Recently I started working on a new portrait series with an illustrator residing in Sydney. I will eventually tell our readers at the end of the series who the illustrator is, but for the time being and until the series is finished, I will keep a lid on it.
Suffice to say she is very talented and was more than willing to take up the challenge. I had seen her sketches and loved what I saw but with the US Presidential election coming up I wanted a segue from her traditional sketches, to delve into that Wall Street Journal style of profiles, the dotted portrait in charcoal and pencil. My hope was to consider US Presidents, living and passed, that I would have liked to have seen wearing our bow ties. I did not care for whether they were Democrats or Republicans, what mattered to me was their personal sense of style and a chance to learn more about them.
Whilst Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt were initially thought of as candidates, I decided I would instead start with Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
FDR served as the 32nd President of the United States of America between 1933-1945. He won an unprecedented four elections and served as President through both depression and war.
What attracted me to FDR was that there was nothing particularly noteworthy in his formative years by way of natural ability or education that would indicate that one day he might make a good President. He was considered a good student, but nothing extraordinary. His own headmaster at Groton school, Mr. Peabody recalled Roosevelt as "a quiet, satisfactory boy of more than ordinary intelligence, taking a good position in his form but not brilliant". He was no different as a lawyer, either. In fact, at school he was neither bright nor popular. And this theme continued when he went to Harvard.
FDR's hero had been his fifth cousin Theodore Roosevelt, who was the 26th President of the United States. Theodore Roosevelt was a big character; a rancher on the frontier, an explorer, a formidable hunter, a soldier and a great statesman. It was therefore no coincidence that FDR married Theodore's brother's only daughter, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, who preferred to be called Eleanor.
Though they had many children together, FDR's marriage to Eleanor was a difficult one challenged by the formidable presence of FDR's mother in his life and coupled with FDR's inability to remain faithful. In the end, their marriage was more of a political arrangement and FDR continued with his extra marital relationships until his death in 1945.
As a politician, he was able to pick up the American economy at it's lowest ebb during the depression and begun getting the US economy back on track with both his New Deal plans. In his inauguration speech, during great panic in the economy, he famously noted:
"Primarily this is because rulers of the exchange of mankind's goods have failed through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and have abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men. True they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence... The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit."
I still have a lot to learn about FDR but what I like about him is that he was an unlikely candidate for President, with a non linear trajectory just like his cousin Theodore who came before him. And yet, in the face of adversity and in a private life which was less than ideal in many respects, he delivered a great life of service to his people and upon his death was mourned by all.