Finding Virtue in Adversity – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) was one of the most iconic presidents of the United States. However, few know that he was the victim of a disease that limited his movements, making him dependent on near-constant help from others. But that was not enough to limit his courage, power and will to change the United States and the world.

He was in power for what has been known as the nation’s worst experience: the Second World War. But Roosevelt did not falter under such pressure and played a key part in architecturing the end of the war. As such, he was evidently a man of power, confidence and no limitations.

The Life of Roosevelt

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that there is something else more important than fear.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt

With these key words we will start a little conversation about the kind of person we consider to be a modern Stoic. The ancient Stoic philosopher Epictetus taught that we are seeds, and that we need a model to look at in order to germinate. Roosevelt was someone who fits almost perfectly in Epictetus’ idea of a good role model.

Roosevelt was president of the United States for four consecutive mandates, being the one to stay in the presidential position for the longest. His mandates carried him into the Second World War with the Pearl Harbor attack, and his subsequent actions arguably changed the tide of the war.

Before his rise to power, Roosevelt came from a fine family who were well put in society. He studied at Harvard and Columbia to be a lawyer, before entering the American political world very early in life.

In 1921, he fell victim to a paralytic illness, which was diagnosed as polio at the time, and was confined to a wheelchair until his death.  Despite this, Roosevelt faced his prognosis with optimism and he did his best to get back to normal. Even though he never improved or returned to his old life, this was not enough to ruin his positive mentality.

“Men are not prisoners of their fate, but prisoners of their own minds.” 

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Roosevelt as a Stoic

The above quote is one of many that highlight Roosevelt’s inclination towards Stoic philosophy. Every circumstance is characterized only by the way we perceive it – that’s how Roosevelt dealt with this polio.

Some historians relate his condition to a significant change of heart, politically speaking. Roosevelt was initially considered to be an arrogant man, but was later seen to be a humble politician. His disease also led to propelled studies and vaccine developments for polio.

Some people believed his condition had a negative impact on his vanity, but this was not enough to impact his mind. When he had less, he understood himself and the world much more. There is nothing more Stoic than facing fate with that perspective.

Roosevelt soon accepted his condition and didn’t let it intervene with his work. This is evident in his responsibility for the “New Deal” – an economic strategy developed to help the US out of the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

“The only thing we should fear, is fear itself.” 

Franklin D. Roosevelt

This is another famous quote by Roosevelt that shows why he saw no limitations to his doings. As Stoics thought many centuries ago, men tend to waste time worrying about and fearful of things that might never happen. Despite his medical condition, the war, the economic crash, and the pressures of leadership, Roosevelt never let fear overcome him.

His Legacy

After officially joining the Allied powers in World War II, Roosevelt led alongside the greatest leaders in Europe. Roosevelt took part in many of the key decisions to divide Germany, refrain its economy, and weaken its security forces. 

Overall, Roosevelt was considered a virtuous man, a good father and husband, and an excellent political leader. Despite his physical illness, he managed to reach the most powerful political position in the US, which naturally makes him a fitting role model for people all around the world. He is comparable to Abraham Lincoln and George Washington as great presidents.

Roosevelt achieved a lot during his mandates, from immigration policies to nuclear programs. He was considered a visionary and took a keen interest in the environment. He took care of social security, especially for elderly and disabled people. Roosevelt is a reminder that happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.