David McCullough: [voice-over] "All that is within me," Franklin Roosevelt once wrote, "cries out to go back to my home on the Hudson River." Hyde Park was the center of the world.
Radio Newscaster: We interrupt this program to bring you a special news bulletin from CBS World News. A press association has just announced that President Roosevelt is dead. The President died of a cerebral hemorrhage. All we know so far is that the President died at Warm Springs in Georgia.
David McCullough [voice-over]: On April 13, 1945, the funeral train headed north. In the last car lay the body of the President of the United States. Franklin Delano Roosevelt had led Americans through the great Depression and the greatest war in history. Now, along railroad tracks from Georgia to New York, they gathered to say goodbye.
Geoffrey Ward, Biographer: A whole generation of Americans had grown up knowing no other president. He was a presence in their living rooms. He'd called them "my friends." He'd been at the helm through the two worst crises of this century. And to have him suddenly gone was an overwhelming shock.
Robert Fulton Copeland, Warm Springs Resident: The boss man come into the field and he throwed up his hand. I was flying a tractor. He said, "Mr. Roosevelt died today." I said, "What?" He said, "Mr. Roosevelt died today." I just set there. I just set there astonished. I felt like I had lost one of the closest brothers I ever had.
Eli Ginzberg, F.D.R. Administration: It was the single greatest feeling of loss, disorientation, uncertainty and the sense that the whole world was now without the one man that it needed.
David Ginsburg, F.D.R. Administration: This was a man of great ebullience. He was a man of constant cheer. He was a man of laughter. He had the feeling of life. There was vitality. This was a country in despair, and he brought us all together.
David McCullough: [voice-over] He was the man with the big, easy smile, the infectious sense of humor.
Reporter: Mr. President, how soon are you coming back?
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Just as soon as Congress will let me.
David McCullough: [voice-over] He loved conversation, company and good times.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Last year I nearly killed a photographer. All ready?
David McCullough: [voice-over] This was how Americans saw Franklin Roosevelt. This was the man they trusted so much they elected him president four times.
Alistair Cooke, Journalist: People just idolized him. The most astounding thing was the pictures of Roosevelt you saw everywhere. Bus stations, libraries, barber shops, homes -- there were pictures of Roosevelt. And the entire country decided he was the savior.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: We face the future with confidence and with courage. We are Americans.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Never before Roosevelt had Americans felt that government would take care of them, protect their homes and their farms, guarantee their savings accounts, promise them security in sickness and old age. But the President who championed the common man was not like most Americans.
Part One: The Center of the World
David McCullough: [voice-over] "My dear Mama, I am in a great hurry. I found two birds' nests. I took one egg. Your loving Franklin." Franklin Delano Roosevelt spent his childhood among people so unlike ordinary Americans they modeled themselves after the lords and ladies of England.
Bronson Chanler, Hudson Valley Neighbor: The world of wealth and privilege that F.D.R. grew up with was one that was essentially very comfortable for everybody. And the families that lived on those estates were generally friends with one another, related very often to each other, and were the only people that visited one another. I think it's fair to say that even the professional men in the towns, who were the doctors and the lawyers and so on, were not generally invited to the river houses to dinner.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Franklin Roosevelt was born in Hyde Park, New York on January 30, 1882 on the big, forested estate his parents called Springwood.
Geoffrey Ward, Biographer: Springwood was a beautiful, isolated place. It was its own world, and it was entirely built around this privileged little boy. And I think he spent most of his life trying to replicate the way his boyhood was arranged.
David McCullough: [voice-over] "At the very outset he was plump, pink and nice," his mother said. "I used to love to bathe and dress him. He looked very sweet, his little blonde curls bobbing as he ran as fast as he could whenever he thought I had designs on combing them."
Nearly every detail of Franklin's childhood was recorded with single-minded devotion by his mother, Sarah Delano Roosevelt. She kept his baby clothes, every childish drawing, each golden curl. Franklin was eight and a half years old before he was allowed to bathe himself.
Geoffrey Ward, Biographer: If it's the job of a mother to make her child feel that he or she can do anything, then Sarah Delano Roosevelt was surely one of the great mothers in American history.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Franklin's father was more than 25 years older than Sarah. He was 53 when Franklin was born. Franklin called him "Popsy." Everyone else called him "Mr. James." Mr. James bred trotters and rode to the hounds. He smoked cheroots. He would ride out with his son to survey their estate. The workers tipped their hats to Mr. James and then to Master Franklin. The boy accepted these displays of deference as routine.
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson: F.D.R. grew up in a very tight little island. He learned how to please adults from probably before he remembered. His activities were related to showing off for them, relating to them, not to other children, and he didn't go off to play games with other children. I don't think he ever swung a baseball bat until he finally went to school. He was tutored at home or abroad, because every year they went abroad for several months. F.D.R., with all this attention, was undoubtedly a lonely boy.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Franklin wandered his family estate, secure, he later said, in the peacefulness and regularity of things. Then, when he was nine, his well-ordered world fractured. His 63-year-old father suffered a heart attack. Any irritation might aggravate him, provoke another heart attack and kill him.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: His father's sickness must have reinforced the tendency that was already in him as a small child to be a nice boy, to never make any trouble, never make anybody sad. Now he had to worry, "If I go in there and make trouble, I may weaken his already-weakened heart." So it must have put an enormous pressure on this kid.
David McCullough: [voice-over] With an infirm father and a domineering mother, Franklin learned to conceal his true feelings. Throughout his life, he would remain a charming but distant figure even to those who were closest to him. When he was 14 years old, Franklin left the rarified world of his Hyde Park estate. His path seemed clear -- boarding school, Harvard, and an uneventful life of luxury and ease among his own kind.
"Dear Mama, I am getting on very well with the fellows. I have not had any black marks or lateness yet, and I'm much better in my studies."
Geoffrey Ward, Biographer: His letters are always cheerful -- everything's wonderful, he's having a grand time with the other fellows -- and yet he wasn't. He was, I think, quite unhappy.
David McCullough: [voice-over] At Groton, the private school for sons of the rich, Franklin, with all his charm and self-assurance, expected to excel. He did please his teachers and took to heart his headmaster's urgings toward public service, but he did not fit in with the boys.
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson: Groton was his first exposure to other children on a regular basis. After all, he boarded -- all the children boarded -- so he was with other boys 24 hours a day. And it must have been a rude shock to come out of that nest, that very protective nest where he was the only bird or chick in the nest.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Sports meant everything at Groton, but Franklin was too slight for success. His mother worried Franklin might be injured and wrote that he "not have the misfortune of hurting anyone." He was enthusiastic about baseball, but only carried the bats and fetched the water for the ballplayers.
Jeffery Potter, Groton School Alumnus: He wasn't an athlete. He had never played with other boys' games much, and that was very bad indeed, because it made him an outsider, as if he wasn't -- no, as if he didn't belong and really in a sense where he didn't belong.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Plunged into an unforgiving world of adolescent boys, Franklin never fit in. His struggle for acceptance only isolated him further.
Jeffery Potter, Groton School Alumnus: Franklin's tone was not the Groton tone. He seemed so desperate for approval. He was too ambitious and too eager and he was very much, I would say from what I've heard, very close to being a golden retriever. In other words, his tail was always wagging even when it shouldn't be.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Jeffrey Potter's father was the star of the baseball team. "I can't understand this thing about Frank," he said when Roosevelt became president. "He never amounted to much at school." At Groton, Franklin confessed years later, something had gone sadly wrong.
At Harvard, he was determined to win popularity and recognition, and he did succeed. He campaigned for class office and won and was elected editor-in-chief of the college newspaper, but what he wanted even more was admission to Porcellian, Harvard's most exclusive club.
Bronson Chanler, Hudson Valley Neighbor:You immediately, if you were a member of the Porcellian Club, were recognized as a-- as we say in the club, a brother, by all graduates who had been in the place that were still alive. But it was essentially a network of friendships, not of power but of friendships, but that could lead to power.
David McCullough: [voice-over] The election was secret, held behind closed doors in the Porcellian Clubhouse. Each member was given one white and one black ball. A single black ball deposited in the wooden ballot box was all it took to exclude a candidate. His father had been a member. So had other Roosevelts. Franklin had every reason to believe that he would be chosen, too. Franklin was blackballed.
Bronson Chanler, Hudson Valley Neighbor: No doubt Franklin Roosevelt failed to be elected to the Porcellian Club for the simple reason that somebody who was in there at the time didn't like him. You didn't have to have done anything particularly significant. The fellow would just say, "I don't like the cut of your jib, so I don't want you in there," and out you went.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Years later when he was president and the New Deal at high tide, there were those Porcellian members who would call him a traitor to his class and ascribe his social policies to revenge.
Geoffrey Ward, Biographer: Certainly, none of Roosevelt's classmates at Harvard imagined that he would ever be president. I think they were the first of many, many people who underestimated Roosevelt.
David McCullough: [voice-over] While Franklin was at Harvard, his father, 72 years old and grown frail and weak from heart disease, died. Sarah wrote in her diary, "All is over. He merely slept away." Now her boy was all she had left. She moved to Boston to be near him. A family friend once wrote, "She would not let her son call his soul his own."
Franklin began using a secret code in his diary. He wrote, "E is an angel." Franklin had fallen in love with a distant cousin. "E" was Eleanor Roosevelt. From the first, Eleanor Roosevelt saw that there was a serious man beneath the easygoing charm. For the rest of their life together, even through the most difficult years of their marriage, she would be drawn to the serious side of his nature.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: Franklin and Eleanor come, from the same social class. There are certain mores, customs, rituals that link their childhoods. Everything else is so totally different they might have come from the other ends of the world.
Eleanor Roosevelt: I was a very ugly little girl. My mother was very beautiful. I think she always wondered why her daughter had to be so ugly. I adored my mother, but rather like a distant and beautiful thing that I couldn't possibly get close to.
Oh, my father meant a tremendous amount. I adored him all the days of my childhood. He called me Little Nell after the Little Nell in Dickens's story, and I always liked that.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Eleanor's childhood was a series of losses. Her parents' marriage was troubled. Elliott Roosevelt was an alcoholic. Erratic and self-destructive, he left home when she was six. Less than two years later, her mother died of diphtheria. The year after, her younger brother died, and the following year her beloved, drunken father died. Eleanor and her brother were left with dutiful, reserved relatives. She grew afraid of other children, mice, the dark, practically everything.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: From the melancholy lives of both of her parents, Eleanor took away the feeling that love never lasts, that the world is a dark and forbidding place and that you never can count on anything.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Then when she was 15, she was sent to an English boarding school called Allenswood where she was encouraged to think for herself, be independent, overcome her fears.
Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt Biographer: Allenswood was definitely a turning point. It was the first time that she was really allowed to shine, and her own specialness was recognized. That is really where she got her sense of security and also her sense of her own power.
David McCullough: [voice-over] The years she spent at Allenswood, Eleanor said, were the happiest of her life. She was 18 when Franklin began to pursue her.
Edna Gurewitsch, Roosevelt Family Friend: He was a gay and outgoing and charming young man. There was something very sympathetic about him and romantic, and they had a very sweet and romantic relationship according to their early letters.
David McCullough: [voice-over] "We have had two happy days together," she wrote him, "and you know how grateful I am for every moment which I have with you. Your devoted Little Nell."
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: Eleanor's relatives and friends thought of Franklin as a feather duster, which meant somebody who just skimmed along the surface of life and never got very deep into anything at all, so I'm not sure they thought that he was such a wonderful catch for her, because even then Eleanor had a certain vitality, a certain seriousness of purpose that made people feel that she was something special.
Edna Gurewitsch, Roosevelt Family Friend: Can you imagine how different she must have been from the average run of debutantes of the time? She must have been very interesting, besides being tall with a beautiful figure, fine light hair and lovely skin and great warmth. There was something else, too, and this is not to be underestimated. It didn't hurt his courtship that her uncle was President of the United States.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Theodore Roosevelt was a hugely popular president -- tireless, voluble, inspiring. T.R., someone said, was a steam engine in trousers. As a boy, Franklin had watched with pride his distant cousin's spectacular rise to power: assistant secretary of the Navy, governor of New York, President of the United States. "Theodore Roosevelt," Franklin would later say, "was the greatest man I ever knew." Now Franklin was courting the President's favorite niece. The President was "dee-lighted" that Franklin had proposed marriage to Eleanor. Franklin's mother was not. Franklin had in fact concealed from Sarah the entire courtship.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: The fact that she didn't even know that he was in love with this girl, she didn't know the most important thing that was happening in her son's life, and she thought she knew every waking thought in this child from the time he was born.
David McCullough: [voice-over] "Dearest Mama, I know what pain I must have caused you and you know I wouldn't do it if I really could have helped it, but I know my mind and I'm the happiest man just now in the world."
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: And finally she had to accept that this was going to happen and decided that she would control Eleanor and then somehow she wouldn't lose Franklin.
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson: I think F.D.R. was very much attracted to my grandmother because they were two lonely people, two people who were not totally satisfied with the standards and ideals of their upper-class group. And I think the two of them looked at each other and knew that they could draw strength from each other.
David McCullough: [voice-over] On March 17, 1905 -- St. Patrick's Day -- Franklin and Eleanor were married. He was 23, she was 20. The President of the United States was there to give away the bride. "Well, Franklin," T.R. told the groom, "there's nothing like keeping the name in the family." The honeymoon was a three-month grand tour of Europe.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: On the surface, everything seemed fine -- they're seeing Venice, they're seeing Rome -- but at nights, Roosevelt, Eleanor reported, would be tormented by nightmares, and he sleepwalking. And then he broke out in hives, all of which suggested that something wasn't right.
David McCullough: [voice-over] They climbed the Alps, motored through the French countryside. Few would have sensed that they were ill at ease.
Geoffrey Ward, Biographer: He loved to have a good time. All his life, he loved to do that. She wanted someone she could confide in. She'd been alone really all her life and she wanted an intimate partner. She did not get one in Franklin. He didn't like sharing intimacies with anyone, even his wife.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Back in America, Sarah was waiting. "I am so glad," Sarah had written them, "that although you've had such a perfect time, you are now anxious to see home and Mother again." That winter, as a Christmas gift, Sarah gave them a drawing with the note scrawled on the bottom: "To Franklin and Eleanor from Mama, number and street not yet quite decided."
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: When Franklin and Eleanor arrive home from their honeymoon, Sarah tells them, "I've got a present for you, it's great, a new home." Not only that, but it's furnished by her, it's structured by her, it's decorated by her, it's her.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Sarah built them a brownstone and then moved into its twin next door.
Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt Biographer: The house is five stories and on each floor there are sliding doors where she can walk from her side of the house into their side. And Eleanor Roosevelt writes there was never any privacy day or night. Sarah Delano Roosevelt was just part of the scene.
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson: In a way, great-grandmother made her dependent. She wanted both her son and her daughter-in-law to be dependent upon her. His mother controlled F.D.R.'s purse strings until the day she died in 1941 when he was into his third term as president, and -- but, you know, the President of the United States didn't control his own income. His mother did.
Eleanor Seagraves, Granddaughter: The first 10 years of her married life were spent having children -- six children in about 10 years. She loved the children, but she didn't really know how to run that infant stage.
Edna Gurewitsch, Roosevelt Family Friend: I think she was totally inept when it came to dealing with children. She relied on her mother-in-law and on the various governesses and was so unsure of herself not only because she was an unsure person at the time, but she had never experienced mother love.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: And because she felt insecure about not knowing how to mother her own children, she once again turned to Sarah. Sarah knew. Sarah had confidence. Sarah had an opinion about everything. So it wasn't only that they brought in nurses and grannies to help the children, Sarah was the overseer of the house entirely and of the kids.
Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt Biographer: His mother's ever-looming presence was never challenged. F.D.R. never wanted to move out of his mother's home, and so they lived in Sarah Delano Roosevelt's homes. At Hyde Park, it's her home, so she sits at the head of the table, Franklin sits at the other end of the table, and Eleanor sits somewhere in the middle with the children.
