June 24, 1938, 9:30 PM
I think the American public and the American newspapers are certainly
creatures of habit. This is one of the warmest evenings that I have
ever felt in Washington, D. C., and yet this talk tonight will be referred
to as a fireside talk.
Our Government, happily, is a democracy. As part of the democratic
process, your President is again taking an opportunity to report on
the progress of national affairs, to report to the real rulers of this
country --the voting public.
The Seventy-Fifth Congress, elected in November, 1936, on a platform
uncompromisingly liberal, has adjourned. Barring unforeseen events,
there will be no session until the new Congress, to be elected in November,
assembles next January.
On the one hand, the Seventy-Fifth Congress has left many things undone.
For example, it refused to provide more businesslike machinery for
running the Executive Branch of the Government. The Congress also failed
to meet my suggestion that it take the far-reaching steps necessary
to put the railroads of the country back on their feet.
But, on the other hand, the Congress, striving to carry out the Platform
on which most of them were elected, achieved more for the future good
of the country than any Congress did between the end of the World War
and the spring of 1933.
I mention tonight only the more important of these achievements.
(1) (It) The Congress improved still further our agricultural laws
to give the farmer a fairer share of the national income, to preserve
our soil, to provide an all-weather granary, to help the farm tenant
towards independence, to find new uses for farm products, and to begin
(2) After many requests on my part the Congress passed a Fair Labor
Standards Act, what we call the Wages and Hours Bill. That Act --applying
to products in interstate commerce -- ends child labor, sets a floor
below wages and a ceiling over hours of labor.
Except perhaps for the Social Security Act, it is the most far-reaching,
the most far-sighted program for the benefit of workers ever adopted
here or in any other country. Without question it starts us toward a
better standard of living and increases purchasing power to buy the
products of farm and factory.
Do not let any calamity-howling executive with an income of $1,000.00
a day, who has been turning his employees over to the Government relief
rolls in order to preserve his company's undistributed reserves, tell
you -- using his stockholders' money to pay the postage for his personal
opinions -- tell you that a wage of $11.00 a week is going to have a
disastrous effect on all American industry. Fortunately for business
as a whole, and therefore for the Nation, that type of executive is
a rarity with whom most business executives most heartily disagree.
(3) The Congress has provided a fact-finding Commission to find a
path through the jungle of contradictory theories about the wise business
practices -- to find the necessary facts for any intelligent legislation
on monopoly, on price-fixing and on the relationship between big business
and medium-sized business and little business. Different from a great
part of the world, we in America persist in our belief in individual
enterprise and in the profit motive; but we realize we must continually
seek improved practices to insure the continuance of reasonable profits,
together with scientific progress, individual initiative, opportunities
for the little fellow, fair prices, decent wages and continuing employment.
(4) The Congress has coordinated the supervision of commercial aviation
and air mail by establishing a new Civil Aeronautics Authority; and
it has placed all postmasters under the civil service for the first
time in our national history.
(5) The Congress has set up the United States Housing (Administration)
Authority to help finance large-scale slum clearance and provide low
rent housing for the low income groups in our cities. And by improving
the Federal Housing Act, the Congress has made it easier for private
capital to build modest homes and low rental dwellings.
(6) The Congress has properly reduced taxes on small corporate enterprises,
and has made it easier for the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to
make credit available to all business. I think the bankers of the country
can fairly be expected to participate in loans where the Government,
through the (Reconstruction Finance Corporation) R. F. C., offers to
take a fair portion of the risk.
(7) So, too, the Congress has provided additional funds for the Works
Progress Administration, the Public Works Administration, the Rural
Electrification Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps and
other agencies, in order to take care of what we hope is a temporary
additional number of unemployed at this time and to encourage production
of every kind by private enterprise.
All these things together I call our program for the national defense
of our economic system. It is a program of balanced action -- of moving
on all fronts at once in intelligent recognition that all of our economic
problems, of every group, and of every section of the country are essentially
(8) Finally, because of increasing armaments in other nations and an
international situation which is definitely disturbing to all of us,
the Congress has authorized important additions to the national armed
defense of our shores and our people.
