FDR in Rochester en route to a New Deal landslide, October 17th, 1936

FDR in Rochester en route to a New Deal landslide, October 17th, 1936

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.


Sun Oct 18 1936 page 1

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.


Tue Sep 15 1936 page 8


Election of 1936. Blue = Roosevelt; Red = Landon

Roosevelt would win Monroe County by a narrow margin; while its surrounding counties would vote for the Republican Landon.


Democrat and Chronicle, Sun Oct 18 1936 page 17

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.


2016 Democratic primaries. Green = Bernie Sanders; Gold = Hillary Clinton


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!


from The American Political Tradition (1948)

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   

Also see The New Deal is not Dead: Bearing Witness to the Fight for Economic Justice in Rochester


In When President John Quincy Adams visited Rochester on July 27th and 28th, 1843 and toured Mt. Hope Cemetery, the grave of Nathaniel lincolnRochester.

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.dewey-cropped

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 When President Truman campaigned in Rochester en route to his upset win over NY Governor Thomas Dewey, a thruway sign.

In 56 years ago when JFK spoke at the War Memorial. Two days after his debate with Nixon. Nine days after RFK was here., the War Memorial.war-memorial

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.running-for-prz

rfk-lbjIn When Carter stumped Rochester in ’76. And Howard the Duck. it was Howard for Prez.with BrIAN cropped

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.


The New Deal is not Dead: Bearing Witness to the Fight for Economic Justice in Rochester

About The Author


Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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