A FIRST CLASS TEMPERAMENT: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt by Geoffrey C. Ward

A FIRST CLASS TEMPERAMENT: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt

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A microcosmic review of FDR's emergent years--1905 to 1921--by the author of Before the Trumpet: Young Franklin Roosevelt 1882-1905 (1985). Ward does an unusually thorough job here of intermingling Roosevelt's personal life with his burgeoning career. Thus, he begins with Franklin's and Eleanor's honeymoon, as the shadowy presence of FDR's mother, Sara, already began to cast a pall over Eleanor. Franklin's bubbly, overactive personality and his propensity to do anything he wanted are juxtaposed with Eleanor's ladylike reserve and repressed nature. Unlike many other Roosevelt biographers, Ward is content to let the record speak for itself, detailing FDR's more devious traits as well as his deeds of courage (such as his seven-year struggle to recover from the infantile paralysis that struck just as his career was taking off) and his complexity: while undertaking to become a member of the legal profession, he was yet ""always impatient with abstractions and uninterested in the law on its own terms."" As a member of the New York State legislature, FDR took up the cudgel against Billy Sheehan, a Tammany Hall candidate, and consequently fell out of favor with Democratic Party regulars. But he went on, spurred by his cousin Teddy's career and considering himself, by virtue of his name, the true heir to Teddy's power, even if their party allegiances were different. When he finally connected with the reformist Woodrow Wilson, he took his position as Assistant Secretary of the Navy (the same position held by TR)as open season to run the department over the wishes of the nominal head, Josephus Daniels. Yet he strangely refused to support reformist legislation meant to correct the situation that had caused the infamous Triangle Fire (although while running for President, he sanctioned an article in the Saturday Evening Post that portrayed him as a central figure in the legislation's passage). Overall, Ward's view echoes the words spoken by the 92-year-old Oliver Wendell Holmes after holding court with FDR before his first inaugural: ""A second-class intellect. But a first-class temperament."" And a first-class job by Ward of illuminating that temperament here.

Pub Date: Aug. 30th, 1989
Publisher: Harper & Row