Susan Dunn
Susan Dunn
The Three Roosevelts: Patrician Leaders Who Transformed America
ISBN: 0871137801
The Three Roosevelts: Patrician Leaders Who Transformed America
The leadership of Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor Roosevelt dramatically reshaped the political landscape of our nation, from TR's Square Deal to FDR's New Deal and wartime leadership to Eleanor Roosevelt's pivotal role in the early days of the United Nations. The Three Roosevelts is the first biography to combine the intertwining lives of these three leaders, who emerged from the closed society of New York's Knickerbocker elite to become unwavering enemies of economic privilege and the most prominent American political family of the twentieth century. As Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning author James MacGregor Burns and acclaimed historian Susan Dunn follow the evolution of the progressive Roosevelt political philosophy, they illuminate how Theodore's vision and example would inspire the careers of his fifth cousin Franklin and niece Eleanor. The Three Roosevelts traces TR's transformation from Harvard-bred socialite to Republican reformer, president, and Bull Moose radical who declared war on the "wealthy scoundrels" and plutocrats. Franklin Roosevelt would continue this crusade as he closely followed TR's example, imitating his career track to the White House. After FDR's death, Eleanor carried on the progressive Roosevelt legacy through personal activism and advocacy, becoming a tireless champion of the rights of women, minorities, and the poor. Insightful and authoritative, The Three Roosevelts is a fascinating portrait of three of America's most forceful leaders, whose legacy is as controversial today as their vigorous brand of progressive politics was in their own lifetimes.
—from the publisher
Search Audible
TRANSCRIPT
The Three Roosevelts: Patrician Leaders Who Transformed America
Program Air Date: May 6, 2001

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Susan Dunn, co-author with James MacGregor Burns of "The Three Roosevelts," what's your book about?
Professor SUSAN DUNN (Co-author, "The Three Roosevelts"): Well, there have been many books on Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, but this is the first one that intertwines their lives and discusses the influence and impact that each one had on the other.
LAMB: When did--start with the first one. When did Theodore Roosevelt live?
Prof. DUNN: He was born in 1858 and died right after World War I in 1919.
LAMB: When did Eleanor and Franklin come into his life?
Prof. DUNN: Eleanor was Theodore's brother s--Elliott's daughter. And so Theodore knew Elliott--knew Eleanor her whole life. And Eleanor and Franklin knew each other almost from their childhood because Franklin was the godson of Elliott, Theodore's brother and Eleanor's father. So their lives were completely intertwined from the very beginning.
LAMB: You--your--the subheadline on your book on the cover is "Patrician Leaders Who Transformed America." What's a patrician?
Prof. DUNN: A patrician is someone of the old Dutch-American aristocracy in the United States, families who came here in the 17th century. These are the patricians. In the 19th century, they started calling them knickerbockers. And in Boston, they--the elite families were called Brahmins.
LAMB: What made them different than the average person?
Prof. DUNN: They didn't work. This was leisure-class society a--after the Civil War, and in--in--throughout the 19th century, these were wealthy people who didn't have to work. Once, someone asked Theodore what his father did, and he spontaneously answered `gentlemen'; that these people--it--they're the people who Edith Wharton wrote about in her novels about the 19th century. And Edith Wharton, by the way, was the cousin of Theodore Roosevelt's second wife, Edith Carow. And she captures the leisure-class society, the insularity of these people's lives, how they were vir--virtually a cast wanting to be untouched by the rest of America, especially poorer America: immigrants, African-Americans, Jews.

They really segregated themselves into a cocoon and were becoming, at the same time, more and more apathetic, more and more marginalized from the rest of American society. And this is what all three of our Roosevelts revolted against. They revolted against their own class and especially leisure-class society, but also in another stratum that was entering the picture, and that is of the wealthy industrialists, the people whom they called the plutocrats. They--both--both groups, the patricians and the new wealthy industrial class, symbolized to them irresponsible wealth. And they, all three of our Roosevelts, felt a real calling for public service, working on behalf of the people and repudiating a world of privilege.
LAMB: The--as I said in the opening, this--your co-author on this is James MacGregor Burns. What's your relationship to him?
Prof. DUNN: We're co-authors and companions and partners in life.
LAMB: How long have you been with Professor Burns?
Prof. DUNN: About--about 10 years now, although I first heard about Jim when I was an undergraduate at Smith College. Williams College was famous for having Professor James MacGregor Burns there, and I had heard about him even then.
LAMB: Where do you live now?
Prof. DUNN: We both live in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
LAMB: Are you still teaching?
Prof. DUNN: I still teach. And J--in fact, Jim and I just taught a course on our book, a little mini course that we had in January for four weeks, called The Roosevelt Century. And it worked out very, very well. We had wonderful students. The year before, we also taught the same course, and we took the students down to Hyde Park to do research in the FDR Library, and that was a great success.
LAMB: Now how long has he been a Roosevelt expert, and when was his first book on the Roo...
Prof. DUNN: Oh, his first book--well, "Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox,"--was in the mid-'50s. And his second book, 10 years later, "Roosevelt: The Soldier of Freedom," and that won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
LAMB: When did you first get interested in Roosevelt--or the Roosevelts?
Prof. DUNN: My first recollection of Franklin Roosevelt is my mother telling me how she wept when--when the news came out that he died. My mother, who was a refugee from Germany because she came to this country in 1938, and that old--and her story of how attached she felt to Franklin Roosevelt always moved me. But I only joined this project about four years ago.
LAMB: This is kind of a--a leading question. Is it intimidating walking into the middle of someone like James MacGregor Burns and all of his expertise on this?
Prof. DUNN: It was, but it was also a challenge. And I couldn't say no. Jim had started this book eight years ago and then put it aside to work on other writing commitments. And then about four or five years ago, he asked me if I was willing to join him and work more on Theodore Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt, and I gasped, and--and it was such a wonderful challenge, I said, `Sure. Why not?' And...
LAMB: Who--who do you like of the three the most?
Prof. DUNN: I fell in love with Theodore Roosevelt. I was astonished by the warmth, th--the passion, his letters to his children: `Darling, Kermit'; `Darling, Quentin.' And...
LAMB: Here's a photograph of him at Harvard.
Prof. DUNN: That's right.
LAMB: What--what impact did Harvard have on him?
Prof. DUNN: Oh, Harvard was a very, very interesting story for him. He never went to high school. He was tutored. And then his first school experience was Harvard. In the beginning of his career at Harvard, he was very conscious of his own class and how apart he was from the other students, who virtually didn't exist for him. He was a member of the Porcellian Club, the elite club of other-Boston Brahmins and New York knickerbockers.

