FDR’s Ship Models Part One: Sailing Ships

By Paul M. Sparrow, director

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was an avid collector – of objects, people and most importantly ideas. He was a connoisseur of naval art, stamps, rare first edition books and of course ship models. While he was well known for his stamp collecting, his first love was the sea. His fascination with everything nautical was handed down from both sides of his family.  The Delano’s, his mother’s side, made fortunes and lost fortunes and made them again in the adventurous world of clipper ships, privateers and maritime trading. The Roosevelts also had oceanic connections as investors, owners and builders. Several of the models in the collection have a direct link to his family.

John Aspinwall, the President’s great-grandfather, was a New York City merchant and privateer whose sons, William Henry and John Lloyd Aspinwall, owned a ship building firm, Howland and Aspinwall.

Rainbow, John C. Weeks, Wood, string, metal, fabric MO 1941.7.72

They launched the Rainbow in 1845, the first of the “extreme clippers.” With its sharp bow and sleek lines it was designed for speed rather than for cargo capacity. It quickly established itself as the fastest sailing ship in the world. John C. Weeks of Provincetown, Massachusetts gave FDR this model of the Rainbow when the President stopped there during a 1933 sailing trip along the New England coast.  “As you know,” FDR later wrote Weeks, “I take great interest in ships and ship models and have spent many happy hours with my collection to which the ‘Rainbow’ becomes a valuable addition.”  FDR named his youngest son John Aspinwall Roosevelt.

Sea Witch, Charles V. Nielsen Ca. 1936-1937 MO 1941.7.62

The year after launching the Rainbow the Aspinwalls launched the Sea Witch, which was even faster. The Sea Witch set a speed record for the journey from Hong Kong, China to New York – 74 days – a record which stood until 2003!  This model of the Sea Witch was made by model builder and restorer Charles V. Nielsen of Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey.  Nielsen sent it to President Roosevelt as a gift in 1937.

New Bedford whaling brig, ca. 1840, Wood, ivory, string MO 1941.7.99

Roosevelt’s Delano ancestors included owners and captains of whaling ships. This model of a New Bedford whaling brig is believed to have been made in the 1840s by a seaman who served aboard the vessel. It is not known how FDR acquired the model, but it was in his collection as early as 1924.

As a child, he heard tales of the whaling trade from his family and spent time in New Bedford during frequent visits to the Delano homestead in Fairhaven. In 1929 Roosevelt wrote about his childhood fascination with whaling in an introduction to Ashley Clifford’s Whale Ships of New Bedford.

“Forty years ago a little boy sat on the old string-piece of his grandfather’s stone wharf at Fairhaven. Close by lay a whaleship, out in the stream another rode at anchor, and over on the New Bedford shore, near the old winding wooden bridge, a dozen tall spars overtopped the granite warehouses. Even then he felt that these great ships were but the survivors of a mightier age…”

Mary Isaac Delano ca. 1827 Wood, string, MO 1941.7.96

This model was built around 1827 by Captain Isaac Delano of Marion, Massachusetts. Isaac Delano was a distant relative of the President’s mother, and the model was passed down to Isaac’s grandson, Howard A. Delano of York, Pennsylvania. In July 1933, Howard Delano wrote to FDR offering to give him “this heir-loom of the Delano Family as a gift to its most distinguished son.” Roosevelt responded immediately, writing “I should be perfectly delighted to have the model . . . particularly so, as Captain Isaac Delano was a friend of my grandfather, Warren Delano.”

The FDR Presidential Library and Museum opened in June of 1941, and FDR personally selected the models for display in the original Naval Room.  Despite its name, FDR filled his Naval Room with both naval and merchant ship models. The admission fee was 25 cents.

West Wind Leander D. Lovell Ca. late 1930s Wood, fabric, string MO 1941.7.76

Leander D. Lovell created this elaborate model of the clipper ship West Wind and sent it to FDR as a gift. Roosevelt put the model on display in the living quarters of the White House and later agreed to exhibit it at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. In 1941, he included it in the inaugural display in the Naval Exhibition Room at the FDR Library.

FDRs cousin and close confidant Margaret “Daisy” Suckley took this photo of him reading a naval manuscript in the White House study surrounded by his models. In the background you can see the USS Constitution. Known affectionately as “Old Ironsides,” the Constitution is the most famous ship of the early American navy.

MO 1945.70.1

Of all his ships, this model of the USS Constitution was his favorite. FDR purchased it in 1914, when he was Assistant Secretary of the Navy. It had originally belonged to Dr. Bailey Washington, a surgeon in the U.S. Navy. Family tradition claimed the model had been made at the Washington Navy Yard and given to Dr. Washington while he was stationed there in the 1830s or 1840s.  Roosevelt personally re-rigged this model while he was Governor of New York and he always kept it nearby. During his presidency he displayed it in a prominent spot in his private White House study. It remained there until he donated it to the Roosevelt Library shortly before his death.

Engagement Between Constitution and Guerriere Mid-nineteenth century. MO 1941.3.185

FDR also collected more than one hundred paintings, prints, engravings and drawings of the ship. This painting depicts the legendary battle of August 19, 1812, when the Constitution clashed with the British frigate HMS Guerriere. During the engagement, shots fired by the Guerriere bounced harmlessly off the Constitution’s hull, prompting her crew to nickname her “Old Ironsides.” A devastating series of broadsides by the Constitution decimated the Guerriere and led to her capture.  The oldest commissioned U.S. warship still afloat, the USS Constitution occupies a unique place in American naval history.

Even though he is said to have rigged this model, FDR was not a model maker. There is only one existing scale model we know of that he personally constructed.

This wood and canvas 19th century schooner model was made by FDR and given to his “right hand woman” Missy Lehand. It has 17 sails and is 9.5 inches stem to stern. This model is currently owned by Ms. Lehand’s relatives.

Though he did not build scale-model ships, FDR did construct miniature working sailboats. FDR created these for his children and for his own amusement. This photo was taken at the family retreat in Campobello, Brunswick. They raced these sailboats and trophies were awarded each year.

The main ship model collection storage room at the Library is downstairs and visible to the public.  President Roosevelt’s personal collection of around 400 ship models is unique in the National Archives Presidential Library System, and may be unique in the world as it combines such a wide range of ship types. Roosevelt purchased some, many others were gifts from friends, admirers, public figures, ship builders and foreign leaders.  In Part Two we will look at the models of 20th Century Naval Ships.

Special Thanks to Herman Eberhardt and the museum staff who curated the Treasures of a President: FDR and the Sea   exhibit at the South Street Seaport from which much of this information is derived.

FDR’s Ship Models – Part Two : 20th Century Naval Ships

FDR’s Ship Models – Part 3: Other Interesting Models

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FDR’s “The Federalist” – A closer look at a priceless book

By Paul M. Sparrow, director

They don’t look very impressive, but they are two of the most remarkable books in Franklin Roosevelt’s personal library. This first edition, two volume set of The Federalist printed in 1788 by J. and A. M’Lean of New York, is historically significant, extremely rare, and has never been publicly displayed. Until now. In honor of National Library Week these books will be on display at the FDR Library for a limited time.

Known today as the Federalist Papers, the 85 articles and essays contained in The Federalist were originally published as a series of editorials in the Independent Journal, a New York newspaper, under the pseudonym Publius. The actual authors were a rather distinguished group; Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay – three of the most ardent supporters of the proposed new U.S. Constitution. The articles were written to convince skeptical New Yorkers that the country needed a strong federal government. Many experts consider this one of the rarest and most important books in American political history. Only about 500 were printed. It is certainly the most detailed and compelling argument in favor of the new Constitution, providing an intellectual and political foundation on which the fledgling United States Federal Government was built.

But the new Constitution had powerful enemies as Hamilton wrote in Federalist #1

Among the most formidable of the obstacles which the new Constitution will have to encounter may readily be distinguished the obvious interest of a certain class of men in every State to resist all changes which may hazard a diminution of the power, emolument, and consequence of the offices they hold under the State establishments; and the perverted ambition of another class of men, who will either hope to aggrandize themselves by the confusions of their country, or will flatter themselves with fairer prospects of elevation from the subdivision of the empire into several partial confederacies than from its union under one government.

New York was important to the ratification process because of its size and population. The vote took place in Poughkeepsie on July 26th, 1788. But by that time the Constitution had already been ratified by a majority of the states.

The actual authorship of some of the articles has been a subject of contentious debate over the years. Scholars have investigated Hamilton’s and Madison’s notes and recent computer driven semantic analysis has led to a consensus on who wrote which articles. (full listing here) But the controversy lives on, and FDR’s precious books may help resolve one of the issues. Or re-ignite the controversy.

These books were originally owned by Timothy Ford, a well-known Federalist from New Jersey. His father Jacob was an important figure in colonial America and the Ford Mansion, used as Washington’s Headquarters during the winter of 1779, still stands as a National Historic site in Morristown. Alexander Hamilton was on Washington’s staff at the time and may have spent time at the Ford Mansion and probably knew Timothy Ford.

