Forward: This Is a Transcript of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's First Inaugural Address Given March 4, 1933 After Becoming The United States of America's 32nd President. I highlighted the parts that I think are most important and relevant to our time. There is much written here and said in such a relatively short speech. The parts that are italic and are not quoted are my understanding of what he meant in his speech, background of FDR's administration and sometimes comparison to Hoover who came before, and my opinions of Roosevelt and his policies. This speech seems most appropriate to be reexamined in our present time with our present problems we face as a nation. I believe we are suffering because we strayed from his ideals and our foundation and the ideals of our Republic that is set in the ideas of Democracy, Liberty and Justice For All, and Our Constitution.
First Inaugural Address (March 4, 1933)
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
President Hoover, Mr. Chief Justice, my friends:
This is a day of national consecration. And I am certain that on this day my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impels. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today.This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.
In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things. Values have shrunken to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone.
More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.
Here Roosevelt explains to the American People he understands the peril the nation is facing and does not minimize the true nature of the problems at hand. He is a realist on the problems the nation faces and an optimist on its ability to overcome them. He asserts fear is the greatest threat to the nation in making progress on improving it and touches I believe on the danger fear causes to the economy when he talks about 'nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance'. At the end his comment seems to me to be directed directly at Hoover who tried to minimize the crises at hand 'Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment'. Roosevelt was a master at being sympathetic to the plight of the common man and speaking with him on a level he could understand and with a tone and substance he could trust. Unlike Hoover before he did not try to deny the magnitude of the economic crises and the real suffering of the American People. He correctly realized the very real danger of fear and panic in the economy was causing the economy and nation and correctly saw it as an impediment to progress on that front. Roosevelt was accepted by the people because he made them feel as he understood them and stood with them.
Yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply. Primarily this is because rulers of the exchange of mankind's goods have failed through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and have abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.
True they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.
The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.
Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.
Recognition of the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position are to be valued only by the standards of pride of place and personal profit; and there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, on unselfish performance; without them it cannot live. Restoration calls, however, not for changes in ethics alone. This Nation asks for action, and action now.
Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. It can be accomplished in part by direct recruiting by the Government itself, treating the task as we would treat the emergency of a war, but at the same time, through this employment, accomplishing greatly needed projects to stimulate and reorganize the use of ur natural resources.
Here Roosevelt talks of the corruption in the markets and corporations and their failure in the economy because of selfishness, greed, and incompetence. He comments on the people's loss of faith in the markets and corporations. He criticizes the pursuit of money over the pursuit of being a good person. He says true happiness does not come from money but from achievement. He explains true wealth comes from work and not speculation in the markets. He emphasizes individualism and democracy as being our true destiny and not being subject to powerful elites. He asserts there must be changes to become more ethical in business and government and quick action must be taken to address the nation's economic problems. He acknowledges the most important task is to get people back to work. He advocates for the federal government playing a significant role towards that end. He rightly refers to the financial crises as a great emergency. He calls for work projects in the nation to improve the nation and employment situation. Roosevelt was critical of unfettered capitalism and rampant speculation that had invaded the nation. He understood why the average man and woman on the street had distrust of wall-street, corporations, and the wealthy elite because he had witnessed first hand in his life the greed and excess of such. He had talked with the everyday man and woman and learned to sympathize with their plight. He became a changed individual after seeing the abuses of capitalism and the suffering of individuals, so much so he was labeled by the elites as a 'traitor to his class'. He criticized the very heart of what capitalism had become in America as a system that had become ruled by money, greed, rampant speculation, fraud, corruption, and abuse and he sought to restore capitalism to a more ethical and sound foundation. He well understood the nature of the crises and its scope and advocated for strong federal government action to helping alleviate the crises. He believed in ethical and sound government that worked for the people not against them, that worked for the common man, woman, and child as its primary focus not wall-street, corporations, banks, and wealthy elites, and that was ran as efficient and economically sustainable as possible.
Hand in hand with this we must frankly recognize the overbalance of population in our industrial centers and, by engaging on a national scale in a redistribution, endeavor to provide a better use of the land for those best fitted for the land. The task can be helped by definite efforts to raise the values of agricultural products and with this the power to purchase the output of our cities. It can be helped by preventing realistically the tragedy of the growing loss through foreclosure of our small homes and our farms. It can be helped by insistence that the Federal, State, and local governments act forthwith on the demand that their cost be drastically reduced. It can be helped by the unifying of relief activities which today are often scattered, uneconomical, and unequal. It can be helped by national planning for and supervision of all forms of transportation and of communications and other utilities which have a definitely public character. There are many ways in which it can be helped, but it can never be helped merely by talking about it. We must act and act quickly.
