My interest in the presidency is rooted in the experience of having known one president, Lyndon Johnson, when I was only 24 years old. He still remains the most fascinating, formidable, frustrating individual I think I have ever known.
I was lucky enough to work with him as a White House fellow in the last year of his presidency, and then to travel with him to his ranch to help him in the writing of his memoirs. Those were, for him, an extremely painful period, those last four years in his retirement at his ranch, one in which he almost seemed to will himself to die. For his presidency had failed, and he, unfortunately, knew that. Despite a masterful couple of years, where his understanding of the legislative process was unparalleled perhaps by any other president, knowing how to deal with individual senators and congressmen, using cajolery with some, manipulation with others, patriotic appeals to still others, his presidency had foundered on the rocks of Vietnam. For a leader cannot sustain in a democracy a long and difficult war without the continuing support of his people. And when deep divisions in our society arose, the national will eroded, and Lyndon Johnson himself was forced into an early retirement.
Now to be sure when he went down to that ranch for that early retirement, he still possessed substantial material resources that should have eased his way. He had a beautiful ranch in the hill country of Texas, a private movie theater -- even though he didn't like movies, there were always documentaries about Lyndon Johnson traveling through the Middle East or Lady Bird traveling through the South to entertain him. He had a fleet of cars and a fleet of boats, and he had this most amazing swimming pool at his ranch which he had outfitted so that you could work at every moment. So that as you swam in the pool, the floating rafts would come by with floating desks atop the rafts. Still other rafts would come by with floating telephones and others with sandwiches. You could hardly move in the pool.
One of my favorite moments when he was still president, I was swimming with him in this great, obstacle-laden pool, and earlier that day a reporter, High Sidey, had written an article talking about a speech Lyndon Johnson made to the troops going to Vietnam in which Johnson mentioned that his great great great grandfather had died at the Alamo. Sidey said it was a very stirring, patriotic speech; there was only one problem. He didn't have a great great great grandfather who died at the Alamo. He just wished he did so much he had kind of made him up. So as we were swimming around I said to President Johnson, "How can you do that? How can you just make this man up?" He turned to me and he said, "Oh, these journalists, they're such sticklers for detail."
Here was a man in those last years of his life whose entire life had been consumed by power, success and individual ambition, and as a result he could barely get through the days once the presidency was gone. He had no hobbies to entertain him, no interest in sports, no love of books, though he had a brilliant mind. And though his family loved him, the hole that he needed to have filled with the applause of millions was so large that they couldn't sustain the love he needed.
The only comfort he seemed to take in those last years was to make the ranch into a miniature White House. He had been so accustomed in the White House to morning meetings where he would meet with his staff, and had a big map on the wall to determine which bills were in which committee on the Hill that day. He'd start calling the congressmen at 7:00 in the morning and if they didn't answer he'd talk to the wife, and if they didn't answer he'd talk to the daughter, "Now you get your daddy to go along with me on this bill."
Now, however, he was reduced to having meetings with six field hands to give them instructions as to which cows would be milked at what time and which fields would be tractored. And at night where he used to get reports on how many bills had passed the Congress and how many executive orders had been signed, now they were on how many eggs were laid, or more importantly to him, how many people were going through the library in Texas.
He so wanted more people to go through the library in Texas than were going through the John Kennedy Library in Boston; that rivalry never ended. After a while he urged the librarians, "do anything you can to get them in there ... free donuts, free coffee, get them in there." And after a while the librarians, knowing how much it mattered to him, used to have a clicker where they could count the people coming in and out. So they themselves would walk in and out over and over and over so they could get a good count at the end of the week.
But I realized later that in the vulnerable state that he found himself in during those last years, that he opened up to me, a young person, in many ways that he never would have if I had known him at the height of his power. He talked to me of his fears, his nightmares, his sorrows, allowing me perhaps to see him as few others had. And I'd like to believe that that privilege fired within me the drive to discover the inner person that lies beneath the public figure that I'd like to believe I've brought to each one of my books.
There's no question that experience with him had a deep impact on my personal life. I talked to him only a couple of days before he died, and I was then teaching a big course on the presidency at Harvard. He told me he was reading Carl Sandburg's biography of Lincoln, and trying somehow to conjure Lincoln to life, and he couldn't do it. And he realized then that he'd never be remembered by the fickle American public; that he might have been better off searching for his immortality with his children, and their children in turn.
