They made presidency a titanic figure in the eyes of the world

A POINT OF AWARENESS - Preciosa S. Soliven () - June 24, 2010 - 12:00am

(Part 3 of a series on US Presidents)

“The American people desire, and are determined to work for, a world in which all nations and all peoples are free to govern themselves as they see fit and to achieve a decent and satisfying life…” (Harry S. Truman’s Inaugural Address delivered January 20, 1949)

President Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) initiated  the ‘League of Nations’

Born in Staunton, Virginia, Woodrow Wilson graduated from Princeton, New Jersey and studied law in the University of Virginia. He became a political science teacher in several prestigious universities and eventually became president of Princeton University.

In 1913, he became the 28th US president calling his domestic agenda the “New Freedom”. He established the Federal Trade Commission which created a system of regional federal banks. (HW Brand, Woodrow Wilson)

He tried to keep America out of World War I, which started in 1914. By 1917, when his second term began, Germany threatened to attack American ships. He requested Congress to declare war. His enduring theme was “the world must be made safe for democracy”.

Reluctantly, but confidently, he led the American forces into war in 1917 never losing sight of peace as his ultimate objective. He was a leader in the negotiations to end the war with the Treaty of Versailles. Crowds in Paris, London and Rome welcomed him as the “savior of the west.” (Thomas Knock, To End All War)

With peace secured, Wilson campaigned passionately for the creation of the League of Nations, which he hoped would avert future world conflicts. For this he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919. But, at home, Senator Cabot Lodge led the Republican opposition and the League of Nation was not ratified. “They have shamed us before the world.” In spite of this, Wilson went cross country getting public support. (Northon Keller, Professor Emeritus of History, Brandeis University)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1945) guided the nation through 3 depressions

Four times the Americans went to the polls and elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt as US President. An inspirational and controversial leader, he steered Americans through the dark, troubled days of the Great Depression and World War II. His famous words still ring today, “The only thing to fear is fear itself.”

Although he grew up in the luxurious family home in Hyde Park, New York, as the 32nd US president, he became known as “champion of the poor and downtrodden”. FDR, cousin of Theodore Roosevelt (26th US President), was a Harvard graduate and former Assistant Secretary of the Navy and Governor of New York. His presidential campaign promise was the “New Deal”, to create jobs for the unemployed, to regulate banking and housing, to extend electric power to rural areas, and to stimulate business. The Civilian Conservation Corps employed 500,000 young men in reforestation projects. The Social Security Act of 1935 was set up to provide financial aid for the elderly and the disabled.

His wife, Eleanor was an indispensable support. When FDR was stricken with polio, she found confidence and strength to fight her mother-in-law’s wishes that Franklin retire from public life and urged him to remain active. With her help and guidance, Franklin did continue all the way to the White House. Taking her obligation to help the nation’s less fortunate as a sacred duty, she could be found in a soup kitchen, an inner city neighborhood, or a civil rights protest. She was 21, a social worker, when Franklin married her. After her husband’s death, she chaired the UN Commission on Human Rights.

When World War II began in Europe in 1939, Roosevelt supported Britain and France, but remained neutral until the Japanese bombed the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in 1941, which he described as “a day of infamy”. Once in the war, Roosevelt mobilized factory production of military arms and equipment. He also played a leading part in creating an alliance with Britain and the Soviet Union. The 1945 Yalta Conference with Churchill and Stalin assured victory in Europe. (Walter Cronkite, Journalist)

President Harry Truman (1945-1953), champion of the Marshall Plan and NATO

Harry S. Truman was the son of a Missouri farmer who won the hearts of the American people with his no nonsense, honest leadership. A high school graduate without money to attend college, Truman spent a decade running the family farm before serving in World War I – rising from Lieutenant to Major, which revealed his skills as a leader.

Upon his return to Missouri, he was twice elected as county judge. Then, Missouri sent him to the US Senate in 1934. After a decade, FDR chose him to be his running mate and both of them won. On April 2, 1945, barely three months as vice president, Roosevelt died and Truman became the 33rd US President.

   A sign on Truman’s desk read, “The buck stops here.” As president, Truman knew he had the last word on major decisions – and the praise and blame that may follow. Rarely has any world leader faced critical choices as those Truman had to make.

In May, the Allied forces won the war in Europe, but the war against Japan continued. Told by his advisors that millions might die if the war continued, Truman agreed to drop two atomic bombs in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Japan surrendered a few days later. Then, Truman had to deal with the Soviet Union, which began testing its own atomic weapons in 1949. The Korean War also began in 1950.

The “Truman Doctrine” declared the US policy to support people around the world in the fight against Communism. With Secretary of State George Marshall, he decreed the Marshall Plan at a cost of $14 billion to rebuild Europe after the devastation of the war. He reinforced this with NATO.

At home, he won his bid for re-election which was a landmark series of 271 speeches in a whistle-stop campaign across the country. He boldly ended racial discrimination in the civil service and the army while averting labor strike and economic downfall. (Zacchary Karabell, “Last Campaign”)

Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961) mastermind of D-Day

Born in Texas, Dwight David Eisenhower grew up in a poor family. He enrolled at West Point at the age of 21 and made the US military his career. At West Point, he showed no signs of the great military leader he would become.

During WWII, Eisenhower rose to prominence becoming Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces and after the success of the Normandy D-Day landing, a five-star general. In 1950, President Truman appointed him supreme commander of the Northern Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a position he held until his nomination for president in 1952.

With Senator Richard M. Nixon as his running mate, he won the 1952 presidential election based on his war records and his strong no-nonsense personality. He won reelection in a second landslide four years later.

He lived up to his campaign promise travelling to Korea to speed up negotiations to end the war. Eisenhower believed that “strength was necessary as a deterrent to war” and he began to build up the American nuclear arsenal.

Ike felt strongly that the US had the right and obligation to protect any country threatened by the spread of Communism. A good-hearted man, he never spoke ill of his opponents and never lost the goodwill of the American people. He retired from public life in 1960 after attending the inauguration of his successor as president, John F. Kennedy. (Larry Bermar, University of California)

FDR’s challenge to a depressed nation

“…I see millions of families trying to live on incomes so meager that the pall of family disaster hangs over them day by day. …I see millions lacking the means to buy products of farm and factory and by their poverty denying work and productiveness to many other millions. …I see one-third a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.

“It is not in despair that I paint you that picture. I paint it for you in hope – because the nation, seeing and understanding the injustice in it, proposes to paint it out. We are determined to make every American citizen the subject of his country’s interest and concern; and we will never regard any faithful, law-abiding group within our borders as superfluous. The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who had too little…” (Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s second Inaugural Address delivered January 20, 1937)

  • Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with