On the front inside cover Mr. Ford makes some very interesting notes – specifying who wrote certain chapters. He noted that:

“2nd , 3rd , 4th & 54th [articles] were written by Mr. Jay. The 10th – 14th & from 37th to 48th inclusive, by Mr. Madison – The 18th, 19th – & 20th by both Madison and Mr. Hamilton, jointly – all the rest were written by Mr. Hamilton -. This information was obtained from a manuscript of Mr. Hamiltons found after his death, among his papers.”

This does not exactly match current thinking.  While it is commonly accepted that Mr. Jay wrote articles 2, 3, 4 & 5, most scholars attribute #64 to Mr. Jay, not #54. In some early reports regarding authorship the “5” in 54 is overwritten with the number 6. This may be simply an error in penmanship. Or something new.

It is Mr. Ford’s statement that 18, 19 and 20 were jointly written by Hamilton and Madison that addresses one of the most enduring controversies. Both Hamilton and Madison claimed authorship of these three articles, and current thinking is that Madison wrote them.

In addition to Mr. Ford’s note, there is a comment written in a different ink by an R.C.H. that explains Mr. Ford’s writings were transferred when the volumes were rebound. There is a number 51 written in the same color ink, probably by R.C.H. The identity of R.C.H. is not known at this time.

In 1936 Ambassador Norman Armour sent President Roosevelt these books as a gift. We do not know how he acquired them, but he was a colorful character.

credit: Library of Congress

Norman Armour was a State Department Second Secretary working in Russia during World War I, and when the revolution broke out he helped rescue Myra Koudashev, a Russian Princess, and eventually married her. He later served as Ambassador to Haiti, Canada, Argentina and Spain during FDR’s administration and was considered one of the top Foreign Service officials. In August of 1936 he sent the two priceless books to FDR at the White House – and heard nothing in return. In December he wrote to Marvin McIntyre, one of FDR’s closest aides, and asked about the books.

Amb. Armour apparently saw Mr. McIntyre in January, 1937 and then wrote ANOTHER letter on January 20th asking about the books and finally on January 21st, McIntyre responded telling Ambassador Armour that the books had arrived and that they were “now reposing among the President’s books” and that “he was delighted with it.”

Franklin Roosevelt loved books and began collecting them as a child. At the time of his death he had approximately 22,000 volumes in his personal collection, which he gave to the FDR Library and Museum.

About 900 of those books were personally selected by FDR to be kept in the bookcases in his private study at the library. Those books were the ones he loved most, including his collection of Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, and the signed editions of Winston Churchill’s many literary efforts.

In the Chippendale bookcase immediately behind his desk FDR kept a fascinating set of books,  including Poems by Charlotte Bronte and poetry by Robert Browning, Following the Equator : A Journey Around the World by Mark Twain, a whole series of books by Charles Dickens, and The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. But the masterpiece in this cabinet is The Federalist.

In honor of National Library Week the two volumes of The Federalist will be on display in the Library. This is the first time these books have been publicly displayed.

You can find a complete listing of the Federalist Papers and their presumed authors here



The National Archives provides a deeply sourced background of the Federalist Papers here


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Images of Internment

By Paul M. Sparrow, director


Manzanar Camp, Dorothea Lange, 1942

Throughout American history our presidents have struggled to find the right balance between the highest ideals of our founding charters and the cold realities of national security. This is especially true in times of war. President John Adams passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus, and Woodrow Wilson suppressed free speech and trampled on the First Amendment.

Seventy-five years ago, at the beginning of World War II, one of our greatest champions of human rights approved the incarceration of approximately 80,000 American citizens, and another 40,000 legal aliens , in the name of national security. President Franklin Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, provided the legal basis for the removal and confinement of people of Japanese descent living on the West Coast.

“Evacuees” in Los Angeles load their baggage onto a train that will take them to an “assembly center.” Clem Albers, 1942

“Evacuees” in Los Angeles load their baggage onto a train that will take them to an “assembly center.”
Clem Albers, 1942

The President was under tremendous pressure from military commanders, members of congress and political and business leaders in California, Oregon and Washington.  Among the prominent voices calling for the forced removal of Japanese Americans was Earl Warren, the Attorney General of California who was soon to be its governor. American citizens were frightened, angry and vengeful. There was sincere concern about espionage and sabotage, and fear that the Japanese Empire could attack or even invade the West Coast at any time. Leading newspaper columnists demanded action.

The “dastardly” surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and Japan’s brutal military expansion throughout Asia, enflamed the entrenched and widespread racism of that time. It is important to look closely at what happened so we can understand it, and prevent it from happening again. Because behind the bluster and outrage there was no serious evidence that Japanese Americans posed a threat to the United States. In fact FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and Attorney General Francis Biddle both initially opposed relocation.

A contingent of military police at the Manzanar Assembly Center. This “assembly center” was later converted into a permanent “relocation center.”

A contingent of military police at the Manzanar Assembly Center. This “assembly center” was later converted into a permanent “relocation center.”

The FDR Library and Museum’s new exhibit, “Images of Internment: The Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II” features more than 200 photographs documenting the notification, assembly, relocation and incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans from 1942 until 1945. These images are an extraordinary record, taken by some of our greatest photographers, of a terrible injustice and the incredible dignity and resilience of its victims.

Members of the Mochida family wait in Hayward, California, for their “evacuation” bus. Each wears an ID tag. The family operated a nursery and five greenhouses in Hayward. Dorothea Lange May 8, 1942

Members of the Mochida family wait in Hayward, California, for their “evacuation” bus. Each wears an ID tag. The family operated a nursery and five greenhouses in Hayward.
Dorothea Lange May 8, 1942

Shortly after EO 9066 was signed, the new War Relocation Authority (WRA) hired Dorothea Lange to document the relocation process. Ms. Lange was well known for her heart wrenching photographs of Americans struggling through the Great Depression. She immediately began photographing Japanese families as they were forced to sell off their property and prepare for their removal.

dorothea_lange_1942From her home base in Berkeley, California she followed families from their homes, to the assembly points, to the hastily constructed holding centers built  at racetracks, state fairgrounds, and other public spaces, and finally to the camps themselves. She went to the first permanent camp at Manzanar, located in the Owens Valley in eastern California. She documented the hardships of these honorable hardworking people as they were forced to give up everything and move into wooden barracks in the middle of the desert.

People incarcerated in the camps worked at a variety of jobs. These women at the Manzanar Relocation Center are making camouflage nets for the military. Dorothea Lange July 1, 1942

People incarcerated in the camps worked at a variety of jobs. These women at the Manzanar Relocation Center are making camouflage nets for the military.
Dorothea Lange July 1, 1942

Ansel Adams was one of America’s best known photographers, and a good friend of Ms. Lange’s. He was deeply distressed by the Japanese internment and got permission from the WRA to visit Manzanar and photograph what was happening there.


He went to the camp several times in 1943 and 1944, and was under strict orders not to shoot the armed guards and barbed wire. But the underlying injustice of the camps could not escape his lens.

Rows of housing units at the Manzanar Relocation Center. This camp was located 230 miles northeast of Los Angeles at the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Ansel Adams 1943

Rows of housing units at the Manzanar Relocation Center. This camp was located 230 miles northeast of Los Angeles at the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Ansel Adams 1943

U.S. Army Corporal Jimmie Shohara, formerly of the Manzanar Relocation Center in California. Ansel Adams 1943

U.S. Army Corporal Jimmie Shohara, formerly of the Manzanar Relocation Center in California.
Ansel Adams 1943

Kay Fukoda, who was incarcerated at the Manzanar camp in California, volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. Ansel Adams 1943

Kay Fukoda, who was incarcerated at the Manzanar camp in California, volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps.
Ansel Adams 1943

His images capture both the military precision of the barracks, and the deeply human pain of those trapped within.  While few of Lange’s photographs were seen during the war, many of Adam’s images were exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1944 and later published in book form in “Born Free and Equal: The Story of Loyal Japanese-Americans.”

More than thirty thousand young Japanese American men and women—including thousands of volunteers and draftees from the camps—served in America’s military during World War II.  Adam’s photographed some of them, and their faces tell a powerful story. Many served honorably in the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team, one of the most highly decorated units in the Army.

Other photographers are also represented in the exhibit, including Clem Albers, Francis Stewart and Hikaru Iwasaki, the only Japanese American hired as a staff photographer by the WRA. There are also photographs taken by George and Frank Hirahara, a father and son who were incarcerated at the Heart Mountain camp in Wyoming.

Ayako Matsushita on her graduation day from Heart Mountain High School. Before the war she attended Marshall High School in Los Angeles. Frank Hirahara 1944

Ayako Matsushita on her graduation day from Heart Mountain High School. Before the war she attended Marshall High School in Los Angeles.
Frank Hirahara 1944

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was very concerned about the plight of the Japanese Americans, and had privately opposed the internment. She spoke out in their defense writing that:

“We must learn to think of the people in these groups as individuals, not as groups: we must treat them as individuals. They, on their part have an obligation to refuse to listen to arguments and false statements made by agents of our enemies who will try to trade on an unfairness or bitterness. We must remember that we cannot tell the difference between a loyal and a disloyal citizen… just by looking at him or his name, by seeing the color of his skin, or by hearing him talk.”


