Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Influence as president
Some have called him the best president yet. Others have even claimed that he was the
world’s most influential and successful leader of the twentieth century. Those
claims can be backed up by the overwhelming support that he received from his citizens
throughout his four terms in office. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt began a new
era in American history by ending the Great Depression that the country had fallen into in
1929. His social reforms gave people a new perspective on government. Government
was not only expected to protect the people from foreign invaders, but to protect against
poverty and joblessness. Roosevelt had shown his military and diplomatic skill as the
Commander in Chief during World War II. This wartime leadership and international
relations policy won him an award in the hearts of many Americans.
Roosevelt threw his hat in the ring in 1931 in order to prepare for the
election of 1932. Democratic Party chairman James A Farley directed his campaign.
He started a nationwide radio address, outlining a program to meet the economic problems of the nation. He coined the term “forgotten man” to mean all of those who had been hard hit by the evils of the depression. These radio addresses were the start to what he called the “fireside chats”. Overall, Roosevelt was the most energetic and dynamic
candidate, and he was nominated by the party on the fourth ballot. Although he
displayed excellent characteristics, his competition was fairly tough. He was up against
John Nance Garner of Texas (who would be his Vice Presidential running mate);
Newton D. Baker of Ohio, who was former Secretary of War; and former Governor Alfred E. Smith of New York. For three ballots, Roosevelt held a large lead, but lacked the two- thirds margin necessary for victory. Farley then promised John Garner the vice
presidential nomination, which he accepted grudgingly. Then FDR took the presidential
One of the purposes of the national convention is to bring the party together in a
movement of support behind the nominated candidate. Although there was rough
competition during the choosing process, most party leaders were happy with the
Roosevelt choice. It would help pull votes from the urban-Eastern region of the country.
Also, Roosevelt made a dashing introduction at the Chicago convention by being the first
nominee to ever write an acceptance speech. In this speech, he brought emotions from
the audience in his last line, “I pledge to you, I pledge to myself, to a new deal for the
During the November campaign against Hoover, Roosevelt suggested a few parts
of the so called “New Deal”. He spoke of relief and public works money. He wanted to
develop a plan to cut agricultural overproduction. He was for public power, conservation
and unemployment insurance. The repeal of prohibition and stock exchange regulation
were also big items on his platform.
However, other than the aforementioned items, Roosevelt was quite vague about
other plans. He mentioned little about his plans for industrial recovery or labor laws. As
much foreign policy experience as he had, he talked very little of it during the campaign.
Many believe that he was simply trying to home in on the problems that the American
public saw most prominent at the time.
When it came to election day, Roosevelt was the only viable alternative to
Hoover, who many blamed for the Great Depression, although critics argue that it was
the presidents preceding the Hoover Administration. The outcome reflected this
thinking: Roosevelt won 22,821,857 votes compared to Hoover’s 15, 761,841.
Roosevelt also won the electoral 472 to 59. The voters had sent large majorities of Democrats to both houses as well, which would enable Roosevelt to accomplish more by pushing through more bills.
Roosevelt’s second election was in 1936. As expected, Roosevelt won by a landslide. He received 27,751,491 popular votes and carried 46 states with 523 electoral votes. His opponent only received 16,679,491 popular votes and 2 states with 8 electorals. This reflected the nation’s confidence in the man and his leadership ability. However, the nation still had a long way to go. He stated in his inauguration address, “I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, and ill-nourished”.
After another over-all successful term, Roosevelt ran again in 1940.
To obtain more Republican support for this campaign, Roosevelt used his
executive power of appointment to appoint two republicans to his Cabinet in 1940. The
first was Henry L. Stimson for Secretary of War, who held the office under the Taft
Administration. He also held the office of Secretary of State under President Hoover.
Stimson replaced Harry Woodring who was regarded as isolationist. Roosevelt’s
previous opponent who ran for as Vice President on the republican side, newspaper publisher Frank Knox, was placed as the Secretary of the Navy.
The Republicans based their campaign on the tradition that no President had ever
gone for a third term in succession. To counter this, Roosevelt put the spotlight on his
administration’s achievements. Because of the risky situation abroad, many felt that
Roosevelt’s expertise was needed if war occurred.
The election results were closer this time than the previous two times. Roosevelt
received 27,243,466 popular votes and 449 electoral votes. Wilkie received
22,334,413 popular votes and 82 electoral votes.
