As the funeral train carrying the casket of Franklin Delano Roosevelt pulled into Washington’s Union Station, a reporter for a local paper approached one mourner and asked, “Why are you here? Did you know the President?” The man raised his moist eyes and muttered, “No, but he knew me.” The truth of this infamous story may never be proven, yet the fact that it seems to crystallize is undeniable: the 32nd President of the United States stands unrivaled in the public support and personal sympathy he elicited from the American people. As his wife Eleanor remarked, “I never realized the true scope of the devotion to him until he died.” Yet Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s roots could not have contrasted more with those of the common men who mourned on the day of his death. The only son of an abundantly affluent family, Franklin enjoyed all the luxuries afforded the upper crust of American society, as well as the intangible benefits – the power and political connections – that such a pedigree confers. Thus, Franklin was a President of paradoxes – elite yet common, capable yet crippled, gregarious yet guarded; he was “A Traitor to His Class” according to the title of one biography, “The Lion and the Fox” according to another.
As a result, to understand the psychology of Roosevelt, it is essential to first explicate the many contradictions that defined his personal and political lives. For while these inconsistencies each seem to fall into that wide gap separating private existence from public image, they nevertheless represent the defining factors of Roosevelt’s personality, character, and psyche. For the purpose of my analysis, I will examine the full history of Roosevelt – from fortunate son to fickle family man, from callow lawyer to poised President – in order to illuminate the specific psychological motivations that defined his life. Moreover, I will graft Roosevelt’s biography onto the theoretical framework formulated by Stanley A. Renshon, illuminating the specific ways in which Roosevelt’s psychology may be more starkly revealed through Renshon’s conceptual model of leadership psychology. Through this exercise, I aim to explain both the what and why of Roosevelt’s actions, ultimately revealing the who, the obscured psychological profile, that exists beneath the man so many have missed and memorialized since his funeral car first pulled into Union Station.
The opening paragraphs of ‘FDR: President of Paradoxes’ — an essay I’ve just finished for my graduate program in American Government.
For this essay, I read several biographies of Roosevelt to draw a psychological profile of the man as a son, father, friend, and leader. Like the title of the essay indicates, my approach stressed the contradictions of Roosevelt’s life — the vast number of conflicts, inconsistencies, and even hypocrisies which defined the personality and work of one of our most beloved Presidents. I may post or try to publish the full essay in the near future.
The damage done, my desk: