1945 April 12

President Franklin D. Roosevelt Dies at Warm Springs, Georgia

 

The death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt brought to an end one of the most important eras in American life, a period in which the role of the federal government was enormously expanded, extending into virtually every area of American society.In terms of civil liberties, Roosevelt’s record was very mixed.

On the positive side, his appointments to the Supreme Court resulted in the first substantial body of civil liberties law in American history (and the Court from 1937 to 1945 is often referred to as the “Roosevelt Court”). His attorney general Frank Murphy created the Civil Liberties Unit, forerunner of today’s Civil Rights Division in the Justice Department on February 2, 1939 (although there is no evidence that FDR played any role). FDR’s Four Freedoms Speech, on January 6, 1941, was arguably the most inspiring affirmation of free speech and freedom of worship by any president up until that time.

On the negative side, however, he authorized the evacuation and internment of the Japanese Americans during World War II, on February 19, 1942, arguably the greatest civil liberties tragedy in American history. And on August 24, 1936 he authorized FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to resume political spying, which Attorney General Harlan Fiske Stone had ended in 1924.

Visit the Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park, NY: http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/

On Roosevelt and Civil Liberties, read: Samuel Walker, Presidents and Civil Liberties from Wilson to Obama (2012)

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