October 9, 2008 (NEW YORK) – The lives and careers of Theodore and Franklin Delano Roosevelt have been studied, envied and emulated. Lately, as the crisis in the U.S. economy has deepened, and, as Election Day gets closer, they have also been much evoked.
Theodore and Franklin’s resumes have many common elements including this one: Both presidents attended and but did not graduate from Columbia Law School. Teddy was meant to be a member of the Class of 1882 and FDR the Class of 1907, but both departed early to embark on their historic political careers, never receiving their juris doctor degrees.
“Tonight,” said Columbia Law School Dean David M. Schizer on Sept. 25 at the Harlan Fiske Stone Society Reception, “we’re going to reconcile that.” In conferring them posthumous J.D.s, Schizer described the Roosevelts’ eras and drew parallels to today.
“When FDR was inaugurated, industrial production had fallen by more than half in three years, farm prices had fallen by 60 percent, and 32 of the 48 states had closed their banks. All over the world, people were hungry and afraid,” Schizer said. “In the face of this panic, Roosevelt had the courage and wisdom to inspire the nation. “The only thing we have to fear,” he famously said in his first inaugural address, “is fear itself.”
Schizer was speaking near the end of an intense presidential campaign season in which both candidates have invoked the Roosevelts as have political commentators.
Senator John McCain has often identified himself with Theodore Roosevelt, “I’m a Teddy Roosevelt Republican,” he has said on more than one occasion, and he quotes him. In Tuesday’s debate he said, “Talk softly but carry a big stick,” one of TR’s more famous sayings, and McCain used another TR quote in his Man in the Arena election advertisement.
When Senator Barack Obama issued a statement on October 1, on the emergency economic stabilization legislation before the U.S. Senate, he cited Franklin D. Roosevelt from the last great economic crisis. “There is an element in the readjustment of our financial system more important than currency, more important than gold, and that is the confidence of the people themselves. Confidence and courage are the essentials of success in carrying out our plan. Let us unite in banishing fear. Together, we cannot fail."
FDR’s legacy includes fundamental economic institutions such as the Securities Exchange Commission, the national Labor Relations Board and Social Security. Of special significance to Columbia Law School, he also elevated its own graduate and former dean, the Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Harlan Fiske Stone, to Chief Justice of the United States.
The evening’s honored guests included Theodore Roosevelt IV, great-grandson of Theodore Roosevelt, Simon Roosevelt, TR’s great-great-grandson, and Michael Roosevelt ’72, grandson of FDR. The Roosevelt relatives accepted the gold-framed degrees before an audience of more than 200 at the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Plaza.
Schizer described Theodore Roosevelt as “remarkably prescient in his understanding of modern economies, and of the challenges of sustainable development.” Theodore pioneered the regulation of railroads and the regulation of food and drugs. He was also an ardent (and early) environmentalist, who set aside 42 million acres of national forests, 53 wildlife refuges, and 18 areas of “special interest” including the Grand Canyon.
Theodore Roosevelt attended Columbia Law School in 1880 and left in 1881 to serve in the New York State Assembly. He would have graduated in 1882 as the law school curriculum was two years long at the time. He received an honorary LL.D. in 1899.
“It took me only three years to get a law degree,” joked Simon, who also sits on the board of the Theodore Roosevelt Association, which honors Theodore’s life and works and educates the public about him.
“Theodore Roosevelt’s well-known exuberance for morality and righteousness was no doubt helped by the temperance he received through legal training,” Simon said as he accepted the award.
Franklin D. Roosevelt attended Columbia Law School from the fall of 1904 to the spring 1907. He chose to take the New York State Bar Examination, which he passed, and began practicing the law without finishing his degree.
Michael, who received his degree 35 years before his grandfather FDR did, said his grandfather Franklin would feel privileged to finally be included in the distinguished Columbia Law family. He said, “I assure you that he would be most pleased, proud, and honored by this recognition.”
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