During the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt had a lot to say about those that were suffering from the lack of jobs, food, and a future. It was a time when everyone was worried what tomorrow would bring for them, but thankfully, they had an advocate to protect the masses. He stood against those that wanted to ignore the suffering.
Today, there are many that believe that FDR’s legacy is overstated, and believe he opened the flood gates to massive government spending. Throughout his presidency, there were many back then that felt the same way as well, but he kept up the pressure to relieve the struggles that many American’s were going through.
FDR, during his first term, fought against the powerful moneyed interests, and in an October 31, 1936 speech at Madison Square Garden, he let the people know his thoughts toward a government of organized money:
This speech highlights the politics of that time, and it could be argued that this same very speech could be given today. With all of the talk about a population of takers, FDR made it clear what he thought:
Here and now I want to make myself clear about those who disparage their fellow citizens on the relief rolls. They say that those on relief are not merely jobless—that they are worthless. Their solution for the relief problem is to end relief—to purge the rolls by starvation. To use the language of the stock broker, our needy unemployed would be cared for when, as, and if some fairy godmother should happen on the scene.
You and I will continue to refuse to accept that estimate of our unemployed fellow Americans. Your Government is still on the same side of the street with the Good Samaritan and not with those who pass by on the other side.
At the end of his Acceptance Speech at the Democratic National Convention on June 27th, 1936, FDR stated that he believed that the war in America was against want and destitution and economic demoralization:
There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny. In this world of ours in other lands, there are some people, who, in times past, have lived and fought for freedom, and seem to have grown too weary to carry on the fight. They have sold their heritage of freedom for the illusion of a living. They have yielded their democracy. I believe in my heart that only our success can stir their ancient hope. They begin to know that here in America we are waging a war against want and destitution and economic demoralization. It is more than that; it is a war for the survival of democracy. We are fighting to save a great and precious form of government for ourselves and for the world.
Early in his first term, FDR wanted to find a solution for those that were needing help, so he began a push to have the Social Security Act passed, and explaining the purpose of his future legislation to the public in a Fireside Chat given in June 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt stated:
A few timid people, who fear progress, will try to give you new and strange names for what we are doing. Sometimes they will call it “Fascism,” sometimes “Communism,” sometimes “Regimentation,” sometimes “Socialism.” But, in so doing, they are trying to make very complex and theoretical something that is really very simple and very practical.
I believe in practical explanations and in practical policies. I believe that what we are doing today is a necessary fulfillment of what Americans have always been doing—a fulfillment of old and tested American ideals.
After the passage and signing of the Social Security Act on August 15, 1935, FDR made this statement:
The Social Security Act provided benefits such as old-age assistance, disability insurance, and unemployment compensation, and this legislation proved to be very popular with a great number of Americans.
FDR, in a Presidential Statement on the National Industrial Recovery Act on June 16th, 1933, had this to say about a living wage:
In my Inaugural I laid down the simple proposition that nobody is going to starve in this country. It seems to me to be equally plain that no business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country. By “business” I mean the whole of commerce as well as the whole of industry; by workers I mean all workers, the white collar class as well as the men in overalls; and by living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level-I mean the wages of decent living.
In an attempt to expand the rights for every American, FDR, in a radio address given on January 11th, 1944, proposed the Second Bill of Rights - An Economic Bill of Rights. Here is an excerpt from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Radio address:
FDR explained that, “We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. Necessitous men are not free men. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”
And he listed these rights:
- The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
- The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
- The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
- The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
- The right of every family to a decent home;
- The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
- The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
- The right to a good education.
There have been those that have asked where is it written that we have a living wage right, and it can be argued that the answer lies in the Preamble of the Constitution:
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
It seems pretty clear that this was written for the people, and insuring domestic tranquility, promoting the general welfare, and securing the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our posterity would be the written guarantee given to all Americans for a living wage.
While defining his Second Bill of Rights, FDR declared:
“In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.”
Some think the best solution is to dismantle the government and start over, but if all of the history of the United States does not show that we have overcame adversity before, then what will, especially after the Great Depression?
It is worth noting that the southern red states were staunch Democrats or Dixiecrats as some have called them, and many people backed FDR’s liberal policies at the time. The south, which was a Democratic bastion, did not switch their loyalty to the Republican Party until the Civil Rights Act was passed under President Johnson, because of their anger at the Democratic Party. The G.O.P.’s Southern strategy helped bring them into their fold.
Also, there are many progressives that believe that President Obama has not done enough, and that he cannot be compared with the likes of Franklin Roosevelt, but keep this in mind, FDR did not have to worry about getting sixty votes in the Senate to get anything passed. Would he have been able to overcome the obstructionism seen today in Congress?
During the Great Depression, there were many that were ready to lose all hope, until they found that they had an advocate in their corner. FDR helped get the idea started, but who will take up the call that he championed. This will take each and every one of us to remember and spread his words, and demand that policies in the future must include our Second Bill of Rights.
President Roosevelt felt that these rights were self-evident, and these principles and ideas matter today as much now as they did nearly seventy years ago. FDR would not have given up in making sure that everyone had a fair opportunity to succeed and have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Neither should we.
- Corporate Citizenship (johncashon.wordpress.com)
- Social Security and the Affordable Care Act (johncashon.wordpress.com)
- In defense of a living wage (johncashon.wordpress.com)
- One Economy, Two Americas (BillMoyers.com)
- Obama, FDR and the Second Bill of Rights (bloomberg.com)
- Labor Unions Call For ‘Second Bill Of Rights,’ Encourage ‘Politicians Of Both Stripes’ To Sign On (The Huffington Post)
- Franklin Roosevelt’s 1933 ‘Fear Itself’ Inauguration – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Inauguration (March 4, 1933) (c-span.org)
- Thought for the Day – March 9th (homeroomteacher.wordpress.com)