Canada in the Second World War


Franklin Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, born in Hyde Park, New York, on January 30th, 1882; died in Warm Springs, Georgia, on April 12th, 1945. Lawyer, 32nd President of the United States of America.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt (sitting, left), Governor General of Canada Lord Athlone (sitting, right), Prime Minister W.L. Mackenzie King (standing, left) and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (standing, right) at the Quebec Conference in August 1943

President Franklin D. Roosevelt (sitting, left), Governor General of Canada Lord Athlone (sitting, right), Prime Minister W.L. Mackenzie King (standing, left) and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (standing, right) at the Quebec Conference in August 1943
National Film Board / National Archives of Canada, C-029466

Born in a wealthy family, Franklin Roosevelt was brought up in Hyde Park, New York. He studied law at Harvard from 1900 to 1904, and at the Columbia University Law School, from which he graduated in 1907 to join the Bar of the State of New York.

Roosevelt entered public life in 1910, being elected to the state Senate of New York as a Democrat. Between 1913 and 1920, the young lawyer served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. In 1920, he ran as the Democrats’ vice-presidential candidate, with Ohio Governor James M. Cox for president. They were defeated by the Republican ticket, Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge.

In August 1921, Roosevelt learned he had poliomyelitis. Through the practice of swimming, the therapeutic effects of the waters from Warm Springs, Georgia, and his own perseverance he managed to avoid paralysis. From then on, he had to spend several months every year at the Warm Springs thermal station, that a foundation created by Roosevelt was to transform into a poliomyelitis treatment centre.

Back into politics in 1928, Roosevelt was elected Governor of the State of New York. During his second term, which started in 1930, he gathered around him a group of professors from Columbia University to find solutions to the economic depression that plagued the country. He launched social welfare and economic revitalization programmes that made him one of the most progressive state governors in the U.S.

Roosevelt ran in the presidential elections for the Democrats and was elected in 1932, as the Depression was at its worst. He rapidly implemented a series of legislative measures to counter the economic trends. He offered the American people the “New Deal”, a programme to restructure public finances, industry, agriculture and natural resources, combined with the creation of new federal agencies that would provide sizeable amounts of fresh money for public interest projects. Roosevelt often used the airwaves for reassuring chats with the American public, during which he discussed current issues and the solutions put forward by his administration. Despite unavoidable dissent and controversies, he was re-elected for a second term in 1936.

As Europe and Asia were engulfed in violence, Roosevelt condemned aggression between nations and refused to share the isolationist views that resulted in the adoption by the U.S. Congress in 1935 of the Neutrality Act. Despite the limitations created by this legislation, the President increased defence expenditures to prepare the country in case of war. Shortly after his 1940 re-election, he implemented conscription to ensure protection against a potential Japanese aggression. Early on he advocated supporting Great Britain and Canada in their war efforts against nazi Germany. In that context, a few months after the fall of France, he met with Canadian Prime Minister W.L. Mackenzie King. The two men agreed on a joint defence plan for North America, to be managed by the Permanent Joint Board on Defence. The Canadian Prime Minister also facilitated negotiations between Roosevelt and Churchill regarding the delivery of destroyers in exchange for the use of naval bases and the lease of military equipment to the Allies fighting against the Third Reich.

In December 1941, the United States went to war against Japan and Germany. Roosevelt engaged in intense diplomatic activity to maintain the cohesion between the U.S., Great Britain, the USSR and China. He took part in a series of international conferences, in Casablanca (January 1943), Quebec City (August 1943), Tehran (November-December 1943) and Yalta (February 1945), during which Allied leaders agreed to keep on fighting until the final and unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan. In Yalta, the Allies secretly designed the partition of Germany into occupation zones under their control. During those conferences, Roosevelt was a passionate advocate of the creation of an international organization, the United Nations.

Suffering from major blood pressure and heart problems, Franklin D. Roosevelt was not to see the end of the war; he passed away at his Warm Springs residence on April 12th, 1945.