Franklin D. Roosevelt Biography

fdrFranklin Delano Roosevelt (January 30, 1882 – April 12, 1945), often referred to by his initials FDR, was the thirty-second President of the United States. He served through the Great Depression and the Second World War.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

— Franklin D. Roosevelt, (First Inaugural Address)

FDR was elected during the height of the Great Depression in 1932 and remained President until his death in 1945. During his period of presidency he oversaw an expansion of the Federal Government and helped America lose its isolationist stance as it joined World War Two and helped formulate the United Nations. He was an influential figure in both American and world politics.

Roosevelt came from a privileged background but was influenced by his headmaster at Groton School in Massachusetts, who inculcated the importance of Christian duty in  helping less fortunate people.

Franklin married a distant cousin Eleanor in 1905. They had six children in quick succession, two of them who went on to be elected to the House of Representatives. FDR has several affairs outside of his marriage including Lucy Mercer, his social secretary.  His wife Eleanor offered a divorce at one point, but for a variety of reasons it was not taken up. She later became a dedicated wife / nurse during Franklin’s slow disability brought on by polio.

Franklin D. Roosevelt as President

When FDR was elected president in 1930, America was facing an unprecedented economic crisis; unemployment was reaching 25%  – furthermore government unemployment relief was very limited at the time. There was real economic desperation and many classical economists were at a loss as how to respond.

To some extent, FDR pursued an expansionary fiscal policy as advocated by John M Keynes. The government borrowed, levied a national income tax and spent money on public works (known as the New Deal). This period also marked a shift in power from local governments who could not cope to the national government. Roosevelt also helped introduce legislation protecting worker’s rights. The new deal in no way solved the economic crisis, but it did mitigate some of the worst effects, creating employment and eventually kick-starting the economy. By the end of the 1930s, some sectors of the economy such as construction were booming.

F.D.R and Foreign Policy

FDR was keen for America to become a good citizen of the world and fight for certain freedoms. However, in the early 1940s, America still retained a very strong isolationist approach and he campaigned for re-election promising to stay out of World War Two – despite his own dislike of Nazi Germany. The bombing of Pearl Harbour in December 1941, completely changed the outlook of America. F.D.R wasted no time in declaring war on Japan and then Germany as well.

“In these days of difficulty, we Americans everywhere must and shall choose the path of social justice…, the path of faith, the path of hope, and the path of love toward our fellow man.”

— Franklin D. Roosevelt

Once America had entered the war, they entered whole-heartedly into both arenas – the Pacific and Europe. In the D Day landings of 1941, America supplied roughly 2/3 of the troops. Roosevelt was an astute Commander in Chief. In particular, he was able to identify generals with genuine talent and promoted them to key roles. As Roosevelt said himself:

“I’m not the smartest fellow in the world, but I can sure pick smart colleagues.”

In particular, FDR promoted Dwight Eisenhower and George Marshall – both to play key roles during the Second World War.

Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats

Roosevelt’s real political skill lay in his powers of communication and identification with ordinary people. His radio fireside chats, were instrumental in building confidence with the American people, both during the Great Depression and during the Second World War.

“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.” – 1933

Roosevelt and Churchill

Roosevelt had a close relationship with Winston Churchill. There was a strong mutual admiration. At one point Roosevelt said ‘It is fun being in the same decade as you.’

Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin.

Together with Churchill and Stalin, the Big Three helped lay the foundations for the post war period, which included the setting up of the United Nations – a successor to the League of Nations.

Roosevelt died unexpectedly from a massive brain hemorrhage in April 1945, just before the first meeting of the United Nations. His death stunned the world and he was remembered as a champion of freedom and a man of humanity and optimism.

See also: Quotes by FDR

Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan“Franklin D. Roosevelt Biography”, Oxford,, 11th Feb 2013.


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