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Historically Speaking

Historically Speaking: America’s Benevolent Dictator

By Tom Morrow

He was a President at a time when the United States was in desperate need of leadership. Behind the scenes Franklin Delano Roosevelt arguably made more arbitrary decisions without Congressional approval than any other President in history.

Roosevelt was born Jan. 30, 1882, to a prominent New York family and became commonly known by his initials FDR served as the 32nd President of the United States. He was a cousin of President Theodore Roosevelt as well as his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt.

A Democrat, he won a record four Presidential elections and served from 1933 to his death in 1945. He was a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic depression and World War II.

Roosevelt entered politics in 1910, serving in the New York State Senate, and then as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President Woodrow Wilson. He was stricken with polio in 1921, paralyzing his legs, putting his political career on hold.

After returning to political life at the 1924 Democratic National Convention, Roosevelt was asked by Gov. Alfred Smith to run for Governor of New York in the 1928 election. Roosevelt served as a reform governor from 1929 to 1932. He defeated incumbent President Herbert Hoover in 1932, at the depth of the Great Depression.

During World War II, Roosevelt worked closely with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in leading the western Allies against Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and the Empire of Japan.
In 1937, bipartisan Conservative Coalition prevented Roosevelt from packing the Supreme Court and he blocked all proposals for major liberal legislation and abolished many of the relief programs when unemployment problems vanished during the War.

Most of the regulations on business continued in effect until they ended about 1975–1985, except for the regulation of Wall Street by the still existing Securities and Exchange Commission. Along with several smaller programs, major surviving programs include the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the Security & Exchange Commission of 1933, and Social Security in 1935.

As World War II loomed after 1938, Roosevelt gave strong diplomatic and financial support to China and Great Britain. His goal was to make America the “Arsenal of Democracy,” which would supply munitions to the Allies.

With very strong national support, Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan and Germany after the sneak Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He personally supervised the U.S. economy to support the Allied war effort. In 1942 Roosevelt ordered the internment of 100,000 Japanese American civilians, one of his most controversial executive orders.

Roosevelt approved the development of the world’s first atomic bomb, which changed the world forever. During the War, unemployment dropped to 2 percent and the economy grew as millions of people moved into war production jobs. Some 16 million men and 300,000 women in military service. But, Roosevelt’s health seriously declined as the War continued. He died April 12, 1945, three months into his fourth term at the age of 62. Germany surrendered a month later.

Roosevelt dominated the American political scene during the 12 years he was President. He orchestrated the realignment of voters that created the Fifth Party System. Roosevelt’s New Deal Coalition united labor unions, big city machines, white ethnics, African Americans, and rural white Southerners. His work also influenced the later creation of the United Nations. Roosevelt is consistently rated by scholars as one of the top three U.S. Presidents, along with Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.


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