And at Harvard, he absorbed what was then taught: laissez-faire, economics, very passive government and social Darwinism, the survival of the fittest. And later, when he wrote his autobiography in 1913, he said that Harvard really hadn't prepared him from--for the challenges ahead; that ha--they hadn't taught him about citizens' interdependence, how this is really a community--a national community, how American society isn't a question of simply the survival of the fittest.
LAMB: What was his--when he was in Harvard, what was his goal? Where was he going?
Prof. DUNN: I'm not sure that he knew, but after Harvard, he went to Columbia Law School and would hike down from his mansion on 57th Street down to Columbia, which was then near the battery. And it was at Columbia that he said, `I want to be a member of the governing class.' He r--rejected leisure-class society, even the philanthropic work that his father did. He wanted to be in politics. He wanted to make a difference. He wanted to act. And he also wanted to dirty his hands, which other patricians weren't willing to do.
LAMB: Where do you think he got this?
Prof. DUNN: Oh, that's an interesting question. He--one of his biographers says that Theodore Roosevelt was `pure act.' He was always in motion a--and purposeful motion, too. And I think he wanted to be in the arena. He--he himself distinguished between being a member of a club and being a member of a party. Gentlemen of his class were all members of elite social clubs, and those clubs defined themselves in terms of the prestige of the members of the club and--and how exclusive the club could be. And a party, by definition, has to be inclusive, adopt and integrate all kinds of members of society from all social strata. And he, early on, made the decision that he would be pa--a member of a party, not of a club. The party also has a purpose. They have goals and want to make a difference in society. And he simply had those con--convictions.
LAMB: By the way, w--where did his father get his money?
Prof. DUNN: His father was an importer of plate glass. They weren't industrialists. They were merchants and importers.
LAMB: And how did he get into that business?
Prof. DUNN: Oh, I'm not sure how he got into that business. They--they ha--they really didn't need to be in business. The family had sufficient wealth. There's one picture of--the first illustration that we have in the book is of Abraham Lincoln's funeral procession, which began at Union Square in New York, and we have windows circled in which Theodore and his younger brother, Elliott, are watching the procession. That is their grandfather's house, which is a huge mansion right at Union Square. So this is a very, very wealthy family.
LAMB: Which is located where in New York City?
Prof. DUNN: Union Square is 14th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.
LAMB: And you make this connection in the book to Lincoln, you know, on a substantive basis. What--what--what was it--it about Lincoln that connects in with the Roosevelts?
Prof. DUNN: With all three of them, Lincoln inspires them because he is an idealist, but because--be--a--also because he's a practical politician. He was able to accomplish great things because he was also a wily deal-maker, both a lion and a fox.
LAMB: When did Theodore Roosevelt first get interested in being a Republican?
Prof. DUNN: Oh, hi--his--his father worked for Lincoln. This was a--a Republican family. Whereas FDR's family wasn't Republican. FDR's father was a Democrat, but his mother, Sara Delano, was a Republican. FDR could have gone either way. He could have run for a Democratic seat for the New York state Senate or Assembly or a Republican seat. The--the Democratic seat was open, and that's what he ran for.
LAMB: What was the relationship between TR and Eleanor Roosevelt?
Prof. DUNN: Theodore was Eleanor's uncle. And...
LAMB: How well did they know each other?
Prof. DUNN: Oh, they knew each other quite well, although Theodore's brother, Elliott, Eleanor's father, never finished high school, never went to college, led the life of a leisure-class aristocrat, which, for him, meant polo, hunting and alcohol and morphine. He led a very self-destructive life, and he died when Eleanor was only 10 years old. And that the point, Eleanor and Theodore saw somewhat less of each other.
LAMB: Where did she end up going to school?
Prof. DUNN: Oh, she went to a remarkable school in England, Allenswood school, run by a Frenchwoman named Marie Souvestre. And Theodore Roosevelt's sister, Anna, had also gone to that school in England and recommended that Eleanor go there. And that was the beginning of Eleanor's awakening and blossoming because she had such a dreadful childhood, with a mother who couldn't have been more beautiful, more self-absorbed, more selfish and a father who couldn't have been more charming and more alcoholic. So Allenswood, for her, was rebirth.
LAMB: How did Theodore Roosevelt become the vice president of the United States?
Prof. DUNN: That's also an interesting story. He was governor of New York state and ve--quite a successful governor, but a little bit too much to handle for the Republican boss, Thomas Platt. And Thomas Platt said, `Let me get this man out of my hair. Get him out of New York state. Get him to Washington.' And so they convinced McKinley and the rest of the Republican Party to take Theodore Roosevelt as their vice presidential candidate in the election of 1900. And then McKinley, a few months later, was assassinated in Buffalo, New York, and Theodore found himself president. And Thomas Mark Hannah, the Republican national chairman, said, `Oh, my God, this cowboy is now the president.'
LAMB: Had he wanted to be president before then?
Prof. DUNN: Yes, he had spo--he had spoken about it. When he was police commissioner in New York, one day his buddies, Lincoln Steffens and Jacob Riis, two great writers and muckrakers, asked him if he was thinking about being president, and he said, `Don't--don't ask me that. I can't think about that. I shouldn't think about that.' It was very clear that this was on his mind.
LAMB: How did he relate to Lincoln Steffens?
Prof. DUNN: They were friends, and Lincoln Steffens and Jacob Riis both raised Theodore Roosevelt's consciousness about issues of class, issues of social welfare, social--and economic justice. Jacob Riis wrote a book called "How the Other Half Lives" about tenement life and immigrant life in New York City, and this was a new world for Theodore Roosevelt. And he began to see that laissez-faire and social Darwinism weren't the right answers for American society, that government had to step in and provide solutions and help promote the general welfare, as the Preamble to the Constitution says.
LAMB: I don't want to get too far ahead of the story, but Theodore Roosevelt was a writer and a reader.
Prof. DUNN: Oh, yes.
LAMB: But FDR?
Prof. DUNN: As far as I know, FDR only wo--wrote one book review of--a--a book review of a book on--on Jefferson and Hamilton by his friend, the historian Claude Bowers. And FDR came down squarely for Jefferson.
LAMB: Did he read?
Prof. DUNN: He didn't read that much, no. He learned from people and he learned from experience and from conversations, conversations, conversations, for instance, with members of his brains trust.
LAMB: How about Eleanor Roosevelt and her reading and writing?
Prof. DUNN: Eleanor wrote a lot. She wrote a multivolume autobiography, and she wrote a daily column. As soon as she got to the White House, she started writing My Day, which was syndicated in many newspapers, and she was writing that until a few days before she died in 1962.
LAMB: What impact did the--the writing of Theodore Ro--Roosevelt have on his life? How many books did he, you know, and we--how many books did he write? And we've also seen variations on--he read a book a day to he read more than that. And what--what did you find in your research about how much reading he did?
Prof. DUNN: He read voraciously. When he went on safari, he took a library along with him, and he had the books carefully bound in beautiful leather for himself. And he wrote over two dozen books, everything from "The Naval War of 1812" to "Winning of the West" and some biographies. I read his biography on Gouverneur Morris, the eight--late 18th century politician, and I thought it was an excellent biography.
LAMB: What did he do when he became president? How did he establish himself in this country as being somebody to pay attention to?
Prof. DUNN: A combination of important legislation, important acts and the bully pulpit. Right after he became president, J.P. Morgan tried to incorporate his National Securities trust and monopoly of railroads and water shipping. Theodore Roosevelt, right--right away, took action against the trust and said, `No, I'm not going to let you do this.' And J.P. Morgan was astonished that another patrician would treat him that way. And he said, `Look, le--let's arrange this. You send your man to meet my man, and we'll sort this out.' And Theodore Roosevelt said, `No, we're not going to do this regulation of trusts and Hepburn Act on railroad rates, Pure Food and Drug Act,' much legislation.

