History Ph.D. Dissertations


A Party in Peril: Franklin Roosevelt, the Democratic Party, and the Circular Letter of 1924

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Scott Martin (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Michael Brooks (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Douglas Forsyth (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Ellen Gorsevski (Other)

Fifth Advisor

Nicole Kalaf-Hughes (Committee Member)


The Democratic Party suffered its worst electoral defeat in 1924, when compromise candidate John Davis survived a brutal convention in New York City only to be soundly defeated by Calvin Coolidge. It was a demoralizing defeat for the party, and Franklin D. Roosevelt seized this fraught moment to take the reins as party leader and begin reforming the party to fit his vision. Roosevelt composed a circular letter, listing five fundamental principles that the Democratic Party should unite behind, and sent it to delegates and party leaders throughout the country. Whether he believed that the responses would simply endorse his suggestions and reorient him as party leader or not, he received a variety of feedback, demonstrating the deep fissures within the Democratic Party and a distinct lack of direction or shared vision.

This dissertation focuses on the convergence of two fortunes: the Democratic Party, going through one of its darkest periods, and Franklin Roosevelt, recovering from his tragic illness and trying to reclaim his position in the party. My dissertation provides the most significant examination of the Franklin Roosevelt Circular Letter of 1924. Analyzing the Franklin Roosevelt Circular Letter of 1924 provides an opportunity to understand a party and politician in peril: the Democratic Party at its lowest moment since the Civil War; Franklin Roosevelt at a personal and political crossroads; and how Roosevelt's Circular Letter and responses provided a way for both the party and his political career to return to prominence.