I tried to tease him out of this, I said, "They'll never forget you; I'll just put a question on every exam at Harvard and those 400 kids will never forget you." He said, "You're not listening to me, I'm telling you something important. Get married, have a family, and spend time with them." And then only two days later, his greatest fear, to be alone at the moment of his death was realized. He used to have two televisions going all the time; he used to have people sitting outside his room when he took a nap, but at the moment of his fatal heart attack his wife and children were not there. He had only enough time to call the Secret Service, but by the time they reached his room he had already died.
Coincidentally, not long after that I did get married and had children, and with that image of Lyndon Johnson's last years in front of me was able to make choices I'm not sure I could have made otherwise. I was still a professor at Harvard when I had my kids, writing my second book on the Kennedys, doing nothing right because I was trying to do too much, and that story of Johnson's allowed me to know that I had to make a choice. I could either be a writer or a teacher, but I couldn't be both; I had to make a choice.
I gave up my professorship to stay home and write my book with my kids and never for a moment regretted what I had done. The only time I felt a certain wishfulness was when President Carter became president and he called me about the possibility of becoming the head of the Peace Corps, a job I would have adored a decade before. I explained that I couldn't do it; my two littlest kids were then one and two years old so I couldn't be traveling around the world. He understood that, but then I added in, "You see, I'm also a huge Red Sox fan and I think this is the year we're going to win the World Series and I can't be traveling to Asia. I heard this huge sigh on the other end and I'm sure he was thinking, "Wow, who is this person, anyway?" Nonetheless, when I look at the young men my sons have become -- the youngest is now a freshman at Harvard, the other one is a junior at Amherst and the other one is just out of college -- as you all know it goes so quickly, I've never for a moment regretted whatever might have been.
I didn't come here today to focus on Lyndon Johnson. It's just that I have this feeling if I didn't mention him first, he's out there saying, "How come this book you wrote about the Roosevelts is twice as long as the one you wrote about me?" So let me turn to the subject at hand for the Landon Lecture. And start by saying that if I had to choose one quality that was most important in shaping Franklin Roosevelt's leadership, it would be his absolute confidence in himself, his country , and in the democratic system of government; a confidence shaped in part by being the adored child of loving parents, in part by the possession of extraordinary talent, and in part by the transforming experience of triumphing over his paralysis.
It was a confidence so deep that it provided him with an inner realm of serenity through the most terrible days of the war. Roosevelt once told a friend in the middle of the war, "When I lay my head on the pillow at night and I think of the decisions I've made that day, I say to myself, 'well, old boy, you've done the best you can.' And I turn over and go immediately to sleep." Morevoer, that confidence was contagious. He was able somehow to transmit that strength outward, first to the people who worked with him in the White House, who invariably came away from his cabinet meetings or his White House staff meetings feeling buoyed, feeling strengthened by his confidence. And then to the people at large, through a remarkable series of fireside chats on the radio, which he deliberately timed to move public opinion forward at critical moments in our history to shape and educate public opinion.
I always assumed that he was on the radio every week as our presidents currently are, only to discover that he only delivered two or three of these fireside chats every year, deliberately holding himself back to wait for the moment when the country needed to hear from their president. He understood something that modern politicians seem not to have understood, that less is more. That if you hold yourself back and go forward when you are needed, the country will mobilize around your thoughts.
One of those moments that became so critical was the spring and fall of 1940, after Germany had conquered most of Western Europe. Knowing that the mood of the country was still isolationist, that we wanted little to do with Europe's war, he began a long, slow process of leading our country to a greater and greater commitment to her Allied cause.
In that spring of 1940 the situation could not have been more perilous. America was only 18th in military power. We had only 500,000 soldiers in our Army compared to 6 million for the German army. The Depression had depleted our military might to the point that we had no modern tanks, weapons or ships to speak of. No modern munitions industry at all. So his first step was to reach out to the business community that he had fought with so violently in the 1930s.
He knew the government couldn't build the ships and tanks and weapons, only business could. So he had to end the cold war that had marked his relationship with business in the '30s; give business a piece of the action; bring business leaders in to run production agencies; offer generous loans and tax incentives; government help in building the factories; and as a result, an extraordinary partnership between government and business was forged, one that would eventually allow the United States not only to catch up with Germany by 1942, but to produce more weapons than Germany, all the Axis powers combined, all the other Allied powers combined, so that our miracle of production was supplying weapons to our allies in all the far corners of the world. And in many ways that production miracle, where people went to those factories and worked 24 hours a day, was largely responsible, along with the courage of our soldiers, for allowing us to win that part of the war that Americans contributed to.
