Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) was the 32nd president of the United States. His time in office coincided with the Great Depression, World War II and the first cracks that opened into the Cold War.
Roosevelt was born in Hyde Park, New York, the son of an affluent lawyer and businessman of Dutch origins. Franklin Roosevelt attended Harvard, graduating in 1904, and completed a law degree at Columbia University. He married his cousin, Eleanor Roosevelt, while at Columbia.
Roosevelt was elected to the New York State Senate in 1910. Three years later he became President Woodrow Wilson’s Assistant Secretary of the Navy. In 1921 Roosevelt contracted the disease polio, which paralysed both his legs and his political ambitions. Through therapy and exercise, Roosevelt learned to walk using braces and walking canes, though later in his presidency he relied on wheelchairs.
Roosevelt returned to politics in the late 1920s, running successfully for the governorship of New York. He was elected to the White House in November 1932, comfortably defeating the incumbent president Herbert Hoover.
In power, Roosevelt developed a series of policy responses to the Great Depression, dubbed the New Deal. Roosevelt maintained American neutrality in the first two years of World War II, though he provided economic support to Britain through the Lend-Lease program. The bombing of Pearl Harbour in December 1941 brought the US into the war – and an awkward alliance with the Soviet Union.
Roosevelt met Joseph Stalin in Tehran (1943) and Yalta (February 1945) and formed an amicable relationship with the Soviet dictator. The optimistic and trustworthy Roosevelt believed Stalin could be ‘managed’ and retained as a post-war ally.
The president accepted Stalin’s assurances that the Soviet Union had no plans to expand beyond Poland. By March 1945, however, Roosevelt understood that Stalin had no intention of honouring the promises made at Yalta.
Weakened by fatigue, paralysis and heart disease, Roosevelt died in April 1945. The presidency passed to his running mate, Harry Truman, who oversaw the first years of the Cold War.