Finally, in our progress toward a resumption of work we require two safeguards against a return of the evils of the old order: there must be a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments, so that there will be an end to speculation with other people's money; and there must be provision for an adequate but sound currency.
Roosevelt explains foreclosures need to be reduced by government action. He advocates for a more efficient and less costly government and his solution calls for relief aide to be more centralized, economical, and equal. He advocates for better planning and more government involvement in transportation, communications, and other infrastructure to improve them. He explains talk is not enough and quick action is needed. He advocates for more regulation of markets and corporations to prevent another crises and more corruption. He advocates against wild speculation in the markets. He advocates for a strong and safe currency. Roosevelt endorsed directly helping the people using the federal government and bypassing all the layers of state, county, local government and private industry that the Hoover administration had endorsed because he believed such was too inefficient, costly, and treated people unequally who were suffering depending on who and where they were. Roosevelt endorsed quick action unlike Hoover who often dragged his feet on the economic situation on the ground because the bias he had for free-markets self correcting. Roosevelt advocated for public work programs and many other programs to help people suffering and to work towards ending the financial crises. He advocated for better regulated markets, banks, corporations and a more stable and sound currency. He took unprecedented action to solve unprecedented problems and most historians agree he was by and large successful of helping the economy a great deal though most do admit he did make mistakes. We must not minimize the big part the people, his wife Elanor, the people in his administration, and the legislature at the time played for without them ideas would never have materialized. Roosevelt was once more conservative in his outlook but became a Progressive as he saw the limitations of conservative government in the country and how conservative fiscal policies were not solving the economic crises. As much as the right criticizes Roosevelt he did more to save capitalism then any president has before or since. He was a Progressive but above all a pragmatist and believed in results oriented solutions and was not hesitant to withdraw support for programs and policies that were not working no matter if they were based in Progressive ideology or not.
These are the lines of attack. I shall presently urge upon a new Congress, in special session, detailed measures for their fulfillment, and I shall seek the immediate assistance of the several States.
Through this program of action we address ourselves to putting our own national house in order and making income balance outgo. Our international trade relations, though vastly important, are in point of time and necessity secondary to the establishment of a sound national economy. I favor as a practical policy the putting of first things first. I shall spare no effort to restore world trade by international economic readjustment, but the emergency at home cannot wait on that accomplishment.
Roosevelt advocates for putting our government back in order and finding a way to keep expenditures in line with money available. He says a sound national economy is foremost in improving the economy then trade policy. He adopts a it begins at home policy and sees world economical situations as secondary to the problems at home. Roosevelt saw putting our nations people, markets, banks, corporations, and government back in order as the primary goal of his administration. He was a fiscal Progressive in the sense he wanted to use government revenue to create change in society but he was conservative in the sense he wanted to expend that money in a responsible and sound matter that was within the nations means. He believed in putting the nation first above internationalism though he endorsed the idea of diplomacy and helping our allies. He has been criticized by the right unjustly as believing in a top down approach to solving the nations problems when in fact he believed that societies and markets were built from the bottom up but that the top (government) had a role in helping people and markets accomplish success. Where as Hoover too believed societies and markets were built from the ground up but believed in free-markets that had had little regulation and a government that had little influence helping people and only what was bare minimum to ensure the free markets were sustained and prospered. Thus Roosevelt's main focus of his reforms were to ensure a better life for the people and Hoover's main focus of his reforms were to ensure a better life for the markets. It is obvious by looking at our society today that Roosevelt's theory has won out though since the 1980's Hoover's theory has had somewhat of a renaissance. Let us not repeat the same failed free-market solves all problems theory of the past or we will be doomed to repeat the Great Depression. Hoover did not begin to endorse any significant government action in the economy and nation until the people demanded he do so and even when he did most of what he said was broken promises and when he did it was too little and a little too late!
The basic thought that guides these specific means of national recovery is not narrowly nationalistic. It is the insistence, as a first considerations, upon the interdependence of the various elements in and parts of the United States-a recognition of the old and permanently important manifestation of the American spirit of the pioneer. It is the way to recovery. It is the immediate way. It is the strongest assurance that the recovery will endure.
