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James Roosevelt
in 1937
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 26th district

In office
January 3, 1955 – September 30, 1965
Preceded by Sam Yorty
Succeeded by Thomas M. Rees
Chairman of the California Democratic Party

In office
July 21, 1946 – August 8, 1948
Secretary to the President

In office
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded by Louis McHenry Howe
Succeeded by Marvin H. McIntyre
Personal details
Born (1907-12-23)December 23, 1907
New York City, New York
Died August 13, 1991(1991-08-13) (aged 83)
Newport Beach, California
Political party Democratic
Military service
Allegiance United States United States of America
Service/branch USMC logo.svg United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1936–1959 (Reserve)
Rank US-O7 insignia.svg Brigadier General
Unit 2nd RaiderBn
Commands 4th RaiderBn
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Navy Cross
Silver Star

James Roosevelt II (December 23, 1907 – August 13, 1991) was the oldest son of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was a United States Congressman, an officer in the United States Marine Corps, an aide to his father, the official Secretary to the President, a Democratic Party activist, and a businessman with varied interests.

Early life[]

Roosevelt was born in New York City at 125 East 36th Street. He attended the Potomac School and the National Cathedral School in Washington, D.C., and the Groton School in Massachusetts. At Groton, he rowed and played football, as well as serving as a prefect in his senior year. After graduation in 1926, he attended Harvard University, where he rowed with the freshman and junior varsity crews. At Harvard, he followed some family traditions, joining the Signet Society and Hasty Pudding Club, of which both his father, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and his cousin, President Theodore Roosevelt, had been members, as well as the Fly Club, which his father had joined, and Institute of the 1770. He graduated from Harvard University in 1930 and was elected permanent treasurer of his class.[1]

After graduation, Roosevelt enrolled in the Boston University School of Law. He also took a sales job with Boston insurance agent Victor De Gerard. Roosevelt was so successful that within a year, he abandoned his law studies. In 1932 he started his own insurance agency, Roosevelt and Sargent, in partnership with John A. Sargent. As president of Roosevelt & Sargent, he made a substantial fortune (about $500,000). He resigned from the firm in 1937, when he officially went to work in the White House, but retained his half ownership. [2]

Politics and the White House[]

Roosevelt had attended the 1924 Democratic National Convention where he served, in his words, as his father's "page and prop". In 1928, he and some Harvard classmates campaigned for Democratic Presidential nominee Al Smith. In 1932, he headed FDR's Massachusetts campaign; he made about two hundred campaign speeches that year. Though FDR lost the Massachusetts Democratic primary to Al Smith, FDR easily carried Massachusetts in the November election. James Roosevelt was viewed as his father's political deputy in Massachusetts, allocating patronage in alliance with Boston mayor James Curley. He was also a delegate from Massachusetts to the Constitutional Convention for the repeal of Prohibition in 1933.

James Roosevelt was a close protege of Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.. In 1934, the two journeyed to England to obtain the market in post-prohibition whisky imports. Many of James's controversial business ventures were aided by Joe, including his maritime insurance interests, and the National Grain Yeast Corp. affair (1933-5). Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr. threatened to resign unless FDR forced James to leave the latter company, suspected of being a front for bootlegging.[3] James was instrumental in securing Joe Kennedy's appointment as ambassador to the Court of St. James.[4]

In April 1936, Presidential Secretary Louis Howe died. James Roosevelt unofficially took over some of Howe's duties. [2]

In November 1936, just after the 1936 election James Roosevelt was given a direct commission as a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps, which caused public controversy. He accompanied his father to the Inter-American Conference at Buenos Aires in December as a military aide. On January 6, 1937, he was officially appointed "administrative assistant to the President"; on July 1, 1937, he was appointed Secretary to the President.[1] He became White House coordinator for eighteen federal agencies in October 1937.

James Roosevelt was considered among his father's most important counselors. Time magazine suggested he might be considered "Assistant President of the United States".[2]

In July 1938, there were allegations that James Roosevelt had used his political position to steer lucrative business to his insurance firm. He had to publish his income tax returns and denied these allegations in an NBC broadcast and an interview in Collier's magazine. This became known as the Jimmy's Got It affair after Alva Johnston's reportage in the Saturday Evening Post. Roosevelt resigned from his White House position in November 1938.[1][5]


After leaving the White House, Roosevelt moved to Hollywood, California, where he first accepted a job as a $750/week administrative assistant for motion picture producer Samuel Goldwyn. He was on Goldwyn's payroll until November 1940. In 1939 he set up "Globe Productions", a company to produce short films for penny arcades, but the company was liquidated in 1944 while James was on active duty with the Marine Corps.[1] Roosevelt also produced the film Pot o' Gold and distributed the British film Pastor Hall.

