The American Age: United States Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad

By Walter Lafeber | Go to book overview

12
FDR and the Entry into World War II
(1933-1941)

THE SECOND ROOSEVELT

Franklin D. Roosevelt entered the White House in March 1933 as Americans reeled in shock from the economic crisis. The banking system lay in shambles, one of four workers had no job, formerly comfortable businessmen sold apples for 5 cents each on street corners, and dust storms choked those farmers not already driven off their land by bankruptcy. Hitler and Japanese expansionists began to shape world politics, while the League of Nations, mortally wounded by the U.S. and British refusal to support its call to action against Japan in 1932, stumbled slowly to its death.

No one could predict how Roosevelt might react to these crises. Born into a wealthy New York family, distantly related to Theodore Roosevelt, educated at an elite prep school and at Harvard (where his C average indicated that he spent most of his time editing the school newspaper), Roosevelt knew little about grass-roots America. But he moved successfully into New York state politics, then became assistant secretary of the navy under Woodrow Wilson. In 1920, the thirty-eight‐ year-old ran as vice-president on the Democratic party ticket that promised to support Wilson's League of Nations. The Democrats lost, but Roosevelt's future looked limitless—until he was struck down with polio in 1921. His legs were paralyzed for life, his political career apparently ruined. But, with the help of his wife Eleanor and close

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