I think my favorite of his fireside chats was the so-called "map speech," which he delivered in February of 1942. We were very low in morale. We had lost Pearl Harbor, we were losing in the Pacific, and he knew it was time to bolster the morale of the American public. So he asked everyone to get a map so they could spread it before them as he delivered his radio chat that weekend, and he could go all over with them the battles in the far-flung parts of the Pacific.
A writer for the New York Times reported there was a run on maps unlike anything ever seen before. He interviewed a man who ran a map store who said he sold more maps that one week than he had sold the entire year. Then he added a wonderful comment. He said, "Even my wife of 25 years, who absolutely hates maps, asked me to bring a map home." Then I started thinking, oh my God, what kind of a marriage do these two people have if he's been selling maps for 25 years and she hates maps. Then I thought to myself, stop thinking about this; you wonder why your books take so long, this is totally irrelevant. But that night she, like everyone else, was listening to Roosevelt.
He started off this speech very soberly, not giving people undue optimism, saying it would take many months for the tide of the war to turn. But then he went on to say that eventually he was absolutely certain, his confidence was so clear, that a democracy would beat a dictatorship any time because it released the free energies of a free people in a way that the most efficient dictatorships never could. And he made his point come to life by drawing on American history -- again something our leaders today never do -- draw on history to make us feel a sense of the extraordinary experiment that our country was.
In the past our presidents regularly drew on history in their speeches as he did on that day. He talked about George Washington running out of supplies at Valley Forge, but he persevered and the revolution was won. He talked about the early pioneers going over the Rockies, and the courage it took. About the early days of the Civil War. And finally by the end this story of American history was so powerful that thousands of telegrams came in to the White House urging him to go on the radio every day. They said the only way morale would be sustained would be if you talked to us every day.
But he wrote back, showing insight, to one of his writers saying, "If my speeches ever become routine, they will lose their effectiveness." What he understood was something that Saul Bellow, the novelist, also understood. In his memoirs he talked about listening to Roosevelt's fireside chat. He walked down the street on a hot Chicago night in the summer, he said, everybody, if you looked in the windows, is listening in their kitchens and their living rooms, and you could keep walking down the street and not miss a word of what Roosevelt was saying because the whole country was tuned in. Bellow said what was important was not simply Roosevelt's voice, but the awareness listening to him that everyone else was sitting in their kitchens and parlors listening to him, too. Which meant you felt connected to your fellow Americans. And when a leader is able to make us feel connected to one another, that is the most important power that they can generate. And Roosevelt certainly did that, that was part of the magic of his leadership.
I think perhaps no figure appreciated more instinctively the role that Rooosevelt's confidence played in leading the nation during the war than his great friend and ally, Winston Churchill. For Churchill, with that incredible ability to say the right thing at the right moment, once said that to encounter Roosevelt, with all his buoyant sparkle, his iridescent personality, and his sublime confidence, was like opening your first bottle of champagne. That physical effect it had on you was like the effect champagne had, unforgettable experiences, he said.
And Churchill, I discovered, was in a position to know, for he spent weeks and months living in the White House in the second floor family quarters, with Roosevelt, for months at a time during the war. Joining an extraordinary group of people who were also living with Roosevelt, bringing his habits, his valet, his servants with him. His habit of starting to drink from the moment he awakened in the morning to the moment he went to bed at night, somehow saving England in the process of all that. Joining a group of extraordinary people including Missy Le Hand, Roosevelt's secretary, who started working for him in 1920 when she was only 20 years old, and in many ways was his other wife when Eleanor traveled, as often as she did. She was the hostess at the White House functions when Eleanor was away.
His closest adviser, Harry Hopkins, who lived in the bedroom next door to Franklin's during the entire part of the war; Eleanor's closest friend, Maria Hickock, a former reporter, who in many ways was in love with Eleanor and had a bedroom right next door to Eleanor's, a beautiful princess from Norway who would visit on the weekends.
I found myself so intrigued by what fabulous conversations these people must have had in their robes at night, wandering around, listening to the other people, that I kept wishing that when I had been up in the second floor quarters with Lyndon Johnson when I was 24 years old that I had asked him, "Where did Franklin sleep; where was Eleanor; where was Harry Hopkins?" But at 24 years old I never thought in those terms.
