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The ties between the Roosevelt and Kennedy families go back to World War I when Franklin D. Roosevelt was Assistant Secretary of the Navy. In November 1917, Joseph P. Kennedy was the Assistant General Manager of the Fore River Shipbuilding Corporation in Quincy, Massachusetts, when a labor strike threatened the company’s contribution to the Navy’s shipbuilding program. Assistant Secretary Roosevelt appealed to Fore River’s management and to the striking workers “to sink all minor differences and to get together for the sake of the success of our country in this war at once.” The strike ended a few days later.
As New York Governor Franklin Roosevelt prepared to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for president at the convention in Chicago in July 1932, Joseph P. Kennedy—now working in Hollywood and New York—lent his support to FDR, both financially and politically. Kennedy was one of those who were known as “WRBC”, or With Roosevelt Before Chicago. He donated to the campaign, met with Governor Roosevelt and his Brains Trust in Albany, and helped convince supporters of John Nance Garner to throw their delegates to Roosevelt at the convention. Kennedy continued to advise Roosevelt after he won the nomination, and in August Kennedy wrote to FDR: “As I told you over the phone unless they [the Republicans] can put two and one half million men back to work and get wheat up to twenty or twenty five cents a bushel the result will be overwhelming for Roosevelt.” Roosevelt even invited Kennedy along on the campaign train that fall.
As the New Deal began to take shape, one of FDR’s early reforms was the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC was designed to protect investors from fraudulent and unethical practices in the stock market. FDR began to assemble his choices for the five-person Commission, and Joseph Kennedy was selected to be the first chairman. As a June 15, 1934 memorandum indicates, FDR’s choice of Kennedy as chairman reflected the man’s “executive ability, knowledge of habits and customs of business to be regulated and ability to moderate different points of view…” Kennedy received a five year appointment, and although he resigned in September 1935 to return to private business, he received high praise for effectively working with both Washington and Wall Street to implement the new regulations.
Kennedy again supported FDR’s nomination for the presidency in 1936, and in 1937 returned to public service to become the first chairman of the newly created Maritime Commission that had been established to revitalize the United States shipping industry. Then, in March 1938, Kennedy received the appointment he most wanted in Roosevelt’s government: Ambassador to the Court of St. James – the first Irish Catholic American to hold this prestigious diplomatic post. As the new U.S. Ambassador in London, Kennedy had a front row seat to the worsening international crisis in Europe. When war finally came in September 1939, Kennedy’s public support for American neutrality conflicted with Roosevelt’s increasing efforts to provide aid to Britain. Roosevelt and Kennedy met in October 1940 to try to iron out their differences, but it was clear the split could not be repaired. Kennedy resigned after FDR’s election to a Third Term in November.
Despite their later policy differences, the ties between FDR and Joseph Kennedy extended to the next generation of Kennedys. In 1935, FDR learned that young Bobby Kennedy was a stamp collector and sent the boy some of stamps for his collection. In 1940, recent Harvard graduate John F. Kennedy sent an inscribed first edition of his recently published book, Why England Slept, to FDR for his book collection. As was his custom, FDR signed the flyleaf underneath Jack Kennedy’s signature. And in 1944, FDR was shocked to learn of the death of Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., while on a combat bombing mission, and the President wrote a heartfelt condolence letter to the elder Joe Kennedy.
FDR’s own death in April 1945 brought an end to Joseph Kennedy’s years of collaboration with Franklin Roosevelt. But post-war America saw the rise of a new Kennedy to prominence, John F. Kennedy. As a leading figure in the Democratic Party, Eleanor Roosevelt saw JFK grow from a Congressman, to a United States Senator, then a potential nominee for vice president in 1956, and finally the Democratic Party’s nominee for president in 1960.
A longtime supporter of the liberal Adlai Stevenson’s runs for the presidency, Eleanor Roosevelt had concerns about JFK’s commitment to some of the liberal causes that she held dear. During the 1950s, ER challenged John Kennedy to be more vocal in his opposition to McCarthyism. And in 1960, Mrs. Roosevelt feared that JFK’s caution on civil rights issues was an attempt to garner votes in the more conservative southern states that might backfire and cost him votes in the more liberal north.
