“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” – President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Apart from the Civil War, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt led the United States through its greatest and most challenging period. He was a man of integrity and the true definition of a Freemason. The fact that he became the nation’s longest-serving president – 12 years in office and 4 times elected – is a testament to his political acumen and the confidence he inspired in his compatriots.
When he rose to the highest office in the land, the country was economically crippled, battling to regain its spirit in the darkness of the Great Depression. Guided by the savvy Roosevelt, the groundbreaking social and economic programs of the New Deal passed, creating a new chapter in American history and showing the country that no obstacle was too significant to overcome.
Early Life and Education
Franklin D. Roosevelt was born in Hyde Park, New York, on January 30th, 1882. His parents, James and Sara, both came from wealthy families and brought young Franklin to Europe multiple times during his childhood. He was homeschooled by his parents, learned to speak German and French, and attended school in Germany when he was nine before enrolling in the Groton School in Massachusetts when he was 14. He graduated in 1900 and immediately went to Harvard University, where he earned a B.A. in history. Franklin then studied law at New York’s Columbia University; during this period, he married Eleanor Roosevelt. In 1907, he passed the bar exam and went on to practice law for three years with a prominent New York City law firm.
Fated to Serve
Franklin admired his fifth cousin, President Theodore Roosevelt, and decided to follow his example and, using his knowledge of the law, entered public service as a Democrat. Still, a young man, Roosevelt ran as a Democrat for a seat in the New York Senate in 1910 and won his district, which was traditionally Republican. This victory was an early indicator of the broad support he could muster up from voters.
Franklin was greatly moved by President Teddy Roosevelt, a progressive champion advocating for increased government influence in the economy. Eleanor was also avidly involved in charitable efforts for the poor in New York City. These influences guided Franklin’s platforms throughout his decades of political service. Around this time, he became a Freemason, undoubtedly drawn to the core values of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth, which echoed in his political sentiments.
Shortly after he was elected to the state Senate, Roosevelt was initiated as a Freemason on October 10, 1911, at Holland Lodge, No. 8 in New York City. He was raised a Master Mason six weeks later. An active Mason for many years, Roosevelt petitioned the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite in the Albany Consistory of New York in 1929 and received his 32nd degree the same day. A year later, he became a Shriner in Albany’s Cyrus Temple.
There is no doubt that the tenets of Masonry resided in Roosevelt’s heart, and he avidly pursued any position in the fraternity he could find. In addition to being a Master Mason, a 32nd degree Scottish Rite Freemason, and a Shriner, he was also:
- A member of Greenwood Forest, Tall Cedars of Lebanon in Warwick, New York
- Made a Prophet at Sight in Tri-Po-Bed Grotto, MOVPER (Mystic Order Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm) of Poughkeepsie, New York
- An honorary member of several Masonic lodges, including Architect Lodge, No. 519, New York, where he raised his sons, Franklin, Jr. and James, on November 7, 1935
- Honorary Grand Master of Georgia
- Honorary Grand Master of the Order of DeMolay.
Brother Roosevelt cherished his time in the craft. After initiating his sons in 1935 he said, “To me, the ceremonies of Freemasonry in this state of ours, especially these later ones that I have taken part in, always make me wish that more Americans, in every part of our land, could become connected with our fraternity.”
The Young Leader
Roosevelt began earning national recognition in the Democratic Party when he threw his weight behind Woodrow Wilson during his run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1912. After Wilson was elected president, he appointed Roosevelt Assistant Secretary of the Navy, which suited Roosevelt’s appreciation for the sea. In 1920, Roosevelt won the nomination for vice president under Democratic presidential nominee James M. Cox.
The following year, his life changed dramatically when he endured a bout of poliomyelitis. It nearly paralyzed him completely and forced him into retirement. Eleanor played a vital role in keeping Franklin active in Democratic circles while her husband recovered, speaking across the state and keeping his name at the forefront of the party’s plans. Despite the damage to his body, Roosevelt returned to politics, ultimately running for and earning the position of Governor of New York in 1928, the same year President Herbert Hoover entered the White House.
Among his priorities as Governor, Roosevelt focused on creating policies that benefited the working class and average citizen, including tax relief programs for farmers and lowering the cost of public utilities. His policies were widely popular, earning him a second term but a healthy margin of 725,000 votes in the 1930 election. As the Great Depression ravaged the economy, Governor Roosevelt moved further left, wielding the power of the state government for economic relief. In 1931, he and the state congress established the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration, providing unemployment assistance to New Yorkers.
That Man in the White House
Now enjoying wide popularity in his state, Franklin Roosevelt’s willingness to be aggressive in the face of the Great Depression propelled him to the top of the Democratic party. By 1932, he was the front runner for the presidential nomination. Though he faced some resistance within the party, he ultimately earned the nomination, pledging to create a “new deal for the American people.”
Still mired in the economic downturn, the nation faced electing the newcomer Roosevelt and his ambitious economic proposals or the incumbent Herbert Hoover. The former won in a landslide, and the Republican party was all but ushered out of government. By the time FDR assumed office, many banks had ceased operating. Industrial production was at 56 percent of its 1929 level. At least 13 million people were unemployed while the farming industry was ravaged.
Led by Roosevelt, Congress quickly enacted ambitious programs designed to revive the nation’s economy by putting people back to work and bringing relief to business and agriculture. Corporations and banks resented the power his policies had given to labor unions and that the government had allowed the deficit to grow, but Roosevelt remained popular. He created Social Security, increased taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and instituted massive work relief programs, among other reformation projects.
FDR was re-elected handily in 1936, and his second term was increasingly shaped by the war erupting across Europe. While Roosevelt sought to maintain neutrality in the war, he wanted the United States and its allies to be in the face of attack. After Germany invaded France and the Battle of Britain began in 1940, the U.S. started all manner of aid to Great Britain short of military involvement.
World War II
Despite his best efforts to keep out of the war, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, forcing Roosevelt’s hand. He called for the United States to mobilize its military and for the country’s industrial infrastructure to devote its resources to the war. The president met with fellow Freemason Prime Minister Winston Churchill to create the Atlantic Charter, which proposed the “Four Freedoms” that should be guaranteed in the post-war world: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
Amidst the most significant global crisis, Roosevelt turned his attention to diplomatic efforts. Now in his third term, he worked tirelessly to set the stage for the United Nations and to establish positive relations between the United States and Russia. FDR conducted ‘fireside chats’ over the radio throughout the war, rallying American support for the war effort. In 1944, the Allies had the upper hand in the war, just as Roosevelt’s health rapidly declined. Although he won election to a fourth term in the White House, he would never finish his complete term.
The Fourth and Final Term
On April 12, 1945, in Warm Springs, Georgia, Roosevelt slipped into unconsciousness after suffering a hemorrhage. He died that same day at the age of 63. During his funeral procession in Washington D.C., over 300,000 Americans arrived to honor their fallen president. His death was mourned worldwide, for Franklin Delano Roosevelt had become an icon for diplomacy, progressive politics, and justice.
He had assumed the presidency of a broken and shaken nation, only to rebuild it more robustly than ever. Roosevelt spent more than a decade bringing together the American people before venturing to the world stage as an advocate for peace and international diplomacy. He was in every way a Freemason. Franklin Roosevelt was a man dedicated to lifting up those who needed it most and leaving the world a better place.