Franklin D. Roosevelt
(Not to be confused with The Presidents of the United States of America)
Herbert Hoover ← Franklin D. Roosevelt → Harry S. Truman
The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.
—Franklin D. Roosevelt, Oglethorpe University Commencement Address (22 May 1932)
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) was the longest serving President in US History, serving three full terms and starting his fourth when he died. No other President had even won a third term (a couple had tried — Grant and T.R. — but none were elected). And, thanks to the 22nd Amendment, no President since will be able to challenge his length of service (barring the very unlikely event of the 22nd being repealed).
Actually spent much of his life paralyzed from the waist down due to polio, including his Presidency, making him America's one and only handicapped President, unless one also counts Kennedy who had Addison's Disease. There was less scrutiny of public figures back then, which he combined with trick photography, leg braces that let him stand and walk short distances by swiveling, immense upper-body strength to hold himself up with the podium and other tactics to ease the public away from questioning why he was never pictured standing up on his own. (He was almost always leaning on somebody or something in the photos that show him standing.)
Famous for the New Deal, World War II and the "fireside chats". The last of these were thirty radio speeches, where he addressed the public directly and are an early example of what political analysts call "going public". They were more popular than every other show. His "New Deal" was put into action with the intent of saving the country from the Great Depression and possible revolution. Whether it had any effect, and whether this effect was positive, is still hotly debated. Even some in his own administration disagreed on it being effective including his treasury secretary Morgenthau and first vice president Garner. One component that absolutely didn't have a positive effect was the Agricultural Adjustment Act, which placed a limit on food production in a failed attempt to raise prices on crops by reducing supply, right before the dust bowl kicked in.
Furthermore, the worst thing he did in office was authorizing the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII; tens of thousands of American citizens were rounded up and put in prison camps solely for being of Japanese descent. Owch.
He was also something of a Magnificent Bastard. Recognizing the danger and evil Hitler represented, he bent, folded and spindled assorted laws and roadblocks preventing overt US assistance to the Allies in order to provide as much support as he could against significant political and popular opposition, in spite of making campaign promises to keep America out of the war. Then the attack on Pearl Harbor removed any significant opposition to joining the war, while Adolf Hitler was obliging enough to declare war on the USA shortly there after and remove any real objections to fighting the Nazis taking top priority. His supermajority in Congress and his emergency powers enabled him to run the USA almost like a monarch. The length of his presidency also ensured control over the courts and by the end of his life only one member of the Supreme Court, Owen Roberts, was not nominated by him (Roberts would resign within a few months of Truman taking office). The rulings of his judges on his policies include several extremely controversial cases, such as Wickard v. Filburn, United States v. Miller and most infamously Korematsu v. United States. These are made even more controversial by one appointee, Hugo Black, holding a solid gold passport that was proof of his life membership in the Ku Klux Klan.
Before he was President, he was Assistant Secretary of the Navy during World War I. The sole thing he did here that he's remembered for (except possibly accusations he was responsible for the lax defense of Pearl Harbor) during this position occurred after the war. In 1919 he ran an entrapment campaign to locate and persecute sailors who engaged in homosexual acts during leave, using Americans sailors he ordered into these acts as bait. His actions in what would be called the Newport Scandal got him censured by Congress.
His wife Eleanor Roosevelt (a fifth cousin) was the first First Lady to actually take an open role in government (Woodrow Wilson's wife did in secret when he had a stroke). She became hated by many, an experience she would share with several of her successors, including Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton, and Michelle Obama. She was viciously insulted as being ugly.
The Roosevelts had a complex relationship. After she first learned Franklin cheated on her with her secretary, Lucy Mercer, Eleanor offered him a divorce, but Franklin declined--both for the sake of his political career and because his mother (who had something of a rivalry with Eleanor) threatened to disinherit him if he did. They never shared a bedroom after that, but their working relationship was respectful, for the time. As Franklin's polio prevented him from traveling, Eleanor became his eyes and ears, and a great political tool. When disgruntled veterans marched on Washington during Hoover's administration, wanting their pensions early because of the Depression, it was noted that Hoover sent the army to drive them away, while FDR sent his wife to give them charitable goods.
