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Franklin Roosevelt: Powerful (Part 2)

2017-10-09

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[00:05.65]
  • VOA Learning English presents America’s Presidents.
  • [00:10.38]
  • Today we are talking about Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Earlier we told about his rise to power, and his health problems.
  • [00:20.66]
  • When he was 39 years old, FDR – as he was often called – became paralyzed from the waist down.
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  • He was never able to walk independently again.
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  • But that did not prevent him from becoming one of the country’s most powerful presidents.
  • [00:53.16]
  • When FDR took office, the United States was in a severe economic depression.
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  • Many farmers were not able to sell their crops for profit.
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  • Banks across the country had failed.
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  • A number of Americans lost their savings and their homes.
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  • And more than 25% of the workforce did not have a job.
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  • Yet when FDR took office in 1933, he told people, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
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  • When Americans think of FDR, they often think of that statement.
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  • It showed his spirit of hope and confidence for which he became known.
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  • Americans also remember FDR for the way he began his presidency.
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  • In his first 100 days, he signed more than 70 bills into law.
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  • Some led to major changes in the country.
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  • They helped calm the country’s banking industry, provided federal aid directly to farmers and the unemployed, and created public works programs.
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  • The acts formed the base of what FDR and others called the New Deal.
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  • Some New Deal programs – including the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Tennessee Valley Authority – created government-funded jobs.
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  • In addition to providing a paycheck for workers, the programs were meant to improve and care for the country’s natural resources.
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  • For example, workers planted trees, made roads, and built dams and power plants.
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  • Americans continue to experience the effects of these programs today.
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  • FDR is also remembered for the way he communicated with the public.
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  • At that time, as many as 90% of Americans owned a radio.
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  • So, from time to time, FDR spoke to the public on radio broadcasts that became known as “fireside chats.”
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  • The term created an image of the president sitting comfortably near a fireplace, talking informally with a few close friends.
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  • In fact, FDR gave these talks from his office in the White House.
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  • But his voice was warm, and he spoke in an easy, conversational way to listeners, whom he called “my friends.”
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  • The combination of FDR’s hope, energy, and affectionate concern for everyday Americans made him popular with many voters. He was re-elected easily in 1936.
  • [03:49.80]
  • But FDR had critics, too. Some pointed out that many of his programs failed.
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  • They cost a lot of money or were simply not effective.
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  • Others said that FDR’s policy of massive government intervention was not American.
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  • It restricted capitalism and the free market.
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  • Still others observed that FDR’s programs did not help everyone equally.
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  • Many New Deal programs aimed to put young, white American men to work.
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  • Women, racial minorities, and older Americans were often overlooked.
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  • Critics and supporters alike also noted that FDR greatly expanded the power of the presidency.
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  • He added a number of full-time positions to the executive branch of government.
  • [04:48.15]
  • And he took on the power of Congress to make laws.
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  • Even the Supreme Court found that FDR had, in some cases, gone too far.
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  • It ruled that some of his actions were illegal.
  • [05:03.45]
  • FDR worried that the Supreme Court would block many of his other New Deal programs, too.
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  • So he proposed a rule. It would give the president power to appoint six new members to the nine-member court.
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  • His appointments would almost certainly make sure that his New Deal programs could continue.
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  • Many historians point to FDR’s efforts at “court-packing” as one of the most extreme examples of his attempts to expand presidential power.
  • [05:39.32]
  • But Congress did not accept FDR’s proposal.
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  • Nine justices remained on the Supreme Court.
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  • However, those justices went on to approve FDR’s actions anyway.
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  • They supported programs such as Social Security, which was set up to help older adults, disabled people, and others who needed support; and the Wagner Act, which permitted workers to organize in a trade union.
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  • While these efforts and other programs were important parts of FDR’s reform efforts, they did not stop the Great Depression.
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  • None of the New Deal programs really did. The economy continued to struggle.
  • [06:47.71]
  • For several years, the president had been warning lawmakers and other Americans about the political forces in Japan, Germany, and Italy.
  • [06:58.45]
  • Leaders in those countries supported nationalist movements and had already invaded or taken control of other areas.
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  • By 1941, more than 30 countries were involved in the conflict.
