Having enjoyed the JFK Library we drove across Massachusetts into New York on our way to Hyde Park and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. We arrived in the morning and went to the ‘Welcome Center”. The library is on the old Roosevelt Estate that had been developed by his father. The estate is absolutely beautiful overlooking the Hudson River.
The FDR Library and Museum had just gone through a $35 million renovation where they had unveiled a new permanent exhibition. According to our guide the exhibition represented a major rethinking of President Roosevelt’s ife and career in decades and was the first major overhaul since FDR dedicated the library himself in 1941. He created the model; that with a few variations has been followed since: a privately financed library, part of the sweeping estate, that was donated to the government and is overseen by the National Archives.
The 12,000 foot exhibition hall is amazing with interactive video tables and digital “flip-book” screens. With the bouncy theme “Happy Days Are Here Again”, Roosevelt beat Herbert Hoover for the presidency during the Great Depression. The exhibit takes Roosevelt from when he took office in 1933 during the Depression thru April 1945 when he suddenly died just before the end of World War II. The world was thoroughly transformed during his time in office. When he first took office 25% of the country lived on farms while the federal government played a limited role in the economy. By 1950 only about 16% lived on farms and the federal government was on its way to being like it is today. From 1930 to 1945, unionized workers jumped from 7% to almost 35%. He built a New Deal Coalition that realigned American politics after 1932, as his New Deal domestic policies defined American Liberalism for the middle third of the 20th century. The Democratic Party transformed from a focus on individuals to groups much as it is today. The United States became a world power. This is the world we live in today that was ushered in by Roosevelt.
The various portions of the exhibits move you though his presidency and the various roles of the government in the economy, the public safety net, the virtues and weakness of free markets, the dimensions of liberalism, justifications for long term wars and the dangers in alliances. All issues we deal with today.
The actions of FDR in his first 100 days dealing with the Depression led to legislation that created the Public Works Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the FDIC and the National Recovery Administration. As World War II loomed after 1938, with the Japanese invasion of China and the aggression of Nazi Germany, FDR gave strong diplomatic and financial support to China and Great Britain, while remaining officially neutral. His goal was to make America the “Arsenal of Democracy” which would supply munitions to the Allies. Congress, at his request, declared war on Japan and Germany after the Japanese attack on Pearl
Harbor December 7, 1941, calling it a “date which will live in infamy”. He went on to mobilize the economy to fight two major theaters of war in Europe and Japan against the Axis. He was responsible for the first atomic boom, which Truman used to end the war in Japan. FDR is considered by many historians to be one of the top three presidents along with Lincoln and Washington.
There are many artifacts and the displays draw on over 17 million pages of documents such as his 1882 baptismal certificate a sketch he made in 1943 of what a post war “United Nations” might look like.
The exhibits and presentations are extremely well done and it is a great historic site to learn about the Roosevelt’s. There are few presentations on negatives of his time in the White House, such as the deep recession the country entered into in 1937 and the attempted “packing” of the Supreme Court, by raising the total to 12 from 9 in 1937. World War Two was responsible for the growth and recovery of the economy.