Study Guide

Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation

By President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Everyone's life tells a story. But—real talk—some of those stories are way less exciting than others.

Sure, we all have momentous defining experiences and stuff, but how many of us can say that our defining experiences include bringing a country out of the Great Depression and then presiding over that same country during World War II, all while battling the paralytic effects of polio?

One person can, and that person is Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States of America. In fact, if we could sum up FDR's life and presidency in one sentence, it would be this: "Man, did that guy have his hands full."

But don't take our word for it. Read on, and it'll become clear that FDR was one busy dude.

Drama from the Mama

On the surface, FDR had a charmed childhood. He grew up in a house the size of a hotel in New York's beautiful Hudson Valley, the only child of old-money parents who hobnobbed with U.S. Presidents and owned an island in New Brunswick, Canada. He was homeschooled until he was fourteen in preparation for a strenuous higher education that included the Groton school, Harvard, and Columbia.

FDR himself was an easygoing, smart, athletic, good-looking guy. Thanks to frequent European vacays, he spoke French and German comfortably by the time he was a teenager, and word on the street is that he was quite a hit with the ladies, even as a young lad.

But all was not idyllic in our young Richie Rich's life.

Lurking in the shadows, watching his every move, Sara Delano Roosevelt was FDR's own Mommy Dearest.

She controlled where he went and who he hung out with, using her considerable purse strings to make sure little Frankie did as he was told.

In fact, she even tried several times to break off his engagement to Eleanor.

It didn't work, but even though Franklin and Eleanor married, Sara Delano was never far from the picture. She stayed with the couple for extended periods of time and completely decorated their home (to her tastes, of course). She even bought adjoining brownstones—one for them and one for her—and then cut a door between them so she could always have access to her son.

Eleanor must've thought she had the worst mother-in-law ever.

Marital Bliss?

Speaking of Eleanor, FDR's marriage was another source of personal drama.

Though they had six kids together (one died in infancy), Eleanor and Franklin's relationship wasn't exactly what one would call amorous. FDR had several affairs, some lasting for years, and for a good chunk of their marriage, they didn't even live in the same house.

Today, it wouldn't be unheard of for them to get a divorce, divvy up the children, and go their separate ways.

Back then…unheard of.

Especially by Sara Delano Roosevelt.

Sure, she hadn't wanted them to get married, but now that they were, she certainly wasn't going to allow them to divorce and cause some shameful scandal. She told Franklin she'd cut him off completely if he got a divorce, and apparently, that was that.

And if that doesn't sound like enough for one dude to handle even without throwing in world wars and fierce financial crises, let's toss one more piece of fun into the mix:

When he was thirty-nine, vacationing with the family on aforesaid Canadian island, he went for a swim, came home, took a nap, and contracted polio.

Now they're not exactly sure if that's precisely when he contracted it, but that's definitely when it made its presence known. And this was before the time of vaccines and cures and all that, so a lot of his prescribed remedies included stuff like massages and hot baths.

Good for stressful days, but not a cure for polio.

And so, before his 40th birthday, FDR was paralyzed from the waist down.

He decided maybe it was time to take a career break at this point.

Throughout the 1920s, he continued all kinds of physical rehab—swimming, soaking in warm springs, forcing himself to walk in braces—but he remained paraplegic for the rest of his life.

And all of that happened even before he had a world war and a broke country to deal with.

"Depression" Is Kind Of An Understatement

In 1929, the American stock market took a ginormous header and pretty much bankrupted everyone in the country.

Not instantly, of course, but by 1932, a quarter of the country was unemployed, companies were going out of business right and left, Wall Street was a scene of despair, and the banks? The banks were toast.

We refer to this fun and exciting period in America's history as the Great Depression, and anyone interested in learning more about what it was, why it happened, and what it did to the United States (and the rest of the world) should totally check out Shmoop's crazy-helpful Great Depression guide here.

Now Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the Governor of the great state of New York when the stock market crashed. And suddenly, his somewhat aimless administration had an agenda: fix New York.

Did he do it? Eh, the jury's still out.

The Good, The Bad, The Debt-y

On the one hand, he established a state pension program and an unemployment relief program, in addition to several other major labor reforms. He also tackled New York's serious political corruption problem known as the Tammany Hall machine.

On the other hand, he came into office with a $15 million surplus, and when he left in 1932 for Washington, D.C., his state was $90 million in debt. (In 2014, New York's state debt was estimated at $387 billion. Could have been worse…)

Anyway, this was a trend that would continue during his presidential terms, and it's why FDR is at once one of the most beloved and one of the most despised POTUSes of all time.

Here's kind of how it went:

Federal programs offering debt relief, new jobs, unemployment relief, and something called Social Security, yay!

Federal programs getting up in people's business, creating bureaucracy, and causing the national deficit to blow up like Lady Gaga's phone in the club, boo.

While it's true that these programs and the jobs they created just might have kept the U.S. from turning off the lights for good, it's also true that they created a complex system of government interventions (or "meddling," if that's how we look at the world) that is both crazy expensive to maintain and super hard to pare down.

Continued existence = good; budget deficits that won't quit = bad.

Anyway, all of FDR's national economic and social relief efforts are known collectively as the New Deal, and this New Deal kept the President and all of his men (and women) busier than a mosquito at a nudist colony throughout most of the 1930s.

World War: The Sequel

And then, just when POTUS Roosevelt thought maybe they'd weathered the worst of it and were on the uphill swing, Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Europe freaked out, and World War II officially started.

We can just picture FDR sitting there, looking at his to-do lists from the White House (and probably his mother), and then hearing the news that Great Britain and some of America's other BFFs were now at war, and saying, "You've got to be kidding me."

But no one was kidding, Mr. President. And for the United States, things were going to get a lot more chaotic before this whole mess was over with.

So: how in the world did the United States got involved in World War II when it very clearly stated that it didn't want to get involved? BTW, there's an entire oceans between the U.S. and Europe, so it's not like Hitler's troops were going to march into Illinois or something and set up camp.

In fact, maybe the U.S. wouldn't have officially signed onto the war, if it had just been a European thing, and if its hand hadn't kind of been forced.

But it wasn't just a European thing, and America's hand was definitely forced. See, across the Pacific Ocean, about 5,300 miles from the California coastline, is the island nation of Japan. And back in 1939, Japan had its own imperial expansionist ideas. It wanted Manchuria. It wanted French Indochina. It wanted natural resources. It wanted a sweet military. It wanted…well, basically it wanted a bunch of stuff it didn't have.

And in 1941, it felt like the best way to get the ball rolling on getting those things was to (a) befriend those simpaticos known as Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, and (b) take its issues straight to America's door.

And that it did, signing the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy in 1940 and officially signing in as an Axis Power.

And then it coordinated and carried out a sneak attack on U.S. military installations in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, shocking the United States into bewildered silence.

For a day, anyway.

The attack on Pearl Harbor happened on December 7th, 1941. And on December 8th, President Roosevelt rolled up his sleeves, brushed the dirt off his shoulder, and delivered his uber-famous "Pearl Harbor Speech" to the United States Congress.

And boom, just like that, America was at war and FDR was a wartime president.

Winning The War, One Speech At A Time

So while FDR spent the 1920s fixing himself and the 1930s fixing the country, now he was about to spend the early 1940s trying to fix the world.

And it went pretty well, actually.

For a play-by-play, we'd recommend checking out Shmoop's World War II Timeline here, but suffice to say, FDR, his good buddy Winston Churchill, and the rest of the Allies (except poor France) were doing a pretty bang-up job of slapping down the Axis squad.

In the Pacific War, FDR made sure the best of the best were in charge of handling Japan: he had General Douglas MacArthur running the Army's land game, and Admirals Ernest King and Chester Nimitz were calling the shots for the Navy's sea game.

Unfortunately, Roosevelt didn't live long enough to see his country and its allies emerge victorious from the war. In April of 1945, he was on a visit to his fave warm springs in Georgia when he died from a cerebral hemorrhage, and the POTUS baton was passed to his Veep, Harry Truman.

We don't know how FDR would have felt about the atomic bombings of Japan, or about General MacArthur's occupation and control of the country for years following its defeat.

What we do know is that he had even higher approval rating when he left office than he did when he first became President, and that's a feat that only one other POTUS has accomplished (hint: his name is Bill Clinton).

So regardless of how a person might feel about his personal drama or his domestic programs, we feel that President Roosevelt definitely deserves a tip of the hat for his executive service during World War II.

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