Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

10 facts about young Franklin D. Roosevelt

January 30, 2019 by NCC Staff


Today is the birthday of the only person to run for, and win, the presidency four times: Franklin D. Roosevelt. Here’s a list of 10 facts about FDR— before he was elected President in 1932.

1. For starters, young Franklin was an only child of very wealthy parents; he grew up on an estate in New York’s Hudson Valley.

2. And how was young Franklin related to President Theodore Roosevelt? It’s a bit complicated. The men were fifth cousins, so they had the same great-great-great-great-grandparents. In this case, the distant relative was Nicholas Roosevelt, who lived from 1658 to 1742. Theodore was related to one of Nicholas’ sons, while Franklin was related to a second son.

3. Young Franklin was also related to his own wife. Eleanor Roosevelt was Theodore Roosevelt’s brother’s daughter. Since her father had passed away, Eleanor was walked down the aisle on her wedding day in 1905 by the president himself, Uncle Teddy.

4. Young Franklin also reportedly had a hard time adjusting to school. He was taught at home on the family estate until the age of 14, when Franklin was sent to prep school at Groton. He later went to Harvard. At the same time, he rekindled a relationship with Eleanor, and the two became engaged on November 22, 1903.

5. The college student Roosevelt was average academically, but very, very active socially. He was editor of the college newspaper, graduated in three years, and later passed his bar exam (after attending Columbia) without finishing his law degree.

6. After a brief law career, Franklin entered politics as a Democrat. His famous relative, Teddy, and many other Roosevelts were Republicans. But Franklin quickly climbed the Democratic ranks to become the assistant secretary of the Navy during World War I.

7. When Roosevelt ran for president in 1932, it wasn’t his first appearance on a presidential ticket. In 1920, he ran as vice president on the unsuccessful Democratic ticket that featured James Cox as president.

8. After his vice presidential defeat, Roosevelt contracted what was diagnosed as polio in 1921 while on vacation in Canada. He was paralyzed from the waist down ever since. With Eleanor’s support, Roosevelt didn’t give up his political career, and in 1928 he was elected the governor of New York.

9. In recent years, there are researchers who aren’t convinced that Roosevelt’s paralysis was caused by polio. A recent study appearing in the Journal of Medical Biography said the future president most likely suffered from Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

If Roosevelt’s doctors had known he had Guillain-Barre, the treatment in 1921 would have been the same. “An FDR diagnosed with Guillain-Barre would have little to gain over one diagnosed with polio due to a deficit in possible treatments,” the article concluded.

10. And finally, the Journal article points out by misdiagnosing Roosevelt’s condition as polio, the eventual attention to the illness saved countless lives. As president, Roosevelt championed efforts to wipe out polio in programs like the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis and the March of Dimes. In the 1950s, the Salk vaccine ended the polio threat.


Sign up for our email newsletter