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You may be thinking, "But America wasn't in the war yet in May 1940. What's FDR doing here?"
And if you weren't thinking that, you are now.
Even though the U.S. didn't enter the war until 1941, FDR, at the desperate request of Winston Churchill, was convincing a war-wary Congress to send armaments to Britain. Who knows? Maybe Churchill's valiant stand in this speech was what won him Roosevelt's support. FDR was no slouch himself in the inspirational speech department; remember "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself "? A year and a half after Churchill roused Britain to battle, FDR would be giving a similar speech to Americans, declaring war on Japan after the "date that will live in infamy"
Plus, who doesn't love a little FDR? Come on, he's the only person related to World War II who was a character in Annie. That has to count for something.
Shmoop has you covered: check out our info on FDR for all the juicy details.
Don't have the time? Here's the recap.
FDR was the only child of a very wealthy family in upstate New York, taught at his estate home by governesses until heading to the famous Groton Preparatory School. His adoring mother was a constant source of support and encouragement throughout his life; she made sure he wasn't a spoiled rich boy by structuring his life with a strict schedule, early bedtime, and no watching Survivor reruns except on Saturdays.
At Groton, he was an okay student, popular with the other kids and developing his outgoing, engaging personality. For a school for boys of rich families, Groton was anything but luxurious: tiny, plainly furnished rooms, cold showers, tons of schoolwork.
From Groton, FDR followed the usual path for boys of his social class: to Harvard. Away from the strict schedules of his mother and Groton, FDR began to live a less Spartan life, living in a more luxurious dorm and taking his meals with other prep school grads.
At Harvard, he experienced one of his life's great disappointments: he was rejected from the Porcellian Club, the college's most prestigious social club. (Bet whoever made that decision lived to regret it.) Still, he was a popular young man who played sports, had a whirlwind, social calendar, and eventually became the editor of the Harvard Crimson. His future wife Eleanor thought the Porcellian experience turned FDR into someone with more sympathy for the common man—a quality that marked his tenure as prez.
In 1905, Roosevelt married his distant cousin Eleanor Roosevelt, the niece of his idol Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt, who just so happened to be President of the United States at the time (source). They were fifth cousins though, which is really distant, if that makes you feel less icky about the arrangement. Teddy himself officiated at the wedding.
That same year, he enrolled in law school at Columbia, dropped out, passed the bar, and began practicing law. He spent a few years as a lawyer before running for state senate in 1910. He managed to win his election in a landslide, despite being a Democrat in a region full of Republicans. However, once in office, he regularly refused to obey the Democratic political machine of New York, which became a theme throughout his political career (source). Basically, he wanted more political independence.
Side note: at this point in history, the Democrat and Republican parties had essentially opposite ideologies to what they are now. FDR's presidency is generally seen as the real turning point, when they started taking on the characteristics of our current parties. You can read more about it here.
FDR knew he didn't want to remain a state senator. For a long time, he'd had his eyes on the prize: the presidency of the U.S. One Harvard classmate recalled him mapping out the steps to his goal, a plan that turned out to be pretty accurate.
In 1920, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Roosevelt as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, where he began to learn the ins and outs of national politics. Uncle Teddy had held the same position en route to the presidency. So far, so good for FDR.
Then he hit a wall.
In 1921, Franklin contracted polio, which left him without the use of his legs. He did all kinds of therapy, determined to beat the illness, but his legs remained paralyzed. He made just enough progress that he could avoid appearing publicly in a wheelchair; he wanted to maintain his public image as a strong, vigorous guy. He could stand for photos and speeches, and walk to and from a podium, but that's about it. Back then, famous people weren't getting constantly photographed and stalked the way they are now, so he managed to get away with it.
While recovering in the mineral waters spa in Warm Springs, Georgia, FDR had a Model T car adapted for him and tooled around rural Georgia meeting farmers, workers, and learning what it was like to live with out electricity, water, a decent education, and other things that he took for granted. He got the revolutionary idea that maybe the government could help with these types of things.
He spent the later 1920s rebuilding his political career (with Eleanor's help), and became governor of New York in 1928. From there, he was in a good position to defeat Herbert Hoover for the presidency in 1932 after Hoover had had the misfortune to be president when the Great Depression hit.
When FDR became president, hundreds of banks had closed because of the Depression, and 13 million people were unemployed (source). As president, he sure had his work cut out for him.
FDR used his "first hundred days" to enact the "New Deal," a set of sweeping economic reforms that involved the government getting super involved to restructure the banking system and get people back to work. Congress quickly passed 15 bills—yep, it's possible—including support for farmers, infrastructure projects to get people back to work, banking reforms, creating the FDIC to insure bank deposits, and electrification projects for rural areas.
