Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the longest serving president in United States history, reshaping the country during the crises of the Great Depression and World War II. But before his ascension to the presidency, FDR laid the groundwork for his unprecedented run with decades of canny political maneuvering and steady consolidation of power.
In this remarkable New York Times–bestselling biography, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian James MacGregor Burns traces FDR’s rise and the peculiar blend of strength and cunning that made him such a uniquely transformative figure. Weaving together lively narrative and impressive scholarship, Burns reconstructs his youth and education at Groton and Harvard, his relationships with his cousins Theodore and Eleanor, his immersion in New York State politics, and his rise to national prominence, all the way through his first two terms as president, which saw the historic New Deal take hold and the drumbeats of World War II begin.
Originally published in 1956, The Lion and the Fox was among the first studies of Roosevelt—and it remains a landmark record of his ambitions, talents, and flaws. Hailed by the New York Times as “a sensitive, shrewd, and challenging book” and by Newsweek as “a case study unmatched in American political writings,” Burns’s stunning achievement is the life story of a fascinating political figure.
About the Author
James MacGregor Burns (1918–2014) was a bestselling American historian and political scientist whose work earned both the National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize. Born in Boston, Burns fell in love with politics and history at an early age. He earned his BA at Williams College, where he returned to teach history and political science after obtaining his PhD at Harvard and serving in World War II. Burns’s two-volume biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt is considered the definitive examination of the politician’s rise to power, and his groundbreaking writing on the subject of political leadership has influenced scholars for decades. Most recently, he served as the Woodrow Wilson Professor of Government Emeritus at Williams College and as Distinguished Leadership Scholar at the University of Maryland.
Read an Excerpt
Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox
By James MacGregor Burns
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1956 James MacGregor Burns
All rights reserved.
A Beautiful Frame
About halfway from Albany to New York the Hudson River flows into a narrow channel, crooks slightly leftward, and then resumes its promenade toward the Atlantic. East of this bend lie a railroad and a siding; from the siding a dirt road climbs steep slopes, through dense woods, to a gently rolling plateau. On a knoll of this plateau, commanding the sweep of the river south, stands today a spacious mansion topped by a widow's walk and breasted by a long porch and balustrade.
In 1882 the middle part of this mansion stood alone, without its present wings—a roomy, clapboarded house with shutters and a narrow veranda. January 30 of that year dawned cold and windy, with a hint of snow in the air. Inside the house all was tenseness and anxiety: servants bustled to and fro; kettles of water steamed in the kitchen. Attention centered on the mistress of the house lying in a small room upstairs. In this room late in the day, after hours of agony and heavy doses of chloroform, Sara Delano Roosevelt gave birth to a child. That night in her diary her husband James wrote: "At quarter to nine my Sallie had a splendid large baby boy. He weighs 10 lbs., without clothes."
Crowing and chortling in his large carved bassinet, Franklin Delano Roosevelt seemed a happy child from the outset. Life in the sunny upstairs room went on at a tranquil pace. Sara breast-fed her baby for almost a year; she recalled later—with a shade of satisfaction—that "Nurse and I used our own discretion about his feedings," and that no formula was used. To the baby, the moving blur above him slowly changed into his mother's face—serene, harmonious features, dark hair combed back into a bun, heavy eyebrows, deep chin. Often in the room was his father, a man slender in face and body, of medium height, with side whiskers, strong hands, gentle touch and voice.
Franklin was an only child. His mother did not "pamper" him—indeed, James thought she nagged him—but the household seemed to revolve around the little boy. There were no brothers or sisters to compete for attention, to wrest toys from him, or to bring the life of school or playground to him outside his parents' ken. The servants doted on him. Family quarrels, jarring words, harsh discipline he never knew. Sara and James agreed exactly on what they wanted to do with their son: to shape him gently but firmly in the mold of a Hyde Park gentleman. A governess said, "He was brought up in a beautiful frame."
Parents and child formed the focal point of a large establishment. House and grounds were peopled with nurse, maids, cook, gardener, coachman, stable boys, farm hands. The estate spread over several hundred acres, embracing fields and forests, gardens, greenhouse, grapery, icehouses, barns, and stables. Timidly Franklin explored the world of Hyde Park. At first he was excessively shy with people outside his family, but he liked to accompany his father as the squire, booted and spurred, bowler on his head and riding crop in hand, made his inspections.
Slowly, reluctantly, Sara let Franklin go on his own. Until he was five he wore dresses and long blond curls; he left skirts only for kilts and Lord Fauntleroy suits; and he was almost eight and a half when he wrote his father: "Mama left this morning and I am going to take my bath alone." But soon he was making the estate his kingdom. He coasted on the slopes below the house; roamed the woods with bow and arrow; watched while huge cakes of ice were hauled up from the river; snowshoed across the fields (most memorably after the blizzard of '88); skated and iceboated on the river; built a crow's-nest in a hemlock near the house; rode his pony Debby and cared for his red setter Marksman; swam in the Hudson, bobbing in the wake of the heavy river traffic; shot birds for his collection. In the house he played steeplechase, deployed his toy soldiers, started a stamp collection.