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  • Many Americans had wanted the U.S. to remain neutral.
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  • They regretted becoming involved in World War I.
  • [07:23.76]
  • For years, they had taken steps to prevent another major international conflict.
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  • Lawmakers had even banned the U.S. government from selling or giving weapons to warring countries.
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  • But FDR believed World War II was different.
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  • He believed that Germany was the clear aggressor and needed to be stopped.
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  • So, in the 1930s, FDR received permission from Congress to provide weapons to the countries opposing Germany.
  • [07:58.62]
  • After Germany took control of France, FDR received permission to give direct military aid to Britain.
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  • In addition, FDR began preparing the U.S. military for war.
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  • On December 7, 1941, Japanese forces bombed American ships at the U.S. Navy base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
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  • More than 2,400 Americans died at Pearl Harbor, and more than 1,700 were wounded.
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  • The day after Pearl Harbor was attacked, Congress quickly approved FDR’s request to declare war against Japan.
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  • Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.
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  • American lawmakers responded in kind.
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  • The U.S., which had remained neutral for many years, was now completely involved in World War II.
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  • During the war, FDR directed much of his attention to what would happen after the fighting stopped.
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  • He wanted to create an international order that would improve peace and cooperation.
  • [09:38.17]
  • To that end, he helped organize 26 countries into a group he called the United Nations.
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  • FDR also believed that the world’s future security depended, in large part, on cooperation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
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  • He worked hard to create friendly relations with the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin.
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  • Stalin, FDR, and British prime minister Winston Churchill all famously met at the Russian town of Yalta.
  • [10:14.71]
  • There, the three men discussed plans to bring World War II to an end.
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  • They decided to demand that Germany surrender unconditionally.
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  • They also talked about diplomatic relations after the war ended.
  • [10:31.09]
  • At the time, many Americans believed the Yalta conference was a success. Soviet officials agreed to enter the war against Japan.
  • [10:42.52]
  • In return, U.S. officials said the Soviet government could re-gain control over parts of Northeastern China.
  • [10:50.82]
  • Soviet officials also agreed to let countries in Eastern Europe hold free elections, and to share rights to veto U.N. decisions.
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  • In the eyes of many Americans, the Yalta agreement showed that the United States and the Soviet Union would be able to cooperate.
  • [11:23.08]
  • FDR did not live to see the effects of the Yalta agreement, or even the end of the conflict.
  • [11:30.78]
  • He had been president for 12 years.
  • [11:33.54]
  • A few weeks before the Yalta Conference, he had been sworn-in yet again.
  • [11:39.64]
  • FDR had already served longer than any U.S. president.
  • [11:44.77]
  • All others before him had followed the custom set by the first president, George Washington.
  • [11:52.27]
  • They had served no more than two terms.
  • [11:55.73]
  • In the winter of 1944, FDR was beginning his fourth term.
  • [12:02.79]
  • But people close to him said he did not look well. Doctors also warned Roosevelt that his health was suffering.
  • [12:12.15]
  • So, in April, FDR went to a warm water resort in Georgia where he often rested and recovered his strength.
  • [12:23.07]
  • There, he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. In other words, his brain began to bleed.
  • [12:31.41]
  • World leaders, including Stalin and Churchill, said they were shocked he had died.
  • [12:37.89]
  • Many Americans felt the same.
  • [12:40.69]
  • They stood alongside train tracks as his body was carried from Georgia to his childhood home in New York.
  • [12:48.93]
  • He is buried there, at Hyde Park.
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  • In 1962, his wife Eleanor died and was buried next to him.
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  • Today, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt are important figures in U.S. history.
  • [13:05.51]
  • Many programs from the New Deal are still in effect now.
  • [13:10.50]
  • FDR also changed the position of president into an active, powerful leader who legally intervenes in the economy and seems to have a personal relationship with Americans.
  • [13:25.34]
  • And Eleanor Roosevelt developed a strong voice of her own.
  • [13:30.46]
  • Her humanitarian efforts and work on behalf of civil rights and women’s rights have given her a legacy independent from her husband.
  • [13:42.40]
  • Both admirers and critics point to the Roosevelts’ influence as evidence of their strong feelings about the couple.
  • [13:57.10]
  • I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.
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