Franklin D. Roosevelt - early yearsFranklin Delano Roosevelt, FDR to the lazy or familiar, was the 32nd President of the United States and the only one to be elected for more than two terms. He emerged onto the political scene during a period of infectious hopelessness. Leadership had deserted the common American and FDR's combination of optimism and active intervention, rekindled America's spirit. "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself," was the stirring quote from his inauguration. The profusion of executive orders he dispatched, termed 'The New Deal' introduced relief, recovery and reform. In short: jobs, economic recovery and regulation to prevent similar disasters re-occuring (which they didn't, until 2008). Economic recovery was rapid, but dipped into recession in 1937, before booming during the war years, when unemployment dropped from 28% (in 1933) to 1.2% (in 1944).
In August 1921, while the Roosevelts were on holiday in Canada, FDR contracted an illness diagnosed at the time as polio, though is now considered more consistent with Guillain–Barré Syndrome. Fitting his hips and legs with iron braces, he taught himself to walk short distances by swivelling his torso while using a cane as support. In private, he used a wheelchair, but was careful never to be seen so in public. Frances Perkins believed that the illness changed Roosevelt's personality and in doing so, created a better man. "Roosevelt underwent a spiritual transformation during the years of his illness. I noticed when he came back, that the years of pain and suffering had purged the slightly arrogant attitude he had displayed on occasion. The man emerged completely warmhearted, with humility of spirit and a deeper philosophy. Having visited the depths of trouble, he readily empathised with those in trouble."
Roosevelt in the UKRoosevelt used his charisma to build support in the US, for intervention. America should be the "Arsenal of Democracy", he told his fireside audience. On September 2, 1940, Roosevelt openly defied the Neutrality Acts by passing the Destroyers for Bases Agreement, which gave 50 American destroyers to Britain in exchange for military base rights. This was a precursor of the March 1941 Lend-Lease Agreement which began to direct military and economic aid to Britain and other Allies. Franklin D. Roosevelt, eager to secure public consent for this controversial plan, explained to the American Public that it was comparable to one neighbour lending another a garden hose, to put out a fire in his home.
From 1941 when they first met at a conference, until FDR's death in 1945, Roosevelt and Churchill sustained a close personal and professional relationship. Playwright Robert Sherwood later wrote, "It would be an exaggeration to say that Roosevelt and Churchill became chums at this conference... They established an easy intimacy, a joking informality and moratorium on pomposity and cant, and also a degree of frankness in intercourse which, if not quite complete, was remarkably close to it." Roosevelt cabled Churchill after the meeting, "It is fun to be in the same decade with you." Churchill later wrote, "I felt I was in contact with a very great man, who was also a warm-hearted friend and the foremost champion of the high causes which we served."
At Yalta (February 1945), Lord Moran, Winston Churchill's physician, commented on Roosevelt's ill health: "He is a very sick man. He has all the symptoms of hardening of the arteries of the brain in an advanced stage, so that I give him only a few months to live". Within 2 months, FDR died in his chair at home, of a cerebral haemorrhage. After Roosevelt's death an editorial by The New York Times declared, "Men (probably women too) will thank God on their knees a hundred years from now that Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the White House." At the time of his collapse, Roosevelt had been sitting for a portrait by the artist Elizabeth Shoumatoff, known as the infamous 'Unfinished Portrait of FDR'. His death was met with shock and grief in the United States and equivalent sentiment among other Allied nations. Less than a month after his death, on May 8, came the moment Roosevelt had fought so tirelessly for: V-E Day.
Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fibre of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Austerity LondonWhen the Second World War began on 3 September 1939 in Britain, so did government rationing; initially with petrol. In January 1940 butter, sugar, bacon and ham were added and rationing became a belt which was ever-tightened over the course of the war to include tea, meat, eggs, cheese, jam, marmalade and milk.
