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In the relatively short span of 25 years — from his first national campaign in 1920 to his death in the first year of his fourth term as President in 1945 — Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered hundreds of speeches, many of them masterly orations.
Perhaps the finest speechmaker in American history, FDR was a consummate expert at reading his audience. He could be dazzlingly informal, imperiously statesmanlike, witheringly sarcastic, stern, and serious, and when the occasion permitted, outright funny. Though his audiences often included more than 30 million listeners in America and millions more around the world, he succeeded in doing what so many speakers strive for and so few accomplish — he left his listeners with the feeling that he was speaking to them alone.
This representative collection of 27 of FDR's finest speeches recalls a number of momentous events in his political career and the life of the nation. Included are his dramatic and inspirational First Inaugural Address (March 4, 1933) in which he told the nation that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself"; his first "Fireside Chat" (March 12, 1933) over the radio; his dramatic War Message to Congress (December 8, 1941) following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor ("a day that will live in infamy"); his Fourth Inaugural Address (January 20, 1945); and many more.
Assembled here in one convenient volume, these speeches provide students of history, politics, and rhetoric, as well as general readers, with an immensely useful reference, a wealth of fine oration, and a valuable window on the Roosevelt years.
Includes a selection from the Common Core State Standards Initiative: "State of the Union Address."
Read an Excerpt
By Franklin Delano Roosevelt, JOHN GRAFTON
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1999 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Acceptance Speech For Vice-Presidential Nomination
Hyde Park, August 9, 1920
FDR began his career in public life serving in the New York State Senate from 1911 to 1913. He gained prominence as Woodrow Wilson's Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1913 to 1920, spending the whole of World War I in that capacity. He was a sufficiently visible Democrat to receive the party's vice presidential nomination in 1920 on the ticket led by James M. Cox of Ohio, although he was only thirty-eight years old at the time. Following the time-honored practice of candidates not appearing at their party's nominating conventions, FDR accepted the Democratic nomination for the vice-presidency with this speech delivered at Hyde Park on August 9, 1920.
Despite the conservative trend the country was taking, Roosevelt enthusiastically identified himself with the Wilsonian-Progressive wing of the Democratic party and made United States entry into the League of Nations his central issue. The electorate rejected the League and the Democrats, sending Warren Harding to the White House and FDR back to New York and the private practice of law. For FDR, the 1920 campaign was a setback in his political career which no doubt seemed permanent to many when he contracted infantile paralysis the following year while vacationing at the Roosevelt summer home on Campobello Island off the coast of New Brunswick.
I accept the nomination for the office of Vice-President with humbleness, and with a deep wish to give to our beloved country the best that is in me.—No one could receive a higher privilege or opportunity than to be thus associated with men and ideals which I am confident will soon receive the support of the majority of our citizens.
In fact, I could not conscientiously accept it if I had not come to know by the closest intimacy that he who is our selection for the Presidency, and who is my chief and yours, is a man possessed of ideals which are also mine. He will give to America that kind of leadership which will make us respect him and bring further greatness to our land. In him I recognize one who can lead this nation forward in an unhalting march of progress. Such a man is James M. Cox.
Two great problems will confront the next administration; our relations with the world and the pressing need of organized progress at home. The latter includes a systematized and intensified development of our resources and a progressive betterment of our citizenship. These matters will require the guiding hand of a President who can see his country above his party, and who, having a clear vision of things as they are, has also the independence, courage and skill to guide us along the road to things as they should be without swerving one footstep at the dictation of narrow partisans who whisper "party" or of selfish interests that murmur "profits."
In our world problems, we must either shut our eyes, sell our newly built merchant marine to more far-seeing foreign powers, crush utterly by embargo and harassing legislation our foreign trade, close our ports, build an impregnable wall of costly armaments and live, as the Orient used to live, a hermit nation, dreaming of the past; or, we must open our eyes and see that modern civilization has become so complex and the lives of civilized men so interwoven with the lives of other men in other countries as to make it impossible to be in this world and not of it. We must see that it is impossible to avoid, except by monastic seclusion, those honorable and intimate foreign relations which the fearful-hearted shudderingly miscall by that Devil's catch word "international complications."
As for our home problem, we have been awakened by this war into a startled realization of the archaic shortcomings of our governmental machinery and of the need for the kind of reorganization which only a clear thinking business man, experienced in the technicalities of governmental procedure, can carry out. Such a man we have. One who has so successfully reformed the business management of his own great State is obviously capable of doing greater things. This is not [the] time to experiment with men who believe that their party can do no wrong and that what is good for the selfish interests of a political party is of necessity good for the nation as well. I as a citizen believe that this year we should choose as President a proven executive.—We need to do things; not talk about them.
Much has been said of late about good Americanism. It is right that it should have been said, and it is right that every chance should be seized to repeat the basic truths underlying our prosperity and our national existence itself.—But it would be an unusual and much to be wished for thing, if, in the coming presentation of the issues a new note of fairness and generosity could be struck. Littleness, meanness, falsehood, extreme partisanship—these are not in accord with the American spirit. I like to think that in this respect also we are moving forward.