During his Hollywood period, James Roosevelt became closely involved with Joseph Schenck, the movie mogul who funnelled mob money to the Democratic Party. Schenck also lent James money for his movie. When Schenck went to jail, James interceded with his father to pardon him, but again Henry Morgenthau, Jr. vetoed the plan. James later wrote that "Stories appeared that I was mixed up with Mafia mobsters."[6]

Military career[]

Chest high portrait wearing a helmet

Roosevelt as a lieutenant colonel in World War II

In October 1939, after World War II broke out in Europe, Roosevelt resigned the lieutenant colonel's commission he had been given in 1936, and was instead commissioned as a captain in the Marine Corps Reserve. In November 1940, he went on active duty.

In April 1941, President Roosevelt sent his son on a secret, world-circling diplomatic mission to assure numerous governments that the United States would soon be in the war. James met, among others, Chiang Kai-shek, King Farouk of Egypt, and King George of Greece. During this trip, James came under German air attack in both Crete and in Iraq. In the African/Middle Eastern portion of the mission, he travelled with Britain's Lord Mountbatten as far as Bathurst in the Gambia. They reported on trans-African air ferry conditions, an important concern of FDR and Winston Churchill at the time.[7] [8]

In August 1941, he joined the staff of William J. Donovan, Coordinator of Information, with the job of working out the exchange of information with other agencies.[1]

After Japan's Attack on Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt requested assignment to combat duty. He transferred to the Marine Raiders, the Marines' commando force, and became second-in-command of the 2nd Raider Battalion under Evans Carlson whom Roosevelt knew when Carlson commanded the marine detachment at the Warm Springs, Georgia residence of Franklin Roosevelt. His influence helped win presidential backing for the Raiders, who were opposed by Marine traditionalists.

Despite occasionally debilitating health problems, Roosevelt served with the 2nd Raiders at Midway, and in the Makin Island raid, where he was awarded the Navy Cross. He was given command of the new 4th Raiders, but was invalided in February 1943. He served in various staff positions during the rest of the war. In November 1943, he accompanied Army troops in the invasion of Makin, and was awarded the Silver Star by the Army. He was released from active duty in October 1945, with rank of colonel. He continued in the Marine Corps Reserve, and retired on October 1, 1959 as a brigadier general.[8]

Roosevelt suffered from flat feet, and while other Marines were required to wear boots, he was allowed to wear sneakers.[9]


James Roosevelt received several military awards during his USMC career. Here is his ribbon bar:

Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Gold star
1st Row Navy Cross Silver Star
2nd Row American Defense Service Medal with Base Clasp American Campaign Medal Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with four service stars
3rd Row World War II Victory Medal Marine Corps Reserve Ribbon with one bronze star Philippine Liberation Medal with one bronze star

Postwar career[]

After the war, Roosevelt returned to live in California. He rejoined Roosevelt and Sargent as an executive vice president, and established the company's office in Los Angeles. In 1946 he became chairman of the board of Roosevelt and Haines, successor to Roosevelt and Sargent. He later became president of Roosevelt and Company, Inc.

On July 21, 1946, Roosevelt became chairman of the California State Democratic Central Committee. He also began making daily radio broadcasts of political commentary. Like his brother Elliott, James Roosevelt was prominent in the movement to draft Dwight Eisenhower as the Democratic candidate for President in 1948. When President Truman was renominated instead, Roosevelt stepped down as state chairman on August 8. He remained a Democratic National Committeeman until 1952.[1]

In 1950, Roosevelt was the Democratic candidate for Governor of California, but lost to incumbent Earl Warren by almost 30 percentage points.[10]

In 1954, Roosevelt was elected U.S. Representative from California's 26th congressional district, a "safe" Democratic district.[10] James won despite a concurrent scandal surrounding his divorce from his second wife, Romelle Schneider. He was forced to admit numerous extramarital affairs that his wife had used to blackmail him, dating back to his father's presidency.[11] James was re-elected to five additional terms and served from 1955 to 1965, resigning during his sixth term. Roosevelt was one of the first politicians to denounce the tactics of Senator Joseph McCarthy. He was also the only Representative to vote against appropriating funds for the House Un-American Activities Committee.

