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Franklin D. Roosevelt Previous Next
Digital History ID 3437


In June 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt received the Democratic presidential nomination. At first glance, he did not look like a man who could relate to other peoples' suffering--Roosevelt had spent his entire life in the lap of luxury. No fewer than 16 of his ancestors had come over on the Mayflower. A fifth cousin of Teddy Roosevelt, he was born in 1882 to one of New York's wealthiest families. Roosevelt enjoyed a privileged youth. He attended Groton, an exclusive private school, and then went to Harvard University and Columbia Law School. After three years in the New York state senate, Roosevelt was tapped by President Wilson to serve as assistant secretary of the Navy in 1913. His status as the rising star of the Democratic Party was confirmed when James Cox chose Roosevelt as his running mate in the presidential election of 1920.

The Election of 1932

Handsome and outgoing, Roosevelt seemed to have a bright political future. Then disaster struck. In 1921, he was stricken with polio. The disease left him paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Instead of retiring, however, Roosevelt labored diligently to return to public life. "If you had spent two years in bed trying to wiggle your toe," he later declared, "after that anything would seem easy."

Buoyed by an exuberant optimism and devoted political allies, Roosevelt won the governorship of New York in 1928--one of the few Democrats to survive the Republican landslide. Surrounding himself with able advisors, Roosevelt labored to convert New York into a laboratory for reform, involving conservation, old-age pensions, public works projects, and unemployment insurance.

In his acceptance speech before the Democratic convention in Chicago, Roosevelt promised "a New Deal for the American people." Although his speech contained few concrete proposals, Roosevelt radiated confidence, giving many desperate voters hope. He even managed during the campaign to turn his lack of a blueprint into an asset, offering instead a policy of experimentation. "It is common sense to take a method and try it," he declared, "if it fails, admit it frankly and try another."

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