President Franklin D. Roosevelt Dies in Office
On the afternoon of April 12, 1945, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the nation’s 32nd president, died of a cerebral hemorrhage. His life ended just as the great Allied victory in World War II that he had worked so hard for was in sight. In his remarkable and unprecedented four terms and 12 years in the White House, Roosevelt steered the nation through two of the greatest traumas in its history: the Great Depression and World War II.
By consolidating the power of the presidency and inserting the government into many aspects of the country’s civic and economic affairs, Roosevelt was both beloved and hated. Since the 1951 ratification of the Twenty-second Amendment limits U.S. presidents to only two terms, it is safe to say we will never see another presidency like his. Historians consistently rank Roosevelt as one of the nation’s greatest presidents, along with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
Although confined to a wheelchair ever since paralysis struck him in 1921, Roosevelt was a hearty, energetic man. The enormous strain of leading the nation during World War II took its toll on him, however, and his health seriously deteriorated in 1945. Despite this, his sudden death was unexpected. He died in the “Little White House” in Warm Springs, Georgia, where he had gone for the gentle weather and therapeutic waters for a respite. He was sitting for a portrait when he complained of a “terrible headache,” fainted, and never regained consciousness. He was 63.
The following two copyrighted articles appeared the day after he died. The first is a news report of his death; the second discusses his presidency and his life. They were published by the Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia) on the front page of its April 13, 1945, issue:
Passing of America’s President Comes Unexpectedly in Georgia
‘I Have a Terrific Headache,’ Are the Last Words Spoken by Wartime Chief Executive at Warm Springs Residence
Washington, April 12—(UP)—Franklin D. Roosevelt, for 12 unprecedented years president of the United States, died a casualty today in history’s greatest war. Tonight at 7:08 P.M. EWT Harry S. Truman became the nation’s 33rd president. Mr. Roosevelt died suddenly in “the Little White House” at Warm Springs, Ga., as armies he helped to muster drove momentarily closer to final victory over Nazi Germany. Worn out at 63, he died as other forces fighting in freedom’s name foretold the doom of militarist Japan. He died on the eve of what he had hoped would be the inauguration of an era of peace in a world at long last free of want and fear.
Mr. Roosevelt left as his successor the 61-year-old Harry Truman of Independence, Mo., a man who never wanted to be president. The 32nd president died at 4:35 p.m. EWT of “a massive cerebral hemorrhage.” The 33rd president took the oath of office from Chief Justice Harlan F. Stone less than three hours later.
The new chief executive’s first statement was:
“It will be my effort to carry on as I believe the president would have done, and to that end I have asked the Cabinet to stay on with me.”
Mr. Truman’s second act as president was to instruct Secretary of State Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., to go ahead “as planned” with what perhaps was Mr. Roosevelt’s dearest project—the United Nations conference at San Francisco April 25 to chart a road to peace on earth.
Mr. Roosevelt’s body will be brought here tomorrow. Mrs. Roosevelt went to Warm Springs by plane tonight to accompany her husband back to the White House for the last time.
Funeral services will be held in the East Room of the White House on Saturday afternoon. Mr. Roosevelt’s last resting place will be on the ancestral estate he loved at Hyde Park, N.Y.
The president’s death before realization of the victory he worked so hard to assure shocked the world and stunned this capital. It occurred on a pleasant spring day in a charming little room overlooking a green and lovely Georgia valley.
He died in his quarters at the Warm Springs Foundation which he called his “second home.” He called it that because in Warm Springs’ healing waters he had often found surcease from infantile paralysis, the affliction which he had borne without murmur since 1921.
He had gone there in a vain effort to throw off the weariness which seamed his face and sagged his shoulders after perhaps the most momentous event of his international career—the Big Three meeting at Yalta.
A victim of the paralysis which had left his legs withered, he was a shining example of courage and determination to millions of like sufferers the world over. He proved to them that physical calamity need not crush the spirit.