On August 14, 1960, Kennedy came to Hyde Park to pay his respects to Mrs. Roosevelt and to gain her full support for his candidacy. After visiting the Roosevelt Library and the FDR Home to deliver a speech commemorating the 25th anniversary of Social Security, JFK had tea with Mrs. Roosevelt at her Val-Kill home where they talked over the issues and his campaign. Following the meeting, Eleanor Roosevelt threw her full support behind the Kennedy-Johnson ticket.
During the campaign, Mrs. Roosevelt never hesitated to give her advice to the young candidate, including commenting on the first televised presidential debates. After his election, President Kennedy appointed ER to be the chairperson of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. Mrs. Roosevelt’s death on November 7, 1962 brought President and Mrs. Kennedy, as well as former presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower and Vice President Lyndon Johnson to Hyde Park to attend the funeral and witness her burial in the Rose Garden next to Franklin D. Roosevelt on November 10, 1962. A little over a year later, JFK himself would be gone, bringing the curtain down on the collaboration of the Roosevelts and Kennedys that spanned more than a half a century.
Today, one hundred-fifty years later, we pause to remember one of the greatest speeches ever made by a US President: Abraham Lincoln’s poetically beautiful Gettysburg Address, given November 19, 1863, upon the dedication of the National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
On July 3, 1938, speaking on the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, President Franklin D. Roosevelt reflected on Lincoln and his words:
“Immortal deeds and immortal words have created here at Gettysburg a shrine of American patriotism. We are encompassed by ‘The last full measure of devotion’ of many men and by the words in which Abraham Lincoln expressed the simple faith for which they died.
“It seldom helps to wonder how a statesman of one generation would surmount the crisis of another. A statesman deals with concrete difficulties—with things which must be done from day to day. Not often can he frame conscious patterns for the far off future.
“But the fullness of the stature of Lincoln’s nature and the fundamental conflict which events forced upon his Presidency invite us ever to turn to him for help.
“For the issue which he restated here at Gettysburg seventy five years ago will be the continuing issue before this Nation so long as we cling to the purposes for which the Nation was founded—to preserve under the changing conditions of each generation a people’s government for the people’s good.”
FDR found that Lincoln’s words were timeless. Roosevelt drew strength and insight from the promise of Lincoln’s words while leading the country in the defining battles of his own time.
Putting together a brand new 12,000 square foot museum exhibit has been quite an adventure. There are countless components that go into the design and fabrication of an exhibit. Currently, we are working with a design company, an interactive contractor, a fabrication company and an audiovisual production company.
One of the highlights of the experience came on May 6th when museum curator Herman Eberhardt and I traveled to New York City to meet our audiovisual contractor, Monadnock Media, to record the narration for our Legacy film. There are 17 audiovisual productions in our new exhibit ranging from silent film treatments to immersive theater experiences. But there is no more important film than the one which will be shown in the Legacy Theater, the very last thing people experience in our exhibit. Here our visitors should understand that the world we live in today is still very much the world that Franklin Roosevelt envisioned and fought for.
Our team struggled with the script for this important theater. Nothing seemed to hit the mark until our audiovisual producer found an essay that President Bill Clinton had written about FDR back in 2000. As soon as we read it we knew it was our script. Clinton captured the essence of FDR and his legacy.
I reached out to President Clinton through his staff and my dear colleague, Terri Garner, director of the Clinton Presidential Library. I was not only asking to use Clinton’s essay but I wanted him to read it as the narration for our film. A lot to ask one of the busiest former presidents in our country’s history.
I knew the one thing I had in my favor was that Clinton loved FDR. He had visited the Roosevelt Library three times during his presidency and once after leaving office. Fortunately for us he agreed to record – our last hurdle was working with his staff to find the time in his busy schedule.
We did the recording at a New York City hotel after he attended a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. He seemed a bit tired after a very long day but he was charming and gracious and the minute I heard him reading his words I knew we were going to have an amazing experience for our museum visitors. Our heartfelt thanks to President Clinton for his amazing generosity with his time and his words and to Terri Garner, director of the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, and Elizabeth Bibi, senior communications associate for the Clinton Foundation, for their assistance in making it all happen.