Mrs. Roosevelt visited the Gila River Camp in Arizona in April, 1943, and was harshly criticized for it by many. She wrote in her “My Day” column that “The sooner we get the young Japanese out of these camps the better.” She supported efforts to permit students to leave the camps to attend college.


One of the most haunting images in the exhibit is of Risa and Yasubei Hirano and their son George posed in front of an American flag. Risa is holding a photograph of her son Shigera in uniform. The Hiranos were held at the Colorado River camp, and this image captures both the patriotism and the deep sadness these proud Japanese Americans felt. The photographer is unknown.

There were several legal challenges that slowly worked their way through the court system, but the Supreme Court approved the military’s decision to create exclusionary zones allowing them to remove “any or all persons.” The Supreme Court did rule in late 1944 that the government could not detain a citizen who was “concededly loyal” in the case involving Mitsuye Endo.  But at that point the end was near.

Military concerns about a possible Japanese invasion faded as the war progressed, and the WRA began allowing increasing numbers of “camp residents” to leave. They enlisted in the military, enrolled in colleges or took jobs away from the West Coast. By the end of 1944 more than 40,000 had been released. On January 2, 1945 the exclusion order was lifted, meaning those still in the camps were free to return home. But many no longer had homes.

Mrs. Hido Kanow, the mother of four sons serving in the army, bids farewell to a friend as her train departs from the Rohwer Relocation Center in Arkansas for the West Coast. Unidentified photographer July 26, 1945

Mrs. Hido Kanow, the mother of four sons serving in the army, bids farewell to a friend as her train departs from the Rohwer Relocation Center in Arkansas for the West Coast.
Unidentified photographer July 26, 1945

In the post-war period, the Japanese Internment story faded into the background. But over time historians and survivors began clamoring for an official government apology.

Decaying barracks at the Poston Relocation Center in Arizona several months after the departure of the “evacuees.” Hikaru Iwasaki 1945

Decaying barracks at the Poston Relocation Center in Arizona several months after the departure of the “evacuees.”
Hikaru Iwasaki 1945

In 1976 President Gerald Ford revoked Executive Order 9066, and President Jimmy Carter later created a commission to determine how the government should respond. In 1988 President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. It provided for an official government apology and granted $20,000 in restitution to all surviving people relocated under EO 9066.

In his book “Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom” Conrad Black wrote that the Japanese internment was “One of the more discreditable episodes in the entire Roosevelt era.” The American Civil Liberties Union would later call it the “worst single wholesale violation of civil rights of American citizens in our history” although they did not challenge the order in court during the war. Roosevelt himself said that “To keep a large number of loyal American citizens in concentration camps was certainly not consistent with the principles for which the Unites States was fighting” according to his speechwriter Sam Rosenman.

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum is presenting “Images of Internment” because it is critically important to examine both the successes and failures of any great leader to truly understand them. President Roosevelt led America through two of its worst crises, the Great Depression and World War II. His extraordinary leadership helped create the modern world with all of the freedoms we enjoy today. Executive Order 9066 reminds us that even our greatest leaders can make mistakes when the voice of the people drowns out the voice of reason. As Abraham Lincoln once said:

“Our government rests in public opinion. Whoever can change public opinion, can change the government.”

To learn more about Japanese Internment you can visit these sites:

FDR Library – Japanese American Internment:  World War II “Teachable Moment”

Japanese American internment video, from the FDR Library’s Pare Lorentz Center

FDR and Japanese American Internment

Japanese Relocation During World War II

Manzanar National Historic Site

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FDR’s Four Historic Inaugurations

By Paul M. Sparrow, director Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

Franklin D. Roosevelt is the only person who will ever have FOUR presidential inaugurations (thanks to the 22nd Amendment.) And each and every one of his inaugurations was historic in its own way.  Every president from Washington to Roosevelt had been inaugurated in March. Why? Because the U.S. Constitution originally stipulated that the Federal Government would start on March 4th each year. FDR’s first inauguration in 1933 was the last inauguration held in March. The inauguration date was changed with the passage of the 20th Amendment, which moved the date up to January 20th.  During his first inauguration President Roosevelt delivered one of the most famous lines in American history – “The only thing we have to fear, is, fear itself.” But that line does not appear until the 7th draft of the speech. You can find all of the drafts of the speech here.

President Roosevelt taking the oath of office at his first Inauguration.  March 4, 1933.

President Roosevelt taking the oath of office at his first Inauguration. March 4, 1933.

FDR’s second inauguration in 1937 was historic because it was the first one held on January 20th (again, thanks to the 20th Amendment.) FDR’s 1936 victory was the largest landslide in American history, winning 523 electoral votes which equaled 98.49%! His inauguration was also the first time the vice president was inaugurated at the same time as the president. His second inaugural address is best known for his description of the victims of the brutal economic conditions of the Great Depression. “I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.”

President Roosevelt watching the Inaugural Parade from a replica of Andrew Jackson's "Hermitage" in front of the White House.  January 20, 1937.

President Roosevelt watching the Inaugural Parade from a replica of Andrew Jackson’s “Hermitage” in front of the White House. January 20, 1937.

Roosevelt’s third inauguration in 1941 was historic because no one had ever been elected to a third term before, so it was the first, and will be the only, third inauguration. War had broken out in Europe when Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939. London had been reduced to rubble by the German Blitz. Despite FDR’s best efforts the American people were still strongly isolationist. But FDR knew that America would eventually join the global conflict. His speech challenged Americans to live up to their ideals. “In the face of great perils never before encountered, our strong purpose is to protect and to perpetuate the integrity of democracy. For this we muster the spirit of America, and the faith of America. We do not retreat. We are not content to stand still. As Americans, we go forward, in the service of our country, by the will of God.”

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt riding in an open car, returning to the White House from FDR's third inauguration. January 20, 1941.

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt riding in an open car, returning to the White House from FDR’s third inauguration. January 20, 1941.

Franklin Roosevelt’s fourth inauguration is historic for a number of reasons. No other person has or ever will be elected to a fourth term. The ceremony was held on the South Portico of the White House for the first time, allegedly because of the austerity created by the war. But FDR was a sick man and his declining health may have contributed to the change of location. FDR’s fourth inaugural address was perhaps the shortest ever given, just a little over five minutes long. But FDR’s spirit is clear. ”Our Constitution of 1787 was not a perfect instrument; it is not perfect yet. But it provided a firm base upon which all manner of men, of all races and colors and creeds, could build our solid structure of democracy. And so today, in this year of war, 1945, we have learned lessons, at a fearful cost, and we shall profit by them.”

FDR delivers his fourth inaugural address from the balcony at the White House. January 20, 1945.

FDR delivers his fourth inaugural address from the balcony at the White House. January 20, 1945.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt died 89 days later on April 12th, in Warm Springs, Georgia while recovering from his 14,000 mile trip to Yalta for the conference with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. His legacy lives on in America’s great accomplishments: Social Security, Minimum Wage, environmental protection, American military supremacy, the United Nations and expanded human rights for all. You can learn more about the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt by visiting the FDR Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, or by exploring the web site. www.fdrlibrary.org

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The Casablanca Conference – Unconditional Surrender

By Paul M. Sparrow, Director

In January, 1943, President Roosevelt embarked on a secret mission that would determine the course of World War Two, and ultimately the world we live in today. His destination – Casablanca, Morocco. His goal – to finalize Allied military plans with the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. It was a precedent shattering odyssey. No president had ever left the United States during wartime, or ever visited Africa, or even ever traveled in an airplane. No president since Lincoln had visited an active battlefield. And FDR did all of those things without the press finding out.

The Allies had landed in North Africa just two months earlier, and after a series of bloody setbacks had Germany’s Field Marshall Erwin Rommel – the Desert Fox – on the run. The looming question was – what to do next? The conference would force top military leaders of Great Britain and the United States to hash out their differences and agree on a strategy for victory.


Mr Churchill with President Roosevelt and Chiefs of Staff at one of the many important meetings held at the Villa. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205147296

Although hundreds of pages of detailed plans and contingencies were written during the Casablanca Conference, two words stand out as perhaps the most significant of any uttered during the entire war. Two words that defined President Roosevelt’s pledge that “…the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.” Two words that would set an almost impossible target for the greatest military force the world has ever known – “Unconditional Surrender.”

President Roosevelt’s journey began on January 9th in Washington, D.C. when he boarded his special train and headed north. Because of wartime security it was not unusual for the President’s travel plans to remain classified, and the press assumed he was headed to his home in Hyde Park, New York. In Baltimore he secretly changed direction and headed south for Miami. In all of his previous voyages across the Atlantic FDR had traveled by his favorite means of transportation – ship. But the dark waters of the Atlantic had turned into a killing zone, a deadly hide-and-seek between German submarines and Allied transports. Hundreds of cargo ships and thousands of sailors had been lost to torpedoes in the preceding months as Nazi submarine “wolf packs” prowled the seas. Their mission was to strangle Great Britain by cutting off the vital supplies those cargo ships carried. Even traveling by battleship was considered too dangerous for the President. The only “safe” means of travel to Africa was by plane. So in Miami he boarded a Pan American seaplane, the Dixie Clipper, and at 6:30 am FDR became the first president to fly while in office.