Often Sara and James shared these activities with him. He had the companionship of his father to a much greater extent than the average American child. The boy's affection for his parents is reflected in his letters. Thus, on May 18, 1888, at the age of six he wrote:
My dear mamma
I went fishing yesterday after noon with papa we caught a dozen of minnows we left them on the bank papa told me it would frighten the fish to put them in the pond how is dear grandpapa I hope he is better dear mamma I send you a kiss your loving son
Of course Franklin played frequently with the children of other prominent Hyde Park families. But he was with adults much more than with other children. And virtually all his associates, young and old, were joined tight in the Delano or Roosevelt clans or came from a handful of Hudson River families.
The strongest loyalty was to the family, and this loyalty fused with a pervasive sense of community. Parents and child often took trips—to Fairhaven, Massachusetts, to Campobello in the Bay of Fundy, to England and the Continent—yet travel simply meant new places but the same kind of people. When the Roosevelts went by rail, they traveled in a private car. On the ship, as Sara said, there were always "people one knows." Places they visited swarmed with cousins and aunts. Franklin saw the world through the eyes of his family—and they presented the world to him as they saw it. And always, at the beginning and the end, was Hyde Park, the little imperium under his parents' scepter.
It was a secure world. The nation was at peace; by the 1880's it had largely bound up the deep gash of civil war. The real capital of the United States was seventy-five miles down the Hudson in New York. Here the capitalists thought big and acted big; they were building America as generals fight wars, recruiting immigrant Swedes, Germans, Bohemians at the docks, throwing masses of men into action at strategic points, establishing railroads, mines, factories, whole cities. These men, it has been aptly observed, spoke little and did much; in Washington were politicians who did little and spoke all too much. On Capitol Hill the congressmen bickered over patronage, tariffs, reform, states' rights, while the big decisions were made on Wall Street. Parties alternated in power—in 1889 the stout, dependable Cleveland was succeeded by the stout, respectable Harrison—but the party battle seemed often a sham battle.
Across the sea, Victoria, a tiny figure on a huge throne, ruled majestically in the fifth decade of her seemingly endless reign. The Queen's navy policed the oceans of the world. Europe, too, was at peace; the "Concert of Europe" may have given forth few notes of harmony, but the powers felt safe enough to fight little wars at home and to build big empires abroad. Weekly, the Illustrated London News brought to Hyde Park a picture of this Europe—of Hohenzollerns and Hapsburgs secure on their thrones, of parades and palaces, of international society moving from Paris to London to Vienna, to spa to fox hunt to fancy ball.
Hyde Park knew little of the hates and conflicts simmering just under the surface of affairs—of Mary Lease telling farmers to "raise less corn and more hell," of strikers and finks locked in murderous little battles, of immigrants packed in grimy tenements, bewildered by this strange new world. Certainly Hyde Park knew nothing of some of the men these forces would help thrust above the surface of twentieth-century affairs. Alfred E. Smith, born in a Manhattan tenement, the son of a teamster who died when Al was thirteen, spent the 1880's as an altar boy, newsboy, fishmonger. In the hills of Pennsylvania, Tom Lewis, blacklisted for leading a strike, wandered from pit to pit, holding a job until the dreaded list caught up with him, trying to feed his family; his son, a pugnacious boy named John, would soon leave school for the mines. In West Branch, Iowa, Herbert Hoover was swimming under the willows down by the railroad bridge, catching sunfish on a butcher-string line, picking potato bugs for a penny a hundred.
In Romagna in central Italy—a classic land of political turbulence—Benito Mussolini slept on a sack of corn leaves; born a year after Franklin, the son of a socialist blacksmith, he was sent away to school, ate at third-class tables, and was expelled at the age of eleven. Toward the end of the decade, in a small town on the Bavarian border, a man in his fifties, who had the square face of a Hindenburg but who was only a petty civil servant, fathered a child whose strange dreams and artistic bent he could not understand; at fifteen Adolf Hitler was orphaned and soon cast loose to become a vagrant. In the 1880's, in Georgia, Josef Djugashvili, later Joseph Stalin, was a swarthy, pock-marked boy three years older than Franklin; the son of a peasant cobbler, he lived in a leaky adobe hut and grew up in a land seared by national and racial hatreds.
