The Crosswinds of Freedomby James MacGregor Burns
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The final volume of Burns’s classic history of the American Experiment, from the election of FDR to the final days of the Cold War Crosswinds of Freedom is an articulate and incisive examination of the United States during its rise to become the world’s sole superpower. Here is a young democracy transformed by the Great Depression, the Second World War, the Cold War, the rapid pace of technological change, and the distinct visions of nine presidents. Spanning fifty-six years and touching on many corners of the nation’s complex cultural tapestry, Burns’s work is a remarkable look at the forces that gave rise to the “American Century.”
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The Crosswinds of Freedom
The American Experiment, Vol. 3
By James MacGregor Burns
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1989 James MacGregor Burns
All rights reserved.
The Crisis of Leadership
Slowly gaining speed, the glistening Ford Trimotor bumped across the grassy Albany airfield and nosed up into lowering clouds. It was July 2, 1932. The day before, the Democrats, meeting in Chicago, had nominated Franklin D. Roosevelt for President of the United States. Roosevelt and his family had received the news in their Hyde Park mansion after long hours in front of the radio listening to the bombastic speeches charged with hatred for Hoover Republicans and all their works. At the moment of greatest suspense the Roosevelt forces had gone over the top.
As the plane turned west Roosevelt had a chance to glimpse the Hudson, the river of American politics. With his twinkling pince-nez, his cockily uptilted cigarette holder, his double-breasted suit stretched across his big torso, his cheery, mobile features, he radiated exuberant self-confidence and a beguiling self-esteem as he leafed through a pile of congratulatory telegrams. He had long planned this little stroke of innovative leadership— to accept the nomination in person instead of awaiting a pompous notification weeks later. He was the first presidential candidate to fly; perhaps it was a tonic to this vigorous man, crippled since 1921 by polio, to demonstrate his mobility at the climactic hour. In any event, he could have fun with the press.
"I may go out by submarine to escape being followed by you men," he had twitted the reporters. Or he might ride out on a bicycle built for five. "Papa could sit in front and steer and my four sons could sit behind."
Part of his family was flying with him—his wife, Eleanor, and sons Elliott and John—along with counselor Samuel Rosenman, secretaries "Missy" LeHand and Grace Tully, and two state troopers as bodyguards. The rest of the family and Louis Howe, his longtime political confidant and aide, awaited the plane in Chicago. Eleanor Roosevelt, pressed by reporters, was staying in the background. "One person in politics is sufficient for one family," she had said the night before, while instructing the butler to bring frankfurters for the gathering. "I'll do as I've always done, accompany my husband on his trips and help in any way I can."
The plane pounded on, following the route of the old Erie Canal—the thin artery that had pumped people and goods into Buffalo and points west, and farm produce back to the East. Now an economic blight lay across the land. For a time Roosevelt watched the deceptively lush fields unfold below; then he turned to Rosenman. They had work to do—trimming and polishing the acceptance speech. Over the radio came reports of the restive delegates in Chicago. Some were starting home. The disgruntled men of Tammany, sore over Al Smith's defeat, were planning to be gone before Roosevelt arrived. Convention managers were trying to enliven the delegates with songs and celebrities. On the plane Roosevelt and Rosenman huddled over the speech. It had to galvanize the weary delegates, the whole weary nation.
As buffeting winds pushed the plane far behind schedule, the two men lopped more and more paragraphs off the draft. Roosevelt had no time for the crowds that gathered at the refueling stops in Buffalo and Cleveland. While John was quietly sick in the rear of the plane, his father passed pages of his draft to Elliott and Eleanor, chain-smoked, joked with his family, and slept. When the plane touched down hours later in Chicago, Roosevelt boasted, "I was a good sailor," as he greeted his oldest child, Anna, and sons James and Franklin.
The airport scene was chaotic. Crowds pressed in around the candidate, knocking off his hat and leaving his glasses askew. Campaign manager James Farley pushed through to Roosevelt. "Jim, old pal—put it right there—great work!" Louis Howe was his usual dour self. Climbing into the candidate's car with him, Howe dismissed the Roosevelt and Rosenman draft, which had been telephoned to him the night before. Rosenman, forewarned of Howe's attitude, made his way through the throng to the candidate's car, only to hear Howe saying, as he thrust his own draft into Roosevelt's hand, "I tell you it's all right, Franklin. It's much better than the speech you've got now—and you can read it while you're driving down to the convention hall, and get familiar with it."
"But, Louis," Rosenman heard his boss say, "you know I can't deliver a speech that I've never done any work on myself, and that I've never even read...." When Howe persisted, Roosevelt agreed to look it over. As his car moved through big crowds to the stadium, he lifted his hat and shouted "hellos" left and right, pausing to glance at Howe's prose. Finding Howe's opening paragraphs not radically different from his own draft, he put them on top of it.
