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Did Roosevelt’s character, upbringing and background make it easy for him to understand the fears and concerns of ordinary Americans Assignment

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born in 1882 into a very wealthy family of Dutch and English ancestry. He spent his childhood in Hyde Park, New York leading a comfortable and spoilt life. He was an only child of James Roosevelt and Sara Delano Roosevelt. He led a sheltered life as a young boy as a governess educated him privately. He spent his formal education at Groton School, Massachusetts, where he was popular and good at sports.

After graduation from school, he went to Harvard University, mixing only with the upper class and in 1904 he gained a law degree, so from this we can understand that he had a good upbringing and was a smart man. In Harvard how ever, he was much more interested by his hobbies, pastimes and social life, and his education tended to take a back seat, but however he got his law degree.

He was born into an incredibly wealthy family, and tended to only socialise with those “rich” enough. The family owned a house at Hyde Park, and frequently had extravagant parties. He was brought up into a life of luxury free from hardships, so he would have found it hard for him to understand the suffering and pains of those less fortunate than him. It did not help that he never met them. His upbringing as a young boy would not have helped him to understand the fears of concerns of ordinary people.

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In 1905 he married his distant cousin Eleanor Roosevelt, the niece of President Theodore Roosevelt. Eleanor was much more sensitive than him towards the poor and she worked in the slums of New York with great sensitivity to the underprivileged of all creeds, races, and nations. In fact when Eleanor goes to visit the slums of New York, Theodore goes with her. This is the first time he met the poor, and maybe it altered his attitude towards them, but we see that during his career as President benefits for the poor are among his priorities, so something must have helped him change his mind in big way, and it is certain that it was Eleanor that led him to alter his views, yet even when he was shown poverty he maintained his playboy lifestyle.

In August 1921, at the age of 39 when Roosevelt was on holiday at Campobello Island, Polio struck. He was told he would never regain the use of his legs. It was his darkest hour, as he sunk into a depression. Everybody, including himself thought his political career was over. His mother wanted him to return to Hyde Park and hide himself away, as she and most people at the time believed cripples should be hidden. Eleanor disagreed and spent her time giving talks and visiting people, trying to keep his political name alive, as she believed he could return to the profession. Polio helped him to understand what suffering was like, and therefore aided him to understand what the poor of America must have been feeling.

In the mean time Roosevelt became determined that he would walk again, and spent hours doing muscle exercises that were often very painful, humiliating, hard and tedious. He tried every method in the book. He sunk into self-denial.

He bought a houseboat and went to Florida. He spent his time in the sunshine, fishing and swimming. He leaves partly for exercise, and partly to escape from Eleanor and his mother arguing over him, and the stresses of city life. He returned to his previous social life full of fine wine, good food and mistresses.

In 1924 Roosevelt travelled to a place called Warm Springs in South Georgia. Apparently the mineralised waters were supposed to have healing powers. He bought a run down hotel and spent two thirds of his money ($195 000) on turning the hotel into a Polio Rehabilitation Centre. The centre was designed for ordinary people, mainly children. This was the first time in his life that he did something for somebody else. He realised during his ordeal with polio what its like to suffer. He gained a new purpose to his life; the children at the centre called him Dr. Roosevelt, and he joined in with the exercises and swam in the pool with every body else. This was the first time he really mixes with ordinary people, and whether or not the got better, they felt better. Warm Springs became his second home.

He had a car specially adapted for him to drive with his hands. He drove around South Georgia stopping to talk to people, mainly farmers. He found out a lot about the high rents, low wages, poor education, no electricity and the poverty stricken lives they were leading. He tells the people he is going to try to help them. Before Polio, he would never have done anything like that.

He went into politics, and in 1928 he became the Governor of New York State. He became determined to be able to walk. He found a way to trick people into thinking he was walking, with a bodyguard and a cane. He became really happy, when the public thought he was cured, he gained a new lease of life. He found it easy to give the people what they wanted, all the things the farmers in Georgia had wanted, unemployment benefit, old age pensions, sick pay, low interest loans etc.. Eleanor was still driving him on and went unaccredited for the work and support she gave to Roosevelt in these tough months.

He opened soup kitchens, gave unemployment benefit and set up poor homes in New York. He instructed the chef at Hyde Park to give food to anybody who came to ask for it. In 1928 his concern is so much that he ran for President presenting the New Deal.

I think that there were many factors in Roosevelt’s life that changed his views. The first is Eleanor. Before he met her he had had no contact with the under privileged in his entire life. Through his life she was his social conscience, always reminding him of those less fortunate than himself, and urging him to help them. Polio was another main reason why he changed so much. During Polio, he suffered, and this part of his life was described as his “darkest hour”. He realised that others lives were like this and he wanted to help them. He set up Warm Springs and there met ordinary people, which changed him and helped him understand them more. He saw people a lot worse off than himself. This helped him to mature in character and understand the people. Touring the countryside talking to farmers helped him also. He learnt what needed to change, and who needed a lot of help.

How far was Roosevelt himself Responsible for his Victory in the 1932 Election?

The year 1932 was the peak of the depression in America after the Wall Street Crash in 1929.There were 12 million people unemployed and 5000 banks went bankrupt in that year alone, six out of ten people did not have enough money for food, and the few jobs that remained vastly under paid, for instance women in a textiles factory worked a 56 hour week and received just 18 cents an hour. Around 42% of people were below the poverty line. People are admitted into hospital in New York for starvation, in supposedly, the richest part of America. In the November 1932 election Roosevelt won the election over Herbert Hoover.

Herbert Hoover was born in 1874. He was an orphan. He became an office boy after leaving school. He saved money, and paid for himself to go to university. He was a multi-millionaire by the age of 40 and he decided to go into politics. No one helped him in his life, and therefore he believed strongly in “rugged individualism” and self help. He was a candidate for the Republicans and won the 1929 election on the promise of “continued prosperity”. He said there would be a “chicken in every pot” and “two cars in every garage”.

When the “Wall Street Crash” happened in 1929, he did not seem too bothered, and certainly did not do anything much about it; he said it was just a cycle, the boom and bust theory. He reassured people, “Prosperity is just around the corner.” And the problem was with Europe not America. He was nicknamed the “Do-nothing President”. He believed in “Laissez Faire”, no government intervention. He said it was the job of charities to help people.

Banks were repossessing thousands of people’s houses. People made little shacks out of whatever they could find lying around. They formed large slums on the out skirts of towns; they called them “Hoovervilles” and the newspapers people used to keep warm were called “Hoover blankets” Everybody blamed Hoover. According to them he was uncaring and selfish. So Hoover was not popular, this made Roosevelt look even better when he stood for President. Over 42% of people were below the poverty line and many couldn’t afford food, people were eating from dumps. There were miners reported to be surviving only on dandelions and grass. This is just one example of the extremes people were going to stay alive. The country desperately needed help.

1932 was a crisis year. There were marches by farmers from Iowa in protest of how they were receiving no help from the government. Their slogan was “In Hoover we trusted, and now we are busted” Hoover was booed at in cinemas, so much so cinemas had to stop showing Hoover on the newsreels. The public were completely against him.

In June 1932, five months before the election, 20,000 ex service men marched to Washington to receive their promised war bonus, which was due in 1945. They set up a gigantic Hooverville in full view of the White House. The U.S Congress refused to pay the bonus. Many went home but between 2000 and 4000 remained. Hoover called them “hoodlums, criminals and thugs”. After clashes with the police Hoover sent in the army on the 28th of July. Tanks, bulldozers, cavalry and tear gas were used. Two people, died one of which was a baby. Hoovers only comment was ” Thank God in America we still know how to deal with a mob”. This outraged the public further. A comment in the newspapers at the time was “the country is on the verge of civil war”

Roosevelt was a complete opposite to Hoover. He was happy, smiley, and charismatic and he came across to the public that he really cared about ordinary people. He listened to people, talked to them. He did a grand train tour around America, stopping to talk to people. He attacked Hoover’s policies, and the idea of “laissez faire”. He promised an active government. His slogan was “Action and action now.”

People believed him because as the Governor of New York he did exactly that and spent money on unemployment benefit, soup kitchens and tax relief. He had well thought out electoral slogans, promising the people exactly what the wanted, “I pledge a New Deal for the American people” and “I am waging a war against destruction, delay, deceit and despair.” He was all the time blaming Hoover for America’s situation. This enhanced how bad Hoover looked compared to the friendly, confident, nice, cheery and good-looking Roosevelt who appeared to over come the crippling disease polio. This showed strength of character, which was exactly what America needed at that time, strength

Eleanor in the mean time and had been for a long-time, re-housing families in slums, and was well known for that. She was campaigning for women’s rights in the workplace, women’s trade unions and the controversial subject of birth control. She was one of the first to address the subject properly; she said that women could lead their own life, instead of having all their time taken up tending to the needs of her family. Eleanor appealed to the women who there fore liked Roosevelt as they came across as a team.

So, I think the reasons Roosevelt won the election are mostly to do with how bad Herbert Hoover was as a President. People blamed Hoover for America’s downfall and people thought anything could be better than Herbert Hoover. Supposing the Wall Street Crash had not happened and America had not fallen into a depression then maybe Hoover would have won the election, but a crisis really does show people’s true colours. Eleanor’s work to help the homeless and with women’s rights also helped Roosevelt in his election chances. The fact that Roosevelt was actually a good caring person who was ready to help those who needed it mostly helped him to win the election. He gave them hope which was exactly what the American people needed at the time.

Life did get better for all Americans in the 1930’s. How far was Roosevelt responsible for this, or was it due to other factors?

During the depression life was bad for most of America, 42% of the population was below the poverty line. People could not afford to eat, let alone pay the mortgage on their houses, so they lost them and ended up building shantytowns and eating from rubbish bins. In 1932 alone 5000 banks went bankrupt, leaving 1000s of people with no money. In 1932 14 million people were unemployed.

In November 1932 Roosevelt came to power. The first act he passed was the Emergency Banking Act. He shut all the banks, and appealed to the public to not withdraw any more money, and he also guaranteed that their money would be safe. He did this by way of his famous “fire side chats”. He talked to the public on the radio. It made him seem more caring as they actually heard it coming from him, rather than spokes people, and it also reassured them he was telling the truth. When the banks reopened, thousands of people put their money back into the bank. One billion pounds was deposited into the banks. No more banks went under after then. Life improves for most people after then, if only slightly.

After Roosevelt came to power, the first hundred days were vital. In this period he and others devised a number of schemes to help the public and try to pull America from the depression. These were called the Alphabet Agencies. They were based upon the principles of Relief, Recovery and Reform. Roosevelt and a man called Harry Hopkins mostly created these agencies. Roosevelt was more interested in agriculture so the agencies he created are mostly based around this, whilst Harry Hopkins focused on industry, employment and the economy.

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