The Epoch of FDR
Born to wealth in Hyde Park, New York, in 1882, Franklin Delano Roosevelt never experienced poverty firsthand. The product of Groton School, Harvard University, and Columbia University Law School, young Roosevelt became a Wall Street lawyer. He devoted some of his time to free legal work for the poor and by this means came to know and sympathize with the plight of the so-called common man. FDR worked his way to prominence in Dutchess County (New York) politics and was appointed assistant secretary of the Navy in the Wilson administration. In 1920, FDR was running mate to James M. Cox, the democratic presidential hopeful who lost to Republican Warren G. Harding.
Then came Roosevelt’s darkest—and finest—hour. In the summer of 1921, while resident at his summer home on Campobello Island (New Brunswick, Canada), Roosevelt was felled by polio. Desperately ill, he recovered, but was left paralyzed from the waist down. His mother urged him to retire to the family’s Hyde Park estate. His wife, the remarkable Eleanor Roosevelt—FDR’s distant cousin and the niece of Theodore Roosevelt—persuaded FDR to return to public life. With great personal strength and courage, Roosevelt underwent intensive physical therapy, learned to stand using iron leg braces, to walk with the aid of crutches, and even to drive his own car. He ran for governor of New York and won, bringing to the state such progressive measures as the development of public power utilities, civil-service reform, and social-welfare programs.
When he decided to run for president, Roosevelt faced opponents who objected that he was neither intellectually nor (obviously!) physically fit for the White House.
FDR proved his opponents dead wrong. Having overcome the odds in his personal fight against polio, Roosevelt set about proving himself capable of overcoming the even grimmer odds in the national fight to lift America out of Depression. FDR flew to Chicago and addressed the 1932 Democratic National Convention, pledging to deliver to the American people a “New Deal,” a federally funded, federally administered program of relief and recovery.