On (another) one other important subject the net result of a struggle
in the Congress has been an important victory for the people of the
United States -- what might well be called a lost battle which won a
You will remember that a year and a half ago, nearly, on February
5, 1937, I sent a Message to the Congress dealing with the real need
of Federal Court reforms of several kinds. In one way or another, during
the sessions of this Congress, the ends -- I spoke of, the real objectives
-- sought in (the) that Message, have been substantially attained.
The attitude of the Supreme Court towards constitutional questions
is entirely changed. Its recent decisions are eloquent testimony of
a willingness to collaborate with the two other branches of Government
to make democracy work. The Government has been granted the right to
protect its interests in litigation between private parties (involving
the constitutionality of Federal statutes) when the constitutionality
of Federal statutes is involved, and to appeal directly to the Supreme
Court in all cases involving the constitutionality of Federal statutes;
and no single judge is any longer empowered to suspend a Federal statute
on his sole judgment as to its constitutionality. A justice(s) of the
Supreme Court may now retire at the age of seventy after ten years of
service, and a substantial number of additional judgeships have been
created in order to expedite the trial of cases, and finally greater
flexibility has been added to the Federal judicial system by allowing
judges to be assigned to congested districts.
Another indirect accomplishment of this Congress has been, I think,
its response to the devotion of the American people to a course of sane
and consistent liberalism. The Congress has understood that under modern
conditions Government has a continuing responsibility to meet continuing
problems, and that Government cannot take a holiday of a year, or a
month, or even a day just because a few people are tired or frightened
by the inescapable pace, fast pace, of this modern world in which we
live. Some of my opponents and some of my associates have considered
that I have a mistakenly sentimental judgment as to the tenacity of
purpose and the general level of intelligence of the American people.
I am still convinced that the American people, since 1932, continue
to insist on two requisites of private enterprise, and the relationship
of Government to it. The first is a complete honesty, a complete honesty
at the top in looking after the use of other people's money, and in
apportioning and paying individual and corporate taxes (according to)
in accordance with ability to pay. And the second is sincere respect
for the need of all people who are at the bottom, all people at the
bottom who need to get work -- and through work to get a (really) fair
share of the good things of life, and a chance to save and a chance
After the election of 1936 I was told, and the Congress was told,
by an increasing number of politically -- and worldly-- wise people
that I should coast along, enjoy an easy Presidency for four years,
and not take the Democratic platform too seriously. They told me that
people were getting weary of reform through political effort and would
no longer oppose that small minority which, in spite of its own disastrous
leadership in 1929, is always eager to resume its control over the Government
of the United States.
Never in our lifetime has such a concerted campaign of defeatism been
thrown at the heads of the President and the Senators and Congressmen
as in the case of this Seventy-Fifth Congress. Never before have we
had so many Copperheads among us -- and you will remember that it was
the Copperheads who, in the days of the Civil War, the War between the
States, tried their best to make President Lincoln and his Congress
give up the fight in the middle of the fight, to let the Nation remain
split in two and return to peace -- yes, peace at any price.
This Congress has ended on the side of the people. My faith in the
American people -- and their faith in themselves -- have been justified.
I congratulate the Congress and the leadership thereof and I congratulate
the American people on their own staying power.
One word about our economic situation. It makes no difference to me
whether you call it a recession or a depression. In 1932 the total national
income of all the people in the country had reached the low point of
thirty-eight billion dollars in that year. With each succeeding year
it rose. Last year, 1937, it had risen to seventy billion dollars --
despite definitely worse business and agricultural prices in the last
four months of last year. This year, 1938, while it is too early to
do more than give (an) a mere estimate, we hope that the national income
will not fall below sixty billion dollars, and that is a lot better
than thirty- eight billion dollars. We remember also that banking and
business and farming are not falling apart like the one-hoss shay, as
they did in the terrible winter of 1932 (-) to 1933.