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson: I see her as an upper-class grande dame who knew her place. She was just doing what came naturally. She, in a way, knew who she was, and my grandmother, in the early years of her marriage, didn't know who she was. That took a long time for her to find out.
David McCullough: [voice-over] In the early 1900s, the Roosevelts appeared to be an utterly conventional upper class couple, with Franklin amiably dabbling in the law, but at 25, he was bored and restless, looking for an outlet for his enormous energies. To a fellow law clerk, he confided a remarkable secret ambition.
Grenville Clark, Law Clerk: He said he intended to enter political life as soon as he could, with a view to becoming president. He said that modestly enough but very definitely, and he laid out a definite plan.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Franklin told Clark he would follow the path blazed by his hero, Theodore Roosevelt -- state legislature, assistant secretary of the Navy, governor of New York, President of the United States. Cousin Theodore had already proved that a gentleman might, as Franklin's mother said, "go into politics but not be a politician."
Geoffrey Ward, Biographer: Theodore Roosevelt was almost an obsession with Franklin. When he was told he had to wear glasses, he got pince-nez and put them on his nose, because Theodore Roosevelt wore pince-nez. He would say things like, "bully" and "dee-lighted" when he was talking to the press early in his political career. He was fascinated by his energy, his enthusiasm, above all, I think, in his feeling that government could do enormous amounts of good. Theodore Roosevelt was the great model for Franklin Roosevelt.
David McCullough: [voice-over] In 1910 at the age of 28, Franklin jumped at the chance to follow in his cousin Theodore's footsteps. He was invited to run for the state senate, mostly because his last name was Roosevelt. He ran as a Democrat, although T.R. was a Republican.
Geoffrey Ward, Biographer: His father had been a Democrat, but I think the real reason was that Theodore Roosevelt had several sons, all of whom, everyone presumed, were going to have political careers in the Republican Party, and there was simply not enough room for another Republican Roosevelt.
Eleanor Roosevelt: He was offered the impossible task of running for office in Duchess County. No Democrat had ever been elected in 32 years. He wasn't a very good speaker in those early days. There would be horrible long pauses, and I would wonder whether he was ever going on again. He made a very vigorous campaign, and it just happening that that year was a Democratic sweep and he got in. Otherwise, I don't think he would have started then at all.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Franklin celebrated by handing out $14 worth of good cigars. In Albany, in the rough-and-tumble world of state politics, he began his career in the style of his cousin Theodore. Within days of being sworn in, he led a rebellion against the leadership of his own party. He lost and the bosses never forgave him.
Geoffrey Ward, Biographer: Party regulars couldn't stand him. They thought he was rich, spoiled, unwilling to compromise or cooperate -- a snob.
David McCullough: [voice-over] "This fellow is still young," one of them said, "Wouldn't it be safer to drown him before he grows up?" To survive, Franklin would need help, and he turned to a shrewd, strange-looking reporter, Louis Howe.
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson: I remember the smell of Louis Howe more than anything else -- a gnome, gaunt, short wispy hair -- I mean, enough to scare a child, and I was.
Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt Biographer: He's dirty. He never showers or bathes enough. He smokes these dreadful, smelly Sweet Caporal cigarettes and the ashes, you know, sort of coat his vest and tie.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Franklin's mother especially disliked him. "That dirty little man," she called him. Eleanor, too, disapproved.
Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt Biographer: They want him out. He represents the worst, the smelliest, you know, stuff of politics. He drinks, he smokes, he curses. He's a pain. Out of there.
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson: But still Louis Howe was a seasoned politician. As you might say, he knew where all the bodies were buried, and F.D.R. needed to know.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Together Howe and Franklin formed one of the oddest alliances in American political history. It would last until Howe's death in 1936. "I was so impressed with Franklin Roosevelt," Howe liked to say of their first meeting, "I thought then nothing but an accident could keep him from becoming President of the United States."
In 1913, after only two years in Albany, the Democratic state senator with the famous last name was summoned to Washington. Impressed by his growing reputation as a reform Democrat and by Franklin's pedigree, President Woodrow Wilson offered him the job of assistant secretary of the Navy, the same job that Theodore Roosevelt had used to catapult himself to the presidency. He was just 31 years old.
Franklin loved the Navy. He pressed for the largest possible fleet, learned to deal with Congress, businessmen, labor, and he built a reputation as enthusiastic, efficient, hard-working. But just as he began to walk the corridors of real power, first he put his job and then his marriage in jeopardy.
Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt Biographer: Washington for Franklin is a great liberation. You know, he never had a teenage rebellion. He never had a moment where he defied his mother or his wife. He had really been a dutiful son and he'd really been a dutiful husband. Washington blew all that out of the water, if I may use a naval term for the assistant secretary of the Navy.
David McCullough: [voice-over] He was a young man on the make. He worked for Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, and he wanted his job -- ridiculed him behind his back, undermined his decisions.
Geoffrey Ward, Biographer: F.D.R. worked as a subordinate under Josephus Daniels for almost eight years, and he was a terrible subordinate. I think he simply couldn't stand the notion that someone was giving him orders about something he was quite sure he knew much more about. Roosevelt undercut his boss time and again. He went over his head to the President from time to time, and Daniels put up with all of it.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Daniels said he enjoyed Franklin's spontaneity and gaiety, imagining great things for him. When they looked at their picture taken together, Daniels told him, "I'll tell you why you're smiling. We're both looking down on the White House, and you're saying to yourself, 'Someday I will be living in that house.'" Franklin just kept smiling.
Geoffrey Ward, Biographer: Daniels thought Roosevelt a wonderfully charming young man and, I think, must have been the most patient man in American history, because any other man would have fired Roosevelt for insubordination early on.
David McCullough: [voice-over] At the same time, Franklin's marriage was heading for trouble.
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson: It was not a happy household. F.D.R. enjoyed himself, he enjoyed having a good time, and unfortunately, he couldn't get my grandmother to go along. She actually disapproved. She had moral reservations, is the only way I can put it, about really enjoying herself.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Eleanor was caught in what she described as the slavery of the Washington social system, dutifully advancing her husband's career. Overwhelmed with social obligations, she spent her days leaving her calling cards at the stately homes of the rich and powerful. "I was perfectly certain," Eleanor later wrote, "that I had nothing to offer, and that my duty as the wife of a public official was to do exactly as the majority of women were doing."
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: And suddenly the most important thing is to be part of the social whirl of Washington, D.C., which is essentially a round of cocktail parties, trivial conversation, the very thing that Eleanor hates. Franklin finds out that he's incredibly well suited for the small-talk, gossipy side of Washington life. He's a great conversationalist, he loves telling stories, he loves small talk and he loves that kind of superficial connection between people -- and his vitality and his magnetism are beginning to show.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Franklin was especially attractive to women. One Washington hostess described him as the most desirable man she had ever met.
Every summer, the Roosevelts seemed to find relief from the strains of Washington on an island off the coast of Maine -- Campobello. "We spent so little time alone with our parents," their eldest son James later wrote, "that those times are treasured as though gifts from the gods. Father loved life on the island more than any of us, but got to spend the least time there. Mother always liked it because she had her own home, which she ran. Father taught us to sail. This was the one activity he loved above all others, and wanted us to love."
But as summer after summer went by, Franklin spent less and less time at Campobello. Eleanor grew anxious and suspicious. In the summer of 1917, Franklin wrote from Washington to calm her -- "Dearest Babs, you are a goosey girl to think or even pretend to think that I don't want you here all summer, because you know I do. But honestly, you ought to have six weeks straight at Campo, just as I ought to, only you can and I can't."
When America entered World War I, the Navy sent Franklin on an inspection tour of the western front. He reviewed the troops, toured the battlefields, and got as close to the fighting as the military would allow him. As he was about to sail back to America, he was struck down by a strain of influenza and brought home severely ill.
Franklin was 36 years old. He had handsome children, a dutiful wife, a famous name, and a rising career. As Eleanor unpacked his suitcase, she accidentally made a discovery that would change their lives forever -- a packet of love letters to her husband. Lucy Page Mercer was Eleanor's own social secretary. She was a refined young woman from an old southern Catholic family.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: Lucy was tall and statuesque. She had a face, people say, that belonged in drawing rooms. She had a charm that was rivaled only by Franklin's charm. One thinks of Franklin in those days -- and indeed throughout his life -- as this incorrigible flirt. Flirting was a part of his vitality, his magnetism, his charm. He loved to conquer women in conversation, so that's probably how it started with Lucy, but then I do think it became something more.
David McCullough: [voice-over] While Eleanor was away at Campobello, Franklin spent time with Lucy alone and even appeared with her at dinner parties. He had fallen in love.
Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt Biographer: Eleanor Roosevelt really had a very romantic idea that she could have a perfect marriage, that they would love and trust and respect each other and be partners in love the way her parents never were, which is, I think, why her discovery of the Lucy Mercer affair was so devastating to her.
David McCullough: [voice-over] "The bottom dropped out of my own particular world," Eleanor confided to a friend, "and I faced myself, my surroundings, my world honestly for the first time."
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: Eleanor's immediate response was not only to confront Franklin, but, from what we seem to understand, to offer him a divorce -- "If this is what you want, go."
Edna Gurewitsch, Roosevelt Family Friend: Mr. Roosevelt knew that his mother would withdraw all financial help -- she'd threatened him with that -- he would lose his family life and it really meant giving up his political ambitions, and that was something he had to think over more than once.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Franklin would have to choose between his love for Lucy Mercer and his political career, family and Eleanor.
Edna Gurewitsch, Roosevelt Family Friend: And he finally decided to stay married and to try to make the best of the marriage. And Mrs. Roosevelt's condition was that he never see Lucy Mercer again.
David McCullough: [voice-over] "After everyone had their say," James later wrote, "Father and Mother sat down and agreed to go on for the sake of appearances." Eleanor and Franklin would live together but never again share the intimacies of married life. Devastated, Eleanor went time and again to Washington's Rock Creek Cemetery. For hours she sat gazing at a monument to a woman who had killed herself. All her childhood fears had been confirmed. Those she loved most -- first her father, now her husband -- would always desert her. Nothing lasted.
Edna Gurewitsch, Roosevelt Family Friend: It was a marked turning point in her life. She had no persona, she felt destroyed. She'd have to make a life for herself, and that's what she did.
David McCullough: [voice-over] The surprise of the 1920 Democratic Convention was the nomination for vice president. "The young man I am going to suggest," the speaker said, "has a name to be conjured within American politics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt was 38, one of the youngest vice presidential candidates in American history. His cousin Theodore had been 42 in this point in his career. Franklin was now ahead of schedule.
As the campaign got under way, he threw open his mother's Hyde Park home for a party rally. Sarah was proud, but appalled when 5,000 loyal Democrats trampled her lawn and invaded her stately home.
Vice presidential candidates usually ran modest campaigns, but Franklin barnstormed more than 8,000 miles through 20 states in 18 days. "During the three months in the year 1920," he said, "I got to know the country as only a candidate for office or a traveling salesman can get to know it."
Franklin pressed Eleanor to accompany him on the campaign. Reluctantly she went along and hated every minute of it -- the smoke-filled rooms, the late-night card games, the hard-drinking politicians and reporters. Ever since her discovery of her husband's affair, she'd been cautiously embracing a life of her own.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: Before Lucy came into their lives, my own sense is that Eleanor was not happy simply as a wife and a mother, but she had no outlet for her energy. She had torrential energy and there was no outlet for it because in that day and age, it wasn't legitimate for a woman to have a career outside the home.
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson: The affair with Lucy Mercer enabled her to see herself in perhaps a different light, and I personally believe that F.D.R.'s affair with Lucy Mercer enabled my grandmother to open a door and walk out.
Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt Biographer: She meets with all of these political women -- they were suffragists, they were progressives -- they are dedicated to making things better for most people.
Edna Gurewitsch, Roosevelt Family Friend: They were women who knew things, who could educate her, who could teach her parliamentary law, who could tell her about the labor movement, labor unions and so on. It also was slightly rebellious of her. She was breaking bounds.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Eleanor was moving into a vanguard of women who were political activists. In 1920, women were voting in their first national election, and Franklin, never missing a political beat, was ardently courting their vote. He loved every minute of the 1920 campaign, but when an aide asked him if he thought he would be elected, he replied, "Nary an illusion."
For the Democrats, the election was a disaster. For the Republicans, the victory, one observer said, "was more than a landslide, it was an earthquake." But for Franklin, the campaign was a triumph. Americans all across the country now knew his name. He had met and won the good will of thousands of party leaders. He stood ready to aim higher than the vice presidency next time. At 38, he was young, strong, energetic and impatient.
In the summer of 1921, he visited a Boy Scout camp serving city children. He enjoyed himself immensely, posing for pictures for the newspapers and joking with the boys. This is the last photograph of Franklin Roosevelt standing on his own two feet.
When he said goodbye, he took with him the good will of the campers and a mysterious, undetected virus already multiplying and circulating throughout his body.
August 14, 1921 - "We have had a very few anxious days," Eleanor wrote from Campobello. "Wednesday evening, Franklin was taken ill. By Friday evening, he lost the ability to walk or move his legs. The doctor feels sure he will get well, but it may take some time."
"I tried to persuade myself that the trouble with my leg was muscular," Franklin remembered, "that it would disappear as I used it, but presently it refused to work, and then the other."
Hugh Gallagher, Biographer: It started with a cold, the feeling of malaise, ache in the back and lack of appetite and he said he thought he wouldn't have dinner and he went up to his room, and he never walked again, and ultimately, at the high point, he was helpless.
Geoffrey Ward, Biographer: For a man as energetic, who'd led such a charmed life, to suddenly be paralyzed must have been almost unbearable. He asked Louis Howe why God had deserted him, at one point. He tried to put on a brave front with the children, but he was terrified. They didn't know what it was. They didn't know what they could do about it. Certainly, it was the blackest moment of his life and seemed to be the end of his life.
David McCullough: [voice-over] His fever soared. Eleanor remembered he was out of his head.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: Eleanor responds immediately with help, with support, with courage in facing the severity of what he's going through. She stays up 24 hours, she's by his side. She doesn't run away from it.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Desperate, Eleanor called in an orthopedic specialist from Harvard Medical School. The diagnosis, he told them, was perfectly clear -- infantile paralysis, polio.
Geoffrey Ward, Biographer: He couldn't believe this had happened to him, but even in those circumstances, he kept to the Roosevelt code, which was that you did not complain and that you tried to convince everyone that everything was going to be fine. He was very careful to be cheerful in front of his mother, and she was very careful to be cheerful in front of him, and only after she left him did she cry.
David McCullough: [voice-over] A private railroad car brought Franklin home to New York City. With every curve and jounce, he winced in pain. He was 39 years old. No one knew what sort of life might now be possible for him, but one thing seemed certain -- his political career was finished.
Hugh Gallagher, Biographer: He was an aristocrat. He was well-born. He was good-looking. He had always had everything. All of a sudden, there he was, crippled in a day when it was a very difficult thing to be crippled. In the 1920s, why, polio was a terrifying thing. Something like 25 percent of people who caught polio died of it within the first two weeks. If you survived and you had paralysis, they didn't know what to do, and "nice" families kept their disabled members at home in the back bedroom with the blinds drawn. There was a certain shame attached to it somehow.
Geoffrey Ward, Biographer: His mother decided that the best thing to do was for him to come home to Hyde Park and to live the life, really, that his father had lived as an invalid. She would take care of him and he could pursue his hobbies and small interests, but he would have to give up politics.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: It's one of those moments that is absolutely a defining moment for Eleanor, because she knows that if Sarah has her way, Franklin's soul will be destroyed. So she has to do something she's never done before. She has to confront Sarah directly to tell her, "You're wrong and I'm not going to let this happen. He's going to be able to get out of this house, he's going to walk again, he's going to get into politics, and I don't care what you say." She may not have said it that boldly, but she definitely was willing to make a major confrontation with her mother-in-law that all of her earlier life she had been unable to make. She became the voice for his inner needs, his inner feelings, and in some ways, that's what she becomes all of their lives.
