Our country needs another president like Franklin D. Roosevelt. I came to this conclusion after visiting the exhibit “The First 100 Days” at the FRD Presidential Library and Museum. A volunteer docent led me through this pictorial maze of history. Her narrative reminded me of the challenges faced by our nation at a time of the Great Depression. I learned how one man, a new president, charted a hopeful course without delay. Perhaps our nation can be so lucky again when the ballots are counted in November 2007.
FDR took the oath of office as President of the United States in 1933, a time of great economic struggle. Banks had closed their doors. Dust storms desecrated farm lands. Unemployment soared. Foreclosures took away family homes. Black and white photos flicking on three screens in a darkened room demanded silent reflection – rows of men lined around a city block at the soup kitchen, police controlling a crowd outside a bank, the sad faces of children, and the defeated look on a woman’s face. Seeing these photos made me think I was reading a book and knew there was a happy ending. But for the people in the photos, living back then some 76 years ago, the outcome was uncertain.
I took a seat in a room designed to look like a family kitchen. I light illuminated a radio and I heard one of FRD’s Fireside Chats. He promised quick action and asked the American people for support of his plan. He stirred hope. Telegrams, letters typed on corporate letterhead, and hand written notes flooded the White House. They were a mosaic of hope, wallpapered floor to ceiling in an adjacent exhibit room. I lingered to read as many as I could, straining to stand tip-toe to see the words higher up and crouching to read ones so low on the walls. The message running through all: Mr. President, do what you must to make our country strong and provide opportunity for the America people.
FRD inspired the spirit of optimism and he delivered innovative solutions to the country’s problems. He put men to work in the Civilian Conservation Corps, building bridges, government buildings, and dams. He reformed the banking system and instilled renewed trust in financial institutions. He took risk with the New Deal in a time of adversity and moved the nation forward.
After touring this special exhibit, I went back to look at the permanent artifacts, photographs, and documents. I learned about FRD’s privileged childhood, his battle with polio, his presidential years as he guided the country to victory in World War II, and his “First Lady” Eleanor. I studied the mementos and knickknacks on his Oval Office Desk. I admired his 1936 blue Ford Phaeton. I considered the decisions he must have debated in his Private Study. And, I smiled when I saw a case devoted to Fala, FRD’s Scottie dog’s bowl and collar.
I am not surprised that FDR – this extraordinary man - served as our President for a record of four terms.
June 12, 2008
Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum,
4079 Albany Post Road, Hyde Park, NY
The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum is America’s first presidential library and
the only one used by a sitting president. The website is www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu