Jean Edward Smith, Marshall University
November 3, 2007

Three presidents dominate American history: George Washington who founded the country; Abraham Lincoln, who preserved it; and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who rescued it from economic collapse and then led it to victory in the greatest war of all time. Elected for an unprecedented four terms, Roosevelt proved the most gifted American statesman of the twentieth century. Under FDR’s energetic leadership the government became an active participant in the economic life of the country. Roosevelt revolutionized the art of political campaigning, revitalized the Democratic Party, and created a new national majority from those previously excluded from the political process. His fireside chats brought the presidency into every living room in the nation. And what may be more remarkable, he did this while paralyzed from the waist down. For the last twenty-three years of his life, Franklin Roosevelt could not walk unassisted.

Jean Edward Smith is the John Marshall Professor of Political Science at Marshall University. He is the author of a dozen books, including most recently FDR, a biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In addition to FDR, Smith has written highly acclaimed biographies of General Lucius D. Clay, Chief Justice John Marshall, and Ulysses S. Grant, a 2002 Pulitzer Prize finalist. A graduate of Princeton University and Columbia, he taught at the University of Toronto for thirty-five years before joining the faculty at Marshall in 1999. He is presently at work on a biography of Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Session One:

Topic: The New Deal

Focus: What was the nature of the crisis that faced the United States in March 1933? What were the conditions in banking, agriculture, business employment, investment, and foreign trade? What steps did FDR take? What were the Hundred Days? Was the New Deal successful in meeting the crisis? What role did Eleanor Roosevelt play? What were the results of the 1936 election? Why did Roosevelt seek to pack the Supreme Court? Did he err entering Democratic primaries in 1938? What caused the Roosevelt recession of 1938-39? Was FDR a shoo-in for renomination in 1940? Who was Wendell Willkie? Why did FDR win the 1940 election?

Readings:

Session Two:

Topic: Commander-in-Chief

Focus: What steps did FDR take to prepare the country for war? What was lend-lease? The Atlantic Charter? The destroyers-for-bases deal? Should the United States have provided aid to the Soviet Union? Was war with Japan inevitable? Why was the United States unprepared for Pearl Harbor? How did FDR handle the armed forces? Why was he more successful than Lincoln in selecting military leaders? Why Hitler first? Why North Africa? What was the effect of “unconditional surrender”? What was FDR’s stance on the Holocaust? What was achieved at Teheran? At Yalta? What effect did the war have on the homefront? On segregation? On education? What was the G.I. Bill of Rights?

Readings: