Franklin Roosevelt

32nd president of the United States

EARLY LIFE

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Franklin Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882, at his family’s estate in Hyde Park, New York. Roosevelt’s parents took their only child on trips to different countries and had him tutored at home until he was a teenager. After graduating from Harvard University in 1904, Roosevelt attended Columbia Law School and became a lawyer.

Roosevelt married a distant cousin, Eleanor Roosevelt, in 1905. At their wedding, the bride was given away by President Theodore Roosevelt, Eleanor’s uncle and a distant cousin of Franklin’s.

BATTLING ILLNESS

In 1910 Roosevelt was elected to the New York State Senate. A few years later, President Woodrow Wilson named him assistant secretary of the Navy. He ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1914 before leaving the Navy in 1920 to campaign as the running mate of presidential nominee James M. Cox. (They lost.)

Illness stalled his political career in 1921 when he contracted polio, a virus that attacks the nervous system and can cause paralysis. Roosevelt went from being healthy and active one day to being unable to walk two days later. Although he never regained use of his legs, Roosevelt learned how to stand on leg braces and take limited steps with the help of others. Within three years he was practicing law again. Before the decade was over, he had become governor of New York.

PRESIDENTIAL PROMISES

When Roosevelt ran for president in 1932, the nation was in the middle of the greatest economic crisis in its history: the Great Depression. One-fourth of all workers were unemployed. Homeless people roamed the country looking for food and work. Families who had lost their homes lived in shacks in temporary settlements known as "Hoovervilles," named after the current president, Herbert Hoover. Roosevelt promised to improve the country with a "new deal for the American people." He easily won the election.

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As a four-term president, Roosevelt signed hundreds of laws, including the Social Security Act of 1935 (being signed here).

As soon as Roosevelt took office, he began working to keep his promise. In his first hundred days, he signed 14 laws to help the country recover. These laws were part of a bigger plan—called the New Deal—that Roosevelt hoped would help the country. Among other things, the laws created jobs for people who needed work.


ENTERING WORLD WAR II

U.S. voters were so pleased with Roosevelt’s work as president that they elected him two more times. After the 1940 election, Roosevelt swore he would keep the country out of a war that was spreading around the world, as long as the United States wasn’t attacked first. But Japanese forces bombed U.S. naval bases in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941—a date that Roosevelt famously said would "live in infamy." Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan. Declarations of war on Germany and Italy followed. The United States had had officially entered World War II.

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Roosevelt used radio to connect with the American people in the days before television came into widespread use. His series of "fireside chats," delivered in his reassuring voice, inspired the nation to face the day's challenges.

During the war, Roosevelt plotted military strategy and appointed key military commanders. He also authorized the secret development of the atomic bomb. To prevent more wars, Roosevelt developed an idea for an organization that would allow countries to come together to solve their problems, without guns or tanks. He called it the United Nations.


FINAL DAYS

In 1944, with the war ending, Roosevelt was elected to serve a fourth term as president. (Just two years later, Congress proposed the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, restricting presidential terms to two.) Sadly, Roosevelt died of a stroke on April 12, 1945, just months before the end of World War II and the official start of the United Nations.

Despite passing away before these victories, Roosevelt left a giant mark on the presidency. His presidency was, and still is, the longest in U.S. history. Roosevelt saw U.S. citizens through incredibly dark periods in their history—the Great Depression and World War II—and is thought to be one of the greatest U.S. presidents of all time.


From the Nat Geo Kids book
Our Country's Presidents by Ann Bausum and Brianna Dumont, revised for digital by Avery Hurt