And I happened to mention this on a radio show in Washington that Hillary Clinton was listening to. So she promptly called me up at the radio station and invited me to sleep overnight at the White House. She said we could then wander the corridors and figure out where everyone slept. Two weeks later she followed up with an invitation to a state dinner, after which between midnight and 2 a.m. the President and Mrs. Clinton and my husband and I did indeed go through every room up there and pinpoint who slept where. And the great part for us was that we were staying in Winston Churchill's bedroom. Now across the hall from us in the Lincoln bedroom was a very wealthy couple, but I didn't understand at the time ... But we were in the Churchill bedroom, very exciting, so much so that I could hardly sleep thinking that he was sitting in the corner, drinking his brandy, smoking his cigar.
In fact my favorite story of the whole war years took place in that very room, our bedroom. On Jan. 1, 1942, while Churchill was staying there, Roosevelt was set to sign a document that put the Allied Nations against the Axis powers, but that Allied Nations were calling themselves then the Associated Nations, and no one liked the name; it had no special rhythm to it. So early one morning Roosevelt awakened with the whole new idea of calling themselves the United Nations. He was so excited by his thought, which of course, became the name, that he had himself wheeled into Churchill's bedroom to tell him the news. But Churchill was just coming out of the bathtub and had absolutely nothing on. So Roosevelt said, "I'm so sorry; I'll come back in a few minutes." But Churchill said, "Oh no, please stay, the prime minister of Great Britain has nothing to hide from the president of the United States."
Can you imagine the presence of mind, as he is dripping from the tub, to come up with that? And then when Roosevelt tells him of the name, the United Nations, Churchill loves it immediately and has the further presence of mind to quote the entire poem in British literature where the words, "United Nations," had previously been used. So as soon as President and Mrs. Clinton left that night I couldn't wait to get into the bathtub, and then I truly felt I was in the presence of the great man.
Just imagine what the modern media would have made of the Roosevelt White House. The secretary in love with her boss, a woman reporter in love with Eleanor, a princess visiting on the weekends, the prime minister drinking much of the day. And yet, fortunately, because there was an unwritten rule that the private lives of our public figures were relevant only if they had a direct impact on their leadership, these unconventional relationships were allowed to flourish. How I wish we could return to that standard today, for I have no doubt that many of our best people are unwilling to enter public life for fear of the unnecessary intrusion into their private lives.
And it wasn't a small thing in Roosevelt's time. These relationships were absolutely essential to Roosevelt's leadership, for they allowed him to relax and replenish his energies at the end of the day so that he could become strong for the next struggles that lay ahead. Because he was paralyzed from the waist down, he couldn't relax the way other presidents could. He couldn't play golf; he couldn't walk the White House grounds; he couldn't play tennis. Conversation was the main form of his relaxation, and having the people he wanted to talk to at close quarters allowed him to call on them at any hour of the day or night.
There's actually a funny story about relaxation that my husband told me. He worked as an assistant for John F. Kennedy. He said when he first went into the Oval Office, John Kennedy was wonderfully excited. John Kennedy was like a little boy wanting to discover everything about the Oval Office. He brought my husband in and he said, "Look at these marks on the floor, kind of pockmarks on the floor that go from the deck to the garden. I couldn't figure out what they were and I finally figured it out. You see, Eisenhower would sit at the desk to put his golf shoes on and then walk out this way to do his putting on the grass outside. Well he left these pockmarks on the floor; I finally figured it out." Then he turned to my husband and said, "Well I guess we all have our own means of relaxation, at least mine won't leave pockmarks on the floor."
Nonetheless, for Roosevelt, having those friends near him to talk to became incredibly important. More than any other leader I've read about, his ability to relax and turn the problems of the day off was extraordinary. Every night he had a cocktail hour where the absolute rule was you could not talk about politics. The group gathered together, they would discuss movies they had seen, books they had read, gossip, who was involved with whom, as long as nothing serious was brought up. The only time he didn't get his way was when Eleanor came to the cocktail party and then somehow slum clearance or civil rights made its way into the conversation. But most of the time the lighter conversation prevailed.
Then in the midst of the worst days of the war he would hold marathon poker games with his cabinet officers at which the only thing he thought about was how to beat the other guys in poker. There's a wonderful story told about his annual poker game that he held on the night Congress was set to adjourn, with the strict rule that at the exact moment that the speaker of the House called the president to say that Congress was adjourning, whoever was ahead at that moment would win the game.