The news of Mr. Roosevelt’s death was flashed to Washington from Warm Springs shortly after 4:35 P.M. EWT. The president’s old friend, White House Secretary Stephen T. Early, broke the news to Mrs. Roosevelt. She took it with shoulders squared and head high. Talking it over with “Steve” and Vice Admiral Ross T. McIntire, the president’s friend and physician, she said:
“I am more sorry for the people of the country and the world than I am for us.”
Then the still first lady cabled a brief message to each of the president’s four sons, all of whom are fighting in this greatest of wars.
She told them their father did his job to the end as he would want them to do. She said bless you all and all our love and signed herself, “Mother.”
Having dispatched the cables, Mrs. Roosevelt turned to the man who was to take over her husband’s job.
“Is there any way we can help you?” she said.
Only three persons were with Mr. Roosevelt when he died. They were Commander Howard G. Bruenn, a member of McIntire’s staff; Lieutenant Commander George Fox, a White House medical aide; and Dr. James Paullin, Atlanta physician who had been summoned when the president became ill.
At about 1 o’clock, Warm Springs time, Mr. Roosevelt had suffered a sudden pain in the back of his head.
His last words were: “I have a terrible headache.”
A moment later he fainted, and did not regain consciousness.
Not long before his seizure the president had worked through an unusually large pile of official papers. His last official act was to sign legislation extending the life of the Commodity Credit Corp.
As he did so, he addressed to White House Secretary William Hassett a typical Rooseveltian wisecrack.
“Here’s where I make a law,” he said.
Mr. Roosevelt had no notion that death was near when he got up this morning. He made plans for an active and varied day. He had planned to attend a minstrel show. The minstrels were tuning up when the word came that the show would not go on.
Mr. Roosevelt had served 12 years, one month and eight days of the unprecedented four terms to which he had been elected. Mr. Truman had served as vice president since a few months after noon, EWT, last January 20.
Mr. Roosevelt died in a peaceful rural scene. Commander Howard G. Bruenn, a navy doctor who was with him, said the president was “in excellent spirits” at 9:30 a.m., CWT today in Warm Springs.
Shortly before 1 p.m., the president was sitting for some sketches. He suddenly complained of what Commander Bruenn described as a “very severe occipital headache.” That is an ache in the back of the head.
By 1:15 p.m., the president had lost consciousness. Bruenn reached him at 1:30 p.m. Mr. Roosevelt did not regain consciousness and died without pain at 3:35 p.m. CWT (4:35 p.m. EWT).
Four Times President—Great Statesman
(By the Associated Press)
The tradition-shattering presidential career of Franklin Delano Roosevelt spanned turbulent years of peace in which he worked to lift the nation out of a depression and tumultuous years of war when he played a dominant role in charting an Allied victory.
While he gained the adulation of millions, the unprecedented moves he made and the political theories he embraced made him the frequent target for blistering criticism.
Accusations ranged from “demagoguery” to “dictatorship.” The public debt jumped to a record peacetime high, then to even greater wartime peaks. Critics charged the president with trying to “pack” the Supreme Court after that tribunal had thrown out several of his favorite projects and he sought to inject “new blood” by reorganizing the membership. Some party stalwarts forsook him.
But he became the first president in history to be elected to a third term—and by a smashing majority—and then won overwhelmingly for a fourth.
Mr. Roosevelt had attained a substantial international stature in the years when he was concerned primarily with applying revolutionary remedies to an economic blight rooted in World War I.
And after the flames of a second global conflict were kindled, he became the pivotal statesman of more than 30 United Nations which pooled their might to smash a German-Italian-Japanese Axis.
Kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers, traveled to the White House to consult him.
The military strategy of nations representing 75 per cent of the earth’s surface and 50 per cent of its population—a strategy that sent American fighting men, American war weapons, American food and American dollars to combat the Axis—was mapped at conferences in which he took a leading part.