When it was time for Roosevelt’s third term to end, he initially said he wanted to
retire. However, he later declared that he felt it was his duty to serve if his country called
on him. Much of this feeling was based on the idea that it would be a bad thing for the
country to change leadership in the middle of the war. Many of the president’s advisors
felt he would not live through a fourth term, considering his heart disease, hypertension,
and other cardiac problems. Because of his condition, the Vice President nomination for
the 1944 election was of utmost importance. Roosevelt was persuaded to drop Henry
Wallace, whom many regarded as too liberal and emotionally unsuited to be president.
Harry Truman of Missouri was chosen to fill the spot. Although Roosevelt received
party nomination on the first ballot, there were two other candidates: Harry Byrd (89 votes) and James Farley–again– (1 vote).
The Republicans nominated Thomas Dewey of New York for President and John
Bricker of Ohio for Vice President. Again, their argument was term length. No
President should serve for 16 years, they declared. The opposing argument by the
Democrats was that no country should “change horses in mid-stream”. Roosevelt drove
around the streets of New York City in a rainstorm and then made a speech to show that
The election outcome was even slimmer this time, but Roosevelt still captured a
hearty vote. Roosevelt received 25,602,505 votes and 432 electoral votes and his
Republican opponent received 22,013,372 popular votes and 99 electoral votes.
Many of the advisers who helped Roosevelt during his presidential campaigns
continued to aid him after he entered the White House. By the time Roosevelt was inagurated on March 4, 1933, the economic situation was desperate. Between 13 and 15 million Americans were unemployed. Of these, between 1 and 2 million people were wandering about the country looking for jobs.
Thousands lived in cardboard shacks called “hoovervilles”. Even more were standing in bread lines hoping to get a few crumbs for their family. Panic-stricken people hoping to rescue their deposits had forced 38 states to close their banks. The Depression hit all levels of the social scale– heads of corporations and Wall Street bankers were left on the street begging– “brother, can you spare a dime?” became the catch phrase of the era.
Roosevelt’s action would be two parted: restore confidence and rebuild the
economic and social structure. In one of his addresses, he pushed confidence with his
statement, “the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself”. It is here where he would push
his presidential powers farther than almost any other president in history during
peacetime. He made the bold request to Congress to allow him “broad executive power
to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if
One of his first steps was to take action upon the bank problem. Because of the
Depression, there were “runs” to the bank that people were making to pull their deposits
out in return for paper cash and gold. Many banks were not fit to handle this rush.
Roosevelt declared a “bank holiday” that began on March 6, 1933 and lasted for four
days. All banks in the nation were closed until the Department of Treasury could
examine each one’s fiscal situation. Those that were determined to be in sound financial
condition were allowed to reopen. Those that were questionable were looked at more
deeply. Those banks who had been badly operated were not allowed to reopen.
During the FDR administration, 5,504 banks had closed and deposits of nearly $3.5 billion
Shortly after the President restored confidence in the banks, what is now known
as the “100 days” began on March 9 and ended on June 16, 1933. The President at
once began to submit recovery and reform laws for congressional approval. Congress passed nearly all the important bills that he requested, most of them by large majorities. The fact that there was a Democratic party majority in both houses helped speed things
along. What emerged from these 100 days was a 3-fold focus, RELIEF-RECOVERY-REFORM.
One of the relief actions was known as the Emergency Relief Act. This
established the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) and he pushed an
appropriation of $500 million to be spent immediately for quick relief. Harry Hopkins
was appointed to the head of FERA as the Federal Relief Administrator.
The Reforestation Act of 1933 killed two birds with one stone. First it helped
stop and repair some of the environmental damage that had occurred as a result of the
industrial revolution. More importantly, however, it created the Civilian Conservation
Corps, which eventually employed more than 2 1/2 million men at various camps.
Projects included reforestation, road construction, soil erosion and flood control as well
The Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) was designed to raise crop prices and
raise the standard of living for American farmers. Production was cut to increase
demand, therefore raising the price. Also, various subsides were set up to add to the
farmers income. It also gave the president the power to inflate the currency by
devaluating its gold content or the free coinage of silver and issue about $3 billion in
paper currency. The AAA was later struck down as unconstitutional by the US
The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), another recovery measure, was
designed to balance the interests of business and labor and consumers/workers and to
reduce unemployment. This act set codes of anti-trust laws and fair competition, as well
as setting a new standard– minimum wage. Section 7A of the law guaranteed collective
bargaining rights to workers. NIRA also established the Public Works Administration
(PWA), which supervised the building of roads and public buildings at a cost of $3.3
A new idea came about in those 100 days, it was known as the federal corporation. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was the first agency to work much like a private enterprise. The goal of the TVA was to reform one of the poorest parts ofthe country, the Tennessee River Valley. The TVA was responsible for the construction and management of power plants, dams, electricity, flood control systems and the development of navigation systems.
