CONTENT WARNING: the following may contain some mild language, crude humor, alcohol, and commentary on American politics.
32 – FDR: FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT
Presidential Years: 1933-1945
Political Party: Democrat
Vice President: John Nance Garner / Henry A. Wallace / Harry S. Truman
Ran Against: President Herbert C. Hoover (1st term) / Alfred M. Landon (2nd term) / Wendell L. Willkie (3rd term) / Thomas E. Dewey (4th term)
First Lady: Eleanor Roosevelt
Quote: “Take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly, and try another. But by all means, try something.”
Best known for: The New Deal and his Pearl Harbor speech – getting us out of the Great Depression and getting us through WWII.
Random Fact: Only US President to run for 4 terms in a row – and won each time.
Bio: Franklin Delano Roosevelt (the cousin of President Teddy Roosevelt) was very much a man of his time. He was the first (and only) American President elected not just three, but four times! FDR helped lead the nation out of the Great Depression, inspired America and its allies throughout WWII and did it all from a wheel chair.
Roosevelt, an only child, fell in love with (and married) his 5th cousin, Eleanor Roosevelt, while at Harvard. The two went on to have five kids together. Eleanor went on to become one of the most famous and iconic First Ladies – she was passionate, outspoken and very active in the political and social scene. She was also very active in the fight for equal rights. It was Eleanor that encouraged her husband to get back into politics after his illness.
In 1921, at 39, Franklin D. Roosevelt was struck with Guillain–Barré syndrome (at the time misdiagnosed as polio), leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. From then on however, he kept the extent of his illness under wraps from the public. Throughout his campaign and Presidency, there are very few pictures of FDR in a wheel chair. FDR would later go on to starting a foundation that would eventually develop the polio vaccine.
FDR became President during the midst of America’s darkest hour: the Great Depression. In his inaugural address in 1933, Roosevelt reassured the nation, “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…” Throughout his Presidency, FDR spoke directly to the public through the radio in a series of “Fireside Chats”. In his first 100 days, FDR drafted the New Deal, a plan to rejuvenate the economy and get Americans back to work. The New Deal itself was more of a propaganda success than anything else, but it gave hope back to the people. The real economic boom came from the war.
In 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland and in response, France and Great Britain immediately declared war. The Second World War had begun. Yet, just like before, America decided not to get involved. It wasn’t until the morning of December 7th, 1941, that that all changed.
The Empire of Japan led an unprovoked attack against one of the US’s largest Naval bases in Hawaii: Pearl Harbor. 3 battleships (the Arizona, Oklahoma and Utah) were destroyed, 14 other ships were heavily damaged, hundreds of aircraft were destroyed and thousands of personnel were killed in the attack. Japan, Germany’s ally in the war, was desperately attempting to knock out America’s Naval powers before they could enter the war.
Instead, Japan had awoken a sleeping giant and brought on the entire wrath of the United States military. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, America found itself fighting a war on three fronts: troops on the ground in Europe, the Navy battling the Japanese in the Pacific and back home, women entered the workforce in droves to help the war effort overseas.
FDR teamed up with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Dictator / d-bag, Joseph Stalin to take down Hitler once and for all. While the war was devastating for most of Europe and Asia, the United States entered a golden age of economic prosperity. By the end of World War II, the US was one of the richest and most powerful nations in the world. FDR however, wouldn’t live to see the end of the war. Just a few months after winning his fourth term, FDR passed away in 1945, after serving for 12 years.
Despite Roosevelt’s incredible success in turning the country around, his legacy will forever be marred by the systematic round up and interment of Japanese-Americans against their will. That’s right, we had our very own internment camps based on race.
For better or worse, the American Presidency and the world itself were never quite the same after FDR.
33 – HARRY S. TRUMAN
Presidential Years: 1945-1953
Political Party: Democrat
Vice President: Vacant / Alben W. Barkley
Ran Against: Thomas E. Dewey (Republican), J. Strom Thurmond (States Rights’ Democrat), Henry Wallace (Progressive Party)
First Lady: Bess Wallace Truman
Quote: “There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.“
Best known for: Being the only President (so far) to nuke a country!
Random Fact: the S. in his name doesn’t actually stand for anything.
