FDR at Madison Square Garden, 1936: “The forces of selfishness and of lust for power”

FDR at MSG: "We know now that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob."
FDR at MSG: “We know now that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob.”

In our interview last week, Doug Henwood alluded to the speech that Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave at Madison Square Garden on October 31, 1936, just days before he won his first reelection campaign–the speech in which he surveyed the forces aligned against him and announced, “I welcome their hatred.” Afterward I looked up the speech, and I’m reproducing the text of it below.

Roosevelt won that election in one of the greatest landslides in U.S. history, but that was hardly a foregone conclusion in the days before the vote. The modern political poll was in its infancy then, and on the same day that FDR delivered this address, Literary Digest–which had been pollings its readers for years, and had correctly called the outcome of the previous five elections–famously predicted that Roosevelt’s opponent, Alf Landon, would win.

So everything appeared to be far from settled when Roosevelt stepped to the podium that day to offer the last major speech of his campaign; it could have proven the epitaph for the president and his New Deal.

I ask you to read it and try to imagine Barack Obama–or any other national political figure of our day–saying such things now. I’ve highlighted the passage Henwood was talking about. If you prefer, you can listen to audio of the speech here.

FDR at Madison Square Garden, 10/31/36:

On the eve of a national election, it is well for us to stop for a moment and analyze calmly and without prejudice the effect on our Nation of a victory by either of the major political parties.

The problem of the electorate is far deeper, far more vital than the continuance in the Presidency of any individual. For the greater issue goes beyond units of humanity—it goes to humanity itself.

In 1932 the issue was the restoration of American democracy; and the American people were in a mood to win. They did win. In 1936 the issue is the preservation of their victory. Again they are in a mood to win. Again they will win.

More than four years ago in accepting the Democratic nomination in Chicago, I said: “Give me your help not to win votes alone, but to win in this crusade to restore America to its own people.”

The banners of that crusade still fly in the van of a Nation that is on the march.

It is needless to repeat the details of the program which this Administration has been hammering out on the anvils of experience. No amount of misrepresentation or statistical contortion can conceal or blur or smear that record. Neither the attacks of unscrupulous enemies nor the exaggerations of over-zealous friends will serve to mislead the American people.

What was our hope in 1932? Above all other things the American people wanted peace. They wanted peace of mind instead of gnawing fear.

First, they sought escape from the personal terror which had stalked them for three years. They wanted the peace that comes from security in their homes: safety for their savings, permanence in their jobs, a fair profit from their enterprise.

Next, they wanted peace in the community, the peace that springs from the ability to meet the needs of community life: schools, playgrounds, parks, sanitation, highways—those things which are expected of solvent local government. They sought escape from disintegration and bankruptcy in local and state affairs.

They also sought peace within the Nation: protection of their currency, fairer wages, the ending of long hours of toil, the abolition of child labor, the elimination of wild-cat speculation, the safety of their children from kidnappers.

And, finally, they sought peace with other Nations—peace in a world of unrest. The Nation knows that I hate war, and I know that the Nation hates war.

I submit to you a record of peace; and on that record a well-founded expectation for future peace—peace for the individual, peace for the community, peace for the Nation, and peace with the world.

Tonight I call the roll—the roll of honor of those who stood with us in 1932 and still stand with us today.

Written on it are the names of millions who never had a chance—men at starvation wages, women in sweatshops, children at looms.

Written on it are the names of those who despaired, young men and young women for whom opportunity had become a will-o’-the-wisp.

Written on it are the names of farmers whose acres yielded only bitterness, business men whose books were portents of disaster, home owners who were faced with eviction, frugal citizens whose savings were insecure.

Written there in large letters are the names of countless other Americans of all parties and all faiths, Americans who had eyes to see and hearts to understand, whose consciences were burdened because too many of their fellows were burdened, who looked on these things four years ago and said, “This can be changed. We will change it.”

We still lead that army in 1936. They stood with us then because in 1932 they believed. They stand with us today because in 1 936 they know. And with them stand millions of new recruits who have come to know.

Their hopes have become our record.

We have not come this far without a struggle and I assure you we cannot go further without a struggle.