The Federal Securities Act required the government to register and approve all
issues of stocks and bonds. This act also created the Securities and Exchange
Commission (SEC), which regulates exchanges and transactions of securities.
Other reforms included the Home Owners Refinancing Act, which established
mortgage money for homeowners to refinance and the Banking Act of 1933, which
created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. It was empowered to guarantee
individual bank deposits up to $5000.
After the initial 100 days, reform continued throughout the first part of the
Roosevelt Administration. In November, 1933, the Civil Works Administration was
created by executive order, which provided temp jobs during the winter of 1933-34.
The Gold Reserve Act helped fix some of the problems of the economy at the roots. First all gold was transferred from the Federal Reserve to the National Treasury. FDR was also
empowered to fix the values of the dollar by weighing its value in gold. He later set the
price of gold at $35 per ounce, which in turn stabilized markets. The Silver Purchase
Act followed, allowing the government to have not only gold in the Treasury, but Silver as
well– valued at 1/3 the price of gold. The Communications Act of 1934 established one
of the most active federal agencies today, the Federal Communications Commission(FCC). It general purpose was to monitor radio, telegraph, and telephone communications.
In Roosevelt’s Annual Address to Congress on January 4, 1935, he outlined phase
two of the New Deal, whose main component would be the establishment of the modern
welfare system. The federal government would withdraw from the direct relief, leaving
it up to state and local governments. A program of social reforms would also be
included in the second half of the New Deal. This would include social security for the aged, unemployed and ill, as well as slum clearance and better housing.
One of the first acts of the New Deal, Phase II was the Emergency Relief Act. By
Executive Order, Roosevelt created three new relief agencies in 1935. The first would
be the Work Progress Administration (WPA), which would spend $11 billion on temporary construction jobs. Schools, theaters, museums, airfields, parks and post offices were constructed as a result. This increased the national purchasing power.
Another part of the Emergency Relief Act was the Resettlement Administration
(RA). Its goals were to improve the condition of farm families not already benefiting
from AAA, prevent waste by unprofitable farming operations or improper land use and
projects such as flood control and reforestation. This agency also resettled poor families
in “subsistence homestead communities”. These were basic suburbs constructed for the
city’s poor workers. Many times, these communities were known as “greenbelt towns”
because of their proximity to open space. Two model suburbs were set up– Greenbelt
in Washington DC and Greenhills in Cincinnati. Another aid to the farmer was the Rural
Electrification Administration (REA). Its goals were to provide electricity to isolated
areas where private utility companies did not see it profitable to run lines and set up
The year of 1935 brought with it numerous reform efforts. These were the final
efforts of the New Deal before the nation geared up for war. Included in this was the
National Labor Relations Act, whose most important function was to set up the National
Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which monitored corporations to ensure worker rights
and safety. The National Housing Act created the US Housing Authority (USHA) to
administer low-interest 60-year loans to small communities for slum clearance and
construction projects. This agency also gave subsidies to those landlords willing to offer
low-income housing. A Revenue Act of 1935 capped off the New Deal with a tax on
the rich, and a tax break on the middle classmen.
One of the most important and lasting effects of the Roosevelt Administration
was his into push for the Social Security Act of 1935. This was an innovative plan that
was supposed to lead to a nation-wide retirement system. It also established a cooperative federal-state welfare system/unemployment system. A tax was levied on the employee, which was met dollar for dollar by the employer. This tax went into a special
fund operated by the Social Security Administration. Later in life, when a person
reached retirement, they could draw the money out of this account that they had placed
The Supreme Court was fairly conservative, and attempted to shoot holes in
many of Roosevelt’s New Deal Programs. It felt that Roosevelt had taken his legislative
presidential power to recommend legislation too far, and that Congress was equally
responsible for allowing him to usurp the powers for reasons of what Roosevelt claimed
was a “national emergency”. In a statement made in May of 1935, one of the Supreme
Court Justices announced that “Congress had delegated virtually unfettered powers to
the [Roosevelt] Administration.– something truly inconsistent with the constitutional
prerogatives and duties of Congress.” The Supreme Court even went as far as to strike
the entire AAA program down, claiming that it violated state’s rights.
