Franklin D. Roosevelt : a political life
- Robert Dallek.
- Dallek, Robert, author
- New York, New York : Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 
Where to find it
Named a Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post and NPR
"We come to see in FDR the magisterial, central figure in the greatest and richest political tapestry of our nation's entire history" --Nigel Hamilton, Boston Globe
"Meticulously researched and authoritative" --Douglas Brinkley, The Washington Post
"A workmanlike addition to the literature on Roosevelt." --David Nasaw, The New York Times
"Dallek offers an FDR relevant to our sharply divided nation" --Michael Kazin
"Will rank among the standard biographies of its subject" -- Publishers Weekly
A one-volume biography of Roosevelt by the #1 New York Times bestselling biographer of JFK, focusing on his career as an incomparable politician, uniter, and deal maker
In an era of such great national divisiveness, there could be no more timely biography of one of our greatest presidents than one that focuses on his unparalleled political ability as a uniter and consensus maker. Robert Dallek's Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life takes a fresh look at the many compelling questions that have attracted all his biographers: how did a man who came from so privileged a background become the greatest presidential champion of the country's needy? How did someone who never won recognition for his intellect foster revolutionary changes in the country's economic and social institutions? How did Roosevelt work such a profound change in the country's foreign relations?
For FDR, politics was a far more interesting and fulfilling pursuit than the management of family fortunes or the indulgence of personal pleasure, and by the time he became president, he had commanded the love and affection of millions of people. While all Roosevelt's biographers agree that the onset of polio at the age of thirty-nine endowed him with a much greater sense of humanity, Dallek sees the affliction as an insufficient explanation for his transformation into a masterful politician who would win an unprecedented four presidential terms, initiate landmark reforms that changed the American industrial system, and transform an isolationist country into an international superpower.
Dallek attributes FDR's success to two remarkable political insights. First, unlike any other president, he understood that effectiveness in the American political system depended on building a national consensus and commanding stable long-term popular support. Second, he made the presidency the central, most influential institution in modern America's political system. In addressing the country's international and domestic problems, Roosevelt recognized the vital importance of remaining closely attentive to the full range of public sentiment around policy-making decisions--perhaps FDR's most enduring lesson in effective leadership.
Prologue: Everything to fear -- -Chapter 1: The making of a patrician -- Chapter 2: The making of a politician -- Chapter 3: Polio -- Chapter 4: "Chameleon on plaid" -- Chapter 5: "Instrument of their wishes" -- Chapter 6: "Trustee of the existing social system" -- Chapter 7: Mastering Washington "bedlam" -- Chapter 8: Triumph of the new order -- Chapter 9: Second-term curse -- Chapter 10: The worst of times -- Chapter 1: Dangers abroad, uncertainties at home -- Chapter 12: Faux neutral -- Chapter 13: "Safe on third" -- Chapter 14: The path to war -- Chapter 15: Setbacks and losses: "We might lose this war" -- Chapter 16: The end of the beginning -- Chapter 17: "High promise of better things" -- Chapter 18: "Dr. Win the War" -- Chapter 19: The "good soldier" -- Chapter 20: Winning the war, planning the peace -- Chapter 21: Last full measure -- Epilogue.
Chapter 1 The Making of a Patrician In the two-hundred-and-thirty-year history of the United States, forty-five Americans have become president. Unlike in royal kingdoms, no noble family line anoints the men who enter the highest office, and no common characteristics distinguish them from millions and millions of their fellow native-born citizens. They have come from every corner of the country-south and north, east and west-and have included a variety of ethnicities, religious denominations (including a Catholic), and, most surprisingly, given the country's long history of racism and segregation, an African American. The story of each president's rise to the White House is sui generis, and explaining the achievement of each in achieving the highest office is a puzzle unto itself. The earliest occupants of the post-Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Adams, members of the founding generation-seemed to be natural candidates for national leadership. But once Andrew Jackson won the presidency in 1828 and Vice President John Tyler took office after the death of William Henry Harrison in 1841, no one could confidently predict who might take the prize. Abraham Lincoln, a self-taught lawyer of the most humble origins, further confounded president watchers by becoming one of the country's three greatest chief executives. The success of Franklin Roosevelt, arguably the third of America's greatest presidents, and surely the most important of the twenty-nine since Lincoln, only adds to the puzzle. There was little about Roosevelt that moved contemporaries to see him as a logical candidate for the White House, let alone one who would be accorded the exalted status of being judged a great president. True, he was a Roosevelt, and the name meant so much after Theodore, Franklin's distant cousin, and then uncle after he married Eleanor, served seven plus years as chief executive with great distinction and popular approval. Membership in the country's Northeast elite gave Franklin additional advantages. But others of his generation also came from favored families and enjoyed greater wealth and better academic records than his, and though they were no less ambitious for public distinction, they never matched Franklin's political accomplishments. Some contemporary competitors ascribed Franklin's rise to high office to dumb luck and a charming disposition, echoing Anthony Trollope's observation that "The capacity of a man . . . [to be prime minister] does not depend on any power of intellect or indomitable courage, or far-seeing cunning. The man is competent simply because he is believed to be so." Considering Franklin's life almost seventy-five years after it ended allows us the distance to weigh dispassionately the influences that facilitated his reach for and use of power. As the British historian A. J. P. Taylor said, "The politician performs upon the stage; the historian looks behind the scenery." There was much about Franklin Roosevelt that still seems unremarkable, but some attributes-supreme self-confidence and unfailing self-reliance-distinguished him from earlier and later aspirants and help explain why he stands apart from almost all of America's other leaders. Like anyone intent on becoming president, an elevated sense of self-importance, if not uniqueness, was a constant in FranklinÕs life. From an early age, he knew he was special or deserved to think of himself as worthy of high regard. He came from a storied family that not only had amassed considerable wealth but had contributed to the building of a great, singular nation. Franklin's knowledge of his family's history was a source of pride and satisfaction, as it was for his parents, whose identities were inextricably bound up with an appreciation of their forebears. Their ancestors, who had been in the New World since the 1650s, had prospered in Manhattan real estate and the West Indian sugar trade. Franklin's great-great grandfather, who was lauded in family recollections as "Isaac the Patriot," had backed the American Revolution, helped draft New York's first constitution, and served a five-year term as president of the Bank of New York from 1786 to 1791. A Gilbert Stuart painting of him conveys his stature as an eighteenth-century American patrician. In the first half of the nineteenth century, subsequent Roosevelts attended Princeton University and established a landed estate along the banks of the Hudson River. James Roosevelt, Franklin's father, was the offspring of a Roosevelt and an Aspinwall, a New England family that dominated New York's shipping industry. Franklin loved to regale listeners with stories of his father's early life. James's grand tour of Europe between 1847 and 1849 as a twenty-year-old was grist for Franklin's lifelong attraction to youthful adventure. Even if some of his father's exploits were more legend than reality, Franklin took pleasure in recounting throughout his career James's walking tour of Italy with a mendicant priest and an alleged brief term of service in Giuseppe Garibaldi's red-shirt army, fighting to liberate Italy from foreign and papal rule. Franklin's fascination with family history included writing an account of the Roosevelts' Hyde Park estate. He was no less admiring of the maternal side of the family, the Delanos. His mother, Sara Delano, was a snob who overlooked no opportunity to cite her family's heritage. The "grande dame," as one biographer described her, was "serene in her confidence that she and hers had been from birth at the apex of all the world that counted." The Delano pedigree dated from ancient times and included centuries in France and the first Delano arriving in the New World in 1621 on the Mayflower. Eventually settling in New Bedford, Massachusetts, what was in the seventeenth century the world's greatest whaling port, the family became wealthy mariners and shipbuilders. Sara was no less proud of her mother's line, which included revolutionary soldiers, clergymen, and elected Massachusetts officeholders. Franklin took special pride in his maternal grandfather, Warren Delano, who accumulated a fortune in the China trade. A wooden replica of the clipper Surprise, which carried his seven-year-old mother and her family to China in 1862, adorned a table in the Oval