In the field of world policy I would dedicate this Nation to the policy of the good neighbor—the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others—the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a world of neighbors.
If I read the temper of our people correctly, we now realize as we have never realized before our interdependence on each other; that we cannot merely take but we must give as well; that if we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline, because without such discipline no progress is made, no leadership becomes effective. We are, I know, ready and willing to submit our lives and property to such discipline, because it makes possible a leadership which aims at a larger good. This I propose to offer, pledging that the larger purposes will bind upon us all as a sacred obligation with a unity of duty hitherto evoked only in time of armed strife.
Roosevelt explains our interdependence on each other and how we must make sacrifices for the good of our neighbors and country in order to move past this economic crises. Roosevelt endorsed the idea that we as a nation are all in this together and that sacrifice was necessary for the good of ones country and neighbor. He helped us realize that together we are stronger then the sum of us as individuals. He proved that together we can accomplish great things!
With this pledge taken, I assume unhesitatingly the leadership of this great army of our people dedicated to a disciplined attack upon our common problems.
Action in this image and to this end is feasible under the form of government which we have inherited from our ancestors. Our Constitution is so simple and practical that it is possible always to meet extraordinary needs by changes in emphasis and arrangement without loss of essential form. That is why our constitutional system has proved itself the most superbly enduring political mechanism the modern world has produced. It has met every stress of vast expansion of territory, of foreign wars, of bitter internal strife, of world relations.
It is to be hoped that the normal balance of Executive and legislative authority may be wholly adequate to meet the unprecedented task before us. But it may be that an unprecedented demand and need for undelayed action may call for temporary departure from that normal balance of public procedure.
I am prepared under my constitutional duty to recommend the measures that a stricken Nation in the midst of a stricken world may require. These measures, or such other measures as the Congress may build out of its experience and wisdom, I shall seek, within my constitutional authority, to bring to speedy adoption.
But in the event that the Congress shall fail to take one of these two courses, and in the event that the national emergency is still critical, I shall not evade the clear course of duty that will then confront me. I shall ask the Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis—broad Executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.
For the trust reposed in me I will return the courage and the devotion that befit the time. I can do no less.
We face the arduous days that lie before us in the warm courage of national unity; with the clear consciousness of seeking old and precious moral values; with the clean satisfaction that comes from the stern performance of duty by old and young alike. We aim at the assurance of a rounded and permanent national life.
We do not distrust the future of essential democracy. The people of the United States have not failed. In their need they have registered a mandate that they want direct, vigorous action. They have asked for discipline and direction under leadership. They have made me the present instrument of their wishes. In the spirit of the gift I take it.
In this dedication of a Nation we humbly ask the blessing of God. May He protect each and every one of us. May He guide me in the days to come.
Roosevelt explains that he believes in democracy and the people of this nation have not failed to exercise their democracy. He sees his election as a mandate of the people's desire for bold and persistent action for him to help solve the nations problems. He says the people are looking for disciplined leadership and direction and he will provide that.
Roosevelt was a strong proponent of democracy and political movements from the ground up because he saw both as a necessary thing to live in a free society and as a protection from powerful elites from controlling our nations politics. He was a member of the powerful elite and ruling class himself but he challenged the status quo of his class and endorsed the people on the middle and bottom end of the economic pyramid. He was so steadfast in his criticism of the powerful elite, banks, corporations, and markets that many in this position and institutions saw him as a threat to their power, wealth, and influence and more so saw him as a traitor to his class. He was thus a working class hero who happened to belong to the upper class. He is my favorite President in history and I thank him, his administration, his wife, the legislature at the time, and the people at the time for all they did for our nation and the high bar and example they set for us and future generations. He was not a perfect man nor perfect president but I believe he gave his all when the nation was depending on him the most. He did more, sitting in a chair with a disability, then most do who are fully able and can stand. He touched the horizon on what is possible and taught us we can be better. When FDR died it was said a common everyday man broke out in tears after learning of FDR's death and he was asked by another man 'Did you know Roosevelt?' the man simply responded 'No, but he knew me'. May I close with a quote that illustrates Franklin Delano Roosevelt's character and understanding of the American resolve for liberty and prosperity.
“We, and all others who believe in freedom as deeply as we do, would rather die on our feet than live on our knees.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt