Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt will always be fondly remembered as the President who pulled the United States out of the Great Depression and led them into war to prevent the spread of fascism. Furthermore, he did this whilst suffering from health issues that made almost all of his adult life a struggle.
Born in 1882, Roosevelt made an impression on US politics from a relatively early age, becoming a member of the New York Senate at age 29. It was events in 1921 that would go a long way to defining Roosevelt and would shape his attitude for his Presidential career. Struck down with polio, a disease of which the medical world had little knowledge of how to cure in the 1920s, Roosevelt struggled and for several years was unable to walk. It was a painful period for him, but FDR showed the determination to return to politics in the late 20s and early 1930s. A landslide victory as the Democratic candidate in the 1932 election saw FDR become the 32nd President of the United States.
The Wall Street Crash of 1929 had crippled the American economy and FDR began his reign in need of reinvigorating a country that on its knees. His ‘New Deal’ invested millions of dollars into the building and heavy industries of America, and this combined with new found confidence in the economy as the people saw the United States gradually climb out of the depths of depression. Once the New Deal was in full swing across the issues on home soil, Roosevelt turned his thoughts to foreign policy and the rise of fascism. Strengthening ties with British PM Winston Churchill led Roosevelt to encourage the American people to support joining the war against Nazi Germany earlier than the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941, which forced the USA into the conflict.
During the war, Roosevelt was a part of the “Big Three” along with Churchill and Soviet Union leader Josef Stalin. Their contributions as leaders of the main allied powers had the potential to prepare for permanent peace after the war was over Roosevelt who was quietly optimistic that the Soviet Union’s communist ideology could be mellowed somewhat by a closer relationship with Western Europe. The Yalta Conference in February 1945, in which plans for post-war Europe were discussed, forcing an already failing Roosevelt to make a 14,000-mile round trip. This was something he noted upon his return to Congress.
FDR was determined to succeed where his mentor, Woodrow Wilson, had failed. Wilson mapped out his plans for peace through his brainchild, the League of Nations. Ultimately, he was unsuccessful as through policies mapped out by allies and the League at the time sewed the seeds for German retaliation in the non-distant future. Roosevelt wanted to see a fairer, more democratic organisation for world powers to get around a negotiating table before turning guns on each other. This would be the United Nations, but unfortunately, Roosevelt’s illness-ridden past meant that he wouldn’t see his dream for the future.
Roosevelt oversaw some of the most defining moments of American and world history, all whilst being stricken with illnesses that claimed his life shortly before the end of World War II. He attempted to build better relations with Soviet Russia in preparation for post-war Europe, despite being repeatedly warned by Churchill over the trustworthiness of Stalin.
There would be bigger challenges ahead for a US President in the years to come, but the determination to overcome his own personal issues in order to fulfil his duties to his country makes Franklin Delano Roosevelt one of the most influential leaders in the history of a politically tumultuous country.