Today is the anniversary of the death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. My mother, who was born in 1929, remembered the day vividly her whole life. “He was the only President I knew,” she recalled. “When someone said ‘The President,’ it meant him. It has only meant him.” In his war memoirs, Churchill wrote: “When I received these tidings early in the morning of Friday, the 13th, I felt as if I had been struck a physical blow.” Churchill had equally recalled their first meeting: “Meeting Franklin Roosevelt was like opening your first bottle of champagne; knowing him was like drinking it.”
Historians are frequently called upon to list our nation’s greatest chief executives, and Roosevelt always shares top honors with Lincoln. Both redefined the social contract between the government and the governed in ways that continue to shape our nation for the better. Lincoln rescued it from the scourge of slavery and armed insurrection. Roosevelt saved it from the hopelessness of the Great Depression and the threat of fascism.