Franklin D. Roosevelt Is Elected U.S. President Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Dissatisfied with President Herbert Hoover’s response to the Great Depression, Americans voted for Franklin D. Roosevelt, who promised them a “New Deal.” Roosevelt would become the only president reelected three times as well as the most famous and successful Democratic leader of the twentieth century.

Summary of Event

On July 2, 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt boarded a trimotored airplane at Albany, New York, and flew to Chicago, where the Democratic National Convention had nominated him to be the party’s candidate in the general election for president of the United States. It was a dramatic gesture. Breaking tradition, Roosevelt became the first presidential candidate ever to make an acceptance speech at a nominating convention. Previously, nominees had awaited official notification through the U.S. mail. In a personal appearance, he could both emphasize his determination to take vigorous action against the nation’s economic ills and demonstrate his physical ability to handle the job. His plane bucked strong headwinds and twice had to land in order to refuel. When he at last stood before the sweating delegates in Chicago Stadium, he endorsed the party platform, promising relief for the unemployed, public works, repeal of Prohibition, agricultural reform, and tariff reduction. In a ringing conclusion he declared: “I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people.” [kw]Franklin D. Roosevelt Is Elected U.S. President (Nov. 8, 1932) [kw]Roosevelt Is Elected U.S. President, Franklin D. (Nov. 8, 1932) [kw]U.S. President, Franklin D. Roosevelt Is Elected (Nov. 8, 1932) [kw]President, Franklin D. Roosevelt Is Elected U.S. (Nov. 8, 1932) Presidential elections, U.S.;1932 New Deal Great Depression;New Deal Presidency, U.S.;Franklin D. Roosevelt[Roosevelt, Franklin D.] [g]United States;Nov. 8, 1932: Franklin D. Roosevelt Is Elected U.S. President[08160] [c]Government and politics;Nov. 8, 1932: Franklin D. Roosevelt Is Elected U.S. President[08160] [c]Economics;Nov. 8, 1932: Franklin D. Roosevelt Is Elected U.S. President[08160] Roosevelt, Franklin D. [p]Roosevelt, Franklin D.;presidential election 1932 Roosevelt, Eleanor Hoover, Herbert Farley, James Aloysius Garner, John Nance Long, Huey

Three years of the worst economic depression in U.S. history, occurring under a Republican administration, had wrecked Republican chances to retain the White House in 1932. An unenthusiastic Republican convention had nominated President Herbert Hoover and his vice president, Charles Curtis, to run for a second term. Republican leaders were under no illusions. Only a sudden upturn in the economy could offer the ticket any hope.

Given the near certainty of a Democratic victory, the struggle within the Democratic Party’s ranks for the nomination was intense. As governor of New York, Roosevelt had emerged as the early front-runner. He had support among both urban and rural Democrats, the two factions that had torn the party apart in recent elections, but he lost ground late in the primaries. Al Smith, the titular leader of the party and the 1928 presidential nominee, was the darling of the eastern political bosses. The most important favorite son was a Texan, John Nance Garner, who had the backing of powerful newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst.

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If the anti-Roosevelt coalition had stayed together, the nomination might have gone to a dark horse such as Newton D. Baker, secretary of war in the Woodrow Wilson cabinet. On the third ballot, the Roosevelt forces were stopped cold, about one hundred votes short of the necessary two-thirds majority. The bandwagon envisioned by Roosevelt’s campaign manager, James Aloysius Farley, had not materialized, and the prize seemed about to slip away. After a brief recess, Texas and California switched their votes to support Roosevelt, giving him the necessary majority. Garner himself had made the crucial decision. He was a loyal Democrat who feared the consequences of a deadlocked convention and the nomination of a weak compromise choice; to mollify his supporters and balance the ticket, he accepted the vice presidential nomination. Louisiana’s governor, Huey Long, assisted Garner with southern delegations.

The flight to Chicago the next day set the tone of the Democratic campaign, but Roosevelt remained vague about the “new deal” he so casually had promised. He spoke in warm but sometimes contradictory generalities, always playing it safe; most of all, he wanted to keep his fractious party together and gather the enormous vote of protest against Hoover. His major farm address, at Topeka, Kansas, promised a national program of planned agricultural production without being explicit about how it would work. To the business community, he pledged a 25 percent reduction in federal spending and a balanced budget. The Hoover administration, he said at Pittsburgh, was “the most reckless and extravagant” peacetime government in history. This speech would haunt him later, but he was thoroughly serious. He left himself one loophole: People would not be allowed to starve, even if the government had to run a deficit. In his address before the Commonwealth Club at San Francisco, he came closest to spelling out his economic philosophy: that government must assume the role of regulator of the common good within the existing economic system.

