Franklin D. Roosevelt: Biography
An examination of why some historians love Franklin D. Roosevelt while some hate him. Articles examines the New Deal and views toward its policies.
Postmen in the 1930’s knew where to deliver letters addressed, “To the Greatest Man in the World” and “God’s Gift to the World” and “My Friend in Washington D.C.” They went to the same place as letters addressed to “Benedict Arnold the 2nd” and “Franklin the Terrible” – to the desk of President Franklin Roosevelt.
It seems that people either loved FDR or hated him. Was Roosevelt, who has been the most loved and hated of presidents, and the one of the most significant figures in modern United States history, a hero or a villain? A Savior or a Caesar?
Some scholars feel that the nation would have been better off had FDR never been elected, or, once elected, never reelected. Others feel that the beloved American capitalist system, and thus the American way of life, would have collapsed without him. While one critic compares Roosevelt with a color blind train engineer who ought to have been fired from his job while another one reveres him as a family friend who might easily have stopped by for dinner before one of his fireside chats.
Whatever opinion people had, it usually was strong. FDR put a fervor or spirit or pride into the nation’s hearts and minds about their government, about their New Deal, about their President. He made the nation aware, and he made them care.
It is important to realize that Franklin Roosevelt was the New Deal. The New Deal policies represent Roosevelt’s career and his achievements and by these policies he was judged. If one does not examine the method by which Roosevelt did things, it is almost impossible to see the spark behind his accomplishments. “In the method was the genius; in the genius was the policy,” says one British historian. The way in which New Deal policies are judged coincides with the way in which Roosevelt was judged. Opinions of the two seem the same.
Critiques of Roosevelt do not necessarily fall along party lines, though this consideration is important. Not all Democrats loved Roosevelt, not all Republicans hated him. The same thing is true of economic class distinctions. Not all of the poor loved the New Deal, not all of the rich considered him a “traitor to his class.” FDR, during his term, seemed to turn the nation from a bipartisan democracy of Republicans and Democrats to one of Roosevelt-lovers and Roosevelt-haters. Roosevelt strove to be a “President for all of the people.”
Generally the people who praise Roosevelt do so because he did what had to be done. There are two main reasons for this love and admiration of Roosevelt. The first reason is that he saved the American way of life. In a time when the capitalist economy seemed reday to collapse, Roosevelt was daring enough to intervene. His policies were practical measures – not meant to achieve humanitarian goals but to restore economic order. And it was successful to this end.
The second reason that Roosevelt was so loved is that he saved the nation’s morale. As the nation was ready to consider economic depression a new way of life, he instilled a sense of security and confidence into Americans. As Eleanor Roosevelt pointed out, the sense of pride which FDR created for Americans was the driving force behind their victory in World War II. The Roosevelt-lovers loved him because his “voice of hope” sounded through the economic evils and brought security to their lives.
Those who hated Roosevelt fall into two separate categories as well: conservatives who thought he did too much and New Leftists who thought he did too little. The first group saw his “lust for power” as the driving force behind all that he did as he plotted to centralize power into the executive branch and, therefore, to himself. The New Leftists criticize Roosevelt for having in his grasp the power to achieve great things and only actually achieving insignificant ones.
It is odd that the same policies, the same man, can be interpreted in such extremely contradictory ways – but so it is. The argument about Roosevelt seems to go in three main directions: those who might say, “What a Deal!”; those who would question, “Whose Deal and Why Deal At All?”; and those who would ask, “What Deal? Was Franklin Roosevelt America’s savior, or was he on his way to becoming a dictatorial Caesar?