US into a deep economic depression, which led to huge unemployment and homelessness - it was in this atmosphere that Roosevelt became president, promising a 'New Deal' to the American people.

    President Roosevelt's New Deals

    As Roosevelt’s presidency began, there was only one item on his docket: to tackle the economic depression. Unlike his predecessor Herbert Hoover, FDR actively promoted the increased involvement of government in economic affairs.

    On the day of his inauguration, he set about reassuring the American people and famously stated

    The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. 1

    Fireside chats

    When Roosevelt became president, he began a series of evening radio shows in which he addressed the American people directly - he called them Fireside Chats. FDR’s tact and delicacy made every American listening feel as though they were being listened to and that the hard times brought by the Depression were soon going to be over.

    Roosevelt's answer to the Great Depression was the New Deal, but what exactly was this? During his campaign, Roosevelt had heavily mentioned it, but he did not provide many specifics. Generally, the term refers to domestic programs implemented by FDR in the 1930s. FDR began the process of implementing the New Deal on the very same day he was inaugurated as president: 4 March 1933.

    Three terms described the key aims of the New Deal:

    • Relieve
    • Reform
    • Recover

    There were however two New Deals with slightly different focuses - this first on helping the country out of the Depression, and the second on reforms.

    The New Deal Badge for New Deal StudySmarterFDR campaign badge promoting the New Deal, Wikimedia Commons

    The First New Deal

    The First New Deal describes the package of economic measures introduced by FDR's government in 1933 and 1934. It was focused on cutting off the small, unregulated banks, who were dangerous lenders, and introducing Securities legislation to regulate the financial and stock market industries. The goal was to prevent any comparable disaster from ever happening again.

    For example, the Banking Act and the Emergency Banking Act of 1933 set up much tighter banking regulations.

    One of the first measures FDR took was to call a special meeting of Congress, passing a law in one day which forced every bank in the country to close for four days. Being closed for even this short period of time was disastrous for many small banks, which relied on a constant stream of new deposits and business dealings. These kinds of banks were the most dangerous to the economy, as they enabled the kinds of practices we discussed earlier. Forcing them to close down was easier than overhauling the regulation of every one of these banks. Only the strong banks survived and were subject to new, strict regulations.

    FDR also established several Alphabet Agencies. These were bodies which became known by their initialisms, which were given funding to promote economic recovery, such as by providing jobs and funding for infrastructure projects.

    These included the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the National Recovery Administration (NRA) and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA).

    The Second New Deal

    FDR's Democratic Party won a landslide majority in both chambers of Congress in the 1934 midterm elections, making it easier to push through whatever legislation it wanted. FDR used these majorities to push through more radical and controversial relief packages in 1935 and 1936, dubbed the Second New Deal.

    The Works Progress Administration (WPA) employed millions of out-of-work men to carry out rebuilding and expansion projects - lowering the unemployment rate, boosting the economy and benefitting the US's infrastructure, which was in dire need of modernisation. It made the federal government the largest employer in the US.

    The National Labor Relations Act, more commonly known as the Wagner Act, introduced major protections for labour unions. It protected their bargaining power and gave workers the right to form unions and take action, such as striking.

    The Second New Deal was much more focused on getting Americans back into work and putting money back into their pockets. It was the second phase, if you like, after the First New Deal's programmes to protect the economy from crashing so badly ever again.

    Roosevelt and Conflict with the Supreme Court

    The US Supreme Court is made up of nine justices (judges) appointed by the president. From the beginning of his presidency, Roosevelt knew that four of the nine existing justices believed in limited government intervention, meaning they were likely to challenge elements of New Deal legislation.

    While the Court unanimously upheld much of FDR's New Deal, it struck down some key pieces of legislation, notably the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) in Butler v United States, by a six to three majority (FDR's government quickly rewrote the parts which had been deemed unconstitutional, and it then withstood further legal challenges).

    Outrage broke out when the court voted against a New York state law to introduce a minimum wage for women and children in Morehead v New York in 1936 by a five to four majority.

    In 1937, Roosevelt suggested the Court Packing Plan, which would allow him to appoint an additional Supreme Court justice for every justice over 70. FDR knew this would tip the house in his favour, as six out of the nine justices were over 70.

    This was a huge ordeal, and many expected FDR's bill to be passed. Later in 1937, however, Justice Roberts, having been the key swing vote in several five to four decisions against New Deal legislation, voted to uphold a key piece of the Second New Deal. Support for FDR's court-packing declined, and it was never passed. Nevertheless, it was a victory for Roosevelt, and he was able to pass more of his policies after the contest.

    Were the New Deals successful?

