Our Greatest President (FDR and the Creation of Modern America): An Intensive Seminar
He was our longest-serving president and also our best. Washington set precedents. Lincoln preserved the union. But only Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to the nation’s highest office four times. Only Roosevelt faced an economic crisis so severe it remains our benchmark today for calamity. Only Roosevelt saw a world on the brink of tyranny, knowing that his leadership was all that stood between isolationism and war, yet simultaneously a new democratic age versus an age of totalitarian darkness. So well-known to subsequent generations, he is easily recalled just by his initials, FDR. He kept secrets: secret love affairs, secret dealings with allies, and the biggest secret of all hidden in plain sight, the paralysis that kept him largely wheel-chair bound. The solutions he made public nonetheless forged the country, and in large part the world, we live in today.
He is the father of the modern welfare state, the progenitor of our modern unrivaled military, and more than any other, creator of the international rules of the road in place since 1945. For his generation and for many yet to come, he defined how Americans understood their place in the world, their government’s role in their lives, and the very nature of freedom itself. Our longest-serving president, he was also our finest, ultimately saving American democracy from depression, defeat, and disillusionment.
Jeffrey Engel / Southern Methodist University
Jeffrey Engel is founding director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. He has taught at Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, Haverford College, and taught history and public policy at Texas A&M University. He has authored or edited eight books on American foreign policy, most recently, “When the World Seemed New: George H.Bush and the Surprisingly Peaceful End of the Cold War.”