Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American
April 12, 2022
On April 12, 1945, a visibly exhausted President Franklin Delano Roosevelt jerked in his chair while having his portrait painted in Warm Springs, Georgia. FDR put his hand up, said “I have a terrific pain in the back of my head,” and lost consciousness. He died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage within hours.
When FDR entered the White House in 1933, he undertook to rebuild the nation after Republicans had run it into the ground.
Believing that businessmen were the engine that drove the economy and that any government regulations or taxes that hampered them would hurt growth, Republicans under presidents Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover had slashed taxes and regulations. The superheated economy boomed, but real wages stagnated, and the profits from dramatically improved production all went to the top 1% of the economy.
When spokespeople tried to point out that the new economy shut farmers, immigrants, and minorities out, Republicans accused those groups of falling behind because they were lazy. But then, in October 1929, the stock market crashed and the Roaring Twenties stopped dead. People lost their jobs, their homes, and their hope.
In the presidential election of 1932, desperate voters threw the Republicans out of office and put in Democrats, led by former New York Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR recognized that the economic crisis created by unfettered capitalism threatened to end democracy forever as starving Americans turned either to communism or to fascism, as Europeans were doing.
FDR understood that to preserve democracy and the economic system on which it rested, the government must regulate business, protect workers, and provide a basic social safety net. His “New Deal for the American people” did exactly that, and it helped Americans weather the Depression until the extraordinary deficit spending of WWII ended it altogether.
Ordinary Americans celebrated a government that worked for everyone, rather than just the rich. And on April 13, they mourned the man who had piloted the country through that transition.