This Week in History: April 12

FDR delivering a “fireside chat.”

Council on Foreign Relations

FDR delivering a “fireside chat.”

On April 12, 1945, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States, passed away, leaving a void felt deeply by many across the nation. His enduring twelve-year presidency and leadership during the Great Depression and Second World War demand him a spot among the most influential statesmen of the modern era. 

Born in New York in 1882 and inspired by his distant relative (the future President Theodore Roosevelt), he attended Harvard and Columbia and went into politics. During the First World War, he served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and later went directly to the field in 1918, brushing shoulders with the famous international names of Winston Churchill, King George V, and Georges Clemenceau, among others. 

After nearly a decade out of politics, he was elected as Governor of New York in 1929, months before the United States stock market crashed on Black Tuesday. To deal with this, Roosevelt implemented reform and relief at a state-wide level, installing plans such as pensions and unemployment insurance. 

By the presidential election of 1932, democrats across the nation looked to FDR to better the economic crisis plaguing the country. His “New Deal” plan won him the vote, promising a brighter future for the American economy in the form of economic stability, financial reform, social welfare, and various public works programs. In his famous inaugural address he attempted to assuage the people, promising that they had “nothing to fear but fear itself.” 

In the “first hundred days” of his presidency, he pushed legislation that aimed to revive the American economy, reform the banking system, and save wilting agricultural industries. FDR implemented his wide-reaching New Deal reforms in many other areas. The Wagner Act of 1935 allotted more power to labor unions and the Social Security Act installed a framework to care for the needy, a pivotal step in social welfare. Although Roosevelt’s efforts bettered the American economy, only the mobilization of industry in the Second World War could pull the nation out of the crisis.

In late 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and Nazi Germany declared war on the United States, lassoing Americans into the biggest and most deadliest war in history. FDR immediately called for the mobilization of industry and military, using powerful American industry to fuel the war effort. America engaged in a two front war in Europe and the Pacific. Months before Germany’s surrender, Roosevelt passed away, never seeing final victory over Japan or Germany. 

The Allied Powers [from left to right: Soviet Premier Stalin, President Roosevelt, and Prime Minister Churchill] meet at Tehran in 1943.

Roosevelt’s legacy lives on in America several decades later. Through his action-packed twelve years in office, he guided America out of economic and social collapse, laying the foundation for American affluence and a prosperous economy in the postwar era.