But in addition to the legislation that Theodore Roosevelt fought for was how he used the presidency and the bully pulpit to educate and shape American public opinion to make reform--progressive reform respectable, to make governor--government a partner in--in American social life.
LAMB: Total number of years that Theodore Roosevelt was president?
Prof. DUNN: Eight years from ni--19...
LAMB: Been elected how many times?
Prof. DUNN: 1904, elected once. And un--unfortunately for him, in some moment of exuberance and irrationality, he said, `That's it. I've served, really, two terms. I'm not going to run again in 1908.' And that was the worst thing he ever said. He could have run in 1908, he could have become president for another term, but he didn't go back on his promise not to run again. And for the rest of his life, he was frustrated to be out of power.

And then in 1912, he decided that he would seek the Republican nomination again. He didn't get it, and he bolted from the Republican Party and ran as a Bull Moose progressive and lost to--Woodrow Wilson became president, and that was still not enough for Theodore. He wanted again to get back into the arena. He wanted to run again in 1916 as an--a pro-war candidate, and the Republicans were furious with him for splitting the party in 1912 and wouldn't even let him speak at the Republican Convention.

And then when he was close to death in 1918, right after his son, Quentin, was killed in World War I, Theodore said, `I still have one fight in me. I'm going to try to run in 1920,' and th--and he died in January, 1919.
LAMB: Wh--what came first? Wh--when he rejected this patrician upbringing, did--did he decide to do that because he wanted to get elected president, or did he decide to do that and then go on to want to run for president? I mean, wh--what--you know, s-politicians decide sometimes to do things because it will get them what they want. Is this--is that the case here?
Prof. DUNN: No. No, I think he really felt revulsion for this wealthy leisure class. He saw it in his own family and his brother, who was, as we say in New York, a `no-goodknick.' Theodore believed in a life of purpose, of challenge, of moral and spiritual achievement. That's how he put it. And it--he didn't necessarily have had to go--go into politics. I don't think that it was that calculating--calculated a decision. But he did repudiate privilege and wealth.

He wanted to make himself into a hero, whether it was out in the badlands out West or in Morton Hall, the Republican headquarters in New York. Wherever he was, he wanted to achieve and strive for-for greater things. That sense of moral purpose and moral achievement comes through in so much that he wrote and so much of his legislation. One thing that interested me was his proposals for a very, very steeply graduated inheritance tax that we see almost abolished today--this week.

Why was Theodore Roosevelt so opposed to vast inheritances? Be-he fi--felt, first of all, that it did the young man or young woman no good to start off life with so much money, so much wealth; that was his brother's story. But more than that, too, he felt that people needed to strive, to achieve and, also, that there had to be some measure of equality in the country and some sense of citizens' interdependence. People--there shouldn't be some citizens who belong to an isolated stratum of society and live in great wealth.

