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Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship - Jon Meacham ”There are memorials to Roosevelt and Churchill just inside the West Door of Westminster Abbey. The first, a gray tablet that hangs far below a window depicting Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the twelve tribes of Israel, reads: TO THE HONORED MEMORY OF FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, A FAITHFUL FRIEND OF FREEDOM AND OF BRITAIN. Nearby, a large, dark green marble slab lies on the floor of the great nave, its inscription simple but profound: REMEMBER WINSTON CHURCHILL. On sunny days in London, light slips in the gloom of the ancient church, both through the stained glass and from the open doors--light from a world Roosevelt and Churchill together delivered from evil.”

It is hard not to admire these two men. They were great orators in a time when the world needed words of encouragement. They were fiercely patriotic and were able to convey that passion to nations that were being asked to sacrifice everything. It is hard to imagine anyone else having the ability to convince a nation to the hold the line when their allies have capitulated and their capital is being bombed into dust than Winston S. Churchill. As he was trying to hold his nation together he was looking across the water towards the Americans, hoping the nation of Immigrants would lend their resources and their optimism once again to save Europe.


Franklin D. Roosevelt was certainly no wallflower, playing the elusive, flirtatious coquette with Churchill while trying to appease the thunderous clamour from the isolationist Republicans on the right. Roosevelt was worried about reelection, and certainly any whisper that he was intending to launch his country into another European War would have sent him home to Hyde Park. He was a charming man, but distant with family and friends always friendly, but once he began to feel uncomfortable a veneer of coldness would appear. Churchill, on the other hand was like a puppy, once he decided he liked someone he was intensely loyal and would almost smother that person with affection. You might see how these conflicting personalities might...well...conflict. Regardless, they had a lot in common, and not to sound too dramatic the future of the world was at their feet.

They loved tobacco, strong drink, history, the sea, battleships, hymns, pageantry, patriotic poetry, high office, and hearing themselves talk. ‘Being with them was like sitting between two lions roaring at the same time,’ said Mary Soames.”

We probably owe a debt of gratitude to the Japanese for attacking Pearl Harbor. Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy -- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. It is unclear when or if the United States of America would have entered the conflict. Churchill was determined not to sue for peace and it is highly likely that Hitler would have made the decision to invade England. We will never know what the US would have done under those circumstances. I would certainly like to think we would have done our best to save England, but fortunately, for the world, the decision was made for us.

Winston Churchill was credited with showing the first V sign for VICTORY

The relationships between the Roosevelts and the Churchills was at times strained. The pressure of the war was weighing heavily on everyone, but you can imagine the frustrations that were launched at those closest to the men bearing the most pressure for success. ”Despite the psychological wear and tear of the years, in times of stress the bond of marriage tended to reassert itself for both the Churchills and the Roosevelts. Churchill could be demanding, Clementine difficult, Franklin deceptive, and Eleanor wearying, but what Mary Soames once called ‘the golden thread of love’ bound each couple together.” Clementine really had her hands full with Winston. She was constantly trying to keep the mind, body, and spirit of her dynamic husband from falling to pieces. Churchill was a heavy drinker, but yet never seemed to show the signs of intoxication. ”There can be little question, however, that the cumulative effect of years of drinking was at least one factor among many in Churchill’s personality. Alcohol raised his sense of drama, removed inhibitions, and invested the ordinary with a dimension of the extraordinary. His highs seemed higher, his lows lower.”

The relationship between Franklin and Eleanor is particularly interesting. They were cousins, she did not even have to change her name when they married. He was handsome. She was particularly unhandsome in a Roosevelt family full of beautiful people. Despite lacking social grace and elegance Eleanor turned out to be the perfect wife for a man who wanted to be a successful politician. She was smart, insightful, and brutally honest. She was everything an ambitious man could want in a wife, but those good qualities also proved to be the qualities that Franklin found most unsatisfactory when he wanted to relax. Churchill never turned off, but Franklin at the end of the day wanted to put the cares of the day away and work on his stamp collection or enjoy a cocktail. Eleanor wrote for numerous magazines, not that Franklin didn’t trust her, but he did have a real fear that she would unintentionally reveal something in her writing that would turn out to be detrimental to the nation. Because of that fear he never felt like he could totally unwind around Eleanor.

Lucy Mercer and we get a glimpse of what FDR found so attractive about her.

But Lucy Mercer was a different story. She didn’t have those qualities that made Eleanor the perfect political wife, but she did have all the qualities that Eleanor was lacking. ”Eleanor had hired the twenty-two-year-old Lucy Mercer as a social secretary in the winter of 1913-1914. A charming woman with a voice, Joseph Lash remarked, ‘like dark velvet’,” Lucy became part of the Roosevelt household. ‘She knew how to please a man, ‘ wrote Lash, ‘to make his life easy and agreeable, to bolster instead of challenge him.’ Roosevelt fell in love with her.” When Eleanor discovered the affair Lucy was sacked. Lucy then married Winthrop Rutherfurd, but for the rest of Franklin’s life they stayed in touch. She was with him when he died at Warm Springs. She left immediately to avoid a scandal, but another woman in the household told Eleanor as soon as she arrived. Eleanor had to deal with two blows, the death of her husband and discovering his continued deception.

Franklin also had an ongoing intellectual relationship, no indication of a physical relationship, with Margaret “Daisy” Suckley a Hyde Park neighbor and a sixth cousin. She was someone he could confide in about events with much more comfort than he could with Eleanor. She was solicitous and brimming with confidence in his greatness. She was more of a mother figure than a girlfriend. She kept a diary and notes about her conversations with Franklin that later proved to be a treasure trove for the biographer Geoffrey Ward.

I never have heard of any sexual scandal associated with Winston Churchill. He’s seems to have been done looking for love when he met Clemmie. He was eccentric in his behavior and sometimes his mode of dress, but when it came to love he was like the most faithful of the animal kingdom gibbons, swans, black vultures, wolves, albatrosses, turtle doves or bald eagles. He was mated for life.

The BIG Three: Stalin, FDR, and Churchill.

Winston and Franklin were close, but their relationship was sorely tested when they added the last member of the big three, Joseph Stalin. Stalin was suspicious of England; and therefore, wary of Churchill, especially his oratory gifts. Stalin was a man of few words and the more Winston talked the less he listened. Roosevelt in a bit of statecraft realized that if he was going to negotiate with Stalin he needed to do it without Churchill. He had secret meetings which of course could not stay secret. Churchill is hurt at being excluded. He feels that he has deserved the right to be a part of any negotiations. He was the man standing up to Hitler when the other two were still playing footsy with the Germans under the table. There was in particular a painful scene, described my Meacham, where Stalin begins to pick at Churchill in bullying school boy manner and Roosevelt joins in both laughing maliciously at the expense of Winston. It may have been simply part of the plan to ingratiate himself with Stalin, but it left my stomach queasy and it was a moment that would continue to chafe Churchill clear up to the death of Roosevelt.

Meacham is a very engaging writer. I read his book about Andrew Jackson called American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White Houseand was impressed, in both books, by his ability to flesh out these monolithic figures from our past. He has a new book coming out on Thomas Jefferson at the end of this year and I’m curious to discover what image of the man he will present to me. Highly recommended to those who love history.