The Roosevelts II: Franklin and Eleanor

A wedding in which the President of United States gives away the bride who is not his daughter is rare.  That is what happened when Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt married in 1905.   The bride was President Theodore Roosevelt’s niece and the groom his fifth cousin.  Franklin and Eleanor were fifth cousins, once removed.   Franklin was raised by possessive mother, Sara.  This caused some problems when he chose his bride to be.  Sara didn’t like Eleanor and tried break up their relationship before the wedding.

Both Theodore and Franklin traveled similar political paths to the presidency. As young men each served in the state assembly of New York and later as  the governor of the state.   On the national level both occupied the post of Assistant Secretary of the Navy.  Franklin held that office during World War I.  It was after he returned from a fact finding trip to Europe that Eleanor found he had betrayed her by carrying an on an affair with  Lucy Mercer, who was Eleanor’s social secretary.

When Roosevelt was 39, while vacationing with his family on the Atlantic coast near the Canadian border, he became ill and suffered paralysis of his lower body.   After he became president, most Americans did not realize how incapacitated he was.  The press respected his condition and never took pictures of him in his wheelchair.    While he was in the White House, he vacationed at Warm Springs, Georgia, where he mingled with others in similar condition.

Franklin, becoming president in the midst of the most serious economic crisis the United States has ever faced, started programs such as New Deal to benefit the average citizen. When campaigning for president in the heart of the Great Depression, Franklin attacked President Herbert Hoover for his indecisive policies  during the economic panic that started with collapse of the stock market in 1929.   Then, in his inaugural speech, FDR told the American people, “The only we have to fear, is fear itself.” He then declared a Bank Holiday to  stop the run on the nation’s banks.

Likewise, when confronted by the crisis brought about by the growth of Japanese power in the western Pacific, Franklin Roosevelt dealt with it by decisive action.  He decided to  limit shipments of oil to Japan, especially when that nation invaded China in the mid-1930s.  Meanwhile in Europe, Hitler came to power and gradually expanded German territory before France and Great Britain supported Poland after the Germans invaded there in September, 1939.   Roosevelt used the example of lending his neighbor a hose if his neighbor’s house was on fire to justify sending help to Britain prior to the Japanese attack  on Pearl Harbor 1941.

Roosevelt and Winston Churchill became the leaders of the allied effort to defeat both Japan and Germany.  The Russians, under Stalin, who the victim of a double-cross by the German leader, kept advocating for a second front in Europe, but that was not to come until the spring of 1944. The war in the European theater ended less than a year later. Meanwhile, the Allies began to march across the Pacific, island by island, toward the Japanese home islands, where the war ended in August 1944, after two A-bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

President Roosevelt was not in good health when he ran for re-election in unprecedented third and fourth terms in the elections 0f 1940 and 1944, but he and his advisors kept his real condition from the public.  His health was not helped by the traveling he had to do to attend the many conferences held abroad to plan allied strategy. After he returned from the Yalta Conference early in 1945, his health had obviously deteriorated, as evidenced by the fact he had to sit while giving his report to Congress.  Within two months he was dead at 63.   Eleanor was shocked with the revelation that Franklin’s former mistress, Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd,  had been with him at Warm Springs, Georgia, when he died.  FDR’s funeral train took his body to Washington and on to Hyde Park, New York, where he was buried.

Eleanor, who had been Franklin’s eyes and ears during the depression and the  war developed an active life of her own.  She continued to write her daily newspaper column  and was later appointed an envoy to the United Nations.  She lived a full life until she died in 1962 at the age of 78.


For further reading:

Conrad Black.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Blanche W. Cook.  Eleanor Roosevelt,  Volume 1, 1884-1932.         Volume 2, 1933-1938.

Doris Kearns Goodwin.  No Ordinary Time.

Robert Klara.  FDR’s Funeral Train.

Joseph Lash.  Eleanor and Franklin.

Joseph Persico.  Franklin and Lucy.

Jean Edward Smith.  FDR.