FDR Essay - Critical Essays

Ted Morgan


The reader is introduced to the Roosevelt and the Delano families on their estates on the Hudson River, back in the nineteenth century. From 1882 onward, and all the way to graduation from Harvard University, the reader becomes familiar with young Franklin through his mother’s letters, his own, and those of friends. Law school, marriage, and a job as law clerk follow, interspersed with all the pleasant activities of wealthy young men in the early years of the new century, and some peculiar to a Roosevelt alone, such as visits to the White House to see “Cousin Teddy.”

Public life calls as early as 1909 with a chance to run for the Democratic Assembly in Dutchess County, New York, and Franklin’s instinctive reply is, “I’d like to talk to my mother about it first.” Immediately afterward, however, he exclaims, “I’ll take it!” and thus sets his foot onto the road leading to the presidency. Roosevelt went from being senator of New York, to the assistant secretary of the Navy, to governor of New York, to president, encountering all the hazards and the joys that such a steep climb presents. He experienced the problems of politics, a bad marriage, a crippling illness, and a world at war. Yet he also enjoyed great personal success, power, and loyal friends.

Morgan, looking at events from a distance of time, deals with them fairly. He sees aspects of our present society as either a continuation or a direct result of FDR’s leadership. Social security and farm subsidies are only two examples. Our intricate system of government run by the competing forces of big government, big business, and big labor began with Roosevelt when he raised this country from the depths of the Depression.

Morgan is at his best when he implies that man and country are one: both young, strong, rich, and resourceful; both sent to the lowest level of despair. Both, however, do rise again, straining to ever greater heights and achievements. The man who could not walk enters a campaign whose very terminology is that of a race, and the country that lay prostrate ascends to world leadership.