Franklin Delano Roosevelt
President Franklin Roosevelt
Among the two or three best presidents in American history, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) lived a charmed life through the summer of 1921. He was born into a wealthy New York family of Dutch origin, a distant relative of former President Teddy Roosevelt, and he strengthened that connection in 1905 by marrying another Roosevelt,Eleanor. Handsome and charming but also somewhat elitist, he attended school at Harvard and Columbia Law School and began his political career in the New York State Legislature. He served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy during the First World War and won the Democratic nomination for the Vice Presidency in 1920, though he and the colorless James M. Cox lost that election to the Republicans and Warren G. Harding.
Less than a year later, though, his public career nearly ended. He was stricken with polio and lost the use of both of his legs—FDR never walked again. Demonstrating tremendous courage, he fought to regain his strength and recovered sufficiently to return to politics. His personal struggle transformed him, though, making him more sensitive to the pain of others and also more compassionate—characteristics that would later serve him well. Elected governor of New York in 1928, he developed a reputation as an innovator and an activist. Roosevelt accepted the Democratic nomination for president in 1932 and handily won the general election. But the nation’s circumstances could not have been more difficult for an incoming president.
The economic crisis had worsened in each of Hoover’s four years, and by March 1933 the situation was nothing short of desperate. FDR’s inaugural address on March 4, 1933, was perhaps the most important ever delivered in the history of the nation. Listen and read along to the following excerpt of that speech, and proceed to the short exercise.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, First Inaugural Address (1933)
President Hoover, Mr. Chief Justice, my friends. This is a day of national consecration, and I am certain that on this day, my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impels. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.
In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things. Values have shrunken to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone.
More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark reality of the movement.
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