Franklin D. Roosevelt
44th Governor
1929–1932
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) began his storied political career in the New York State Senate. During World War I, he served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy (1913–1920) and then suffered through and overcame a disabling bout of polio. Assuming the governorship at the onset of the Great Depression, Roosevelt devoted himself to relieving the burden on New Yorkers. He advocated for a federal old-age pension, and created the Temporary Relief Administration to provide assistance to the unemployed. Elected president in 1932, he is the only man in history to win four terms in the White House, where he led the country back to economic health and to victory in World War II.
Portrait: Jacob H. Perskie (1865–1941) emigrated from Russia to Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1885, and supported himself with farm work. Eventually he opened an art studio, which he maintained for over 55 years. He was FDR’s official photographer and portrait painter in the 1932 and 1936 presidential campaigns.

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Roosevelt, Franklin D(elano) (b Hyde Park, Dutchess Co, 30 Jan 1882; d Warm Springs, Ga, 12 Apr 1945). Governor and US president.

Raised on his family’s estate at Hyde Park, Roosevelt’s parents were James, a gentleman farmer, and Sara Delano, a dominating figure who closely supervised her only child. His boyhood was spent in privileged surroundings. Roosevelt was educated by tutors at home and during frequent trips to Europe, and then at Groton School and Harvard University in Massachusetts. In 1903 Roosevelt became editor of Harvard’s student newspaper, the Crimson, which inspired him toward a career in public service, as did the example of his distant cousin, Pres Theodore Roosevelt. In the years following his 1904 graduation from Harvard,Roosevelt lived in New York City, attended Columbia Law School, and was later hired as a junior associate at a law firm. In March 1905 Roosevelt married his fifth cousin once removed, Eleanor Roosevelt.

EARLY POLITICAL CAREER

In 1910 Roosevelt ran as the Democratic Party’s nominee for the state senate in the 26th District (which included parts of Putnam, Dutchess, and Columbia Cos). Although no Democrat had been elected from the district for over 30 years, Roosevelt campaigned hard, using a rented car, and won handily. In Albany he associated himself with reform elements and gained wide publicity for opposing the nomination of William Sheehan, a Tammany Hall nominee for US senator.

Roosevelt easily won reelection in 1912 but resigned his seat shortly afterward to become assistant secretary of the US Navy; he remained at the post for seven years and distinguished himself as an advocate of naval rearmament. With help from his advisor Louis Howe, Roosevelt remained interested in state politics. In 1914 he sought the Democratic nomination for US senator from New York but was soundly defeated by a Tammany-backed candidate.

In 1920 Roosevelt was selected as the vice presidential running mate to Democratic presidential nominee James Cox. He resigned his navy post and campaigned on a platform of American membership in the League of Nations; the Cox and Roosevelt ticket lost that November. Roosevelt returned to New York City, where he resumed practicing law. In August 1921 he suffered a crippling attack of polio and spent much of the following years attempting unsuccessfully to regain the use of his legs. During this period he became an outstanding supporter of progressive New York State governor Alfred E. Smith. In 1924 Roosevelt began his political comeback with his now famous Happy Warrior speech at the Democratic National Convention, nominating Smith for president. In 1928 he again nominated Smith for president. After Smith secured this nomination, he pressed Roosevelt hard to run as the Democratic candidate for governor of New York. Although Roosevelt wished to continue his rehabilitation efforts, he agreed to run.

Throughout fall 1928 Roosevelt campaigned actively, laying to rest doubts about his physical ability to handle the governorship. In November 1928, although Smith lost the presidential election, Roosevelt was narrowly elected governor.

GOVERNOR

A two-term governor (1928–32), Roosevelt faced throughout his years in Albany both a Republican-controlled legislature opposed to his policies and a state treasury drained by the onset of the Great Depression. Nevertheless, Roosevelt extended Al Smith’s progressive reforms into areas the former governor never covered, particularly programs that benefited rural New Yorkers. He adroitly countered legislative resistance to his initiatives by appealing for voter support in radio broadcasts. During his first term Roosevelt concentrated on administrative reform, most notably in confirming executive authority over the budget,which gave the governor control over the disposition of funds voted by the legislature. In November 1930 Roosevelt was reelected by a 725,000-vote margin.His second term was largely devoted to meeting the massive relief needs triggered by the depression.

Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt & Admiral Richard Byrd, 1930s.
Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt & Admiral Richard Byrd, 1930s. (Photo courtesy of the Albany County Hall of Records)

Roosevelt became the first state governor to advocate openly for a federal old-age pension system and in 1930 passed through the legislature a bill creating old-age insurance for New Yorkers over 70 years of age. In 1931 Roosevelt created the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration, a bureau dedicated to providing assistance to the state’s unemployed. Roosevelt also signed into law the Power Authority Act, which provided for public development of the state’s waterpower resources. Roosevelt’s years in the Executive Mansion were also dominated by a wide-ranging political scandal. In 1929 corruption charges arose in the New York City government controlled by Tammany Hall.Wary of his administration becoming ensnared in the scandal, Roosevelt did not address the issue with the straightforwardness that characterized his response to the depression. At first he resisted an investigation, but public outrage was too strong.

The state probe, known as the Seabury Investigations and opened by Roosevelt in 1931, uncovered extensive fiscal improprieties ultimately leading to the resignation of Jimmy Walker, mayor of New York City.

PRESIDENT

Roosevelt’s gubernatorial record made him an attractive national candidate, and in 1932 he was elected president of the United States. Roosevelt served 13 years (1933–45) in the White House.

During his first two terms, he concentrated on fighting the Great Depression through a battery of reforms, which he named the New Deal.

Among the New Deal’s lasting innovations were the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, which guaranteed bank deposits; the Securities and Exchange Commission,which regulated the financial markets; the Social Security Act, which provided unemployment insurance and old-age pensions; and the Wagner Act, which guaranteed labor unions the right to collective bargaining. A number of New Deal programs, such as the Federal Emergency Relief Administration and the Social Security Act, grew out of programs developed in New York State.

A number of Roosevelt’s close advisors, notably Frances Perkins, Harry Hopkins, and Samuel Rosenman, had first worked for Roosevelt in his administration in Albany. Although the New Deal did not cure the nation’s economic ills, it did provide jobs and inspiration to millions of people. After 1939 Roosevelt’s attention was increasingly drawn to foreign affairs. During 1940–41, he championed the cause of American rearmament and aid for Great Britain against Nazi Germany. Once the United States entered the war on 7 Dec 1941, Roosevelt joined the country with Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and China in a grand alliance to coordinate military and political strategy that by 1945 led to the total defeat of the Axis powers.

THE FINAL YEARS

Roosevelt remained a New Yorker throughout his presidency. He traveled frequently to his Hyde Park home, and he never lost his interest or influence in state politics via his lieutenants James A. Farley (state Democratic Party chair) and Edward Flynn (Bronx Co Democratic Party chair), and through his alliance with New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia. To help bolster his support at the ballot box in 1936, Roosevelt, with the cooperation of labor leaders, formed a third state party, the American Labor Party (ALP). The ALP brought under one umbrella socialist and Jewish voters who were inclined to vote for Roosevelt but did not because of Irish Catholic domination of the state Democratic Party. Once formed the ALP provided over 400,000 extra state votes for Roosevelt in the 1940 and 1944 elections. The president’s influence in state politics, however, did not always help the Democrats. In 1942 Roosevelt and Farley, by then fierce adversaries, sharply disagreed over who would be the Democratic gubernatorial nominee that year. Farley’s choice, John J. Bennett Jr, won out over Roosevelt’s, leading the president to refuse to endorse Bennett, who lost to Republican Thomas E. Dewey. His love of his local roots was reflected in his prolific efforts as an active amateur historian, and he published several works on the architecture and local history of Dutchess Co. Conscious of his place in history, in 1939 Roosevelt donated his personal papers to the US government and directed the building of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library on the grounds of his Hyde Park estate. The library and the Roosevelt home, which opened to the public following Roosevelt’s death in 1945, remain a popular state tourist attraction.

Bellush, Bernard. Franklin D. Roosevelt as Governor of New York (New York: Columbia Univ Press, 1955)

Freidel, Frank. Franklin D. Roosevelt: The Triumph (Boston: Little, Brown, 1958)

Ward, Geoffrey C. A First Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt (New York:Harper & Row, 1989)

Greg Robinson

Peter Eisenstadt, ed., The Encyclopedia of New York State
(Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005), [p. 1335].
© Syracuse University Press. Reproduced with permission from the publisher.

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