Franklin D. Roosevelt elected president four times

Published 11:32 am Thursday, August 24, 2017

By  Betty Etchison West

Cana/Pino Correspondent

Franklin D. Roosevelt was of Dutch ancestry. In the 1640s, Nicholas Roosevelt came to the new world from Holland.  He had two sons Johannes and Jacobus. The 26th president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt was descended from Johannes Roosevelt; and Jacobus Roosevelt was the ancestor of the man who became the 32nd president, Franklin D. Roosevelt.   

Even though Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt were distantly related, they were far removed from each other. Theodore Roosevelt belonged to the family that was known as the New York City Roosevelts. They were Republicans and were involved in finance and commerce. The Franklin D. Roosevelts were part of the  Hudson River Roosevelt family. They were Democrats and landowning gentry.

Franklin Roosevelt was born to James Roosevelt, who was 52 when he married Sara Delano, who was only 26. James Roosevelt was a widower, who had a 16-year-old son when he married Sara Delano, but Franklin was James and Sara’s only son. Both the Roosevelt and the Delano families were wealthy so Franklin, who was born in 1882, had all the advantages that wealth provided.

He received Sara’s undivided attention throughout her life; often more attention than he wanted. Franklin grew up on the Hudson River estate called Springwood, and went to private schools or had a governess during his early years. When he was 14, he was sent to Groton, a preparatory school in Massachusetts; and then he went to Harvard.

His mother couldn’t seem to loosen the apron strings even when he was in college. Sara rented a place in Cambridge to keep an eye on her son, who was not an outstanding student but did get to be the editor of the Harvard Crimson, a job he loved so much he stayed on an extra year to continue to serve as editor. He went to Columbia Law School but dropped out as soon as he was able to pass the bar.

While he was in college, Franklin fell in love with Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, who was member of the New York Roosevelt family and Franklin’s fifth cousin. Franklin’s mother disapproved of the match as she probably would have done with anyone Franklin would have chosen because she wanted Franklin to return to the Roosevelt Estate on the Hudson and live the life of the landed gentry where she could care for his every need.  She even sent Franklin on a Caribbean cruise to try to get his mind off of Eleanor. None of her maneuvering helped. Members of the two branches of the Roosevelt families were joined when Franklin D. Roosevelt and Anna Eleanor Roosevelt were married on March 17, 1905.

Eleanor’s uncle, Theodore Roosevelt, walked her down the aisle. Eleanor was the daughter of Theodore Roosevelt’s brother, Elliott. Eleanor Roosevelt’s mother had died when Eleanor was about 8; but when Mrs. Roosevelt was alive, she was unkind to Eleanor often calling her an ugly duckling.  Eleanor adored her father, who was good to her; but he was an alcoholic who would disappear for long intervals.  Eleanor’s father, Elliott, died when she was 10 so the orphaned Eleanor went to live with her grandmother. The grandmother sent her to a boarding school in England. It was at the boarding school that the head mistress saw that Eleanor had great potential.  That lady guided Eleanor as she began the process of becoming  not an ugly duckling but a beautiful swan. This more self-confident and idealistic person  was  the one who Franklin Roosevelt fell in love with and married over his mother’s objections.

Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt had six children in 10 years; one baby died but the others lived fairly long lives. Franklin’s mother, Sara, did not seem to think that Eleanor was capable of raising the children. According to the book, First Ladies by Beatrice Gormley, “Sara Delano Roosevelt decided where the young couple would live and how their children – Anna Eleanor, James, Elliott, Franklin D., Jr, and John Aspinwall – should be brought up.” This mother-in-law problem of course bothered Eleanor, but it was one with which she had to live as long as Sara Roosevelt lived.

In 1910 Franklin Roosevelt won his first election and became a New York State Senator. He and his family moved to the state capital, Albany. While in Albany, Eleanor got interested in politics, an interest which never waned. Three years later in 1913, Roosevelt was named assistant secretary of the navy, a post which his distant cousin, Theodore, had once held.

Things seemed to be going well for the Roosevelts when in 1918, according to the book, The American President, “their seemingly perfect life fell apart when Eleanor discovered he (Franklin) was having an affair with her (Eleanor’s)  social secretary, Lucy Mercer. It would have led to divorce had not Franklin’s mother stepped in, threatening to cut him off without a cent if he ever saw Lucy again. In turn, Eleanor agreed to support her husband publicly, but privately their relationship turned cool and purely professional.”

In 1920, Roosevelt was chosen to run as vice president on the Democratic ticket with presidential candidate, James M. Cox. The Cox/Roosevelt ticket was badly defeated which  was a blow to Franklin. Emily was vacationing at Campobello, the Roosevelt family summer home on Canadian shore near Maine, tragedy struck. When Franklin woke up one morning he found that he could not move his legs. He had contracted polio. This was a greater blow than losing an election. While still trying to find a way to help the paralysis, Franklin purchased an old resort in Warm Springs, Ga., with the hope that the warm spring water would help his legs. Even though the warm water did seem to help, it could not cure the paralysis. The American President says, “Slowly but surely, people close to him could see it, a remarkable transformation was taking place. The suffering Franklin was undergoing and his battle against despair were actually recasting him into a deeper, stronger and more optimistic man.

Refusing his mother’s plea that he come home to Hyde Park and spend the rest of his life as a comfortable invalid, with Eleanor’s encouragement Franklin decided to reenter politics. Eleanor still did everything she could for Franklin even after finding the letters from Lucy Mercer. The decision to reenter politics resulted in Franklin deciding to run for Governor of New York in 1928. He won that race and once again moved to Albany. Franklin was still determined that he would not let the public know how crippled he really was, a determination which lasted to the end of his life. By winning the New York governor’s race, he was off and running in the political world. In 1932, in the middle of the worst depression that the country had ever known, Franklin D. Roosevelt was chosen as the Democratic candidate for president of the United States. He went to the convention hall in Chicago to accept the nomination and said: “You have nominated me and I am here to thank you for the honor. I pledge myself to a New Deal for the American people.” That promise of a New Deal was mighty important to the people of the United States, many who were suffering as they never had before.

Roosevelt said: “I shall ask the Congress for one remaining instrument to meet the crisis … broad executive power to wage a war against the emergency as great as the power that would have been given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.”  These words sounded good to the hurting populace.  Then Roosevelt uttered the words for which he is best known, “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Roosevelt won the election and became the 32nd president of the United States with John Nance Garner as his vice president.

After her husband became president, it is said that Mrs. Roosevelt became his eyes and ears. She traveled the country and reported back to the President about the conditions she found. This was helpful to her husband because it was difficult for him to travel.

In a short time after taking office, bills were passed which shored up the banking system, created public work programs that put people back to work, and established safety nets for farmers and creditors.  Some of the agencies which were established were: the Public Works Administration (PWA), the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and the National Youth Administration. These agencies effected people in North Carolina and Davie County. William R. Davie School was the PWA project as was the Blue Ridge Parkway which has brought pleasure to millions of people. There was a CCC Camp in Mocksville which housed young men in barracks from which they went out to preform land improvement projects.The camp was located at the corner of Yadkinville Road and US 64, the site on which Monleigh Garment Co. was later built. My  father who had pigs that he could not sell because of the depression, picked up the table refuse from the camp (actually better known as slop) to feed his pigs. As the economy improved and certainly when our country got into World War II, these projects were no longer needed because there were jobs available for everyone who wanted to work.

Some of the reform measures which were passed between 1933 and 1938 were: the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act, Home Owners’ Loan Corp., Federal Housing Administration, U.S. Housing Authority, Tennessee Valley Authority, the Social Security Act, the National Labor Relations act, the National Labor relations Board, and the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Social Security Act is still important to millions of citizens as are other measures passed during the Roosevelt administration.

One of Mr. Roosevelt’s greatest strengths was his ability to communicate. His fireside chats broadcast over the radio were one of his most effective means of communication with the people. The President talked to the people as if he was sitting in their living room.When Roosevelt made a speech in public, he made a great effort to stand by putting on leg braces and holding on to someone, often a son. He still wanted to stand to hide the fact that he was so crippled. Mr. Roosevelt’s programs and his ability to communicate with the people of this country resulted in him being  elected to a second term by a margin of 11 million votes.

All was not success for Mr. Roosevelt. The Supreme Court rejected some of his bills and programs.  This rejection was hard for him to accept so in 1937, he proposed increasing the number of justices on the Supreme Court. His attempt to pack the court was rejected. This incident is still referred to today when changing the number of members on the Supreme Court is mentioned.

In 1939, war broke out in Europe, with Hitler leading the Axis – Germany, Italy, and Japan – as they marched over country after country. The United States declared their neutrality, but President Roosevelt used every means he could to help the Allies – France and England and 36 other countries. There is a long list of ways Roosevelt helped the Allied while maintaining that the United States was a neutral country. This all changed on Dec. 7, 1941 when Japan bombed the ships anchored at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Eight American battleships and 10 other naval vessels were sunk or badly damaged and almost 200 American aircraft were destroyed.  About 3,000 military personnel were killed or wounded. News of that terrible attack reached Cana and every little community in the United States that day via radio and everyone was almost in shock. President Roosevelt called that day “a date that will live in infamy.”