Last year mistakes were made by the leaders of private enterprise,
by the leaders of labor and by the leaders of Government --all three.
Last year the leaders of private enterprise pleaded for a sudden curtailment
of public spending, and said they would take up the slack. But they
made the mistake of increasing their inventories too fast and setting
many of their prices too high for their goods to sell.
Some labor leaders goaded by decades of oppression of labor made the
mistake of going too far. They were not wise in using methods which
frightened many well-wishing people. They asked employers not only to
bargain with them but to put up with jurisdictional disputes at the
Government too made mistakes -- mistakes of optimism in assuming that
industry and labor would themselves make no mistakes -- and Government
made a mistake of timing in not passing a farm bill or a wage and hour
bill last year.
As a result of the lessons of all these mistakes we hope that in the
future private enterprise -- capital and labor alike -- will operate
more intelligently together, (and) operate in greater cooperation with
their own Government than they have in the past. Such cooperation on
the part of both of them will be very welcome to me. Certainly at this
stage there should be a united stand on the part of both of them to
resist wage cuts which would further reduce purchasing power.
This afternoon, only a few hours ago, I am told that a great steel
company announced a reduction in prices with a view to stimulating business
recovery. And I was told, and I am gratified to know, that this reduction
in prices has involved no wage cut. Every encouragement ought to be
given to industry which accepts the large volume and high wage policy.
If this is done throughout the Nation, it ought to result in conditions
which will replace a great part of the Government spending which the
failure of cooperation has made necessary this year.
You will remember that from March 4, 1933 down to date, not a single
week has passed without a cry from the opposition, a small opposition,
a cry "to do something, to say something, to restore confidence." There
is a very articulate group of people in this country, with plenty of
ability to procure publicity for their views, who have consistently
refused to cooperate with the mass of the people, whether things were
going well or going badly, on the ground that they required more concessions
to their point of view before they would admit having what they called
These people demanded "restoration of confidence" when the banks were
closed -- and demanded it again when the banks were reopened.
They demanded "restoration of confidence" when hungry people were
thronging (the) our streets -- and demanded it again now when the hungry
people were fed and put to work.
They demanded "restoration of confidence" when droughts hit the country
-- and demanded it again now when our fields are laden with bounteous
yields and excessive crops.
They demanded "restoration of confidence" last year when the automobile
industry was running three shifts day and night, turning out more cars
than the country could buy -- and they are demanding it again this year
when the industry is trying to get rid of an automobile surplus and
has shut down its factories as a result.
But, my friends, it is my belief that many of these people who have
been crying aloud for "confidence" are beginning today to realize that
that hand has been overplayed, and that they are now willing to talk
cooperation instead. It is my belief that the mass of the American people
do have confidence in themselves -- have confidence in their ability,
with the aid of Government, to solve their own problems. It is because
you are not satisfied, and I am not satisfied, with the progress that
we have made in finally solving our business and agricultural and social
problems that I believe the great majority of you want your own Government
to keep on trying to solve them. In simple frankness and in simple honesty,
I need all the help I can get -- and I see signs of getting more help
in the future from many who have fought against progress with tooth
and nail in the past.
And now following out this line of thought, I want to say a few words
about the coming political primaries.
Fifty years ago party nominations were generally made in conventions
-- a system typified in the public imagination by a little group in
a smoke-filled room who made out the party slates.
The direct primary was invented to make the nominating process a more
democratic one -- to give the party voters themselves a chance to pick
their party candidates.
What I am going to say to you tonight does not relate to the primaries
of any particular political party, but to matters of principle in all
parties -- Democratic, Republican, Farmer-Labor, Progressive, Socialist
or any other. Let that be clearly understood.
It is my hope that everybody affiliated with any party will vote in
the primaries, and that every such voter will consider the fundamental
principles for which his or her party is on record. That makes for a
healthy choice between the candidates of the opposing parties on Election
Day in November.
