"The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith."
That was the closing of FDR's final speech. He would not live to deliver it. Moments after writing those words, he collapsed and died. The date was April 12, 1945.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt recedes even further into the mists history this morning. Seventy years ago today, he was at his winter White House in Warm Springs, Georgia. The month before he had come back from a grueling, fourteen thousand mile journey to the Yalta Conference in the Soviet Union, where he, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin had discussed the fate of post-war Europe.
On his return to Washington it was obvious to everyone in his circle that the boss was seriously ill. In the preceding year he had lost close to fifty pounds, his hands trembled and there was a noticeable slur in his speech. His personal physician, Admiral Ross McIntyre, thought that a couple of weeks nestled within the leafy pines of Warm Springs would bring the president back to form - as it had so many times in the past.
Early in the afternoon of April 12, 1945, Roosevelt had just completed an address which he planned to give via radio the following evening for the Democrats' annual Jackson Day Dinner. There were four people in the room with him, his cousins Daisy Suckley and Laura Delano, his valet, Arthur Prettyman, the artist, Elizabeth Shoumatoff, who was painting his portrait, and Lucy Mercer Rutherford, a woman with whom Franklin had had a brief affair over a quarter century before. On this spring day in 1945, they we're just two old friends. They made each other laugh, something Franklin needed now more than any other time in his life. She also reminded him of his athletic youth, before the onslaught of polio withered his legs.
Without warning the president put his right hand to the back of his neck and said to Miss Suckley, "I have a terrific pain in the back of my head". With those final words he lost consciousness. His limp body was carried by Prettyman to his bedroom, where, less than an hour later, at 3:35 PM, Franklin D. Roosevelt was pronounced dead. He was sixty-three.
Seventy years later, the legacy of FDR is on life support in this country. There aren't many people still standing that have a conscious memory of what life was like in America before his grand experiment in unprecedented social engineering ushered in a New Deal for the American people. On the night of his inauguration in 1933, his outspoken distant cousin, Alice Roosevelt Longworth (Theodore's daughter) told him, "Franklin, if you fail you'll be the last Democratic president." The new president didn't miss a beat in his reply: "Alice, if I fail I'll be the last president - period".
It amuses me to no end whenever I hear Barack Obama described by the right wing SCREAM machine as "the most liberal president in history". He isn't. Truth be told, he's not even a close third. Not only was Roosevelt our most liberal president - he was a radical - at a time when radical change was desperately needed.
The obscene economic inequality that preceded the Administration of FDR, has risen from the depths of hell and is making a comeback in the United States at this very moment. We've pretty much forgotten all we owe him. Think about it: The youngest voter to cast his or her ballot for FDR in 1932 would this year be 104. My mother, who will turn eighty-four on August 5, was in the eighth grade when Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed into eternity seventy years ago today. We suffer from historical amnesia. They tell us that those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it. Take a look at the American economic landscape on April 12, 2015. It's happening. Go back to sleep.
Maybe it's a mere coincidence that history is not emphasized more in American high schools these days. Maybe it's not. One thing is beyond certainty: A lot of people who vote are in desperate need of a history lesson. Most of them are unable to identify President Roosevelt in a photograph - or even his image on the dime. That's a pretty pathetic situation.
A google news search this morning informs me that there is not one paper, anywhere in this nation, that is taking note of this milestone anniversary today. FDR is not even mentioned in passing. That's pretty pathetic as well.
"Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred. I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it, the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it, these forces met their master."
-Franklin D. Roosevelt, during the 1936 campaign
Can you imagine a politician - Democratic or Republican making such an utterance today? With A a small handful of noble exceptions, I can't.
I often make a pilgrimage to the FDR Library and Museum in Hyde Park, NY. Being a resident of New York's Hudson Valley, it's not difficult for me to get there any time I choose. In fact, it's less than forty miles from where I now sit. It is where Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born on the night of January 30, 1882, and where he and Eleanor sleep side-by-side in the rose garden of the mansion. I need the place like a tonic! Whenever I get to feeling depressed about this country (which fortunately is only when I'm sober) I take a little trek up there. Without fail, I always leave there feeling a little better about America. If you ever find yourself in my neck of the woods, I cannot recommend it enough.
Seventy years later he still speaks to us. We're not listening. That is our eternal shame. Let me leave you with his best remembered quote:
"So first of all, let me express my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...."
Aw, hell. You know the rest of it.
No Ordinary Time
by Doris Kearns-Goodwin
The best book on the Roosevelt White House ever written. Here's a link to order it off of Amazon.com:
It doesn't get any better than Doris!
Here is a link to a piece I wrote three years ago today on the 67th anniversary of the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt:
The American Experience - FDR
A number of years ago this excellent documentary on Franklin D. Roosevelt was aired by PBS. This is part one. Here is a link to watch it on YouTube:
"But the president who Championed the common man, was not like most Americans."
Let's drink a toast to happy days!
February 11, 2012