Office during Franklin's presidency, as did two paintings of the ship on a wall of his study at Hyde Park. Franklin's life as a child on the banks of the Hudson gave new meaning to the word indulgence. His healthy, youthful twenty-seven-year-old mother was in the prime of her childbearing years, but a difficult birth discouraged her from risking additional pregnancies. His fifty-three-year-old father, delighted at having a male heir, was content with a son on whom he could lavish all his parental attention. But as an only child in a cloistered world, Franklin found particular satisfaction and strength in his own company. Companionship was certainly pleasing, but he learned to feel that he could master daily challenges by himself. Despite an America agitated by farmer-labor-industrial strife, urbanization featuring concentrated communities of recent unassimilated migrants from Eastern and southern Europe, and political corruption spawning radical demands for reform, Franklin later recalled a placid boyhood in the 1880s and 1890s with nannies and tutors and a "regularity of . . . places and people" that insulated him from the outside world's unsettling events. As he matured, his father was his regular companion in hunting, horseback riding, fishing, and sailing, especially off Canada's Campobello Island in the Bay of Fundy, where his parents often retreated in the summer months. It was in these coastal waters that Franklin developed a lifelong love of seafaring, and here also that he developed a firsthand acquaintance with class differences. The presence of cooks, servants, and tutors in his Hyde Park home didn't register on him as evidence of his family's elevated position, but on Campobello, British class lines governed the island's permanent residents and the community of wealthy Americans who purchased property and summered there. They were regarded by the locals as landed aristocrats, and the sense of privilege became fully apparent to Franklin. Annual trips to Europe, especially Germany, where Sara had attended school for several years in the 1860s as a teenager, opened a larger world to Franklin. Having been tutored in German and French, he had more than passable command of both languages by the time he was nine, so Sara enrolled Franklin in a local school at Bad Nauheim during their stay in Germany in 1891. "I go to the public school with a lot of little mickies," he wrote some cousins. "I like it very much," he added, despite being surrounded by children he obviously considered his inferiors. Although the "mickies" had no command of English, he could read about their history and compute arithmetic problems in their language. His feelings of dominance echoed what one biographer called his father's "invincible belief in his personal and class superiority to most of mankind." Never revealing that he viewed these provincials as inferior, Franklin displayed his proper breeding by treating them with a politeness and warmth that won their approval and made him one of the most popular boys in the class. It was an early demonstration of his capacity to charm people he wished to befriend, whatever his real feelings about them. Others registered his sense of superiority not as the behavior of a dismissive snob but rather as supportive benevolence-a winning asset for an ambitious politician. His view of his German classmates may have come partly from his favorite tutor, Jeanne Sandoz, a French-speaking, Francophile young woman from Switzerland, of whom Franklin told his parents: "I like her. She smiles all the time." In the over two years she was his tutor, she heightened his interest in Europe, which his mother had already stimulated when he was nine by encouraging him to collect stamps, a hobby she had developed as a child. Partly to please his mother but also from a genuine curiosity about the larger world than the slice of America he knew, Franklin became an avid collector, simultaneously teaching himself geography and history. By 1896, when he was fourteen, he had visited Britain and the Continent eight times. That fall he was sent to a private boys' school in Massachusetts, where he could receive a fuller education than anything his parents could provide at home and he could prepare himself for the competitive world he would eventually face by measuring himself against other boys his age. Groton, a preparatory school founded in 1883 by the Reverend Endicott Peabody, its headmaster, was designed to accommodate the desire of wealthy families to endow their sons with "manly Christian" virtues. Peabody, who had studied in England and wished to establish a school like those serving Britain's aristocratic families, launched Groton with the financial support of some of America's most affluent men, including the banking titan J. P. Morgan and the leaders of the Massachusetts Episcopal church. Located thirty-five miles northwest of Boston on ninety acres of farmland, the school was limited to six forms, in the British tradition, with no more than twenty boys in each class, starting at age twelve. Peabody's mission was to shape the boys' minds and bodies by instilling a sense of Christian charity in his privileged charges and stressing physical development with athletic contests that encouraged competition and fair play. The academic side of their schooling was a necessary but secondary consideration. By 1896, when Franklin arrived at Groton, the school had already established itself as the premier preparatory institution in America. At a cost of $500 a year-twice the average American family's annual income-only wealthy, and chiefly Northeast, Episcopalians could afford to compete for the limited places in Peabody's academy. Groton was a great testing ground for the fourteen-year-old Franklin. Joining the third form, a group that had already spent two years together and developed well-defined cliques and friendships, Franklin faced the challenge of fitting in. As outsiders, he and another new boy entered into a self-protective bond. Two weeks into the term, he assured his parents-or perhaps more himself-"I am getting on very well with the fellows, although I do not know them all yet." His assimilation at Groton was not always easy. On his arrival at the school, he became the object of some ridicule. His