So one day he's playing with Henry Morgenthau, the secretary of the Treasury; Ickes, the secretary of the Interior; and at 9:30 when the speaker of the House called to say they were adjourning, Roosevelt was doing terrible, he was way behind. Morgenthau was way ahead. So Roosevelt just took the phone and pretended it was somebody else on the line.
So they kept playing until midnight. Finally Roosevelt pulled ahead, and he whispered to an aide, bring me the phone. "Oh Mr. Speaker, you're adjourning." Everything's great, he has all the chips, all the money, until the next morning when Moirgenbthau read in the newspaper that congress had adjourned at 9:30 ... It's said that he was so angry that he actually resigned his cabinet post until Roosevelt charmed him into staying.
And he was also able in the midst of the war to go off on 10-day fishing trips, almost unimaginable. today. The press would follow him on a second boat, but they didn't have little tugboats coming up to him at any one moment in time. And what he said was that he needed the solitude that those trips provided to think, which was so hard to do in Washington. On one of those trips he came up, himself, with the whole Lend-Lease idea that allowed us to lend more weapons to Britain before we got into the war on the presumption that we would get them back at the end of the war, much as you would lend a hose to your neighbor whose house was on fire so you could save yourself as well as your neighbor.
And then he loved movies; he love adventure movies and mystery movies, which he used to bring into the White House on a regular basis. Again, he didn't like anything serious, but when Eleanor chose the movies -- somehow the Grapes of Wrath or a documentary on civil rights -- he would sit and watch. And yet in spite of the differences in Franklin and Eleanor's differences-indeed, I would argue, because of those differences, they forged their historic partnership. A partnership that was all the more remarkable when one realizes that in many ways it was forged in the pain of Eleanor's discovery in 1918 that Franklin was having an affair with a young woman, Lucy Mercer. She came upon a packet of love letters from Lucy to her husband and later said the bottom dropped out of her world.
She offered him a divorce immediately, but fortunately for them and for the country at large, after much discussion he pledged never to see Lucy Mercer again and she agreed to stay with him in marriage. But this catastrophe in their private life reconstituted their marriage, for it gave Eleanor something few married women had in 1918, the freedom to go outside her home to find her fulfillment. She immediately became involved in settlement house work, close to a circle of women activists who were fighting for child labor regulation and minimum wage, and she learned she had a whole range of talents she never knew she had before.
Unlike Roosevelt, she had grown up in a harsher childhood; her mother a beautiful woman who considered beauty the currency of the realm, and Eleanor always felt she had disappointed her mother by the lack of a pretty face. Her father was an alcoholic. They both died when she was nine or 10 years old so she never had that confident base to go forward from. But once she got involved in political activity she learned she could speak for other people, she could speak to people, she could organize, she could articulate a cause.
And gradually a whole new confidence began to build on the base of the insecurity she carried with her to that point. Her mental activism became critical only three years later in 1921 when Roosevelt got polio and was paralyzed from the waist down. She became then, as he said over and over again, his eyes and his ears. She traveled the country on his behalf during the Depression, on the road more than 200 days during the year, talking with migrant workers, coal miners, tenant farmers, southern blacks, bringing him back a brutal, honest portrait of which of his New Deal programs was working and which was failing, something leaders all too rarely get from subordinates who don't like to tell them the truth.
So their partnership helped to make his presidency a deeper, more sensitive one to people, particularly, who were left out of the system. But then when the war came Eleanor was threatened because their partnership no longer seemed to matter in the same degree to Roosevelt. He had forged a partnership now with the business community; she felt left out of his decisions on military matters, and she cycled into a quite serious depression feeling that he no longer was committed to the poor, to the women, to minorities. But she came out of the depression when she was fired by the thought that even if she had to become an agitator working at cross-purposes, pushing him when he didn't want to be pushed, she would fight to ensure that the war became a vehicle for social reform at home, rather than losing the promise of the New Deal. Even if it meant giving him memos late at night when he didn't want to read them, forcing his attention on social issues, when most of his concern was on the war itself, which she was remarkably effective in doing. Perhaps even more powerful than during the Depression, when they had been side by side.
