Franklin Delano Roosevelt Essay - Roosevelt, Franklin Delano

Gerald W. Johnson

Roosevelt, Franklin Delano


Roosevelt, Franklin Delano 1882-1945

American statesman.

The thirty-second president of the United States of America, Roosevelt is considered among the greatest political leaders of the twentieth century. Elected to the office of president for an unprecedented four consecutive terms, he served as U.S. chief executive from 1933 to his death in 1945. The economic reforms implemented by Roosevelt in response to the Great Depression of the 1930s—known collectively as the "New Deal"—are thought to have transformed the role of the federal government as a regulator of social and economic security. For his leadership of the United States during the Second World War, Roosevelt is acknowledged as a champion of liberal democracy. Furthermore, among his numerous impacts on world politics in the twentieth century, Roosevelt's actions late in his administration are viewed as instrumental in the creation of the United Nations.

Biographical Information

Roosevelt was born on 30 January 1882, the only child of James and Sarah Delano Roosevelt, members of a wealthy and influential New York family. He was educated privately until the age of fourteen, when he entered Groton. He attended Harvard University beginning in 1900, and there was engaged to Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, a distant cousin. He studied law at Columbia University, passed the bar, and became a law clerk at a Wall Street firm. In 1910, Roosevelt entered politics, winning the New York state senate race as a Democrat. He was reelected in 1912, and that year offered his support to the successful presidential campaign of Woodrow Wilson. In return for his aid, Wilson named Roosevelt assistant secretary of the navy, a position he retained throughout the First World War. Roosevelt entered the 1914 United States Senate race in New York, but was defeated by Tammany Hall. His 1920 vice-presidential hopes on the Democratic ticket with James Cox were likewise disappointed. In the summer of 1921 Roosevelt was stricken with poliomyelitis, a disease that left him completely paralyzed for a time. A long period of convalescence followed, during which Roosevelt retreated to Warm Springs, Georgia, where his condition significantly improved, though he never regained the use of his legs. He returned to politics in 1928, waging a successful campaign for the governorship of New York. While governor, Roosevelt witnessed the disastrous 1929 stock market crash and the beginning of the most severe economic depression in U.S. history. He won reelection in 1930, and two years later ran his first presidential campaign, defeating the Republican incumbent Herbert Hoover.

Roosevelt's first term as U.S. President was a period of frenzied activity in response to the extreme economic crisis that gripped the nation. Roosevelt's program of relief measures, the New Deal, was designed to provide assistance to suffering Americans and to spur the stagnant economy through a series of federal expenditures and initiatives. Among the programs instituted were the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration; the implementation of a social security program for the unemployed and elderly; and the establishment of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the National Recovery Administration. Roosevelt was reelected in 1936, despite the fact that certain portions of the New Deal, including the National Industrial Recovery Act, were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. As the Great Depression continued through the 1930s, Roosevelt's attentions were increasingly drawn toward Europe, where the aggression of Nazi Germany could no longer be ignored. Large-scale war had broken out with Adolf Hitler's 1939 invasion of Poland. In 1940 Roosevelt was reelected for a third term. Meanwhile, military preparations had already begun in the United States, and Roosevelt initiated the "Lend-Lease" Bill, which granted Great Britain much-needed munitions and supplies for the war with Germany. The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 7 December 1941 prompted the U.S. to declare war, drawing the nation into battle in Europe and the Pacific.

Roosevelt's principal activities during wartime, aside from his position as commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces, included his diplomatic role in the alliance with Britain and the Soviet Union. Roosevelt's meeting with Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin at Teheran in 1943 resulted in a U.S. promise to provide a second front in the European theater via an invasion of German-controlled France. A second historic summit between Roosevelt, Stalin, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill occurred in February, 1945 at Yalta. By this time, the war in Europe was nearing its end and Allied victory appeared imminent. Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill entered negotiations concerning the occupation of Eastern Europe and other wartorn areas following the end of hostilities. While many of the assurances made by both Roosevelt and Stalin were never realized, the U.S. leader did succeed in winning international support for the development of the United Nations. Two months after his return to the United States, on the morning of 12 April 1945, Roosevelt suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died at Warm Springs.