    Generally, the New Deals were considered a success. Reasons for this include:

    • Decrease in unemployment
    • More government intervention in welfare
    • Relative stimulation of the economy

    However, unemployment was still 14% in 1937, which although was significantly lower than 25% in 1933 was still very high. The unemployment rate rose again to 19% in 1937, and it did not improve much until World War II, which brought the US out of the Depression. It is often debated by historians whether Roosevelt’s New Deal would’ve been able to solely end the economic depression without the War.

    1938 Midterm elections

    Having gained the confidence of the American people, Roosevelt had three consecutive major electoral victories - the 1932 election, 1934 midterms and 1936 election. However, Roosevelt hit a big bump in the 1938 midterms. A major disagreement between the two biggest labour unions, the CIO and AFL, tarnished the reputation of unions in general and led to resentment of the expansion of workers' rights.

    That year, the Republicans made major gains in the House and the Senate. They formed an informal alliance with the more conservative Democrats and blocked most of the new New Deal legislation that FDR tried to enact. They even rolled some of it back.

    Roosevelt may have had much more re-election difficulty in 1940 had it not been for the turn in attention to the war effort and his strong response.

    President Roosevelt's Foreign Policy

    Roosevelt's third and fourth terms were dominated by foreign policy, as World War Two broke out and the economic situation in the US improved. While it's often overshadowed by the war effort, FDR also adopted a Good Neighbour policy towards Latin America.

    FDR and the Good Neighbour Policy

    During the early twentieth century, the US government had taken an interventionist approach toward Latin America. Whenever it felt its interests were threatened, the US would use diplomatic or even military pressure to coerce Latin American governments into complying with its demands. The Wilson administration even landed troops in Nicaragua to install a president approved by the US.

    Interventionism

    A policy of intervening in other governments' affairs to protect commercial interests

    President Roosevelt wanted to distance himself and the US from his predecessors' policies. He adopted what he called the Good Neighbour policy - pledging to be more isolationist.

    Isolationism

    A policy of keeping out of other countries' political affairs, especially those which are war-related

    President Roosevelt and the Good Neighbour Policy: Speech

    In his inaugural address, beginning his first term in 1933, Roosevelt declared:

    In the field of World policy, I would dedicate this nation to the policy of the good neighbour, the neighbour who resolutely respects himself, and because he does so, respects the rights of others, the neighbour who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a World of neighbours. 2

    The US ceased military operations in Haiti and Cuba, and assured it would refrain from all military operations in Latin America, choosing instead to negotiate mutually beneficial agreements. The government also embarked on an effort to change the public's stereotypical perception of Latin Americans and to promote positive relations.

    FDR and World War Two

    Before the US' entry into the war, there had been growing fears during the 1930s that increasingly hostile nations, such as Nazi Germany, Italy and Japan, could drag the US into a war. Roosevelt passed the Neutrality Acts, which prohibited US trade with "belligerent nations".

    Upon the outbreak of WWII and the Japanese invasion of China, Roosevelt provided aid to France, the UK and China but was resistant to get involved any more than that. He did, however, build up the US supply of military aircraft. Roosevelt easily won an unprecedented fourth term in 1940, with little Republican opposition to his foreign policy.

    In March 1941, the Lend-Lease Plan was introduced by Roosevelt, which provided military aid to countries whose defence was integral to US security. In December that year, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour in response to the US aid to China, bringing the US into WWII.

    Roosevelt became a member of the Grand Alliance amongst the leaders of the Soviet Union, the United States, and Britain, otherwise known as the Big Three. This alliance proved instrumental in beating Nazi Germany.

    President Roosevelt Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill StudySmarter

    Joseph Stalin, Franklin Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill during the Tehran Conference in 1943, Wikimedia Commons

    President Franklin D Roosevelt's Accomplishments

    Roosevelt’s lasting legacy is one that has shaped American history. He pioneered liberal ideas of the welfare state and generally promoted a larger role for the federal government to benefit the American people.

    Welfare state

    When the state or an established group of social institutions provides basic economic security for its citizens

    Area of accomplishmentSummary
    Economic policy
    • The New Deals helped the economy to grow and unemployment fall.
    • Roosevelt showed grit when challenging the Supreme Court, ultimately succeeding in pushing through more of his New Deal policies.
    • Roosevelt proposed a Second Bill of Rights in 1944 to protect economic rights, such as employment, the right to an adequate income, food, shelter, education, social security and housing.

    None of Roosevelt's propositions were specifically enshrined in law, and federal laws codifying rights to social security, healthcare and minimum wage remain extremely contentious in the United States.

