Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 11202
One of the defining events in a leader's tenure is conflict. Presidents are often rated by their effectiveness in time of war. Watch vintage footage and analyze (and present!) FDR's role during WWII!
Wartime presidents are remembered throughout history for the way they chose to guide the nation through tumultuous times. Some are remembered for how well they led throughout the conflict, while others become a black mark in American history for how poorly they led the country during hardship.
In this lesson, you will investigate what made Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency a memorable part of history!
During WWII, the world was divided between the Allied powers and the Axis powers. Look at the November 1942 map below.
Image by Grachifan, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Each side of the conflict consisted of several countries. Each side was led by the three major powers that existed on their side.
In this lesson, you will study the role of the American Allied leader, Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR).
Most historians regard FDR as one of the top five best U.S. presidents. Not only did he save the U.S. economy during the Great Depression, he was the only president to serve three terms in office.
While his accomplishments were many, in this lesson you will be primarily examining his role as a wartime president.
War broke out in Europe in 1939, and the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, attempted to persuade the Americans to join their cause on several occasions. Despite Churchill's efforts, President Roosevelt actively sought to keep the United States out of the war.
He was well aware that war would cost the United States millions of dollars and thousands of lives. The U.S. had just resumed life after the Great Depression, and FDR did not wish to place another burden on the country.
Another reason President Roosevelt desired to keep the U.S. out of the war was because the U.S. did not have a direct interest in the war in Europe.
He acknowledged the threat of Hitler and the Nazi party, but the Nazis had little impact on the American way of life. There was, however, a different Axis power that was giving the U.S. grief.
The Japanese sought to expand their power and influence in the world by overtaking smaller Asian nations and moving into China. Japanese expansion directly affected U.S. trade, and the U.S. government made an effort to prevent Japanese expansion through a series of embargos.
This upset the Japanese and caused them to launch a surprise attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack killed thousands of Americans and destroyed important military equipment.
President Roosevelt was forced to encourage Congress to make a declaration of war, propelling the United States into WWII.
You will learn about Roosevelt's shortcomings as a wartime leader in the Related Lesson, found in the right-hand sidebar, but most would say President Roosevelt was a remarkable wartime leader. He hired some of the best military leaders the U.S. has ever known, such as General George Patton, General Douglas MacArthur, and future U.S. president, General Dwight Eisenhower.
President Roosevelt played an active role in making military decisions and worked well with the other Allied leaders, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. During one of the conventions, where the Allied leaders met to discuss strategy and outcomes, FDR worked with other representatives to create the United Nations.
Unfortunately, President Roosevelt did not get to see the fruits of his labor.
Very few people knew that President Roosevelt carried a secret throughout the entire war. He was suffering from a number of health problems, including complications from polio that left him paralyzed from the waist down.
Despite being a wheelchair, he refused to allow the world see him as weak during wartime, and would stand during speeches. Only those closest to him knew of his condition.
On April 12, 1945, FDR died from a stroke. His death shocked the world. The Americans had lost their fearless leader during a time when they needed him most.
FDR's vice president, Harry Truman, saw the United States through the final months of the war and to an official victory on September 2, 1945.
Even though President Roosevelt did not make it to the end of the war, he is regarded as a great wartime leader.
As you review the resources below, make a list of all the things President Roosevelt did that made him a good wartime leader:
FDR and World War II, from History.com
FDR and WWII, Part 2, The Course of the War, from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum:
Move onto the Got It? section to review what you learned about President Roosevelt during WWII.
Resources Referenced in the Lesson