He constantly shuffled and revised a prodigious war production program, framed stupendous war budgets to be met by taxes that hurt and, also at home, fought an inflation peril hardly less dangerous to the Nation than its enemies at arms.
He drew up with United Nations colleagues, as the war progressed, blueprints for peace—a peace designed to avoid the hasty mistakes of the Versailles treaty.
International conferences on a scale never before seen in history helped the president to formulate his war plans. Rising to a pinnacle of world attention with him in these councils was Britain’s sturdy prime minister, Winston Churchill.
His intimates said nothing less than the threat of war, and finally war itself, could have prompted Mr. Roosevelt to stir up political turmoil in tremendous proportions by shattering the 150-year-old two-term presidential tradition begun by George Washington, and then running for a fourth term.
In 1940, the chief executive told the Democratic National Convention he was accepting renomination for a third term only because of a “storm” raging in Europe. He was reelected overwhelmingly over Wendell L. Willkie, the Republican candidate.
Four years later, Mr. Roosevelt said his preference was to retire to the family estate at Hyde Park, N.Y., where he was born January 30, 1882. He told Democratic Chairman Robert E. Hannegan in a letter:
“All that is within me cries out to go back to my home on the Hudson River, to avoid public responsibilities, and to avoid also the publicity which in our democracy follows every step of the Nation’s Chief Executive.
“Such would be my choice. But we of this generation chance to live in a day and hour when our Nation has been attacked, and when its future existence and the future existence of our chosen method of government are at stake.
Accepts as ‘Good Soldier’
“To win this war wholeheartedly, unequivocally and as quickly as we can is our task of the first importance. To win this war in such a way that there be no further world wars in the foreseeable future is our second objective. To provide occupations, and to provide a decent standard of living for our men in the armed forces after the war, and for all Americans, are the final objectives.
“Therefore, reluctantly, but as a good soldier…I will accept and serve in this office, if I am so ordered by the commander-in-chief of us all—the sovereign people of the United States.”
His Republican opponent was Gov. Thomas E. Dewey of New York.
A tremendous figure of a man, despite legs left withered and useless by infantile paralysis in 1921, Mr. Roosevelt shouldered burdens as heavy as any chief executive ever carried. While he stood up under a job which had wrecked the health of many a predecessor, the years naturally left their mark on him.
Influenza, sinusitis and bronchitis weakened him in the winter of 1943-44 and rumors spread about his health. In April, 1944, he bundled up his old clothes and took a month off to convalesce in shirt-sleeves on the languorous plantation coast of South Carolina. When he returned to Washington, his physician said he was in as good shape as any man of 62 could hope to be and that his condition offered no bar to another four years in the White House.
Mr. Roosevelt accepted the fourth-term nomination by radio from a naval base at San Diego, Calif. Immediately, he boarded a cruiser for his first wartime trip into the Pacific and consultations in Hawaii—where a sneak punch brought America into the war on December 7, 1941—with top commanders in the battle against Japan.
He long since had broken all presidential travel records, and war did not deter him from pushing the mileage up around 300,000.
…War was far from Mr. Roosevelt’s thoughts on that March 4, 1933, when he declared in his first inaugural address that the only thing America need fear was “fear itself.”
Of aristocratic lineage, a scion of wealth, he came to power in the midst of a strangling depression, proclaiming that there must be a “new deal” for the “forgotten man.”
Thus his administration got its name. And the New Deal label stuck even in later years when the president wanted to substitute the slogan: “Win the war.”
When Mr. Roosevelt went into the presidency at the age of 51, the United States had an estimated 12,000,000 persons unemployed, prices were depressed to new low levels, foreign trade shrunken and the national banking system in an extremely nervous condition as the result of widespread bank failures.
One of his first acts was to proclaim a national banking holiday that closed every financial depository in the country for 10 days while readjustments were made. He summoned Congress into special session to implement by law a national recovery program that shattered precedents. One hundred days later virtually his every request had been granted and he held powers never before entrusted to a president in peacetime.
