Disability Hero

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Disability Hero
Franklin D. Roosevelt served longer than any other president of the United States. He held
office from 1933 until his death in 1945 at the beginning of his fourth term. During his
presidency he led the United States through two great crises --the Great Depression of the
1930's and World War II. Roosevelt was a man of unusual charm and great optimism which he
was able to communicate to others. He had a broad smile and an easygoing way of nodding
agreement to whatever proposals were made to him. But beneath his outward friendliness was
an inner reserve and an iron will. He became one of the most beloved as well as one of the
most hated U.S. presidents. His admirers emphasized the way in which he met the nation's
problems. They praised him for insisting that the federal government must help the
underprivileged and that the United States must share in the responsibility for preserving
world peace. Roosevelt's opponents denounced him for increasing the role of the government
in the economic life of the country and claimed that he unnecessarily involved the United
States in World War II. Yet friend and foe alike agreed that Roosevelt made a vital impact
upon his times and that his policies exerted great influence on the future.

Roosevelt was born on a comfortable estate overlooking the Hudson River at Hyde Park, New
York, on January 30, 1882. He had a pleasant, sheltered childhood. His father, James
Roosevelt, was a well-to-do investor and vice president of a small railroad. His mother,
Sara Delano Roosevelt, came from a wealthy family of New England origin. During his
childhood Franklin was taught by a governess and was taken on frequent trips to Europe.
Once his father took him to the White House to see President Grover Cleveland. Cleveland,
saddened and worn by the burdens of office, said he hoped that young Franklin would never
have the misfortune of becoming president. At 14, Roosevelt entered Groton School in
Massachusetts. From Groton he went to Harvard College where he concerned himself more with
social life and other activities than with his studies. He was especially proud of the
fact that he was president (chief editor) of the Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper.
He graduated in 1904 and went on to Columbia University Law School. Meanwhile, he had
become engaged to his slim, attractive distant cousin, Eleanor Roosevelt. At the wedding
in 1905, Eleanor's uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt (who was Franklin's fifth cousin),
gave her in marriage. Roosevelt was an indifferent law student and did not bother to
complete work for his degree after passing his bar examination. Nor was he much interested
in his work with a prominent Wall Street law firm.

In 1910 the Democratic leaders in Dutchess County, New York, persuaded Roosevelt to run
for the state senate. The senate contest seemed hopeless for a Democrat. Nevertheless,
Roosevelt conducted an energetic campaign, touring the Hudson River farming communities in
a red Maxwell automobile. The Republicans were split that year, and the 28- year-old
Roosevelt won his first election.

Roosevelt supported Woodrow Wilson for the presidential nomination in 1912, and when
Wilson became president in 1913, Roosevelt was appointed assistant secretary of the navy.
He still seemed too handsome and and too unpredictable dashing from one place to another
to be taken very seriously. Yet he was especially successful as an administrator during
World War I. He was also achieving a reputation as a rising young progressive. In 1920, at
the age of 38, Roosevelt won the Democratic nomination for Vice President, running with
the presidential candidate, James M. Cox (1870- 1957). However the Democrats were buried
in the landslide victory of the Republican Warren Harding.

Biding his time, Roosevelt entered private business. Then, in the summer of 1921, while
vacationing at Campobello Island in Canada, he was suddenly stricken with polio which
paralyzed him from the waist down. Not yet 40, he seemed finished in politics. But his
wife, Eleanor, and his private secretary, Louis Howe, felt that his recovery would be
aided if he kept his political interests. Eleanor, now the mother of five children (a
sixth child had died in 1909), cast aside her acute shyness and learned to make
appearances for her husband at political meetings. In spite of his illness, which left him
unable to walk without leg braces, a cane, and a strong arm upon which to lean, Roosevelt
remained one of the dominant figures in the Democratic Party.

In 1928, Roosevelt ran for governor of New York at the urging of the incumbent-governor,
Alfred E. Smith (1873-1944), who was the Democratic candidate for president. Although
Smith was defeated by Republican Herbert Hoover, Roosevelt was elected governor by a
narrow margin. His re-election in 1930 by a record majority made him the leading candidate
for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1932. During the 1932 election campaign, the
Depression overshadowed all other issues. In accepting the nomination, Roosevelt had
promised the American people a "new deal," and they voted for him in overwhelming numbers.
Roosevelt defeated Hoover, running for re-election, by more than 7 million popular votes,
and he received 472 electorial votes to Hoover's 59. Conditions became worse between
Roosevelt's election on November 8, 1932, and his inauguration on March 4, 1933. (The 20th
Amendment to the Constitution, changing the presidential inauguration date to January 20,
did not go into effect until October 1933.) Thousands of banks failed as depositors,
fearful of losing their savings, withdrew their money. A quarter of the nation's wage
earners were unemployed. Families on relief sometimes received no more than 75 cents a
week for food. Farmers were in an equally desperate plight because of low prices on basic
crops.

Amid these grim conditions, Roosevelt took his oath of office as president. "The only
thing we have to fear is fear itself," he said in his inaugural speech. The words were not
new, but the way Roosevelt said them gave people new hope. As a first step, he closed all
U.S. banks to prevent further collapse. Then he called Congress into special session to
pass emergency banking legislation. Within a few days most banks were reopened, and people
who had withdrawn their money redeposited it. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
was established soon after. It insured bank deposits and protected people from losing
their savings.

During the first one hundred days of his administration, Roosevelt presented to Congress a
wide variety of legislation. This became the first New Deal program. These early measures
contained one notable reform --the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The
TVA provided flood control, cheap electricity, and better use of the land for the entire
poverty-stricken Tennessee River area. For the most part, the early New Deal measures were
meant to bring immediate relief to the needy and recovery to the economy. A federal agency
was set up to provide the states with funds to feed the hungry. Legislation was passed to
aid farmers and homeowners in danger of losing their property because they could not keep
up mortgage payments.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was organized, providing jobs for unemployed young
men in forest conservation and road construction work. At the president's urging, Congress
took the United States off the gold standard and devaluated the dollar. This lowered its
exchange value, allowing American products to be sold to better advantage abroad. At the
heart of the recovery program of the early New Deal were the Agricultural Adjustment
Administration (AAA) and the National Recovery Administration (NRA). Under the AAA,
production of basic crops and livestock was limited in order to raise prices and thus
increase farmers' incomes. Farmers were rewarded by benefit payments for reducing
production. The NRA, created by the president under the National Industrial Recovery Act
of 1933, was meant to aid both business and labor. The NRA established codes of fair
competition in major industries. In turn, businessmen were expected to pay at least
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