On this day, April 12, 1945, 70 years ago, the greatest 20th century President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, died in Warm Springs, Georgia, after 12 years and 39 days in office. Many Americans could not recall any other President, as FDR had played a dominant role in the lives of Americans and in world affairs, through the two greatest crises since the Civil War under Abraham Lincoln—the Great Depression and the Second World War!
FDR had initiated a massive set of domestic reforms, known as the New Deal, which had changed the lives of millions of Americans in a positive way, and give the nation hope and confidence in the future, at a time when we had a higher unemployment rate, 25 percent, than we would ever have again. FDR transformed the role of the federal government, and brought about such permanent reform programs as Social Security; Unemployment Compensation; Minimum Wage; Labor Union recognition; the accomplishment of massive public works projects; federal insurance on bank deposits; agricultural subsidies; regulation of banks, the stock market and corporations; public housing; aid to the disabled and dependent children; conservation of natural resources; and so many other programs and ideas.
Then, FDR faced the dangers of Nazism in Germany, Fascism in Italy, and the aggression of Imperial Japan, when it looked as if democracy would be snuffed out worldwide, including in the United States. The greatest military effort since the Civil War created many problems in the postwar world, as the Soviet Union rose out of the war to become the new challenger to freedom in what became known as the Cold War, something FDR was trying to figure out how to deal with, when he died suddenly of congestive heart failure in the early months of an unprecedented fourth term, prevented from happening again by the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution.
One has to wonder how the nation would have fared had FDR been forced to leave office in January 1941 by term limits, as there was no obvious good alternative leader to FDR at that time. The challenge of overcoming isolationist sentiment, and then the Axis Powers aged FDR and caused his premature death at a delicate time when the war in Europe was one month from ending, and the war against Japan seemed likely to go on for several years. Fortunately, Harry Truman took up the mantle and handled the crisis of ending the war and the postwar world, as well as could be expected, as one looks back 70 years.
FDR had his shortcomings as all Presidents do, but the United States was blessed with a great, dynamic leader that we remember today on the 70th anniversary of his passing!