The Unfinished Portrait is a watercolor of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt by Elizabeth Shoumatoff. Shoumatoff was commissioned to paint a portrait of President Roosevelt and started her work around noon on April 12, 1945. At lunch, Roosevelt complained of a headache and subsequently collapsed. The President, who had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage (stroke), died later that day. Shoumatoff never finished the portrait, but she later painted a new, largely identical one, based on memory. The Unfinished Portrait hangs at Roosevelt’s retreat, Little White House, in Warm Springs, Georgia, and its finished counterpart beside it. [gift of Jeanne Jackson to Carol Kramer]
In keeping with our Presidential visits to Rochester series (BELOW), on October 17th, 1936, FDR drove downtown to crowds exceeding 65,000.
In 1936, Roosevelt won the largest electoral landslide victory in American history, 523 – 6 (61% to 37% popular vote). Although Landon visited Rochester on September 15th, 1936, he was considered an ineffective campaigner who rarely traveled. With the national outcome little in doubt by October 17th, Roosevelt devoted much of his speech to promoting the re-election of NY Governor Lehman who had followed Roosevelt as Governor when FDR won his first presidential term in 1932.
Roosevelt would win Monroe County by a narrow margin; while its surrounding counties would vote for the Republican Landon.
Within the context of the election of the 2016 campaign, the election of 1936 is notable for the leftward turn of the Democratic Party. In the summer of 1935, Roosevelt embarked on what historians call the “2nd New Deal.”
In 1935, Social Security began, the Wagner (or National Labor Relations) Act was passed and the Works Progress Administration was formed. The election was in many ways a referendum on the 2nd New Deal, and the result was 523 – 6.
Despite is overall popularity, the New Deal faced strong opposition. On the the same day the D & C reported on Roosevelt’s visit, it printed a letter by one of his detractors, echoing a common theme: Roosevelt was instigating class warfare.
To degrees, the current campaign also saw a leftward turn in the Democratic Party. A self-described democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders won 23 contests.
And, as described by Peter Cole, Professor of History at Western Illinois University, in Should Hillary move left? A historian explains how FDR did in 1936 — and won in a landslide, Sanders repeatedly invoked the legacy of FDR and the New Deal.
In Would America elect a democratic socialist? We already have. Think FDR, Mary Lupien, a Sanders delegate and now candidate for Rochester City Council, discussed similarities between Sander’ democratic socialism and FDR’s popular New Deal policies:
If you want to know what Democratic Socialism is, think FDR. Thelast time we had a democratic socialist president, they had to enact term limits because the American people elected him to office 4 times!
Sanders’ success in the primaries — and the leftward turn in the Democrat Party he embodies — opens up one of those tantalizing political parlor game questions. What if Sanders were the Democrat nominee, the beneficiary of Trump’s seeming implosion? Would Sanders be winning over Trumps’ working class supporters? Imagine one of Sanders’ slogans, A Political Revolution Is Coming going head to head with Make America Great Again.
In Franklin D. Roosevelt: The Patrician as Opportunist,” from The American Political Tradition (1948), Richard Hofstadter looks at FDR’s enormous success during the 1936 campaign.
As Hofstadter reminds us, 4 years earlier Roosevelt did not envision the New Deal as a leftward turn. Hofstadter notes that “Roosevelt’s 1932 campaign utterances indicate the New Deal had not yet taken form in his mind.”
According to Hofstadter, Roosevelt was by temperament more centrist than radical. As the New Deal unfolded Roosevelt’s alliance with the harder left “had not been planned; it had not even grown; it had erupted.” By 1935, Roosevelt had been “baited and frustrated by the right” and “die hard conservatives.” At the same time, the “organized and enheartened” left had adopted Roosevelt. As Hoftstadter says, it was at this point around 1935 — rejected by the right and adopted by the left — that Roosevelt’s “ego was enlisted along with his sympathies in behalf of the popular point of view.”
And the result of the merging of ego and sympathies was magnetic. As Hofstadter says:
It was doubtful, even in Andrew Jackson’s day, there had ever been such a close communion between a president and the great masses of the people as in the 1936 campaign.
’36 was more a love fest than a campaign. A little like what Bernie inspired 80 years later in the spring of ’16.
NOTE: Roosevelt’s detractors saw in him a dictatorial centralization of power. In a historical irony, in 1936 Josef Stalin campaigned during the USSR’s first national elections. Stalin outdid Roosevelt by winning over 99% of the vote. See “I would sooner vote for Josef Stalin,” Max Boot “I foresee very lively election campaigns,” Josef Stalin, 1936
In When President John Quincy Adams visited Rochester on July 27th and 28th, 1843 and toured Mt. Hope Cemetery, the grave of Nathaniel Rochester.
In On Abraham Lincoln in Rochester from Michael Nighan, a plaque and a train station.
In Memorial Day, 1892, when President Benjamin Harrison dedicated the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Monument in Washington Square Park with Frederick Douglass. And Occupy Rochester, Benjamin Harrison, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass in the same park Occupy would occupy.
In FDR’s first visit to Rochester as a national candidate, September 23rd, 1920. And the League of Nations., Rachel in Washington Square Park.
In LBJ and RFK in Rochester, October 15th,1964, plaques on the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Walk.
In 45 years ago when President Nixon visited Rochester. And 3 days later when East High School erupted in racial violence a media briefing at the Landmark Hotel in Pittsford.
In When Carter stumped Rochester in ’76. And Howard the Duck. it was Howard for Prez.
In 27 years ago today when President George H. W. Bush visited Wilson Magnet High School, a signed chalkboard.
In 5 Meliora Weekends ago when President Clinton spoke , it was Great Books with President Seligman.
In A seat at the President’s table three years later, soup and a grilled cheese sandwich at Magnolia’s.