US Democratic statesman and thirty-second president of the USA (1933–45). His ‘New Deal’ policies helped US recovery from the economic depression of the 1930s.
Born into a prominent New York State family, Roosevelt attended Harvard University and Columbia University Law School, qualifying as a lawyer in 1907. Having entered a New York law firm, he was elected state senator for the Hudson River district in 1910. His political talents and illustrious background secured him a job of assistant secretary to the navy (1913–20) in the Wilson administration and in 1920 he stood as running mate to the unsuccessful Democratic presidential contender, James Cox. An attack of poliomyelitis in 1921 left Roosevelt partially paralysed. Although he slowly recovered, a chronic weakness remained to dog him, especially in later years. He resumed public life and in 1928 was elected governor of New York. Re-elected in 1930, he received the Democratic presidential nomination in 1932.
Roosevelt campaigned and won on a ‘New Deal’ platform to revive the depressed economy and reduce record unemployment. The first ‘Hundred Days’ of his administration saw an unprecedented volume of legislation. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration distributed government aid to relieve the desperate poverty in many states. The new Public Works Administration provided work in the construction of dams, bridges, and other major projects, while nearly three million young men joined the Civilian Conservation Corps in its first six years. Many smaller projects, employing several million people, were initiated by the Works Progress Administration set up in 1935. Roosevelt gradually raised farm incomes by cutting over-production, provided federal loans for industry, and increased business confidence by guaranteeing bank deposits. Codes of practice were introduced to ensure better working conditions and trade unions were given greater scope to organize. Throughout, Roosevelt cultivated the image of a homely approachable man by means of frequent press conferences and his ‘fireside chats’ to millions of radio listeners. Re-elected in 1936, he faced a growing conservative backlash and a further crisis in the still staggering economy. But soon after World War II broke out in 1939 the ‘war economy’ finally put an end to massive unemployment.
During the 1930s, Roosevelt had maintained a ‘flexible neutrality’ in spite of growing Japanese threats to US interests in the Far East. With the declaration of war between Britain and Germany, Roosevelt faced the 1940 election with the electorate in an isolationist mood. Although promising Britain ‘all aid short of war’, Roosevelt reaffirmed that US policy was nonintervention. However, having won the election and extended the ‘lend-lease’ facility to Britain in March 1941, Roosevelt was pitched into the war when the Japanese attacked the US fleet in Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. He met the British prime minister, Winston Churchill, several times during the war. Both agreed that the prime objective was to defeat Hitler but they differed about the time and place of an Allied invasion of Europe. The Allied landings were delayed until 1944 at Churchill's insistence but took place on the Normandy coast of France in accord with US wishes. Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin met at Tehran in 1943 and again at Yalta in February 1945. In constructing a political framework for the postwar world, Roosevelt was criticized in the USA for having conceded too much to the Soviets, particularly in the Far East. But he was by now a sick man and he died shortly after Yalta, on 12 April.
Subjects: history — social sciences.