Wikijunior:World War II/Franklin Roosevelt

Roosevelt in 1933.

Quick Information

  • Born: January 30, 1882
  • Died: April 12, 1945
  • Leader Of: The United States of America
    • From: March 4, 1933
    • To: April 12, 1945

"We must be the great arsenal of democracy. For us, this is an emergency as serious as war itself. We must apply ourselves to our task with the same resolution, the same sense of urgency, the same spirit of patriotism and sacrifice as we would show were we at war." -Franklin D. Roosevelt

The Roosevelt administration stretched from 1933 to 1945, during which the United States faced many challenges, both at home and abroad. Without the leadership of President Roosevelt, America might not have come out of the Great Depression for many years, and a different president's policies could have changed the direction of World War II, even the events from before America entered the war. Franklin Roosevelt is widely known for leading this country out of hard times and into a brighter future.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born in Hyde Park, New York, on January 30, 1882, to James and Sara Roosevelt. He was an only child. Both of his parents came from wealthy old families; he was a distant relative of President James Monroe and his mother's family could trace their ancestry back to the Mayflower. He grew up in a privileged household and went to Harvard and Columbia Law School. In college, he met his wife Eleanor Roosevelt, who was then-President Theodore Roosevelt's niece and a distant relative of Franklin's at a White House reception. They got married on March 17, 1905, and had six children.

Franklin Roosevelt had a long political career. In 1910, he was elected to the New York state Senate as a Democrat. He was reelected in 1912, but resigned to become the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. He was appointed by the newly elected President Woodrow Wilson. During his time in office, he worked to expand the Navy. He also founded the Naval Reserve. World War one was going on during this time, and after the war ended in 1918, Roosevelt was put in charge of demobilization. He did not like the Versailles Treaty, which was signed after the end of the war, and coincidentally, he would have to deal with the consequences of the one-sided agreement as President. In 1920 he ran for Vice President alongside James Cox, but the Democrats lost. Roosevelt took a break from politics after that.

In 1921, Roosevelt was diagnosed with polio and became paralyzed from the waist down. But he never let this disability stand in his way. He was never seen in a wheelchair in public. He worked hard to teach himself to walk a short distance while using leg braces and a cane. After he became president, he helped to found the organization now known as the March of Dimes, which today is dedicated to improving the health of babies, but back then was dedicated to finding a cure for polio.

In 1929, Roosevelt rejoined the political world and ran for Governor of New York. He won and became a reform Governor, starting social programs and investigating corruption. He was advised by Frances Perkins and Harry Hopkins, both of whom later would work for him in the White House, Hopkins as federal relief administrator, and Perkins as the Secretary of Labor. She was the first woman to hold a position in the President's Cabinet and kept that job during the entire administration. The same year he was elected Governor, the stock market crashed and the world was thrown into the Great Depression.

Roosevelt's popularity made him a good candidate for the Democratic nomination for President in 1932. He built a coalition made up of the working class, organized labor, and minorities. He ran with John Garner, one of his supporters, as his Vice President. Garner stayed until 1941, followed by Henry Wallace until 1945 and Harry Truman for the final year. He easily defeated incumbent Herbert Hoover, who many voters blamed for the economic mess.

As soon as Roosevelt was inaugurated, he got to work repairing the economy. Prompted by widespread bank failures that wiped out people's savings, within the first year he created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which helps protect people's money in banks. He also expanded the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. This agency tried to lower unemployment by hiring people to do work for the government. He created the Public Works Administration and the Works Progress Administration, both of which were used to build public works like bridges and parks. These programs were called the New Deal.

Roosevelt also pushed for the repeal of Prohibition. The 21st Amendment was ratified in 1933, overturning the 18th Amendment, which banned the sale of alcohol in the United States. In the 1934 midterms, large Democratic majorities were elected to both chambers of Congress. After the elections, Roosevelt pushed though more new legislation for the New Deal. During this time he passed Social Security and the National Labor Relations Act, which gave blue-collar Americans more equality when negotiating contracts with management. Similar to presidential politics today, Roosevelt's opponents often called him a socialist, a communist, and other names, none of which made much sense.

During Roosevelt's second term in office, which began in 1937, World War II began in Europe and Asia. The war began in 1939 with Germany invading Poland, then joining forces with Italy and Japan to form the Axis Powers. As Europe's democracies fell, most Americans wanted to stay out of the war, still remembering the tragedies of the World War I. Roosevelt wanted to intervene by helping Great Britain and France. He tried to convince Congress to send aid to these countries, leading to my opening quote. In March 1941, the Lend-Lease bill was passed, sending aid to Britain, France, the Soviet Union and China. The majority of the aid went to Britain. The bill, ironically, was numbered HR 1776.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and America entered World War II on the Allied side. The public's feelings about the war turned 180 degrees as Americans rallied around Roosevelt. Many were inspired by this line from his famous speech the next day declaring war on Japan: "Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan."

The Allies fought hard, and in 1943 the Allied leaders began to discuss what to do after the war. They met in Tehran and Cairo to plan the future of the world. In 1945, Roosevelt met with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin in Yalta. At this point, the Soviet Union had gained control of much of Eastern Europe. Roosevelt wanted the Soviets to help with the war in Japan, but another important item on the list was Poland. Stalin promised the other two leaders that "the Soviet Union is interested in the creation of a mighty, free and independent Poland." This was a blatant lie. Roosevelt later admitted he had been overly optimistic about the Soviet dictator's actions. After the war, many eastern European countries ended up as communist dictatorships until the Soviet Union began to crumble in 1989.

The World War II ended in August 1945, after America dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but Roosevelt would not live to see victory. On April 12, 1945, he died of a cerebral hemorrhage while sitting for a portrait. He was buried at the Roosevelt family home in Hyde Park. Harry Truman then became President and when Germany surrendered to the Allies in May 1945, President Truman dedicated the victory celebrations to Roosevelt's memory.