For twelve years this Nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing Government. The Nation looked to Government but the Government looked away. Nine mocking years with the golden calf and three long years of the scourge! Nine crazy years at the ticker and three long years in the breadlines! Nine mad years of mirage and three long years of despair! Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that that Government is best which is most indifferent.

For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.

I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.

The American people know from a four-year record that today there is only one entrance to the White House—by the front door. Since March 4, 1933, there has been only one pass-key to the White House. I have carried that key in my pocket. It is there tonight. So long as I am President, it will remain in my pocket.

Those who used to have pass-keys are not happy. Some of them are desperate. Only desperate men with their backs to the wall would descend so far below the level of decent citizenship as to foster the current pay-envelope campaign against America’s working people. Only reckless men, heedless of consequences, would risk the disruption of the hope for a new peace between worker and employer by returning to the tactics of the labor spy.

Here is an amazing paradox! The very employers and politicians and publishers who talk most loudly of class antagonism and the destruction of the American system now undermine that system by this attempt to coerce the votes of the wage earners of this country. It is the 1936 version of the old threat to close down the factory or the office if a particular candidate does not win. It is an old strategy of tyrants to delude their victims into fighting their battles for them.

Every message in a pay envelope, even if it is the truth, is a command to vote according to the will of the employer. But this propaganda is worse—it is deceit.

They tell the worker his wage will be reduced by a contribution to some vague form of old-age insurance. They carefully conceal from him the fact that for every dollar of premium he pays for that insurance, the employer pays another dollar. That omission is deceit.

They carefully conceal from him the fact that under the federal law, he receives another insurance policy to help him if he loses his job, and that the premium of that policy is paid 100 percent by the employer and not one cent by the worker. They do not tell him that the insurance policy that is bought for him is far more favorable to him than any policy that any private insurance company could afford to issue. That omission is deceit.

They imply to him that he pays all the cost of both forms of insurance. They carefully conceal from him the fact that for every dollar put up by him his employer puts up three dollars—three for one. And that omission is deceit.

But they are guilty of more than deceit. When they imply that the reserves thus created against both these policies will be stolen by some future Congress, diverted to some wholly foreign purpose, they attack the integrity and honor of American Government itself. Those who suggest that, are already aliens to the spirit of American democracy. Let them emigrate and try their lot under some foreign flag in which they have more confidence.

The fraudulent nature of this attempt is well shown by the record of votes on the passage of the Social Security Act. In addition to an overwhelming majority of Democrats in both Houses, seventy-seven Republican Representatives voted for it and only eighteen against it and fifteen Republican Senators voted for it and only five against it. Where does this last-minute drive of the Republican leadership leave these Republican Representatives and Senators who helped enact this law?

I am sure the vast majority of law-abiding businessmen who are not parties to this propaganda fully appreciate the extent of the threat to honest business contained in this coercion.

I have expressed indignation at this form of campaigning and I am confident that the overwhelming majority of employers, workers and the general public share that indignation and will show it at the polls on Tuesday next.

Aside from this phase of it, I prefer to remember this campaign not as bitter but only as hard-fought. There should be no bitterness or hate where the sole thought is the welfare of the United States of America. No man can occupy the office of President without realizing that he is President of all the people.

It is because I have sought to think in terms of the whole Nation that I am confident that today, just as four years ago, the people want more than promises.

Our vision for the future contains more than promises.

This is our answer to those who, silent about their own plans, ask us to state our objectives.

Of course we will continue to seek to improve working conditions for the workers of America—to reduce hours over-long, to increase wages that spell starvation, to end the labor of children, to wipe out sweatshops. Of course we will continue every effort to end monopoly in business, to support collective bargaining, to stop unfair competition, to abolish dishonorable trade practices. For all these we have only just begun to fight.

Of course we will continue to work for cheaper electricity in the homes and on the farms of America, for better and cheaper transportation, for low interest rates, for sounder home financing, for better banking, for the regulation of security issues, for reciprocal trade among nations, for the wiping out of slums. For all these we have only just begun to fight.

