The Ghosts of '33

Like Obama today, F.D.R. aimed to raise the spirits of a nation. Making peace with his predecessor was harder

Bettman / Corbis

Roosevelt, taking the oath for his first term, kept outgoing President Hoover at arm's length.

The President-elect rode the rails to his Inauguration, his normally buoyant spirits muted by a passing landscape of shuttered factories and municipalities in default. A quarter of the nation's workforce was unemployed; what remained of its credit system was on life support. By the time Franklin Roosevelt reached Washington on the evening of March 2, local hotels were refusing to accept out-of-state checks. Eleanor Roosevelt wondered how her family would pay its tab at the Mayflower.

If he succeeded in reversing the economic death spiral, a friend told F.D.R., he would be remembered as America's greatest President. "And if I fail,"...

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