FDR with Otis Bryan aboard aircraft enroute to North Africa.

The route was convoluted and dangerous. The first stop was Port au Spain, Trinidad, a ten hour flight from Miami. FDR and his closest advisors spent the night at the Macqueripe Hotel and took off at 5:30 am the next morning.


One of two Boeing Clippers (“Dixie Clipper”) which carried the Presidential Party from Miami, FL, to North Africa (Casablanca Conference)

Nine hours later they landed on the Para River near Belem, Brazil. After a brief stop and refueling, they began the most dangerous leg of the journey – 2100 miles over the Atlantic Ocean. Any mechanical failure over the open ocean would be a deadly disaster. Strong head winds and turbulence forced the pilots to fly low, between 1,000 and 3,000 feet. After a grueling 19 hours they finally saw the African coast, and at 4:45 pm on January 13 they arrived at the mouth of the Gambia River in British controlled Gambia.

Credit: State Library of Victoria

Credit: State Library of Victoria

The USS Memphis was anchored and waiting for the Commander in Chief.  The President insisted on seeing the local area, and boarded a small motorboat. The nearby community of Bathurst was a “squalid and disease ridden town” according to one of the officers who accompanied FDR. The terrible living conditions of the native population reinforced Roosevelt’s strong belief that the age of Imperialism had to come to an end.

The Presidential party dined aboard the USS Memphis and the next morning boarded two C-54 transport planes for the final 1,600 miles to Morocco. They flew over Dakar, the Senegal River, across the Sahara Desert and over the legendary Atlas Mountains. They finally landed in Casablanca at 5:00pm on January 14th.

Casablanca was well within the range of German bombers, so secrecy was a top priority. Lt. Colonel Elliot Roosevelt met his father when he arrived, but even he had not been told why he was going to Morocco. The presidential party made its way to the Anfa Hotel where the conference would take place. The guest book reveals the names of some of the attendees: Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, Gen George Patton, FDR’s closest advisor Harry Hopkins and many others.

58-239That evening the British and American leaders had dinner, and FDR and Churchill stayed up until 3am discussing strategy, drinking and smoking like long lost friends. The villa FDR was staying in was called “Dar Es Saada” which Churchill translated as “Abode of Divine Favor.”

guestbook-3The meetings began the next morning, January 15th. While there were many areas of discussion, the main topic was the “second front.” Although the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was not there, he had made it very clear that he was furious the Allies had not opened a second front in Europe. The Red Army was suffering tremendous casualties as they fought to defend Moscow, Stalingrad and Leningrad from a ferocious German assault. Nearly four million German troops and thousands of tanks were deep within Russia and Stalin was insistent that the British and Americans launch a cross channel invasion to draw off some of the Nazi war machine that was devouring Russia. While the tide was starting to turn in Stalin’s favor, an estimated 10 million Russians had already died.


FDR and Churchill at a conference with the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Casablanca Conference.

The British and American military leaders had been at odds for more than a year about when they should invade France. The British had convinced the American’s to attack North Africa first, and they now wanted to invade Sicily and take control of the Mediterranean. Some of the Americans wanted to focus on the war in the Pacific against the Japanese. The German submarine attacks had made it very difficult to supply Britain and the Soviet Union with all of the supplies they needed. Now that the war in Africa was moving toward a conclusion, it was essential that the Allies develop a clear plan for victory.

The meetings went on for ten days, and tempers flared on more than one occasion. Adding to the complexity was the role of the French, who had initially fought the Americans when they came ashore in Morocco. There were two French factions, one led by General Henri Giraud, and one by General Charles De Gaulle. One British general noted that they hated each other more than they hated the Germans.

This was the first time since the Civil War that an American president had been in a battle zone and FDR was determined to review the troops, despite the objections of the Secret Service. The battle of Morocco had ended just two months earlier, and hundreds of thousands of American troops were now coming ashore and heading into battle in Tunisia. But none of them knew their Commander in Chief was in their midst.

58-676378-965On January 18th President Roosevelt reviewed the 30th Infantry Battalion near Casablanca, and on the 21st he traveled up the coast to Rabat, where some of the fiercest fighting had taken place, to review the 3rd Infantry Division. The GIs were “shocked and thrilled” to see FDR as he saluted from his jeep. The president visited the new military cemetery at Mehdia, and had lunch with Harry Hopkins, Gen. Patton and his troops. FDR ate standard army rations from a mess kit: boiled ham, sweet potatoes, string beans and coffee.

66-10413The Army band played his favorite songs, including “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” Roosevelt was deeply moved by the experience and when he returned home he wrote dozens of personal letters to the families of servicemen he met and to the families of the soldiers buried at Mehdia.

On January 22, the Sultan of Morocco and the 13 year old crown prince hosted FDR and Churchill for dinner. It was an opulent affair, with the traditional exchange of state gifts. In this case a jewel encrusted tiara and a magnificent ceremonial sword.

Finally on January 24th the conference came to an end. About 40 British and American war correspondents were flown in from Algiers and Tunisia. They were not told why they were going, and were stunned to find out that the President, the Prime Minister and their combined Chiefs of Staffs and military leaders had been in North Africa for more than a week. FDR demonstrated once again his genius in using the media to tell the story he wanted told.


FDR – with Winston Churchill at Casablanca, seated on lawn

It was a beautiful day, the Moroccan skies a deep clear blue as the North African sun blazed brightly overhead. Security was extremely tight, the area was surrounded with barbed wire and armed guards every 20 feet. Fighter planes circled overhead. Roosevelt and Churchill invited the reporters to sit on the grass and then they read their statements and took questions.


One of the first things that FDR said was that Premier Stalin had been invited to join them, but he could not come because of the battles raging in Russia. It was during this press conference that FDR first publicly brought up “unconditional surrender” of Germany, Italy and Japan. That phrase generated enormous discussion and controversy. There are still those who say that it startled Prime Minister Churchill (including Wikipedia) because he had not expected FDR to use those words. That is simply not true. The idea of “unconditional surrender” had first come up with American military leaders in May, 1942, and Churchill himself had used the phrase in a telex to his war cabinet and had approved its use in the press release which was drafted on January 18th.

What might have startled Churchill, and led to later confusion, is FDR’s inclusion of Italy because Churchill had argued that they should leave the door open for a separate peace treaty with Italy. The manner in which FDR said it might also have surprised Churchill as it was a departure from the approved statement.  After saying rather formally that “peace can come to the world only by the total elimination of German and Japanese war power” FDR lapsed into his folksy storytelling mode. “Some of you Britishers know the old story — we had a General called U.S. Grant. His name was Ulysses Simpson Grant but in my, and the Prime Minister’s, early days he was called “Unconditional Surrender” Grant. The elimination of German, Japanese and Italian war power means the unconditional surrender by Germany, Italy and Japan.”

Prime Minister Churchill reiterated the President’s statements, describing the ten day meetings as “the most important and successful war conference which I have ever attended or witnessed.” He called himself FDR’s “active and ardent Lieutenant” and described the great success the Allies were having in North Africa. He called Field Marshall Rommel “the fugitive of Egypt and Libya” and described the British 8th Army’s pursuit of him this way: “I can give you this assurance – everywhere that Mary went the lamb is sure to go.” The press roared with laughter.

Although they played only a minor role in the military discussions, the political crisis of the two opposing French leaders was also eased by FDR’s media savvy. After FDR, Churchill, De Gaulle and Giraud posed for photographs, FDR suggested the two leaders shake hands for the camera. Although De Gaulle at first refused, he did eventually agree. A photograph of the two French leaders shaking hands was a coup for FDR, though it did little to resolve the animosity between them.

48-22-362821The conference ended with high hopes and great expectations. But Churchill had one last request for the president – accompany him to Marrakesh, “simply the nicest place on Earth to spend an afternoon.” At 1:30 pm on the 24th a well-armed caravan left Casablanca and headed south for the walled city of Marrakesh. FDR and Churchill drove past camel caravans, olive and orange groves, and arrived at a Villa being used by the American Vice Consul. The villa’s surroundings were described as a “garden from a Maxfield Parish painting.”

Churchill told the villa’s servants to form a chair with their arms and carry President Roosevelt up to the top of the villa’s small tower. They two great leaders watched the peaks of the Atlas Mountains turn pink as the sun set over the Moroccan desert.


Franklin D. Roosevelt with Winston Churchill at Marrakech, Morocco following the Casablanca Conference.

The next day FDR started his return voyage home, and Winston Churchill came to the airfield to say his good-byes dressed in bedroom slippers and a silk robe. The President’s entourage stopped at Gambia, Liberia, and Brazil finally arriving in Trinidad on January 29th. The news had finally broken about the Casablanca Conference, and huge crowds turned out to see the President when he arrived in Port au Spain. President Roosevelt flew the final leg to Miami on his 61st birthday, and enjoyed birthday cake with his closest advisors.


