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The War of the Roosevelts

Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt were fifth cousins. Eleanor Roosevelt was Theodore’s niece making her a first cousin to his six children.

FDR grew up idolizing his distant cousin, Theodore. He loved listening to stories of Theodore’s adventures and military exploits. Interested in pursuing a career in politics, FDR attended Harvard, served in the New York State legislature and even became the Assistant Secretary of the Navy just as Theodore had done.

Theodore’s oldest daughter, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, who was known for her offensive remarks, and oldest son, Ted III, were very resentful of FDR. Ted III had his eye on winning the presidency one day and his sister planned to help him achieve it. Following their father’s death in 1919, the gloves came off.

In 1920, FDR was nominated as Ohio governor James Cox’s running mate in the presidential race against Warren Harding. FDR “was quick to latch onto TR’s legacy during the campaign, whistle-stopping through the West, which was proven Roosevelt territory.” Some people believed that FDR was TR’s son.

The siblings’ resentment grew. Ted III joined the Harding campaign and traveled the country slandering his cousin. Shortly after Harding won the election, FDR contracted polio and became partially paralyzed, Alice and Ted were unconcerned. Alice’s husband, an Ohio congressman and future Speaker of the House, joked that Franklin was the “denatured Roosevelt.”

Believing that FDR’s political career was over, Ted moved to Washington and became the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, the same post held previously by both his father and FDR. He then decided to run for the governor ship of New York against incumbent Al Smith in 1924. Unfortunately, he had been “tarred” by the Teapot Dome Scandal. Though he wasn’t personally involved, “he was consumed by it nonetheless.”

At the same time, FDR had come to terms with his paralysis and was ready to jump back into politics. He was the star of the show at the 1924 Democratic National Convention which raised his status immeasurably. Still, he refused to campaign against Ted. His wife, Eleanor, had no such reservations. “Growing up shy and awkward, she was tormented by Alice, who was later complicit in FDR’s affair with Lucy Mercer, and who delighted audiences with her wicked imitations of Eleanor’s protruding teeth and receding chin.” Eleanor campaigned “ferociously” against Ted.

“As Ted had done to FDR years earlier, Eleanor badgered her cousin at his campaign stops, trailing him in a car outfitted with a giant teapot spouting steam – a glaring reminder of the scandal that haunted his campaign.” Led by Alice, the rest of the family continued their ridicule of Eleanor’s looks and her “feminist friends” whom one aunt called “female impersonators.” No surprise that Ted lost the race.

In 1928, FDR was elected governor of New York. Ted was appointed governor-general of Puerto Rico. Following that, he was appointed governor-general of the Philippines.

The pettiness of TR’s children toward FDR and Eleanor continued through the years and accelerated once he won the presidency in 1932. Shortly after FDR took office, Ted resigned from his post in the Philippines. When a reporter asked him how he and FDR were related, he replied, “Fifth cousin about to be removed.”

Alice and Ted did whatever they could to make life miserable for FDR in the White House. Alice “led the charge offering a steady stream of cruel commentary for the benefit of Washington’s conservative cave dwellers while perfecting her Eleanor imitation. Her visits to the White House were often unsettling, such as when she showed up dripping in gold jewelry right after FDR had taken the country off the gold standard.”

Ted criticized the President endlessly.

He charged FDR’s New Deal programs with “making false promises to the needy,” administering relief in such a way as to “leave a stench in the nostrils of decent people,” and “destroying the country morally and spiritually and ruining it materially.” In one 1935 speech, he addressed the President directly: “You have been faithless. You have usurped the functions of Congress, hampered the freedom of the press…You have urged Congress to pass laws you knew were unconstitutional…You have broken your sacred oath taken on the Bible.”

When it was announced that FDR would run for a third term, Alice declared “I’d rather vote for Hitler.” After that remark, all invitations to the White House stopped.

By the end of the war, both FDR and Ted were dead.

 

Story credit: Michael Farquhar, A Treasury of Great American Scandals, (New York, Penguin Books, 2003), 86-92.

 

Quote of the Week:

“I think resentment is when you take the poison and wait for the other person to die.”
M.T., A Sponsorship Guide for 12-Step Programs

 

As Always, This Is An Open Thread!