Major Works

During his life Roosevelt produced very little in the way of written works, save for his personal correspondence and the mass of documents that have been collected in The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Among the texts contained in this work are transcripts of Roosevelt's well-publicized "fireside chats"—radio addresses to the American people that he conducted throughout his presidency. Roosevelt's speeches of note include his acceptance speech for the 1932 U.S. presidential nomination, his first inaugural address of 1933, and his 1937 "Quarantine" speech calling for a check on the aggression of the Axis Powers, Germany, Italy, and Japan. While scholars acknowledge that these speeches were composed in large part by professional speechwriters, Roosevelt had the final say as to their content, and frequently made emendations to their texts. Critics of the speeches have since analyzed their rhetorical merit and technique, as well as their historical significance in order to achieve a broad understanding of Roosevelt as a politician and orator.

Critical Reception

While Roosevelt's historical significance as a U.S. president and a world leader has never been doubted, the progress of critical reevaluation undertaken in the years since his death has produced a somewhat more balanced view of Roosevelt and his accomplishments. In terms of his domestic policies, commentators have observed that New Deal legislation largely failed to improve the stagnant U.S. economy, which did not strengthen until 1941 and the consequent shift to wartime production. As a defender of democracy, it has been noted that Roosevelt properly recognized the menace of Hitler's Fascist expansionism, but was unable to discern the similar threat of Soviet totalitarianism—a fact borne out by what contemporary critics see as Stalin's extensive diplomatic manipulation of Roosevelt at the Teheran and Yalta conferences. Further estimations of Roosevelt have portrayed him as elusive and dissembling, qualities that he may have used to his advantage in diplomatic negotiations, but which called into question previously held perceptions of his impeccable moral character. Others have remarked that Roosevelt often vacillated in or delayed his decisions, with untold consequences. Despite his faults, however, contemporary scholars generally concur in their assessment of Roosevelt as a formidable figure in world history whose profound commitment to justice and the traditions of American democracy are unsurpassed.

Principal Works

The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt (1928-1936). 5 vols, (memoranda, speeches, and miscellany) 1938

The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt (1937-1940). 4 vols. (memoranda, speeches, and miscellany) 1941


David S. Muzzey (review date 1942)

SOURCE: "Public Papers of Franklin D. Roosevelt," in Political Science Quarterly, Vol. LVII, No. 3, September, 1942, pp. 426-31.

[In the following review of The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Muzzey considers the comprehensiveness and accuracy of this collection of presidential documents.]

Supplementing the five volumes which covered the years of the governorship and the first presidential administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, these four volumes1 (compiled and collated, like the previous ones, by Samuel I. Rosenman) cover the exceptionally important years of the second administration. As the titles suggest, the first two of...

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Bessie C. Randolph (essay date 1943)

SOURCE: A review of The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, in American Journal of International Law, Vol. 37, No. 1, January, 1943, pp. 172-74.

[In the following review, Randolph favorably assesses The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt.]

In 1938 the compiler of [The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt] published five volumes which contained the papers of Franklin D. Roosevelt issued during his two terms as Governor of New York, 1929-1933, and also during his first term as President of the United States—from March 4, 1933, to January 19, 1937. He has now compiled the papers for the President's second...

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Robert T. Oliver (essay date 1945)

SOURCE: "The Speech That Established Roosevelt's Reputation," in The Quarterly Journal of Speech, Vol. XXXI, No. 3, October, 1945, pp. 274-82.

[In the following essay, Oliver examines Roosevelt's delivery of his 1932 presidential nomination acceptance speech as the turning point in his political career.]

