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Franklin Delano Roosevelt - A President leading a nation through the Great Depression

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2005 16 Seiten

Amerikanistik - Sonstiges



1. Introduction

2. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
2.1. A short biography
2.2. Why Franklin D. Roosevelt became President in
2.3. The elections of 1932, 1936, 1940,

3. Rough Times – The Great Depression and Roosevelt’s New Deal
3.1. The United States at the beginning of the 1930’s
3.2. Roosevelt’s New Deal
3.2.1. The New Deal laws
3.2.2. Responses to the New Deal
3.3. The Second New Deal

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

At the end of the 1920’s, the United States were a nation on the upswing. It was the Golden Age of Jazz, sports and technical breakthroughs. At the same time many Americans started to invest their money in stocks, and as the value of stocks rose steadily, more and more people were able to afford a good living standard, driving shiny cars and attending movie theaters and clubs.

When on Thursday, October 24, 1929, the Wall Street stock market, New York, collapsed, the “Roaring Twenties” were over. The United States were about to enter the Great Depression that was to last for a whole decade. With stock prices hitting rock bottom, banks closed and many people lost their life savings. Moreover, millions of Americans were laid off and in the end even lost their farms and homes because they could not pay their mortgages. Suffering from severe problems such as hunger, poor living conditions and illnesses, people grew increasingly desperate in 1930, 1931 and 1932.

Many different ideas for getting out of the depression were suggested. President Herbert Hoover who was a strong believer in the laissez-faire philosophy, however, prefered no government intervention. He was afraid of destroying the people’s individualistic spirit. By 1932, thirteen million Americans were unemployed. Preaching nothing but optimism instead of bringing forth plans to change the devastating situation, Hoover increasingly lost the people’s trust and was made the scapegoat of the Great Depression.

It was shortly before the next upcoming election that the very energetic middle-aged Franklin Delano Roosevelt fully entered the political stage and raised the Americans’ hopes. He was a great speaker and campaigner and above all, a trustworthy man that the people had faith in. Franklin D. Roosevelt promised action. In November 1939, he easily defeated Herbert Hoover.

Now the question arises how Franklin D. Roosevelt, being the new President of the United States, planned to lead the country out of this miserable depression. In the following, I will discuss how Roosevelt dealt with the Great Depression, introducing his “New Deal” in 1933 and “Second New Deal” in 1935.

First of all, I want to show how Franklin D. Roosevelt’s early biography influenced and contributed to his political career. Furthermore, I will explain how Roosevelt became president in 1933 and briefly address the issue of his reelections. In addition, I will to focus on the New Deal as a result of the depression, explaining certain New Deal laws and their outcome. Finally, I will compare several responses to Roosevelt’s policies.

2. Franklin Delano Roosevelt

2.1. A short biography

Looking back on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s life, it becomes apparent that his determined character as well as his excellent education had a great impact on his later political career. In addition, his relationship to Theodore Roosevelt, “whom he greatly admired”[1], and the way his family mixed in the best society gave him great assistence to achieve his highest goal: to become the President of the United States.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt was born in Hyde Park, New York, on January 30, 1882, he was part of a prominent and moderately wealthy American family. His parents, Sara and James Roosevelt, provided him with a sheltered and happy childhood. Being the only child, he was always in their center of attention. Due to such a stable enviornment Franklin grew up in, he had a good amount of self-confidence as well as confidence in the world.[2] Both were soon needed to develop a good leadership ability. At Groton, a prestigious preparatory school in Massachusetts, Franklin managed the basketball team and was the warden at the student dorms. At this school he received an excellent classic humanistic education which was part of a strict daily schedule with many sport activities and religious education. There, Roosevelt also gave his first speeches and developed his rhetoric that later would fascinate the American people. Recollecting the four years from 1896 to 1900 at Groton, Roosevelt later stated that this school deeply influenced him.[3]

But it was also his distant cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, who aroused the young boy’s interest in politics. As the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore kept telling him stories about his fights against the corrupt police of New York.[4] The young Roosevelt was fascinated by his older cousin so that Theodore Roosevelt more and more became a role model for him. In 1898, Franklin D. Roosevelt attended Theodore Roosevelt’s inauguration. His cousin now was the 26th President of the USA.

