Franklin D. Roosevelt 2 Essay, Research Paper
The Most Influential Person of the Century Franklin D. Roosevelt
How does one measure great influence? Perhaps influence can be measured by the number of people influenced or the how long the trace of influence lasts. Perhaps influence is measured by its impact on history or the impact felt by the world. Franklin Roosevelt’s influence encompasses all these measurements. His life and legacy influenced the lives of millions in the past and is still affecting those who live today. During his four terms as President, Roosevelt faced a Great Depression and a World War.
His leadership, during both, has changed the government of the United States as we know it. He presidency protected freedom and democracy, and has even lead to a change in our constitution. Franklin Roosevelt is easily the most influential person of the century.
The Great Depression and Roosevelt’s Changes in Government
The Great Depression was a horrible time for the nation and for capitalism itself. In other countries, economies were so bad that people, according to famous economist Maynard Keynes, “began trading personal freedoms for economic security”. Roosevelt’s New Deal was his policy for trying to pull the United States out of the Great Depression, but according to well-respected TCU economics professor John Harvey, “The New Deal did not solve the great depression.” In their book, Heilbroner and Milberg describe the New Deal as on too small of a scale, it never contributing more that six percent to the gross national product and even caused businesses to be frightened at the amount of government interference, leading to slower economic recovery (113). This opinion of the New Deal might be a surprise in a paper supporting Roosevelt for most influential person of the century, but consider what the New Deal really accomplished. In the U.S., people were not at the point of trading freedoms for a job; perhaps in part to the hope that Roosevelt and his administration gave to the people. Roosevelt’s administration passed bill after bill that enlarged the power size of the government. The government turned its concentration from simply watching the economy to becoming actively involved in the economy, and everyday life. Due to Roosevelt’s work, “The despair that had hung over the land was lifted ” (Goodwin 100).
Consider all the policies that Roosevelt signed into being that are still with us to this day. Social Security, Fair Labor Standards Act, and removal from the gold standard, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Banking Act all determine how our economy runs even now. According to AARP’s advocacy center, Social Security benefits are given to over 43 million people every month and is a hot topic for debate whether in presidential races or over dinner tables. The Fair Labor Standards Act creates a minimum wage and enforces overtime pay. It is logical to assume millions of those working; especially teenagers are daily influenced by this act. Also, by removing the country from the gold standard, the countries economy has been allowed great expansion while at the same time the dollar now has no stabilizing force besides people’s trust in the government. Next, the Securities and Exchange Commission guards against fraud in places like the New York Stock Exchange. With so many businesses and individual investors, it is important to ensure that fraud and defrauding does not occur. The Banking Act strengthened the power of the Federal Reserve Board. The board’s chair at present is Alan Greenspan whose every word is heeded by banks and businessmen around the world.
With these examples think of the changes in government brought about because of Roosevelt. It seems to Heilbroner and Milberg that the government has become a mammoth stabilizing force and controller of growth for the economy (113). Before Roosevelt, Hoover had not thought the government able to due much for the economy, thinking the problems were stemming from external causes such as declines in foreign markets (Heale 16). Roosevelt “brok [e] the government’s tradition of staying out of relief work” (19). Aid to Families with Dependant Children (AFDC), more commonly known as welfare, is an excellent example of the shift in the government. Roosevelt, differing from many of the day, did not believe that by giving families aid that the government would take away people’s dignity and pride (Heilbroner & Milberg 112). The AFDC, which lasted 61 years without considerable reform, created a feeling that the government- will- take- care-of- you attitude that lead to advantage taking and laziness on the part of some, yet has nevertheless help hundreds of thousand poverty stricken families since its creation. The government’s influence now reaches much further into American society because of FDR’s new take on the government’s role. However, changes in government policy were not the only contribution of Roosevelt. He also led America through most of World War II, thus influencing history as we know it.
World War II and Roosevelt
In the early 1900s, America was a country devoted to isolationism. During the period between 1935 and 1937 congress passed many isolationist bills, “to maintain freedom of action in world affairs” for the United States, according to Funk and Wagnall’s Encyclopedia. Even though most of the country supported isolationism, Roosevelt knew that the Allies had to have help and that the U.S. needed to be prepared in case the Allies fell to dictators. At the beginning of the war, the United States Army was ranked 18th in the world. Not only did Roosevelt support democracy by loaning weapons to the Allies, he both saved the economy and quickly moved the Armed Forces to a point where the U.S. would be a military power. The December 31, 1999 issue of Time magazine credits Roosevelt with the formation of close partnership between government and business that by 1943 “had not only caught up with Germany’s 10-year lead but America was also out producing all the Axis and Allied Powers combined” (Goodwin106). Besides pushing America to the forefront military powers, the military buildup ended the worst depression in American history.
War production was not Roosevelt’s only influence. His famous fireside chats inspired patriotism and a common spirit in America, helping to win the war, though not all of Roosevelt’s actions benefited the American people. It is now considered a shame that Roosevelt allowed Japanese Americans to be placed into internment camps throughout the war. Thousands were uprooted from home and businesses that were never fully regained. In addition, the United States turned away many immigrants that were trying to flee from Hitler. Thought these actions somewhat tarnish the Roosevelt image; they nevertheless add to the influences that FDR had upon thousands of lives.
Other influences Roosevelt had on history are his approval of spending mass amounts of money for the development of the atomic bomb, which allowed the war with Japan to end without a land invasion that would have cost countless American lives. This lead the world into the atomic then nuclear ages. Also, FDR worked closely with Winston Churchill, so much so that they became close friends. Churchill describes FDR as “the greatest man I have ever known” (Goodwin 106). Both men worked closely together along with Stalin at the Yalta Conference in Russia, a most important conference because under discussion was the future of the newly theorized United Nations. Voting practices were discussed and an agreement was reached. This accomplishment is quite historic because earlier in history Wilson’s League of Nations was a royal miss, while FDR was able to get America to support a United Nations organization. The United Nations has proven reasonably effective in promoting world peace. Granted there have been wars since its creation, but none on the scale of either World War I or II.
In addition, FDR’s legacy includes a few unrelated, yet lasting, events. FDR was the first president to allow open questioning at press conferences, meaning the questions did not have to be submitted in writing before the conference, a practice that continues today. Also, he held many press conferences throughout his presidency that allowed him to be liked by the press even if the press did not always like his policy (Goodwin 100). FDR served an unprecedented four terms that lead to the passage of the 22nd amendment that limits the number of terms a president and vice president can serve to two. Lastly, Roosevelt’s G.I. Bill of Rights, known simply as the G.I. Bill, allows service men and women the opportunity to go to college. This has influenced at the very least my family of whom three generations has gone to college because of this government help.
In conclusion, this paper reveals the many, lasting influences Franklin Roosevelt made upon history. This man left indelible marks upon the economy, the government, thousands upon thousands of lives, and the world. His economic policies last today and affect everyone that lives and works inside the U.S. The government has grown enormously because he dared to expand the government’s role. Like it or not, this expanded government is a stabilizing force that keeps the economy strong. Social Security, Welfare, the G.I. Bill, and the Fair Labor Standards Act affect generation after generation. Involvement in World War II not only influenced the course of hundreds of thousands, but the world is a better place because of the United States involvement. Democracy and capitalism were shown to be feasible ways to run a country. The U.N. is keeping the world from mass war. All these factors lead me to believe that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the most influential person of the century.