Edna Gurewitsch, Roosevelt Family Friend: She had a discipline and a willpower that was staggering. She said to me once, "The only time in my life that I cried in his presence when he had polio was when he called us up into the room and he showed us -- 'Look,' he said, 'what I can do.'" He was phobic about being caught in a fire, helpless in a fire. He got himself down from the bed and he showed them with great pride how he slithered on the floor, using his elbows to get to the door. And with that, Mrs. Roosevelt broke down in tears and fled. And she said that was the only time she didn't control herself in front of him.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Franklin's life was now in limbo. He would devote the next seven years to one single goal -- to get back on his feet. The doctors told him that his only hope was exercise. With heavy steel braces grappled to his legs, he began the awkward struggle to learn to walk. "I must get down the driveway today, all the way down the driveway," his daughter Anna heard him say.
Geoffrey Ward, Biographer: Polio exercises were very painful, very tedious, humiliating. They took up endless time. And I think it's a measure of his ambition and his grit that he kept at them as long and as hard as he did.
David McCullough: [voice-over] After a year of unrelenting struggle, the doctors told Franklin it was all but certain that he would never walk again, but he would not accept their verdict.
Geoffrey Ward, Biographer: The rules that applied to other people did not apply to Franklin Roosevelt, and he refused to believe that he was not going to get better. He tried everything -- sunlamp treatments -- special electric belts that were supposed to make him somehow stronger -- pulley arrangements to do his exercises automatically.
Hugh Gallagher, Biographer: Deep massage, light massage, range-of-motion exercises -- and sometimes they hung him on a harness from the ceiling.
Geoffrey Ward, Biographer: And even in the last weeks of his life, he was trying a new method to see if he couldn't get back on his feet. It's either madness or enormously admirable.
Hugh Gallagher, Biographer: He never spoke to anyone about the feelings he had with his paralysis. His mother said that he had never spoken to her about it. Eleanor said he simply didn't accept his paralysis and he didn't talk about it and he wouldn't admit it.
Geoffrey Ward, Biographer: I suppose psychologists might call it denial. It certainly served him well and allowed him to become President of the United States instead of a stamp-collecting invalid.
Hugh Gallagher, Biographer: Of course it's denial. It worked, and denial's a very useful thing in its place. I mean, it's a way of coming to terms with a difficult fact.
David McCullough: [voice-over] In 1924, Franklin bought a run-down houseboat he named The Larooco, and headed south. He was running away. Drifting lazily off the coast of Florida -- swimming, fishing, cavorting with his friends -- he filled his days with aimless good times.
Geoffrey Ward, Biographer: He was there partly to exercise and get the sun, which he thought was going to help him -- but he was also there because life at home with five children and his mother and his wife fighting over him was unbearable.
Hugh Gallagher, Biographer: These were very grim years for him, for the family. He was struggling to get better. In spite of his optimism, he really wasn't getting much better. I think that the guy was dealing with depression. There's a great deal of anger, a great deal of grieving, a great deal of frustration that comes with paralysis -- extensive, severe, serious paralysis -- and this is very hard stuff to deal with.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: And he couldn't express that despair and that sadness around Eleanor, certainly not around his mother, nor around the kids, so I think he went to The Larooco originally because it allowed him a haven to be able to be sad, to mourn the loss of the body that once been his, and I think it took longer than he thought.
David McCullough: [voice-over] "There were days on The Larooco," one friend remembered, "when it was noon before he could pull himself out of depression and greet his guests, wearing his light-hearted facade." "Polio was a storm," one of his physiotherapists said, "You were what remained when it had passed." His son James later wrote, "These were the lonely years. We had no tangible father, no father whom we could touch and talk to, only a cheery letter-writer." With Franklin gone and the children away at school or grown up, politics was becoming an increasingly important part of Eleanor's life. Louis Howe convinced her that it was up to her to keep Franklin's name alive. If Eleanor had not stepped forward, Franklin's political career might well have been over.
Eleanor Roosevelt: Louis Howe decided that I better go in the women's division of the state political set-up in New York and I must be able to speak. And so, Louis Howe used to go with me to meetings and sit in the back and make fun of me afterwards.
Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt Biographer: Louis Howe is absolutely central to Eleanor Roosevelt's political education. He monitors her every word. He attends all of the speeches that she gives, and he tells her, "You said this right, you said that wrong. You giggled here. Why did you giggle here? Your voice went up 10 decibels here. Why did it do that?" He's really her coach.
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson: And she very quickly, in two or three years, moved to the top in the women's division in the New York State Democratic Party. She could get up and talk on pretty much any subject and with some ease. And she talked informally. She ran a very good meeting.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Eleanor discovered that she had organizing skills, a talent for dealing with people, and soon found herself in the thick of Democratic Party politics. Publicly, she spoke in Franklin's name. Privately, she was developing her own ideas.
Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt Biographer: People go to her for advice, people go to her to raise money. People go to her and ask her to speak. She says in her memoirs she's done it all for F.D.R., but the fact is she loves every minute of it.
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson: I think she was profoundly impressed and believed in her heart that helping other people, enabling other people -- particularly when you were in a position of privilege -- was the way she wished to conduct her life.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Eleanor was making all the great reform causes of the day her own -- child labor, public housing, workers' compensation, unemployment insurance. She was becoming a voice for those who had none.
Edna Gurewitsch, Roosevelt Family Friend: She had abdicated her role as wife. She had. He invited her very many times to come down, but he was with the friends whom she didn't especially care for -- the congenial friends, the friends from the Lucy Mercer days, the people who liked to live on a houseboat and swim and drink -- and he was with Missy LeHand.
David McCullough: [voice-over] "Missy" was Marguerite LeHand, Franklin's secretary -- unmarried, Catholic, high school educated, many years younger.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: Missy had started working for Franklin when she was 20 years old in 1920, and I think fell in love with him and never stopped loving him all the rest of her life. It would be Missy who would sit by his side as they went fishing. She learned every activity that he liked and became an expert at it. So she was the perfect companion for these lazy, aimless days on The Larooco. Eleanor is nowhere in sight during this period of time.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Eleanor had now made a life of her own with her own friends. "Alas and lackaday," wrote her aunt, "I just hate to have Eleanor let herself look as she does. Since politics have become her choicest interest, all her charm has disappeared." Franklin supported Eleanor's newfound independence. During the 1920s, they had once again redefined their marriage. They were bound together by politics, respect and real affection, but they led separate lives.
For the first time, Eleanor had a home of her own two miles from Hyde Park, a simple cottage built for her by Franklin. She called it Val-kill after the brook running past its door.
Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt Biographer: She can invite who she wants there. Her mother-in-law has to knock before she enters. There are no sliding doors. Sarah is shocked that Eleanor Roosevelt would prefer to live in what she calls "that hovel," rather than the proper house, the big house with the proper number of servants. Eleanor Roosevelt's very happy at Val-kill.
David McCullough: [voice-over] At Val-kill, Eleanor felt free. She defied convention, befriending so-called "new women" who lived with one another. Eleanor found in these friends the kind of emotional closeness that Franklin could not provide. All through the 1920s, Eleanor flourished. She became financially independent, writing articles for newspapers and magazines. She taught at a private school in New York which she co-owned. She continued to campaign for progressive political causes. She traveled widely. She was at ease with herself and for the first time in her life, began to have fun.
Val-kill was Eleanor's, but throughout his life, Franklin was a frequent and welcome guest. Eleanor's friends became his friends, supporting his hopes to one day return to political life. "I don't want him forgotten," Eleanor said. "I want him to have a voice."
In 1924, the former candidate for vice president was invited to the Democratic National Convention. He delivered a rousing speech, but he played no further part in the presidential campaign. He was still far too weak. That fall, there was talk of Franklin running for governor of New York, but he quickly rejected the idea. He would not seek public office, he said, until he no longer needed crutches. Determined to find a cure, he once again headed south.
He had heard of pools of steaming mineral water in Warm Springs, Georgia, whose marvelous healing powers were the stuff of local legend. Gushing out of the side of a mountain, the waters were 90 degrees and astonishingly buoyant. Some called them "miracle waters." Although the waters would never give Franklin back his legs, they would give new meaning to his life and new purpose. "I feel," he wrote his mother, "that a great cure for infantile paralysis and kindred diseases could well be established here."
Elmer Loftin, Warm Springs Resident: Well, there wasn't much here. There was only one hotel downtown, you know, and the grocery store. And they called it "Bullochville."
Robert Fulton Copeland, Warm Springs Resident: It wasn't considered a town, what I would call a town. I thought it took a lot of stores to make a town back in those days. But I just called it a greasy spot, and I think they named it Warm Springs, Georgia after Mr. Roosevelt -- about the time he began to come here.
David McCullough: [voice-over] On the outskirts of town, there stood a once-lovely vacation resort, a favored retreat for wealthy southerners. By the time Franklin arrived, its glory had faded to a cluster of cottages in need of repair and a run-down hotel. Franklin dreamed of restoring its original charm and turning it into a modern rehabilitation center for those with infantile paralysis, but first he would need hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Geoffrey Ward, Biographer: Roosevelt borrowed a lot of money from his mother and put in a lot of his own. His wife was absolutely opposed and thought it was a terrible idea.
Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt Biographer: She thought it was going to cost too much money. She thought that it would give him something else to attend to and take him away from politics, that you couldn't do everything and Warm Springs was going to completely dominate his life. She worried about it.
Geoffrey Ward, Biographer: One of the few times we know in which he really got angry at her was when she gently suggested that perhaps this was not a good idea. And he was furious.
Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt Biographer: He really exploded and said, "This is something I really want. You either support me or you don't." And when that was sort of an emotional ultimatum, she did support it.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Investing $195,000 -- two-thirds of his personal fortune -- Franklin created and designed the first modern treatment center for infantile paralysis in the country. Soon people with polio from across America were making the pilgrimage to the Georgia back woods. As Franklin struggled to rehabilitate his own withered limbs, he devoted himself for the first time to helping others. "You would howl with glee," he told a friend, "if you could see the clinic in operation and the patients doing various exercises in the water under my leadership."
Hugh Gallagher, Biographer: Warm Springs was a wonderful place. Roosevelt was a patient just like all the others. "Dr. Roosevelt," as the others called him, was really remarkably creative. He brought in blacksmiths and they designed braces and crutches -- a crutch design that's still used, the Warm Springs crutch. Roosevelt invented a muscle-testing technique -- a way of grading how strong a muscle is -- that is still in use, and it was a remarkably inventive time.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Always he believed in recovery. His prescription -- swimming, sunlight and belief on the patient's part that the muscles are coming back.
H. Stuart Raper, M.D., Medical Director, Warm Springs Foundation: He had charisma. He was just glowing with it and oh, that smile, and he'd laugh.
Janice Howe Raper, Physical Therapist: After everybody had treatment, they would all go out into what was called the "play pool," and they would play vigorous games of ball. He played with them and he was just as tough as any of the children. They loved him.
Geoffrey Ward, Biographer: Whether or not people got better at Warm Springs, they felt that they were better and they felt that with him present, anything was possible.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Warm Springs was Franklin's creation. For the rest of his life, in times of stress he would retreat to the piney woods and the warm waters. It became his second home.
Franklin loved to drive and he drove fast. He designed his car himself, with ingenious levers and pulleys so he could drive without his legs. For the first time since he was paralyzed, he felt free. Over the years, his drives through the Georgia countryside would provide him with a valuable political education.
Ben C. Fowler, Warm Springs Resident: He was interested in the people. He got out and visited with them. Even after he was president, he would slip away from his bodyguards and get out and ride the back ways and back roads and meet people, stop and talk with them. But he'd never met people like that before.
Elmer Loftin, Warm Springs Resident: He usually talked to you. He started the conversation. Whatever he wanted to know, he'd ask. He didn't hesitate about asking if he saw something he wanted to know.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Everywhere he went he heard stories about the lack of electricity in the countryside and the exorbitant rates paid for it in town, about bad schools and low farm prices -- stories that left their mark on him.
Robert Fulton Copeland, Warm Springs Resident: I didn't know how come I loved him like I did. It wasn't -- he hadn't done anything for me personally. We would walk to Warm Springs just to see him just board the train. He'd come on down the --"Hello, Warm Springs. Hello, Warm Springs." That's the way-- we wanted to see him greet the little town, and we walked four miles to see that. Well, he wasn't the President then. He wasn't even the governor of New York, I don't guess, but he was just Mr. Roosevelt in those days.
Janice Howe Raper, Physical Therapist: After he became president, they were very, you know, polite, but they used to call him, in the early days, "Rosie," which I think was a wonderful name.
Robert Fulton Copeland, Warm Springs Resident: Everybody loved him. Go beyond like -- they loved him.
Eleanor Roosevelt: I don't think he changed completely -- there were certain things that were always there -- but he certainly learned to understand what suffering meant in a way that he'd never known before, because he could understand how people could suffer in ways that he had not experienced. And I think that grew out of his polio experience.
And he certainly gained enormously in patience. That gave him some of the patience that was needed to meet the problems both of the New Deal and the war. I've heard people say to him that, "If we do this, we don't know if we will be successful," and I've seen my husband time after time say, "There are very few things we can know beforehand. We will try and if we find we are wrong, we will have to change."
David McCullough: [voice-over] Throughout his long struggle with polio, Franklin remained determined to return to politics, but he knew he would have to convince voters that he was not an invalid, and year after year of arduous exercise had not improved his wasted leg muscles.
Hugh Gallagher, Biographer: He wanted to be President and it was just unthinkable in those days that a person in a wheelchair could be elected President of the of the United States, and in fact it's pretty unthinkable right now. And so he had to walk. And since he wasn't getting better, he developed better techniques for appearing to look better.
David McCullough: [voice-over] In 1926, physiotherapist Alice Converse taught Franklin how to walk more effectively with crutches.
Alice Converse, Physical Therapist: He was very anxious to walk. He would plant the crutches on the floor so hard you would think that the boards would break, and then drag himself along. It had been five years since the onset of polio. His upper body was very strong, but his legs were pretty weak, so we tried to get him to use his body muscles in such a way that they would help lift up a leg at a time and take a step.
David McCullough: [voice-over] But crutches weren't good enough. He knew they were political poison. They would, he said, inspire pity. He learned instead to appear in public with a cane.
Hugh Gallagher, Biographer: And he developed this technique that looked like walking. His sons were strong men -- they took exercises so their arms would be as strong as a parallel bar -- and he would lean on one son's arm, putting all his weight on it, and then he would switch his weight from the son's arm onto a cane which he carried in the other hand so that he could switch his weight from side to side and thus progress. And he instructed his sons, "You must not let people see that this is difficult or takes effort or it hurts." They would chat and joke and laugh as they went along -- it was a slow process -- but they looked as though they were taking their time so they could smile at people and say hello to the crowd as they went along. And it was show biz, but it worked.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Only four seconds of film exist which clearly show the walk Franklin so tirelessly practiced.
Geoffrey Ward, Biographer: The goal, really, was simply to take enough steps to get from a car into a building, or from his seat on the stage to the podium and back again. If he could do that without seeming hopelessly crippled, he'd succeeded.
Hugh Gallagher, Biographer: Roosevelt had no hip muscles, and if a breeze, or someone should jostle him, something like that, he could just pivot and fall down. He was not stable at all. It was not a safe way of locomotion, of moving around. It was not a practical way, but it was a political way.
David McCullough: [voice-over] By the summer of 1928, Franklin was ready at last to make his way back into the political world. The Democratic Convention was in Houston and Eleanor had written him, "I'm telling everyone you're going to Houston without crutches." As he boarded the train for Texas, he knew he was about to risk everything.
All through the 1920s, Franklin had kept up his contacts with Democratic Party leaders. Now he'd been asked to nominate the governor of New York, Al Smith, for president. Smith was a tough, worldly Catholic from New York City, and one of his advisors argued, "You're a Bowery mick and he's a Protestant patrician. He'll take some of the curse off you."
With 15,000 delegates watching, Franklin set out to walk to the podium with a cane, without the aid of crutches. An accidental fall would leave him sprawled helplessly on the convention floor, his political hopes destroyed. With one hand he gripped the cane. With the other, he balanced precariously on his son Elliott's powerful arm. He appeared to be walking. One reporter described the scene: "Here on the stage is Franklin Roosevelt, a figure tall and proud even in suffering, pale with years of struggle against paralysis, a man softened and cleansed and illumined with pain. For the moment we are lifted up."