father's son from a first marriage, the forty-two-year-old James Roosevelt Roosevelt, had a son at Groton, James Roosevelt Roosevelt, Jr. (Taddy), who was two years older than Franklin and in the fourth form. He was an awkward, ungainly teenager described as "a queer sort of boy" who was "much made fun of." Mocked as "Uncle Frank," Franklin had to live down his nephew's negative reputation. He kept Taddy at arm's length, telling his parents, "I see very little of him." Franklin's small size and unimpressive athletic skills also added to his initial difficulties at the school. At five foot three and a little over one hundred pounds, with no experience in competitive sports, he gave little promise of contributing much to the form's football or baseball teams. True, he displayed rapid physical growth between fifteen and eighteen, but it was never enough to make him a force on Groton's playing fields. Nor did he have any special athletic skills to make him anything other than a second- or third-string player. In addition, the school's Swedish gym teacher, a Mr. Skarstrom, whom the boys playfully dubbed "Herr Cigar Stump," cautioned Franklin against overly strenuous exercise, warning that his heart might not support the exertion and that he should avoid rowing and limit his participation in football. Although Skarstrom's assertion rested on no conclusive evidence and eventually faded from Franklin's initial concern, it was enough to discourage him from trying to outdo his classmates in the school's most popular sports. Because athletics were so important in establishing each boy's standing, however, Franklin did take on the job of assistant manager and then manager of the school's baseball team, which made him responsible for equipment and uniforms and the condition of the home playing field. It did not match the prestige of being one of the starting nine or even a place on the bench, but it gave him standing as a team player willing to take on less glamorous assignments. Peabody later summed up Franklin's athletic record at the school by saying, "He was rather too slight for success." Another social obstacle was the fact that his earlier schooling put him academically ahead of most of the other eighteen boys in his form, which was unlikely to sit well with teenagers resentful of a newcomer's underscoring their scholastic shortcomings. His classmates were not especially appreciative of his end-of-the-year standing as number four in the form. Peabody's own view of him as a boy without fault added to Franklin's strained relations. Most of the boys received black marks for failing to follow all the school's rules. An infraction as minor as speaking in study hall or as serious as missing chapel could cause a boy to receive from one to five demerits. Challenging school standards and bearing the consequences with a penalty of designated chores like cleaning campus grounds or suffering some kind of physical punishment was regarded as a demonstration of masculine courage. Franklin's untarnished record opened him to accusations of lacking "school spirit." His remaining three years at Groton were more an exercise in winning approval than accumulating the academic knowledge that might serve college studies or later life's work. Since graduation from so prestigious a school as Groton seemed sufficient to assure admission to a fine college, academic distinction was of secondary consequence. As for a future career, it was nothing of much concern to privileged boys with the family wealth and connections to assure them of a comfortable living. Sports were not a promising route for Franklin's path to the appreciation and approval of his classmates. True, he displayed rapid physical growth between fifteen and eighteen, but it was never enough to make him a force on Groton's playing fields. Nor did he have any special athletic skills to make him a star or more than a second- or third-string player. In addition, the school's Swedish gym teacher, a Mr. Skarstrom, who the boys playfully dubbed "Herr Cigar Stump," cautioned Franklin against overly strenuous exercise. He warned him that his heart might not support the exertion and counseled him to avoid rowing and limit his participation in football. Although Skarstrom's assertion rested on no conclusive evidence and eventually faded from Franklin's initial concern, it was enough to discourage him from trying to out do his classmates in the school's most popular sports. Because athletics were so important in establishing each boy's standing, however, Franklin took on the job of assistant manager and then manager of the school's baseball team, which made him responsible for the team's equipment and uniforms and the condition of the home playing field. It did not match the prestige of the starting nine or even bench players, but it gave him standing as a team man willing to take on less glamorous assignments. Peabody later summed up Franklin's athletic record at the school by saying, "He was rather too slight for success." And so, Franklin sought other ways to win the regard of his classmates and endear himself to boys in the higher and lower forms as well as Peabody. It required a balancing act that provided a glimpse into Franklin's later talent as a "juggler" of opposing interests and values or a masterful political artist who understood how to appeal to people with different outlooks. Being one of the boys meant occasionally defying authority by acting as something of a cut up. "I managed to get three or four black marks this week," he wrote his parents in October 1897, at the start of his second school year, "but I had good fun, quite worth them." When a Mr. Coolidge, a new teacher or "new duck," as Franklin derisively called him, took charge of the 3rd and 4th forms for a day, he could not control them: Franklin wished his parents "could have heard the noise we made. Some musical gentlemen in the far end of the room had a whistling concert, while I amused myself by singing Yankee Doodle in a high falsetto key. Old Coolidge made the whole form stand up. That did not do much good, & ... then paper & ink & nutshells flew thick and fast, & the old man got perfectly wild." Coolidge began yelling at the wrong boy, "while he really wanted me, but the end of the period