Ninety years ago in March 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sworn in as the 32nd president of the USA. Roosevelt (commonly known as FDR) had come to power at a uniquely perilous moment in both American and global history. At home, the American people were suffering deeply in the aftermath of the Great Depression which had started after the Wall Street Crash of 1929. FDR, a Democrat, had won a landslide election in 1932 by promising a “New Deal”, pledging to use government power to help save the population from the worst excesses of the slump. His predecessor, Republican President Herbert Hoover had become very unpopular after refusing to intervene to help ease the crisis.

Worldwide, new threats were emerging too. Hitler had just come to power in Germany and Mussolini’s Italy and imperial Japan were also showing signs of aggressive international ambitions.

Roosevelt was re-elected by a handsome margin in 1936. Throughout the 1930s, he worked tirelessly to boost consumer confidence and to stimulate growth and create jobs. “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” he had declared on taking office. Now in office, he reassured the public through occasional broadcasts. These “fireside chats” as they became known, brought FDR’s words directly into American homes. They made people feel closer to him than they had to any previous American leader.

His achievements are all the more remarkable in the light of one simple fact: he could not walk. Roosevelt had been born to a wealthy family in 1882. His fifth cousin, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt had already been a successful Republican president between 1901 and 1909. The Roosevelts were a large, political family. When FDR married his distant relative, Eleanor in 1905, her uncle, the president, gave her away. Unusually, Eleanor Roosevelt had the same name both before and after she was married.

By the early 1920s, the Roosevelts had children and Franklin was well advanced along a political career as a Democrat. But in 1922, he was struck down by illness. Polio was diagnosed and FDR was paralysed from the waist down. He was forty years old and appeared to be finished politically. He would never be able to walk unaided again.

But, against all the odds, FDR staged an amazing political comeback. He was elected and served as Governor of New York, before being elected president. The true extent of FDR’s paralysis was kept a

secret from the wider general public. This was not yet the TV age, but in the 1930s and 1940s, it was already normal foe world leaders to appear regularly in photographs and on film. FDR developed ingenious ways of propelling himself around without walking, often aided by those standing around him. Most people had no idea their president could not walk.

In 1940, FDR decided to run for a third term. This was unusual: no US president had ever done this before. But FDR was worried that the Republicans might try to reverse his New Deal reforms if he wasn’t there. He was also concerned about the Second World War, by then being waged in Europe. On 7TH December 1941, on what FDR described as “a date which will live in infamy,” the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt swiftly led the US into the war. Interestingly, it was the Second World War which ended the Great Depression, not the New Deal itself.

The pressures of war leadership wore FDR down. In 1944, he ran for president for a fourth time. Although he won, his decision to run again was probably a mistake. He was already in poor health and in April 1945, he died in office at the age of 63.

The final victory over Germany occurred only a few weeks’ later while in August, Japan also surrendered. FDR had been president for 12 years: longer than any other US president. Under his successor, Harry S Truman, congress formally restricted all future presidents to two four year terms in office.

But nobody would ever forget, Franklin D Roosevelt, America’s saviour in peace and war.