According to The President Fact Book, “Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan and when Germany and Italy backed their Japanese ally by declaring war on the United States, Congress declared war on them as well.” Suddenly this country was at war on two fronts.

Every community in this country felt the effects of that declaration of war as almost all of the young men marched off to war. People left at home joined the war effort in any way they could.  Many women went to work in factories taking the places of men who had gone to war. Rationing went into effect – gas, tires, sugar, etc. Families were issued books of stamps they could use to obtain rationed items. When the stamps were gone, they would have to do without that item until new books were issued. People picked up scrap metal to sell which they were told that it would be used to make bombs. People bought war bonds – in other words – everyone in every community in this country seemed to be doing what they could to help in the war effort.

Every night, it seemed everyone in the country gathered around their little radios to listen to the news. Gabriel Heather, a war correspondent, would come on the say: “Ladies and gentleman, there is good news tonight on the Western Front,” and everyone would cheer; but on other night he would say in a voice that would send shivers up your spine, “Ladies and gentleman, there is Bad News tonight on the Western Front.”  Those were hard nights.

President Roosevelt was re-elected for  a third term in 1940 before the United States was actively involved in the war and when the 1944 election came, people said: “You shouldn’t change horses in the middle of the stream” so Roosevelt was elected for an unprecedented fourth term. President Roosevelt was re-elected without really campaigning. He took his position as Commander-in-chief seriously. He had a room at the White House convert into a war room with maps that showed troop movement which he followed. The strain of having United States troops fighting in two theaters was really hard on the president. He was worn out but he persevered.  The President Fact Book, says, “Victory over Nazi Germany was expected soon and after his inauguration in January 1945, President Roosevelt traveled in February to attend the Yalta Conference … where he discussed war strategies and the fate of postwar Europe with Churchill and Stalin, and secured Stalin’s promise to enter the war against Japan once the Nazis were defeated. He also obtained Stalin’s promise to ensure that free elections would be held in the East European nations that were occupied by the Soviet military as it pushed toward Germany.  That promise was broken soon after the war.”

When Roosevelt returned from the Yalta Conference, he was weary. He went on vacation to his cottage in Warm Springs, Ga. Two cousins were with him in Georgia and his other visitor was Lucy Mercer, the lady he had promised never to see again after his wife, Eleanor, found the letters that she (Lucy) had written to her husband. While Franklin was sitting for a portrait at the cottage, he had a cerebral hemorrhage and died suddenly on April 15, 1945, about five months before the end of World War II.  Mrs. Roosevelt was notified, and she immediately headed to Georgia. The President’s friend, Lucy Mercer, made a hasty departure. After Mrs. Roosevelt’s arrival, the President’s body was prepared and placed on a train, the Ferdinand Magellan, to be returned to Washington. Millions of people stood by the train tracks to see the train carrying the body of their president. Many openly wept because they considered Mr. Roosevelt their savior.

When the train arrived in Washington, the president’s casket was put on a horse-drawn caisson and taken to the White House where it was placed in the East Room. It remained there for about five hours. Hundreds of mourners gathered there to pay their respects. Thousands more gathered along the iron fence outside of the White House. A simple funeral was held in the East Room. Mr. Roosevelt’s body was then placed on the caisson to be carried to Union Station where it was put on a train bound for Hyde Park, N.Y. The President was buried in the Rose Garden at the home he loved at Hyde Park.

Many people paid tribute to the fallen president.  An editorial page in the “New York Times” said, “Men will thank God on their knees a hundred years from now that Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the White House.”

Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt lived 17 years after the death of her husband. She died in 1962 and was buried beside her husband in the rose garden at the Roosevelt Estate at Hyde Park, even though that was not one of her favorite places. The tombstones are simple granite stones. The Roosevelt mansion is near the gravesite and is open to the public. The Roosevelt Presidential Library is also nearby. Also open to the public is the Roosevelt Cottage in Warm Springs, Ga., where the president spent his last days and where he died.

The Twenty-Second Amendment became part of the Constitution of the United States in 1947 when it was ratified by 36 of the then 48 states.  The amendment  says, “No person shall be elected to the office of President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President or acted as President for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once. “ Unless the Constitution is changed, Franklin D. Roosevelt will be the country’s only president elected to four terms.