Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born on this day in 1882. It’s interesting how we commemorate Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays and then it drops off from there. I suppose with Washington commemoration had much to do with binding the tenuous nation together through the early decades of the republic; Lincoln then joined pantheon as the first president to be assassinated. That’s pretty much it. I thought it would be interesting to see what FDR was doing a century ago. His tenure as assistant secretary of the Navy is one of the least studied periods of his life, probably because he was not making policy per se but carrying out the orders of Naval Secretary Josephus Daniels and President Wilson.
In January 1916 Roosevelt was campaigning hard for Preparedness. He gave a talk in Binghamton, New York 100 years ago this week in which he averred that the U.S. Navy should give up “not one dollar” in appropriations. He was in accord with Wilson in many respects; the sinking of the Lusitania that past May had hardened Wilson’s stance. What is more, Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan was gone by this time, having resigned over what he saw as Wilson’s belligerent stance. In many ways Franklin Roosevelt was making the case better and more forcefully than Wilson, whose appeals to Congress and elsewhere were largely met with skepticism from all sides. FDR’s cousins Theodore Roosevelt for one was not impressed with Wilson’s proposals and called them “half-preparedness.” Of course as a former president he had more leeway than his cousin did to call it as he saw it.
Franklin Roosevelt returned to Washington after his Binghamton speech to get back to work and attend to Eleanor and his kids. He needed to be close to home. He and Eleanor’s last child, John Aspinwall Roosevelt, would be born just six weeks later. It is lost on us how young he was when so much of this was going on.
(image/Library of Congress)