80th Anniversary – Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1933 Presidential Inauguration
Eighty years ago, on March 4, 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated as President of the United States for the first time. As he approached the rostrum to take the oath of office at the Capitol, he braced himself on his son James’s arm. Breaking precedent, he recited the entire oath, instead of simply repeating “I do.” Then, as the crowd grew quiet, he opened his inaugural address.
The new President was addressing a nation that was struggling amidst the greatest economic depression in its history. Roosevelt offered his fellow Americans reassurance: “This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive, and will prosper.” Then, in bold words that reverberate in public memory, he proclaimed, “. . . the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
This now-famous line got little reaction. The greatest applause came when Roosevelt declared that if Congress didn’t act, he would ask for “broad Executive power to wage a war against the emergency. . . .” Americans were ready to grant FDR sweeping power. As he proclaimed, “This nation asks for action, and action now.”
Roosevelt took all four of his presidential oaths of office on this leather bound, Dutch language Bible. The Bible was made in 1686 and contains Roosevelt family records from the early 18th century.
The slideshow below shows images of President Roosevelt taken on March 4, 1933.
Roosevelt and Lincoln
“I live, temporarily, in the same house and the same rooms once occupied by him. The very window from which he gazed in the dark days is the same.”
-Franklin D. Roosevelt, Remarks on Visiting the Birthplace of Abraham Lincoln.
June 24, 1936
President Roosevelt was a great admirer of Abraham Lincoln. He often cited the revered nineteenth century president in speeches, evoked his image in campaign material, and collected or received over 100 pieces of Lincoln related ephemera.
These objects from the FDR Library’s Museum collection reflect the connection between President Roosevelt and President Lincoln.
Both FDR and his opponents referred to Lincoln in their campaign material. The poster on the left was used during Roosevelt’s 1932 campaign. The button on the right was used by Republicans in 1940 to criticize FDR’s attempt to seek a third term.
Henry Weber of Oakville, Indiana, made this desk piece from the wood of a 350 year old white oak tree that stood beside the trail leading from the Lincoln cabin to the grave of President Lincoln’s mother Nancy Hanks Lincoln in Spencer County, Indiana. Mr. Weber’s son, Horace, was a member of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the area and sent the stump of the tree to his father in 1933. The granite piece at the bottom was taken from Devil’s Den at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The Webers sent the completed piece to FDR as a gift in 1937.
President Lincoln gave this pair of Colt pistols to Kıbrıslı Mehmed Emin Pacha, Governor of Adrianople, Turkey, in 1864. The gift was presented in acknowledgement of his services in securing the assassins of Reverend William Ward Merriam, an American missionary. Rev. Merriam was killed when his caravan was attacked during a return trip from Constantinople to his post at Phillipopolis. In March 1945, the pistols were presented to President Roosevelt by Baron Francis J. Solari of Izmir, Turkey, and Rome, Italy, through Myron C. Taylor, the Personal Representative of the President to Pope Pius XII. The firearms are Model 1862 .36-caliber Colt police pistols, with silver handles by Tiffany, serial numbers 25513 E and 25514 E.
Dr. John E. Washington, author of the book, They Knew Lincoln, a history of the President’s White House staff, gave this photograph of historic pieces to FDR in 1942. Fixed to the photo is a small “Lock of hair removed from Pres. Lincoln’s head by Wm. Slade his messenger while preparing the body for burial,” and a small “Piece of dress worn by Mrs. Lincoln the night of the assassination showing blood of Pres. Lincoln. Given by Mrs. Slade to her cousin Mrs. Brooks.”
The Birthday Balls and the Fight Against Infantile Paralysis
FDR contracted polio in 1921 at the age of 39, and was paralyzed from the waist down. For the rest of his life, FDR was committed to finding a way to rehabilitate himself as well as others afflicted with infantile paralysis.
In 1924, FDR visited a rundown spa in Warm Springs, Georgia where it was said that the buoyant mineral waters had therapeutic powers. After six weeks, he was convinced that he had made more progress in his rehabilitation than at any time in the previous three years. He built a home for himself at Warm Springs.
In 1926 when the spa faced hardship, he purchased the facility for $200,000, creating a therapeutic center called the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation. It opened its doors to patients from all over the country, providing medical treatment and an opportunity to spend time with others suffering the effects of polio.