Many of the steps he took were disputed at the time, and later, on economic, social, moral and constitutional grounds. Some were successfully contested in the courts, but others stood the test of time.
The National Industrial Recovery Administration (NRA) was set up by Congress in response to the President’s request for “machinery to obtain wider reemployment, shorten the working week, pay decent wages for the shorter week and prevent unfair competition and over-production.”
The Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) was designed to help farmers through crop control measures. Laws were passed to insure bank deposits and to provide government aid for homeowners facing mortgage foreclosures.
The Constitution was amended to repeal national prohibition. Social Security benefits were provided by legislation. A wage-hour law was enacted for labor. A “good neighbor” policy was established for the Western Hemisphere.
“Alphabet agencies” were created in profusion. Such letter combinations as NRA, RFC, AAA, CCC, TVA, WPA, PWA, HOLC, FHA and many others became familiar household terms.
The New Deal also represented bigger government budgets, larger deficits, heavier taxes and abandonment of the gold standard. In the beginning there was a “brain trust” whose college professor members were credited with formulating many of the Roosevelt policies.
There was swift acceptance by Congress of early reforms, then a gradual stiffening against White House recommendations and an abortive “purge” in which the chief executive tried in 1938 to get the political scalps of legislators he considered too conservative. He failed in all but one instance.
A startling, unsuccessful presidential attempt was made to reorganize the United States Supreme Court so as to pump “new blood” into a tribunal which had ruled unconstitutional some of Mr. Roosevelt’s pet measures including the NRA and AAA.
This attempt split the party wide open. Opponents of the plan said it was an effort to “pack” the tribunal to make it see the chief executive’s way.
It was to hold aloft the New Deal banner for a second term that the president was unanimously renominated by the Democrats in 1936 and overwhelmingly defeated Republican nominee Alf M. Landon, then governor of Kansas, in the election.
In a speech accepting the second term nomination, Mr. Roosevelt said: “America will not forget these recent years. We feared fear. Today we have conquered fear. But I cannot, with candor, tell you that all is well with the world.” He raised his voice against “economic despotism” which he likened to the “tyranny of political autocracy” that precipitated the American Revolution.
“Out of this modern civilization,” he continued, “economic royalists carved new dynasties. They created a new despotism and wrapped it in the robes of legal sanction. The collapse of 1929 showed up the despotism for what it really was. The election of 1932 was the people’s mandate to end it. Under that mandate it is being ended.”
The third and fourth term bids brought from the opposition such cries as “indispensable man,” “one-man government,” and “dictatorship.” But such terms were not new to Mr. Roosevelt.
…Possessed of a charming personality and a ready ability to put people at ease, Mr. Roosevelt also had an entrancing radio voice. He established “fireside chats” as a national institution for discussing problems of the hour with the American people.
Even opponents conceded him to be a master politician. He was idolized by millions and hated by others—few people were lukewarm about Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Loyal to his friends, Mr. Roosevelt rarely displaced associates in government who had passed the point of their usefulness. He was a man of strong likes and dislikes. A streak of stubbornness ran through his makeup.
But to most people he was warm and affable, a gifted conversationalist who chatted with callers in his office long after they were due to leave. He was an able storyteller and enjoyed a good joke, even on himself.
Criticized and Chided
…Throughout everything, the crippled, thirty-second president of the United States smiled, played when he could and continued to captivate many of his personal audiences and the millions who listened to his fireside chats.
But he made many enemies, too, and they were quick with replies and counterthrusts. He was criticized and chided. A frequent charge was that he was headed toward dictatorship. When he said he would accept “reluctantly, but as a good soldier” the fourth term nomination, the Republicans retorted:
“Mr. Roosevelt is the first of 32 presidents of the United States to claim that the title of commander in chief makes him a soldier and to use that title as a pretext to perpetuate himself in office.”
For more information, visit the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum.
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