Chicago was the scene of the most dramatically staged speech of Franklin D. Roosevelt's career—his acceptance of the nomination for the presidency, in the Chicago Stadium, on Saturday, July 2, 1932.

This speech marked the real turning point in his political reputation. It ended the "Frank is good natured but lacks brains and leadership" period and...

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Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (essay date 1950)

SOURCE: "Roosevelt and His Detractors," in Understanding the American Past: American History and Its Interpretation, edited by Edward N. Saveth, Little, Brown and Company, 1950, pp. 514-28.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1950, Schlesinger responds to revisionist critics of Roosevelt's wartime foreign policy.]

The storm of controversy around the foreign policy of Franklin D. Roosevelt is already as furious and looks to be as enduring as that which has raged around the foreign policy of Woodrow Wilson since 1919. War brings an almost inevitable aftermath of disillusion; and the failure of this last war to produce even an approximation of peace has...

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Eleanor Roosevelt (essay date 1954)

SOURCE: "On My Husband," in It Seems to Me, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1954, pp. 164-72.

[In the following excerpt from It Seems to Me, a collection of questions and answers from letters addressed to Roosevelt's wife, Eleanor Roosevelt discusses some of the personal qualities of her husband.]

Do you think your husband had any premonition that he might not live to complete his last term in the White House ?

No, I do not think my husband had any premonition that he would not live to finish his term in the White House. Four years previously I think he had a feeling that any man well might not live through a third term. But, having...

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Waldo W. Braden and Earnest Brandenburg (essay date 1955)

SOURCE: "Roosevelt's Fireside Chats," in Speech Monographs, Vol. XXII, No. 5, November, 1955, pp. 290-302.

[In the following essay, Braden and Brandenburg explore the significance and effectiveness of Roosevelt's direct communication with the American people via radio with his so-called "Fireside Chats. "]

At a tense moment in his career Franklin D. Roosevelt opened one of his speeches with these sentences:

Our government, happily, is a democracy. As part of the democratic process, your President is again taking an opportunity to report on the progress of national affairs to the real rulers of this country—the voting public....

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An Intimate Talk With the People of the United States on Banking

Two days after he became President, Roosevelt sought to meet the banking crisis by the temporary closing of all banks. Only six days later, with the banks of the entire nation still closed, Roosevelt delivered a radio message described in his Public Papers as an "intimate talk with the people of the United States on banking." He began: "I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking. . . . I know that when you understand what we in Washington have been about I shall continue to have your cooperation as fully as I have had your sympathy and help during the past week." The President explained the crisis in "A.B.C. fashion" and urged the people "not to repeat their own...

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Discussing the Plan for Reorganization of the Judiciary

Franklin Roosevelt's personal prestige had risen higher than ever before at the beginning of 1937. In the election of the previous year, the most one-sided election since 1820, he had carried every section of the country; his party had won a greater majority in Congress than any modern president's; many Congressmen were well aware that they had "ridden Roosevelt's coattails into office." Moreover, the campaign of 1936 had been "primarily concerned with the personality and principles of . . . Franklin D. Roosevelt."23

The overwhelming mandate from the people convinced the President that he could carry out the remainder of his policies without delay. He was convinced that his "Congressional...

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We Must be the Great Arsenal of Democracy

The might of the German war machine, as it crushed Western Europe, convinced the President and the American people of the desirability of aiding the British and of assuming the role of a non-belligerent. Although many in the United States were still determined to keep their country from entering the war,46 they gradually came to believe that helping England was more important than staying out of the conflict.47 Roosevelt decided to speak to the American people on Sunday evening, December 29, 1940. According to Robert Sherwood:

Roosevelt really enjoyed working on this speech for, with the political campaign over, it was the first chance he had had in months and...

