For this question I will split it up into 3 main areas and analyze each separately. Roosevelt’s upbringing, his background and his character. After analyzing each section of his life I will decide if he would have found it easy to understand ordinary Americans. I will start with Roosevelt’s upbringing and in what ways it may have hindered his understanding of ordinary Americans. A main factor in his upbringing was that he was from an upper-class family and so would have lived in luxury. This would have made him believe that most people lived like him and had all the advantages he had.
This belief caused him to lose elections early in his political career. As the Roosevelt family was very rich they had many trips to Europe and stayed in expensive resorts. A lot of time in Roosevelt’s early years were spent in Europe and this meant that he was a long way form ordinary Americans and so making it harder for him to understand them. Roosevelt had a private tutor until he was 14, this meant that it was very unlikely that he left his house much and defiantly would not have socialized with people of other classes. His private tutoring made him very bright and he assumed that everyone was as bright as he was.
This caused problems in his early political career. Once Roosevelt was 14 he went to Groton school in Massachusetts. This school was modeled on the great public schools in England where wealthy young men were educated. Roosevelt now socialized with others of his own class but not with those of lower classes, as Groton was a fee-paying school for only the very rich. This would have made it very difficult for him to associate with those of lower classes. An example would be he would not understand a working class mans constant need for money as he and all of his friends had more than they needed.
In 1900 Roosevelt entered Harvard. Harvard was a University for the elite and even though Roosevelt’s record was undistinguished there he would have been spending all of his time with the cleverest and richest young men in the country. Again in his education he was not associated with the lower classes. I will now look at how Roosevelt’s upbringing helped him. Roosevelt’s family had a tradition of helping the less fortunate. This would have introduced Roosevelt to the realities of what life was like for ordinary Americans, even if this were only for short periods of time or from a distance.
Roosevelt lived in the country when he was very young and so he knew some of the problems faced by people in the country. Later on he moved into the city and so would have known the problems faced by city-dwellers. The combination of the knowledge of both walks of life would have been a great asset. When Roosevelt was being educated at Harvard the headmaster taught him that he had an obligation to the poor. This meant that when he was at home and at school he was always being told to help the poor. Because of this, this belief would have been strongly impressed on him and he would have been unlikely to forget it.
So when he was making his policies he would have incorporated these beliefs and so made him more popular with the general public. From looking at Roosevelt’s upbringing I think it would have helped him understand ordinary Americans. Though he was brought up in an Upper class family in luxury he was told from an early age and through his education that he had to help the poor and less fortunate. This meant he would have spent time with them and so learnt their fears and concerns. I will now evaluate Roosevelt’s background, this includes his time after Harvard and the start of his political career before he became president.
Roosevelt’s father’s cousin was an American President, Theodore Roosevelt. This meant that the Roosevelt family knew a lot of important and rich people as well as many politicians. This meant that Roosevelt would have known them and been influenced by their attitudes, belief and prejudices. Many of these people would not have understood the poor and would not have been helpful in that but they would have helped him to appeal to the poor. Once Roosevelt had finished schooling he lived in New York City and so would have seen a lot of the poorer areas of the city.
New York City had a lot of slums that Roosevelt would have come into contact with even if he lived in the richer part of the city. He saw a lot of the problems of the poor while he was a lawyer. New York had a population of 4 million and of that 1 million were immigrants. Because there were so many immigrants in New York City Roosevelt needed to understand them as well. He backed an Irish immigrant. A Smith, in an election and gained a lot of support because of this. This shows Roosevelt understood them and that his policies were similar to those of the immigrants.
Roosevelt worked as the, assistant Secretary tot the Navy, for Woodrow Wilson during the First World War. While he was working there he was popular with all ranks. This shows that he understood the lower ranks and was able to associate with them. This is also an early indication of his ability to appeal to everyone, regardless of class or in this case rank. Later on, in 1928, Roosevelt became the governor of New York City and so he had more contact with the poor. Also to get elected he must have understood the poor and the immigrants.
Advice form his father’s cousin Theodore would have helped him talk to the people. This advice would have been very helpful as it allowed Roosevelt to talk to people with persuasion and the ability of a president. Roosevelt was struck down by Polio in 1921. This did not stop his political career and showed his great personal strength. This inspired people who were in similar positions to him. This also made it easier for him to understand the economic despair which affected all Americans after the wall street crash in 1929 and many Americans were desperately poor even before this.
Roosevelt’s ability to carry on with his political career after having Polio made people think that they could keep going without money. Roosevelt wife Eleanor Roosevelt supported him when he had Polio and she acted as his eyes and ears for meetings he couldn’t get to. She had a great influence on him and she worked very hard to help the poor and this attitude would have had an impression on Roosevelt. As she spent a lot of time helping the poor and so would have understood them. She would then have told their problems to her husband and he would have been able to create policies that helped them.
From looking at Roosevelt’s background I think that it helped him greatly in his understanding of the ordinary Americans. He was popular wherever he worked and with all classes and this was a great asset. I will now look at Roosevelt’s character to see if it helped his understanding of Ordinary Americans who were of a lower class to him. As Roosevelt was educated at Harvard and other expensive fee-paying schools he would have had Upper class mannerisms and used Upper class etiquette.
This would not have helped Roosevelt’s understanding of ordinary Americans as they would have not acted like him and would have felt alienated from him. He also presumed that ordinary Americans were as cleaver as him and so made some mistakes in his early political career. This caused him to lose some early election campaigns but he quickly learned what he was doing wrong and changed his tactics, which made him more popular. When Roosevelt was young he had a very open character and this made it easy for him to make friends and talk to people.
He also did not hold any prejudices when he was young and so accepted that some people were worse off but did not believe it was their fault and was willing to help them. Roosevelt was a good listener and this meant that he could easily find out what ordinary Americans wanted because he was willing to listen. He was also very good at talking to people as he demonstrated later on in his ‘fire side chats. ‘ These showed he was able to communicate well with the lower classes. Roosevelt’s wife was also very strong willed and this helped Roosevelt to be more confident and also helped with his understanding of the poor.
Roosevelt instilled confidence in people with his willingness to help and his strength of character. His strong character came from having Polio and his strength to carry on. This was an inspiration to others and showed them that they could carry on their lives with their problems as Roosevelt had with his. Overall I think that Roosevelt’s character, background and upbringing all helped him. Even though he was very different to ordinary Americans in that he had money he was still able to understand them and help them. He very effectively bridged the class divide between him and them.