This week’s Profile in Persistence may have been my favorite to research. Last week’s way too long post about Churchill was a pleasant lead into a true picture of perseverance and grit in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Like his idol and cousin, Theodore, FDR started his career at an early age. He was first elected to the New York General Assembly at the age of 28. Not only was he young, but he was elected as a Democrat in a heavily Republican district that encompassed Hyde Park but the gentlemen farmers of the area had never seen a young man of such charm, energy, and raw political ability.
Once in Albany, the young Mr. Roosevelt, bucked his party, fought the Tammany Machine and won scores of admirers on both sides of the aisle. None of those fans, however, included party bosses and they were all too happy to recommend him for promotion when the time arose.
Following again in TR’s footsteps, Franklin was appointed to Under Secretary of the Navy when he was 31. At the Navy department, he brought an energy, enthusiasm, and level of skill that hadn’t been seen since another Roosevelt held the title.
As quickly as he started, he rose even faster and at the age of 38, he ran unsuccessfully for Vice President of the United States. While the ticket lost, everyone talked about the bright future of this exceptional young man.
And then tragedy struck.
The next year while vacationing with his family at Campobello Island he sat down and couldn’t get back up. Fever struck the next day and his legs had gone numb. Franklin Roosevelt was 39 years old he had polio.
He was still young, he was still ambitious, but he was now crippled. The young man that many predicted after 1920, would be a real player in Democratic politics couldn’t get out of bed. His political life seemed to be over. All of his potential would go unreached.
At the urging of his wife, Eleanor, he threw himself into his recovery. Buying a resort in Warm Springs George and devoting his time to helping other Polios rid themselves of the disease that robbed him of his future.
But keeping his name in Democratic circles, Al Smith, the powerful Governor of New York was looking for someone he thought that he could control to fill his seat as he ran for President and Franklin Roosevelt’s rise after his fall began.
As Smith was beaten badly in the 1928 Presidential Election, FDR was elected Governor of New York. He quickly faced many great challenges but as he later said:
“Once I spent two years in bed trying to move my big toe. After that everything else seems easy.”
His Polio had changed him. The brash and arrogant young man now had a sympathy for the little man and those struggling.
11 years after being pronounced politically dead, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to the highest office in our land. Many historians credit this newfound empathy for his victory and the entire nation could feel his credibility in fighting back the fear when he said:
We have nothing to fear but fear itself.
The story of Franklin Roosevelt is a story of resilience, of determination and of, above all, persistence. A man that they said would never walk again, not only got back up but held the Presidency longer than any man before or since. He led us through our darkest economic and world crisis to save both democracy and capitalism.
His example is an inspiration. Whatever you may think of his politics, his rise after the fall was as stunning as any in American life, making him a true Profile in Persistence.