Nowhere during the war was her influence greater than on civil rights. At the start of the war big industries openly refused to hire blacks for all the factory jobs that were opening. But a growing civil rights movement under A. Phillip Randolph threatened a march on Washington to protest the discrimination. Fearful of the march Roosevelt asked Eleanor to intervene with Randolph. Randolph agreed to call off the march only if Roosevelt would sign an executive order creating the first Fair Employment Practices Commission, which had sanctions and incentives to get businesses to open their doors to blacks on an equal basis. Roosevelt agreed to do so and as a result nearly two million blacks got jobs during the war they probably would not have had otherwise.
I interviewed once a wonderful man named William Barber, who was the first black motorman in the history of the Philadelphia transit system. He told me that when he got the chance through the FEPC to take the exam, he was so proud, he scored a 95; he knew he was going to be a pioneer for his race. But the first morning when he went out to train to become a motorman there were no buses running, no cars, no trolleys, the whole system was paralyzed. He put the radio on and discovered that all 10,000 white workers had gone on strike that day because he, the first black man, was joining the force.
So for three or four days all of Philadelphia's mass transit was shut down, people couldn't get to the war production centers. But Roosevelt had extraordinary powers when war production was being interrupted. He moved brilliantly and simply at this moment. He sent a telegram to each one of the striking workers and told them that if they were not back to work on Monday they would all be drafted on Tuesday morning. They came back to work on Monday. William Barber became the first black motorman in the history of Philadelphia's mass transit system.
So, too, in the military. At the start of the war blacks were serving in the lowest-level jobs in the army, but by the end they were serving as pilots, infantrymen, paratroopers; and by the end of the war the number of officers went up from only five blacks in 1940 to more than 7,000 in 1945. Now it took so many memos from Eleanor to Gen. Marshall at the War Department, he was flooded with so many memos that he had to assign a separate general whose only task was to deal with the memos from Eleanor Roosevelt.
Well you can imagine what criticism she provoked. "Can't you muzzle that wife of yours?" Roosevelt was repeatedly asked. Or, "Do you have lace on your panties for allowing her to speak out so much?" The same refrain I fear we hear today. If the woman is strong and independent, the man must be correspondingly weak. That never worried Roosevelt.
One of my favorite criticisms came from an aristocratic woman who came to the White House on a tour, got dust on her white gloves on the banister and wrote the president, "Can't Eleanor stay home and clean the White House instead of running around the country on civil rights?" And then every time Eleanor went to the South it was rumored that she was starting an organization called Eleanor Tuesdays. The story was not true but the rumor was fantastic.
It said that every Tuesday morning a black woman would come out on the street in honor of Eleanor and knock a white woman flat. The FBI investigated. Did Eleanor Tuesday organizations exist? They did not exist but they were so widely believed to exist that many white Southern women stayed home on Tuesday mornings.
There's no question that her activities during the war helped to make the war years critical years in the civil rights revolution, in many ways setting the foundation for the later progress of the 1950s and 1960s.
Beyond civil rights, Eleanor was also far ahead of her time in championing the movement of women into the factories. Through her speeches and her columns early in the war she countered the resistance of factory owners who said the women will never learn to operate the complicated machines. They'll distract the men on the assembly lines; productivity will go down. But of course by the middle of the war, as more and more men were going into the Army, they had to turn to women. Productivity shot way up rather than going down, as 60 percent of the jobs in the shipyards and airplane factories were held by women during the war. So these same factory owners decided they'd better do a study to figure out how these women are learning to operate these complex machines so well. And they came back from one of these studies and said it was very simple. That when a woman, unlike a man, learned how to operate a new piece of machinery, she would ask directions.
Once the women were such an important part of the workforce, then Eleanor's voice was the one that was critical in telling businesses that setting up a daycare center was as essential as setting up a cafeteria. That they had to help women balance their home and working responsibilities. There was much resistance at first, but eventually an extraordinary partnership between government and business set up a series of daycare centers all around the countr, operating 24 hours a day, providing an early education for the kids, and even providing hot meals for the women to take home at the end of the day so they wouldn't have to cook once their shift was over.
Now to be sure, the partnership between Franklin and Eleanor was not without flaws on both sides. At times, Roosevelt said, Eleanor had a backbone that simply wouldn't bend. She was so concerned with what should be done, she wasn't sensitive enough to what could be done. She was so caught up with her good work that she couldn't relax with him at moments when he needed her to relax more than anything else in the world.
At times Roosevelt was so filled with anticipating what other people wanted from him, so concerned with charming others, that he appeared to be agreeing with what everybody said, when in fact he wasn't agreeing at all, and they left quite confused about where everybody was going. One of the disillusioned said fewer friends might have been lost by bluntness on his part than by the misunderstanding that arose from his charming ambiguity.
