Franklin Roosevelt Biography


Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or FDR (January 30, 1882 to April 12, 1945), was undoubtedly one of America’s greatest presidents.  Roosevelt held office for an unprecedented 12 years from 1933 to 1945, winning four presidential elections.

His “New Deal” programs lifted the US out of the Great Depression and transformed the country into the world’s industrial powerhouse.  He was a hero to minority groups including African-Americans, Catholics and Jews.

franklin-roosevelt-biography-color A color portrait of Franklin Roosevelt,
often known by his initials, FDR.
@ Franklin Roosevelt Biography

In 1921 Roosevelt was struck down by what doctors thought was Polio at the time, but is now believed to be Guillian-Barré’s Syndrome.  This paralyzed him from the waist down but he refused to surrender to disability, wearing painful leg braces in public and only drawing back to a wheelchair in private.

Roosevelt ordered the mobilization of US forces to face the growing threats of Germany and Japan, and threw the might of America behind the Allied forces in World War II.
This biography outlines the key events in Roosevelt’s later life through the war from mid-1940 to his death in 1945.

1940 - Defies convention, takes supporting role in war

July 15 to 18Democratic National Convention in Chicago.  In early 1940 speculation had been rife Roosevelt would break the as-yet unwritten two-term presidential limit.  He announces to the convention that he won’t run unless drafted.  The crowd is momentarily stunned. Roosevelt supporter Thomas Garry smuggles a PA system into the sewers beneath the stadium where the convention is being held and starts chanting “We want Roosevelt! We want Roosevelt!”  This becomes known as the “voice from the sewers”. The chant spreads like wildfire and Roosevelt is nominated in a landslide, winning 86 per cent of the votes.
November 5 - Roosevelt becomes the first-ever third-term president winning 55 per cent of the popular vote and 38 of the 48 states.
December 29 – Roosevelt delivers his “Arsenal of Democracy” radio broadcast, promising to supply the United Kingdom with military hardware while keeping the US out of the war.

I'm talking about another war. I'm talking about what will happen to our world, if after this war we allow millions of people to slide back into the same semi-slavery!
Don't think for a moment, Elliott, that Americans would be dying in the Pacific tonight, if it hadn't been for the shortsighted greed of the French and the British and the Dutch. Shall we allow them to do it all, all over again? Your son will be about the right age, fifteen or twenty years from now.” – Roosevelt talks about his hate of European colonialism at the Casablanca Conference in 1943

1941 - America into the war

Roosevelt firms up his stance against the Axis powers, reaffirming America’s support of the UK, France and China.  He is labeled an “irresponsible warmonger” by his isolationist opponents.
Ever a champion of the poor, Roosevelt proposes a 99.5 per cent marginal rate on Americans earning over $100,000 to fund growing government expenditure.  After this fails he wants to tax everyone earning over $25,000 100 per cent of their income, but Congress later repeals the plan. 
January 6 – Roosevelt makes his famous “Four Freedoms” State of Union address.  He says people “everywhere in the world” should enjoy (1) freedom of speech, (2) freedom of worship, (3) freedom from want, (4) freedom from fear. 

FDR- lend-lease FDR signs the
Lend-Lease bill.

March 11 – Roosevelt signs the Lend-Lease bill to fund those countries fighting the Axis powers.  This leads to $50.1 billion (equivalent to $611 billion today) worth of supplies being shipped to the UK, France, China and the Soviet Union over the next three-and-a-half years.  The US doesn’t expect repayment.  This ends any pretense of American neutrality in the war.
Roosevelt compares the bill to lending a hose to a neighbor to put out a house fire, “I don't say... ‘Neighbor, my garden hose cost me $15; you have to pay me $15 for it’ …I don't want $15 — I want my garden hose back after the fire is over,” Roosevelt said.
July – Roosevelt orders plans for total military involvement in the war.  He bans oil sales to Japan after it occupies Indo-China.

FDR Pearl Harbor speech

Click here for an illustrated story about Roosevelt's famous "Infamy Speech" with video, text and analysis.

August 14 – Roosevelt secretly meets British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Newfoundland to draft the Atlantic Charter.  This outlines goals for a postwar world including “no territorial changes made against the wishes of the people,” and “restoration of self-government to those deprived of it”.
December 4 – The Chicago Tribune publishes a top-secret war plan called “Rainbow Five” which called for a 10-million man army.
December 7 – The Japanese attack Pearl Harbor.  Roosevelt calls Churchill and says “we are all in the same boat now”.
December 8 – Roosevelt delivers his famous “Infamy Speech” to Congress saying “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan”.  The US declares war on Japan.

In the wake of the attack Roosevelt sets up the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a White House agency to have the final say on American military policy.
December 11 – Germany and Italy declare war on the US in support of their ally Japan. America responds in kind.
December 22 to January 14, 1942 – Churchill joins Roosevelt for the First Washington Conference in which a “Europe First” strategy is agreed upon. Churchill wants to attack Hitler via North Africa and Italy whereas Roosevelt prefers a more direct approach across the English Channel into occupied France.
Roosevelt devises the name “United Nations” for the Allies of World War 2 and issues a “Declaration of United Nations” on January 1, 1942.  It calls for complete victory over the Axis powers and lays the foundations for the modern United Nations.

roosevelt-wheelchairOne of only two known photos of FDR in a wheelchair.
He's at his private retreat, Top Cottage, in Hyde Park, New York, in 1941.
@ Franklin Roosevelt Biography

1942 - Focus on Japan

February 19 – Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066 allowing the internment of Japanese Americans living in Hawaii and the western states.
May 30 – Roosevelt receives Soviet Foreign Affairs Minister Vyacheslav Molotov at the White House.  He commits the US to opening a “Second Front” in Europe later that year to take the pressure off the Soviets.
In October Roosevelt is advised that the Pacific island of Guadalcanal will be overrun by the Japanese if it isn’t reinforced.  He shifts some of the focus of the war to the Pacific, redirecting troops to halt the Japanese advance.

1943 - Planning the endgame

January 14 to 24 – Roosevelt meets Churchill and French resistance leader Charles de Gaulle and Henri Giraud in Casablanca.  They pan the forthcoming invasion of Italy and postpone a cross-channel invasion to 1944.  Roosevelt announces that the Allies should only accept an “unconditional surrender” from the Germans.
November 23 to 26 – Roosevelt meets Churchill and Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek in Cairo.  They sign the Cairo Declaration on November 27, which states that Japan should be stripped of all its territorial conquests since 1914 and that Korea should become independent.
November 28 to December 1 – Roosevelt finally comes face to face with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin at the Tehran Conference.  Together with the other “Big Three” leader, Churchill, they plan the final strategy of the war and set a date for Operation Overload, the cross-channel invasion of France.  Stalin supports Roosevelt’s plans for the United Nations, but insists the Soviet Union be allowed to keep a large part of Poland it had occupied in 1939.
During the conference Roosevelt stays in the Soviet compound in Tehran, a physical statement of a long-held desire to build up a relationship with Stalin.  Roosevelt has confidence Stalin will respect democracy after the war.

I just have a hunch that Stalin is not that kind of man. Harry (Hopkins) says he's not and that he doesn't want anything except security for his own country, and I think that if I give him everything I possibly can and ask nothing from him in return, noblesse oblige, he won't try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of democracy and peace.”
- Roosevelt in 1943.  The president misjudged Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, who later drew Easter Europe into his communist “sphere of influence”.

1944 - Winning, but dying

February – Tests at Bethesda Hospital highlight Roosevelt’s rapidly declining health.  He is found to be suffering from a cocktail of diseases including chronic high blood pressure, systemic atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease with angina pectoris and myopathic hypertensive heart disease with congestive heart failure.
June 6 – D-Day.  Allied forces invade occupied France.  Roosevelt had picked Dwight D. Eisenhower to lead the invasion.
July 19 to 21 – The Democratic National Convention in Chicago.  Roosevelt is nominated with a whopping 92.35 percent of the vote with Harry Truman as his running mate.
September 12 to 16 – The Second Quebec Conference.  Roosevelt and Churchill discuss further war plans and sign the Quebec Agreement on the 19th.  This document combines the two nations’ efforts to build a nuclear bomb into the Manhattan Project.
November 7 – Roosevelt sweeps to a historic fourth term in the White House winning the presidential election with 53.4 percent of the vote.

1945 - Victory and death

January 20 – Roosevelt is inaugurated for a fourth term.  The ceremony takes place on the White House lawn instead of at the Capitol because of the state of the war and concerns about Roosevelt’s health.
February 4 to 11 – Roosevelt meets the other “Big Three” leaders at the Yalta Conference in the Soviet Union.  Roosevelt suggests Germany be partitioned into five separate counties with two international zones after the war. Stalin agrees to join the war again within 90 days of the defeat of Germany.  Roosevelt gets a commitment from Stalin to participate in the soon-to-be-founded United Nations, which the president wants to be his final legacy.
February 14 – On the way back from Yalta Roosevelt meets King Abdul Aziz, the founder of Saudi Arabia, establishing a long tradition of co-operation between the US and the Saudis.

roosevelt-color-saudisRoosevelt meets with Saudi king Abdul Aziz aboard the USS Quincy
in Great Bitter Lake, Egypt. @ Franklin Roosevelt Biography

March 1 – Roosevelt reports to Congress on the Yalta Conference.  He delivers his speech while sitting in the well of the House due to his deteriorating health. 
March 1945 – Roosevelt realizes that his trust in Stalin was misplaced and accuses him of breaking commitments over the future of Poland and Germany, prisoners of war and other issues. 
March 29 – Roosevelt goes to his second home at Warm Springs to rest before the founding conference of the United Nations. 
April 12 – In the afternoon Roosevelt says “I have a terrific pain in the back of my head,” and slumps over in his chair.  His doctor diagnoses a massive cerebral hemorrhage (a stroke). Roosevelt dies at 3.35pm. His death came just as Allied tanks were closing in on Berlin.
Roosevelt’s death shocks America and the world, partly because he had kept his health problems so secret.  His funeral follows two days after and he is buried at the Roosevelt family home in Hyde Park.

Written by C. Anderson, 2011. Last updated 2011.

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Franklin Roosevelt biography references

•  A Patriot's History of the United States, (2004), Larry Schweikart, Michael Allen, Easton Press.

 Informing FDR: FBI Political Surveillance and the Isolationist-Interventionist Foreign Policy, Douglas M. Charles, Diplomatic History, Spring 2000, Vol. 24 Issue 2.

•  The Progressive Income Tax in U.S. History - The root of much evil, Burton W. Folsom Jr, May 2003, Volume 53, Issue 5

•  World War II, Behind Closed Doors, Laurence Rees, 2008

•  The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2008

•  World Encyclopedia, 2005

•  A Dictionary of World History, 2000

•  BBC History






•  fdrlibrary


• Quote about coonialism sourced from

• Other Highlighted quotes sourced from  wikiquote

Franklin Roosevelt biography photo sources

•   FDR color photo:

•   Roosevelt signing the Lend-Lease Act:

•   Roosevelt wheelchair:

•   Roosevelt meets Abdul Aziz: flikr

Unless otherwise stated, all photos used on the page Franklin Roosevelt biography are, to our knowledge, in the public domain. If you think otherwise, please let us know.