Franklin D. Roosevelt: We offer one who has the will to win, who not only deserves success, but commands it. Victory is his habit -- the happy warrior, Alfred E. Smith.
David McCullough: [voice-over] The nomination was Al Smith's but the victory belonged to Franklin Roosevelt. When Smith urged him to run for governor of New York, Roosevelt said he was ready. Someone asked Smith why he'd put Roosevelt back in the political limelight. "Aren't you raising up a rival who will one day cause you trouble?" "No," Smith replied, "he'll be dead within a year." Six months later, Smith had lost his run for the presidency and Roosevelt was governor of New York. Roosevelt won office by the slimmest of margins, campaigning more vigorously than anyone expected. Now, as governor, he would continue to surprise everyone. He took command at once. In his first six months, he advocated tax relief for farmers and cheap electric power for consumers, but when disaster suddenly struck the economy, no one was sure what Roosevelt would do.
On October 24, 1929, the stock market crashed. It was the beginning of the worst calamity the United States economy had ever known. Banks closed, millions were put out of work. Homeless people were soon camping just a few blocks from the townhouse Sarah Roosevelt had built for Franklin and his bride years before. Eleanor gave instructions to the cook to provide anyone who came to the door with hot coffee and sandwiches.
David Ginsburg, F.D.R. Administration: There's only one word that adequately describes it and that's surely despair -- a sense of helplessness, a sense of hopelessness. About a third -- imagine, a third -- of labor totally unemployed, 14 million people. There was a sense of fright, a sense of horror. It was a feeling that what was happening? Was it possible that something like this could occur in the country?
David McCullough: [voice-over] Since the start of the Depression, the Republican President, Herbert Hoover, had settled into a dismal pessimism. After one gloomy White House meeting, his secretary of state said, "It was like sitting in a bath of ink to sit in his room." Hoover believed there was nothing he could do to turn the economy around. The crisis would have to resolve itself without the aid of government.
At first, Roosevelt agreed with Hoover. "Industrial and trade conditions are sound," he wired a newspaper the morning after the crash. But as the crisis deepened, Roosevelt began to change. All his life, he had believed that relief should come from private charities, but face to face with the problems of the Depression, he became convinced that only massive government intervention could help. For the first time, Roosevelt began to experiment with bold new ideas -- assistance for the aged and the country's first program to provide relief for the unemployed. "The important thing," he told the New York State Assembly, "is to recognize that there is a duty on the part of government to do something about this."
In 1932, President Hoover invited the nation's governors to a White House dinner. With his presidency in jeopardy, he wanted to size up the man from New York with the progressive programs, who was rapidly becoming the Democratic front-runner.
Alonzo Fields, White House Butler: And the night of the dinner, with a cane in his hand, he started going to the dining room, dragging his legs from his hips and supporting himself on the cane and his bodyguard's arm. And he walked at the angle, a 45-degree angle, to the table. And I was alerted to a nod that was telling me he was going to take the seat. Well, when he did, he literally fell in the seat, and that scene was witnessed by all the guests at the dinner table. And everybody said, "Well, that man, what is he thinking about? How is he going to be president? He's only a half-man."
David McCullough: [voice-over] On July 1, 1932, after five tension-filled days at the Democratic National Convention, the delegates rallied behind the man who had fought his way back from despair.
Convention Speaker: Franklin D. Roosevelt, having received more than two-thirds of all the delegates voting, I proclaim him the nominee of this convention for President of the United States.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Now. F.D.R. was ready to begin the race he had been preparing for all his life.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Democratic Presidential Nominee: This is more than a political campaign, it is a call to arms. Give me your help not to win votes alone, but to win in this crusade to restore America to its own people.
David McCullough: [voice-over] He refused to let his crippled legs keep him from running hard and with confidence.
Franklin D. Roosevelt: I used to say, "If I go to Washington on the 4th of March next," but now at the -- very nearly the end of this swing, I am not saying "if," I'm saying "when."
Pres. Herbert Hoover: The great war against depression is being fought on many fronts in many parts of the world.
David McCullough: [voice-over] His Republican opponent, the President of the United States, appeared overwhelmed by the Depression. One observer remarked, "If you put a rose in Hoover's hand, it would wilt."
Eli Ginzberg, F.D.R. Administration: He gave the impression to the American public that he was just out of control, and Roosevelt gave the impression that he knew what the country needed and he was going to give it to them.
Franklin D. Roosevelt: We face that crisis. We face it with singleness of purpose and above all with faith. Keep that faith constant, keep that faith high. So shall we win through to a better day.
David McCullough: [voice-over] In spite of the crisis the country faced, it was a campaign of personalities. Americans wanted a leader and people everywhere warmed to the big smile, the confident toss of the head, clear delight in people. When it was over, Roosevelt had won a smashing victory.
William Leuchtenburg, Historian: By midnight, the country already knew that Franklin Roosevelt was the winner and a very large winner. One man sent Herbert Hoover a wire, saying, "Vote for Roosevelt and make it unanimous."
Pres.-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt: Let me thank you again and tell you that I hope to see you all very soon and bid you an affectionate good night.
David McCullough: [voice-over] "I was happy for my husband," Eleanor later wrote. "I knew that it would make up for the blow that fate had dealt him when he was stricken with infantile paralysis. But for myself, I was deeply troubled. This meant the end of any personal life of my own. The turmoil in my heart and mind was rather great that night."
It would be four months before Roosevelt would take office, the worst months yet of the Depression. Five thousand banks closed. Each month, 20,000 farmers lost their land. The economy had collapsed. Americans everywhere waited for the president-elect to tell them what he was going to do, but Roosevelt gave no clues.
William Leuchtenburg, Historian: At one point, reporters asked him a question and he simply holds up his finger and goes, "Shh." He will not be drawn out.
David McCullough: [voice-over] One month before the inauguration, Roosevelt went cruising in the Caribbean with his wealthy friends on Vincent Astor's yacht, the biggest and fastest ocean-going motor yacht ever built. During the campaign, he had promised what he called "a new deal for the forgotten man," but as yet he had said nothing about what that new deal might be. Meanwhile, Eleanor was expected to give up her teaching and writing to become the nation's first lady.
Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady: To get together -- and you are here -- and forget that there is such a thing as a depression for a time and forget all the troubles that weigh us down and simply sing is a grand thing to do.
David McCullough: [voice-over] On March 2, 1933, with the Roosevelts on board, the Baltimore & Ohio train headed toward Washington. In two days, Franklin Roosevelt would become the 32nd President of the United States. Eleanor sat quietly by herself. She feared she was about to lose her hard-won independence. "I never wanted to be a president's wife," she said, "and I don't want it now."
The President-elect's mother Sarah was, as always, confident in her boy. "I am not in the least worried about Franklin," she told a friend.
In the last car, Franklin Roosevelt sat alone. "In all the years I knew him," his son James wrote, "there was only one time when Father worried about his ability. It was the night he was elected President. 'You know, Jimmy,' he said to me, 'all my life, I have been afraid of only one thing -- fire. Tonight I think I'm afraid of something else.' 'Afraid of what, Father?' I asked. 'I'm afraid that I may not have the strength to do the job.'"
On March 4, 1933, a man who could not walk would begin to lead the crippled country.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: I, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, so help me God.
FDR, Night Two
David McCullough: [voice-over] "In all the years I knew him," Franklin Roosevelt's eldest son remembered, "there was only one time when my father worried about his ability. It was the night he was elected president."
On March 2, 1933, as a Baltimore & Ohio train sped from Hyde Park, New York toward Washington, Franklin Delano Roosevelt sat all alone in the last car. In two days, this man with legs crippled by polio, whose greatest strength seemed to be his charm, would become the 32nd President of the United States.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Over 70 years before, Abraham Lincoln had traveled by train to his inauguration to lead a country about to be torn apart. Now, Roosevelt would have to face the nation's gravest crisis since the Civil War. Fourteen million Americans were out of work. Nine million had lost their life savings. The economy had collapsed.
Eli Ginzberg, F.D.R. Administration: People were down and out in their feelings, not only in their stomachs and in their pocketbooks. It was a tremendously depressing period of time. There were not a few people who really saw the possibility that the country was going to disintegrate.
David McCullough: [voice-over] The train clattered through New Jersey where Newark had defaulted on its payroll and rolled on through Pennsylvania and Maryland, where the banks were closed. Halfway across the country, Iowa farmers threatened to hang a lawyer foreclosing on their farms, and in Detroit, men who had lost their jobs were stealing food from grocery stores.
As the president-elect's train pulled into Washington's Union Station, no one knew what to expect from this man who had promised "a new deal for Americans."
Chalmers Roberts, Journalist: The country was in a hell of a mess, and everybody was looking to this new man to do something about it. They didn't know what. His promises had been all over the lot, but action, action, action was what they were looking for.
David McCullough: [voice-over] "If the New Deal is a success," a friend told Roosevelt, "you will be remembered as the greatest American president." "If I fail," Roosevelt replied, "I will be remembered as the last one."
Inauguration Day began with a service at St. John's Episcopal Church, with hymns selected by Roosevelt himself. His Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins, described the scene. "We were in a terrible situation," she wrote. "Banks were closing, the economic life of the country was almost at a standstill. If ever a man wanted to pray, that was the day. He did want to pray and he wanted everyone to pray for him."
The weather was cold and bleak. General Douglas MacArthur had prepared his troops for a possible riot. On his last morning in office, President Herbert Hoover said, "We are at the end of our strength. There's nothing more we can do."
Hoover detested Roosevelt, thought him an opportunist, sure to drag the country even deeper into despair. On the ride to the Capitol, Roosevelt tried to make conversation, but Hoover sat stony-faced. "The two of us simply couldn't sit there on our hands, ignoring each other and everyone else," Roosevelt recalled, "so I began waving my top hat, and I kept waving it until I got to the inauguration stand." "It was very, very solemn," Eleanor Roosevelt told reporters later, "and a little terrifying. The crowds were so tremendous and you felt that they would do anything if only someone would tell them what to do."
As he made his way to the podium, Roosevelt appeared to be walking, but it had taken years of practice to perfect that illusion. In fact, he was pressing down on his son's arm with an iron grip, propelling himself forward with the help of a cane and his powerful upper body. Americans everywhere waited.
William Leuchtenburg, Historian: One has to imagine millions of people clustered around their radio sets in towns all across the country. They don't know what to expect of this new president -- he's not shown them much yet -- and then they hear, coming through their loudspeakers, this voice --
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly.
William Leuchtenburg, Historian: -- so filled with courage, with self-confidence, with a sense of leadership.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper.
David Ginsburg, F.D.R. Administration: Suddenly this man came in and he made clear to the country that there was really nothing to fear except the fear that was in one's own heart.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror.
Eli Ginzberg, F.D.R. Administration: The country was so excited that one had a live leader finally, at long last in the White House, that he could have suggested we all get ready to walk to the moon and we would have followed him. It was just an unbelievable change in mood.
William Leuchtenburg, Historian: It has an electrifying effect. Nearly a half a million people write to him. This is unheard of. American presidents in the past generation have gotten as few as 200 letters in a week. Now, nearly a half a million write to Franklin Roosevelt and overnight he establishes himself as the leader that the country has been looking for.
David McCullough: [voice-over] "Dear Mr. Roosevelt, I am writing to you for help. We have eight children to take care of and nobody working but my husband. He's getting such little pay for his work and we have a sick child. Please, Mr. Roosevelt, don't let them take our home away from us. Please, sir."
"Dear Mr. Roosevelt, I have never as yet begged, but I would appreciate some kind of help. I have always put up a good fight and have worked many a day until I was almost unable to stand up, but all to no avail."
March 4, 1933 -- Roosevelt's first day in office. With the banks closed, investment at a standstill, many Americans believed that the free enterprise system was failing. One aide wrote, "We were confronted with a choice between an orderly revolution or a violent overthrow of the whole capitalist structure." Roosevelt could hope, like Hoover, that the economy would repair itself or he could try something that had never been done before in America -- intervene on a massive scale with the power of the federal government.
Robert Nathan, F.D.R. Administration And I had a professor that taught the course in business cycles, and I remember he reached in his pocket and took a rubber band out and he held it and then he pulled it and he said, "This is boom." And then he let go of one end, it snapped back, he said, "Bust." And he says, "This happens to a capitalistic economy and you can't do anything about it. Let nature take its course." And Roosevelt, of course, brought around him a lot of people that didn't believe that bunk and thought you got to do something to turn it around.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Roosevelt's advisors offered him a range of programs. In the end, he would work from no systematic plan. Instead, he would experiment.
William Leuchtenburg, Historian: "Try one idea and if it doesn't work, we'll try another." He likened himself to a quarterback. You try a play. If that play doesn't work, you turn to another play.
David McCullough: [voice-over] "It is common sense," Roosevelt said, "to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another, but above all, try something." In his first 100 days in office, Roosevelt managed to put tens of thousands of people back to work. He pledged billions to save their farms and their homes from foreclosure. He provided relief to unemployed. He restored confidence in the banks and guaranteed the savings of millions of Americans.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: I can assure you that it is safer for you to keep your money in a re-opened bank than to keep it under the mattress.
David Ginsburg, F.D.R. Administration: His key was somehow to prop up capitalism. That was unquestionably in back of his mind, but he was a pragmatist. He was seeking to find solutions to the practical problems that beset people today. The banks were closed -- get the banks open.
David McCullough: [voice-over] And to sell the centerpiece of his program, the National Recovery Administration, he orchestrated an extraordinary publicity campaign. The NRA was designed to tame the unruly cycles of American capitalism by encouraging business and government to work together. Each industry was allowed to set its own wages and prices. Labor was promised the right to bargain collectively.
Alistair Cooke, Journalist: I went to the top of the Empire State Building on a day in, I think, June 1933. There was this enormous National Recovery Act parade, you know with -- they had this symbol, the blue eagle, everywhere. It was on cigarette packages, in stores and so on. It was an immensely moving thing. I mean, there must have been two million people, it seemed like, up and down Fifth Avenue and everywhere, all just cheering, and the country just lifted itself up.
Chalmers Roberts, Journalist: This was a great thing that was happening. The country was coming out of this incredible mood. Roosevelt was changing national despair to hope.
Dick Powell, Actor: [NRA featurette] [singing] There's a new day in view / There is gold in the blue / There is hope in the hearts of men. / All the world's on the way / To a sunnier day / For the road is open again.
David McCullough: [voice-over] When the hundred days were over, Roosevelt had signed 15 major bills into law and created an alphabet soup of new government agencies. "We have had our revolution," one magazine reported, "and we like it."
Eli Ginzberg, F.D.R. Administration: Everything was up for grabs in a country that was basically a conservative country, but now had a leader to whom anything and everything was possible. The least ideological person that ever lived -- that's why I think he was such a great success.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: A few timid people who fear progress will try to give you new and strange names for what we are doing. Sometimes they will call it fascism and sometimes Communism and sometimes regimentation and sometimes socialism. But in so doing, they are trying to make very complex and theoretical something that is really very simple and very practical.
I believe in practical explanations and in practical policies.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Roosevelt used the radio to speak directly to the American people and they listened to his "fireside chats" as if he were a close friend.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: In the present spirit of mutual confidence, the present spirit of mutual encouragement, we go forward.
David McCullough: [voice-over] By the end of 1933, many of Roosevelt's most skeptical critics had been converted. An aide who worked with him during the Wilson years marveled, "That fellow in there is not the fellow we used to know. There's been a miracle here." If Roosevelt ever had any doubts about his ability to do the job, they evaporated quickly. The White House, which for some presidents was a prison, was for F.D.R. home.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: Oh, I think there's no question that Roosevelt loved being president. You know how he used to say, "I love it?" I suspect if somebody said to him, "How do you like being president?" that's what he would have said, "I love it." It just seemed to fit his temperament. I have a feeling he loved getting up in the morning, loved going to his office, enjoyed the people that came in. I can't imagine another president being more suited for the presidency and enjoying it as much as Roosevelt did.