At times as well, Roosevelt loved the job of being president so much that he never prepared his successor, never really brought Harry Truman in to the major decisions including the A-bomb. That he should have brought him in on but didn't want to think, I think, of anybody coming after his presidency, he was so comfortable in the role of being president.
And beyond these failures one must concede even more serious failures which led to his incarceration of the Japanese-Americans on e ground of national security, producing one of the greatest violations of national security in our nation's history. And in my judgment, the lack of a more decisive response to the plight of the European Jews, both during the early years of the war and once the war got under way. It was these two last failures of the Jewish question and the Japanese-Americans that Eleanor considered the greatest failures of Franklin Roosevelt's presidency.
But I think in the end that Eleanor would be the first to proudly admit, and the opinion of his historians would roundly confirm, Franklin Roosevelt's great, great strengths far outweighed his weaknesses. His leadership at home kept the American people working together during the strikes, the riots, the difficulties with the draft in the early parts of the war with full energy and commitment through the most deadly war in human history. And his leadership abroad kept the Allies working together on the side of freedom until a great victory was achieved that preserved Western civilization from the yoke of Axis tyranny.
Indeed it was Eleanor's great respect for her husband's strength as a leader that allowed her in the months after his death to come to terms with the deep hurt that had arisen during the war in their personal relationship. Roosevelt had suffered a series of losses during the war. In 1941, his secretary, Missy LeHand, although only 40 years old, had suffered a devastating stroke, and was never able to speak intelligently again. Only three months after Missy's stroke, his mother, the formidable Sarah Delano Roosevelt, died at Hyde Park. These two women had been so important to his life that he was very lonely once they were gone.
He turned to Eleanor, in many ways asking her to be his wife again. To stop traveling. He needed her even more as a companion than as the remarkable political partner she had become. It's one of those times as a biographer when you want to reach back and say, "Eleanor, just do it. I know you two love each other and I know you'll never regret this as long as you live." But I understood why she couldn't. He had hurt her so deeply so many years before. And painstakingly she had developed a separate identity by being on the road as Eleanor Roosevelt rather than being at home as his wife. She felt she had been given a chance to be a voice for people who didn't have access to power, and she couldn't go back on that promise.
So, even though she told him she'd try to stay home more, she found herself almost like a magnet drawn to the road. And by 1943 she was traveling as much as she ever had. So finally in his loneliness he brought their eldest and only daughter Anna into the White House to be the hostess that Missy had been when Eleanor traveled. Eleanor was delighted at first; this was the only child she truly felt close to. Having never had a mother or father of her own as a role model, she had a tough time with all of her children. But in many ways, Anna became her father's daughter. She loved adventure movies, she enjoyed a cocktail at the cocktail hour, and most importantly she gave her father no memos late at night, which meant she could relax with him in a way that Eleanor never could.
So when Eleanor would come home from her trips she began to feel displaced by her daughter's relationship with her husband. And then all these complex relationships were further complicated in the last year by Roosevelt's declining health. He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in March 1944 and sent to recuperate at Bernard Baruch's plantation in South Carolina for an entire month. It was there that he saw Lucy Mercer, the young woman he had once loved, for the first time in an informal setting since 1918. She had married a very wealthy older man named Winthrop Rutherford who had an estate in South Carolina not far from Baruch's plantation. He had just died -- Winthrop Rutherford -- so the young widow came to see her friend. I am absolutely convinced it was just a friendship at this point. But seeing Lucy reminded him what it was like when he was young before his polio, what it was like when his body was strong before the congestive heart failure was deepening day by day. It somehow gave him energy and solace to see her again.
But he didn't trust that Eleanor would understand that it was simply a friendship at this point in time, so he realized that if he wanted to keep seeing Lucy the only way he could do it would be to have her come to the White House when Eleanor was away. And the only person he trusted to make that delicate set of arrangements was his daughter, Anna.
You can imagine the dilemma Anna found herself in when she was asked by her father to do this for him. She later said she felt caught in a crossfire; she didn't know what to do because she loved them both so much. But she could see that her father was dying in that last year in a way that Eleanor somehow missed. It was Eleanor's great strength that saw him through his polio, convinced him he could still be a public figure despite his being a paraplegic, and now she thought he could conquer his heart problems as he had conquered polio. But Anna saw him on a daily basis, saw the ebbing vitality, the loss of energy, the depression that was settling in, that his body was failing him. And she came to the conclusion that if seeing his old friend, Lucy would give him any kind of comfort, as all the battles of the war were still before him -- D-Day still before him, the Battle of the Bulge still to come -- who was she to prevent this from happening.