came just in time to save me from a large number of Black-marks." As he reached the upper grades, Franklin became more self-confident about his place in the school and "developed an independent, cocky manner and at times became very argumentative and sarcastic," a classmate recalled. It "irritated the other boys considerably," but never enough to jeopardize his standing with them, especially when he directed it at higher authority. By contrast with his ability to escape punishments, or to manage his rowdiness, Franklin felt sorry for his cousin, Warren Delano Robbins, who entered the third form in 1897 and suffered repeated punishments for misbehavior. "Poor Warren has five more [black-marks] this week," Franklin wrote his parents, "and I know how hard it is for him to keep from getting them." Warren's lack of self-controland ineptness in turning aside penalties for bad behavior heightened Franklin's affinity for mastering situations and people he wished to control. At the same time Franklin navigated the school's disciplinary system, he ingratiated himself with Peabody by performing the sort of manly Christian duties the headmaster considered the greatest good the school could instill in its charges. In January 1899, in Franklin's third year, the local Missionary Society appointed him and a classmate "special missionaries to look after Mrs. Freeman an old woman near the school. She is an old coloured (sic) lady, living all alone and 84 years old. We payed (sic) our first visit to her today, right after church, and talked and gave her the latest news, for nearly an hour. We are to visit her a couple of times a week, see that she has coal water, etc, feed her hens ... and in case of a snowstorm we are to dig her out.... It will be very pleasant as she is a dear old thing, and it will be a good occupation for us." Years later, in 1932, as Franklin ran for president, Peabody told another Groton graduate: "There has been a good deal written about Franklin Roosevelt when he was a boy at Groton, more than I should have thought justified by the impression that he left at the school. He was a quiet, satisfactory boy of more than ordinary intelligence, taking a good position in his form but not brilliant. ...We all liked him. So far as I know that is true of the masters and boys alike." Few things gave Franklin more standing at Groton than his ties to his cousin Theodore Roosevelt. In June 1897, when TR was assistant secretary of the navy, he gave an evening talk at the school focused on his earlier service as police commissioner in New York City. "After supper tonight," Franklin wrote his parents, "Cousin Theodore gave us a splendid talk on his adventures when he was on the Police Board. He kept the whole room in an uproar for over an hour, by telling us killing stories about policemen and their doings in New York." When TR returned tothe school in October 1898, he was even more popular: His standing as a Spanish-American War hero who had led his regiment of Rough Riders in successful battles in Cuba and his campaign for governor of New York, which was coming to an obvious victory, made him a hero to teenage boys fascinated by his adventures. His emphasis on what he called the strenuous life made him a model for how every schoolboy thought he should behave. The following month after TR's victory, Franklin told his parents: "We were all wild with delight when we heard of Teddy's election." In January 1900, when Teddy's picture appeared on a screen at an evening lecture by the social reformer Jacob Riis, "the whole school cheered." Perhaps the most striking feature of Franklin's four years at Groton was his competitive energy. Before arriving at the school, he had enjoyed a cloistered life with no siblings or rivals for his parents' attention. Once he entered Groton, however, he was a teenager simultaneously vying with peers for adult approval and finding his own voice by rebelling against authority. Above all, he was a young manintent on outdoing his classmates and establishing himself as the best at whatever he did. Peabody set the standard for him in a sermon Franklin took special note of: "For life--which is in any way worthy," Peabody said, "is like ascending a mountain. When you have climbed to the first shoulder of the hill, you find another rise above you, and that achieved there is another, and another still, and yet another peak, and then height to be achieved seems infinity: but you find as you ascend that the air becomes purer and more bracing, that the clouds gather more frequently below than above, that the sun is warmer than before and that you not only get a clearer view of Heaven, but that you gain a wider and wider view of earth, and that your horizon is perpetually growing larger." It is difficult to explain the source of Franklin's ambition. To be sure, teen boys are naturally eager to distinguish themselves in some form or other. But Franklin's drive was more focused, more grandiose than what most teenagers manifest in a boy's formative years. After all, his parents had already instilled in him the conviction that his ancestry and wealth distinguished him from the great majority of cohorts. But this was insufficient to satisfy his reach for special standing among his peers. A need to prove himself, to justify his worthiness, to live up to his cousin Theodore's high standard may have sparked his competitiveness. Peabody reinforced Franklin's ambition with his metaphor comparing a young man's drive asan ascent into Heaven. It was a way to justify the impulse to eclipse rivals as an unconditional good. We will never know exactly what was driving Franklin to be the best, but his affinity to come out on top, to stand apart from everyone was a motive force in his life that would go far to shape much of what was to come. Excerpted from Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life by Robert Dallek All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
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- New York, New York : Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 
- Includes bibliographical references (pages 665-671) and index.
- x, 692 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
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- LCCN: 2017032686