FDR celebrating his 61st birthday aboard the Clipper between Trinidad and Miami on returning from Casablanca Conference. FDR is cutting cake with Admiral Leahy seated next to him, Harry Hopkins across the table.

He boarded his private train in Miami and was back at the White House by 6:30 pm on January 31st.

The Casablanca Conference was a smashing success, and it inspired the world with its boldness and audacity. There were still many months of bitter fighting ahead, but in every way, the tide was turning in the Allies favor. Even FDR’s most stalwart opponents conceded his success. The Republican newspaper editor William Allen White wrote, “…we are compelled to admit that Franklin Roosevelt is the most unaccountable and on the whole the most enemy-baffling President that this United States has ever seen… a certain vast impudent courage… Well damn your smiling old picture, here it is… We, who hate your gaudy guts, salute you.”

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Day of Infamy

By Paul M. Sparrow, FDR Library Director

It was the worst day of his presidency, the worst day of his life – and the worst military defeat in American history. President Franklin Roosevelt’s beloved Navy lay in smoking ruins in Pearl Harbor, as the Japanese Empire launched well-coordinated attacks across a 4,000 mile front. The Nazis controlled Europe and North Africa. Britain and Russia were on the verge of collapse.


But as the smoke cleared from the mangled wreckage, it revealed a truly great leader. Franklin Roosevelt took the weight of the free world on his paralyzed legs and carried America into the future – away from our isolationist past and into the age of the global superpower.

At the worst moment of his life he rose to the occasion, providing desperately needed vision and confidence to a staggered nation. Within hours of the attack he dictated the first draft of one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century, arguably one of the greatest speeches in American history. He was honest, direct, and absolutely clear:

“With confidence in our armed forces – with the unbounding determination of our people – we will gain the inevitable triumph – so help us God.”

The speech was short, just under seven minutes long. It expressed his outrage, his sense of betrayal, and his complete confidence that in the end the United States would avenge this treachery.

In some ways he had been preparing for this moment for years – since Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. Faced with an American citizenry, and a congress, strongly opposed to getting involved with the European war – President Roosevelt knew he had to wait for public opinion to turn in his favor before he could act. He was brilliant in his careful calibration of action, first providing moral support for England and the Allies, then providing military equipment, trading British Naval bases for old destroyers, and shipping tanks and planes under the Lend Lease program. The American public did not fully understand the threat against our democracy.  Through incentives and a little arm twisting he had transformed America’s industrial might into the arsenal of democracy.

73-113-92That terrible day began innocently enough. Franklin Roosevelt was in the Oval Study on the second floor of the White House with his closest advisor Harry Hopkins, who was there because he lived in the White House. All of the other staff were off and Mrs. Roosevelt was hosting a luncheon. FDR was working on his stamp collection at 1:47 pm when the phone rang. It was Frank Knox, Secretary of the Navy calling to say the Japanese were bombing Pearl Harbor.  FDR exclaimed “NO!” in a loud voice and a startled Hopkins jumped to his feet.

They immediately began calling the inner circle; Secretary of War Henry Stimson; FDR’s private secretaries Marvin McIntyre and Grace Tully; press secretary Steve Early; and the top military advisors. The first meeting began a little after 3 pm, with just FDR’s closest confidants. As the meeting progressed more and more reports came in, reports that began to paint a picture of the devastating destruction that had rained down on the Pacific Fleet.   Despite the sense of shock and loss, FDR was focused and deliberate.  Mrs. Roosevelt described him as having a “deadly calm.”

hopkins_harry_1936Harry Hopkins described the scene in his diary, and wrote about one issue that would come back again and again. The president was going to speak to congress, and the world, the next day and he wanted to give a short and powerful statement. The Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, argued for a longer, detailed presentation of Japan’s many transgressions. Hopkins noted:

There was some discussion about the President’s message to Congress. The President expressed himself very strongly that he was going to submit a precise message. Hull urged very strongly that the President review the whole history of the Japanese relations in a strong document that might take a half an hour to read. The President objected.”

FDR’s great leadership is perhaps best illustrated by his approach to this speech. For it was much more than merely an address to congress. It needed to be a statement to the world – a battle cry for freedom – an unquestioned call to arms.

The meeting broke up around 4:15 pm.  After everyone had left, FDR called Grace Tully into the Oval Study. He was smoking a cigarette as she came in.

Ms. Tully described the scene in her memoir:

tully_graceHe took a deep drag and addressed me calmly. ‘Sit down, Grace. I’m going before Congress tomorrow. I’d like to dictate my message. It will be short.’ I sat down without a word; it was no time for words other than those to become part of the war effort. Once more he inhaled deeply, then he began in the same calm tone in which he dictated his mail. Only his diction was a little different as he spoke each word incisively and slowly, carefully specifying each punctuation mark and paragraph. The entire message ran under 500 words, a cold-blooded indictment of Japanese treachery and aggression, delivered to me without hesitation, interruption or second thoughts.”

Grace typed up the speech and gave it to FDR. He made a series of edits, including perhaps the most famous edit of any Presidential speech  – changing the words “world history” to “infamy.”

day-of-infamy-p1The president kept this copy of the speech with him the rest of the day, making small changes here and there. The final version is just 25 sentences, about twice as long as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It is an extraordinary document in its clarity of purpose and muscular structure. There are no wasted words. It is sharp and pointed – like a bayonet aimed at the heart of an enemy combatant.

day-of-infamy-fdrs-studyAt 8:40 pm, FDR sat behind his desk in the Oval Study, his cabinet arrayed around him in a semi-circle. He told them this was the most important cabinet meeting since the bombardment of Fort Sumter and the start of the Civil War. Like Lincoln, FDR had put together a remarkable team of rivals. The Secretary of War was a Republican. And Navy Secretary Knox had run against him as the Republican Vice President in 1936. But they all shared a deep commitment to defending democracy.

FDR was almost overcome with emotion as he described the destruction of his cherished battleships and the massive loss of life. Then he read them his proposed speech. Hull and Stimson immediately objected and a bitter debate erupted. They put forth a 17 page speech that described, blow by blow, all of the Japanese transgressions of the past decade.  The President flatly rejected their arguments, but as they became increasingly insistent, FDR finally agreed to review their speech to end the discussion. Based on the complete lack of editing notes it is unlikely FDR ever read it.

The President then faced his most difficult task. Imagine the scene. Its 9:30 pm. Its been an exhausting day. President Roosevelt in the Oval Study, surrounded by a bi-partisan group of congressional leaders. They had heard about the attack but knew very little of the details. Some were bitter opponents of FDR. As he delivered the latest details of the attack, they gasped. Some questioned why the fleet had been caught unprepared. There was no good answer for that. But even at that moment, he showed no fear, no hesitation about what needed to be done. He read them the draft of his speech and asked for their support.

Vice President Henry Wallace made one suggestion that FDR included in his speech, and it was a line that generated the greatest round of applause the next day. It also summed up perfectly how the President truly felt.

“No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people will in their righteous might win through to absolute victory.”

FDR awoke the next morning to a phone call relaying more bad news – attacks on the Philippines, Wake Island and Midway. He met with Harry Hopkins and they made a few minor changes to the speech. The heavy painful steel braces were attached to his legs. A little after noon he was brought out to the car and driven to the Capitol. He had to make the long walk out into the chamber holding on to his son’s arm and balancing himself with his cane. Once in position, he gripped the lectern and took a deep breath.

His presentation is truly remarkable, delivered with a solemn but determined tone, and with absolute conviction in his voice. It was a clarion call, a profound statement of national values and a fierce show of determination that justice would be served. When he gets to the part where he lists the many places the Japanese have attacked it takes on the rhythm of a sermon. And when he gets to the end, he makes clear his main point:

“With confidence in our armed forces – with the unbounding determination of our people – we will gain the inevitable triumph – so help us God.”

This story is told in greater detail and with many multimedia components in the current exhibit “ Day of Infamy: 24 Hours That Changed the World” open until Dec. 31st. There is also a new education portal sponsored by AT&T available to teachers and students here. https://fdrlibrary.org/curriculum-hubs .


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Socialite, and Spy Master: Vincent Astor, FDR’s Area Controller of Intelligence for New York

By William Villano,
Astor Project Digital Curator


Lunch with Royalty: Vincent Astor and FDR entertain the Duke and Dutchess of Kent, Lord and Lady Clifford of the Bahamas. April 1935, Nassau, Bahamas. NPx 47-96:1900.

Shortly after 10:00 am on Tuesday morning May 27, 1941 the tall, thin, well dressed gentleman approached Hudson Terminal. His fine tailored suit, immaculately polished shoes, and priceless pocket-watch, that relic which had been held by his father as he perished in the icy waters of the North Atlantic aboard the Titanic, hinted at his immense wealth. With over 60 million annual visitors, Hudson Terminal was one of Manhattan’s busiest transportation hubs which made the gentleman’s office in one of the twin 22-story towers above the terminal an ideal location for his secret meeting. Vincent Astor, the fifty year old, fifth generation Land-Lord of New York and one of the wealthiest men alive, was about to meet with representatives of the F.B.I., the U.S. Army’s Military Intelligence Division, and the Navy’s Office of Naval Intelligence to discuss defending New York from Axis sabotage, espionage, and military offensives in the months before America’s entry into World War II. Two months earlier President Franklin D. Roosevelt had created a new position specifically for him and Astor had promised his life-long friend and Dutchess County neighbor that “In this job I shall do my very best.”

At 10:15, in Vincent Astor’s office at 50 Church St, across the street from the present day World Trade Center, the meeting began. Astor, as Area Controller of Intelligence for New York, brought the six other men to order and the meeting was underway. Names and dossiers of intelligence sources and informants were exchanged by the various agencies, briefings on supplies of food and fuel necessary to England’s war effort were made, and information on potential threats were disclosed, for this was Astor’s primary duty: make all intelligence operations in New York run as efficiently as the many business ventures the multi-millionaire had managed. Next he made arrangements for the Navy and Army to discuss the Axis’s finances with a representative of the American Express Company who had recently returned from the Nazi puppet regime in Vichy France. This was followed by a verbal report on conditions in North and West Africa. By 11:30 Astor’s office had emptied and he resumed his civilian duties of managing a vast business empire which included Chase National Bank, Western Union Telegraph Company, and entire blocks of New York real-estate. He would have to remember to review the Chase bank accounts of the AMTORG Corporation to note what military materials the Russian government was purchasing; particularly molybdenum, which was used in tank armor and when shown to the right military personnel, would give the President a good sense of Russia’s military strength.

This wasn’t Astor’s first assignment in the defense of America and like previous forays into national defense, he intended to use every resource available to him. Astor’s global business connections in banking, telecommunications, and shipping made him uniquely useful to the President. Without these connections Astor, an inactive Commander in the Naval Reserve, surely would not be coordinating America’s intelligence agencies while the nation was not even at war.

For some time the multi-millionaire had been providing housing in his luxurious Hotel St. Regis to England’s head of intelligence in North America, William Stephenson and had been using Ferry Reach, his estate in British held Bermuda, to illegally access international diplomatic messages. Just twelve days earlier, on May the 15th, Astor and Admiral Adolphus Andrews of the Third Naval District had hosted envoys from the navies of South and Central American aboard Astor’s palatial 263 foot yacht Nourmahal. Armed with movie stars, beautiful women, and Astor’s tremendous wealth, America’s alliance with Latin America had been further cemented. Three years earlier, Astor had sailed that same ship through the pacific with Kermit Roosevelt to gather intelligence for FDR on Japanese defenses in the Marshall Islands. Of course his fondest memories aboard the Nourmahal, were not related to America’s defense, but centered on the five fishing cruises he spent with the President.

FDR sits in wheelchair aboard yacht, looks out to sea. April 1935.

President Roosevelt in his wheelchair aboard Vincent Astor’s yacht, the “Nourmahal.” April, 1935. NPx 06-01.

Vincent Astor relished his duties even more due to the jealousy his espionage missions elicited from his friend President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who dreamed of retiring and writing detective novels. For fifty years the Dutchess County neighbors had been friends and in fact were distant cousins. FDR’s half-brother James R. Roosevelt had married Vincent’s Aunt Helen. As boys Astor and Roosevelt would vacation together at Lake St. Regis, and later Campobello with their friendship growing as the two boys turned to men. Even during the difficult years following Roosevelt’s affliction with polio; when he withdrew from the limelight, Astor was there for Roosevelt, lending him the use of his indoor pool at Astor Courts to help with FDR’s hydrotherapy treatments. To Astor, it was no surprise that he, a trusted, close and capable friend, would be appointed to a position so integral to the defense of America.

Coordinating America’s defenses was only one aspect of Vincent Astor’s duties. As he had done in World War I, when he hunted German submarines aboard his yacht the Noma, Astor wished to strike at the enemy, and again Astor’s business ventures afforded him the opportunity. In the Newsweek Building, Astor’s 43 story skyscraper at 444 Madison Avenue, Astor lent room 629 to his friends in the FBI. From this specially equipped room the FBI was monitoring the offices of William Sebold’s “Diesel Research Company” in rooms 627 and 628. The ”Diesel Research Company” was a front used by the Abwehr, Nazi Germany’s military intelligence agency, to distribute funds to secret agents in America. Unfortunately for the Nazis, William Sebold was a double-agent working with the FBI. Astor took solace in the fact that even now the FBI was using state of the art listening devices and hidden cameras to record the meetings between Sebold and thirty three Axis spies, including Fritz Duquesne the Nazi’s head operative in North America. Soon a crippling blow would be dealt to the Axis fifth column in America and New York would be safe from the German sabotage attacks that had shocked the city during the First World War.


FBI Agent observing the Diesel Research Company. FBI photo.

For Astor, business and national defense went hand in hand. That is why in 1927, he had organized “The Room” in a small non-descript apartment at 34 East Sixty-Second street. “The Room” was an unofficial spy ring, comprised of bankers like J.P. Morgan, businessmen like Astor, and other prominent members of New York’s high society. For thirteen years this group of powerful New Yorkers had acted as informal advisors and economic spies for their close friend and fellow New Yorker, President Roosevelt.
Astor’s tremendous wealth had caused both the Germans and British to court his favor before America’s entry into the war. Only a year earlier, wealthy German lawyer Gerhard Alois Westrick, who had had previous business dealings with America’s captains of industry had attempted to woo Astor and arrange close business connections between the U.S. and Nazi Germany in the event that Germany conquered Europe. Westrick, of course, reported directly to Nazi Foreign Minister Ribbentop. Similarly,  Astor’s wealth and power had prompted the British to request his assistance in acquiring one of American’s secret weapons: The Norden Bombsight. Just about one year earlier Astor had worked so hard to prevent that device from falling into the wrong hands. On that occasion he even had to order FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to send an agent to Europe, despite the fact that Astor had no authority to issue such an order and despite likelihood that it would cause an international incident.

Despite his pressing business responsibilities, Vincent Astor’s first loyalty was to his old friend and fishing companion Franklin D. Roosevelt. It had been a month since his last trip to the White House and in only six days the Area Controller of New York was scheduled to report to the President. This friendship, combined with deep roots in New York, would drive the aging gentleman to devote himself to the defense of New York City, much as his love of the city had driven him to care for the city’s poor through making generous donations to housing projects, libraries, parks, and hospitals.


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Marguerite “Missy” LeHand: FDR’s Right Hand Woman

By Paul M. Sparrow, Director

Throughout his life, Franklin Roosevelt was surrounded by remarkable women. His mother Sara Delano, his wife Eleanor, his Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins the first woman to be appointed to the cabinet, and his distant cousin Daisy Suckley.  But the woman who is perhaps least remembered but most important was Marguerite “Missy” LeHand, his personal secretary and closest confidant for more than 20 years.  Missy suffered a terrible stroke in 1941 and left the White House, so her assistant Grace Tully took over for her. When President Roosevelt died, Grace Tully took all of her and many of Missy’s papers with her.  In 2010 when those papers finally came to the FDR Library they were known as the Grace Tully Collection, but most of them were really Missy’s papers.


FDR, Missy LeHand, and Grace Tully at Hyde Park, 1938

Kathryn Smith, author of The Gatekeeper: Missy LeHand, FDR, and the Untold Story of the Partnership That Defined a Presidency the first full biography of Missy LeHand, describes her as “…tall and slim, with wavy dark brown hair and large blue eyes under dark arched brows – the classic black Irish coloring. She had a long face and a prominent jaw and nose, but a sweetness of expression that spoke of her good nature. “

Missy came into the Roosevelt world in August 1920 when she was offered a job as a secretary to support Franklin Roosevelt’s Vice Presidential campaign. James Cox was the democratic candidate for President, and it was widely assumed he would lose to the Republican candidate Senator Warren Harding. But this was FDR’s first shot at national political office and he went at it with his trademark gusto. Although Missy had little contact with FDR, she worked closely with the inner circle of FDR advisers including Louie Howe, Steve Early, and Marvin McIntyre.

After the election, Eleanor asked Missy to come to her home in Hyde Park and help finish up the correspondence. She did such a good job that when FDR was hired to be a vice president for the Fidelity and Deposit Company he asked her to become his full time secretary. Thus was born a truly remarkable partnership. Just a few months later FDR would be stricken with polio, and Missy would become his companion and gatekeeper.


Gov. Roosevelt with Missy LeHand and Eleanor Roosevelt, 1929

To fully understand why Missy LeHand had such influence in the White House it is important to look at her role during the years FDR was out of public view recovering from polio. These were without doubt the most difficult years of his life, and those who were with him during that period became his most trusted confidants and advisers.

Polio struck without warning on August 10, 1921, while he was vacationing at his home on Campobello Island in Canada. Months of medical treatments and intense therapy followed and Missy was one of the few who were allowed to see him at his Manhattan apartment during this time.  After resigning his job FDR left for an extended cruise on a houseboat in Florida with Missy, his personal valet LeRoy Jones and a rotating cast of old friends. Eleanor did not enjoy or entirely approve of the bohemian lifestyle FDR was engaging in, fishing and drinking and frivolous pastimes, and so she spent little time onboard. But when FDR returned to New York after several months at sea he displayed marked improvements both physically and mentally. FDR was convinced he had found a new form of therapy.


