Since President John F. Kennedy was closer to my times it was natural that I read many books about him. He was, for many of us, a childhood hero and I still remember November 22, 1963 and the newspapers headlines that day. However, for many of a previous generation, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the first and only President of the United States to hold office for an unprecedented four terms, from 1933 till he passed away in 1945, was the ultimate Democrat leader. I had of course heard about FDR especially his term of office during the Second World War, but not knowing too much about his early days, it was with considerable interest that I read, ” Franklin D. Roosevelt: Road To The New Deal” by Roger Daniels, Charles Phelps Taft Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Cincinnati, published by the University of Illinois Press.
This book covers FDR’s life from 1889 to 1939 and concentrates on his early career as a politician, moving on to how he became the Governor of New York and later the President of the United States. It is well-known that when he was sworn in for his first term in 1933, succeeding the incumbent President, the Republican Herbert Hoover, the United States was in the throes of a deep economic recession. The Great Depression, as people called it , saw fortunes of many of the rich being wiped out as also thousands upon thousands of men and women being rendered jobless, with millions being homeless in a time of increasing despair.
Daniels covers in great detail Roosevelt’s early years in politics when he was first motivated by the achievements of his cousin, an earlier President of the United States, Theodore S. Roosevelt. Like Teddy Roosevelt, FDR wanted to become the Asst. Secretary of the Navy, and he achieved this dream when he occupied this post from 1913 to 1920, during and after the First World War. He was first elected to the Senate in 1910 and showed great promise even in his younger days when he was identified by many politicians, business leaders, journalists, and people at large alike, to be a future leader and Presidential nominee of the Democrats.
In 1921, he was affected by polio which left him paralyzed below the waist. For most, this would have been a crippling blow to their career but Roosevelt, only 39 at that time, showed tremendous spirit to overcome his disabilities and pursue his dreams.
The book covers the New Deal which made Roosevelt more famous than ever before as many of the schemes he launched in those years, bore fruit to improve the lives of millions of his countrymen. A good judge of people, FDR chose a wide range of advisors and gave enhanced responsibilities to his team members and colleagues who then became more accountable for their actions and the achievement of their goals.
To my mind, the book also brings out another issue which we often forget when we talk of Roosevelt’s deeds in office. He achieved all this despite his physical handicaps which would have been enough to discourage almost everyone else. If, like me, you enjoy historical biographies, this one about perhaps the most successful Presidents of the United States makes for interesting reading.