|This Week in American History
January 30February 5, 1882
Celebrating the 125th Anniversary of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Birth
Franklin D. Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882 in Hyde Park, New York, and to this man who grew up in the 19th Century, America owes a very considerable debt. President Roosevelt re-established the concept of the general welfare in the United States, a concept which had become worn and tattered almost beyond recognition during the first 30 years or so of the 20th Century. He also built the foundation for modern America, upon which we still depend today.
The concept of the general welfare was not a mere political or moral theory to Franklin Rooseveltit was an integral part of his life, and even of his death. The programs which he developed to pull the nation back from the brink of economic collapse and to fight the forces of Fascism, were complemented on a personal level by his legacy to the Warm Springs Foundation for polio victims, in the form of a large life insurance policy. Roosevelt, was able to obtain this policy only by pushing his polio-wracked muscles to the limit to demonstrate he was "fit and healthy," and thus, eligible for coverage. His house, with its land and the research library he built, were left to the American people.
Roosevelt had faith in the good sense of the American people, if they were told what was going on and what could be done about it. That was why he instituted his famous radio "Fireside Chats," and why his press conferences, enlivened by his sense of humor, were so much enjoyed by the attending journalists.
As the President stated in a speech on November 18, 1933: "The saving grace of America lies in the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans are possessed of two great qualitiesa sense of humor and a sense of proportion. With the one they smile at those who would divide up all the money in the Nation on a per capita basis every Saturday night and at those who lament that they would rather possess pounds and francs than dollars. With our sense of proportion we understand and accept the fact that in the short space of one year we cannot cure the chronic illness that beset us for a dozen years, nor restore the social and economic order with equal and simultaneous success in every part of the Nation and in every walk of life."
In 1934, in order to give Americans an overall view of what they had accomplished and where they were heading, President Roosevelt authored a book entitled, On Our Way. It chronicled the policies and programs he had developed during his first year in office, and contained many extracts from his speeches. The foreword of the book provides an insight into his perspective on the necessary and exciting changes which he and the Congress were bringing into being for the benefit of the United States.
Roosevelt began by saying: "This book, without argument and without extended explanation, seeks to set forth simply the many significant events of a very busy year. It was a year of redemption and consummationthe redemption of pledges to the people of America and the consummation of the hopes of the many who looked forward to a better ordered common life. I am setting forth the milestones that mark the achievement of a new public policy.
"Some people have sought to describe that policy as revolutionary: perhaps it is. It is revolutionary, however, only in the sense that the measures adopted and the purposes that they seek differ from those that were used before. If it is a revolution, it is a peaceful one, achieved without violence, without the overthrow of the purposes of established law and without the denial of just treatment to any individual or class.
"Some people have called our new policy 'Fascism.' It is not Fascism because its inspiration springs from the mass of the people themselves rather than from a class or a group or a marching army. Moreover, it is being achieved without a change in fundamental republican method. We have kept the faith with, and in, our traditional political institutions.
"Some people have called it 'Communism;' it is not that either. It is not a driving regimentation founded upon the plans of a perpetuating directorate which subordinates the making of laws and the processes of the courts to the orders of the executive. Neither does it manifest itself in the total elimination of any class or in the abolition of private party.
"By almost general acceptance the people have adopted the habit of calling it the 'New Deal'; and it has been well suggested that the phrase expresses a satisfactory combination of the Square Deal and the New Freedom. The appropriateness of this suggestion is indicated by the fact that some of the achievements of the past year will be the fulfillment of the progressive ideas expounded by Theodore Roosevelt of a partnership between business and government and also of the determination of Woodrow Wilson that business should be subjected, through the power of government, to drastic legal limitations against abuses. Thus we have recognized that in some respects government sits down at a table of partnership with business; but in others, it exerts the superior authority of police power to enforce fairness and justice as they should exist among the various elements in economic life. This combination of remedies is made necessary by the fact of revolutionary changes in the conditions of modern life.
"Apart from phrases and slogans, the important thing to remember is, I think, that the change in our policy is based upon a change in the attitude and the thinking of the American peoplein other words, that it is based upon the growing into maturity of our democracy; that it proceeds in accordance with the underlying principles that guided the framers of our Constitution; that it is taking form with the general approval of a very large majority of the American people; and finally, that it is made with the constant assurance to the people that if at any time they wish to revert to the old methods that we have discarded, they are wholly free to bring about such a reversion by the simple means of the ballot box. An ancient Greek was everlastingly right when he said, 'Creation is the victory of persuasion and not of force.' The New Deal seeks that kind of victory.
"The almost complete collapse of the American economic system that marked the beginning of my Administration called for the tearing down of many unsound structures, the adoption of new methods and a rebuilding from the bottom up.
"Three steps, all interrelated, were necessary: first, by drastic measures to eliminate special privilege in the control of the old economic and social structure by a numerically very small but very powerful group of individuals so set in authority that they dominated business and banking and government itself; second, to war on crime and graft and to build up moral values; and third, to seek a return of the swing of the pendulum, which for three generations had been sweeping toward a constantly increasing concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer handsa swing back in the direction of a wider distribution of the wealth and property of the nation.
"The time called for and still calls for planning. This book describes the nature and the purpose of the many factors that were necessary to the working out of a national plan for improvement. In spite of the necessary complexity of the group of organizations whose abbreviated titles have caused some amusement, and through what has seemed to some a mere reaching out for centralized power by the Federal Government, there has run a very definite, deep and permanent objective.
"With regard to the individual excellence of each one of them, I can only repeat what I have often saidthat the individual parts in this planned program are by no means inflexible or infallible. In some respects we may have to change the method; in others, we may not have gone far enough. Time and experience will teach us many things.
"I do not hope in this book to argue by an accumulation of detailed information the results of all of the factors of the New Deal. A few generalizations, however, are admissible.
"The value of our farm crops has greatly risen over the prices received for them during the previous year; the machinery of most of our industries is turning out a greatly increased production of goods, and these goods are being bought by the consuming public; the freight carrying and the passenger travel of our railroads and other transportation facilities have improved; the distress of mortgagors is being lightened; relief for the unemployed who were in great need has in large part carried out the purpose of the Administration that it would use every endeavor to prevent starvation; the conservation of resources, the prevention of floods and the general planning for the better use of our wide land, have proceeded at a pace undreamed of in the past.
"A year ago, things were going wrong with our civilization. We might as well admit it. We know at least the ideals of the men and women who settled America. We know at least the ideals of the founders of the Republic. In the latter years, conditions had greatly changedperhaps we had not forgotten the older ideals, but at least we were disregarding most of them.
"We, the people of this country, do not need, nor do we seek for criticism or for opposition that is merely destructive: such individuals or associations of individuals, which for political or selfish financial reasons, oppose the broad objective, will, we know, harm only themselves, for we as a people will never go along with any proposal that the country return to the conditions of the decade which followed the [First] World War. An overwhelming majority of our people however, old and young, and especially the young, are ready to give honest heed to honest suggestions for new and better methods to accomplish a common purpose. In any event, we as a people are determined, after going forward for one year, to keep on going forward some more."