Roosevelt served longer than any other president and held office during two great crises: the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II (1939-1945). Roosevelt was born in Hyde Park, New York. In 1899 he entered Harvard College, earning his bachelor’s degree in 1903. In 1904 Roosevelt moved to New York City, where he entered the Columbia University Law School. While at Columbia, Roosevelt married his distant cousin Eleanor Roosevelt. Although he attended classes until 1907, he did not stay on for his law degree after passing the state examinations allowing him to practice law. For the next three years he was a clerk in a prominent law firm in New York City.
In 1910 Roosevelt was elected to the New York State Senate, becoming only the second Democrat to represent his district since the emergence of the Republican Party in 1856. After Woodrow Wilson became president in 1912, he named Roosevelt assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy under Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels. In 1921 Roosevelt contracted poliomyelitis. In great agony and completely unable to walk, he seemed to have reached the end of his active public career. However, backed by his wife Eleanor and Louis Howe, Roosevelt returned to work, although he was never again able to walk unaided and he spent most of his working hours in a wheelchair.
In 1922 Roosevelt aided Alfred E. Smith in his successful campaign to become governor of New York. At Smith’s urging, Roosevelt ran for governor of New York in 1928. When Roosevelt became president in 1933, the Great Depression was at its worst. Sixteen million or more people were unemployed, and the American banking system had collapsed. Roosevelt brought a new style to the U.S. presidency. He stressed that the conquest of the depression was above politics, and he frequently turned for help to people not previously identified with the Democratic Party.
Despite some political opposition from both the left and the right, Roosevelt received more than 60 percent of the popular vote in the 1936 presidential election and won all but two states. Following his reelection in 1940, President Roosevelt continued building up U.S. defenses while assisting those countries resisting Germany, Italy, and their ally Japan. On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The United States declared war on Japan, and subsequently on Germany and Italy.
Roosevelt was elected to a fourth term as president in 1944, defeating the Republican candidate, Governor Thomas Dewey of New York. On April 12, 1945, he died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage.