For most liberals, Franklin Delano Roosevelt is an enduring figure of salvation who somehow managed to simultaneously lift the United States out of the Great Depression, establish the modern welfare state, and defeat the intolerant Nazi bigots of Germany. The mere suggestion of criticism for their god-like hero is thus quickly dismissed as the byproduct of libertarian or conservative political frustration over the seemingly obvious triumph of the left-wing’s will.
There is another side to Hyde Park’s prince, however. Behind the glamorous façade of history lies a figure who used the presidency to repeatedly assault the principle of limited government, steal from law-abiding citizens, eradicate basic civil rights, and strengthen a genocidal dictatorship in Russia.
1. He tried to hijack the Supreme Court
After the Supreme Court struck down major parts of the New Deal in the late 1930s, FDR concocted a scheme to eliminate any further opposition to his domestic agenda by appointing an additional six justices to the nation’s highest court. Although the move had historical precedent, FDR acted with purely political motives in hopes of neutralizing any threat the judicial branch could pose to legislation birthed in the Democrat-controlled House and Senate.
His plan proved so controversial that, according to Burt Solomon in FDR v. The Constitution, even the reliably liberal Justice Louis Brandeis called the idea “a great mistake.” Chief Justice Charles Evan Hughes said it would “destroy the Court as an institution”. Thankfully, the Senate narrowly defeated the proposed legislation, but not before FDR had displayed his complete disrespect for the founding American principle of divided powers among the three federal branches.
2. He confiscated all gold owned by American citizens
As part of his plot to end the Great Depression, FDR issued a decree in April 1933 criminalizing the possession of gold by any individual, partnership, association, or corporation. Those who owned gold were directed to turn it in to a branch of the Federal Reserve System or face a $10,000 fine, up to ten years in prison, or a combination of both penalties. Anyone found to be resisting the policy was branded by the president a ”gold hoarder” and prosecuted by federal authorities after having their treasure seized by law enforcement officials. FDR’s fanatical move caused the citizenry to lose a tremendous amount of wealth to the government and would not be fully reversed until the administration of Gerald Ford in 1974.
3. He abolished civil rights for Japanese-Americans
Following Imperial Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, FDR effectively waived the civil liberties of 110,000 Japanese-Americans through Executive Order 9066 and interned them in concentration camps on suspicion of collusion with America’s enemies. Conditions in the camps were terrible, with overcrowding, poor sanitation systems, and few available medical services the norm. Many prisoners lost their property and possessions whilst serving in the camps, as the government storage facilities meant to safeguard them were riddled with corrupt officials who auctioned off or took the goods for themselves. In 1944, Justice Owen Roberts of the Supreme Court wrote in a legal dissent that the government’s treatment of American citizens was clearly unconstitutional, and to argue otherwise was to be blind to reality.
4. He was a racist and promoted policies that hurt African-Americans
FDR is typically presented by progressives and liberals as a hero for civil rights, but in reality his personal views and policies were fiercely detrimental to racial minorities.
The New Deal’s promulgation of minimum wage laws cost the jobs of an estimated 500,000 blacks in the South, while the introduction of compulsory labor union membership for workers in major industries damaged the employment prospects of others, because entrance into these associations was often denied on the basis of skin color.
Even more explicitly, in a conversation with Winston Churchill (documented by historian Geoffrey Ward in A First-Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt) regarding the use of military bases in the Caribbean, he said: “Those places are inhabited by some 8 million dark-skinned gentlemen and I don’t want them coming to the United States and adding to the problem we already have with our 13 million black men. I tell you, Winston, it’s just a headache and you can keep it”
And before this, following the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, FDR invited all the white American athletes to a personal audience with him, but failed to include Jesse Owens, the black runner who carried home four gold medals for his country. At no time throughout the remainder of his presidency did Roosevelt correct this blunder, leaving Owens to be honored formally by President Eisenhower years later. Ironically, Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler was present at the games and offered Owens a cordial wave, doing more than FDR ever did.
5. He gave Eastern Europe to the Soviets
Unbeknownst to many Americans, FDR played a crucial role in permitting Soviet dominance over Eastern Europe. At the Yalta Conference in February 1945, he agreed to accept Soviet control over the region in a ploy to hasten the conclusion of war on the continent. He approved the accord based on his belief that Joseph Stalin – a man he considered “truly representative of the heart and soul of Russia” – would not renege on the Soviet commitment to hold democratic elections in the East after Germany was defeated. Stalin of course lied, and Eastern Europe was subjected to Soviet administration and oppression. FDR also went along with a plan formulated at the meeting that would forcefully repatriate millions of interned Soviet soldiers and anti-communists from Allied-occupied Europe to the Soviet Union. Upon returning, countless were imprisoned or executed as traitors by Stalin’s regime.
In addition, FDR and his advisers shot down an idea favored by Winston Churchill to form a united front against the Soviets in order to keep Europe free from communist influence. While some skeptics might challenge this last point by bringing up the likely cost in American casualties of such a move, the Soviet Union had already demonstrated an epic disregard for human life, and FDR’s concession helped shore up the global apparatus of destruction that would characterize the communist state until its collapse in 1991.
He graduated from the University of Virginia in 2014.
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