President Franklin D. Roosevelt: Psychohistory and Psychological Profile

About the President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a psychoanalysis or psychological profile of his life.



At Hyde Park, Roosevelt enjoyed an unusually happy and secure childhood. He had his own pony at age 4; his own 21' sailboat at age 16. An only child, he called his mother "Sallie" and his father "Popsie" and absorbed all their attention. His father, a wealthy financier and country squire, was 54 when Franklin was born, and naturally he adored the boy. Father and son rode horses, hunted, swam, sailed boats together, and every day they walked into town to get the mail. By the time he went away to school, Franklin was used to being the center of attention, and even with his own wife and children, FDR was always something of the bright, favored child who could do no wrong. He was used to having his own way, and whether it was a mistress, a 3rd term, or a reconstituted Supreme Court, he never questioned his right to get what he wanted. At every level, Roosevelt was filled with confidence that he could personally overcome any obstacle. In a strange way his experience with polio only intensified this sense of personal invulnerability. "If you have spent 2 years in bed trying to wiggle your big toe," he said, "then anything else seems easy." In other words, since he had experienced physical paralysis and gone on to success, he could undertake anything and emerge, in the end, triumphant. As historian Richard Hofstadter has written, the essence of the New Deal was "Roosevelt's confidence that even when he was operating in unfamiliar territory he could do no wrong, commit no serious mistakes." How else can you explain a man who sincerely expected that his own personal charm would be enough to persuade Joseph Stalin to make key postwar concessions? There is a legend, fostered by Roosevelt admirers, that FDR used the years of his convalescence for wide range reading on economic theory, and that out of this intellectual ferment came a new commitment to social change. While this was hardly the case (Roosevelt was never a very serious reader), it does seem probable that his sympathies, as well as his self-confidence, were deepened by his affliction. Once, while lecturing in Akron, Ohio, Eleanor Roosevelt received a cruel written question from a member of the audience: "Do you think your husband's illness has affected his mentality?" Eleanor paused for a moment and then replied: "I am glad that question was asked. The answer is Yes. Anyone who has gone through great suffering is bound to have a greater sympathy and understanding of the problems of mankind." The audience rose in a standing ovation.

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