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October 2nd, 2019

On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being best), how would you grade Franklin Delano Roosevelt, based on the performance of his duties as President? You can go to this link to vote. Franklin Delano Roosevelt is almost always ranked among the top top three Presidents, along with Washington and Lincoln. His face would probably be on Mount Rushmore if it had been carved after his presidency. The high regard that Roosevelt is held in is understandable. The man had two of the most enormous challenges to ever confront a president: the Great Depression and the Second World War. What would the nation have done if these problems had happened on James Buchanan's watch? Fortunately they didn't, they happened when FDR was in the White House. He calmly steered the nation through these dark times, courageously, practicing what he preached when the told the nation that there was only one thing it had to fear. It is even more remarkable that Roosevelt did all of this while physically burdened with polio, unable to walk, but determined not to let this get in his way, going to great measures to hide his condition from the nation. He would win the presidency four times, something no one else has ever done more than twice, and probably never will do again, at least not without a constitutional amendment. In the end, the job probably killed him, but there was probably no other leader of his stature in his century or ever since.

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He was usually referred to by his initials FDR, and he served as the 32nd president of the United States from March of 1933 until his death in April of 1945. Many consider him to be central figure in world events during the first half of the 20th century. Roosevelt confronted the Great Depression with his New Deal domestic agenda in response to the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. He built a New Deal Coalition. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born in Hyde Park, New York, to a Dutch American family. Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States was his fifth cousin. He attended Groton School, Harvard College, and Columbia Law School, and went on to practice law in New York City. In 1905, he married his fifth cousin once removed, Eleanor Roosevelt, who would come to be one of the most prominent first ladies. The couple had six children. In 1910 FDR won election to the New York State Senate. Following in his famous cousin's footsteps, he served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President Woodrow Wilson during World War I.

In the 1920 Presidential election, Roosevelt was James M. Cox's running mate on the Democratic Party's 1920 national ticket. They got trounced by the ticket of Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. But it was only to be the first of five times that Roosevelt's name would be on the Democratic Party ticket in a Presidential election. In 1921 however, it looked like Roosevelt's political career would come to an early end. He contracted a paralytic illness, believed to be polio, and his legs became permanently paralyzed. While attempting to recover from his condition, Roosevelt founded the treatment center in Warm Springs, Georgia, for people with poliomyelitis. But Roosevelt refused to use his physical condition as an excuse for quitting politics. In spite of being unable to walk unaided, Roosevelt returned to public office by winning election as Governor of New York in 1928. He served in that office from 1929 to 1933, where he launched a reform agenda, promoting programs to combat the economic crisis that had the nation in its grip at the time.

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Roosevelt's record as a successful depression era Governor of a large state made him an attractive Presidential candidate for the Democrats in the 1932 presidential election. Roosevelt defeated Republican President Herbert Hoover in a landslide. He took office while the United States was in the midst of the worst economic crisis in the country's history. During his first 100 days in office, Roosevelt pressed for unprecedented federal legislation and issued a spate of executive orders that ushered in his New Deal. These were programs designed to foster economic relief and recovery. He created numerous programs to aid the unemployed and farmers. These programs included his National Recovery Administration. He also instituted major regulatory reforms related to finance, communications, and labor, and presided over the end of Prohibition.

A great communicator, Roosevelt used radio to speak directly to the American people. He delivered 30 "fireside chat" radio addresses during his presidency, and he later became the first American president to be televised. The economy improved significantly from 1933 to 1936, and Roosevelt won a landslide reelection in 1936. But the economy then relapsed into a deep recession in 1937 and 1938 and he faced problems from the Supreme Court, which was striking down many of his attempts at legislating relief programs. Roosevelt tried to fix the problem by seeking passage of the Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937. This became known as his "court packing plan". He planned to expanded the size of the Court and appoint judges who supported his reforms. The bipartisan Conservative Coalition that formed in 1937 prevented passage of the bill, blocking the implementation of many New Deal programs and reforms. But he was successful in bringing about the Securities and Exchange Commission, the National Labor Relations Act, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and Social Security. Eventually he was able to appoint enough justices sufficient to gain political control of the court.

Roosevelt ran successfully for reelection in 1940. His victory made him the only U.S. President to serve for more than two terms. With World War II having begun in 1939, the nation was in need of strong leadership and saw it in FDR. He gave financial and political support to China as well as the Great Britain and the Soviet Union, although the U.S. remained officially neutral. That all changed following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, an event he famously said would be "a date which will live in infamy". Roosevelt obtained a declaration of war on Japan the next day, and a few days later, on Germany and Italy. He worked closely with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in leading the Allies against the Axis Powers. At home Roosevelt oversaw the mobilization of the U.S. economy to support the war effort. He implemented a "Europe first" strategy, making the defeat of Germany a priority over that of Japan. He also initiated the development of the world's first atomic bomb. He believed that the US had made a mistake in not joining the League of Nations, and he worked with the other Allied leaders to lay the groundwork for the United Nations and other post-war institutions.

