Read an Excerpt
The Wit & Wisdom of FDR
By James C. Humes HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2008
James C. Humes
All right reserved.
In Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, the premier collection of noted sayings, only one American has more citations under his name than Franklin Roosevelt. (No, it is not Lincoln but Mark Twain, who was Roosevelt's favorite author.)
That is not surprising when one considers that Roosevelt presided over two of the most climactic times in American history—the Great Depression and World War II.
But it is a tribute to the lilt, pith, and wit of so many of his utterances. Roosevelt employed the use of speechwriters. Some of them were very talented, such as Pulitzer Prize winners Robert Sherwood and Archibald MacLeish. Playwrights like Sherwood and MacLeish, as well as other wordsmiths, possess the skills to craft a memorable line through the use of repetition, rhyme, and alliteration, as well as the arresting metaphor. All of these can be noted in the following observations by FDR.
Bartlett's, which includes writers and poets, as well as generals and statesmen, from classical to contemporary times, has only limited space in a one-volume book. It weighs three factors in considering what to include—the familiarity of the saying, the fame of the one uttering it, and the length of the statement. Entire speeches—such as the Gettysburg Address—are a singular exception.
The following quotations fill in the details in this political portrait of thethirty-second president. The selections manifest his wisdom, wit, and robust personality.
- This is no time for fear, for reaction, or for timidity.
- We shall strive for perfection. We shall not achieve it immediately—but we shall strive. We may make mistakes, but they must never be mistakes which result from faintness of heart or abandonment of moral principle.
- We oppose a mere period of coma in our national life.
- Against naked force, the only possible defense is naked force. The aggressor makes the rules for such a war; the defenders have no alternative but matching destruction with more destruction, slaughter with greater slaughter.
- Self-help and self-control are the essence of the American tradition.
- I sometimes think the saving grace of America lies in the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans are possessed of two great qualities—a sense of humor and a sense of proportion.
- The Almighty God has blessed our land in many ways. He has given our people stout hearts and strong arms with which to strike mighty blows for freedom and truth. He has given to our country a faith which has become the hope of all peoples in an anguished world.
- We must always be wary of those who with sounding brass and the tinkling cymbal preach the "ism" of appeasement.
- We have never had the illusion that peace and freedom could be based on weakness.
- No nation can appease the Nazis. No man can tame a tiger into a kitten by stroking it. There can be no appeasement with ruthlessness. There can be no reasoning with an incendiary bomb.
- Art is not a treasure in the past or an importation from another land, but part of the present life of all the living and creating peoples.
- A world turned into a stereotype, a society converted into a regiment, a life translated into a routine, make it difficult for either art or artists to survive. Crush individuality in society, and you crush art as well. Nourish the conditions of a free life, and you nourish the arts, too.
- Beware of that profound enemy of the free enterprise system who pays lip service to free competition—but also labels every antitrust prosecution as a "persecution."
- Private enterprise, indeed, became too private. It became privileged enterprise, not free enterprise.
- The struggle against private monopoly is a struggle for, and not against, American business. It is a struggle to preserve individual enterprise and economic freedom.
- Private enterprise is ceasing to be free enterprise and is becoming a cluster of private collectivisms, masking itself as a system of free enterprise after the American model. It is, in fact, becoming a concealed cartel system after the European model.
- Books cannot be killed by fire. People die, but books never die. No man and no force can abolish memory. . . . Books are weapons, and it is a part of your dedication always to make them weapons for man's freedom.
- Never let your opponent pick the battleground on which to fight. If he picks one, stay out of it and let him fight all by himself.
- I propose to sail ahead. I feel sure that your hopes and your help are with me. For to reach a port, we must sail—sail, not lie at anchor, sail not drift.
- It is a good thing to demand liberty for ourselves and for those who agree with us, but it is a better thing and rarer thing to give liberty to others who do not agree with us.
- Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.
- It is the duty of the president to propose, and it is the privilege of the Congress to dispose.
- The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.
- The true conservative is the man who has a real concern for injustices and takes thought against the day of reckoning.
- A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who has never learned to walk forward.
- A reactionary is a somnambulist walking backwards.
Excerpted from The Wit & Wisdom of FDR by James C. Humes Copyright © 2008 by James C. Humes. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.