Andrew Broertjes reviews 'Franklin D. Roosevelt: A political life' by Robert Dallek

Franklin Delano Roosevelt is consistently ranked alongside George Washington and Abraham Lincoln as one of the greatest presidents of the United States. His greatness rests on two pillars. Elected in the midst of the Great Depression, he permanently changed how Americans viewed government: as a force that would intervene aggressively in the economy to relieve the burdens of millions. From 1940 onwards, he led his nation through World War II, altering the historical trajectory of the United States and establishing it firmly as a global superpower. Elected for an unprecedented and never to be repeated four terms, Roosevelt remains the dominant presidential figure that his successors have to measure up to.

Other, darker threads emerge when examining the Roosevelt presidency. In an era of racial strife across the South, Roosevelt largely ignored the crimes and lynchings committed against black citizens. Despite seeing off attempts to subvert or overthrow democracy, he nevertheless practised his own underhand tactics at preserving his power, most notably the attempt in 1937 to ‘pack’ the Supreme Court with more justices who would implement his New Deal agenda.

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Published in May 2018, no. 401

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