And FDR took up the same challenge of inheritance tax in 1935, and he added to Theodore Roosevelt's reasoning and said that, `In the 18th century, our Founding Fathers repudiated inherited political power. Today we must repudiate inherited economic power. That's not what a democracy based on equality is all about.'
LAMB: I--in 1904, how big did he win in the presidential election?
Prof. DUNN: Oh, that was a landslide. I'm sure you don't know and most people don't know wh--against whom he ran, a man named Parker. Parker was a non-entity, and it was a gigantic landslide for Theodore Roosevelt. And he was so popular, he was so much a part of American culture. People--he ignited the American imagination. Here was such a fresh face, such energy, dynamism--the teddy bear--pe--people-and people were selling false teeth that looked like Theodore Roosevelt's oversized white clacking teeth. He--he was extremely popular, and he could have won in 19--1908, and perhaps he could have beat Woodrow Wilson if the Republican Party hadn't been split in 1912.
LAMB: When did FDR come into the picture and have a relationship with TR?
Prof. DUNN: When he--when FDR was a student at Groton and at Harvard, he was invited many times to Oyster Bay, to the Roosevelt house a--called Sagamore Hill.
LAMB: Where is Oyster Bay located?
Prof. DUNN: On the North Shore of Long Island.
LAMB: About how far from New York City?
Prof. DUNN: And an hour and a half from New York City.
LAMB: And who lived there?
Prof. DUNN: That was Theodore Roosevelt's house. He had it designed and built for him and his f--second wife. He'd--he had had the architectural plans drawn up for his--hi--him and his first wife, and then she passed away and then he lived out there on the island.
LAMB: What--what year did FDR marry Eleanor Roosevelt?
Prof. DUNN: That was 1905...
LAMB: So...
Prof. DUNN: ...right after they--FDR graduated from Harvard.
LAMB: And how had they met?
Prof. DUNN: They were cousins, and Eleanor had a memory of riding piggyback on Franklin's back when they were children. They had always played together.
LAMB: And they got married where?
Prof. DUNN: They got married on--in the east--on the East Side, the East 60s, in Eleanor's grandmother--or--grandmother's home or friend of the grandmother's home, her maternal grandmother, Hall. She could have been married in the White House, but she said no, she wanted to be with her maternal grandmother's people. But Theodore came to the wedding and gave the bride away, and it was St. Patrick's Day. And Theodore was leading a procession up Fifth Avenue with the Rough Riders, and he--he was president, and he sidetracked away from the procession toward the house w--the mansion where the wedding was about to take place. And everyone turned away from the bride and the groom. Theodore became the star, and--and he gave his niece away.
LAMB: When you g--you're talking about rejecting the patrician way of life, did they give up the money, too, when they reject the patrician way of life?
Prof. DUNN: He didn't--no, he didn't give up the money, but at that point, there--there was enough for him to live without working, but there wasn't a huge amount of wealth. He--he didn't live the way the great industrialists lived in Newport in those grotesque mansions.
LAMB: What did they all do with their wealth when they died?
Prof. DUNN: I'm not sure how much wealth there was when he died. They probably divided it up among the children, and they--then they were great philanthropists, too. Theodore's father was one of the founders of the American Museum of Natural History in New York and a variety of orthopaedic hospitals, the Newsboys Lodging Home, so many charities. They believed very much in philanthropy.
LAMB: In your own research, how'd you go about it? How did you-how did you become an expert on the Roosevelts?
Prof. DUNN: Reading every letter that Theodore Roosevelt wrote, all of his speeches. I was interested mostly in the--in the texts because my field is, really, literature, and I love reading texts and analyzing texts. I was also interested in the political events and political institutions, but that really is the forte of my co-author, Jim Burns.
LAMB: And how did you two do this book together? How'd you divide up the responsibilities?
Prof. DUNN: For the most part, Jim worked on FDR, and I worked on Theodore and Eleanor, but we did overlap. We were talking, talking, talking Roosevelt for four years and critiquing each other's chapters, too.
LAMB: What did you not like about these three people?
Prof. DUNN: There were a variety of things, th--s--some of which were hard to swallow. For Theodore Roosevelt, the bellicosity, the lust for blood. He was the great conservationist and environmentalist of the United States, and yet this was a man who slaughtered thousands and thousands of animals and talked about war as being `the-the moment of greatest triumph of a society.' He excoriated Woodrow Wilson for not intervening earlier in World War I a--which was a rational argument to make about preparedness for war, but he pushed it so far and became so jingoistic, so nationalistic.

At that period of--of his life--not before, but during World War I--y--he became more and more hysterical and more and more extreme. And then his son was killed. All of his children served in the Army or the Air Force in this country or in Britain. And then his favorite son, his youngest son, Quentin, was killed. He was a pilot, and he was killed in a dogfight over Huns in France. And that was a blow to Theodore, and he was heard murmuring to himself, `Poor little Quenikins. Poor little Quenikins.'

And if he were alive today, I would ask him if that changed his mind, the reality of war, not the myth of war, the ro--romanticization of war. I don't think he knew about trench warfare and mustard gas and the realities of warfare in World War I.

With Eleanor, it was something else that was a little hard to swallow. And for me as a Jewish person, her anti-Semitism in the beginning of her life was--was very painful. She would say--she went to one party at which she met Bernard Baruch, and she wrote to her mother-in-law, `The Jew party was appalling.' Then at another reception, she met Felix Frankfurter, a brilliant jurist. When Eleanor was asked at about the same period of her life by a journalist to say something about American government, she didn't know the first thing about American government, checks and balances or the Constitution. So here she meets Felix Frankfurter, and she said, `Well, he's an interesting little man, but very Jew."