FDR returned to politics, serving as Governor of New York from 1929-1932, and elected President in 1933. Even with the burdens of office, he regularly visited Warm Springs for treatment and rest, becoming known to the patients as “Dr. Roosevelt.” But the growing demands on the facility, and the increasing number of patients being treated there, required more money than FDR alone or a small number of contributors could provide.
At the suggestion of a public relations consultant, business magnate and FDR political ally Henry L. Doherty launched the National Committee for Birthday Balls that sponsored a dance in every town across the nation, both to celebrate the President’s birthday but also to raise money for the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation.
The first Birthday Ball was held in 1934, with 4,376 communities joining in 600 separate celebrations that raised over one million dollars for Warm Springs. Future Birthday Balls continued to raise about a million dollars per year, with contributions split between Warm Springs and the local communities where the balls were held.
In 1938, FDR created the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, not only to help Warm Springs but also the victims of polio throughout the country. To increase awareness of the campaign, radio personality and philanthropist Eddie Cantor took to the air waves and urged Americans to send their loose change to President Roosevelt in “a march of dimes to reach all the way to the White House.”
Soon, millions of dimes flooded the White House. In 1945, the annual March of Dimes campaign raised 18.9 million dollars for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. Ultimately, the March of Dimes (as the National Foundation became known) financially supported the research and development of a polio vaccine by Jonas Salk in 1955, eradicating the disease throughout most of the world by the 1960s.
Franklin Roosevelt’s dedication to finding a cure for polio benefited millions of children worldwide. But it was the participation of Americans across the nation in Birthday Balls that made the campaign a success. Their hard work and financial support supported the development of new methods of treatment to improve the lives of those stricken with polio and the creation of a vaccine to protect future generations from its devastation. Although the Birthday Balls ended in 1945 with the death of President Roosevelt, both of their legacies live on in the March of Dimes.
Gifts from the Roosevelts
It has become a time-honored tradition for the President and First Lady to distribute Christmas cards and gifts during the holiday season. Below are a few of the items Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt gave to family, friends, and staff during their time in the White House.
During the Roosevelts’ first year in the White House they began a tradition of distributing Christmas cards to family, friends, Cabinet members, and staff.
In 1934 was FDR published a book titled On Our Way, which outlined his plans for the New Deal and raising the United States out of the Depression. Autographed copies went sent out at Christmastime.
1935 – 1939
In 1926 Eleanor Roosevelt and friends Nancy Cook, Marion Dickerman, and Caroline O’Day created Val-Kill Industries on an estate purchased in Hyde Park. The enterprise created employment for local craftsman. To promote the business, the Roosevelts gifted several pieces created in the Val-Kill pewter forge during the holidays.
This year the Roosevelts choose to give White House staff members key chains with a figure of FDR’s beloved Scottish Terrier Fala attached. Some staff, Cabinet members, and friends received money clips and initialed desk pads.
Autographed photos of the President and First Lady were sent out this year to all staff and friends. Cabinet members, family, and select friends also received bound copies of FDR’s speeches.
With the country at war, Americans were encouraged to contribute to the war effort by purchasing defense bonds and stamps. The Roosevelts promoted the idea by giving black leather folders containing war savings bonds for Christmas.
One of the Christmas gifts from the Roosevelts this year was a magnifier paperweight.
On June 6, 1944, what became known as “D-Day,” President Roosevelt addressed the nation with a blessing for the American troops invading German-occupied Europe. The prayer, entitled “Let Our Hearts Be Stout,” was printed that December and given as gifts by the Roosevelts. Below is a facsimile copy of the prayer that is available for purchase at the FDR Library’s New Deal Store.
Aquamarine Stone (MO 1947.115.1)
Several weeks after winning his second presidential election, FDR boarded the cruiser USS Indianapolis for a month long “Good Neighbor” cruise to South America. On November 27, 1936, the President stopped at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he met with Brazilian President Getúlio Vargas.
During this visit, President and Mrs. Vargas presented FDR with a stunning gift for First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt— a 1,298 carat aquamarine (seen above). This remarkable stone was from the Vargas’ private collection and was the largest cut stone of its kind at the time. It was presented in an art deco style box, custom made by jeweler Casa Oscar Machado.
