FDR’s Legacy

I finally finished Doris Kearn’s Goodwin’s No Ordinary Time just after this new movie came out featuring Bill Murray as FDR (I haven’t seen it yet).

While there is much to be admired in Franklin Roosevelt (i.e. his vision, his ability to enjoy life, his calm under pressure, etc…) as I came to the end I was reflecting on his legacy. Most will talk about his New Deal and defeat of Hitler and the way he changed the size and role of American government. I was struck by the legacy he left in regards to marriage.

His affair with Lucy Mercer Rutherford is well known. It happened early in his marriage and when discovered he promised Eleanor he would never see her again. Franklin and Eleanor began a new arrangement where they stayed married but essentially lived two different lives. Towards the end of Franklin’s life, with the help of his eldest daughter, Anna, Franklin began seeing Lucy again secretly when Eleanor was away (which was often). And then when Franklin died suddenly in Warm Springs, Georgia, it was Lucy who was actually with him! Biographers can try make us sympathetic to this arrangement, but there’s no avoiding the fact that this was a major character flaw.

Then in the Afterword we find out the sad news of how Franklin and Eleanor’s five kids turned out. Anna was married twice. His son John was married twice. FDR, Jr., was married five times. Elliott was married five times. And the youngest, James, was married four times. Coincidence? I think not.


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