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Maintaining Freedom of the Seas

On June 20, 1941, the President delivered a speech revealing that an American merchant vessel, the Robin Moor, had been sunk May 21 by a German submarine in the South Atlantic while en route to South Africa.53 In August, 1941, the President and Prime Minister Churchill met secretly and agreed upon the joint declaration of August 14, 1941, which became known as the "Atlantic Charter." As American determination to see that Great Britain got sorely needed supplies increased, and as American armed patrols moved farther into the Atlantic, "warlike" incidents multiplied.54

His entire address of September 11, 1941, delivered by radio to his "fellow-Americans," dealt with the...

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Rexford G. Tugwell (essay date 1956)

SOURCE: "Franklin D. Roosevelt on the Verge of the Presidency," in The Antioch Review, Vol. XVI, No. 1, March, 1956, pp. 46-79.

[In the following essay, Tugwell surveys the challenges faced by Roosevelt at the beginning of his first term of presidency in 1933.]

Early in the day on 4 March 1933 Franklin D. Roosevelt with his new official family, asked the blessing of God on the administration which was about to begin. He might well ask for Divine assistance; no other seemed adequate to the national exigency. The degeneration of the economic system had not been stayed by the prospect of a change in Washington. If anything, conditions were worse; and they were certainly...

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Dorothy Borg (essay date 1957)

SOURCE: "Notes on Roosevelt's 'Quarantine' Speech," in Political Science Quarterly, Vol. LXXII, No. 3, September, 1957, pp. 405-33.

[In the following essay, Borg focuses on the political contexts of Roosevelt's 1937 "quarantine" speechan address aimed at checking the aggression of the Axis powersand examines the domestic response to U. S. involvement in restraining belligerent nations.]

The "quarantine" speech which President Roosevelt made at Chicago on October 5, 1937, is generally assumed to have been a landmark in our foreign policy, showing the point at which the President made a definite decision to take a strong stand against the Axis Powers....

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Richard L. Watson, Jr. (essay date 1958)

SOURCE: "Franklin D. Roosevelt in Historical Writing, 1950-1957," in The South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. LVII, No. 1, Winter, 1958, pp. 104-26.

[In the following essay, Watson offers a critical overview of historical monographs on Roosevelt of the 1950s.]

Almost ten years ago, David Potter contributed an article to the Yale Review entitled "Sketches for the Roosevelt Portrait."1 Potter pointed out that rarely had there been an opportunity to document so well the life of a public figure as prominent as Franklin D. Roosevelt. Almost all the major figures associated with him save Stalin, Marshall, and, of course, the President himself, had already...

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Morton J. Frisch (essay date 1962)

SOURCE: "Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Problem of Democratic Liberty," in ETHICS: An international Journal of Social, Political, and Legal Philosophy, Vol. LXXII, No. 3, April, 1962, pp. 180-92.

[In the following essay, Frisch discusses Roosevelt's efforts to preserve American democracy during the Great Depression.]

The literature on Franklin D. Roosevelt generally reflects praise from those who call themselves liberals and criticism from those who call themselves conservatives.1 Both major factions in American politics have been so preoccupied with the intricacies of the class struggle that a proper understanding of Roosevelt as a democratic statesman has...

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Thomas W. Benson (essay date 1969)

SOURCE: "Inaugurating Peace: Franklin D. Roosevelt's Last Speech," in Speech Monographs, Vol. XXXVI, No. 2, June, 1969, pp. 138-47.

[In the following essay, Benson investigates various drafts of Roosevelt's final speech, which was to be delivered in April of 1945.]

The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.

In the spring of 1945 it was evident to the nation that the war in Europe would soon end in victory for the Allies. It was also evident to some that Franklin Roosevelt was failing. In early April Roosevelt, weary from his...

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Athan Theoharis (essay date 1972)

SOURCE: "'Roosevelt and Truman on Yalta': The Origins of the Cold War," in Political Science Quarterly, Vol. LXXXVII, No. 2, June, 1972, pp. 210-41.