Roosevelt won reelection in 1944 but he was looking very frail and his health had declined during the war years. Franklin Delano Roosevelt died in April 1945, just 11 weeks into his fourth term. The Axis Powers surrendered to the Allies in the months following Roosevelt's death, during the presidency of Roosevelt's successor, Harry S. Truman.

Roosevelt is considered by many to be one of the most important figures in the history of the United States. His biographer Jean Edward Smith wrote that Roosevelt's presidency "brought the United States through the Great Depression and World War II to a prosperous future. He lifted himself from a wheelchair to lift the nation from its knees." Roosevelt is also remembered for the rapid expansion of government programs that occurred during his presidency, something that he is admired for by liberals and progressives, and detested for by conservatives. He redefined the role of the government in the United States. His advocacy of government social programs was instrumental in inspiring liberalism for coming generations. He established the United States' leadership role on the world stage and he was able to silence his isolationist critics through sound leadership. Even many Republicans supported his overall policies. He also redefined the role of the president, strengthening the leadership role expected of the chief executive. Future presidents would be measured against the yardstick Roosevelt created for how a president should lead the nation.

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Roosevelt's critics have questioned Roosevelt's policies of big government and active government, accusing him of bordering on socialism. They have also criticized the consolidation of power that transferred to the executive branch due to his responses to the crises of the Depression and World War II. They are also critical of his breaking with tradition by running for a third term as president. After his death, a new criticism of Roosevelt has emerged for his policies which impeded helping the Jews of Europe to escape Hitler's death camps. He is also criticized for his interment of the Japanese on the West Coast and for opposing anti-lynching legislation.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt served as President from March 1933 to April 1945, the longest tenure in American history. He probably achieved more during those twelve years to change American society and politics than any of his predecessors in the White House, with the exception of Abraham Lincoln. His responses to the challenges he faced have made him a leading figure in American history.
In 1859, as the United States was inching itself towards civil war, Washington's business as usual was interrupted by a sensational diversion. One Sunday morning, in broad daylight, just a stone's throw away from the White House, Congressman Dan Sickles shot and killed Washington's District Attorney Barton Scott Key (son of Star Spangled Banner composer Francis Scott Key). The motive: Key had been carrying on a not-so-discreet affair with Sickles's pretty young wife Teresa. Key was unarmed at the time, his only defense being a pair of binoculars (or "opera glasses") that he uselessly threw at his aggressor. It seemed an open-and-shut case of premeditated murder. But that wouldn't make for much of a story, would it?



Author Chris DeRose hits another home run with his latest book Star Spangled Scandal: Sex, Murder, and the Trial that Changed America, in which he tells the story if the Sickles trial, in which the defense of temporary insanity was used to defend Sickles' actions before a Washington DC jury, giving rise to over a century of legal precedent that would change the way that US law dealt with violence against adulterers.

In 1859 President James Buchanan attempted in vain to keep a nation together that was ripping apart over the issue of slavery and whether it would be abolished or allowed to expand into new territories acquired by the growing nation. Washington DC society tried to put on an air of gaiety amidst this struggle. When Congressman Dan Sickles was made aware of an affair that his beautiful young wife was having with the city's handsome district attorney, he confronted her and obtained a written confession from his abashed young bride. When Key tried to signal his paramour by waiving a white handkerchief in front of the Sickles home, he soon found himself confronted by the man who would end his life, leading to the most sensational trial of its time.

DeRose describes the main characters in the story, as well as the supporting cast of lawyers, judge and jurors, journalists, witnesses and other persons of interest in he trial that followed. It was a trial that captivated the nation, in spite of the ongoing tensions of the pending national breakdown. DeRose provides a fascinating play-by-play of the trial, its reporting, as well as the national mood. He also builds up to the trial's outcome and the manner in which it created what became as the "unwritten law" that defied legal precedent for over a century. He does all of this brilliantly, writing in a manner that is informative, entertaining and a pleasure to read.

What is especially outstanding is how the author captures and shares the contemporary public sentiment and how much of that sentiment is timeless, applicable even today. For example, at page 261 he quotes the Vermont Chronicle's editorial in which the writer of that piece wonders when reform will come to government, before laying the blame where it squarely belongs:

"Never, till men of moral worth wake up and unite in the name of the people, of humanity and justice, sternly demand that no immoral man shall have public promotion. [Until then] Brooks may assault who he pleases in the Senate chamber, Key seduces his neighbor's wife, and Sickles murders the fellow under the wing of the United States Capitol. [Wicked men do not arrive in office by some foreign power.] We, the people have done it."

This book will be a delight to the history junkie, to the lover of true crime or courtroom tales, and to any reader who loves a fascinating true story, told by a brilliant author and wordsmith.

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