Another cornerstone on the way to his political career were his three years at Harvard University, which was the most prestigious university of the USA at that time. While receiving only average grades, it was most important to Franklin D. Roosevelt to consolidate his position within society. He wanted to imporove his social prestige and establish himself as one of the leading figures among the priviliged students of Harvard University. Though Roosevelt was not particularly good at sports, he was voted captain of the rowing and football team which attests to the fact that he was a popular and respected student. Franklin, however, wanted to do something that he was exceptionally good in. With his readiness to invest up to six hours a day, he managed to initially become a member and later promoted to the position the editor of the university magazine “Crimson”.[5] Academically, his seminars and lectures provided him with a wide range of information on current American and European history, economics, politics, philosophy and rhetoric. After receiving his Bachelor of Arts in History in 1903, he next studied law at Columbia University, New York. Franklin D. Roosevelt soon discoverd his lack of desire for law and and left school without taking a degree. Yet, it is justified to say that his university years have obviously contributed to his political career by strengthening his character, improving his social prestige and expanding his knowledge on the field of history and law.

His determined nature again showed when he – against his mother’s will –married Anna Eleanor Roosevelt in 1905. Franklin D. Roosevelt met his distant cousin at Harvard where they fell in love with each other and later had 6 children together. The young couple enjoyed a nice upper class life, mixing in the best society. Once in a while, they visited Theodore Roosevelt in the White House.

Due to his good relations, he was able to practice law with a prominent New York City law firm. Still, this was by no means a satisfactory position for Franklin D. Roosevelt. Dreaming of entering the political stage, he had far higher ambitions for his life. When the local Democrats were looking for somebody to fill a seat at the House of Representatives and then at the Senate, they chose Roosevelt – a man from a good family. He entered politics in 1910, being elected to the New York State Senate. During the three years as senator, he learnt the political skills and established a reputation of a progressive Democrat[6]. Roosevelt also started to support Woodrow Wilson’s candidacy at the Democratic National Convention. At times, where everybody seemed against Wilson, Franlin D. Roosevelt openly endorsed him. As a reward for his support, Wilson appointed him Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1913, a position he held until 1920. Following into his cousin’s footsteps, he proudly said “There is a Roosevelt on the job today.”[7] Back then he already was an energetic and efficient administrator, specializing in the business side of the naval administration. Roosevelt's popularity and success in naval affairs resulted in his nomination for Vice President in 1920 on a ticket with James M. Cox. The Democratic party, however, was defeated by Warren Harding so that Roosevelt was able to return to private life.

During his vacation in the summer of 1921, he had a severe case of polio and within a few weeks both of his legs were almost paralyzed. Depite of his handicap, Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not want to give up. He once again remembered his ambition he had set for himself: to one day become President. Willing to fight, he worked hard to overcome the crippling illness. Swimming helped to improve some of it, but “for the rest of his life he could only walk with the aid of metal braces and two canes.”[8] And most of the times was carried or used a wheelchair.


[1] - last visit: 02/02/05

[2] cf. Detlef Junker, Franklin D. Roosevelt – Macht und Vision: Präsident in Krisenzeiten. (Göttingen: Muster-Schmidt Verlag, 1979), p. 10.

[3] cf. Detlef Junker, op. cit., p. 14.

[4] Ibid.

[5] cf. Detlef Junker., op. cit., p. 16.

[6] cf. Ibid., p. 24.

[7] Detlef Junker, opt. cit., p. 26.

[8] John A. Garatty, American History (New York: Harcourt Brace Javanovich, 1982), p. 743.


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Franklin Delano Roosevelt President Great Depression Presidency




Titel: Franklin Delano Roosevelt - A President leading a nation through the Great Depression