Let us be definite. We have passed through a great war,—an armed conflict which called forth every effort on the part of the whole population. —The war was won by Republicans as well as by Democrats. Men of all parties served in our armed forces.—Men and women of all parties served the government at home. They strived honestly as Americans, not as mere partisans. Republicans and Democrats alike worked in administrative positions, raised Liberty loans, administered food control, toiled in munition plants, built ships.—The war was brought to a successful conclusion by a glorious common effort—one which in the years to come will be a national pride. I feel very certain that our children will come to regard our participation as memorable for the broad honor and honesty which marked it, for the absence of unfortunate scandal, and for the splendid unity of action which extended to every portion of the nation. It would, therefore, not only serve little purpose,—but would conform ill to our high standards if any person should in the heat of political rivalry seek to manufacture political advantage out of a nationally conducted struggle. We have seen things on too large a scale to listen in this day to trifles, or to believe in the adequacy of trifling men.
It is that same vision of the bigger outlook of national and individual life which will, I am sure, lead us to demand that the men who represent us in the affairs of our government shall be more than politicans or the errand boys of politicans—that they shall subordinate always the individual ambition and the party advantage to the national good. In the long run the true statesman and the honestly forward looking party will prevail.
Even as the Nation entered the war for an ideal, so it has emerged from the war with the determination that the ideal shall not die. It is idle to pretend that the war declaration of April 6th, 1917, was a mere act of selfdefense,—or that the object of our participation was solely to defeat the military power of the Central Nations of Europe. We knew then as a Nation, even as we know today, that success on land and sea could be but half a victory. The other half is not won yet. To the cry of the French at Verdun; "They shall not pass"; the cheer of our own men in the Argonne; "We shall go through"—we must add this; "It shall not occur again." This is the positive declaration of our own wills; that the world shall be saved from a repetition of this crime.
To this end the democratic party offers a treaty of peace, which, to make it a real treaty for a real peace MUST include a League of Nations; because this peace treaty, if our best and bravest are not to have died in vain, must be no thinly disguised armistice devised by cynical statesmen to mask their preparations for a renewal of greed-inspired conquests later on. "Peace" must mean peace that will last. A practical, workable, permanent, enforcible kind of a peace that will hold as tightly as the business contracts of the individual. We must indeed be, above all things, businesslike and practical in this peace treaty making business of ours. The League of Nations is a practical solution of a practical situation. It is no more perfect than our original Constitution, which has been amended 18 times and will soon, we hope, be amended the 19th, was perfect. It is not anti-national, it is anti-war. No super-nation, binding us to the decisions of its tribunals, is suggested, but the method and machinery by which the opinion of civilization may become effective against those who seek war is at last within the reach of humanity. Through it we may with nearly every other duly constituted government in the whole world throw our moral force and our potential power into the scale of peace. That such an object should be contrary to American policy is unthinkable; but if there be any citizen who has HONEST—and I emphasize the word honest—fears that it may be perverted from its plain intent so as to conflict with our established form of government, it will be simple to declare to him and to the other nations that the Constitution of the United States is in every way supreme. There must be no equivocation, no vagueness, no double dealing with the people on this issue. The League will not die. An idea does not die which meets the call of the hearts of our mothers.
So, too, with peace. War may be "declared"; peace cannot. It must be established by mutual consent, by a meeting of the minds of the parties in interest. From the practical point of view alone a peace by resolution of Congress is unworkable. From the point of view of the millions of splendid Americans who served in that whirlwind of war, and of those other millions at home who saw, in our part of the conflict, the splendid hope of days of peace for future generations, a peace by resolution of Congress is an insult and a denial of our national purpose.
Today we are offered a seat at the table of the family of nations to the end that smaller peoples may be truly safe to work out their own destiny, to the end that the sword shall not follow on the heels of the merchant, to the end that the burden of increasing armies and navies shall be lifted from the shoulders of a world already staggering under the weight of taxation. We shall take that place. I say so because I have faith—faith that this nation has no selfish destiny, faith that our people are looking into the years beyond for better things, and that they are not afraid to do their part.
The fundamental outlook on the associations between this Republic and the other Nations can never be very different in character from the principles which one applies to our own purely internal affairs. A man who opposes concrete reforms and improvements in international relations is of necessity a reactionary, or at least a conservative in viewing his home problems....
Some people have been saying of late: "We are tired of progress, we want to go back to where we were before; to go about our own business; to restore 'normal' conditions of 'normalcy.'" They are wrong. This is not the wish of America! We can never go back. The "good old days" are gone past forever; we have no regrets. For our eyes are trained ahead—forward to better new days. In this faith I am strengthened by the firm belief that women of this nation, now about to receive the National franchise, will throw their weight into the scale of progress and will be unbound by partisan prejudices and a too narrow outlook on national problems. We cannot anchor our ship of state in this world tempest, nor can we return to the placid harbor of long years ago. We must go forward or founder.
