Often identified by his initials, F.D.R. was America’s president during two of the greatest periods of adversity that the country ever faced. He was elected president to revive the economy during the Great Depression, and he was commander-in-chief during World War II. First elected in 1932, his controversial “New Deal” programs greatly expanded the role of the federal government in domestic affairs, while his foreign policy expanded the role of the United States throughout the world.
While running for an unprecedented third term in 1940, Roosevelt downplayed his desire to bring America into the war – Americans, still remembering the pain of the first World War, generally favored an isolationist policy. Only Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor provided the public support for war that allowed Roosevelt to bring America into the great conflict. F.D.R.’s negotiations with Churchill and Stalin, as well as his management of American generals Eisenhower and MacArthur, set the stage for the post-war world. Roosevelt was elected president four times, the only US president to serve more than two terms. Confined to a wheelchair, he was also the only physically disabled U.S. president.
Born into privileged circumstances, Roosevelt’s father, president of a railroad, was 51 and his mother 28 at the time of his birth. He attended Groton and Harvard before marrying his cousin, Eleanor, in 1905. He studied law at Columbia University and clerked at a Wall Street law firm, but his interest was always directed towards politics. He became a state senator in New York in 1910. Like his British counterpart Winston Churchill, his attained an important position in the Navy during the First World War. In 1920 he ran unsuccessfully as the vice-presidential candidate with James Cox as the Democratic nominee, but the campaign successfully launched his presidential ambitions. While vacationing in Canada in 1921 he caught the polio that initially completely paralyzed him and permanently deprived him of the use of his legs. In 1928 he was elected governor of New York, a traditional springboard to the presidency. He died shortly after being elected to a fourth term as president.