FDR was infuriated at the actions of the Court. He thought of them as nine old
men who were living in days gone by– far too conservative to see the economic and
social needs of today. He soon began to plan retribution, however in secrecy. Two
days after inviting the Justices to a formal social function at the White House, he called upon his staff to write up the Judicial Reform Act of 1937. Essentially, this document alleged that the Judicial Branch of the federal government was overwhelmed. The Act described a desperate situation in which reform and recovery issues were not flowing through government on a timely basis–simply because the Supreme Court was backed up. His answer to solve the dilemma was to use his executive power of appointment and place
more Justices on the Court. Another section of the Act suggested that at age 70 (most
of the Justices were above this age), each Justice would be supplemented with an additional Justice. This meant up to 15 Supreme Court Justices serving at one time. Roosevelt hoped to load the Court with social liberal Democrats who would not oppose his New Deal Programs. This became known as his “Court Packing Scheme”.
The President can appoint Justices, however, they must be approved by Congress.
After a long period of embarrassing debate, the Senate rejected Roosevelt’s proposal.
This, in turn, caused Roosevelt to reject the Senate. He set out on a mission to purge the
Democratic party of the moderate type thinker, replacing him with the ultra-liberal.
Roosevelt used his diplomatic and military powers in the later part of his
Administration nearly as much as he used his executive and legislative powers in the first
half. At the time Roosevelt took office, the nation was suprisingly isolationistic. This
started in the late nineteenth century, and continued up to the Roosevelt Administration.
When the Great Depression hit in the 1930’s, America became even more concerned
with its own problems. However, seeing the importance of a global view and seeing the
possible impact of World War II, Roosevelt directed the country toward nations abroad.
Roosevelt described his foreign policy as that of a good neighbor. The phrase
came to be used to describe the US attitude toward the countries of Latin America.
Under the policy, the United States took a stronger lead in promoting good will among
these nations. The Platt Amendment of 1901 gave the US the right to intervene in the
affairs of Cuba. In May of 1934, the government repealed this amendment. It also
withdrew American occupation forces from some Caribbean republics, and settled long-
standing oil disputes with Mexico. Roosevelt was the first to sign reciprocal trade
agreements with the Latin American countries, including Brazil, Columbia, Costa Rica,
Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti and Nicaragua. In 1935, the US signed treaties of
non-aggression and conciliation with six Latin American nations. This desire to spread
ties across the Western Hemispheres led to reciprocal trade agreements with Canada.
Roosevelt also used personal diplomacy by taking trips to various Latin American
nations. In July, 1934, he became the first American president to visit South American in
his trip to Columbia. In 1936, he attended the Inter-American Conference for the
Maintenance of Peace, in Buenos Aires.
Roosevelt used his diplomatic power of recognition to resume trading between
the Soviet Union and the US The recognition was given to the Soviet government in
November of 1933. This was the first attempt at civil relations since the Russian
Revolution in 1917. In 1933, for the first time in 16 years, the two nations exchanged
In 1937, Japan, at war with China, attacked a US river gunboat, the USS Panay,
on the Yangtze River, killing two US citizens. This event infuriated the American public
as well as the Roosevelt Administration. However, the US protested the Japanese
action rather than demanding action taken against them. Roosevelt used his diplomatic power and refused to recognize the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo in Northern China until there was an official apology. Shortly after Roosevelt’s statement, Japan made an official apology to the US and offend to pay for the damages in full.
Although Roosevelt set his sights upon a global society, many Americans
disagreed. This school of thought led to the Neutrality Acts of the 1930’s. These acts,
passed by Congress, prohibited the US from furnishing weapons or supplies to any
nation at war. President Roosevelt hoped that any more of these laws that would be enacted in the future would allow more flexibility. He disliked the fact that these Acts treated all nations the same, whether a country had attacked another or not.
No matter which of the above situations, Roosevelt handled these with ease, and precise presidential powers and thinking. Without Roosevelt as one of the nation’s president’s, This country would have taken a far longer road to recover than the straight one that lied ahead with Roosevelt in office.
William Slovzuch, F.D.R.; In his times, New York, Bantam Printing, 1985
Nathan Thompson, Our Great presidents, Boston, Little Brown, 1995
David Creaston, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, New York, Holiday House, 1992