    Foreign policy
    • Intervention in WWII helped the US recover from the Great Depression
    • The Good Neighbour policy represented a shift in US attitudes to Latin America.
    The media
    • The prosperity of the Roaring Twenties had put radios in many households for the first time, allowing Roosevelt to communicate directly with US citizens.
    • Roosevelt used newsreels and Fireside Chats to engage with the Ameican people.
    Civil rights
    • Roosevelt wanted equality to be extended to all Americans.
    • In June 1941, Executive Order 8802 banned racial discrimination in the US defence industry. It was the first federal action that targeted racial discrimination.

    Did you know? FDR's wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, helped to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was signed on 10 December 1948. She campaigned for humanitarian causes throughout her life.

    President Roosevelt's Death

    Roosevelt won an unprecedented fourth term in office in the 1944 election, in yet another landslide. However, unbeknownst to anyone but his closest allies, his health was in severe decline. He was confined to a wheelchair, and any public appearance was strictly behind a desk - ensuring the public didn't find out.

    Roosevelt died suddenly on 12 April 1945 just months before the end of the Second World War, and only shortly after the Potsdam Conference. It was only four months after his inauguration to his fourth term. Under the Constitution, his Vice-President Harry Truman took over. Truman had little experience of foreign affairs, but is generally credited with navigating the end of WWII and the beginning of the Cold War with a degree of success.

    Roosevelt's legacy is almost universally praised for his swift and effective response to the Great Depression and his World War II intervention, but there were criticisms which we didn't have room to go into in this article, such as the New Deals not going far enough to help those in rural farming communities.

    President Roosevelt - Key takeaways

    • Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born on 30 January 1882. He was deeply interested in progressive politics and was a strong advocate of increased government involvement in market regulation and welfare.
    • FDR became President on 4 March 1933, after holding multiple political offices. His first two terms were dedicated to recovery from the Great Depression, implementing two "New Deals" to aid recovery and prevent a future economic crisis.
    • Roosevelt's foreign policy was defined by a shift from interventionist to isolationist policies in his first two terms, implementing his Good Neighbour policy towards Latin America. In his second two terms, foreign policy was dominated by World War II.
    • He provided support to the UK, France, and China - support for China greatly angered the Japanese, leading to the attack on Pearl Harbor and the US entry to the War in 1941.
    • FDR died just four months into his fourth term in April 1945, leaving Harry S. Truman to see out the remaining three and a half years of his term.

    References

    1. Franklin D Roosevelt, 'Inaugural Address', Washington (4 March 1933).
    2. Ibid.
    Frequently Asked Questions about President Roosevelt

    What is President Roosevelt famous for? 

    President Roosevelt is most famous for his response to the Great Depression, implementing his New Deal policies and seeing the country through its worst-ever economic crisis.

    When was Roosevelt president?

    From March 1933 to April 1945

    How was Roosevelt president for 12 years?

    Until the 1950s, there was no limit on the number of terms a US president could serve. A couple of presidents had wanted to run for a third term and been prevented by their party, and some had run a third time and lost the election. After Roosevelt's four wins, Republicans gained the legislative power in the 1950s to enact a Constitutional Amendment, which now provides that a President can only serve two full terms in office.

    What did Roosevelt do to help recover from the Great Depression?

    He forced weak banks to shut and introduced a raft of economic regulations. He then embarked on his New deal programmes, ensuring the US couldn't suffer another crash like it again, and to get Americans back into work and out of poverty.

    What was the first major act Roosevelt took as president?

    The day after his inauguration, he implemented a law forcing all banks to close for four days. This meant that the weak, dangerous banks went out of business and only the strong national banks survived.

    1
    About StudySmarter

    StudySmarter is a globally recognized educational technology company, offering a holistic learning platform designed for students of all ages and educational levels. Our platform provides learning support for a wide range of subjects, including STEM, Social Sciences, and Languages and also helps students to successfully master various tests and exams worldwide, such as GCSE, A Level, SAT, ACT, Abitur, and more. We offer an extensive library of learning materials, including interactive flashcards, comprehensive textbook solutions, and detailed explanations. The cutting-edge technology and tools we provide help students create their own learning materials. StudySmarter’s content is not only expert-verified but also regularly updated to ensure accuracy and relevance.

    Learn more
    StudySmarter Editorial Team

    Team President Roosevelt Teachers

    • 17 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
    Save Explanation

    Study anywhere. Anytime.Across all devices.

    Sign-up for free

    Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

    The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

    • Flashcards & Quizzes
    • AI Study Assistant
    • Study Planner
    • Mock-Exams
    • Smart Note-Taking
    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App