Waiting at the Chicago Stadium, amid ankle-deep litter and half-eaten hot dogs, amid posters of FDR and discarded placards of his bested foes, amid the smoke and stink of a people's conclave, were the delegates in all their variety and contrariety—Louisiana populists and Brooklyn pols, California radicals and Mississippi racists, Pittsburgh laborites and Philadelphia lawyers, Boston businessmen and Texas oilmen. The crowd stirred, then erupted in pandemonium, as Roosevelt, resplendent in a blue suit with a red rose, made his way stiffly across the platform on a son's arm, steadied himself at the podium. He looked up at the roaring crowd.
He plunged at once into his theme—leadership, the bankrupt conservative leadership of the Republican party, the ascendant liberal leadership of the "Democracy." After a tribute to the "great indomitable, unquenchable, progressive soul of our Commander-in-Chief, Woodrow Wilson," he declared that he accepted the 1932 party platform "100 per cent."
"As we enter this new battle, let us keep always present with us some of the ideals of the Party: The fact that the Democratic Party by tradition and by the continuing logic of history, past and present, is the bearer of liberalism and of progress, and at the same time of safety to our institutions." The failure of the Republican leadership—he would not attack the Republican party but only the leadership, "day in and day out," he promised—might bring about "unreasoning radicalism."
Roosevelt was speaking in his full, resonant voice. "To meet by reaction that danger of radicalism is to invite disaster. Reaction is no barrier to the radical. It is a challenge, a provocation. The way to meet that danger is to offer a workable program of reconstruction, and the party to offer it is the party with clean hands.
"This, and this only, is a proper protection against blind reaction on the one hand and an improvised, hit-or-miss, irresponsible opportunism on the other."
The candidate then challenged members of both parties: "Here and now I invite those nominal Republicans who find that their conscience cannot be squared with the groping and the failure of their party leaders to join hands with us; here and now, in equal measure, I warn those nominal Democrats who squint at the future with their faces turned toward the past, and who feel no responsibility to the demands of the new time, that they are out of step with their Party." The people wanted a genuine choice, not a choice between two reactionary doctrines. "Ours must be a party of liberal thought, of planned action, of enlightened international outlook, and of the greatest good to the greatest number of our citizens."
Roosevelt then made a series of positive—and prophetic—promises to the Democracy's constituencies: protection for the consumer, self-financing public works for the jobless, safeguarding land and timberland for the farmer, repeal of the Prohibition amendment for the thirsty, jobs for labor, a pared-down government for businessmen. But Roosevelt repeatedly sounded a higher note, especially as he concluded.
"On the farms, in the large metropolitan areas, in the smaller cities and in the villages, millions of our citizens cherish the hope that their old standards of living and of thought have not gone forever. Those millions cannot and shall not hope in vain.
"I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people. Let us all here assembled constitute ourselves prophets of a new order of competence and of courage.
"This is more than a political campaign; it is a call to arms. Give me your help, not to win votes alone, but to win in this crusade to restore America to its own people."
The Divided Legacy
"He had come in an airplane, symbol of the new age, touching the imagination of the people," wrote a reporter. But his roots lay in a horse-and- buggy era that had transmuted relentlessly into the railroad epoch, and then into the age of the automobile. Both in his heritage and in his growth he could say with Walt Whitman that he embraced multitudes.
He was born January 30, 1882, in a mansion high on a bluff overlooking the Hudson. Breast-fed for a year by his mother, Sara, he grew up in a home of enveloping security and tranquility. An only child, he lived among doting parents and nurses, affectionate governesses and tutors, in a house that was warm and spacious though by no means palatial. Outside lay the grounds peopled by gardeners, coachmen, stable boys, farmhands. North and south along the river towered the mansions of the truly wealthy. It was the world of Currier & Ives come to life—sleighing on country rides past farmhouses wreathed in snow, stopping with his father in barnyards filled with horses and dogs, swimming and fishing in the majestic river, digging out of snowstorms—most memorably the great blizzard of 1888.
Occasionally the long mournful whistle of a train passing below carried into the home, but it brought no hint of the hates and fears simmering in the nation's urban and industrial world in the 1880s—no hint of the wants and needs of immigrants pouring by the hundreds of thousands into the city a hundred miles to the south, of the desperate strikes that swept the nation's railroads, of the bone-deep misery of countless southern and western farmers and their wives, of the massacre of workers in Chicago's Haymarket Square. The Roosevelts traveled by rail but never left their protected environment of family carriages, private railroad cars, of ships where there were always, as Sara said, "people one knows." Places they visited teemed with cousins and aunts and friends of their own social class. Nor did young Franklin leave this social cocoon when he departed for Groton, one of the most exclusive schools in the nation, and later for Harvard's "Gold Coast."
It was hardly a life to ignite political ambition or a passionate lust for power, if these result from early material or psychological blows to self-esteem, as Harold D. Lasswell and others have contended. It was easy to understand how Roosevelt's future friends and rivals strove to overcome a sense of insecurity and inferiority in childhood: Winston Churchill, virtually ignored by his socially ambitious mother and by a father slowly going insane from syphilis, cabined and bullied in the cruel and rigid world of Victorian boarding schools; Benito Mussolini, son of a half-socialist, half-anarchist father, a mean-spirited and fiery-tempered youth, expelled from school at the age of ten for stabbing and wounding another boy; Adolf Hitler, orphaned in his teens and cast out into vagrancy; Josef Dzhugashvili, later Stalin, living in the leaky adobe hut of a peasant cobbler in Georgia, a land seared by ancient hatreds.
Yet more subtle and significant psychological forces were molding young Franklin's personality. The Roosevelt and Delano families had been established long enough on the banks of the Hudson to despise the vulgar parvenus who were pushing to power and riches in the boom times of the nineteenth century. But the Roosevelts themselves were parvenus compared with the Schuylers and Van Rensselaers who had been living along the river for a century or more. Sara Roosevelt's father had made his fortune by selling Turkish and Indian opium to Chinese addicts. The comfortably well-off Roosevelts could not ignore the far wealthier families around them; for the rest of his life FDR would show an almost obsessive interest in the homes and trappings of the ostentatious "nouveaux riches," such as the Vanderbilts' baronial mansion a few miles to the north.
Nor could young Franklin escape direct confrontations with the social elite. At Groton he was barred from the inner social and athletic circles; at Harvard he was not tapped by Porcellian, the most exclusive club. He was seared by these rejections far more than he admitted in his breezy, dutiful letters to his parents. Many, including Eleanor Roosevelt, later wondered whether Franklin's rejection by young patricians, most of whom would go into brokerages and banking, led him to "desert his class" and to identify with life's outcasts. Being a Porcellian rejectee hardly catapulted Franklin into the proletariat; yet these class and psychic privations had a part in shaping his later views.
Far more important were the times he lived in—the heyday of turn-of-the-century progressivism, a muckraking press, and Theodore Roosevelt's Square Deal. And always there was the role model, in the other major branch of the Roosevelt family, of "Uncle Ted" himself—the New York City police commissioner, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, seemingly single-handed conqueror of San Juan Hill, and, during Franklin's Harvard years, President of the United States. Even more, there was the President's niece Eleanor Roosevelt.
Much has been made of Eleanor Roosevelt's bleak childhood—of her unloving mother who died when she was eight; of her handsome, dashing, adored father who showered endearments on her but deserted her again and again and then for good, dying of drink when she was ten; of her life as an orphan, neglected by her grandmother, tyrannized by her governess, and frightened by her alcoholic uncles. By her early teens she was a timid, sensitive, awkward child, with a wistful shadowed face and a tall figure usually attired in a shapeless, overly short dress. But this was not the Eleanor Roosevelt whom Franklin courted and married. By her late teens she had become far more at ease and poised in her family relationships, and with her warm and sympathetic manner, her expressive face and soft yet alert eyes, and above all her lively intelligence and quick compassion she had won a host of friends of both sexes. Her metamorphosis was largely the product of caring teachers—especially of the extraordinary Marie Souvestre, headmistress of the school Eleanor attended in England, a sophisticated, sharing, and demanding daughter of the French Enlightenment who drew Eleanor to good literature, foreign cultures and languages, and social radicalism.
The two young Roosevelts who ardently plighted their troth in March 1905 felt very much in rapport, but there were deep potential divisions between them—and within each of them. In her early years Eleanor had developed a compassion for fellow sufferers—for all sufferers—that she was never to lose. She was haunted for months by the tormented face of a ragged man who had tried to snatch a purse from a woman sitting near her. Roosevelt in those years was still moved far more by a patrician concern for people, in the abstract, by noblesse oblige—or by what his mother preferred to call "honneur oblige." Eleanor showed her concern day after day by teaching children at her settlement house. When Franklin once accompanied her to a tenement where one of her charges lay ill, he came out exclaiming, "My God, I didn't know people lived like that!"
Franklin's ambition seemed to soar with the taste of office rather than in advance of it. Unexpectedly a run for the state senate opened up for him; once nominated, he plunged into the struggle with enormous dash and energy, and won. He entered the state senate as a vaguely progressive anti-Tammanyite; in office he led a fight against Tammany and moved so far to the left as to become virtually a "farm-labor" legislator. A Wilsonian in 1912, he gained the post of Assistant Secretary of the Navy without much effort—but once in the job he became the most vigorous and committed navy man since Teddy Roosevelt himself had held the job. Action—and skill in action—spurred further ambition.
Excerpted from The Crosswinds of Freedom by James MacGregor Burns. Copyright © 1989 James MacGregor Burns. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Meet the Author
James MacGregor Burns (1918–2014) was a bestselling American historian and political scientist whose work earned both the National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize. Born in Boston, Burns fell in love with politics and history at an early age. He earned his BA at Williams College, where he returned to teach history and political science after obtaining his PhD at Harvard and serving in World War II. Burns’s two-volume biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt is considered the definitive examination of the politician’s rise to power, and his groundbreaking writing on the subject of political leadership has influenced scholars for decades. Most recently, he served as the Woodrow Wilson Professor of Government Emeritus at Williams College and as Distinguished Leadership Scholar at the University of Maryland.
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