William Leuchtenburg, Historian: Roosevelt believed that he belonged in the White House. His idea of who a president should be was himself as president. He thought it was the grandest job in the world.
David Ginsburg, F.D.R. Administration: This was a man of great ebullience. He was a man of constant cheer. He was a man of cigarettes. It would be a constant flow of laughter and jokes. There was never a moment that one had a feeling that he suddenly felt helpless or suddenly uncertain of what to do. He knew what to do and he would do it.
Alistair Cooke, Journalist: He was immensely cunning, and what people had not realized was his extraordinary guile. I mean, I think he was quite capable of telling what Winston Churchill called "a terminalogical inexactitude" and never blush. And he had this marvelous face of, you know, total, placid sincerity and earnestness and he had a great gift of seeming to think that you were about the wisest man that he'd ever consulted on anything until you found he had no use for you the moment you left.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Franklin Roosevelt had always imagined himself as president, but the White House was the last place Eleanor Roosevelt wanted to be. "I never wanted to be a president's wife," she said, "and I don't want it now." By 1933, Eleanor and her husband were leading all but separate lives. Fifteen years earlier, Roosevelt's affair with Eleanor's social secretary Lucy Mercer had ended the intimacies of their married life, but they had developed a political partnership and Eleanor had built a life of her own.
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson: My grandmother had real reservations about moving into the White House. She knew the social role. She knew how all-consuming it could be. She had become a figure in her own right, and within the Democratic Party even somewhat of a power. And the thought of going to Washington -- she was appalled.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: All she saw was social, ceremonial jobs which she hated. She always said she was never good at small talk. I'm sure she imagined that in the First Ladyship she'd be talking small talk for all the years they were in there.
David McCullough: [voice-over] "At the first few receptions," Eleanor wrote, "my arms ached, my shoulders ached, my back ached. I was lucky in having a supple hand which never ached. I realized," she said, "that if I remained in the White House all the time, I would lose touch with the rest of the world."
Edna Gurewitsch, Roosevelt Family Friend: She wanted her freedom. She didn't want to be curtailed by protocol, by being the wife of the head of a government. She wanted to pack up her bag, get into her little car and go out into the country.
David McCullough: [voice-over] During her husband's first year as president, Eleanor traveled more than 40,000 miles, reporting back to the White House on the New Deal.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: Never before had a first lady taken to the road and traveled hundreds of thousands of miles on her own, supporting her husband. What she was looking for was the human detail that she could bring back to her husband to let him understand what the people of his land were thinking, feeling and hoping.
Chalmers Roberts, Journalist: She became his legs. She became his emissary. She could go places that he couldn't go, and she went everywhere.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Eleanor wrote a daily column, called "My Day," held weekly press conferences, received hundreds of thousands of letters. Her popularity ratings were sometimes even higher than her husband's.
Alonzo Fields, White House Butler: He could make a great speech, but Mrs. Roosevelt went out and intermingled with the people. Well, she would sometimes pick up someone off the street and bring him in for lunch, and she would invite people to the White House to dinner for a state dinner. And they had never had a tuxedo on in their lives and they'd come there and on track and no tuxedo and they're supposed to be at the dinner, say, "What will we do?" We would take them to the locker where we had supplies of uniforms for the butlers and fit them out in that.
David McCullough: [voice-over] The woman who never wanted to be first lady revolutionized the role. More and more, Eleanor became the White House advocate for women, factory workers, tenant farmers, blacks, often pressing her husband to move faster than he was prepared to move.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: Eleanor sent so many memos into his bedroom at night that after a while he had to create an "Eleanor" basket just to hold all these memos. And then, after a while, he had to make a deal with her, saying, "Eleanor, three memos a night -- not 12, not 20, not 30. I will initial them and deal with them by morning." Sometimes she kept her bargain, but my sense is that more than three went in there many nights.
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson: What they had together -- our grandmother and grandfather -- was what I call a creative tension. They both basically believed in the same things, but they had different roles to play. He had to work with the Congress. He was President of the United States, which meant not the liberals in the United States. It meant everybody in the United States.
She was able to influence issues and he was delighted, but he could also disown her and did with the press. He would say, "Well, you know my missus. I don't dictate what she says," or, "I don't control her." He was very charming about it, but in a way it was just a, "Oh, she can say what she likes, that doesn't represent my position," which was very, very convenient -- very convenient for him to, through her, sense how far he could go.
David McCullough: [voice-over] By 1934, Roosevelt had been president for a year, yet in spite of all his New Deal programs, hard times persisted.
David Ginsburg, F.D.R. Administration: The Depression was too deep. The origins, the roots of the problem were too deep.
David McCullough: [voice-over] The government had spent over $2 billion for relief, but thousands of new people were forced on the welfare rolls each day.
William Leuchtenburg, Historian: The numbers of people who are on welfare rise to a quarter of an American city. One reporter in 1934 comes upon a couple living in a cave in Central Park in New York. And there was a sense that the New Deal, although it had improved things greatly from the worst days of the Great Depression, was not really getting the country back to prosperous days again.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Despair turned to anger. Violent protests and strikes swept across the country. Bewildered and frightened, many Americans were drawn to agitators calling for reforms more radical than Roosevelt's. Father Charles Coughlin, a maverick Catholic priest from Detroit, turned radio into a pulpit from which he blasted the New Deal, demanding a living annual wage and nationalization of the banks.
Father Charles Coughlin, National Union: Who then is the inflationist -- Roosevelt or the National Union?
David McCullough: [voice-over] Francis Townsend, a retired California doctor, galvanized millions of supporters by advocating a plan for old-age pensions. And Senator Huey Long from Louisiana, with his "Share Our Wealth" program, had his eye on the presidency. "I can take him," Long said of Roosevelt. "He's scared of me. I can out-promise him and he knows it. His mother's watching him and she won't let him go too far. He's living on an inherited income. People will believe me and they won't believe him."
Roosevelt's consensus was beginning to unravel. During the euphoria of his first 100 days in office, even Republicans had supported him. Now they turned against him.
Henry B. Fletcher, Chairman, Republican National Committee: The New Deal is government from above. It is based on the proposition that the people cannot manage their own affairs and that a government bureaucracy must manage for them.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Republicans charged that government was becoming too big and too intrusive.
Henry B. Fletcher, Chairman, Republican National Committee: We do not want to see these alphabetical bureaucratic agencies become permanent fixtures in our national political life.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Roosevelt grew increasingly frustrated as business began to accuse him of meddling with free enterprise. When he regulated the stock exchange and the banks, the captains of American industry were outraged.
Eli Ginzberg, F.D.R. Administration: They thought he had come in, he had done a very good job, those first 100 days were all right, but now he should give us a chance to take back and run the country as we always had been accustomed to running it. He had a different idea about that.
David McCullough: [voice-over] With the election just two years away, the attacks on Roosevelt became more intense than ever. Angry businessmen founded the Liberty League, dedicated to stopping further New Deal legislation.
Alistair Cooke, Journalist: The discovery of what a political wizard he was was what fired a lot of hatred of Roosevelt, because they'd thought of him as somebody they could manipulate -- a splendid, well-meaning, rather genteel type. That's what they thought. Then they discover they have an absolute master politician, mischief-maker, cunning man and they hated him all the more because they'd been fooled.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Then, on May 27, 1935, a day New Dealers would remember as Black Monday, the Supreme Court struck at the very heart of Roosevelt's hope to stimulate the economy. They declared the NRA -- the National Recovery Act -- unconstitutional, and it was just the first blow. The court was moving against Roosevelt's efforts to abolish child labor, establish a minimum wage, boost farm prices. Law by law, the court would attempt to dismantle the work of the first 100 days. But with millions still unemployed, Roosevelt continued to use the power of the federal government to relieve the suffering caused by the Great Depression.
William Leuchtenburg, Historian: Congress, at Roosevelt's request, enacts the Emergency Work Relief Appropriations Act, which is the largest single peacetime appropriation in the history of this country or any country in the history of the world.
Newsreel Announcer: New York City -- federal jobs for thousands at the rate of a hundred a minute, while all over the nation, Works Progress administrators are hurrying to transfer millions of idle from relief rolls to work payrolls.
Dispatcher: One thirty-eight Greene Street, New York, tomorrow morning 9 o'clock. Municipal Building, Borough Hall, Brooklyn tomorrow morning, 9:00.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Five billion dollars went to the Works Progress Administration, the WPA. Men and women hired by the government worked on more than 5,000 schools, 2,500 hospitals, 1,000 landing fields, 13,000 playgrounds. Even artists went to work for the WPA.
But for Roosevelt this was just the beginning. He would bring power to rural America where nine out of every 10 families still lived without electricity. For millions of Americans -- impoverished children, the unemployed, the elderly with no savings, the disabled -- he offered the Social Security Act. He sold it as an insurance policy for everyone, but the poor, Roosevelt was saying, had rights too.
David Ginsburg, F.D.R. Administration: The great tradition in the United States had been private charity, community charity. Families take care of their own and so the notion that somehow the government would take care of the poor or the unemployed or the old -- this is something that was just not part of our tradition. We didn't know of it.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: This Social Security measure gives at least some protection to 30 millions of our citizens who will reap direct benefits through unemployment compensation, through old-age pensions and through increased services for the protection of children and the prevention of ill health.
David McCullough: [voice-over] By the end of his first term, Roosevelt had begun to shift the balance of power in America. The rich felt the sting of higher taxes and workers acquired the right to bargain collectively. Soon great American industries -- steel, rubber, automobiles -- would be unionized for the first time, and the men F.D.R. grew up with, who went to Groton and Harvard, had begun to say, "That man in the White House has gone too far."
Bronson Chanler, Hudson Valley Neighbor: People from Franklin Roosevelt's class when he first was elected had no idea that he was going to anything as radical as he did do. They really believed that because he was one of them, more or less -- propertied and coming from old New York society -- that the last thing he would do would be anything that would cause anguish to his peers.
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson: People who held a position in society that was basically inherited and family-oriented instinctively felt that this was being lost and that "that man in the White House," Franklin D. Roosevelt, was responsible and hence he was a traitor to his class.
They hated him, and I know this from my personal experience of people who would come up to me, not just when my grandfather was alive, but ever since, but particularly, say, in the 10 or 15 years after he died, and express their vitriolic hate towards Franklin D. Roosevelt in a way that is totally irrational.
Bronson Chanler, Hudson Valley Neighbor: A great yachtsman in Marblehead, Mass., Mr. Crowninshield, when he -- on entering in his log book of his yacht a description of something really terrible, he'd refer to it as "a Roosevelt." "It was blowing an absolute Roosevelt that day and the fog was thicker than a Roosevelt," 'cause he used the word Roosevelt -- I mean, it seems ridiculous, but that was the extent to which these people took their hostility to the New Deal.
David McCullough: [voice-over] The rich and the privileged might hate him, but as his first term was drawing to a close, Roosevelt remained immensely popular with ordinary Americans. In spite of persistent hard times, the President had given them hope.
Alistair Cooke, Journalist: The most astounding thing was the pictures of Roosevelt you saw -- framed photographs, framed bad watercolors, good photographs, bad photographs -- but everywhere. Bus stations, libraries, barbershops, homes -- there were pictures of Roosevelt.
I went into this lodge and as we were checking in, I looked and saw this photograph, you know, where the clerk was checking us in, and it was rather bad. It had been -- very bad color with sort of rouged cheeks. And I made a joke about this, you know, the way they'd done him up, and we were throw out. Now, that was the striking thing. It had nothing to do with partisanship. You know, for the time being, the entire country's decided he was the savior.
I don't believe five Americans in a hundred knew he was paralyzed. I think if it had been absolutely common knowledge, it would have been very difficult to elect him.
Hugh Gallagher, Biographer: The country just simply didn't perceive Roosevelt as being handicapped, and they would look and they just would not see what they were seeing. People wanted him to be president, he wanted to be president. There was this little matter of being crippled in the way.
The President was always performing. He was performing before crowds, before visitors of state, the Congress and so forth, but also for his family and everyone else. When he met Orson Welles, he said, "Orson, you and I are the two best actors in America," and he was right, you know. He was right.
He's appearing in public. It's politically important that he not look helpless. He's got to plan how will he enter a room? How will he move across to the chair? Who will help him sit down? How will he do it? Who will take the cane? How -- do they know? Is the chair stable?
Milton Lipson, Secret Service: We became experts at designing ramps, and there would be ramps that would be erected either on a permanent or temporary basis to allow for the wheelchair. Of course, there were times when he would be helped by a couple of agents in a fireman's carry, and all he would do was drape his arms around us and we'd form a fireman's carry and carry him.
Hugh Gallagher, Biographer: For large crowds, they would build a ramp for the car, so the car would come into the stadiums, drive up on the ramp and then the President, still seated, would address the public.
And they had the braces painted black, even though they were shiny steel. He wore black shoes, black socks, black trousers -- black trousers cut long so that the braces all but disappeared if you weren't looking closely.
Chalmers Roberts, Journalist: Most of the pictures you see of him, he's either standing up and if you look carefully he's holding onto somebody's arm or he's sitting in a chair. There are very few pictures of him in a wheelchair. This was not exactly a conspiracy, but it was a conspiracy of consent between photographers and the White House, something that could never exist today.
Hugh Gallagher, Biographer: At Hyde Park, they have something like more than 40,000 still photos of Franklin Roosevelt and of those 40,000, there are only two of him in a wheelchair, and they were family photos. And there was never a cartoon of him being handicapped or being in a wheelchair or otherwise. He was always running and jumping or in a boxing ring, hitting -- knocking a Republican out of the ring or something like that. People were more polite back then, and the press loved Franklin Roosevelt because he took care of them.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: I can't be truthful and say that I am glad to get back. I'm awfully sorry to get back, but while I've been having a wonderful time, I gather also that both houses of Congress have been having a wonderful time in my absence.
Chalmers Roberts, Journalist: He was awful good at charming you. You had to be awful careful you didn't get badly seduced and a lot of people did.
Walter Trohan, Journalist: He had the press with him heart and soul. If he made a crack, the place would bust into an uproar as though they were doing it to applaud a TV comedian.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: And I have come back with all sorts of new lessons which I learned from barracuda and sharks. I'm a tough guy.
Walter Trohan, Journalist: I've heard him tell women how hard it was for him to go through the press conference because these men were so alert and so sharp that he had to keep on his toes, so to speak, every minute. Well, it wasn't so. They were all with him,.
Reporter: Mr. President, how soon are you coming back?
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Just as soon as Congress will let me.
Walter Trohan, Journalist: And he liked jokes and he liked trading jokes. And I used to make dirty cracks at something under the New Deal, and he'd come back and make dirty cracks at my publisher or me or we'd play poker with him, which was a rather good index to his character. He was a great bluffer, and a lot of reporters would lose to him and enjoy putting down on the expense account, "Lost to President Roosevelt at poker." I never claimed a loss.
David McCullough: [voice-over] By 1936, government intervention seemed to be working. Unemployment was still high, but six million people had been put back to work. Corporate profits were rising. Detroit was now rolling out almost as many cars and trucks as were being produced before the Depression began.
At the Democratic Convention, there was little doubt that Roosevelt would be renominated by acclamation.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: We are fighting, fighting to save a great and precious form of government for ourselves and for the world, and so I accept the commission you have tendered me. I join with you. I am enlisted for the duration of the war.
David McCullough: [voice-over] The New Deal was at high tide and F.D.R. was in top form. "There's one issue in this campaign," he told an advisor, "it's myself, and people must be either for me or against me."
Chalmers Roberts, Journalist: The mood of the country was that something is happening. There was motion. I never had any doubt that Roosevelt was going to be reelected in '36. You could smell it.
William Leuchtenburg, Historian: Mile after mile, the Roosevelt entourage could barely get through the streets of well-wishers, and people could hear individuals call out, "He gave me a job," "He saved my home." In the freight yards in Denver, someone had scrawled in chalk, "Roosevelt is my friend."
David McCullough: [voice-over] Roosevelt was so supremely confident that he never even mentioned his Republican opponent. He saved his fire for the leaders of big business.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob. 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.
David McCullough: [voice-over] The Republican opposition accused Roosevelt of turning class against class. Eleanor Roosevelt also came under attack for her tireless advocacy of New Deal reforms, and especially for her sympathies with the struggle of black Americans.
Dorothy Height, National Council of Negro Women: For the things that we, as African-Americans, loved her, there were too many Americans who hated her. Here was a woman coming from the top class in our country and here she was, moving into poor neighborhoods. Here she was, sitting in groups of people of all races and all backgrounds. She didn't have a program, but a lot that she did helped to lay the groundwork that we could build upon in later years in civil rights. And of course, many hated her for it.
Ann Cottrell Free, Journalist: The whole thing was a paradox. She was loved and despised both, depending on where you sat, you might say, what your needs were. Was she filling your needs or was she stepping on your toes?.
William Leuchtenburg, Historian: On election night, Franklin Roosevelt was at Hyde Park, and when the first returns came in, he let out a puff of cigarette smoke and said, "Wow." It was the first indication of a landslide victory. Roosevelt would carry every state in the country except Maine and Vermont.
David McCullough: [voice-over] It was the biggest popular margin in history.
Singer, New Lost City Ramblers: [singing] No more bread lines, we're glad to say / The donkey won Election Day / No more standin' in the blowin' snow and rain / He's got things in full sway / We're all a-workin' and a-gittin' our pay / We've got Franklin D. Roosevelt back again.
David McCullough: [voice-over] F.D.R. had changed the American political landscape. Wherever African-Americans were allowed to vote, they abandoned the party of Abraham Lincoln to vote Democratic. Inner-city immigrants, working men and women, white southerners -- Roosevelt had created a new Democratic Party coalition.
Eli Ginzberg, F.D.R. Administration: Roosevelt became overconfident from that overwhelming victory. He thought he had the country in the palm of his hands. I think his guard was down.
David McCullough: [voice-over] The President still faced powerful political enemies determined to undermine his programs. January 20, 1937, the day of his second inauguration -- he had already developed a plan to take them on.
Roosevelt was about to challenge the Supreme Court of the United States. "When the chief justice came to the words, 'defend the Constitution,"' Roosevelt later said, "I felt like saying, 'Not the kind of constitution your court has raised up as a barrier to progress and democracy."'
The Supreme Court had been leading the opposition to the New Deal, rejecting one Roosevelt law after another. Now, Roosevelt feared that the court was preparing to strike down the Social Security Act and the law that gave unions the right to collective bargaining. Immediately after his inauguration, Roosevelt vented his anger at a Democratic Party dinner.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: The Democratic administration and the Congress made a gallant, sincere effort to raise wages, to reduce hours, to abolish child labor and to eliminate unfair trade practices.
William Leuchtenburg, Historian: Roosevelt not only wanted a court that would rule favorably on New Deal legislation, he wanted a measure of revenge, because he took personally a number of the opinions, a number of the actions of the court.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: And I defy anyone to read the opinions concerning the AAA, the Railroad Retirement Act, the National Recovery Act, the Guffey Coal Act, and the New York Minimum Wage Law and tell us exactly what, if anything, we can do for the industrial worker in this session of the Congress with any reasonable certainty that what we do will not be nullified as unconstitutional.
Eli Ginzberg, F.D.R. Administration: He was upset -- he had good reasons to be upset, but one of the few times in his life, I think, that he miscalculated.
David McCullough: [voice-over] To save the New Deal, Roosevelt proposed a radical piece of legislation -- a bill to give him the power to appoint additional justices to the Supreme Court and outnumber his opponents. On Capitol Hill, critics argued that Roosevelt's bill challenged the Constitution itself.
Sen. Frederick Van Nuys, (D), Indiana: I shall not be a party to breaking down the checks and balances of the Constitution.
Rep. Samuel B. Pettengill, (D), Indiana: A packed jury, a packed court and a stuffed ballot box are all on the same moral plane. This is more power than a good man should want or a bad man should have.
Sen. Arthur H. Vandenberg, (R), Michigan: This is a non-partisan battle to preserve an independent Supreme Court.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Determined to win votes for his court plan, Roosevelt was now in the congressional fight of his life. He dangled promises of federal projects, hinted at judicial appointments, threatened to withdraw patronage. At a picnic for Democratic congressmen, he turned on all his charm. This time it didn't work. On July 20th, he asked his vice president, Jack Garner, what his chances were with Congress. "Do you want it with the bark on or off, Captain?" Garner replied. "The rough way." "All right, you're beat. You haven't got the votes."
David Ginsburg, F.D.R. Administration: And the price that he paid was very high. It was a loss of confidence on the part of the country. It was a recognition by his opponents in politics that they could beat him. It was a recognition on his part that he had lost some measure of power.
David McCullough: [voice-over] And then the economy snapped. The stock market crashed again, businesses failed, and by December, two million more people had lost their jobs. His opponents called it "The Roosevelt Recession." An aide observed that Roosevelt seemed depressed. "His face is heavily lined," a member of his Cabinet wrote. "He is distinctly more nervous, punch-drunk from the punishment he has suffered, a beaten man." The momentum behind the New Deal was slowing down. Congress was reasserting its authority. The press was turning more critical.
And he now faced an even more terrible crisis. Far away, fascist armies were marching. Adolf Hitler's Germany had seized the Rhineland. Benito Mussolini's Italy crushed Ethiopia. Emperor Hirohito's Japan ravaged China. Roosevelt privately called them "the three bandit nations."
In 1936, he had written his ambassador in Berlin, "Everything seems to have broken loose again in your part of the world. All the experts say there will be no war, but as president, I have to be ready, just like a fire department." But Roosevelt knew that America was not ready.
Alistair Cooke, Journalist: We had an army the size of the army of Sweden. You know, people think of us today as being a tremendous military power. The United States never wanted to be a military power. The habit had been after a war -- you mobilized two million guys and they immediately demobilized.
Robert Dallek, Historian: There's no thought in the minds of the great bulk of Americans that they will ever send another land army to Europe to fight in a war again. This is the abiding feeling in the United States -- avoid involvement in any war.
Chalmers Roberts, Journalist: Memories of the First World War were not all that far behind, and Americans were very disillusioned about it, so they became isolationist.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Roosevelt had to move cautiously. Congress had passed a series of neutrality laws forbidding the President to take sides. Whenever Roosevelt suggested that the United States play any part on the world stage, he met with violent isolationist opposition. Two congressmen even threatened him with impeachment.
Chalmers Roberts, Journalist: For a long time, the principal battle in American politics and in Washington was between the internationalists and the isolationists, and the people who hated Roosevelt said, "He's trying to get us into war."
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: You may have heard that I was about to plunge the nation into war, that you and your little brothers would be sent to the bloody fields of battle in Europe, that I was dragging the nation into bankruptcy and that I breakfasted every morning on a dish of grilled millionaire.
Robert Dallek, Historian: Roosevelt, from the start of his presidency, is troubled by Hitler and privately he's deeply concerned, but he's not going to say anything in public. He knows the country is so opposed to anything that would involve it in European power politics.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Actually, I am an exceedingly mild-mannered person, a practitioner of peace, both domestic and foreign, a believer in the capitalistic system, and for my breakfast a devotee of scrambled eggs.
Robert Dallek, Historian: And so he caters to the isolationist and pacifist sentiment in the country, but if he had his druthers, he would avoid war not by retreating from international politics, but by participation in international politics. And so it's a matter of method. He wants to avoid war, but the way to do it, he feels, is not to be isolationist, is not to pass these neutrality bills, but for the United States to be assertive and play a significant role in international power politics.
David McCullough: [voice-over] In March 1938, German troops occupied Austria without firing a shot. "The dictator nations find their bluffs are not being called," Roosevelt wrote a friend in frustration. Czechoslovakia fell next. On September 30, 1938, at Munich, the British signed a treaty which recognized Hitler's new conquest.
Eleanor Roosevelt: Franklin's reaction to the Munich Conference was one of great discontent. He was very unhappy. Of course, being in an official position, my husband said little publicly.
David McCullough: [voice-over] The President grew more and more frustrated and angry.
Trude Lash, Roosevelt Family Friend: Both the President and Mrs. Roosevelt would talk a lot about what went on. He would say, "Every time one gives in to Hitler, his ambitions become greater and he wants more." And I think the President felt that, in the end, a war was unavoidable.
David McCullough: [voice-over] But Roosevelt's hands had been tied by Congress and a cautious public. Desperate to do something, Roosevelt broadcast a personal appeal to Hitler, asking him to halt further aggression. In reply, Hitler ridiculed the powerless president with withering sarcasm.
Adolf Hitler: [through interpreter] Mr. Roosevelt demands that German troops shall not attack the following independent nations: Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, Great Britain, Ireland, France, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, Russia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iraq, Arabia, Syria, Palestine, Egypt.
Robert Dallek, Historian: In essence, he was being told by Hitler, "You're not a player in this world political game. We don't count you for very much, and we know that you've got a big political headache. Your isolationists are not going to let you do anything. You have all these neutrality laws. If we go to war against Britain and France, you're not going to have a significant say in things." And it, I think, deepened his frustration. He knew it. He knew Hitler was right in that sense, at least for the moment.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Roosevelt was tired. He was already thinking of retiring to his Hyde Park home. His second term was coming to an end, and no president had ever served more than eight years. "I think there was a great see-saw," Eleanor wrote. "On the one end, the weariness and the desire to be home, on the other the overwhelming desire to have a hand in the affairs of the world." Eleanor was urging her husband to retire, yet she was keenly aware that the goals of the New Deal had not been fulfilled. There was much unfinished business.
Marian Anderson, Singer: [singing] My country, 'tis of thee / Sweet land of liberty / For thee we sing.
David McCullough: [voice-over] On Easter Sunday that April, Marian Anderson sang from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. With America still deeply segregated, hundreds of thousands of blacks and whites gathered together to honor the great contralto. Without Eleanor Roosevelt, the concert would never have happened. When Anderson was denied permission to sing in a segregated hall, Eleanor worked behind the scenes to bring her to the Lincoln Memorial.
Dorothy Height, National Council of Negro Women: Mrs. Roosevelt inspired her. She wanted Marian Anderson, the artist, to have her moment in history, but it was a moment in history for all of us. You had a feeling that official Washington was saying, "We may be deeply segregated and we have all of this, still, but here is what we stand for." And I think that was a great moment.
Marian Anderson, Singer: Ave Maria....
David McCullough: [voice-over] If this had been the end of the Roosevelt presidency, he would have left a mixed record. In his first term, he had restored hope to a people who had lost hope, used the power of the presidency to insure that the Great Depression could never happen again, and forced government to accept the responsibility for the well-being of America's poorest citizens.
But in his second term, he seemed to overreach and then lose his way. Congress no longer did his bidding. Millions were still without work and he remained helpless in the face of aggression overseas. Germany and England were on the brink of war.
In June 1939, Roosevelt did something no president had ever done before. He invited the King and Queen of England to America. The President hoped their visit might inspire Americans with greater sympathy for Britain, now faced with the Nazi threat.
Alistair Cooke, Journalist: The idea of the King and Queen of England coming to America -- there'd never been such a thing happen before. If it had been George III, it couldn't have been more of a surprise. It was fairyland.
David McCullough: [voice-over] The President born to wealth and privilege was in his element. "The visit was prepared very carefully," Eleanor later wrote, "but Franklin always behaved as though we were simply going to have two very nice young people to stay with us."
Alistair Cooke, Journalist: And Roosevelt took them off to Hyde Park and drove his own hand-run automobile into the grounds and gave them a hot dog lunch. Well, this was a shocker to the British, but it's the thing he would do. You see, he was a natural aristocrat, Roosevelt was. He didn't have to put on airs.
Geoffery Ward, Biographer: American Indians were asked to dance as the entertainment. His mother thought this was a dreadful way to entertain such distinguished people, but actually they had a marvelous time. He sat up with the King quite late at night, whom he called "George," and finally put his hand on his knee and said, "Young man, it's time for you to go to bed." And the King later said to one of his aides, "Why don't my ministers talk to me that way?"
David McCullough: [voice-over] The royal couple had won American hearts. When it was time for the king and queen to leave, Eleanor wrote that she "thought of the clouds that hung over them and the worries that they were going to face." The President called after them, "Good luck to you. All the luck in the world." Three months later, Great Britain and Germany were at war and F.D.R. would decide to run for a third term as President of the United States.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Poland, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Luxembourg, Belgium, France had fallen. September 1940, German bombs were destroying London. England stood alone.
Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister: Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Prime Minister Winston Churchill inspired the British people, but he also beamed his message at a target in America. He desperately needed help from Franklin Roosevelt. The war would be Roosevelt's final test.
On November 5, 1940, with Nazi armies in control of Europe, Franklin Roosevelt won an unprecedented third term as President of the United States. The next day, he received a telegram from Winston Churchill. "I did not think it right for me, as a foreigner, to express any opinion upon American policies while the election was on, but I prayed for your success and I am truly thankful for it."
Month after month for over a year, Churchill had been sending secret messages to Roosevelt. "We must ask, as a matter of life or death, to be reinforced." "It has now become most urgent for you to let us have the destroyers for which we have asked." "Mr. President, with great respect, I must tell you that in the long history of the world, this is a thing to do now."
Roosevelt wanted to help, but most Americans were against involvement in any war. It would take all of F.D.R.'s political genius to get Churchill what England needed to survive.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: We cannot and we will not tell them that they must surrender merely because of present inability to pay for the weapons which we know they must have.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Congress had prohibited Roosevelt from sending weapons unless England paid in cash and England was bankrupt. The President would have to outmaneuver the lawmakers.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: I do not recommend that we make them a loan of dollars with which to pay for these weapons.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Roosevelt proposed a daring plan with an innocuous name, lend-lease.
Robert Dallek, Historian: Lend-lease was a way to give the British planes, tanks, guns, artillery, ammunition without them really paying for it. And reporters at a press conference asked him, "What does this mean? What does lend-lease mean?"
David McCullough: [voice-over] Roosevelt explained that we would "lend" England the weapons and when the war was over, England would return them. It was like lending a neighbor a garden hose to put out a fire, he said. After the fire was out, the neighbor would simply return the hose.
Robert Dallek, Historian: Well, of course, it was patent nonsense. What were the British going to do, give us the tanks back that were blown up, the planes that were shot down? But Roosevelt's invocation of this homily about the neighbor and garden hose is a wonderful way for him to sell it to the public, and that was his political genius. That was something that he had a kind of sixth sense for. You can't understand it, you can't define it, you can't put it under any scientific rubric. It simply was something that the man had.
David McCullough: [voice-over] On March 11, 1941, Congress passed and Roosevelt signed into law lend-lease.
Alistair Cooke, Journalist: There was an emergency press conference called. This morning he'd signed the lend-lease bill. A reporter said, "Mr. President, have you got ships and material and tanks and things? Are they already -- you know, left the ports and crossing the Atlantic?" Well, my British supply man had told me that there were cargoes just about to arrive in Liverpool and Southampton. And Roosevelt looked up like an innocent child and he said, "Oh," he said, "we work fast but not that fast." And of course, it was -- I mean, if they'd known the truth, you know, the whole Atlantic was thick with all the things already on their way.
David McCullough: [voice-over] The lend-lease lifeline stretched across the Atlantic. Roosevelt had bent the law, outflanked Congress and provided England with billions of dollars' worth of weapons and supplies, but as the great armada reached Britain's shores, opposition remained strong back in America.
Charles Lindbergh: They dare not tell us that these steps mean war. They dare not tell us what war means.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and leftists alike campaigned to keep America out of another European war. Charles Lindbergh expressed the concerns of many Americans across the country.
Charles Lindbergh: I say it is they who are undermining the principles of democracy when they demand that we take a course to which more than 80 percent of our citizens are opposed.
David McCullough: [voice-over] In fact, Lindbergh exaggerated, yet the American people were deeply divided, and Roosevelt, sending their indecision, was stymied. "It's a terrible thing," he later told an aide, "to look over your shoulder when you're trying to lead and to find no one there."