[In the following essay, Theoharis examines United States policy toward the Soviet Union in the 1940s, contrasting Roosevelt's ambivalence and largely conciliatory approach with Truman's more rigidly anti-Soviet stance.]

Only recently has the question of the origins of the cold war seriously divided American historians, the emergence of a "revisionist" school coinciding with intensive research into primary sources. Yet, revisionists do disagree over whether there existed a discontinuity between President Roosevelt's and...

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Halford Ross Ryan (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: "Roosevelt's First Inaugural: A Study of Technique," in The Quarterly Journal of Speech, Vol. 65, No. 2, April, 1979, pp. 137-49.

[In the following essay, Ryan analyzes the rhetorical technique of Roosevelt's first inaugural address.]

Historian David Potter's observation that, by historical hindsight, the critic might not perceive events as contemporaries comprehended them1 is germane to a study of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's First Inaugural Address. Although Roosevelt had large majorities in the Congress, he could not know the "Hundred Days" legislation would pass without Congressional demurral or difficulty. To assume that FDR knew of his...

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Lord George-Brown (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: "Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1882-1945," in The Voices of History: Great Speeches of the English Language, Stein & Day, 1979, pp. 202-08.

[In the following excerpt, George-Brown introduces selections from Roosevelt's most historically significant speeches.]

Governor of New York before he became the thirty-second President of the United States in 1932, Roosevelt was a powerful speaker. He won the Presidency in four consecutive elections, and during this long period in office was the first President to broadcast directly to the people.

In 1932, the country was in the thick of unprecedented depression. Roosevelt's first Inaugural Address on 4...

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Isaiah Berlin (essay date 1980)

SOURCE: "President Franklin Delano Roosevelt," in Personal Impressions, edited by Henry Hardy, The Hogarth Press, 1980, pp. 23-31.

[In the following essay, Berlin gives his impressions of Roosevelt and his influence, characterizing him as "the greatest leader of democracy, the greatest champion of social progress in the twentieth century. "]

I never met Roosevelt, and although I spent more than three years in Washington during the war, I never even saw him. I regret this, for it seems to me that to see and, in particular, to hear the voice of someone who has occupied one's imagination for many years, must modify one's impression in some profound way, and make it...

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Kenneth S. Davis (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: "FDR as a Biographer's Problem," in The American Scholar, Vol. 52, Winter, 1983/84, pp. 100-08.

[In the following essay, Davis presents a profile of Roosevelt's character.]

When, more years ago than I like to count, a publisher approached me with the proposal that I do a book about Franklin Delano Roosevelt, only the accompanying offer of what was for those days a quite large advance against royalties was tempting to me. It was a temptation I resisted. The flood of Rooseveltiana already in print, including several established classics, was overwhelming; I saw no need to add to it. The risks and difficulties of the proposed project were formidable. There was the...

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Robert Nisbet (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: "Roosevelt and Stalin (I)," in Modern Age, Vol. 30, No. 2, Spring, 1986, pp. 103-12.

[In the following essay, the first in a series of two, Nisbet examines Roosevelt's "uncritical, unconditional adulation" of Joseph Stalin from 1941 through the Yalta summit in 1945.]

It is unlikely that history holds a stranger, more improbable and unequal political courtship than President Roosevelt's courtship of Marshal Stalin in World War II. The very idea is arresting: Roosevelt, patrician, born with the silver spoon, Grotonand Harvard-educated aristocrat in American politics; Stalin, low-born revolutionist and bandit from early years, successor by sheer ruthlessness to...

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Robert Nisbet (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: "Roosevelt and Stalin (II)," in Modern Age, Vol. 30, Nos. 3-4, Summer/Fall, 1986, pp. 205-17.

[In the following essay, Nisbet continues his analysis of Roosevelt's credulity toward Stalin.]

President Roosevelt's World War II courtship of Stalin reached its heights, as I have indicated, in the two summit meetings at Teheran and Yalta. At the first, during the course of three private talks with Stalin from which Churchill was excluded, FDR made clear that he would go along with Stalin's territorial desires in Eastern Europe and assured Stalin also that America would put up little if any protest over annexation of the Baltic states. He also gave his personal...

