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Reading 4: The International Scene at Hyde Park

Franklin Roosevelt was the first modern president to use the media in a systematic manner in order to promote his ideas and to reach the public. Since the earliest years of his public career, Franklin Roosevelt had invited national political figures to lunch, tea, or dinner at his mother's home. Reporters were usually present at these very open events, much to Sara Roosevelt's dismay. She was a reluctant participant who disliked living in the public eye. Nonetheless, the Roosevelts continued to offer hospitality to members of the press, both at Springwood and also at Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt's country retreat. The newspaper and radio reports about the President, his family, and the guests at their Hyde Park home were of great interest to the American people.

By 1939, Roosevelt and the nation's attention began moving from the crisis of Depression to a new crisis: global conflict. As the international situation became tense and war loomed, activities at Springwood assumed new significance to the world at large. Springwood soon became the staging area for a series of well-publicized international visits. These events began with the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain in June of 1939. The royal couple was visiting the Province of Canada and the visit to Hyde Park was made to appear as casual as possible, as if they were just friends "dropping by" to visit.

In fact, the visit was designed to reshape American public opinion about the British royal family, making King George VI and Queen Elizabeth seem like a normal, likable couple. Britain was close to war with Germany and President Roosevelt knew he had to move a neutral, isolationist American public towards a pro-British stance. Roosevelt's strategy was a huge success. Major newspapers reported the royal visit in glowing terms and filled their pages with features and photos from cover to cover for an entire week and more.

When President Roosevelt delivered the annual address to Congress on January 6, 1941, he introduced his Lend-Lease plan and his idea for a better world to live in. This idea was presented as the Four Freedoms: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear. Congress subsequently passed the Lend-Lease Act.

From then on, Franklin Roosevelt's formula for entertaining government officials and personalities from around the world in Hyde Park included a great deal of informality, casual get-togethers, sight-seeing, and plenty of publicity.

While working on Lend-Lease, Roosevelt formed a close partnership with Winston Churchill, and they met repeatedly at Springwood during the war years. The private, relaxed setting was conducive to productive meetings. During his visits, Churchill enjoyed Springwood's comforts and scenic view, rides through the wooded acres, and swimming parties at Val-Kill. Yet the two heads of state also accomplished a great deal, developing wartime military strategies, agenda topics for conferences with other Allies, and a practical vision of the post-war era.

Less than a year after the "Four Freedoms" speech, President Roosevelt grimly returned to Congress to announce the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941, declaring it a "date which will live in infamy." Congress immediately declared war on Japan, Germany, and all nations in the Axis alliance.

Through the years of the Second World War, the Roosevelts continued to host royal families in exile and other international personalities at Springwood. Roosevelt enjoyed offering our democratic style of hospitality to his world visitors while demonstrating to the American people the hardship endured by many of the world's citizens.

When President Roosevelt finished meeting with Allied leaders at the Cairo and Teheran conferences in December 1943, he returned to Hyde Park. From his study in the Presidential Library next to his home, he presented a Christmas Eve report to the American people in the form of one of his familiar fireside chats. In doing so, he connected Springwood not only to himself but the nation at large:

But everywhere throughout the world--through this war that covers the world--there is a special spirit that has warmed our hearts since our earliest childhood--a spirit that brings us close to our homes, our families, our friends and neighbors--the Christmas spirit of "peace on earth, goodwill toward men." It is an unquenchable spirit.¹

Questions for Reading 4

1. How did Franklin Delano Roosevelt use entertaining at Springwood to advance his goals? Give some examples of his success with this approach.

2. In what ways did Springwood serve as an extension of the White House? Why did so many foreign leaders visit with Franklin Roosevelt at Hyde Park?

3. Publicity was essential in shaping public opinion. How did people learn about current events prior to the use of electricity? What types of media were available to Franklin Roosevelt? Which medium was Franklin Roosevelt the first president to use that allowed him to "visit" and speak directly to people in their homes?

Reading 4 was compiled from Russell Freedman, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (New York: Clarion Books, 1990); Buhite and Levy, eds., The Fireside Chats of Franklin D. Roosevelt (Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1992); and Olin Dows, Franklin Roosevelt at Hyde Park (New York: American Artists Group, Inc., 1949).

¹Buhite and Levy, eds., The Fireside Chats of Franklin D. Roosevelt (Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1992), 274.


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