THE SEED AND THE SOIL
Someday, in some political arena, Roosevelt would come to grips with all these men, and he would overcome, in some way, all but the last of them. Here lies the first paradox of his paradoxical life. There are reasons why an Adolf Hitler or a John L. Lewis should acquire a lust to dominate. Anxious, insecure, adrift in their early years, they made of life an insatiable quest for power.
But what about Roosevelt? He was no product of a broken home or of a ruined land. He knew nothing of family strife, physical want, contemptuous glances. His father "never laughed at him," Sara once remarked. He adored his parents, and as an only child he never suffered even the common experience of dethronement by younger children taking over the center of the family circle. His environment laid no stress on competitive achievement in business or politics. He was to be a Hyde Park gentleman.
Was the pursuit of power in Franklin's genes? His mother always set great store by heredity, and she thought that she saw much of the "Delano influence" in him. On the Roosevelt side there is the striking fact that, after six generations of unremarkable men, "in the seventh generation, this dynasty of the mediocre suddenly blazed up with not one but two, of the most remarkable men in American history." Is there some clue to Franklin D. Roosevelt the politician in the Roosevelts who went before?
The common progenitor of both Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt was Nicholas Roosevelt, whose father had sailed to New Amsterdam from Holland in the 1640's. Nicholas had two sons, Johannes (1689-?) and Jacobus (1692-1776). From the first of these issued the line that was to produce Theodore, from the second, Franklin.
Only one of Franklin's forebears was a politician of any importance. This was Jacobus' son Isaac (1726-1794), a prosperous sugar merchant with no love for the British trade laws that discriminated against his business. Siding with the patriots, he helped draft New York's first constitution after the outbreak of the Revolutionary War and won membership to its first senate. As a Federalist member of the state convention he voted under Alexander Hamilton's brilliant leadership to ratify the new federal Constitution in opposition to the great landowners along the Hudson.
Then the line veered steadily away from politics. Isaac's son James (1760-1847) went to Princeton, became a sugar refiner and banker, was a Federalist member of the New York State Assembly for one term, bred horses, and bought land along the Hudson near Poughkeepsie. His son Isaac (1790-1863) had no interest in politics: he was a Princeton man, a student of medicine and botany, a breeder of cattle and horses, and became a Dutchess County squire. Meanwhile, as the generations passed, the Dutch blood blended with English, German, and other strains. Isaac's son James (1828- 1900)—Franklin's father—was of mainly Anglo-Saxon inheritance.
"My son Franklin is a Delano, not a Roosevelt at all," Sara used to say. If so, any clue to Roosevelt's political development is still missing. To be sure, the Delano family liked to trace its ancestry to William the Conqueror, and a Delano held a cabinet seat under Grant. But most of the Delanos passed politics by; they were shipowners, merchants, speculators, philanthropists, industrialists, and country gentlemen. They were proud of their derivation from Philippe De La Noye, who arrived in Plymouth in 1621. Sara's father, Warren Delano, as a young man won a fortune in the China trade, lost much of it in the depression of 1857, returned to Hong Kong to recoup his losses, and retired to an estate on the west bank of the Hudson with his wife and eleven children. Warren was a lifetime Republican who liked to say—perhaps not wholly in jest —"I will not say that all Democrats are horse thieves, but it would seem that all horse thieves are Democrats." He carefully kept his children insulated from his business cares and from people outside his class.
"The Delanos," it has been said, "carried their way of life around them like a transparent but impenetrable envelope wherever they went."
The riddle remains. One looks in vain for any foretoken of Franklin D. Roosevelt the politician in these Delano and Roosevelt lines. Political skills cannot, of course, be inherited as such; genes cannot transmit specific traits and attitudes. But biological inheritance cannot be ignored. It supplies the stuff from which personality is shaped; it sets limits within which variation is constrained. Basic traits, such as motor skills and reaction speed, are certainly influenced by heredity, while temperamental traits, such as stability of mood and emotionality, may be as well. And heredity might have particular importance in a family as prone to intermarriage as the Roosevelts.
Roosevelt at birth was simply a cluster of possibilities. In his forebears the seeds of personality, such as they were, had issued in seafaring, money-making, gaining social prestige. In another generation they were to emerge in vote-getting and power-holding. The seed was there, but what about the soil? The first of Franklin's environments was that created by James and Sara Roosevelt, themselves influenced by the environments of Roosevelts and Delanos who went before. Was it in this soil that Roosevelt's political personality and drive began to grow?
Graduating from Union College in 1847 and from Harvard Law School four years later, James Roosevelt had moved steadily into the life of squire and businessman—except for one remarkable occasion in his youth when he and a mendicant priest, on a walking tour in Italy, joined Garibaldi's army, wore red shirts for a month or two, and then resumed their walking trip. Through his mother's family James became involved in coal and transportation. Eventually he became vice-president of the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company, president of some smaller transportation enterprises, and a director in a number of other companies. Most of the earnings of the Delaware and Hudson came from its heavy investments in anthracite coal. These activities gave James Roosevelt a secure base on which to maintain his expensive but unostentatious home in Hyde Park.
