Franklin Roosevelt, an advocate for the people

Franklin Roosevelt, Wikimedia Commons

Franklin Roosevelt, Wikimedia Commons

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.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division LC-USZ62-11190

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division LC-USZ62-11190

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.

7 thoughts on “Franklin Roosevelt, an advocate for the people

  1. You speak glowingly about FDR’s legacy, yet completely avoid mentioning all of the negatives during his rule, and there were many. The real reason there were so many in need during the great depression, was because of the heavy hand of government, contrary to the claimed lack of it. During the 1932 election, FDR actually complained about Hoover’s massive spending during his term. Once FDR got into office, he quickly moved to increase such spending by 1/3.

    Much of his alphabet soup programs though was struck down as unconstitutional, which it all was, until he was able to pack the court with his own appointees. It was many of those programs that usurped the normal function of the private free enterprise that had seen large technological advances the previous decade. Even FDR’s Treasurer Secretary in speaking to congress in 1937 said that they had spent and spent, and yet unemployment and poverty still plagued at high levels. UCLA economists studied the years of FDR and the effects of his policies on the Great Depression. They concluded that his policies extended it by 7 years.

    Many people have no knowledge of a previous depression just as deep, yet was short lived. The Depression of 1920-21 lasted all but 18 months. The key to such shortness, was a Republican being elected as President along with most of congress of the same party. The opposite of what FDR did, cutting spending, and taxes was the policy followed. Regulations were reviewed and removed if they did not apply equally to all. A consistent and strong growth of the economy followed for nearly 8 years. Contrary to progressive claims of the period, nearly everyone enjoyed a boost in the standard of living during the decade. The cost of living went down as technology made the production of everyday products cheaper.

    I have one question in regards to FDR’s second bill of rights. Who would determine how such services would be delivered if they are deemed “rights”? Who would have to work as an indentured servant to provide such “rights” to others? Why does the second bill of rights resemble the same rights written in the former USSR constitution?

    In all of such proclaimed noble cause, in the name of “security” for people, the people end up becoming slaves to such causes. The social welfare programs promoted by FDR now enslave people in the programs since they are mandatory. If the programs are so great, why not make them voluntary to join to show that they are so popular?

    • First of all, I look at it as a humanist. People were starving. My grandfather is one of many that had to ‘ride the rails’ looking for work, and I may not be here today if not for the fact that he was finally able to find good work with the WPA. The stories that I have been told is that they were on their last legs. Also, the dams that he worked on did a lot of good, and still are.

      You may argue that it was just a massive stimulus and that Keynesian Economics is hogwash, but there were a lot of good people that were saved by that help.

      It is curious though that if FDR was as bad for our country as you say, then why does he hold such an esteemed honor in American history, and if the people disliked him so much and life was so unbearable under his leadership, why did they decide to keep voting him back into office?

      You make it sound as if liberal ideas have suddenly just sprung up overnight, as if liberals have just invaded your land and overthrew your government. We have been around for quite a while, and there were disagreements back then too, but the point that I am trying to make is that we are still here. The government didn’t collapse. The liberals won some and so did the conservatives.

      We can argue the differences until we are blue in the face, and you know as well as I, that nothing will be resolved, and I assure you, I have no intention of trying to change your mind. You are allowed to believe as you will.

      It is better to just say that we will have to agree to disagree.

  2. Citizen Journalist, you confuse causation with correlation. Its true that high unemployment persisted through much of the 1930’s. However, the reasons have little to do with Roosevelt’s programs. The Great Depression of the 30’s was a huge economic crisis. Economists today still debate its causes. The reality is that several overwhelming events triggered the crisis and kept it going for a long time. Massive bank failures (which occurred right before and during the time FDR took office) wiped out untold millions/billions of dollars in wealth. The Smoot Hawley Tariff worsened things as the nations of the world chose Protectionism over Free Trade. The distribution of wealth was so loaded in favor of the wealthy that when the credit system failed, a large segment of the country had no way of buying cars, houses, or any goods of significant value. None of these problems could be fixed over night.

    Today, economists realize that the key to fixing a problem like this is deficit spending by the government. When private interests in the economy collapse, it is only government that has the ability to “take up the slack” and get things moving again. However, John Maynard Keynes didn’t write his “General Theory” until 1946. So, FDR and the democrats stumbled along. They encountered constant pressures from those who demanded he balance the budget. This was exactly the wrong policy at the time. Eventually, though FDR and his people figured it out. It took two terms in office to do it though.

    What FDR did though was ultimately more important than fix the economy. He relieved much of the misery of the Depression by providing jobs programs and relief to those most affected by it. FDR may well have prevented a revolution from occurring. Ironically, the wealthy in this country may have ultimately benefited the most from his presidency.

    No one is perfect, but this President relieved the Great Depression and successfully lead us through World War II. He fully deserves a historical ranking as the second, or even the greatest President this country ever had.

    • The financial establishment was rescued by FDR by his creation of the social safety net… this country was literally on the edge of revolt; revolt by the masses.. it was ripe for any extreme remedy to the massive suffering. To this day those blue bloods in upstate NY and all over this country should get down on their knees and thank this greatest president of the 20th century for saving the system they so covet.

  3. Pingback: ‘Whale-sized’ Proof That Wall Street Can’t Be Trusted | Did You Check First?

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