January 30, 2013
On Jan. 30, 1882, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born in Hyde Park, N.Y. He is the only man to have served more than two terms as President of the United States, and the legacies of his presidency still shape our debates.
Few Americans are as well documented as FDR; he was born to wealthy parents, his father, James, was 53, essentially retired and remarried to Sara Delano, whose family was more prosperous than her husband’s. He traveled frequently to Europe, and acquired the manners, and mannerisms, of his class. He attended Groton School, Harvard University, and Columbia Law School (though he dropped out once he passed the bar). He practiced law for a time before winning an election to the New York Senate in 1910, becoming the first Democrat in 32 years to capture the Dutchess County seat. He resigned when he was appointed Deputy Secretary of the Navy in 1913.
He lost the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate in 1914. He was nominated to be Ohio Gov. James M. Cox’s running mate in 1920, but they lost to Warren G. Harding. Roosevelt was only 38 years old. He returned to his law practice, but mostly worked on building relationships in the New York Democratic Party. He was elected Governor of New York in 1928, in a close election. He was re-elected, despite being tied to Tammany Hall corruption, and became the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1932.
The 1932 campaign was waged as the American economy was gripped in the Great Depression, and President Herbert Hoover was saddled with his record. Roosevelt won the election by promising a smaller, more efficient government, and one that would put America to work. A campaign speech on Oct. 19 was illustrative; “I regard reduction in Federal spending as one of the most important issues in this campaign. In my opinion it is the most direct and effective contribution that Government can make to business.”
He won the election with 57 percent of the popular vote, the first time a Democrat had won more than 50 percent since 1876, and 472 electoral votes.
Roosevelt unveiled his New Deal during the first 100 days of his administration, introducing legislation to reform banking, railroads, and industry to create jobs and stabilize the American economy. Some of the New Deal programs included the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation, the Federal Housing Administration, the Securities Exchange Commission, and the Tennessee Valley Authority, among others.
An essential goal of the New Deal was get American’s working. The unemployment rate was 25 percent when he took office and declined to 9.9 percent by 1936 (if you count Works Progress Administration workers as employed; it was 16.9 percent if you don’t). But it took World War II to bring jobless rates truly down.
The New Deal’s most enduring legacy has been the programs spawned from the passage of the Social Security Act in 1935, which created the country’s first system to provide federal assistance to the elderly and to widows and fatherless children. When social security was proposed over 40 percent of the elderly lived in poverty (in 2011, the poverty rate was under 10 percent, or about 16 percent if certain medical care costs are factored in). In 1937, payroll taxes were introduced to fund social security.
Roosevelt was re-elected in 1936, with 61 percent of the vote; he was re-elected in 1940 to an unprecedented third term with 55 percent of the popular vote. In 1945, with Harry S. Truman as his running mate, he won re-election with 53 percent of the vote.
Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945; he was 63.
In his 1936 campaign, Roosevelt said, “We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.” Smart man.