The stone was found in a mine in the State of Minas Gerais, about 880 miles from Rio de Janeiro. The mine, known as Laranjeira (Orange), was later renamed Pedra Azul (Blue Stone) for its rich finds. The rough stone, weighing 1.3 kilograms, was brought to cutter Gustav Reitbauer of Amsterdam Limited, purveyor of precious gemstones. It yielded two cut stones—the one that was given to the First Lady and another, at 865 carats, that was sold to the Maharadja of Kaputala.
In 1947, the aquamarine caused a minor controversy for Mrs. Roosevelt when syndicated columnist and radio personality Drew Pearson accused her of trying to sell the piece after she made an attempt to discover its value. ER ultimately decided to donate the precious stone to the Roosevelt Library and wrote of the incident in her autobiography This I Remember: “I think it does interest people and perhaps does serve a good purpose by symbolizing the kindness and generosity of Brazilian feeling toward our country.”
Thanksgiving during the War, 1943
During World War II, President Roosevelt made a number of trips to meet with foreign leaders to discuss the war effort and the postwar world. At the end of 1943, FDR traveled to Cairo, Egypt and Teheran, Iran to meet with Winston Churchill, Chiang Kai-shek and Joseph Stalin. The meeting of FDR, Churchill and Stalin in Teheran was the first for the “Big Three.”
On November 25, 1943, Thanksgiving Day, FDR was in Cairo with Winston Churchill and Chiang Kai-shek.
Below is a handwritten page from FDR’s diary of the Cairo and Teheran conferences. On this page from November 26th, FDR writes about hosting Thanksgiving dinner for American and British officials – including Churchill. FDR writes that he had the Chiangs to tea and then the British to dinner with two turkeys he had brought from home.
Sometimes I think it’s a rare treat that I love my job as much as I do. It’s usually reinforced by friends or family talking about how boring their day was or how annoying a client is. Of course, yes, there are days I feel overwhelmed or my eyes are blurry from a bit too much time at the computer that day (I’m not at my computer all that often so it doesn’t take much). As the public programs specialist at the Roosevelt Library I get to work at the presidential library of the greatest president of the 20th century. And, even better, it’s my job to provide public programs that enable our visitors to learn more about both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and all of the wonderful things they have left to the American people.
One of the best aspects of my job is working with colleagues. None of these programs I organize I can truly call my own. And honestly, I LOVE that. They are a collaborative effort of the hard working Library administrators, staff and volunteers and I’m lucky enough to be the guy that pulls it all together. People make these programs happen.
But perhaps the most important people are the attendees; those who have taken time out of their day to visit us and learn about the great legacies of the Roosevelts. I think my favorite moment at the Library so far was during the question-and-answer session following a book talk about five years ago. The author took advantage of the situation and asked the first question of a captive Hyde Park audience of about 60 people. She wanted to know to what extent Hyde Park residents were aware of FDR’s disability back in the ‘30s and ‘40s. She unexpectedly got a firsthand account.
One of Hyde Park’s long time residents told a story from his childhood. He described a day in which FDR arrived late to church. Around the time he became aware that the President wasn’t there yet he felt a sensation similar to the hair standing up on one’s arm. He then heard softly, and then louder, the sound of metal braces coming closer and closer to the open doorway of St. James Church. He knew – without turning around – the President had arrived. FDR’s disability was so a part of who he was that it hardly registered as a disability at all to this young boy. And it made no difference to him. As I watched the man tell this story I could see that his description had given half the audience goose bumps. We all heard FDR approaching that door. For me, that program rose above the rest.
I celebrated 15 years as a federal employee this month. Those years included two college summers as an architect technician with the Historic American Building Survey, almost six years as a park ranger at Weir Farm National Historic Site in Connecticut, and going on nine years here at the Roosevelt Library managing both public affairs and public programs. While there are many events and programs here which leave me feeling good about my work – the annual Roosevelt Reading Festival, naturalization ceremonies, and just about anything with the March of Dimes – there will always be the unexpected few that rise above the rest. And that’s exactly why I do what I do.