The Republican-controlled Congress changed the Constitution after he left, so no one else can serve for more than eight years (or up to ten if they take over for less than two years of another president's term). This turned out, ironically, to primarily affect Republicans: only one Democratic president (Bill Clinton) and three Republicans (Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush) so far have actually served long enough to be affected by the term limit. (Sitting President Harry S. Truman was grandfathered in by the amendment; Lyndon B. Johnson served less than two years of John F. Kennedy's term and could have run for one more term. Both of them chose not to run again for political and personal reasons.)
He's consistently ranked by scholars and the public as one of the greatest Presidents in American history, next to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln while among libertarians and some conservatives he's actually considered the worst for his dramatic expansion of government and human rights abuse.
- Batman Gambit: How he got Harry S. Truman to be his running mate. In 1944, the Democratic Party leadership decided that Henry Wallace was too liberal to be Vice President for Roosevelt's fourth term; the leadership knew that FDR's health was not what it once was, and that his Vice President would be very likely to become President. They eventually settled on Truman as an acceptable next President, but there was just one problem: Truman didn't want to be VP. As a result, the leaders brought Truman to a hotel room, where Roosevelt was waiting to speak to him over the phone from Washington. Roosevelt excoriated Truman for threatening Democratic party unity during wartime, and (seemingly) hung up in a huff. Little did Truman know that this whole thing had been carefully rehearsed in exactly the way required to get at one of Truman's weak points: he was nothing if not a Democratic loyalist, and accusing him of breaking party unity was tantamount to calling him a traitor. Truman accepted, and the rest is history.
- Big Good: Okay, Black and Grey Morality aside, he was the beacon of leadership for the Americans during World War II, alongside Winston Churchill, and is still considered by many to be among the greatest American presidents in history.
- Bring It: In a speech given in his re-election campaign, he made an open statement about the wealthy backers of his challenger (he cracked down on wall street to try to correct the actions that caused the stock market crash of 1929), he said this to the big businesses who opposed him:
We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me--and I welcome their hatred!
- Canine Companion: Fala.
- Chekhov's Gunman: His first appearance on the national political stage was as James Cox's running mate in 1920. Twelve years later...
- Drinking on Duty: Of course, everyone of that class took a little tipple during working hours, things got really out of hand when Winston Churchill visited The White House in the winter of 1941-42. The two of them--the leaders of two of the top four powers in the world--took decisions affecting the fate of the entire world while absolutely sloshed at about 2:00 in the morning, occasionally getting up to some pretty odd antics (like the one time FDR ran into Churchill while he was bathing--"Great men have nothing to hide from one another"). They turned out to be excellent decisions. Go figure.
- Freudian Trio: The Ego to Stalin's superego and Churchill's id.
- Handicapped Badass: If you just skimmed this page, let us remind you, he ran the country during The Great Depression and World War II while diagnosed with freaking polio. And he faked not having polio despite the tremendous strain it had on his body--he even had a car modified with hand controls before automatic transmissions existed. Must be running off Teddy's stash of badassery.
- Heterosexual Life Partners: With Winston Churchill. They got along famously with each other and to this day, probably the best relationship ever shared between the President and Prime Minister.
- Bush and Blair as well as Carter and Callaghan also rank highly on that list.
- Historical Hero Upgrade: His racism and imprisoning US citizens in tightly packed barracks in Death Valley and malaria infested swamps for no crime is generally flat out ignored in fiction. Same with any accusation the New Deal was not effective.
- Insult Backfire: FDR was from one of the wealthiest families in New York, yet it was America's wealthy who hated him more than any other Americans. A wealthy socialite once called him, "a traitor to his class" which was overheard by the press and became so widely quoted that everybody knew the insult. And since this was The Great Depression, when the wealthy weren't held in such high regard, the insult made FDR even more popular among the general public.
- The Kirk: To Winston Churchill's The McCoy and Stalin's The Spock.
- Mid-Atlantic Accent: Probably the most prominent (non-movie star) example of this accent in recent history; not unexpected, given that it was created to be the accent of the American upper class.
- Our Presidents Are Different
- Politically-Correct History: The main heading details his attempts to conceal his lack of use of his legs from the public (the picture at the top is one of the only two showing him using a wheelchair. The other can be seen here); the FDR memorial features a statue of him seated in a wheelchair which was added well after the initial design phase because disability rights groups complained that this aspect of his life was being ignored.
