"No president since the founders has done more to shape the character of American government," this is according to Alan Brinkley in his outstanding biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States of America. The presidency of Franklin Roosevelt was marked with several ups and down during the early years. It is mainly because he assumed office at a time when the U.S. was undergoing through the Great Depression, one of the worst if not the worst financial crises ever to face our country. Roosevelt started his political career in 1910 after being elected in the New York State Senate as a Democrat from his traditionally Republican home district. His political life rose slowly and by the year 1932 he got voted into the highest office in the land. Even before he got sworn into office, the depression got worse as over 25 percent of the total U.S. workforce remained unemployed. In early 1933, the situation got worse as the country faced with a series of bank failures only serving to deepen the already worse crisis. In this article, we will look at FDR's political gifts as seen in his election victories. We will also look at his congressional achievements as well as his relationships with other leaders throughout the world. We will research on how creative he was in his leadership style both domestically and internationally. Then finally will discuss the notion that FDR left the nation in "abetter place than it had been before."
Roosevelt’s first task in the office was to find drastic solutions to these financial problems that were worsening by the day. During his inauguration, he made one of the most memorable quotes “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself’ while trying to urge the people not to back down, but to face the problems together without fear. He offered stern warnings by saying "Rulers of the exchange of mankind's goods have failed through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence. . . . The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization." (Polenberg, 2000) However, his speech did not give an indication of which direction he would take in addressing these problems but it was full of promise. His earliest achievements as the president were when decided to employ drastic measures dubbed “the New Deal” to address the immediate problems. In order to reduce depositor panics, he closed banks temporarily before reopening them. In his first 100 days, in office, he led the congress into passing several legislative agendas aimed at address the financial crisis. His measures were important in reviving the public confidence on the economy as banks re-opened. The government also offered direct relief that helped save most Americans from starvation.
Franklin Roosevelt was a politically gifted individual, and this can be seen by his numerous victories in politics ranging from the time he started politics in 1910 until, during the eight years, he served as the American president. Several reasons were made as to why he was very successful in his political endeavors. One of the reasons according to Richard Polenberg (2000) is the fact that he surrounded himself with politically knowledgeable people such as Louis M. Howe who was a great political advisor to Roosevelt starting from his days in the New York senate to his time in the American Presidency. Roosevelt was also a very gifted politics as he always made sure that his personal life remained undisclosed to the public thus very few people knew the person he was.
It is a fact that FDR was one of the greatest leaders that this country has ever had since our independence. His major achievement was the fact that he found this country at a very bad state and left it better than he found it. He became the president during the darkest periods of American history but left it much more developed and better country eight years later. Allan Brinkley (2010) in his biography of Roosevelt said, “And no president since Lincoln has served through darker or more difficult times. Roosevelt thrived in crisis. It brought out his greatness, and his guile. It triggered his almost uncanny ability to communicate effectively with people of all kinds. And at times, it helped him excoriate his enemies, and to revel in doing so."
FDR’s major achievements were how he was able to handle both domestic and foreign affairs of the country successfully during his time as president. One of his major congressional achievements was the passing of the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) in 1933. This act was one of the largest and most complex parts of a legislation ever enacted in American history. According to Richard Polenberg’s brief history of the era of Franklin Roosevelt, he responded that this act was "the most important and far-reaching legislation ever enacted by the American Congress." Other notable congressional achievements for Roosevelt were the social security act that was the foundation for America’s first national system of social insurance and public assistance. This act was a major step in safeguarding the rights of workers as it created an old-age pension structure that would be funded by workers and employers. The other achievement was the National labor Relations act that restated the assurance of workers' right to bargain jointly as was in the NIRA that was now defunct (Polenberg, 2000).
The new deal, however, was not successful in the long run. It is because four years later the country underwent another recession. The year 1937 witnessed a recession that was quick to wipe out most of Roosevelt’s gains in the previous years. President Roosevelt’s response was to call for the formation of a commission that was tasked with investigating the economic conditions that were being felt. He believed it was important to empower his people economically. “True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.” In the year 1938, Roosevelt led the congress into passing the Fair Labor Standards Act. This act addressed the issue of minimum wage, and it also proposed a maximum forty-hour work week as well as abandoning child labor (Brinkley, 2010). This act got passed in an effort to increase economic growth by raising mass purchasing power.
FDR was very successful in his foreign policies and the way he handled other leaders from other parts of the world. Roosevelt removed American participation from the London Economic Conference that was aimed at finding a lasting solution to the depression that was facing the whole world. He led the devaluation of the American currency when he weakened its link to the gold standard. He was a huge promoter of American foreign trade and also increased relations between the U.S and other countries in Latin America (Polenberg, 2000).
In his dealings with other world leaders, Roosevelt was a great friend to the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill and the importance of this friendship was seen during the Second World War when America went out of its neutrality policy to help Britain during the war. When America finally joined the war, President Roosevelt was fully committed to the process and would participate actively and decisively in making major tactical choices during the war. His participation in the war showed that he was not only gifted in managing the domestic affairs of the country but also to foreign affairs. FDR was one of the many leaders that were calling for peace during this war so that dialogue can be given a chance. He believed that “If civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships - the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together, in the same world at peace.” (Brinkley, 2010)
The presidency of FDR got marked with a series of ups and downs, but it is worth noting that his performance was better than most presidents who have held that office. Much can be said about his presidential achievements. In particular, his efforts in turning around the depression period that was the worst period in American history. His “new deal” was able to solve the problems that were facing the American public. His other achievements were during the war period as he played a major role in bringing the war to an end. His efforts after the war were also important as he led other world leaders into signing the United Nations Declaration. Due to these achievements we can say that FDR "America a better place than it had been before." He was one of the best presidents this country ever had.
Brinkley, Alan. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.
Polenberg, Richard. The Era of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933-1945: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2000. Print.