Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882–1945) was the thirty-second president of the United States and the only one to be elected to office four times. Roosevelt led the nation during some of the most harrowing events in American history—the Great Depression and World War II.

Born to a wealthy and privileged family in upstate New York, Roosevelt enrolled at Harvard in 1900. While at college, Franklin began a courtship with his distant cousin Eleanor Roosevelt, niece of President Theodore Roosevelt. The two were married in 1905, over the initial objections of Franklin’s mother. Roosevelt went on to earn a degree from Columbia Law School, and in 1910 his political career began when he successfully ran as a Democrat for the New York state senate. Three years later, he was appointed assistant secretary of the Navy by President Woodrow Wilson. When World War I began in Europe, Roosevelt advocated military preparedness and later, US entry into the war.

In 1918, Eleanor discovered Franklin’s affair with social secretary Lucy Mercer, and while the Roosevelts remained married, their relationship changed dramatically. Franklin and Eleanor began living largely independent lives but continued to respect and support one another in their public and professional endeavors.

In 1920, Roosevelt earned the vice presidential nomination on the Democratic ticket, but the Republicans took the election. The next year, Roosevelt was stricken with polio and suffered paralysis of both legs. For the next seven years, he retreated from public life. During his illness, Eleanor remained in the public eye through her commitment to the Democratic Party and her involvement in various causes. Her civic engagement helped keep the Roosevelt name relevant while Franklin recovered.

In 1928, Roosevelt ran for governor of New York. He won the election and then re-election in 1930, and he spent his four years as governor advocating for reforms in tax relief, utilities, and other areas to combat Great Depression problems. In 1932, he won the Democratic nomination for president and went on to defeat incumbent President Herbert Hoover. Roosevelt would be elected to a total of four terms in office. He served from 1933 until his death in 1945—longer than any other American president.

During his first terms, he saw the United States through the Great Depression, implementing a vast range of relief programs and reforms through the New Deal with mixed success. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the United States entered World War II. Roosevelt, then in his third term as president, worked with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin to form the Allied alliance against the German-led Axis Powers. Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945—less than a month before German surrender—but his leadership helped lead to the ultimate Allied victory, and he would be largely remembered as a great American leader at a difficult time in the history of the nation and of the world.

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History

Already have an account?

Please click here to login and access this page.

How to subscribe

Click here to get a free subscription if you are a K-12 educator or student, and here for more information on the Affiliate School Program, which provides even more benefits.

Otherwise, click here for information on a paid subscription for those who are not K-12 educators or students.

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History

Become an Affiliate School to have free access to the Gilder Lehrman site and all its features.

Click here to start your Affiliate School application today! You will have free access while your application is being processed.

Individual K-12 educators and students can also get a free subscription to the site by making a site account with a school-affiliated email address. Click here to do so now!

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History

Why Gilder Lehrman?

Your subscription grants you access to archives of rare historical documents, lectures by top historians, and a wealth of original historical material, while also helping to support history education in schools nationwide. Click here to see the kinds of historical resources to which you'll have access and here to read more about the Institute's educational programs.

Individual subscription: $25

Click here to sign up for an individual subscription to the Gilder Lehrman site.

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History

Upgrade your Account

We're sorry, but it looks as though you do not have access to the full Gilder Lehrman site.

All K-12 educators receive free subscriptions to the Gilder Lehrman site, and our Affiliate School members gain even more benefits!

How to Subscribe

K-12 educator or student? Click here to get free access, and here for more information on the Affiliate School Program.

Not a educator or student? Click here for more information on purchasing a subscription to the Gilder Lehrman site.

Related Site Content