Of course we will continue our efforts in behalf of the farmers of America. With their continued cooperation we will do all in our power to end the piling up of huge surpluses which spelled ruinous prices for their crops. We will persist in successful action for better land use, for reforestation, for the conservation of water all the way from its source to the sea, for drought and flood control, for better marketing facilities for farm commodities, for a definite reduction of farm tenancy, for encouragement of farmer cooperatives, for crop insurance and a stable food supply. For all these we have only just begun to fight.

Of course we will provide useful work for the needy unemployed; we prefer useful work to the pauperism of a dole.

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.

Again—what of our objectives?

Of course we will continue our efforts for young men and women so that they may obtain an education and an opportunity to put it to use. Of course we will continue our help for the crippled, for the blind, for the mothers, our insurance for the unemployed, our security for the aged. Of course we will continue to protect the consumer against unnecessary price spreads, against the costs that are added by monopoly and speculation. We will continue our successful efforts to increase his purchasing power and to keep it constant.

For these things, too, and for a multitude of others like them, we have only just begun to fight.

All this—all these objectives—spell peace at home. All our actions, all our ideals, spell also peace with other nations.

Today there is war and rumor of war. We want none of it. But while we guard our shores against threats of war, we will continue to remove the causes of unrest and antagonism at home which might make our people easier victims to those for whom foreign war is profitable. You know well that those who stand to profit by war are not on our side in this campaign.

“Peace on earth, good will toward men”—democracy must cling to that message. For it is my deep conviction that democracy cannot live without that true religion which gives a nation a sense of justice and of moral purpose. Above our political forums, above our market places stand the altars of our faith—altars on which burn the fires of devotion that maintain all that is best in us and all that is best in our Nation.

We have need of that devotion today. It is that which makes it possible for government to persuade those who are mentally prepared to fight each other to go on instead, to work for and to sacrifice for each other. That is why we need to say with the Prophet: “What doth the Lord require of thee—but to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God.” That is why the recovery we seek, the recovery we are winning, is more than economic. In it are included justice and love and humility, not for ourselves as individuals alone, but for our Nation.

That is the road to peace.

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Tim Walker on 05/11/2009 - 11:50 am.

    Very strong, and vivid words that just don’t make it into political speech today.

    But when I listened to Obama’s acceptance speech in Denver, I remarked that he was using coded class-warfare language. He was saying “Eat the rich,” I said, but couching it in more acceptable terms.

    (Warmed my heart, it did!)

    Here’s an excerpt from that August 2008 speech, and although it doesn’t come close to the harsh anti-big-business tone that FDR used, it’s pretty arn close:

    Now, I don’t believe that Senator McCain doesn’t care what’s going on in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn’t know. Why else would he define “middle-class” as someone making under five million dollars a year? How else could he propose hundreds of billions in tax breaks for big corporations and oil companies but not one penny of tax relief to more than one hundred million Americans?

    How else could he offer a health care plan that would actually tax people’s benefits, or an education plan that would do nothing to help families pay for college, or a plan that would privatize Social Security and gamble your retirement?

    It’s not because John McCain doesn’t care; it’s because John McCain doesn’t get it. For over two decades — For over two decades, he’s subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy: Give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else.

    In Washington, they call this the “Ownership Society,” but what it really means is that you’re on your own. Out of work? Tough luck, you’re on your own. No health care? The market will fix it. You’re on your own. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, even if you don’t have boots. You are on your own. Well, it’s time for them to own their failure. It’s time for us to change America.

    — Above excerpt from http://www.americanrhetoric.com

  2. Submitted by Glenn Mesaros on 05/11/2009 - 02:27 pm.


    By Glenn Mesaros

    “I’m prouder of that than anything I ever did.” FDR to Arthur Krock in 1937, (FDR, by Jean Edward Shepard, 2007).

    “The trouble is that when you sit around the table with a Britisher he usually gets 80 percent of the deal and you get the remainder.” FDR, quoted in “The World in Depression, 1929 – 1939”, by Charles P. Kindleberger)

    Why would Franklin Roosevelt cite his “torpedoeing” of the 1933 London based World Monetary and Economic Conference as his proudest accomplishment four years after he created the New Deal, with its CCC, TVA, WPA, social security, and myriad other world changing programs?