An election cannot give the country a firm sense of direction if it
has two or more national parties which merely have different names but
are as alike in their principles and aims as peas in the same pod.
In the coming primaries in all parties, there will be many clashes
between two schools of thought, generally classified as liberal and
conservative. Roughly speaking, the liberal school of thought recognizes
that the new conditions throughout the world call for new remedies.
Those of us in America who hold to this school of thought, insist
that these new remedies can be adopted and successfully maintained in
this country under our present form of government if we use government
as an instrument of cooperation to provide these remedies. We believe
that we can solve our problems through continuing effort, through democratic
processes instead of Fascism or Communism. We are opposed to the kind
of moratorium on reform which, in effect, (is) means reaction itself.
Be it clearly understood, however, that when I use the word "liberal,"
I mean the believer in progressive principles of democratic, representative
government and not the wild man who, in effect, leans in the direction
of Communism, for that is just as dangerous to us as Fascism itself.
The opposing or conservative school of thought, as a general proposition,
does not recognize the need for Government itself to step in and take
action to meet these new problems. It believes that individual initiative
and private philanthropy will solve them -- that we ought to repeal
many of the things we have done and go back, for (instance) example,
to the old gold standard, or stop all this business of old age pensions
and unemployment insurance, or repeal the Securities and Exchange Act,
or let monopolies thrive unchecked --return, in effect, to the kind
of Government that we had in the nineteen twenties.
Assuming the mental capacity of all the candidates, the important
question which it seems to me the primary voter must ask is this: "To
which of these general schools of thought does the candidate belong?"
As President of the United States, I am not asking the voters of the
country to vote for Democrats next November as opposed to Republicans
or members of any other party. Nor am I, as President, taking part in
As the head of the Democratic Party, however, charged with the responsibility
of carrying out the definitely liberal declaration of principles set
forth in the 1936 Democratic platform, I feel that I have every right
to speak in those few instances where there may be a clear-cut issue
between candidates for a Democratic nomination involving these principles,
or involving a clear misuse of my own name.
Do not misunderstand me. I certainly would not indicate a preference
in a state primary merely because a candidate, otherwise liberal in
outlook, had conscientiously differed with me on any single issue. I
should be far more concerned about the general attitude of a candidate
towards present day problems and his own inward desire to get practical
needs attended to in a practical way. (We) You and I all know that progress
may be blocked by outspoken reactionaries, (and also) but we also know
that progress can be blocked by those who say "yes" to a progressive
objective, but who always find some reason to oppose any special specific
proposal to gain that objective. I call that type of candidate a "yes,
And I am concerned about the attitude of a candidate or his sponsors
with respect to the rights of American citizens to assemble peaceably
and to express publicly their views and opinions on important social
and economic issues. There can be no constitutional democracy in any
community which denies to the individual his freedom to speak and worship
as he wishes. The American people will not be deceived by anyone who
attempts to suppress individual liberty under the pretense of patriotism.
This being a free country with freedom of expression --especially
with freedom of the press, as is entirely proper -- there will be a
lot of mean blows struck between now and Election Day. By "blows" I
mean misrepresentation and personal attack and appeals to prejudice.
It would be a lot better, of course, if campaigns everywhere could be
waged with arguments instead of with blows.
I hope the liberal candidates will confine themselves to argument
and not resort to blows. For in nine cases out of ten the speaker or
the writer who, seeking to influence public opinion, descends from calm
argument to unfair blows hurts himself more than his opponent.
The Chinese have a story on this -- a story based on three or four
thousand years of civilization: Two Chinese coolies were arguing heatedly
in the (midst) middle of a crowd in the street. A stranger expressed
surprise that no blows were being struck by them. His Chinese friend
replied: "The man who strikes first admits that his ideas have given
I know that neither in the summer primaries nor in the November elections
will the American voters fail to spot the candidate whose ideas have