And I put that--those quotes into the book partly because they were true--the--the truth had to come out--but also to show how far she traveled in her life, how much she worked to overcome those prejudices of her class, till finally, at the end of her life, all of her friends were African-American or Jewish, no patrician friends left in sight, and she was teaching at Brandeis University. And my congressman from Brooklyn, Emanuel Celler, called her a few days before she died to say that he was going to propose on a Sunday morning talk show that she run for the Senate. She traveled the first--the farthest away from the prejudices and the insularity of her class.

For Franklin Roosevelt, some not-quite-similar problems, but similar ambivalences on his part, but that had to do with how far he could go politically. For instance, he could not come out and support an anti-lynching law in the South. He felt that he would lose support of Democratic senators and congressmen from the South if he supported anti-lynching. And it was so important for him to have his New Deal legislation passed that he couldn't be the moral leader that he perhaps would have wanted to be.

And the greatest failing of all, the--the one that--the hardest to swallow, are the Japanese-American concentration camps. Citizens of America in California were herded en masse into concentration camps in the desert of Arizona and Utah and Arkansas. And most historians call these camps internment camps. I joke that Williams College is an internment camp, where the students are having the best four years of their lives. Internment camp doesn't communicate the injustice and the cruelty of these camps. And some historians call them relocation camps, as if people were being relocated from Scarsdale to Shaker Heights or Gross Pointe. They weren't relocated. They were put into concentration camps.
LAMB: What--what did Eleanor--when did Eleanor Roosevelt begin to move left and get rid of all this early background that you're saying, the anti-Semitism and things like that?
Prof. DUNN: It started in the 1920s when--after Franklin's polio. She was working for him on the political stump. She was being his legs and--and proxy.
LAMB: What was he doing then?
Prof. DUNN: He was practicing law and--but keeping up his political contacts through his brilliant adviser, Louie Howe, who was also advising Eleanor at that point. But Eleanor, in the '20s, started associating with a very, very interesting group of women, women activists--the new women activists: her friend Esther Lape and Elizabeth Read; later, Marion Dickerman. And those women were influencing her very much, until Eleanor was becoming a spokesman-a spokeswoman for the Democratic Party. When--during her years in the White House, she was moving left, too. She was the--the one voice for civil rights in the--in the White House. She was the friend of African-Americans. After 1938, she also became a voice for Jewish refugees.
LAMB: How did FDR become the vice presidential candidate with James Cox in 1920?
Prof. DUNN: He was chosen because of the name Roosevelt, which was a magical name, and because he had been a very, very successful assistant secretary of the Navy during the war.
LAMB: How did both TR and FDR become assistant secretaries of the Navy?
Prof. DUNN: That's an interesting question. There must have been something patrician about service in the Navy; also the knowledge that warfare was fought on the seas at that--at that point. Theodore Roosevelt campaigned to be assistant secretary of the Navy; so did FDR. He had feelers out to Woodrow Wilson. That was the job that he wanted.
LAMB: It's clear from the book--you make a point of Eleanor Roosevelt introducing Missy LeHand to FDR, which impacted the rest of his life. How did that happen?
Prof. DUNN: FDR needed a secretary in the early '20s to handle correspondence and keep things in order, and Eleanor chose Missy LeHand for him, and Missy was--said at one point, `Gee, I--this work is a little bit dull.' And Eleanor and Franklin said, `Oh, it'll be OK. It'll probably become more interesting.' And Missy LeHand stayed with them through the governorship and into the White House.
LAMB: How did Eleanor Roosevelt find out about the affair between FDR and Missy LeHand?
Prof. DUNN: She found--oh, that--w--we're speaking about Missy LeHand, who was the secretary in the '20s and into the-the presidential years. The--and it's not clear that there was an affair between Missy LeHand and FDR. The affair that Eleanor found out about was between FDR and Lucy Mercer, and that took place during the-the last years of the war.
LAMB: Wasn't there a question about both, though?
Prof. DUNN: There is a question, yes. Nobody knows what the relationship was between Missy LeHand and FDR. She was the secretary, but also the hostess and a traveling companion for him, too. But-but we don't know the details of the relationship, but it was clearly a-a very close relationship.
LAMB: And you mention Earl Miller.
Prof. DUNN: Ah.
LAMB: Why is he--you know, what was the relationship between Earl Miller and Eleanor Roosevelt?
Prof. DUNN: Earl Miller was Eleanor's bodyguard when she was in Albany when FDR was governor of New York. And they--they became very close friends. He was--Earl Miller was an interesting man; an athlete, former circus performer, a New York state trooper. And they--they shared--they shared a lot. And I think it was an opportunity for Eleanor to relax and to share intimacy outside of the family.
LAMB: In those days, did--did--did the press at all write up about Earl Millers and Lucy Mercers and Missy LeHands?
Prof. DUNN: No, no. Isn't that interesting how much of a distance the press was kept and kept itself? It--it wasn't...
LAMB: Would that have changed anything had that been--if--if-if the--today's media had been back there in those days?
