The portrait of a once-famous, now nearly forgotten figure in 20th-century American politics.
Louis Howe (1871–1936) met Franklin Roosevelt in 1911, when Howe was a newspaper reporter and FDR a freshly minted New York state senator. They became fast friends, and Howe proved to be a pivotal figure in Roosevelt’s life and career. Early on he saw FDR’s enormous potential as a leader, and Roosevelt valued his frank and clear-eyed advice. American Heritage contributor Fenster (The Spirit of Invention: The Story of the Thinkers, Creators, and Dreamers Who Formed Our Nation, 2009, etc.) shows how the friendship grew in importance to both men as the years progressed, especially when FDR hit his lowest point in the 1920s. Roosevelt ran as the Democratic vice-presidential nominee in 1920 and lost; the next year, a mysterious illness (later diagnosed as polio) rendered him paralyzed from the waist down. While many considered this a career-ender, including FDR’s mother, Howe refused to give up. He devoted himself to keeping Roosevelt’s political hopes alive by meeting with potential supporters, writing editorials and attending countless meetings and conventions on FDR’s behalf as he recovered over the next two years. Howe’s devotion, Fenster effectively argues, lessened the burden on Roosevelt and helped give him the will to recover and eventually ascend to the presidency. Eleanor, too, grew close to Howe, and he gave her early advice on speechmaking and handling the press that proved invaluable; she later gained a reputation as a confident and dynamic public speaker. Plagued by lifelong poor health, Howe died of respiratory illness in 1936 during FDR’s first term. Never a man given to expressing his emotions, the president was visibly moved at Howe’s funeral, letting out a gasp and struggling to keep his composure as the casket was lowered into the ground.
An insightful look at a complex relationship that has been largely lost to history.