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John Duffy (essay date 1987)

SOURCE: "Franklin Roosevelt: Ambiguous Symbol for Disabled Americans," in The Midwest Quarterly, Vol. XXIX, No. 1, Autumn, 1987, pp. 113-35.

[In the following essay, Duffy maintains that Roosevelt was not an advocate for disabled Americans, calling this a myth perpetuated by Roosevelt's biographers.]

President Franklin D. Roosevelt provides an ambiguous symbol for disabled people. In spite of his work on behalf of Warm Springs, the rehabilitation institute in Georgia he helped to found, Roosevelt, by his failure to act to reduce physical barriers, retarded the social and economic progress of his fellow disabled Americans. Instead of assisting disabled people to...

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Richard P. Adelstein (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: "'The Nation as an Economic Unit': Keynes, Roosevelt, and the Managerial Ideal," in The Journal of American History, Vol. 78, No. 1, June, 1991, pp. 160-87.

[In the following essay, Adelstein studies Roosevelt's economic policy during the Great Depression in view of John Maynard Keynes's economic theory and American managerialism of the twentieth century.]

In a penetrating essay written in 1979, Robert Skidelsky directed attention to the political dimension of John Maynard Keynes's achievement and located its historical significance in the fundamental tension between this century's two great paradigms of social organization—"Freedom" and...

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Amos Perlmutter (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: "The President's Style and World View," and "Roosevelt and His War Strategy," in FDR & Stalin: A Not So Grand Alliance, 1943-1945, University of Missouri Press, 1993, pp. 25-56.

[In the following excerpt, Perlmutter probes Roosevelt's enigmatic worldview and evaluates the merits and faults of his wartime strategy. ]


How did Roosevelt arrive at decisions? What was the nature of the process? What or who influenced him? What information did he consider in making key decisions? What was his frame of reference at Teheran and Yalta? How did the president conduct the war day by day? What personal...

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Louis Auchincloss (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: "The Inner FDR," in The Style's the Man: Reflections on Proust, Fitzgerald, Wharton, Vidal, and Others, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1994, pp. 37-45.

[In the following essay, Auchincloss speculates on Roosevelt's elusive inner character. ]

Along the walls of the main hall of the classroom building of Groton School were hung, in chronological order, the framed autographed letters of the presidents of the United States. Since Theodore Roosevelt, whose sons had attended the school, these letters had all been addressed to the headmaster. As a fourth-former in the winter of 1933, I eagerly awaited the hanging of the letter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Groton '00. Would...

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Cliff Lewis (essay date 1995)

SOURCE: "Art for Politics: John Steinbeck and FDR," in After The Grapes of Wrath: Essays on John Steinbeck in Honor of Tetsumaro Hayashi, edited by Donald V. Coers, Paul D. Ruffin and Robert J. DeMott, Ohio University Press, 1995, pp. 23-39.

[In the following essay, Lewis explores John Steinbeck's efforts on behalf of Roosevelt during the Second World War. ]

The Nazi attack in Europe led to many American artists' participation in government war projects. Writer John Steinbeck was among those whom the Roosevelt administration called upon for assistance. Steinbeck's war contributions to the Roosevelt Administration included suggestions for an espionage program,...

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Further Reading


Davis, Kenneth S. FDR: The Beckoning of Destiny, 1882-1928: A History. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1972, 936 p.

Examines Roosevelt's life prior to his presidency.

——. FDR: The New Deal Years, 1933-1937: A History. New York: Random House, 1986, 756 p.

Biography of Roosevelt during his first presidential term that investigates the nature and effectiveness of his New Deal policies.

Morgan, Ted. FDR: A Biography. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985, 830 p.

Comprehensive study of Roosevelt's life and political career.



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