In April 1965, Roosevelt ran for Mayor of Los Angeles, challenging incumbent Sam Yorty, but lost in the primary.[10]

He resigned from Congress in October 1965, 10 months into his sixth term, when President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him a delegate to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Roosevelt resigned from UNESCO in December 1966, and retired to become an executive of the Investors Overseas Service (IOS) in Geneva, Switzerland.[1]

James joined IOS despite the overseas firm's concurrent investigation by the SEC for numerous irregularities. During the unraveling of IOS, James's third wife, Irene Owens, stabbed him "eight times" with his "own Marine combat knife."[12] When fugitive financier Robert Vesco obtained control of IOS from Bernie Cornfeld and absconded with approximately $200 million, James initially stayed on under Vesco. James later wrote that "As soon as I saw the situation for what it was, in 1971, I resigned my position."[13] However, this episode resulted in U.S. charges being laid against Roosevelt and several others, and in a Swiss arrest warrant. James returned to California, settling in Newport Beach, and charges were dropped. He became associated with the Nixon Administration in several capacities and remained friendly with Richard Nixon until the latter's death.[14]

Despite having been a liberal Democrat all of his life, James Roosevelt joined Democrats for Nixon and publicly supported President Nixon's re-election in 1972[15] and also supported Ronald Reagan in 1980[16] and 1984.[17]

His writings include Affectionately, FDR (with Sidney Shalett, 1959) and My Parents, a Differing View (with Bill Libby, 1976). The latter was written in part as a response to his brother Elliott Roosevelt's book An Untold Story, which told of FDR's marital issues and was fiercely repudiated by the other siblings. He authored the novel A Family Matter (with Sam Toperoff, 1979), and edited The Liberal Papers, published 1962.

Later Controversy

In the 1980s, a non-profit organization established by Roosevelt, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, and its associated political action committee, was investigated by the House Ways and Means Committee for questionable money raising practices, and by the U.S. Post Office for mail fraud. By direct mail, Roosevelt's group solicited contributions from elderly persons by claiming that Social Security and Medicare programs were in financial jeopardy. Roosevelt also urged contributors to order their Social Security statements of earnings from his group (these are free from the government.) [18][19]

Family and death[]

Roosevelt's first marriage was to Betsey Cushing, daughter of famed surgeon Harvey Williams Cushing. They divorced in 1940. James married Romelle Schneider, his nurse, the next year. In 1956 he married Irene Owens, his receptionist. He married his fourth wife, Mary Winskill, teacher to his son "Del," in 1969. By the end of his life, Roosevelt had had four wives and seven children.[20]


  • Sara Wilford (born Sara Delano Roosevelt, March 13, 1932)
  • Kate Roosevelt Whitney (born February 16, 1936)
  • James Roosevelt III (born November 9, 1945)
  • Michael Anthony Roosevelt (born December 7, 1946)
  • Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (born January 10, 1948)
  • Hall Delano Roosevelt (born June 27, 1959)
  • Rebecca Mary Roosevelt (born April 12, 1971)

Roosevelt died in Newport Beach, California in 1991 of complications arising from a stroke and Parkinson's disease. He was 83 and was the last surviving child of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

See also[]



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 James Roosevelt Papers. Franklin D. Roosevelt Library. Retrieved 2009-05-09. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Modern Mercury". February 28, 1938.,8816,931070,00.html. Retrieved August 10, 2009. 
  3. Roosevelt, J. My Parents, 231
  4. Hansen, 399-401.
  5. Hansen, 90
  6. Roosevelt, J.: My Parents, 255.
  7. Roosevelt, J., My Parents, 258-265.
  8. 8.0 8.1 "BRIGADIER GENERAL JAMES ROOSEVELT, USMCR". Who's Who in Marine Corps History. History Division, United States Marine Corps. Retrieved June 13, 2013. 
  9. Altobello, Brian Into the Shadows Furious: The Brutal Battle for New Georgia. Novato, California: Presidio Press, 2000. ISBN 0-89141-717-6. p.76
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Our Campaigns - Candidate - James Roosevelt Accessed June 13, 2013.
  11. Hansen, 611-3.
  12. Roosevelt, J.: My Parents, 319-320.
  13. Roosevelt, J.: My Parents, 356.
  14. Hansen, 626-628.
  15. James Roosevelt Supports Nixon; Reading Eagle; August 29, 1972
  16. FDR son gives Reagan backing; Lodi News-Sentinel; October 27, 1980
  17. Roosevelt luncheon disguntles pickets; The Telegraph-Herald; October 10, 1984
  18. Hansen, 661-662.
  19. Rosenblatt, Robert A. "Committee Headed by James Roosevelt Under Investigation". Los Angeles Times (March 10, 1987).
  20. Roosevelt, J.: My Parents, passim.


External links[]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Sam Yorty
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 26th congressional district

Succeeded by
Thomas M. Rees

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