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Roosevelt: The Party Leader, 1932-1945

Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    FDR -- the wily political opportunist glowing with charismatic charm, a leader venerated and hated with equal vigor -- such is one common notion of a president elected to an unprecedented four terms. But in this first comprehensive study of Roosevelt's leadership of the Democratic party, Sean Savage reveals a different man. He contends that, far from being a mere opportunist, Roosevelt brought to the party a conscious agenda, a longterm strategy of creating a liberal Democracy that would be an enduring majority force in American politics.

    The roots of Roosevelt's plan for the party ran back to his experiences with New York politics in the 1920s. It was here, Savage argues, that Roosevelt first began to perceive that a pluralistic voting base and a liberal philosophy offered the best way for Democrats to contend with the established Republican organization. With the collapse of the economy in 1929 and the discrediting of Republican fiscal policy, Roosevelt was ready to carry his views to the national scene when elected president in 1932.

    Through his analysis of the New Deal, Savage shows how Roosevelt made use of these programs to develop a policy agenda for the Democratic party, to establish a liberal ideology, and, most important, to create a coalition of interest groups and voting blocs that would continue to sustain the party long after his death. A significant aspect of Roosevelt's leadership was his reform of the Democratic National Committee, which was designed to make the party's organization more open and participatory in setting electoral platforms and in raising financial support.

    Savage's exploration of Roosevelt's party leadership offers a new perspective on the New Deal era and on one of America's great presidents that will be valuable for historians and political scientists alike.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5704-7
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: The Master Party-Builder
    (pp. 1-3)

    Much has been written about the life and presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. His biographers include such distinguished historians and political scientists as James MacGregor Burns, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., William E. Leuchtenburg, and Frank Freidel. Roosevelt is generally praised by scholars for his inspiring and successful leadership during the major crises of the Depression and World War II. He is also widely perceived as the founder of the modern presidency characterized by its elaborate bureaucracy devoted to serving presidential leadership, high public expectations of presidential performance, and constant media attention to presidential behavior.

    Despite extensive research and publishing about...

  5. 1 The Development of a Party-Building Strategy
    (pp. 4-16)

    From 1921 until 1928, Franklin D. Roosevelt devoted most of his political efforts toward improving the ideology, structure, finances, and voter appeal of the Democratic party. Despite the Republican landslide of 1920, he was confident that the Democratic party could become the majority party in national politics if it developed a coherent ideology and specific policy proposals that addressed the economic problems confronted by ordinary Americans.¹

    The Party, he believed, should clearly distinguish itself from the Republicans and offer the voters a clear choice. As the 1920s progressed, he became even more convinced that his party would chronically lose presidential...

  6. 2 The New Deal: A Foundation for Party-Building
    (pp. 17-47)

    As part of his party-building strategy, Franklin D. Roosevelt hoped that by addressing the diverse economic interests and grievances of both rural and urban voters, the New Deal policy agenda would expand and unite the Democratic party, transforming it into the enduring majority party in national politics. His assumption that the New Deal would be a consensual, inclusive means for party-building appeared to be correct during his first term and first re-election campaign. After 1936, however, additional New Deal policy initiatives divided the Party, especially in Congress, as northern urban Democrats proved to be more supportive of a liberal, interventionist...

  7. 3 Roosevelt and the Machine Bosses
    (pp. 48-79)

    One of the ironies of Roosevelt’s expansion and liberal reformation of the Democratic party is that many political machines not only survived but even thrived during the New Deal era. How could his leadership inspire and induce the development of a more humane economy and society if corrupt, even anti-democratic, machines were bolstered by federal funds, patronage, and programs? He had, after all, based his first political campaign on the issue of bossism, presenting himself to the voters of Dutchess County as an idealistic crusader opposed to machine politics in both parties. Following his opposition to the Tammany Hall sponsored...

  8. 4 Roosevelt and the Democratic National Committee
    (pp. 80-102)

    As a private citizen during the 1920s, Roosevelt worried that the Democratic party would remain a chronically weak, minority party unless it clearly distinguished itself as a liberal organization and improved its appeal among voters dissatisfied with Republican policies. He suggested the Party address economic grievances and interests ignored or damaged by Republican policies and recognized the importance of building Party organizations that could influence the selection of delegates for conventions, the choice of party nominations, and the formulation of policy platforms. Believing that the masses of Democratic activists were more liberal than the wealthy elites who dominated the DNC,...

  9. 5 The Formation of an Electoral Coalition: 1932-1936
    (pp. 103-128)

    Although the Depression began earlier than he had assumed it would, Roosevelt had originally planned to run for president in 1936 because he believed that a depression would begin by the early 1930s.¹ He and Louis M. Howe, his chief political operative, realized, however, that the widespread economic suffering and anti-Hoover sentiment that emerged after 1929 would assure the victory of almost any Democratic presidential nominee in 1932.² The Party, though, needed a nominee who could appeal to and unite its diverse, conflicting interest groups and voting blocs. Throughout the 1920s, Roosevelt had been carefully positioning himself so that he...

  10. 6 The Purge Campaigns of 1938
    (pp. 129-158)

    Roosevelt’s relentless yet unsuccessful effort to persuade the Democrats in Congress to pass the court reform bill early in 1937 permanently weakened his ability to convince the Democratic Congress to pass further domestic policy proposals from the White House.¹ The bitter intraparty struggles over the failed court reform bill and the close election of Alben Barkley, a New Deal populist, as Senate majority leader over Pat Harrison, a southern conservative, accelerated the bifurcation between northern liberals and southern conservatives.² These intraparty conflicts also made conservative Democrats more openly hostile to Roosevelt’s party leadership and more likely to cooperate with the...

  11. 7 The Struggle to Maintain a Liberal Party: 1940-1944
    (pp. 159-182)

    The Democratic party that emerged in 1940 to renominate and re-elect Roosevelt to an unprecedented third term reflected the political changes that had occurred since 1936. The intraparty discord wrought by the policy conflicts of the 75th Congress, the 1938 purge, and Farley’s alienation made conservative Democrats increasingly rebellious toward Roosevelt’s Party leadership. The Republican resurgence in the 1938 congressional elections revealed the return of many non-southern WASPs to the Republican party.¹ Consequently, Roosevelt could not expect to receive the large number of votes from disaffected Republicans and independents that he had received in 1932 and 1936.² This was especially...

  12. Epilogue: FDR’s Legacy in the Democratic Party
    (pp. 183-187)

    The Democratic party’s electoral success and general direction on ideological and policy matters after Roosevelt’s death in 1945 would reveal whether he had built an enduring electoral base and ideological-policy identity for the Party or if he had merely attracted a personal following that would disintegrate shortly after his death. Critics of Roosevelt’s Party leadership, both Republicans and conservative Democrats, would dismiss his four elections to the presidency as merely being the result of the back-to-back crises of the Great Depression and World War II or the “purchase” of votes from economically desperate Americans through the “bribery” of New Deal...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 188-225)
  14. Index
    (pp. 226-234)