Why was Franklin Roosevelt such a successful President? What role did Eleanor Roosevelt play? How did she redefine the role of 'First Lady'?

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Clair Peach , Access to Teaching

Why was Franklin Roosevelt such a successful President? What role did Eleanor Roosevelt play? How did she redefine the role of 'First Lady'?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was President of the USA during a period encompassed two of the most significant events of recent history- the American Depression and the Second World War. In this essay we will look at the qualities that made FDR such a notable President; we will also examine some of the circumstances surrounding the Presidency to discover if perhaps that also had an impact on perceptions of both the man and his Presidency.

We will also be looking at Eleanor Roosevelt, his wife and one of his strongest political assets. Eleanor's terms in the White House formed a bridge between the First Ladies of the past, where domesticity and duty to family were the main requirements, and modern day First Ladies such as Hilary Clinton who have successful careers and ambitions of their own. We will Eleanor's role as First Lady, whether it changed over the twelve years her Husband was in office, and how (and whether) she redefined it.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in many ways fortunate to inherit a country desperate for a leader. Herbert Hoover, President 1929 -1932, was a straight laced, prohibition supporting President who favoured the Laissez Faire approach to governing the country. He took up office at a time when America was complacent over it's economic future, and did not regard economic policy as of major importance in the elections. He did have a humanitarian side, having been President of the American Citizens' Relief Committee in London during the war (Peter Clements, Access to History). However, he lacked the imagination and flexibility to cope with the demands placed upon him by the Great Depression.

Roosevelt, however, was created differently. Always photographed in possession of a warm smile, he gave the impression he was happy and confident of a successful future. "Even through the grainy newsreels we can see what people at the time saw: the radiant smile, the eyes flashing with good humour, the cigarette holder held at a jaunty angle, the good natured toss of the head, the buoyant optimism and the serene confidence with which he met economic catastrophe and international crises". (Time Magazine, Person Of The Century). In fact, this confidence was probably hard won from his own personal fights against the effects of poliomyelitis. At the age of 39, Roosevelt became a paraplegic. However, where many would have simply accepted their fate, he either had or developed the resilience and optimism to spend seven years of his life undertaking gruelling physiotherapy, a course he only gave up in order to accept the nomination for Governor of New York (www. Whitehouse. Gov). Eleanor referred to the period as his 'trial by fire' (Time Magazine Person Of The Century). It may be the greatest irony of Roosevelt's Presidency that what must have been a traumatic, devastating and miserable time may in fact have been exactly what was required to develop in him the confidence, empathy and spirit required to attain his goal of Presidency, and guide the American Nation through it's own traumas.
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Apart from having a character ideally suited to the requirements of a leader of his era,

Roosevelt was also one of the first media orientated Presidents. His radio broadcasted 'Fireside chats' were hugely popular with the nation. Saul Bellow remembered: 'through lit windows, families could be seen sitting at their kitchen table or gathered in the parlour listening to the radio. Under Elm trees, drivers had pulled over, parking bumper to bumper, and turned on the radio to hear Roosevelt. They had rolled down the windows and opened the car doors. Everywhere the same voice. You could ...

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