A careful, always interesting portrait of Franklin Roosevelt’s rise to national power.
Roosevelt, writes Chicago Sun-Times political columnist Neal (Harry and Ike, 2001, etc.), had been preparing himself for a run for the presidency for years, and he was convinced that 1932 would see a turn away from the nation’s 12-year spell of conservative rule. Although he had served as a popular and heavily favored governor of New York, Roosevelt was disliked by the Democratic Party’s leadership, the “Old Guard,” and was thus forced to take his campaign out to the primaries—17 in all, from New Hampshire to California. By the time of the July convention in Chicago, Roosevelt was the frontrunner, with particular strength in the South and West; in those days, it was presumed that the leading contender would descend triumphantly on the convention once invited by acclaim to do so, leaving it to the also-rans to haggle over bits and pieces of the platform. But in 1932, Roosevelt faced a remarkable slate of opponents, among them another New York governor, Al Smith; John Nance Garner, the colorful Speaker of the US House of Representatives; conservative Maryland governor Albert Cabell Ritchie; GE and RCA chairman Owen D. Young; and onetime secretary of war Newton D. Baker, who particularly commanded FDR’s respect (he wrote to a backer, “Newton would make a better President than I would!”). Roosevelt weathered their opposition, as well as that of the party leadership and a cabal of plotters back home, while stumbling to find the winning position on such complicated national issues as Prohibition, which he supported even as, according to a 1932 poll, “73.5 percent of the American public favored repeal.” Not by foregone conclusion, and with plenty of scrapping, FDR did indeed descend triumphantly upon the city—and thence to national prominence.
A study in the William Manchester tradition, particularly welcome in this year of conventions and backroom deals.