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: The spring of '41 seems like one of the lowest points for Roosevelt. Public opinion itself is so incredibly confused and when public opinion was confused, Roosevelt himself lost his moorings. His genius was that he somehow could divine where the country was and help push it along, maybe a little ahead of itself, but he saw where the country was heading. In this period of time, the country seemed to be in such a maze of contradictions that he looked out almost as if he were staring into a fog himself.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Eleanor Roosevelt was also at a crossroads. No one had fought harder for her husband's New Deal, but now his priorities had changed.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: She had had this wonderful decade of a partnership with her husband where they were both moving toward social reform, and the New Deal was the center of their hearts. Now, suddenly, she sees him totally preoccupied by war. When she comes back from her travels around the country, he doesn't really have time to talk to her anymore.
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson: My grandmother felt herself a little bit off to the side, less useful, with less reason to go and be with him as she always was early in the morning or at the end of the day. So this relationship from which she drew strength and a position no longer existed.
David McCullough: [voice-over] All through 1941, the pressures on Roosevelt mounted. On one side of the globe, Japan threatened to spread its empire throughout the Pacific. "They hate us," Roosevelt said, "Sooner or later, they'll come after us." And across the Atlantic, Roosevelt increasingly feared for Great Britain's survival.
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson: Some people think that this great master politician was always on top of things, but he had to move in relation to public opinion and it was a major thing. It really got to him. He went to bed for 10 days out of exasperation from the pressures on both sides to intervene or not to intervene, and Britain was going down the tube.
David McCullough: [voice-over] "If Great Britain goes down," Roosevelt said, "all of us in all the Americas would be living at the point of a gun."
Then, in early August, determined to do more for the British, Roosevelt headed out to sea for a secret rendezvous in U-boat-infested waters. Under cover of darkness, he slipped away from reporters, boarded an American warship and headed north to meet the British battleship, the Prince of Wales. On board was Winston Churchill. The course of the war would be determined by the convergence of these two extraordinary personalities.
Lady Mary Soames, Winston Churchill's Daughter: I was told, as a deathly secret, that this meeting was going to happen. It was perfectly clear to my father, perhaps also to the President, that of course it did matter very much whether they would see eye to eye.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Churchill, his bodyguard later reported, "was as excited as a schoolboy." At stake, the prime minister believed, was the fate of western civilization.
The President was also on edge. He was not used to sharing the stage with any man, and Churchill was already a legend. A Roosevelt aide who knew both men worried about a clash of prima donnas. With the Navy band playing "The Stars and Stripes Forever," Churchill came aboard the American ship. "At last," Roosevelt said, "we've gotten together."
They talked for four days, two titanic egos, each taking the other's measure. Churchill was determined to bind the Americans ever more firmly to the British cause. Roosevelt was wary. He was unwilling to ask Congress for a declaration of war without the rock-solid support of the American people, but he was searching for some way to help Great Britain before it was too late.
Robert Dallek, Historian: What Churchill needed to do was to convince Roosevelt that Britain was not going to give up, and what Roosevelt was saying to Churchill was, "I understand what your needs are, I understand the importance of the danger to us, both of us, from Adolf Hitler, and we're going to stand together against this monster."
David McCullough: [voice-over] On Sunday, Roosevelt was carried onboard the British battleship for a morning service. "If nothing else had happened while we were here," Roosevelt told an aide, "that joint service would have cemented us."
Lady Mary Soames, Winston Churchill's Daughter: All the ships' companies all mixed up and sharing the hymn sheets and everything, and it really did seem rather wonderful and very moving. My father sat with the President. I mean, normally he would have stood during such a service, but he and the President sat and everybody else stood on the quarterdeck. My father chose the hymns very carefully -- his favorites.
David McCullough: [voice-over] "The same language, the same hymns," Churchill said later, "It was a great hour to live."
Lady Mary Soames, Winston Churchill's Daughter: It was sort of like a beam of brilliant sunshine, like a genuine ray of hope. And of course, now it's, I find, anguishing looking at those photographs because three months later, the Prince of Wales was under the waves with its entire ship's company.
David McCullough: [voice-over] As the two men parted, a message flashed from the British battleship to the American cruiser: "God bless the President and the people of the United States."
When Churchill returned to England, he told his cabinet that Roosevelt had made a secret promise that he would wage war against Nazi Germany but not declare it. Everything was to be done to force an incident. Roosevelt would find his incident in the cold waters of the North Atlantic.
By the middle of 1941, Nazi U-boats had sunk over 1,500 British ships, all but cutting England's lifeline to America. Without telling the American people, Roosevelt issued secret orders to the Navy to escort British convoys and, if necessary, sink Nazi submarines. The President was willing to risk war with Germany.
Newscaster: On the morning of September 4th, the United States destroyer Greer was attacked by a submarine, a German submarine.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: I tell you the blunt fact that the German submarine fired first upon this American destroyer, Greer, without warning and with deliberate design to sink her.
Robert Dallek, Historian: What he hides from the American public is the fact that the Greer had been tracking the German submarine to help a British seaplane which was going to try and sink it with depth charges.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Roosevelt knew that the Greer had deliberately stalked the Nazi U-boat and that the British plane had fired first. "You know, I'm a juggler," he would later tell a friend, "and I never let my right hand know what my left hand does. I am perfectly willing to mislead and tell untruths if it will help win the war." Roosevelt did not ask congress for a declaration of war, but he used the Greer incident to justify an undeclared war in the Atlantic where he was sure the real war would soon begin.
That same autumn, with her son at her side, the President's mother Sarah died. Minutes after her death, the largest oak tree at Hyde Park toppled to the ground. It was a clear, windless day. "You are constantly in my thoughts," Sarah had told her son toward the end, "and always in my heart. I think of you night and day."
Geoffrey Ward, Biographer: He managed to get through the funeral without breaking down. A few days later, though, a secretary brought him a box with his mother's handwriting on it. He had no idea with was in it, and he found locks of his own hair and little childhood toys and his christening dress, each of them carefully labeled in her loving hand. And tears filled his eyes and he asked his secretaries to leave the room. No one on his staff had ever seen him cry before.
Radio Announcer: We interrupt this program to bring you a special news bulletin. The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii by air, President Roosevelt has just announced.
David McCullough: [voice-over] On December 7, 1941, Roosevelt's long campaign to rally the American people against fascism came to a shocking and unexpected end. At 1:50 P.M., the President was told that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. At 2:28, the attack was confirmed.
Alonzo Fields, White House Butler: Now, when I went upstairs, they had set up in the bedroom and they were taking communications from what was going on. And Paul Watson came out and he had this message and he says, "Mr. President, the whole damn Navy is gone. What in the hell are we going to do?" And the President and Mr. Hopkins-- he said to Mr. Hopkins, he says, "My God, my God, how did it happen?" He had his head in hands and at his desk like this. He says, "How did it happen?" He says, "Now I'll go down in history disgraced."
David McCullough: [voice-over] At a Cabinet meeting that night, Labor Secretary Frances Perkins found Roosevelt deeply shaken. "He was having actual physical difficulty in getting out the words that put him on record as knowing the Navy was caught unawares."
Alonzo Fields, White House Butler: He looked drawn. His face was kind of pale-ish-like and tired-like, and it seemed to be a maze around him, just a blind sort of fog around him. When I looked at him, I got that impression from him, that he was in a fog, and he was so despondent over the fact -- he said, "We don't know what's out there."
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
Alistair Cooke, Journalist: The Monday after Pearl Harbor was very solemn. Roosevelt had a press conference and, looking back on it, I'm astounded that he was able to cover up the appalling extent of the damage. We knew that there'd been a few ships bombed. We had no conception that the whole Pacific fleet had been bombed to hell. You know, Roosevelt said, "We've suffered great losses," and so on, but he didn't specify. You wonder that he could even sort of face anybody. So he handled that with great confidence.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Four days later, Germany, too, declared war on America. Now Roosevelt would have to wage war on both sides of the globe, across two oceans and three continents.
Hugh Gallagher, Biographer: No man in history ever had a greater burden than Franklin Roosevelt did during World War II. He was leading the free world against Adolf Hitler and it wasn't at all clear that we were going to win.
David McCullough: [voice-over] The early news was all bad. Disaster followed on disaster. The Japanese swept through Southeast Asia, pushing the Allies out of most of the Pacific. The Germans had advanced deep into Russia, threatening Moscow and Leningrad. Just two weeks after Pearl Harbor, on December 22, Roosevelt received a secret visitor at the White House.
Alistair Cooke, Journalist: We were at a regular press conference, always in the Oval Office, and so we all stormed in and were staggered to see sitting next to him in a chair was this rotund, pink, pink Winston Churchill. And there was one of those sort of indescribable, strange noises between a rustle and a gasp and eventually a cheer. And Roosevelt said, "Mr. Prime Minister, get up there and let them see you," so Churchill got up, stood on the desk and gave the great victory sign.
David McCullough: [voice-over] This time, the prime minister and the President met to plot military strategy. Their most important decision -- who to fight first, the Germans in Europe or the Japanese in the Pacific. For nearly a month, they talked and planned. Churchill moved into the White House just down the hall from Roosevelt. The daily rub of living side by side would test their friendship and the future of the Alliance.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: When Churchill came, it was like a cyclone that hit the White House. His whole schedule was totally out of whack with Roosevelt's. He, of course, loved to stay up late at night, drinking, smoking cigars, and Roosevelt would sit there with him until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, smoking cigars.
Alonzo Fields, White House Butler: Before breakfast, he preferred a tumbler of sherry and he would have that as his eye-opener. For lunch, he started drinking scotch and soda and he'd drink scotch and soda until he'd take a nap. And at dinner, he had to have his champagne and 90-year-old brandy. Then he would go to work.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: Roosevelt relished, with all people, the chance to break through decorum and have a one-on-one friendly relationship. He was always calling people by their first name, even before he knew them. So I think that once he established with Churchill this kind of crazy informal relationship, he knew that it was a good omen for their friendship.
Lady Mary Soames, Winston Churchill's Daughter: One will never know whether they would have been friends if there hadn't been a war, but maybe it needed a great cause to bring them together, and maybe it was a marriage of convenience, but then a lot of marriages of convenience are very successful, aren't they?
David McCullough: [voice-over] By the end of the month, Roosevelt and Churchill had agreed to fight the Germans first, but in January 1942, the Nazis dominated most of Europe and the Allies were still far too weak to invade the continent. Just two years earlier, American soldiers had been forced to train with cardboard weapons, firing flour instead of shells. Roosevelt had done all he could to build up the country's defenses, but he still had a long way to go.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: There aren't even private companies that are making very many weapons, so he's got to take companies that are making girdles, that are making cars, that are making all sorts of other things, and change over their production to making weapons for war.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: In this year 1942, we shall produce 60,000 planes.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Roosevelt began by setting war production goals which to many people seemed astronomical.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Next year, 1943, we shall produce 125,000 airplanes, including 100,000 combat planes.
Robert Nathan, F.D.R. Administration: Roosevelt says, "We are going to be the arsenal for democracy." All these numbers poured out and most people thought they were crazy.
David Ginsburg, F.D.R. Administration: How do you persuade Detroit to convert -- suddenly to stop making these profitable automobiles and begin making tanks, which somehow they've never made, don't know how to make and will have to learn how to make? It isn't easy, and it wasn't easy.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Even though it will mean the dislocation of the lives and occupations of millions of our own people, we must raise our sights all along the production lines. Let no man say it cannot be done. It must be done and we have undertaken to do it.
David McCullough: [voice-over] As America prepared for war, Roosevelt was determined to strike at the Nazis by invading across the English Channel as soon as possible. Churchill wanted to wait.
George Elsey, Lieutenant, U.S. Naval Reserve: American military planners were all for a cross-channel assault on Germany at the earliest possible moment. The British, in effect, said, "We can't do it" -- we, being the Allies -- can't do it. "We don't have the landing craft, we don't have command of the air, we don't have control of the sea and '42 is just too soon." And Roosevelt's counter-argument was, "I have to show the American people that we're moving against Hitler. I've got to do something." And the "something" turned out to be Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa.
David McCullough: [voice-over] On November 8, 1942, ignoring the advice of some of his top commanders, F.D.R. sent American soldiers into combat for the first time against the German army. More than 80,000 Americans poured out of hundreds of warships onto the North African beaches. When Roosevelt picked up the phone to receive news that the assault had begun, an aide noticed that his hand was trembling. He listened, then announced, "We have landed in North Africa. Casualties are below expectations. We are fighting back."
Two months later, Roosevelt again made a dangerous journey. This time he flew to the North African battlefront. No American president since Lincoln had visited troops in a combat zone.
At Casablanca, he met with Winston Churchill to discuss Allied war plans, and again Churchill argued to postpone the cross-channel invasion and Roosevelt agreed. Ships were still in short supply. Then Roosevelt and Churchill set off together for a brief holiday across the Moroccan desert to Marrakech.
Lady Mary Soames, Winston Churchill's Daughter: My father said to the President, "You cannot come all this way and not see the sun set over the Atlas Mountains from Marrakech."
At the golden hour, the President had to be carried up to the tower. He was determined to see it from where my father said it should be seen. They sat at the top of the tower and they watched the sun set over the Atlas Mountains.
My father had brought his paints, and he played truant from the war for two days, and he painted the only picture from his brush in the whole of the war. And he later gave it to the President to remind him of their journey to see the sunset.
David McCullough: [voice-over] All during the war, Roosevelt, in secret, retreated to his home at Hyde Park, New York. When sleep eluded him, he imagined himself a boy again, he said, coasting down the hills in the snow.
Each day, the war presented the President with terrible choices, forcing him to make decisions that would haunt his reputation. When he was advised to send to internment camps Americans whose only crime was their Japanese ancestry, he sent them. When news of the slaughter of Jews in the German death camps reached him, he felt he could take no special military steps to rescue them. When scientists recommended a weapon more terrible than any known to man, he secretly set them to work on the atomic bomb. Those closest to him would later say that Roosevelt had one overriding goal -- winning the war.
Meanwhile, Eleanor Roosevelt hurled herself into the war effort with all the energy that she had brought to the New Deal. During the course of the war, she traveled the world, visiting American soldiers everywhere. The Secret Service gave her the code name "Rover."
On one trip to the South Pacific, she traveled 23,000 miles and visited 400,000 soldiers in Australia, New Zealand, the tiny islands on the edge of the war zone in the Pacific. But she never gave up her social ideals. She continued to insist to her husband that he fight the war, but not surrender the reforming spirit of the New Deal.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: She wanted to use the war as a way of changing the country. Behind the scenes, day after day, she is sending Franklin memos about blacks getting into the armed forces, blacks getting into jobs, day care for women in the factories, unions versus business -- she's always on union's side. She is often at cross-purposes with him, always arguing that the war had to be a vehicle for social reform.
Edna Gurewitsch, Roosevelt Family Friend: There were many times that he would be irritated and Mrs. Roosevelt was a conscience. It's not so pleasant to have someone say, "You shouldn't be doing this, you should be doing something better." It's like your mother.
Trude Lash, Roosevelt Family Friend: She certainly sometimes was his hair shirt. She needed to remind F.D.R. of things which sometimes he didn't forget, but he wanted to put over there while he had other things to do.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: What he would say to her was, "Eleanor, I've got to be careful. If I look like I'm making the war a vehicle for even further New Deal reforms, I'm going to lose my support in Congress." And he kept telling Eleanor that, "If you trust in the momentum of democracy, the country will be changed."
David McCullough: [voice-over] By the end of the war, the government had pumped $380 billion into the economy, more than six times the amount spent during all the New Deal years. Every American who wanted a job now found one. The Great Depression was finally over.
And with American factories pouring out weapons and supplies, the tide of war was slowly turning, but at a terrible cost. For two years, American soldiers had been dying all over the world -- at Bataan, Corregidor, Iran, Guadalcanal.
