Profiles in persuasion: Franklin Delano Roosevelt


When we think about presidents that left their mark on the nation, few lists would go long before pointing to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Born into a wealthy family, Roosevelt grew up with the typical education of a late-19th century gentleman. Once he moved from preparatory schooling to undergraduate, at Harvard, Roosevelt took an interest in the work of his distant cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, then-president. Specifically, the role of the government in improving the lives of its people.

Elected to the New York State Senate before the age of thirty, Roosevelt championed the progressive causes he saw in his cousin, fighting against the political machine of Tammany Hall that contributed to corruption in the state. 

Roosevelt contracted polio at a young age, and from that point forward his ability to walk was severely limited. More so than before, he had to rely on the ability to produce rousing oratory and compelling language to move audiences. He couldn’t easily walk around and enhance his stage presence; his voice had to do the work his legs could not.

The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

While the economy faltered after the crash in 1929, Roosevelt led the state of New York as its governor, and campaigned against the incumbent Herbert Hoover for president in 1932. His platform of government intervention into the economy was a winning message while the nation languished in the Great Depression, and he sailed to victory by 7 million votes. 

The language deployed by Roosevelt during his presidency is some of the most famous presidential oratory. Through the Great Depression and into World War II, millions of Americans relied on the voice of the president to help them make it through the day. 

Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Perhaps most famous were the evening addresses Roosevelt would give, disseminated over the radio. These were known as his fireside chats, where he would personally address the people of the nation while they wondered about the fate of the economy and, later, the war efforts abroad.

Roosevelt’s tenure outlasted every other president in history. He won election a record four times, with his final term ending early after his death in 1944. No other president sought a third term, let alone won four. His lasting impact on the nation is felt today, with programs like Social Security and Tennessee Valley Authority making a mark on the lives of people for decades to come.

Kirk Kovach

Kirk Kovach

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