FDR and Fear Itself: The First Inaugural Address

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"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." These are some of the most famous, the most quoted, and the best remembered words in American political history. They seem to be a natural expression of American democratic will, yet these words from Franklin Roosevelt's first inaugural address had an actual author who struggled with how best to express that thought-and it wasn't the new president. In this innovative book on the crafting of this crucial speech, Davis W. Houck leads the reader from its negative, mechanical, and Hooverian first draft through its final revision, its delivery, and the responses of those who were inspired by it during those troubled times.

Houck's analysis, dramatic and at points riveting, focuses on three themes: how the speech came to be written; an explication of the text itself; and its reception. Drawing on the writings and memories of several people who were present in the crowd at the inauguration, Houck shows how powerfully the new president's speech affected those who were there or who heard it on the radio. Some were so moved by Roosevelt's delivery that they would have been willing to make him a dictator, and many believed such inspired words could have come only from a divine source.

Houck then flashes back to the final year of the 1932 presidential campaign to show how Raymond Moley, the principal architect of the address, came to be trusted by Roosevelt to craft this important speech. Houck traces the relationships of Moley with Roosevelt and Roosevelt's influential confidante, Louis Howe, who was responsible for important changes in the speech's later drafts, including the famous aphorism.

Although the book focuses primarily on the speech and its drafting, Houck also offers telling glimpses of Roosevelt's complex relationship with his wife, who dreaded her new duties as First Lady, and his deep, personal dislike of Herbert Hoover, all while conveying a strong sense of the urgency of the times. The text of this compelling address is provided in its entirety so that students and others may experience for themselves the full power of the rhetoric.

Davis W. Houck, an assistant professor of communication at Florida State University, has written several works on presidential rhetoric, including Rhetoric as Currency: Hoover, Roosevelt, and the Great Depression, also published by Texas A&M University Press. He holds a Ph.D. from Penn State University.

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Editorial Reviews

Thomas W. Benson

“In FDR and Fear Itself, Davis W. Houck presents the most searching analysis and the most detailed historical investigation of FDR’s first inaugural address that has ever been published. To this considerable accomplishment Houck adds a fascinating and imaginative reconstruction of the composition and the reception of the address as seen through the eyes of speechwriter Raymond Moley, rendered in novelistic detail. A grand performance-psychologically compelling, frankly controversial, zestfully attentive to historical detail.”--Thomas W. Benson, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Rhetoric, Penn State University
Library Journal
With his first inaugural address, which was fewer than 2000 words, Franklin Roosevelt won the confidence of the American public something his predecessor, Herbert Hoover, failed to do in four years as president. In this worthy inaugural volume in a new series about presidential rhetoric, Houck (Rhetoric as Currency: Hoover, Roosevelt, and the Great Depression) investigates the crafting of Roosevelt's speech and the inspiration it gave to a Depression-demoralized nation. The story is mostly that of Raymond Moley, a member of Roosevelt's "brain trust," who struggled with jealous aides and Roosevelt himself as he drafted what is arguably the most memorable presidential speech of the 20th century. Other important themes discussed here are the bitter relationship between Roosevelt and Hoover and the loneliness of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, made worse following her husband's election. Ultimately, the speech proclaiming that we had "nothing to fear but fear itself" (a phrase coined by neither Roosevelt nor Moley but by presidential aide Louis Howe) projected the goals of a self-assured leader who through four terms became the most enduring presidential communicator. Recommended for public and academic libraries. Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., PA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781585441983
  • Publisher: Texas A&M University Press
  • Publication date: 7/20/2002
  • Series: Library of Presidential Rhetoric Series
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 184
  • Sales rank: 1,047,822
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Davis W. Houck, an assistant professor of communication at Florida State University, has written several works on presidential rhetoric, including Rhetoric as Currency: Hoover, Roosevelt, and the Great Depression, also published by Texas A&M University Press. He holds a Ph.D. from Penn State University.
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