FDR, Frances de Rhaim, and Missy LeHand on board the Larooco, Florida, 1924

He bought an old boat with his friend John Lawrence and christened it the Larooco (Lawrence, Roosevelt Co.) and in the winter of 1924, FDR, Missy, and Leroy set sail for the warm Caribbean waters near Florida. While there has been speculation that FDR and Missy had an affair during this time, there is no evidence to support it, and her long and warm relationship with Eleanor and the children casts serious doubts on it. But there is no question that the time they spent on board the Larooco laid the foundation for a deep bond between them that lasted until Missy’s death.


Missy LeHand, FDR, Dutchess County neighbor Maunsell Crosby, and Frances de Rham, 1924

The year 1924 also introduced FDR to Warm Spring Georgia, where he would focus his efforts on finding an effective cure for polio and provide a world class rehabilitation clinic for its victims. Once again Eleanor did not care for the informal lifestyle and poverty stricken countryside, so Missy became the hostess for FDR’s Warm Springs home. Missy grew to love this special place, and between the cruises aboard the Larooco and the rehabilitation work at Warm Springs, Missy had become a critical part of FDR’s recovery efforts.


FDR, a young patient, and Missy LeHand, Warm Springs, GA, 1928

Over the years FDR would invest a good portion of his fortune into Warm Springs, and created the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation which raised millions of dollars for polio research. This eventually became the March of Dimes Foundation which funded the research that led to a polio vaccine in 1954.

But the siren call of political life drew FDR back into the arena and in 1928 he ran for Governor of New York and won. The next four years in Albany provided FDR with a powerful platform to re-establish his national profile. His team included Louis Howe, Frances Perkins, Sam Rosenman, and of course Missy. It was during this transition that Grace Tully entered the picture as Missy’s assistant. A complete collection of their correspondence can be found here: The Grace Tully Collection Finding Aid

Missy lived in the Governor’s Mansion with the Roosevelts, and was part of the family in every way.  It was during their years in Albany that Missy first came to the attention of the roving pack of reporters who covered FDR. She was dubbed FDR’s “Right Hand Woman” and when Eleanor traveled Missy would act as the hostess for dinners and other social events.

When the stock market crashed in October 1929, Governor Roosevelt immediately took action. After his reelection in 1930 he became the most activist governor in the country. He started the first unemployment program and fought a corruption scandal with the mayor of New York. Missy later told an interviewer that “Albany was the hardest work I ever did” (The Gatekeeper). During this period Missy had a serious medical issue with her irregular heartbeat and Eleanor grew deeply concerned about her health. She spent time in Warm Springs getting FDR’s new cottage ready for him. When he arrived in May of 1932 the local Meriwether Vindicator became became the first newspaper to endorse FDR for president, and locals began calling his new home, the Little White House.


Portrait of Missy LeHand, 1936

Missy arrived in Washington to much fanfare and excitement. She would be the first woman to hold the position of the secretary to the president. In a short period of time she became the most famous secretary in America. She was also romantically involved with the dashing and daring William Bullitt who served as FDR’s secret spy and later as Ambassador to Russia and France. Their long distance relationship proved both exhilarating and frustrating for Missy.

Grace Tully described Missy as “the Queen” of the White House staff, and her authority was rarely challenged. Many cabinet secretaries, congressmen, senators and ambassadors courted favor with Missy in an attempt to gain access to the president. Missy’s role as Gatekeeper gave her enormous influence in who the president spent time with. And while she clearly had her favorites, she was widely respected for her fairness and devotion to the president’s needs.


Missy LeHand and FDR at the White House, 1940

The White House staff grew quickly as the work load of the “First 100 Days” and the ever growing volume of correspondence demanded attention.  Missy was part of FDR’s most inner circle, those few people who crossed over from the political to the personal worlds of the Roosevelts. This small group included Grace Tully, Louis Howe, Harry Hopkins, Marvin McIntyre, and Steve Early. Several of them actually lived in the White House at one time or another. And every day they would gather for “Children’s Hour” and FDR would mix martinis or some other cocktail and they would drop the world’s woes and spend time gossiping, chatting, and generally having fun.

They provided FDR with an important escape from the pressures of the White House, and their personal bonds allowed them to speak truth, sometimes uncomfortable truths, to the Boss.

After a major White House renovation in 1934 Missy was moved into a prime office with a view of the rose garden, and a door that opened directly into the new and improved Oval Office. Hers was the ONLY office with such a door. Her office also had a door leading to the garden, allowing “unannounced” visitors direct access to FDR when he didn’t want their names showing up on the official White House registry.

In her book The Gatekeeper, Kathryn Smith describes Missy’s role this way:

“Missy was the Swiss Army Knife of the White House. A formidable, multitalented multitasker.”


Missy LeHand and FDR at the White House, 1940

From March 1933 until May 1941 Missy assisted FDR and the family in every imaginable way. She traveled with them and paid their bills, acted as hostess when Eleanor was away, provided advice on personnel, personal and political matters, and kept the White House secretarial staff operating at a remarkably high level of effectiveness under constant stress. It was a virtuoso performance.

But in 1941 Missy’s health problems finally caught up with her, as they would with FDR four years later. Missy had suffered from a bad heart from the time she was a little girl. FDR himself was suffering from a range of medical problems during the spring of 1941 the pressure of the war in Europe was taking a toll. On June 4th, at a party in the White House, Missy collapsed, probably from a combination of a stroke and a heart attack. She was laid up in her bed for weeks, then transferred to a hospital. Despite all of her work in helping bring FDR’s dream of a presidential library to fruition, on June 30th, 1941, when it was dedicated, Missy was not there. Partially paralyzed and barely able to speak she was confined to the hospital in D.C. She was later moved to Warm Springs, Georgia, to help in her recovery. She was there when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. She called the White House and her former assistant Grace Tully took a message for the President, but he did not call her back that day. But FDR never gave up on her. He paid all of her medical bills and changed his will so that half of the proceeds of his estate would go to help support her until she died. Then it would revert back to Eleanor.

In March 1942 Missy returned to the White House, a shadow of her former self, and moved back into her apartment on the third floor. FDR would visit her for short periods of time while he fought a global war, and the old “Children’s Hour” gang kept her company. But after she accidentally started a fire while lighting a cigarette the decision was made to send her home to Somerville, Massachusetts.

Missy lived with her sister and two nieces for several years, and finally passed away on July 31, 1944. FDR was on a military tour of the Pacific, and issued this statement:


The great esteem in which Missy was held is reflected in the list of people who attended her funeral on August 2, 1944. It included Eleanor Roosevelt, Joe Kennedy, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, and 1,200 others. But with a World War raging Missy’s passing was soon lost in the swirl of news about battles, victories, and another presidential campaign.

Missy’s very capable protégé Grace Tully took over the administrative responsibilities, but her personal relationship with FDR was not the same as Missy’s. When FDR died, Grace Tully ended up with all of the papers that she and Missy had collected over the years. The remained with her until her death, and in 2010 they finally arrived at the FDR Library as the Grace Tully Collection.  But many of those papers belonged to Missy.

The Grace Tully Collection

Kathryn Smith’s new book goes a long way to correcting the error of omission that history has made regarding Missy LeHand. In an era when it was very difficult for women to rise to the highest levels of government, she was truly FDR’s “Right Hand Woman.” Hopefully The Gatekeeper will finally put to rest the sexist gossip that Missy gained her power because she was FDR’s mistress. Because it was not her looks but her extraordinary talent, commitment, and dedication that earned her the privilege to work by FDR’s side for more than 20 years.


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A First Lady on the Front Lines

Eleanor Roosevelt’s Tour of the South Pacific – August & September 1943

By Paul M. Sparrow, Director

The summer of 1943 was a critical time for the Allies. The tide was just starting to turn as the Allied forces marked a series of hard won victories. The capture of Sicily was a stepping stone to the invasion of Italy. German forces surrendered in North Africa, and the brutal island hopping campaign in the South Pacific had brought American forces all the way to the Solomon Islands. The war in the Pacific stretched across thousands of miles, from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska all the way to Australia. The book “Guadalcanal Diary” by Richard Tregaskis was published in early 1943 and was an instant bestseller. It immortalized the heroic efforts of U.S. Marines to secure the island, and it had come to symbolize the struggle of ordinary boys in extraordinary circumstances.


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On August 17th, Eleanor Roosevelt began a month long journey to the South Pacific to visit our Allies in New Zealand and Australia, but more importantly to meet the soldiers and sailors stationed on remote islands cut off from their families and friends. Military commanders, especially Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, were unhappy with the First Ladies’ plans, and were deeply concerned that she would be a distraction from the war effort. They would soon change their minds.