Bio: Harry S. Truman was anything but prepared when he heard the news that FDR had passed away. Upon hearing the news, Truman asked his widow, “Eleanor, is there anything I can do for you?” In response, Mrs. Roosevelt said, “Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now.” Truman after all had very big shoes to fill. Out of respect and admiration, he would later ask Eleanor to serve as a delegate to the United Nations, where she would draft and pass the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Harry on the other hand was a failed men’s clothing store owner prior to getting into politics, he never even went to college – and now he was the President of the United States. Not only that, Harry Truman was the President during WWII, the single most important event in the 20th century. Truman now had the immense responsibility of ending the war. Nazi Germany surrendered not long after FDR’s passing, but the war with Japan was still raging on the other side of the globe. President Truman had some very serious decisions to make. The biggest of these choices was whether or not to use the newly developed atomic bomb on Japan…
President Truman was between a boulder and a cactus patch – either the war would drag on for a few more years, costing hundreds of thousands of soldiers, or he could end the war immediately with a nuke, sacrificing thousands of innocent lives. Neither one was a good choice, but he chose to let the genie out of the bottle. (read more about the Manhattan Project here)
Another controversial decision of his was the Truman Doctrine, which was a foreign policy that basically started the Cold War. You see, right after WWII ended, we stopped being buddy buddy with Soviet Russia again. The Truman Doctrine was created in an attempt to contain the spread of communism and the Soviet Union, even if it meant supporting heavily armed dictators who just so happened to not like communists either. This lead to the Korean War and a ton of other conflicts throughout the twentieth century.
All that aside, Harry S. Truman was in a lot of ways the best kind of President – he didn’t care about reelection. He didn’t care about what decisions were unpopular with his base. He cared only about what was in the best interest of the country as a whole. In 1948, Harry was reelected by an overwhelming majority.
34 – DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER
Presidential Years: 1953-1961
Political Party: Republican
Vice President: Richard Nixon
Ran Against: Adlai Stevenson (Democrat – ran both times)
First Lady: Maime Doud Eisenhower
Quote: “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.“
Best known for: “I Like Ike” campaign buttons
Random Fact: In his farewell address, warned against the growing military industrial complex.
Bio: Dwight David Eisenhower was a soldier first and a President second. A graduate of West Point and football star, Eisenhower served with distinction in the Army under General MacArthur in the Philippines. In 1942, during the height of WWII, General Eisenhower was entrusted with the planning of the Allied invasion of North Africa. He was so successful that he was named the US commander of the European theater of Operations. By 1943, he was named the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force. He commanded all the allied forces by land, air and sea!
It was Dwight D. Eisenhower that orchestrated the Invasion of Normandy, Operation: D-Day. When he returned from the front, Eisenhower was a Five-Star General. Following the war, Eisenhower helped to restructure the war department into the modern Department of Defense. Then, if that’s not enough, Dwight decided to put together a little organization called NATO!
Eisenhower was on a roll, so of course when he ran for President on a promise to end the Korean War with a smile, he won in a landslide. President Eisenhower (or Ike as his campaign slogan called him) accomplished A LOT in his two terms: he created the national highway system, took a tough stance against the Soviet Union and he even signed NASA into existence! Throughout the 50’s, America enjoyed it’s most prosperous economy since the 1920’s. But not everything was peaches and cream.
On the other side of the coin, the Cold War with Russia was taking off as each side tried to outshine the other in their ability to create a bigger and badder bomb. Meanwhile, back home paranoia over communism lead to the Red Scare. A witch hunt led by Senator Joseph McCarthy led to the persecution of thousands – people arrested, interrogated and blacklisted with very little to no evidence. Many lost their jobs, their careers forever ruined by mere suspicion. Among those black listed were: J. Robert Oppenheimer, Albert Einstein, Charlie Chaplin, Lucille Ball, Pete Seeger, and Orson Welles.
To his credit, Eisenhower was also the one who eventually had McCarthy silenced.
All in all, I have an immense amount of respect for Eisenhower, he moved America into the future and did what he thought was best for the country in a tumultuous time. He set an example of what a modern President should be. He didn’t flaunt his power around and threaten other countries with nuclear war just because he was the leader of the most powerful nation on the planet. Sure some mistakes were made along the way, but he was wise beyond his years. He once said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”
During his farewell address, Eisenhower warned against the continued growth of the military industrial complex, when war becomes profitable, it will never end – a warning more dire today than ever before…
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American Presidents: Life Portraits (C-SPAN)
Presidential (podcast series)