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FDR and Campobello

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s experiences, and what he learned on Campobello, played a role in shaping a great leader of the United States and of the world.

FDR with Model Boats

FDR and his "Beloved Island"

From 1883, when Franklin was one year old, until he was stricken by polio in 1921, he spent most of his summers on this rugged and beautiful island on Passamaquoddy Bay. Here they sailed, canoed, golfed, hiked, and picnicked in a beautiful and rugged outdoor environment. Time spent pursuing such activities and exploring the outdoors with local fishermen and neighbor friends influenced the young man who was to become President of the United States.

As President, his attitudes and policies toward Canada and toward international cooperation were undoubtedly influenced by personal relationships and close ties with Canadians developed over a period of many summer vacations on Campobello. His natural resource-based policies no doubt reflected in part his great love of Campobello’s rich natural heritage. And his policies toward Native Americans were a reflection of his associations with the Passamaquoddy Indians he came to know and respect at Campobello.

FDR Stricken with Polio

In the 1920 elections, FDR campaigned for the vice-presidency. The Democratic ticket was defeated and Roosevelt took charge, as a vice-president, of the New York office of the Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland. By August 1921, he was looking forward to a good rest at his beloved Campobello Island. During this first extended summer at Campobello in more than a decade, he ran a high fever and his legs suddenly grew weak. "My left leg lagged," he recalled. "Presently it refused to work, and then the other..." At the age of 39, he had contracted infantile paralysis. Eleanor and the five children continued to visit the island during the summers, but convalescence and his involvement in active politics prevented FDR's return. Nearly twelve years passed before he came back to Campobello.

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." - Franklin D. Roosevelt

His Return as President

After four years as Governor of New York (1929-1933), FDR was elected President of the United States. The first 100 days of his Administration were trying for him, and by June 1933, he felt the need for a good vacation. Recalling his happy experiences at Campobello, the President planned a sailing trip to the island. The schooner Amberjack II sailed from Marion, Massachusetts on June 18, with the President at the helm much of the time. His visit was too brief for his satisfaction, as were his subsequent visits on July 29-30, 1936 and August 14-15, 1939. While his visits after the polio attack were few and brief, his love of the island and his long associations with its people left a lasting impression.

The Importance of FDR

Franklin Delano Roosevelt is remembered as a leader of tremendous significance in the history of the United States, the President who led his country through the Great Depression and World War II. Campobello was his "beloved island," a home place during his early years, and is therefore a fitting site to honor his memory.

Running for president against Herbert Hoover in 1932, FDR campaigned vigorously and promised a "new deal for the American people." He was elected in a landslide. In his March 4, 1933, inaugural address, during the worst economic crisis in U.S. history, he said "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Within days, he had saved the nation's financial institutions from collapse through an extended "bank holiday".

Barely a week into office, FDR made the first of his "Fireside Chat" radio broadcasts, which persuasively explained the administration's policies to a vast national radio audience. The New Deal profoundly changed the U.S. by introducing social security and unemployment insurance, price supports for farmers and a minimum wage for workers, insurance for bank deposits and regulation of the stock market. An "alphabet soup" of new government agencies (some of which lasted only a few years) implemented these changes.

The greatest political campaigner of his era, FDR sought and won an unprecedented third term as president in 1940. By the end of the 1930's, much of his attention had shifted from unemployment to German and Japanese military aggression. As war broke out in Europe, FDR worked to overcome American isolationism and provided vital aid to Britain. The subsequent U.S. increase in defense production returned most of the unemployed to work. On Dec. 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese, FDR signed the Congressional declaration of war against Japan. Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S. After Pearl Harbor, he oversaw an industrial and military mobilization that armed the democracies and helped to win the largest war in history. In 1944, his health deteriorating, FDR successfully campaigned for a fourth term as president. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage at Warm Springs on April 12, 1945, just a few weeks before the Allies' victory in Europe. He was 63.