Prof. DUNN: I can only think that it would have changed a lot between the affairs, the unusual friendships and the polio that today, in an age when we demand scandal and entertainment and go in for the ritual destruction of our leaders, th--that--that--that such a great leader like FDR might--might have been destroyed by that.
LAMB: Page 220--this is a--a letter to the editor of a Butte, Montana, newspaper. I believe it's Butte. I--I'll read it. It says, `As a matter of fact, I don't use a wheelchair at all, except a little kitchen chair on wheels to get about my room while dressing before I am dressed and solely for the purpose of saving time.' He did not use one at all, he added, `in my work in the Capitol.' Now that wasn't true, was it?
Prof. DUNN: No.
LAMB: Why would he do that--why would he say that?
Prof. DUNN: He needed to project an image of health, of energy, dynamism, capability, and he was wary a--about getting the polio story out. He was completely paralyzed be--below the hips.
LAMB: Now did people back then know that he was not telling the truth here?
Prof. DUNN: For the most part, they didn't, and they tuned it out. He would--he would walk on the arms of his sons in public to the podium to speak and I think that, for the most part, people weren't that aware of a serious handicap, nor did they really need to be aware, because he was fulfilling all of his duties so brilliantly. There was so much energy coming out of the White House, so much action, so much activity. The first New Deal, bill after bill after bill, he projected an aura of energy, ebullience and confidence.
LAMB: Which--which man was more popular?
Prof. DUNN: Whoa. No one could be more popular than FDR was when he won the election in 1936. That was a landslide, a beautiful landslide. I say to my students, `What states did Alf Landon win?' and they say, `Maine and Vermont.' It was a gigantic landslide for FDR and a vote that took place so largely along class lines. There was a lot of class consciousness, and he spoke to the people who were in need. He spoke to the people who were the victims of the Depression, which was the vast majority of people, and they loved him and they trusted him and they had confidence in him.
LAMB: You mentioned earlier, your--I believe, your mother was the first one to introduce you to FDR.
Prof. DUNN: Yes.
LAMB: What--what--tell us the background on your parents. Where did they come from?
Prof. DUNN: My father's family came from Russia. They came, in fact, to this country probably while Theodore Roosevelt was president, around 1908, 1910. My father was born in 1912 and, to me, that was always the significance of the year 1912, that that was the year of my father's birth. I didn't know about the fascinating and important election of 1912. My mother escaped from Nazi Germany before Kristallnacht in 1938. And...
LAMB: How'd she get out?
Prof. DUNN: Oh, that was quite a story. They got out from Germany through Paris, and from Paris, she and an uncle traveled to this country and she must have had a little bit of English and--and then ultimately worked in this country as a nurse.
LAMB: Where did they settle?
Prof. DUNN: In New York.
LAMB: City?
Prof. DUNN: Yes, in Brooklyn.
LAMB: And you had a--a family? Did you have brothers and sisters?
Prof. DUNN: I have a brother in California.
LAMB: And you went to school where then?
Prof. DUNN: Public schools in New York City and then Smith College, and then my PhD from Harvard.
LAMB: In what?
Prof. DUNN: In romance languages and French literature.
LAMB: And how did you find yourself at Williams?
Prof. DUNN: Just as I was finishing up the PhD at Willi--at Harvard, I got a wonderful offer at Williams and so, like Theodore Roosevelt, I went out West. Williamstown is in the far northwestern corner of the state of Massachusetts, so it was a three-hour drive out from Cambridge.
LAMB: How did you meet Professor Burns?
Prof. DUNN: Well, our mailboxes were next door--next to each other for many years and we would say hello. And then when I heard that Jim was free and divorced, I pounced.
LAMB: And you say you've been together for 10 years. Now the one other thing I want to bring up about you personally is you told me when we sat down that you'd never been interviewed on television.
Prof. DUNN: Oh, no.
LAMB: Except when you were eight.
Prof. DUNN: Yes, yes. I--there was--I was in a Jewish Sunday school in Brooklyn, in Bensonhurst, and they selected a few children to put on a religious show aired on Sunday mornings. And I was one of the kids. And afterwards, the producer said to me that I should have my own show, that they couldn't keep me quiet. But that was the only time that I was ever on television.
LAMB: So why the hiatus between age eight and today?
Prof. DUNN: Oh, I'm very lucky to be here today with you.
LAMB: Wh--wh--why no television, though, in the interim? Why have you not done much?
Prof. DUNN: Well, my last book was "Sister Revolutions: French Lightning, American Light," and I would have loved to be on the show with you and discussed that book.
LAMB: But you just have never done television and--and--what do you think of it?
Prof. DUNN: Right now, it's absolutely wonderful. And I adore C-SPAN. And talk about transformation of leaders. Jim--Jim ha-wrote a--my co-author, Jim Burns, wrote a book on leadership in 1978. It's a very important book in which he discusses the essence of leadership, transactional leadership, brokering deals, making bargains, which is 90 percent of leadership--political leadership. Then he says, `There's a higher form of leadership than brokering and that's transformational leadership, making really deep changes in the society and in the culture and also bringing people up to a higher moral level.' That's transformational leadership. But I consider Brian Lamb a transformational leadership, because I think that C-SPAN has changed American society and American political culture for the better.