The economy gradually improved, although there were a number of people who didn't like how much the government was spending and how involved they were in people's daily lives. FDR responded by doubling down, creating things like Social Security and a work relief program for the unemployed.
Roosevelt earned one of his nicknames: The Poor Man's Friend.
Someone even wrote a song about it.
The United States had a pretty firm isolationist stance in the 1930s, but that didn't stop FDR from keeping an eye on what was going on in the world and forming alliances where needed. He worked with France and Britain to help stabilize global currency, and established ties with the Soviets to help prevent Japanese imperial expansion (source).
Spoiler alert: that was basically why Japan bombed the U.S. in 1941.
FDR also instituted what's known as the "Good Neighbor Policy" towards Latin America. This meant getting the U.S. militarily and economically out of several countries and letting them run their own affairs. What a novel concept.
As World War II broke out in Europe, FDR was in a tough spot. He had run for re-election on the platform that the U.S. wouldn't get involved, and had helped pass legislation in the past to keep the U.S. neutral. But ideologically he felt he needed to support the Allies, who were under serious threat from a rising Nazi Germany.
He convinced congress that the best way to keep America out of the war was to fund the countries that were actually fighting it. The Lend-Lease Act of 1941 gave countries fighting the Axis powers weapons and other military equipment. The premise was that the U.S. could provide supplies if they helped defend the United States, basically funneling military equipment to the Allies, without formally declaring war or sending troops.
FDR also signed the Atlantic Charter with our good friend Winston Churchill in August 1941, which was a statement of their countries' joint goals for the war (source).
Yes, very neutral, Mr. President.
Once the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, America's unofficial involvement in World War II became very, very official.
Once the U.S. was in the war, it was all in it to win it. The entire manufacturing power of the the nation was retooled to build planes, ships, and arms. Factories that made cars now made fighter planes. Household goods were rationed, and Americans were happy to make the sacrifice to defend the free world. FDR broadcasted regular radio "Fireside Chats," where he spoke directly and intimately to Americans to keep up their spirits.
Well, maybe not to all Americans.
Early in 1942, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which forced all people of Japanese descent living on the western coast of the contiguous United States to relocate to internment camps. The assumption was that they were security threats. This ended up being about 120,000 people. Most of them were American citizens.
It's one of the darker moments in American history, and definitely the darkest of Roosevelt's presidency. People were forced to give up their homes and jobs to go live in camps that weren't exactly tropical resorts. Eleanor thought it was a very bad, terrible, no-good idea. Not to mention that about 33,000 Japanese-American citizens were fighting for the U.S. in the war while their families were interned.
While the world war was raging, one of Roosevelt's other projects was proposing a coalition of nations. Twenty-six nations signed on in 1942 to what Roosevelt called the "United Nations." By 1945, twenty-nine countries including the U.S had ratified the United Nations charter. Apparently it's still around.
Roosevelt was elected to an unprecedented fourth term of office in 1944. He didn't live out most of his term. Soon after meeting with Churchill and Stalin at Yalta, a town in the Crimean Peninsula, FDR died of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1945.
One of the reasons Roosevelt is relevant to Churchill's speech is that he and Churchill had a close relationship before and during the war.
They first met in person at a secret conference off the eastern coast of Canada in August, 1941, kept secret because America was technically refusing to get involved in the war. The meeting resulted in the Atlantic Charter (source). Despite the fact that the U.S.S.R. joined the Allied powers, Roosevelt and Churchill met eleven times without Josef Stalin, meetings which were much more open and productive than the two times they all met at Tehran and Yalta (source).
Stalin was kind of that third kid you have to include in your group project, but whom you're only including because he's good at that one thing and you need him to get an A.
The friendship between Roosevelt and Churchill, and the aid that the U.S. provided to Britain, was crucial to the Allies winning the war. When Churchill gave his "Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat" speech, Roosevelt was doing what he could to support Britain without officially entering the war effort (wink wink).
We all know how WWII ended: victory for the Allies, Hitler and his Reich dead. Like Churchill, FDR led his nation through that terrible war with his optimism, energy, and constant encouragement.
FDR is one of the great legends of American political history. He was the only president to get elected four times (the 22nd Amendment made him the last one), and he's largely credited with getting America out of the Depression through the New Deal and military production during World War II.
When you're known just by your initials, you know you've achieved a certain level of fame (see: MLK, JFK, the BFG). Throw in the challenge of living with polio, a Great Depression, a world war, and some excellent speeches, and you've got yourself an excellent Oscar-winning drama.
We're thinking Ben Affleck for the lead.