America's opportunity is at hand. We can lead the world by a great example, we can prove this nation a living, growing thing, with policies that are adequate to new conditions. In a thousand ways this is our hour of test. The Democratic program offers a larger life for our country, a richer destiny for our people. It is a plan of hope. In this, chiefly let it be our aim to build up, not to tear down. Our opposition is to the things which once existed, in order that they may never return. We oppose money in politics, we oppose the private control of national finances, we oppose the treating of human beings as commodities, we oppose the saloon-bossed city, we oppose starvation wages, we oppose rule by groups or cliques. In the same way we oppose a mere period of coma in our national life....
It is the faith which is in me that makes me very certain that America will choose the path of progress and set aside the doctrines of despair, the whispering of cowardice, the narrow road to yesterday. May the Guiding Spirit of our land keep our feet on the broad road that leads to a better tomorrow and give to us strength to carry on.CHAPTER 2
Buffalo, October 20, 1928
FDR's political comeback from polio and the 1920 defeat began at the Democratic convention of 1924 when he nominated his close friend, New York Governor Alfred E. Smith for the presidency, christening him "The Happy Warrior of the political battlefield." Smith failed to win the nomination, which after 102 bitterly contested ballots went to John W. Davis; but the fact that even with his disability FDR could make such a huge effort so successfully helped to put him back in the political limelight. In 1928, FDR nominated Smith again, and this time the "Happy Warrior" won the party's nomination. Smith and many other Democrats convinced FDR to run for governor of New York in the hope that FDR's popularity would help the party carry the state, crucial to any chance the Democrats had of national victory. FDR won the governorship by a narrow 25,000 vote margin, but Smith failed to carry New York State and lost the presidential election to Herbert Hoover.
In this campaign speech at Buffalo on October 20, 1928, Roosevelt engaged in the fierce political infighting which he always relished, bluntly accusing his opponents of lying to the public on the subject of support for labor. The speech is most interesting, however, for the plea for religious toleration with which it ends. However, the idea of electing a "wet" (anti-Prohibition) Catholic to the presidency in 1928 was probably a lost cause from day one; and despite the efforts of Roosevelt and others in this area, there is little doubt that Smith's religion cost him heavily in the election.
In a pigeon hole in the desk of the Republican leaders of New York State is a large envelope, soiled, worn and bearing a date that goes back twenty-five years. Printed in large letters on this envelope are the words "Promises to Labor." Inside the envelope are a series of sheets dated two years apart and representing the best thought of the best minds of the Republican leaders over the succession of years. Each sheet of promises is practically a duplicate of every other sheet. Nowhere in that envelope is there a single page bearing the title "Promises Kept."
I ought to know something about it personally, because I had the good fortune to be a member of the State Senate in that famous year of 1911 when the Democratic Party, coming into control of the State government for the first time in a generation, started on its way a program, not of promises but of accomplishments.
The set-up in 1911 was exactly the same as it is in 1928. The Democratic administration and the Democratic leaders in the legislature began at that time a series of practical measures in the interest of the men and women of this State who work with their hands. That session of the legislature was the "Godfather" of the Workmen's Compensation Law, of the first law limiting the hours of women in industry, of the Factory Investigation Committee, and of a series of important measures strengthening the provisions of the existing labor law and building up the effective strength of the Labor Department.
It is worthwhile to go back as far as 1911 because we get at that time a definite picture of the attitude of the leaders of the two parties—an attitude which has continued down to the present day.
I remember well that the position of the Democratic Party was at that time severely criticized by the reactionary element in this State as being socialistic and radical, and if the term Bolshevist had been then in existence it would undoubtedly have been applied to Assemblyman Alfred E. Smith, Senator Robert Wagner and many others, including myself, because of our ardent support for the whole program.
Arrayed against us was the silent, powerful pressure of the old school of thought, which held to the theory that when an employer hired working men or working women, that employer became the master of the fate of his employees; that when a worker entered the factory doors it was nobody's business as to how he worked, how long he was worked or how much he was paid.
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Table of ContentsIntroduction
Acceptance Speech for Vice-Presidential Nomination
Message to the New York State Legislature
Commonwealth Club of San Francisco
First Inaugural Address
First Fireside Chat
Second Fireside Chat
Second Inaugural Address
Fireside Chat (on the Outbreak of World War II)
"Dagger in the Back"
"Fireside Chat ("The Arsenal of Democracy")"
"State of the Union Message to Congress ("The Four Freedoms")"
Third Inaugural Address
Fireside Chat (on German submarine attacks)
War Message to Congress
Fireside Chat "February 23, 1942"
Radio Address to New York Herald Tribune Forum "October 12, 1942"
Fireside Chat (on GI Bill of Rights)
Fireside Chat (on Fifth War Loan Drive)
Campaign Speech to the Teamsters Union
Fourth Inaugural Address