In her first My Day column about the trip, delayed until August 28th for security reasons, she wrote this:

“I am about to start on a long trip which I hope will bring to many women a feeling that they have visited the places where I go, and that they know more about the lives their boys are leading. “ She knew how those mothers felt. All four of her sons were serving in uniform, and two had been stationed in the Pacific. Her son James had told her to eat with the enlisted men, not just the officers, if she wanted to know what was really happening. And she did.

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Eleanor was traveling as a representative of the Red Cross. She arrived on Christmas Island on the 19th, and toured the island’s hospitals and Red Cross Center.  Her itinerary was exhausting. From Christmas Island she traveled to Penhryn Island, Bora Bora, Aitutaki, Tutuliua Samoa, Fiji and New Caledonia in six days. She wrote this in her diary regarding her visit to Bora Bora.


“I went through the hospital, saw the Red Cross man, the headquarters building, tents, and mess hall and day room and outdoor theatre in a colored troop area. There seems to be no trouble anywhere out here between the white and colored. They lie in beds in the same wards, go to the same movies and sit side by side and work side by side, but I don’t think I’ve seen them mess together, but their food is as good and everything just as clean in their quarters. Southern and Northern Negroes are in the same outfits.” Her efforts to end segregation in the military had not been successful, but she never stopped trying.

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She arrived on Noumea in New Caledonia on August 25th.  From there she would travel to New Zealand and Australia, then return to Noumea on Sept. 14th.

Admiral Halsey had complained bitterly about the stream of military leaders, congressman and “do-gooders” who insisted their duties included a personal inspection of the frontlines. They were a drain on resources, took up badly needed space on planes and in barracks and distracted Halsey and his staff from the duties of fighting a war. But protocol required that he meet the First Lady on her arrival, and so he did.  As she stepped off the plane wearing her Red Cross uniform the Admiral asked her what her plans were. Mrs. Roosevelt answered  “What do you think I should do?” In his war weary voice he grumbled, “Mrs. Roosevelt, I’ve been married for some thirty-odd years, if those years have taught me one lesson, it is never to try to make up a woman’s mind for her.”


Eleanor then handed the Admiral a letter from the president asking him to let her visit Guadalcanal. In his autobiography he described their conversation: “Guadalcanal is no place for you, Ma’am” he answered firmly.  Mrs. Roosevelt said she would take her chances, but Admiral Halsey insisted that with the battle currently raging he needed every fighter plane he had and “If you fly to Guadalcanal, I’ll have to provide a fighter escort for you, and I haven’t got one to spare.”  Seeing how disappointed she was, the Admiral relented a little. “I will postpone my final decision until you return.”  Eleanor was particularly interested in visiting Guadalcanal because one of her close family friends, Joe Lash, was stationed there, and she had promised his wife she would try to see him.

Admiral Halsey’s initial misgivings were replaced with awe the next day. In less than 12 hours Eleanor inspected two Navy hospitals, traveled by boat to an officer’s rest house, returned and inspected an Army hospital, reviewed the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion (her son James had served with them) delivered a speech at a service club, attended a reception and was guest of honor at a dinner given by General Harmon. Even the crusty old sea salt Halsey was impressed, particularly with the amazing impact she had on the wounded in the hospitals. Astonished that the First Lady was talking to them, many came to life, smiled and appeared rejuvenated by her mere presence. She spoke to everyone.  Halsey recounted “I marveled at her hardihood, both physical and mental: she walked for miles, and saw patients who were grievously and gruesomely wounded. But I marveled the most at their expressions as she leaned over them. It was a sight I will never forget.”

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Eleanor left the next day and arrived in New Zealand on the 26th where she was greeted by cheering crowds. The Auckland Star described her as dedicated to “the quest for a better way of life, not only for her own people of the United States, but for all the peoples of the world.” She made a determined effort to highlight the work women were doing while the men were off fighting the war.  She visited Australia and was hailed as a beacon of hope. In Sydney she declared, “Perhaps here is the germ of an idea that in the postwar period women will be encouraged to participate in all activities of citizenship.”

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When she returned to New Caledonia on her way home, Admiral Halsey agreed to let her visit Guadalcanal, and he expressed his new found appreciation for her efforts. ” I told her that it was impossible for me to express my appreciation of what she had done, and was doing, for my men.  I was ashamed of my original surliness. She alone had accomplished more good than any other person … who had passed through my area.”

The Admiral’s initial concerns were well founded. The night before Mrs. Roosevelt arrived on Guadalcanal the Japanese bombed the island, and there was an air raid warning while she was there. They bombed it again the night after she left.

Her trip to Guadalcanal was rough, flying lights out at night to prevent detection by the Japanese in an unheated military transport.  She had been traveling non-stop for a month. She was exhausted and had lost thirty pounds. She was anxious about causing problems for the men stationed on Guadalcanal, and about seeing her good friend Sergeant Joseph Lash.

Eleanor’s friendship with Lash began five years earlier when Eleanor was finding ways to help the nation’s young people and he was a leader of the American Youth Congress. They had become political allies, friends, and something more. He was like a son to her, and she kept his photo with her at all times. When he was shipped overseas, she wrote him, “All that I have is yours always, my love, devotion and complete trust follow you.” Eleanor was also very close to Trude Pratt, Lash’s fiancée, and had helped her decorate their apartment.

The First Lady arrived in the early morning and met with General Twining. Eleanor asked the general if she could see Sergeant Lash, and soon Joe and Eleanor were reunited, upsetting military protocol with a warm embrace. Joseph and Eleanor met privately and discussed the war and its devastating impact on the soldiers.

Relieved to be with such a good friend after a month among strangers, Eleanor may have let him see the fatigue that she tried to hide from others. He wrote Trude telling her he had seen “a very tired Mrs. Roosevelt, agonized by the men she had seen in the hospitals, fiercely determined because of them to be relentless in working for a peace that this time will last.”

This photograph of Joe Lash taken during the war was still in Eleanor’s wallet 19 years later on the day she died.

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Eleanor visited the island chapel and the cemetery which made a deep impression on her. She wrote in her My Day column,

“On the island there is a cemetery and, as you look at the crosses row on row, you think of the women’s hearts buried here as well and are grateful for signs everywhere that show the boys are surrounded by affection. On their mess kits their buddies engrave inscriptions, such as “A swell pal, a good guy, rest in peace.”

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She also visited the hospitals once again, spending time with each and every patient. One reporter on the scene wrote, “Every time she grasps a new hand her face lights up with a resolute effort to feel sincere, not to leave this a mere empty gesture. She tries to feel a genuine impulse of friendship towards the person she is greeting.”

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“Hospitals and cemeteries are closely tied together in my head on this trip,” she wrote, “and I thought of them even when I talked to the boys who were well and strong and in training, ready to go wherever they had to go to win the war.”

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Mrs. Roosevelt with sentry, Pvt. Clarence D. Robertson, Tulsa, Oklahoma, looking over wrecked Zeroes at Guadalcanal

Eleanor’s visit to Guadalcanal made a deep impression on her. In her last column before returning to the United States she tried to find meaning in her experience, and in the experiences of the many people she had met. Her closing lines summarize her feelings, and her hopes for a better world.

“Long ago a man told me the big thing men got out of a war was the sense of shared comradeship and loyalty to each other. Perhaps that is what we must develop at home to build the world for which our men are dying.”

You can find interactive maps of Mrs. Roosevelt’s trip here and here.

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Summertime, and the Livin’ is easy…

By Paul M. Sparrow, Director
with Reagan Brown, intern


80 years ago, on July 29th 1936, Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Campobello Island for the next to last time. It was a short visit, just two days, and it was only the second time he had returned since he came down with polio there in 1921. He had sailed up the coast of Maine with three of his sons, James, John and Franklin Jr. aboard a 56 foot schooner the Sewanna. This would be the last cruise FDR would take as the skipper of a small sailing ship, and as he cruised lazily off the coast, he was followed by the USS Hopkins, a Navy Destroyer, the Presidential Yacht the Potomac and the Liberty, a 114 foot sailboat filled with reporters and photographers.

Campobello Island in New Brunswick, Canada is one of those amazingly beautiful places where the wealthy elite of the 19th century went to escape the summer heat in an era before air-conditioning. Located just across the Lubec Narrows from the northernmost point on the coast of Maine, it is a sailor’s paradise. And Franklin Roosevelt navigated the riptides, narrow channels and rocky coastline of the Bay of Fundy, Passamaquoddy Bay and the Quoddy Narrows with a skill that impressed even the most jaded old Canadian salt.

James Roosevelt built a 15 room “cottage” there in 1885 and the family summered there almost every year. Franklin visited the island 31 times, and it was here that he first showed the symptoms of polio that would define the rest of his life. But more importantly it was here that he honed his skills as a sailor, and a skipper, and learned many of the leadership skills that would serve him so well in the White House.  Robert Cross in his brilliant book ‘Sailor in the White House” describes it this way:

“Roosevelt carried his sailor instincts unto the White House, the halls of Congress were fraught with hidden dangers and pitfalls, just as were the waters along New England’s treacherous coastline. He always was willing to alter his plans or make compromises in order to reach his goal, whether that goal was to reach landfall or to get a piece of important legislation through Congress, Franklin Roosevelt was a consummate sailor-politician. “

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