Franklin Roosevelt spent twelve years in office and had an enormous impact on America. He took office in the depths of the Great Depression, and during his first inaugural speech he said: “[F]irst of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” His immediate action the day after his inauguration was to call Congress into a special session and declare a four-day banking holiday.
New Deal Legislation
Roosevelt began his first term in office full force. In fact, during his first “Hundred Days” as president, fifteen major laws were passed to get America back on its feet and moving forward. Roosevelt called his entire program of legislation and actions the New Deal. Roosevelt was the first to truly use the mass media to his benefit when he instituted fireside chats to gain support for his programs while reassuring the nation.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS…
Roosevelt said on the importance of finding work for Americans: “Not only our future economic soundness but the very soundness of our democratic institutions depends on the determination of our government to give employment to idle men. The people of America are in agreement in defending their liberties at any cost, and the first line of defense lies in the protection of economic security.”
Also during Roosevelt's first year, the prohibition of alcohol created through the eighteenth amendment was repealed with the passage of the twenty-first amendment.
Some of the most important legislative acts of Roosevelt's New Deal included:
Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) — hired more than three million men to work on various projects.
Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) — used the Tennessee River to provide electricity for the depressed area.
National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) — created the Public Works Administration to provide aid to cities for construction and the National Recovery Administration to help businesses.
Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) — gave the unemployed money while providing incentives for states to create local job programs.
Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) — corrected the abuses that led to the stock market crash.
Works Progress Administration (WPA) — hired many people for a variety of projects including work in the arts.
Social Security Act (SSA) — created the Social Security System.
At first, the Supreme Court did not believe that the government should take such an active role in private business practices. For example, the NIRA used price and wage controls imposed by the government, and therefore was questioned on its constitutionality. It was found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in
Because of this attitude by the Supreme Court, Roosevelt attempted to pack the court with a new law in 1937. His plan was that whenever a judge “reached the age of seventy and [did] not avail himself of the opportunity to retire on a pension, a new member [would] be appointed by the president then in office, with the approval, as required by the Constitution, of the Senate of the United States.” His stated objective was to bring new blood into the court, but critics claimed that he was just trying to put individuals on the court who would rule favorably on his New Deal legislation. The act failed in Congress, but it did have the important effect of changing the way that the judges were deciding on New Deal court cases as they became more favorable to the programs.
World War II
Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany after World War I. Over time he began invading surrounding countries. At first Great Britain, France, and other European powers attempted a policy of appeasement that allowed Hitler to keep the territories he captured to avoid war. However, when this strategy failed and Hitler invaded France, Britain declared war. The events of World War I had resulted in a deeper commitment by Americans to isolationism, but as Germany began a full force attack on Great Britain, Roosevelt realized that America could not remain neutral.
To circumvent the Neutrality Acts, Roosevelt created a lend-lease system in 1941. This system allowed the United States to help Britain by delivering old destroyers in exchange for military bases abroad. Roosevelt also met with Winston Churchill in 1941 to create the Atlantic Charter that set forward joint beliefs about the nature of fascism and the need to fight against any country who takes over other countries and territories by force.
America did not enter World War II until December 7, 1941, with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In July 1939, Roosevelt announced that the United States would no longer trade items such as gasoline and iron to the Japanese, who needed it for their war with China. In July 1941, the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis was created with mutual defense agreements between Italy, Germany, and Japan. All Japanese assets were frozen in the United States. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, more than 2,000 people were killed and eight battleships were damaged or destroyed. At that point, America officially entered the war.
SCANDALS & GOSSIP
Is it possible that Roosevelt knew the Japanese were going to attack at Pearl Harbor, but didn't do anything about it to have a reason to declare war? That was the claim made soon after the attack. Thomas Dewey even used it in his 1944 campaign against Roosevelt. However, there is no evidence that Roosevelt had foreknowledge of the attack.
America declared war on Japan on December 8, 1941. Germany and Italy then declared war on America. The United States decided to fight a Europe First policy, focusing on stopping Nazi aggression. Important victories in Europe for the United States and the allies included the Battle of Midway, the North African campaign, the capture of Sicily, and the D-Day invasion.
With an inevitable Nazi defeat, Roosevelt met with Churchill and Joseph Stalin at Yalta in February, 1945. Roosevelt and Churchill promised concessions to Soviet Russia if the Soviets entered the war against Japan. Concessions given in this agreement would eventually set up the Cold War by giving the Soviet Union a buffer zone of countries occupied and controlled by the USSR.
On April 12, 1945, Roosevelt died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Upon his death, Vice President Harry Truman became president. Roosevelt is consistently considered by historians to be one of the greatest presidents in America's history. His aggressive and unprecedented leadership during the Great Depression and World War II left lasting marks on the American landscape and the world.