So she invited Lucy six different times that last year; each time Lucy stayed a week at a time and simply had dinner with Roosevelt every night. What makes it so complex is that always she is where she wanted to be -- with women when they won awards for excellence, with civil rights leaders when the War Department orders came down desegregating the PXs --s o it all might have worked out with nobody being hurt had it not been for the unfortunate fact that Lucy happened to be in Warm Springs, Ga., on April 12, 1945, when Roosevelt collapsed and died. She knew enough to leave the moment he collapsed, and later that night when Eleanor flew down from Washington she found out that Lucy had been there.
Then, pressing people, she found out that Lucy had been to the White House many times that last year, and that her daughter, Anna, had been the one who made those visits possible. I can't even imagine the dignity that somehow she mustered within herself to allow herself to accompany her husband's body on the famous train trip from Warm Springs, Ga., to Washington, D.C., and never let the world know the hurt she was feeling inside as hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the train tracks for the last glimpse of their fallen leader. When she got to Washington she immediately raced to Anna's room, and Anna later said her mother was so angry, so cold, so unwilling to listen to Anna's explanation that she didn't know what to do, convinced that her relationship with her mother had been destroyed forever.
When I reached that point of the story, which should have been, with the funeral two days later a natural ending for the book, I couldn't bear to let it end there. So I decided to study Eleanor for the next months to see if anything had indeed softened her opinion. I was so delighted to find that later that summer, in 1945, something did happen in Eleanor's heart as she began traveling the country again resuming her old habits. For everywhere she went, people kept telling her how much they loved her husband. Porters, taxicab drivers, elevator operators told her how much better their lives were as a result of his leadership.
Women talked about the sense of camaraderie they felt in the factories, even though the factories were firing the women that summer unceremoniously as the war was coming to an end, and closing down the daycare centers, not to be re-opened for an entire generation. Eleanor could see that the war had been a powerful turning point in the history of women. That a new consciousness had been formed that would form the foundation of the women's movement. She talked to veterans who were going to college on Roosevelt's remarkable GI Bill of Rights.
She talked to union leaders and discovered that unions were stronger at the end of the war than ever before. She realized she had been fighting him on so many issues during the war that she had lost sight of the larger picture. Now she understood that the war had indeed been a vehicle for social reform in more ways than she could have dreamed. And once she began to think about how the country had been transformed from a pyramidal society to a giant middle class, with every sector of the society improving as a result of the war, she began to put in her mind a metaphor that had a somewhat romantic notion to it, as if a giant transference of energy had taken place. That at the start of the war Roosevelt was strong, vibrant productive, but the country was weak, isolationist, unprepared. But that gradually he had projected his strength onto the country, which got stronger and stronger as he was drained of energy and got weaker and weaker until he was so weak that he had died, but the country emerged stronger, more productive, and most importantly to Eleanor, more socially just.
Once that image lodged in her mind, she was somehow able to reach deep within herself and fully forgive him for resuming that friendship with Lucy in the last year of his life, and she was able to go to her daughter, Anna, and forgive her fully as well, affording a reconciliation between mother and daughter that re-established a close relationship that went on to last for the rest of their lives.
So, in conclusion, I can only say that I feel empathy for both Franklin and Eleanor. Too often people feel the need to take one or the other's side. I'm convinced they never meant to hurt each other. They were simply trying to get through their lives with the best possible mixture of affection and respect through work, love and friendship. Sure, they both had untended needs in their marriage that only their other friends could fulfill, but they both understood that. Sure, it is possible to look from the outside in, as the media might do today, and accuse Roosevelt of infidelity for resuming his friendship with Lucy in that last year of his life; accuse him, perhaps, of harassment for his close relationship with his secretary, Missy LeHand; accuse the daughter, Anna, of betrayal of her mother. And yet every one of those labels, in my judgment, would totally miss the mark of trying to understand the lives of these large individuals.
I believe the real challenge of history is somehow to resist the tendency so prevalent today, the tendency to label, to stereotype, to expose, to denigrate, and instead to bring common sense and empathy to our subjects, so that the past can truly come alive, even if just for a few moments, in all of its beauty, sorrow and glory.