    Sir Basil Blackett, the British monetary theorist, authored his book in 1931 in preparation for the the London Conference, and he cited the recent Report of the Committee on Monetary and Financial Questions of the Ottawa Conference, a British Imperial meeting of the Empire in Canada, as the basis for the British program at the World Monetary and Economic Conference.

    “His Majesty’s Government desires to see wholesale sterling prices rise… and recognizes that an ample supply of short term money at low rates may have a valuable influence…” This reflects the usual monetarist “wall of money” to placate any credit crisis, as we see today in “Helicopter” Ben Bernanke, and his Federal Reserve system.

    The Ottawa report continued, “At the same time it is necessary that these favorable monetary conditions be achieved, NOT by the inflationary creation of additional means of payment to finance public expenditure, but by an orderly monetary policy….” In other words, NO WPA, No TVA, and No New Deal.

    FDR serenely sailed his yacht into Campobello Island, on the Maine coast, where he had contracted polio in 1921, and invited four correspondents to his cottage there on June 30, where he expounded on the London conference for one hour. This informal press conference became the famous New York Times article, datelined from Campobello, which sank the London conference.

    He told the correspondents that the US would not at this time agree to any stabilization agreement, and furthermore, “not allow the dumping of products by any cheap producer on American markets.”

    On Sunday, July 2, FDR boarded the USS Indianapolis to return to Washington, D.C. During this trip, he composed a further message to the London Conference in the Captain’s cabin, which said,

    “I would regard it as a catastrophe amounting to a world tragedy if the great Conference of Nations, called to bring about a more real and permanent financial stability and a greater prosperity for the masses of all nations, should, in advance of any serious effort to consider these broader problems, allow itself to be diverted by the proposal of a purely artificial and temporary experiment affecting the monetary exchange of a few nations only… The sound internal economic system of a nation is a greater factor in its well being than the price of its currency in changing terms of the currencies of other nations.”

    He called stabilization one of the “old fetishes of so-called international bankers”.

    By contrast, Obama went to London, and submitted to every stupid policy handed to him by Gordon Brown, who the Guardian exposed as the key Alan Greenspan acolyte in Europe.

  3. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 05/11/2009 - 04:47 pm.

    Thank you Steve for posting this. We can imagine the angry response from the right if a modern politician gave this speech, but FDR didn’t have to imagine, because it looks like he got the same reaction. He saw the chance to push conservatism the rest of the way to the fringe and did it, just by reminding people that he knew what they had been through, by appealing to their angels instead of their selfishness, and pointing out the lies of his opponents.

    In a way it’s sad that the issues have changed so little, and that the fearmongering and half-truths of the other side are so much the same. On the other hand, FDR took them on directly and won, despite the lies, despite a coup attempt. That’s the lesson for us.

  4. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 05/11/2009 - 04:49 pm.

    It occurred to me that my reference to the coup attempt against Roosevelt might be challenged since it’s mostly unknown. Here’s a BBC report on it: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history/document/document_20070723.shtml

  5. Submitted by Phyllis Stenerson on 05/12/2009 - 06:10 am.

    An amazing speech! Thanks, Steve, for bringing it to the attention of MinnPost readers. I’ll be posting it on my website and referencing it in my newsletter to spread the word. When and why did American politicians and progressive activists become so afraid of speaking the truth, of calling out lies and hypocrisy? And voters not willing to be informed enough to know truth from deceit? I guess I know the answer to that and it’s very sad. I am appreciative of those who are working diligently for systemic change.

  6. Submitted by Glenn Mesaros on 05/12/2009 - 08:30 am.

    May, 1930 (FDR correspondence)

    “. . . There is no question in my mind that it is time for the country to become fairly radical for at least one generation. History shows that where this occurs occasionally, nations are saved from revolutions. One of the penalties of being Governor is that one has little time to think of the broader national problems. I have felt much out of them during the past year and a half because from 1913 on I had been in pretty close touch with the national problems and had, to a large extent, lost touch with the purely state problems in New York. . . . It would be misunderstood if I were to tell the public that I regard the present business slump as a great blessing, for while a nation goes speculation crazy and everybody is employed, the average citizen simply declines to think of fundamental principles. . . .”

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