Yet James wanted to be more than a railroad executive. Three times he gambled for high stakes in money and power—and each time he lost. He helped build a huge bituminous coal combination, but the company took heavy losses in the 1873 panic, and the stockholders voted Roosevelt and his friends out of control. He and other capitalists tried to set up a holding company to gain control of an extensive railroad network in the South, but this venture failed too. He helped form a company to dig a canal across Nicaragua, won an act of incorporation from Congress and President Cleveland, raised six million dollars, started construction—and then the depression of 1893 dried up the sources of funds.
James's unlucky plunges, it has been said, forever turned his son against successful businessmen and speculators. This is unlikely. For most of his life Roosevelt displayed no animus against moneymakers. He seemed to regard his forebears' mishaps as joking matters. Moreover, James would not have allowed his setbacks to disturb the family home. He had a striking capacity to compartmentalize his life, moving easily from the quiet of his Hyde Park estate to the rough and tumble of the business world, and back. In later years his son would look longingly toward home at the very time he was launched on daring political ventures.
Excerpted from Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox by James MacGregor Burns. Copyright © 1956 James MacGregor Burns. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
- Part One: The Education of a Politician
- I. A Beautiful Frame
- The Seed and the Soil
- Groton: Education for What?
- Harvard: The Gold Coast
- II. Albany: The Young Lion
- Uncle Ted and Cousin Eleanor
- The Race for the Senate
- The College Kid and the Tammany Beast
- Farmer-Labor Representative
- III. Washington: The Politician as Bureaucrat
- A Roosevelt on the Job
- Tammany Wins Again
- War Leader
- IV. Crusade for the League
- Challenge and Response
- 1920--The Solemn Referendum
- The Rising Politician
- Part Two: The Rise to Power
- V. Interlude: The Politician as Businessman
- Dear Al and Dear Frank
- Summons to Action
- VI. Apprenticeship in Albany
- The Politics of the Empire State
- The Anatomy of Stalemate
- The Power of Party
- VII. Nomination by a Hairbreadth
- The Political Uses of Corruption
- Battle at the Grass Roots
- The Magic Two-Thirds
- VIII. The Curious Campaign
- The Fox and the Elephant
- The Stage Is Set
- Roosevelt on the Eve
- Part Three: Rendezvous with Destiny
- IX. A Leader in the White House
- "A Day of Consecration"
- "Action, and Action Now"
- "A Leadership of Frankness and Vigor"
- America First
- X. President of All the People?
- An Artist in Government
- The Broker State at Work
- The Politics of Broker Leadership
- Rupture on the Right
- XI. The Grapes of Wrath
- The Little Foxes
- Labor: New Millions and New Leaders
- Left! Right! Left!
- XII. Thunder on the Right
- Thunderbolts from the Bench
- Roosevelt as a Conservative
- Roosevelt and the Radicals
- XIII. Foreign Policy by Makeshift
- Good Neighbors and Good Fences
- Storm Clouds and Storm Cellars
- The Law of the Jungle
- The Politician as Foreign Policy Maker
- XIV. 1936: The Grand Coalition
- The Politics of the Deed
- "I Accept the Commission"
- "We Have Only Just Begun to Fight"
- Roosevelt as a Political Tactician
- Part Four: The Lion at Bay
- XV. Court Packing: The Miscalculated Risk
- Guerrilla Warfare
- Breaches in the Grand Coalition
- Not with a Bang but a Whimper
- XVI. The Roosevelt Recession
- Palace Struggle for a Program
- Roosevelt as an Economist
- XVII. Deadlock on the Potomac
- Squalls on Capitol Hill
- The Broken Spell
- Too Little, Too Late
- XVIII. Fissures in the Party
- The Donkey and the Stick
- The Struggle for Power
- Roosevelt as a Party Leader
- XIX. Diplomacy: Pinpricks and Protest
- Munich: No Risks, No Commitments
- The Storm Breaks
- Roosevelt as a Political Leader
- Part Five: Through the Traps
- XX. The Soundless Struggle
- The Sphinx
- The Hurricane of Events
- "We Want Roosevelt!"
- XXI. An Old Campaigner, a New Campaign
- The Hoarse and Strident Voice
- Lion versus Sea Lion
- The Two-Week Blitz
- The Future in Balance
- Epilogue. The Culmination
- Roosevelt as War Lord
- Roosevelt as Peace Leader
- Democracy's Aristocrat
- Warrior's Home-Coming
- Preview: Roosevelt: Soldier of Freedom
- A Note on the Study of Political Leadership
- Image Gallery
- General Bibliography
- Chapter Bibliographies with Basic Book List