- What Could Have Been: If not for Roosevelt's untimely death, the Vietnam War would probably never have happened. He was in favor of the Viet Minh rebels and despised Western colonialism in all its forms; it's very possible, if not likely, that he would have told the French to suck it if they asked for Indochina back.
- He constantly would pester Churchill to grant India independence. One of the biggest disagreements the two ever had.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Even the super-paranoid FBI director J. Edgar Hoover (not to be confused with Herbert Hoover) was not happy about Roosevelts' racist policy of Japanese internment. The objection may have been at the implication he wasn't good at his job (If the FBI already caught the problems, why would the entire population need to be interned?).
- Churchill had one of these moments when Stalin proposed the mass execution of captive German officers, and Roosevelt cracked a joke about it.
- Many history students have this when they realize that he refused to acknowledge Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics and denied him the courtesies that are usually extended to Olympic winners by the President.
- At the time, many felt this regarding his attempt to expand the number of Justices in the Supreme Court, specifically so he could appoint guys that agreed with him over the New Deal. It tarnished his credibility for quite a while, and he consequently achieved a Pyrrhic Victory once the Justices retired (or died) later on.
- FDR was retconned to be the founder of the Justice Society of America, and his fictional super-powered great-grandson, "Lance" Reid, was a member in pre-Flashpoint continuity.
- The Super Soldier Serum taken by Captain America was, according to some comics, supposed to go to FDR after it had been tested. This would cure the effects of the polio and let him walk on his own again. Cap himself had a bit of hero-worship going on for Roosevelt. Considering that FDR personally presented him with his indestructible round shield, you can understand the good feeling.
- Played in the film version of Annie by Edward Herrmann, who had previously portrayed him in the made-for-TV biopics Eleanor and Franklin and Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years.
- Played by Jon Voight in the film Pearl Harbor.
- Played by Kenneth Branagh in Warm Springs.
- He also appeared in Yankee Doodle Dandy.
- A still-living nonagenarian FDR is portrayed as a high-ranking secret society member in the Illuminatus! trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea.
- Appears several times in Alternate History works by Harry Turtledove:
- In Worldwar he dies early, in 1944, due to the extra stress of having to manage a war against alien invaders and constantly being moved around the country. Henry Wallace was still his Vice President, but he had already been killed in an attack on Seattle and so Secretary of State Cordell Hull succeeded FDR as President.
- In TL-191 his analogue, known as "Franklin Roosevelt" rather than by his acronym, is the Secretary for Defence under President Charlie La Follette of the Socialist Party. As this is a less high-profile position, he is open about being disabled.
- After playing FDR on stage (see Theatre, below), Ralph Bellamy played FDR as President in the TV miniseries The Winds Of War and War and Remembrance.
- The King of Queens. Doug's father-in-law is still sensitive to the topic of FDR's polio.
- A character on Seinfeld is referred to as "FDR", which is then explained to stand for "Franklin Delano Romanowski", a disgruntled hotdog vendor who lives in Jerry and Kramer's building.
- In the All in The Family episode "Cousin Maude's Visit", Maude (who later got her own show) is shown to love Roosevelt, calling him "a saint". Archie's "secret weapon" against her is insulting FDR.
- Ironically, Harold Gray was a staunchly conservative opponent of the New Deal and was not shy about using Little Orphan Annie as a political platform. (FDR and the New Deal are, of course, portrayed positively in the musical, which was written after Gray's death.)
- The play (and subsequent film) Sunrise at Campobello feature Ralph Bellamy as a young FDR, and chronicle his early struggles with polio.
- He appears in the musical Annie.
- Like most other politicians (and some that aren't even politicians) of the time-period, Roosevelt is a possible (and indeed, the default) Head of State for the USA in Hearts of Iron 2.
- He is also a choice for leader of America in Civilization 4, along with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
- Assassin's Creed II gives him a little bit of a Historical Villain Upgrade, playing off the real life controversies like the Japanese Internment and his court-packing scheme, and implies that he used a Piece of Eden to navigate the country through the Great Depression. He was also apparently one of four Knights Templar in charge of the world's major superpowers, and helped to orchestrate World War II as a way of creating a New World Order. The other three? Churchill, Stalin, and Hitler.