President Franklin D. Roosevelt: Political Career and Road to the White House

About the political career of President Franklin D. Roosevelt as he moves towards the White House despite his paralysis.


On the Way to the White House: In the 1920s, FDR set out with unshakable confidence to prove to himself and his family that he need not live as an invalid. He worked tirelessly at a series of special exercises for his paralyzed legs, traveled to Georgia for water therapy, and accustomed himself to wheelchairs, or to crawling on his hands from room to room. Eventually, his condition improved enough so that he was able to "walk," using a cane, 8-lb. leg braces, and the supporting arm of one of his sons. This was an important triumph for FDR, because it allowed him to resume his political career: He could take the necessary steps from his chair to a speaker's platform, then lock his braces and hold the podium for support. At the 1924 Democratic convention, Roosevelt's appearance electrified the delegates, as he made a stirring speech nominating Al Smith for President. It seemed that FDR's handicap only served to increase his political appeal. As historian Paul Conkin has written: "Polio made the aristocratic Roosevelt into an underdog. For him it replaced the log cabin." In 1928, when Al Smith finally won the Democratic presidential nomination, he asked Roosevelt to run for governor of New York in order to lend strength to the ticket. Smith assured the hesitant FDR that the duties of the governorship need not interfere with continued therapy for his legs. "Don't hand me that baloney!" laughed Roosevelt, but he decided to make the race anyway. In the campaign that followed, Smith lost the State to Hoover by 100,000 votes, but the popular Roosevelt was elected governor by a narrow margin. With the coming of the Depression, Roosevelt used his office to win relief for the hungry and unemployed in his State. In 1930, he ran for reelection as governor and won by the biggest margin in the history of New York State up to that time. Despite lingering doubts concerning his physical incapacity, he automatically emerged as a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1932.

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