(Graphic on screen)

For More Information

Atlantic Monthly Press 841 Broadway New York, NY 10003
LAMB: What do you think these two men and one woman would be like in a television age when we were--we'd be able to hear them all the time?
Prof. DUNN: FDR used the media brilliantly. He didn't overexpose himself. People think of the Fireside Chats as taking place all the time. They--they didn't. The--there were probably three, four the most a year. Theodore Roosevelt was brilliant at using the media. And Eleanor Roosevelt appeared on TV and even had her own TV talk show and also did TV commercials.
LAMB: There--there's one incident that's out of context, but--but I want you to--because I know you know because you spent a lot of time on Theodore Roosevelt. We--and we've heard it from time to time, but what is the story on what happened in 1912 when he gave the speech in Milwaukee and was shot?
Prof. DUNN: Oh.
LAMB: And how much is--is written about that? And how did he survive that?
Prof. DUNN: The bullet must have penetrated very little into the flesh, although there was blood. Tha--his--his shirt was full of blood. The bullet had to go through his speech and also his eyeglass case.
LAMB: What were the circumstances in...
Prof. DUNN: He was campaigning for the presidency in Milwaukee and a man shot him. I think the man was screaming out, `No third term!' and shot him, and he proceeded to make his speech anyway. In fact, he didn't stop making the speech. He was talking and talking and talking and saying, `Friends, there is a bullet in me now. Be quiet. You must hear me.' And he went on to announce his progressive platform, his quite radical platform, while people were begging him, `Go to the hospital. Go to the hospital.' And, no, he wanted to finish his speech. And perhaps there was a bit of a death wish there, because as--in the speech, he was saying, `I've lived a good life. I've--I've done the things I wanted to do.' Perhaps he wanted to die a hero's death, because he had the same fantasy when he wanted to go and ha--take--take his own regiment into World War I as he had taken the Rough Riders into Cuba. And he said to his sister, `I don't know if I could survive taking this regiment into France,' but he wanted to do it, as if he wanted to die as a hero. He didn't want to die in bed.
LAMB: Had he not run in 1912 on the third party--again, I think he got--you said he got 27 percent of the vote--what would have happened between Woodrow Wilson and William Howard Taft?
Prof. DUNN: Wood--Wilson would have won, and then Theodore could have run in 1916 and he would have easily had the Republican nomination in 1916. It was a slightly self-destructive thing, both for him and for the Republican Party, to run in 1912. And yet, again, it was this heroic, impulsive, courageous thing to do to run in 1912, because his convictions were so strong. He wanted to offer a really progressive agenda.
LAMB: Now this is a one-volume and you talking on three big people.
Prof. DUNN: We do.
LAMB: How did you decide what to leave out?
Prof. DUNN: That's an interesting question, because I realized how selective a historian is. The--we do make choices. We do leave things out. And ultimately, the portrait is a truthful portrait, but a somewhat subjective portrait. For instance, another historian might have left out the anti-Semitic things that Eleanor said, or another historian might not have given so much space to the Japanese-American concentration camps. The--we--we make these choices according to the things we deem important and the--our own interests also.
LAMB: Is there a lesson there for people when they read history?
Prof. DUNN: Yes, that history is truthful, but not objective.
LAMB: So how can you know what's--I mean, how--how do you-what advice do you give people that--now that you've been into history at--when they read it? How should they know--how--how should they figure out where you're coming from?
Prof. DUNN: Th--usually, the--I think the reader can tell if the author, say, is conservative or liberal. Perhaps not always. I-I think just the fact that we would take on three Roosevelts, the three greatest transformational moral leaders of the 20th century, the three most progressive leaders, the three who believed the most in big government and government solutions to social problems, I think that says where we would obviously stand, just to treat this--these kind of leaders.
LAMB: We--we can't even begin to--to take in all this, but I want to jump, because you spent so much time on Eleanor Roosevelt, to the late years for her. When he died in 1945, what was the direct impact on her?
Prof. DUNN: I think she must have been very, very torn and very much isolated and very much at sea, because on the one hand, she lost her life's partner. And on the other hand, she found out that when he died, his old mistress Lucy Mercer had been present with him, and I think that--that tore her up. But she overcame her pain and she said to her friends and to her family, `There's work to do.' And she was not going to spend the rest of her life either in leisure or retirement or in mourning. She was going to work and continue the New Deal.
LAMB: How long did she live?
Prof. DUNN: Until 1962.
LAMB: How long did she write her column?
Prof. DUNN: Till weeks before she died.
LAMB: Did she write it herself?
Prof. DUNN: Oh, yes, absolutely.
LAMB: And what impact did that have?
Prof. DUNN: The column was interesting. At one point, she giggled and said, `I'm not Walter Lippmann or Max Lerner. I don't write for intellectuals. I write for the people. The things I write about are simple.' Her family, her dog, her garden. But at the same time, she was also taking on other important issues, from Cold War, to the bomb, to civil rights, to the universal declaration of human rights. And she was not coming down hard or ideological in the column, but little by little, she was shaping and educating American opinion and trying to make American society more tolerant. She took on McCarthy. She was one of the very, very few people who had the courage to speak out against McCarthy and to condemn him, and she did that in her column.
LAMB: How--how would you relate what her life was like in--to Hillary Rodham Clinton?
Prof. DUNN: Eleanor Roosevelt could be a moral leader because she wasn't a politician. For her husband on the issue of immigrants, quotas, Japanese-American concentration camps, lynching, FDR had to compromise. He--he wasn't a moral leader on many issues on which he would have wanted to be a moral leader. He had to be both a lion and a fox. He had to make compromises. The bottom line is that he had to win elections. After the war, Eleanor Roosevelt did such great things. She could be a moral leader because she didn't have to win elections. Hillary Clinton is a politician. She'll have to broker. She'll have to make compromises. She'll have to also be a fox in addition to being a lion. But we hope that she'll be a very powerful lion and speak up for the people and for social justice.
LAMB: By the time the eight years for Bill Clinton were over and the time that the 12 years...
Prof. DUNN: Twelve-plus.
LAMB: ...of FDR, who had accomplished more?
Prof. DUNN: FDR was...
LAMB: Well, no, let me ask it again. Who had accomplished more, Eleanor Roosevelt or Hillary Clinton? I wanted to ask you about the--the wives in this case.
Prof. DUNN: Oh, the wives. After their years--oh, I--I think that Eleanor Roosevelt accomplished such a great deal.
LAMB: And in what way?
Prof. DUNN: In pushing, pushing, pushing to make the country more tolerant, to bring women's issues to the fore, children's issues. FDR always spoke about the forgotten man, the victim of the Depression. Well, Eleanor spoke up for the forgotten women, and she had longer also in the White House than--than Hillary Clinton did.
LAMB: Now Eleanor Roosevelt knew of FDR's affairs.
Prof. DUNN: Affair.
LAMB: But they weren't public.
Prof. DUNN: Right.
LAMB: Hillary Clinton knew of her husband's affair or affairs, but they were public. What do you think the impact was on those two lives?
Prof. DUNN: The women?
LAMB: Either one. I mean, the--the w--the country at large, because one knew and one didn't know. And what--what would we--would we be better off knowing or not knowing?
Prof. DUNN: I--I think that it's none of people's business to know what the presidents do in the bedroom. I think perhaps President Clinton should have refused to answer questions about his private life. I think that that certainly is what Franklin Roosevelt would have done. It was no one's businesss, so he didn't need to bother to lie under oath. He would not have answered questions about his personal life.
LAMB: What was Eleanor Roosevelt's relationship to Harry Truman when he was president?
Prof. DUNN: In the beginning, it was very cordial. Truman asked Eleanor Roosevelt to be a member of the first delegation to the organizing meeting of the United Nations. And then she went on to a glorious career in the United Nations. First, they were close, and then some distance crept in, mostly on Cold War issues. And Eleanor Roosevelt was not a cold warrior, although she--she did become a-a bit wary of the Russians, too, I should say, because they were so obstreperous in--when she was drafting the--helping to draft the universal declaration of human rights. But the relationship with Truman cooled a bit. And then in 1948, she felt that he was, in fact, a weak leader and she did not want to endorse him. And finally at the very last minute, she was in Paris at the meeting of the United Nations, and she sent an open telegram to The New York Times saying that she did endorse Harry Truman and Harry Truman said, `Well, she ki--went kicking and screaming, but at least the grande dame had spoken,' and she did endorse Harry Truman.
LAMB: What did she think of Richard Nixon?
Prof. DUNN: She feared Richard Nixon and was alarmed by the dirty tricks and the underhanded politics; his sending out pink postcards from the--supposedly from the Communist League of Negro Women in favor of Nixon's opponent, Helen Gahagan Douglas. This was a--a campaign dirty trick. And Eleanor was friends with Helen Gahagan Douglas and knew about these dirty tricks. And she also knew that Nixon was a McCarthyite and had helped McCarthy and supported McCarthy candidates. She was very, very opposed to--to Richard Nixon.
LAMB: The--in the middle of the book, there's a discussion about--that Roosevelt, FDR, may have been hated more than anybody in our history. And that--by business. How can you judge that? And compare that with what--you know, what you've known in your own lifetime. How is the hate manifested? How do we know that he was hated?
Prof. DUNN: Ooh, well, the Liberty League, great industrialists, multimillionaires, formed an anti-New Deal society called the Liberty League that was fighting, fighting, fighting against the New Deal at every turn. And--and FDR fought back with w--revenue acts, trying to put a cap on wealth, a cap at $25,000, asking for a 75 percent tax on all fortunes over $5 million and an extremely steeply graduated inheritance tax. He fought back against wealth and he blamed wealth and the--the wealthy industrialists and businessmen for declaring war on American workers, for opposing a minimum wage, for not granting workers leisure time or the right to bargain with their unions. Over and over and over again, FDR felt that the--what he called the plutocrats had declared war on the American people and he was going to wage war against them on behalf of the American people. And it finally reaches its culmination, I think, in a fabulous speech in 1936--during the 1936 campaign in Madison Square Garden when FDR said to a roaring, enthusiastic crowd, that `the forces of selfishness and greed are unanimous in their hatred for me. And I welcome their hatred.' And that was a declaration of war.
LAMB: Did FDR really try to put a cap on--everybody in this country could not make more than $25,000?
Prof. DUNN: During the height of the Depression, yeah.
LAMB: No matter what you had? No matter what your business was? You--the businesspeople couldn't make more than $25,000?
Prof. DUNN: Well, I think part of the logic of that is--well, say today, a CEO can earn more in one day that--than an employee earns in a year. There is a certain fundamental injustice in that. Twenty-five thousand dollars during the Depression was a decent amount of money for a society that's based on equality.
LAMB: Here's the last picture in your book, and it has JFK and Jacqueline Kennedy, Harry Truman and Mrs. Truman, Dwight David Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, Lady Bird. Where was this?
Prof. DUNN: This was at Hyde Park at Eleanor Roosevelt's funeral.
LAMB: And was there anything--I mean, just seeing Eisenhower at this funeral, is that--that unusual? Did they get along at all?
Prof. DUNN: They had a civil relationship. They--they weren't friends, but I--but Eisenhower certainly respected Mrs. Roosevelt. He co--he could only respect her, because she had done--done so much and won the hearts of so many people.
LAMB: You know, so often we find authors that find new characters and--when they do a book on--like three people here. They find other characters they'd like to do a book on. Did you find anybody else in this if you had time you'd like to do a book on?
Prof. DUNN: Oh, there--there are so many. Louie Howe, Francis Perkins, Marion Dickerman, so--so many people; Sara Delano Roosevelt, FDR's mother, would be quite a character.
LAMB: What did you think of the experience of writing a book together with...
Prof. DUNN: Oh, that was a wonderful experience.
LAMB: Would you do it differently if you had to do over again?
Prof. DUNN: No. No, not at all. Not at all.
LAMB: And are you going to write another book?
Prof. DUNN: Oh, yes. Yes, I'm working on another book.
LAMB: What's it about?
Prof. DUNN: It is about the American politics of the 1790s, leading up to the important election of 1800.
LAMB: And why'd you pick that?
Prof. DUNN: The election of 1800 is the culmination of the American Revolution. We have the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which are fine, but there also has to be a party system and th-the acceptance of the principle of the legitimacy of opposition. There have to be two parties that oppose each other and alternately govern. And that principle entered American political life in 1800.
LAMB: This is the cover of the book. It's called "The Three Roosevelts." And our guest has been co-author with James MacGregor Burns, Susan Dunn. Thank you very much.
Prof. DUNN: Thank you. It's been a lot of fun.


Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2001. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.