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Character Sketches

Character Sketches
Chapter 33: The Great Depression and the New Deal, 1933 - 1939


Franklin Roosevelt (1882 - 1945)

Roosevelt came from a wealthy patrician family, and his advocacy on behalf of the common person in the depression led him to be called a traitor to his class.

Thoroughly indulged as an only child, Roosevelt was taught primarily by private tutors. His mother, Sara Delano, was a strong-willed woman who exercised a dominant influence on him even during his adult life.

Roosevelt had been very athletic before being struck with polio in 1921. It took him several years of constant effort to regain his strength; after he discovered the therapeutic waters at Warm Springs, Georgia, he again participated in swimming, fishing, and sailing. Roosevelt was almost never photographed in a wheelchair, so many Americans did not know that the wheelchair was his normal means of getting around.

Roosevelt enjoyed political maneuvering and often pitted his advisers against one another. He once told two officials with contradictory proposals to go in a room and weave them together.

Quote: In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that support and understanding of the people themselves which is essential to victory.The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization.This nation asks for action, and action now. (Inaugural address, 1933)

REFERENCE: Frank Freidel, Franklin D. Roosevelt: Rendezvous with Destiny (1990).


Eleanor Roosevelt (1884 - 1962)

Besides her role as Franklin Roosevelts wife and adviser, Eleanor Roosevelt became an influential reformer and political leader in her own right, both before and after FDRs death.

Eleanor Roosevelt did not change names when she married her distant cousin. Her father, Elliott Roosevelt, was Theodore Roosevelts younger brother and a troubled alcoholic who separated from his family when Eleanor was young. Her mother died when Eleanor was eight, and she was raised by a grandmother who made her feel unattractive and unwanted.

Her discovery of her husbands unfaithfulness led to a crisis in their marriage and her determination to create a political identity and career on her own. Her newspaper column, My Day, became a highly popular feature in the 1930s and 1940s. She grew to be a skilled political operator and helped to engineer the nomination of Adlai Stevenson for president in 1952 and 1956.

Quote: As time went by, I found that people no longer considered me a mouthpiece for my husband but realized that I had a point of view of my own with which he might not at all agree. Then I felt freer to state my views. (Autobiography, 1949)

REFERENCE: Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life (1992).


Huey Long (1893 - 1935)

Long was the colorful Kingfish whose populist politics dominated Louisiana and who eventually challenged Roosevelts leadership during the depression.

Originally from rural north Louisiana, Long always had a strong following among poor farmers. He was elected state railroad commissioner at age twenty-five, and used the office flamboyantly to attack monopolistic utilities. As governor and senator he ruled Louisiana with near-absolute control; every police officer, firefighter, and teacher in the state owed his or her job directly to Long.

Long spent lavishly for public works, roads, and schools, especially for the redneck areas. He also built up Louisiana State University, with particular emphasis on the football team and the band, and was known for leading the band on the sidelines during games.

Long would often hold court in hotel rooms in his pajamas, with reporters and advisers and citizens listening to his clever, humorous, obscene monologues. Longs plan was to run as an independent presidential candidate in 1936, building a base of support so he could win the White House in 1940.

Quote: Why weep or slumber, America,

Land of brave and true?

With castles, and clothing, and food for all

All belongs to you.

Every Man a King! Every Man a King! (Radio address, 1935)

REFERENCE: William Hair, The Kingfish and His Realm: The Life and Times of Huey P. Long (1991).



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