Make no mistake, author Geoffrey C. Ward is a big fan of the Roosevelts, and this isn’t his first book which presents a detailed story of the man who led the United States through the Great Depression and World War II. Although I haven’t yet read it, his other book, A First Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt (1905-1928), is the direct follow-up to Before the Trumpet – together there are almost fourteen hundred pages of meticulous details about the thirty-second President of the United States.
Ward prefaces the book with the following quote from Franklin Delano Roosevelt:
Too often is the biographer tempted to confine himself to that comparatively brief period after the trumpet of fame has directed the eyes of the world upon him whose life story he writes. But to understand properly the greatness or littleness of any man we must now something of his whole life – what went before and what went after.
Even though the book is about Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the reader will also read a thorough history of the family, including Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin’s fifth cousin. Ward devotes about one-fourth of the book’s opening content to the history of the Roosevelt family, before Franklin was born in 1882.
For me, the Delano family history, included later in the book, was eye-opening. I had no idea they had amassed most of their wealth as participants in the lucrative opium trade in China. At that time, opium was legal and Warren Delano, Jr. was a successful businessman who took his family there to live for a time.
His daughter Sarah married widower James Roosevelt in 1881 and the following year their only child, a son named Franklin Delano, was born on January 29, 1882. The rest of the book is devoted to Franklin’s growing-up years and the influences that both of his parents (and their extended) families had on his life.
Ward also includes background on the “Oyster Bay/Sagamore Hill” Roosevelts, Teddy’s side of the family. Interestingly, Ward suggests that Franklin’s father James and his grandfather Isaac, who had both held public office, were not interested in elective politics – “competing for votes was thought unseemly, unprincipled, vulgar.”
Sarah Delano Roosevelt almost died having Franklin so she never had any other children. It’s just as well because she was plenty busy making Franklin the center of her attention. Ward details the “hovering Sarah” and how, until he finally did indeed marry his cousin fifth cousin (once removed) Eleanor Roosevelt, she made every effort to control just about every aspect of her son’s life, including the engagement announcement – she urged him to wait for awhile (probably secretly hoping nothing would come of it). Throughout the book you will also find details about FDR’s staunch Episcopalian faith as well.
I have another one of Ward’s books on hold at the library on which the recent Ken Burns’ PBS documentary, The Roosevelts, was based on, so look for a review soon. If you’re fascinated by the Roosevelts, then you would enjoy this in-depth look into the early life of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as well as the family and circumstances that helped shape his character.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.