For Dr. James Tobin, the famous line, "The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself" meant even more to Franklin D. Roosevelt, because he understood it in a personal way as he recovered from polio. Tobin’s new book, The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency, has given us a well-written and unique way to look at FDR.
On this day in 1945, President Franklin Roosevelt collapsed and died while sitting for a portrait in Warm Springs, GA. Harry Truman took the oath of office that same day. Seen here is the unfinished painting of FDR, done by Elizabeth Shoumatoff.
Despite his declining heath, Roosevelt's death came as a shock to the world--Churchill later described learning of FDR's death as comparable to having "been struck a physical blow."
Stay tuned! Every Friday we'll highlight an interesting item from presidential history.
Eighty years ago today, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered the first “fireside chat” evening radio address to the nation. By the time of his inauguration the week before, nearly all of the banks in the nation had temporarily closed in response to mass withdrawals by a panicked public. In the March 12, 1933 “fireside chat,” Roosevelt sought to calm the nation’s fears and outlined his plan to restore confidence in the banking system. As he would in future addresses, FDR used common language to explain the complex problem that had developed and what the administration was doing about it. Roosevelt told the nation:
I want to tell you what has been done in the last few days, why it was done, and what the next steps are going to be. I recognize that the many proclamations from State Capitols and from Washington, the legislation, the Treasury regulations, etc., couched for the most part in banking and legal terms should be explained for the benefit of the average citizen. I owe this in particular because of the fortitude and good temper with which everybody has accepted the inconvenience and hardships of the banking holiday. I know that when you understand what we in Washington have been about I shall continue to have your cooperation as fully as I have had your sympathy and help during the past week.
After explaining the problem and the administration’s actions, FDR made an appeal for the public’s sympathy and support, soliciting trust and contributing to a sense of national unity in confronting the crisis:
After all there is an element in the readjustment of our financial system more important than currency, more important than gold, and that is the confidence of the people. Confidence and courage are the essentials of success in carrying out our plan. You people must have faith; you must not be stampeded by rumors or guesses. Let us unite in banishing fear. We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system; it is up to you to support and make it work.
It is your problem no less than it is mine. Together we cannot fail.
In all, Roosevelt delivered thirty “fireside chat” radio addresses between 1933 and 1944. FDR used the new form of communication to reshape the presidency and the chats were a significant development in building a direct and intimate bond between the president and the public.
Sixty years ago today, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his annual State of the Union address to Congress. President Roosevelt didn’t lay out any legislative proposals but instead focused on the events and needs of the world war. “I think the arsenal of democracy is making good,” Roosevelt told the 78th Congress and the nation in his January 7, 1943 address.
Just two years before, Roosevelt had delivered his “Four Freedoms” speech. Roosevelt used the occasion of the 1943 State of the Union to remind the country that “freedom from want,” which he defined as the right of employment and the right of assurance against life’s hazards, would be a significant task facing the country in the coming years. Furthermore, the extension of two new rights in the Four Freedoms speech – “freedom from want” and “freedom from fear” – beyond what had been guaranteed by the Constitution promised a significant expansion of the federal government. Roosevelt linked these two freedoms and justified their pursuit as necessary to the future prosperity of the nation in his address to the 78th Congress and the nation in 1943:
In this war of survival we must keep before our minds not only the evil things we fight against but the good things we are fighting for. We fight to retain a great past—and we fight to gain a greater future.
Let us remember, too, that economic safety for the America of the future is threatened unless a greater economic stability comes to the rest of the world. We cannot make America an island in either a military or an economic sense. Hitlerism, like any other form of crime or disease, can grow from the evil seeds of economic as well as military feudalism.
Victory in this war is the first and greatest goal before us. Victory in the peace is the next. That means striving toward the enlargement of the security of man here and throughout the world—and, finally, striving for the fourth freedom—freedom from fear.
Read and listen to the full address here.