Shortly after the USA joined the war, it began to station GIs in the UK and there were shocked accounts by those arriving, at the general squalor of war-torn Britain. The train taking troops from disembarkation by ship at Liverpool docks, would be unheated and dark (blacked out windows and puny bulbs, if any at all). Across an inky landscape, with bomb-ravaged cities and long procession lines of olive-drab, barrage balloons. Food was scarce, clothing was unobtainable and King George VI ordered the painting of a line five inches from the bottom of Buckingham Palace bathtubs to show the level above which lukewarm water must not rise. People were thin, brittle and tired, and had suffered privation to keep the troops fed - but had never lost their spirit. Many GI's had presumed that war began once they set foot on continental Europe, but swiftly realised that the UK was a besieged country and the threat was to be more immediate.
Although conflicts were inevitable (a GI earned more than seven times his British counterpart and was rationed with considerably more food) there was an exceptionally strong bond to be maintained. United States Army Air Corps commander Carl ("Tooey") Spaatz is quoted as saying (echoing Supreme Commander: General Eisenhower - who if anything, was even more extremist on the subject): "There were three deadly serious crimes a serviceman could commit; Murder, rape, and interference with Anglo-American relations. The first two might conceivably be pardoned, but the third one, never."
Britain Honours a Lost Friend - FDR's Statue in Grosvenor Square, London.During the Second World War when the Chancery was on one side and General Eisenhower's headquarters on another, Grosvenor Square became popularly known as "Little America."
Sir William Reid Dick's statue of FDR was unveiled on 12th April 1948 by Eleanor Roosevelt (FDR's wife) and dedicated by U.S. Ambassador Lewis W. Douglas in front of an audience including the Royal Family, the Prime Minister Clement Attlee and the Leader of the Opposition Sir Winston Churchill. The King led Mrs Roosevelt to the statue for unveiling. The American National Anthem was played, followed by the Battle Hymn of the Republic, then Reveille.
The Roosevelt Memorial was funded in 1946 entirely through the sale of a souvenir brochure to the British public. It was the idea of a society called The Pilgrims, who were dedicated to promoting goodwill and friendship between Great Britain and America. So enthusiastic was the public response to the subscription that the total sum required was reached within six days from initial announcement of the appeal (a maximum donation of 5 shillings was set, to allow a greater number to contribute). More than 160,000 separate donations were received. It's worth noting that Britain was approaching starvation during this period (more so than during the war itself), with limited housing and disappearing jobs. Spare funds would have been tough to find. The fact that so many were willing, is testament to the high regard FDR enjoyed among the British Public.
After the terror attacks of 9/11 a book of condolence was opened in a marquee on Grosvenor Square. It was pitched beside the statue of Franklin D. Roosevelt, still seen as the most appropriate physical embodiment of close bonds between the two countries.
A permanent memorial garden to those who lost their lives in the United States on September 11, 2001 was built by the British Government in Grosvenor Square Garden, bordering the U.S. Embassy. The memorial's official opening was on September 11, 2003.
Roosevelt and Churchill in the UKThe BBC asked British academics to rate American Presidents in 2010, with the following results:
Highest Ranking Presidents:
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-45)
- Abraham Lincoln (1861-65)
- George Washington (1789-97)
- Thomas Jefferson (1801-09)
- Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09)
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-45) came first in three (of five) categories: vision/agenda-setting; domestic leadership; and foreign policy leadership. George Washington (1789-97) came first for moral authority, and Abraham Lincoln (1861-65) did so for the positive significance of his legacy.
It's also worth mentioning that Winston Churchill was voted the 'Greatest Briton' in '100 Greatest Britons', a popular BBC survey in 2002, phone-voted by the public. He won by an impressive margin. As Dickens remarked in a Tale of Two Cities - "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." By entering 'the abyss of a new dark age', there emerged the two most revered and respected statesmen - who also happened to be friends.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Grosvenor Square, London.
Nearest Tube: Bond Street or Marble Arch.