Hoover’s brutal use of the army against the Bonus Marchers Bonus March that summer—in a demonstration that turned into the Anacostia Flats riots Riots;Anacostia Flats —confirmed the popular image of him as a man insensitive to suffering. On the hustings, Hoover hammered out his speeches without the aid of speechwriters, and his plodding performances contrasted with Roosevelt’s ebullience. Sometimes Hoover and Roosevelt sounded strangely alike, but they had fundamental differences. Hoover argued that the causes of the Depression lay in Europe and thus far away from U.S. shores, whereas Roosevelt emphasized the Depression’s domestic origins. They also disagreed on tariff policy, the gold standard, Prohibition, and public utility regulation. Late in the campaign, Hoover panicked with the fear that U.S. institutions were in jeopardy. If Roosevelt had his way on the tariff, Hoover said, “The grass will grow in the streets of a hundred cities, a thousand towns; the weeds will overrun the fields of millions of farms.”

Despite the lack of any real debate of the issues, voters understood that Roosevelt’s election meant change, even if it was not clear exactly where he would lead them. Roosevelt amassed 22,821,857 votes to Hoover’s 15,761,841, losing only six northeastern states; he overwhelmingly carried the electoral college with a vote of 472 to 59. The Socialist and Communist Parties polled less than a million votes in what should have been a golden opportunity to exploit discontent. Between election day and the inaugural lay another hard winter. While the nation awaited clarification of Roosevelt’s “new deal,” the Great Depression reached its nadir.

Significance

Once Roosevelt took office, he began to turn his campaign references to a “new deal” into the reality of a series of social and economic reforms called the New Deal. He instituted programs to create jobs, to feed the starving, to help banks recover, and otherwise to fight the effects of the Great Depression. Roosevelt’s administrations are remembered as the most successful incarnation of Democratic “big government,” as he significantly expanded the federal government and used that government as a tool of what would later be called “social justice.” At the time, the forces of the Right labeled Roosevelt a socialist and fought tooth and nail against many of his most famous and most popular programs. However, Roosevelt’s eventual success in combating the Depression—arguably as much a function of the advent of World War II and the mobilization of a wartime economy as anything else—ensured that subsequent generations would portray him differently. By the 1980’s, he was portrayed almost universally in the mainstream of American politics as a great leader (whatever might have been said about him in private), and such diverse political voices as Ronald Reagan and Lyndon LaRouche have claimed to be the authentic inheritors of the Roosevelt legacy. Presidential elections, U.S.;1932 New Deal Great Depression;New Deal Presidency, U.S.;Franklin D. Roosevelt[Roosevelt, Franklin D.]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Alter, Jonathan. The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. Tightly focused study of the first one hundred days of Roosevelt’s first term in office, during which he responded to the national crisis and defined his presidency and legacy for generations. Includes bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bernstein, Michael. The Great Depression. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987. A provocative study of the causes of the Great Depression.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brinkley, Alan. Voices of Protest. New York: Vintage Books, 1983. Analyzes the criticism that was aimed at the New Deal by Huey P. Long and Father Charles Coughlin.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Friedel, Frank. Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Rendezvous with Destiny. Boston: Little, Brown, 1990. In a single volume, one of the most prolific Roosevelt experts examines the president’s career.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Garraty, John A., ed. The Great Depression. San Diego, Calif.: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986. A collection of essays exploring the economic collapse from an international perspective.
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    xlink:type="simple">Lash, Joseph. Eleanor and Franklin. New York: W. W. Norton, 1971. Documents the role played by Eleanor Roosevelt in her husband’s march toward the White House.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Leuchtenburg, William E. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. New York: Harper & Row, 1963. An excellent analysis of the implementation of Roosevelt’s program.
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    xlink:type="simple">Winkler, Allan M. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Making of Modern America. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2006. A study of Roosevelt’s administration, arguing that Roosevelt’s transformation of the federal government defined its role and functions in American life for the rest of the century and beyond.

Great Depression

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Reconstruction Finance Corporation Is Created

Perkins Becomes First Woman Secretary of Labor

The Hundred Days

Roosevelt Creates the Commodity Credit Corporation

United States Recognizes Russia’s Bolshevik Regime

Black Monday

Wagner Act

Neutrality Acts

Embargo on Arms to Spain

Supreme Court-Packing Fight

Fair Labor Standards Act

United States Begins Building a Two-Ocean Navy

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