In November 1943, Roosevelt flew to Teheran, Iran. With Churchill at his side, he would meet for the first time the other ally, the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. The Russians had been fighting the Nazis for more than two years, suffering more dead and wounded than any other country at war. Stalin pressured his western allies to launch the cross-channel invasion into Europe as soon as possible.
George Elsey, Lieutenant, U.S. Naval Reserve: Stalin was screaming for relief. The Russians were in desperate shape and Stalin hoped that an opening on the second front would relieve some of the pressure on his front.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Roosevelt distrusted Stalin, but behind his back, he mischievously called him, "Uncle Joe."
George Elsey, Lieutenant, U.S. Naval Reserve: Roosevelt felt he could charm the pants off anyone. He thought it included Uncle Joe, which it most certainly did not.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: When he first starts talking to Stalin, he knows somehow that his charm hasn't penetrated, so he decides to use Churchill as the way of reaching Stalin. As soon as he sat down, he started whispering to Stalin in a very intimate way, in a way that Churchill would have to see what was going on. And then he started openly teasing Churchill relentlessly about his John Bull manner, about his cigars, about his habits, about his clothes. Stalin loved the idea that he had a friend now. Now it was Stalin and Roosevelt against Churchill.
Lady Mary Soames, Winston Churchill's Daughter: I think my father was very upset. The President did rather shoulder my father out. I mean, it was -- I can't describe it better than two's company, three's none.
David McCullough: [voice-over] F.D.R. believed that by winning Stalin's confidence, he could influence the shape of the post-war world, a world in which one day Russia would replace Britain as a major power.
Lady Mary Soames, Winston Churchill's Daughter: If you look at it in purely cold political terms, of the big three, my father represented the nation who contributed least in terms of soldiers and guns and power, and politics is about power.
David McCullough: [voice-over] They talked for four days. When Roosevelt told Stalin that the Allies would cross the English Channel and invade northern France in six months, Stalin was satisfied. So was Roosevelt. He had convinced Stalin to enter the war against Japan once Germany was defeated.
By January 1944, F.D.R. had been president for 11 years. He wanted to see the country through to victory, but he also had an extraordinary vision for post-war America. He spoke of guaranteeing everyone a job, a decent home and effective health care. He insisted veterans get a free education and access to low-interest loans. He designed an international organization dedicated to peace, the United Nations.
But the long, hard years in office were beginning to show. Although he was just 62 years old, his health had begun to fail.
George Elsey, Lieutenant, U.S. Naval Reserve: By '44, F.D.R. was a noticeably different man than he had been at the beginning of the war. He'd lost a great deal of weight. His face was thin and gaunt. He no longer came to the map room. His hours -- he was spending more and more time in the bedroom or away from the White House, convalescing.
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson: I could see the physical deterioration. I mean, the legs were thinner and you could see his face -- you could sense that the vitality was ebbing.
Alonzo Fields, White House Butler: You could see him just fade away. He would come to the table sometimes and he would be bright and cheerful, but if any agitation happened in the conversation, he would again sag and he'd sort of droop and drop his head or he would drop his jaw.
Milton Lipson, Secret Service: And I recall on several occasions when he had the misfortune to fall out of his chair and you'd have to come in and there was the President of the United States helpless on the floor, and you gently pick him up, say nothing about it, put him back on the chair and that was it. But your heart would break.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Alarmed by the President's failing health, in March 1944 Roosevelt's doctor brought in heart specialist Howard Bruenn.
Dr. Howard G. Bruenn, Cardiologist: And I asked him a lot of questions and there were a few things he mentioned very casually which suggested that he might be having some trouble. Then I went over his neck and chest and I was literally appalled at what I was finding -- congestive heart failure, hypertension, high blood pressure. And if there's a weak spot there, it blows just like a pipe.
David McCullough: [voice-over] June 6, 1944 -- D-Day. After more than two years of waiting, the cross-channel invasion of Europe had finally begun. F.D.R. had sent into action 400,000 men and more than 5,000 ships of every kind. It was largest armada in history. That evening, the President led the nation in prayer.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Almighty God, our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our republic, our religion and our civilization and to set free a suffering humanity. They will be sore tried by night and by day without rest until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violences of war. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again, and we know that by Thy grace and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Within a year, the Germans would be driven back to Berlin. Roosevelt had taken a weak, ill-prepared nation into battle against the mightiest war machine the world had ever known, but now it was no longer clear that he would live to see the final victory.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Niece: He got thinner. His doctor was more often in attendance. He never said, "I'm sick." He might say he was tired or he might say he didn't want to come to lunch that day, but he never said he was sick. He wouldn't say that.
Dr. Howard G. Bruenn, Cardiologist: He never inquired about what I had found, what the medication was I was giving him, and literally, he passed it over very quietly.
Photographer: Mr. President, would you just give me one full profile? Will you give us a full profile to your left, sir? A little bit more.
Geoffrey Ward, Biographer: I think he didn't think there was any need to brood over things over which he had no control.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: I can keep on looking at him.
Photographer: No, no. No, we want you out here.
Geoffrey Ward, Biographer: I think polio had taught him a certain fatalism about health. I think his father's heart attack long before had given him some fatalism, I think it was just better not to look into these things. Carry on, do your duty, remain cheerful.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: "Cost of production is a stock argument of the stars, but control of prices by that means is illogical and to the scientific money and the prevention of combines and monopoly practically impossible." Another great thought.
Photographer: What book is that?
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: I don't know. "And the possessor of money is entitled to a certain amount of worth as divided by money." Now, don't forget it's divided by money.
Hugh Gallagher, Biographer: At the end during the war years when he began to lose his muscle power, when he got so he could no longer stand without great pain and spasms and things, he never once mentioned how he felt about that.
He was told to eat in his bed alone and not to socialize and to cut down on his smoking. Well, what he loved most of all in life was the dinner parties, making the martinis, the cigarettes, the badinage, the conversation. And he was reduced to having a milk toast in bed and talking to Grace Tully, his secretary, and she was a very nice woman, but she was no conversationalist.
I think he was a very lonely man. All his support system in the White House had dissipated. His mother had died and the children, who had been in and out of the house with their family and kids, they were all off at war, and Eleanor, by that time, had evolved a separate orbit of her own and she was traveling all the time on the war effort.
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson: I think F.D.R. was very disappointed in his relationship with my grandmother, just as disappointed as she must have been in him. There was a lot of duty exchanged and an enormous amount of respect for each other, but the love, the kind of intimacy, the touching didn't really exist. He really had nobody to love.
David McCullough: [voice-over] A quarter of a century earlier, Roosevelt had fallen in love with his wife's social secretary, Lucy Mercer. When Eleanor discovered the romance, Roosevelt promised never to see her again. Not long after, Lucy married a wealthy southerner, Winthrop Rutherford.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: In April of 1944, after Roosevelt had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, he was sent to Bernard Baruch's plantation to recover. And it happened that the month before, Lucy's husband, Winthrop Rutherford, had died. So Lucy came to have lunch with Roosevelt. It was a reminder to him of what it was like when he was young before his polio, what it was like before his body was giving way, as it now was because of his heart condition, and he just felt some need somehow to see her more often. And the only person he could trust with that terrible task of arranging Lucy's visits when Eleanor was away was his daughter Anna.
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson: My mother realized that she was getting in perhaps over her head with a divided loyalty, because she certainly realized if she'd called up my grandmother and said, "Pa wants to invite Lucy Mercer for supper, okay?"-- she knew very well what the -- "What?" So it was done in secret.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: Lucy would come to Washington. She came six different times in 1944 and 1945, and according to the usher's diaries, Roosevelt would go and pick her up in Georgetown. It would say in the diary, "President motors to Georgetown to pick up Mrs. Rutherford," which seems to me almost, again, a memory of a courtship.
No one has to pick up a person to come to the White House -- they will come on their own accord -- but I think he wanted to go and be in the car alone with her, bring her back to the White House. And then I imagine it just as an easy dinner, they talked about the past, he told her what was going on during the day.
Curtis Roosevelt, Grandson: It was just a kind of casual, funny conversation that F.D.R. found relaxing, that nobody was asking him to do something, nobody was trying to influence him of one opinion or another.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Niece: To feel the warmth and love of someone -- that's what human beings live for. I think that's what made him carry on. It helped.
David McCullough: [voice-over] In the fall of 1944, Roosevelt campaigned for president for the fourth time. The mood in America was changing. The Allies had already liberated Paris and had begun to recapture the islands they had lost in the Pacific.
In a cold, drenching rain, he campaigned through the streets of New York City. Hurricane winds blew just off the coastline. He rode in an open car, baring himself to the elements. He was determined to persuade American voters and whispering journalists that he was not a sick man. In Brooklyn at Ebbets Field, home of the Dodgers, he turned on the old Roosevelt charm.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: You know, I come from the State of New York and I've got to make a terrible confession to you. I come from the State of New York and I practiced law in New York City, but I have never been in Ebbets Field before. I've rooted for the Dodgers, and I hope to come back here someday and see them play.
Alistair Cooke, Journalist: He still looked a boisterous, buoyant character, but of course he was in terrible shape, because he was already very sick. See, we didn't know that. It was the beginning of the -- and then, of course, the decline through the winter was very bad indeed.
David McCullough: [voice-over] In January 1945, Franklin Roosevelt took the oath of office for a fourth time.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: I, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Twelve years before, he had told a desperate people that they had nothing to fear but fear itself. Now, weak and frail, he still spoke with the same confident optimism.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Things in life will not always run smoothly. Sometimes we will be rising toward the heights, then all will seem to reverse itself and start downward. The great fact to remember is that the trend of civilization itself is forever upward, that a line drawn through the middle of the peaks and the valleys of the centuries always has an upward trend.
David McCullough: [voice-over] The war was drawing to a close. Berlin lay in ruins, devastated by Allied bombs. Tokyo, too, was burning from bombs dropped by American B-29s. Just two days after the inauguration, Roosevelt traveled to Yalta, a Soviet city on the Black Sea. There he met with Churchill and Stalin for the last time.
Robert Dallek, Historian: It's crystal clear to all of them that the war in Europe is coming to an end. It may not end in a month or even three months, but it's clear that Nazi Germany is now going to be defeated and that they are going to have to sort out what the post-war world and post-war Europe is going to look like.
David McCullough: [voice-over] Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin had been united in their struggle against Hitler, but now, with Nazi Germany crumbling, the Alliance was threatening to come apart. Stalin demanded control of Poland after the war. Roosevelt convinced him to agree to free elections there, but had few illusions the Russian leader would keep his word.
Robert Dallek, Historian: What Roosevelt believed was that Stalin and the Soviets had the power and the influence to control Eastern Europe at the end of the war. They were there with millions of men. They were there with a huge -- a vast army and the notion that we were going to go into Eastern Europe to drive them out, I think, is utter nonsense.
David McCullough: [voice-over] "I didn't say the agreement was good," Roosevelt told an aide. "I said it was the best I could do." Two days after his return from Yalta, Roosevelt went before Congress to report to the American people.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Yes, I returned from the trip refreshed and inspired. The Roosevelts are not, as you may suspect, averse to travel. We seem to thrive on it.
George Elsey, Lieutenant, U.S. Naval Reserve: When he returned from Yalta, he wasn't even able to stand up in the Congress, but gave his speech sitting down, which was extraordinary for him. He would never -- had never before been willing to admit a weakness.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: I hope that you will pardon me for an unusual posture of sitting down during the presentation of what I want to say. I know that you will realize that it makes it a lot easier for me in not having to carry about 10 pounds of steel around on the bottom of my legs, and also because of the fact that I have just completed a 14,000-mile trip.
David McCullough: [voice-over] This was the only time in his long career that F.D.R. publicly acknowledged that he was crippled. The President needed to rest. On Good Friday, March 30, 1945, he retreated to Warm Springs, Georgia.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: And there was something about the simplicity of the place and the pleasures that seemed to bring him back a little bit and allow him to feel perhaps that he had gathered up enough strength to go back to Washington for the final push, but of course, it was not to be that way.
H. Stuart Raper, M.D., Medical Director, Warm Springs Foundation: On the Easter -- the last Easter, you might say -- he came to church. And as he went in, we turned and looked at each other and shook our heads. He looked horrible. He had lost weight. He had lost that smile. He had lost his interest in life and it was very obvious to anybody that he was a sick, sick man.
David McCullough: [voice-over] It was spring in Georgia. American soldiers had crossed the Rhine. The Marines had invaded Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Almost every day, the President exchanged messages with Winston Churchill about the Soviets. "We must be firm," Roosevelt wrote in his last letter to him. For relaxation, he enjoyed the company of two admiring cousins.
On April 8th, Eleanor wrote him: "I am so glad you are gaining. You sounded cheerful for the first time last night, and I hope you weigh 170 pounds when you return. Devotedly, E.R." The next day, Lucy Mercer Rutherford joined him.
Geoffrey Ward, Biographer: On the 11th of April, F.D.R. drove Lucy to Dowdell's Knob, which was a favorite spot of his, overlooking a lovely valley, and they sat in the late evening and he talked about the future of the world and what he was going to do after the war had ended.
The next morning was the 12th. They were sitting in his little cottage, which was called "the little White House." Lucy brought with her a Russian painter, a Madame Shoumatoff, who is going to do a portrait of F.D.R. for her. Madame Shoumatoff began to paint.
F.D.R. signed a good many letters, had a little lunch, and then suddenly dropped some papers on the floors and reached up to his forehead and said, "I have a terrific headache," and fell unconscious.
Dr. Howard G. Bruenn, Cardiologist: And when I got there, he was slumped over the table, unconscious, and I and his valet carried him into his bedroom, which was on the same -- just next to the living room where it happened. And I was on the bed, giving him artificial respiration -- he had stopped breathing. It was ineffective, as they say, from that time on he never regained consciousness.
David McCullough: [voice-over] At 3:35 P.M., Dr. Bruenn pronounced the President dead. Eleanor was in Washington when she received a phone call asking her to return to the White House. "I knew in my heart that something dreadful had happened," she said. "I got into my car and sat with clenched hands."
She arrived in Warm Springs near midnight. There she learned that Lucy Mercer Rutherford had been with her husband when he died, that her daughter Anna had arranged their meetings.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: Eleanor went into the room where he was laying on his bed, and she was in there for 10 minutes alone. And one has to imagine her looking at his face and absorbing what she must feel is this terrible act of betrayal not only by her husband, who had promised her he would never see Lucy again, but also by her daughter.
Somehow, she was able to pull herself together in that 10-minute span so that all those conflicting emotions were pulled inside of her, so that when she emerged from the room, she still stood tall, simply Mrs. Roosevelt going forward with her public duties.
Dr. Howard G. Bruenn, Cardiologist: We took him back to Washington on a train. It was the most moving thing I can recall. People lined the railroad tracks for miles, hundreds of miles -- sobbing, crying.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biographer: As Eleanor looked out on the faces of her countrymen, slowly she begins to feel how much all these people -- blacks, poor people, migrant workers, labor people, women -- loved her husband. They tell her, "We loved him. He made our lives different." And I think that what happened is that inside her heart, the faces of all these people touched her somehow and somehow that began to soften her.
Eleanor Roosevelt: I lay in my berth all night, with the window shade up, looking out at the countryside Franklin had loved. I was truly surprised by the people along the way. I had never realized the full scope of their devotion to him until he died.
David McCullough: [voice-over] On April, 15, 1945, at Hyde Park, New York, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was laid to rest in the center of his mother's garden where he had played as a boy.
Nothing much had changed at Hyde Park during F.D.R.'s 63 years, but the world outside had changed beyond imagining. As he led the country through the Great Depression and a world war, F.D.R. transformed the presidency and the role of government. Now America was prepared to take the center of the world stage, the most powerful and prosperous nation on Earth. But above all, F.D.R.'s optimism inspired the American people to believe they could accomplish anything they set out to accomplish.
In 1946, Winston Churchill made a visit to his friend's grave. "Meeting Roosevelt," Churchill said, "was like uncorking your first bottle of champagne."
My American Experience
Who is your favorite 20th-century American president? Was it FDR? Reagan? Clinton? Or one of the other 14 men who helped usher the United Sates through the 1900s? Who do you think was the most influential?