Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Who was the only American president elected four times? The answer is: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As a young man, Roosevelt was crippled by polio. But Roosevelt refused to let the disease get in the way of his public career. He went on to serve as president for more than 12 years, longer than any other person.
BORN INTO WEALTH
Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882, on his family’s estate near Hyde Park, New York. He was the only child of wealthy parents. Roosevelt loved reading and spending time outdoors. He became a devoted birdwatcher. Private tutors educated him until age 14. Then, Roosevelt attended Groton, a boarding school in Massachusetts. He arrived at Groton in a private railroad car! Roosevelt later went to Harvard University and Columbia Law School.
While at Harvard, Roosevelt began to court his distant cousin, Eleanor Roosevelt. They were married in 1905. Eleanor became active in many causes and gained fame in her own right.
A RISING STAR
Roosevelt entered politics in 1910. He was elected to the state legislature in New York. Rich, handsome, and a cousin to President Theodore Roosevelt, he soon became well known. Nonetheless, the young politician lost a 1914 race for senator. He lost again as a candidate for vice president in 1920. But Roosevelt won recognition as a skillful and charming politician.
During World War I, Roosevelt was assistant secretary of the Navy. He served under President Woodrow Wilson.
POLIO STRIKES ROOSEVELT
Polio paralyzed Roosevelt’s legs in 1921. He learned to accept his disability, even joke about it. “That’s funny as a crutch,” he’d say. Roosevelt was determined to fight the paralysis. He swam and exercised daily. He was so active people often forgot that he couldn’t walk without crutches or leg braces.
As his strength grew, he devoted more time to politics. In 1929 Roosevelt was elected governor of New York. That October the stock market crashed, starting the Great Depression.
A PRESIDENT FOR HARD TIMES
In 1932 Roosevelt ran for president. He won, defeating Herbert Hoover. Times were tough. The Great Depression, the worst crisis since the Civil War, had forced thousands of factories and businesses to close. Millions of people were out of work.
Roosevelt immediately sent Congress legislation to help businesses and unemployed people. Roosevelt called his presidency the New Deal. Many new government agencies were set up. These agencies were often known by their initials, such as the NRA, AAA, or WPA. People even began calling the president by his initials, FDR. Some New Deal programs failed. Others, such as Social Security, proved popular and still exist today.
Roosevelt’s cheerful manner and broad smile inspired hope. He was the first president to regularly speak on radio. These weekly talks were called fireside chats. Millions of people tuned in to hear his reassuring voice.
WORLD WAR II
Roosevelt easily won a second term as president in 1936. But the hard times continued. It took another crisis, the start of World War II in 1939, to end the Great Depression. The war created millions of factory and military jobs.
World War II became the main concern for Roosevelt. The war encouraged Roosevelt to seek third and fourth terms in 1940 and 1944. By custom, no previous president served beyond two terms. FDR is the only president who was elected more than twice. A constitutional amendment now limits presidents to two terms.
Roosevelt proved a skillful commander in chief during the war. America and its allies were near victory when the nation’s longest-serving president died on April 12, 1945. He is buried at his family home near Hyde Park.