October 18, 1931: Message Regarding Unemployment Relief
My fellow citizens:
This broadcast tonight marks the beginning of the mobilization of the whole Nation for a great undertaking to provide security for those of our citizens and their families who, through no fault of their own, face unemployment and privation during the coming winter. Its success depends upon the sympathetic and generous action of every man and woman in our country. No one with a spark of human sympathy can contemplate unmoved the possibilities of suffering that can crush many of our unfortunate fellow Americans if we shall fail them.
The depression has been deepened by events from abroad which are beyond the control either of our citizens or our Government. Although it is but a passing incident in our national life, we must meet the consequences in unemployment which arise from it with that completeness of effort and that courage and spirit for which citizenship in this Nation always has and always must stand.
As an important part of our plans for national unity of action in this emergency I have created a great national organization under the leadership of Mr. Walter Gifford to cooperate with the Governors, the State and the local agencies, and with the many national organizations of business, of labor, and of welfare, with the churches and our fraternal and patriotic societies so that the countless streams of human helpfulness which have been the mainstay of our country in all emergencies may be directed wisely and effectively.
Over a thousand towns and cities have well-organized and experienced unemployment relief committees, community chests, or other agencies for the efficient administration of this relief. With this occasion begins the nationwide movement to aid each of these volunteer organizations in securing the funds to meet their task over the forthcoming winter.
This organized effort is our opportunity to express our sympathy, to lighten the burdens of the heavy laden, and to cast sunshine into the habitation of despair.
The amounts sought by the committee in your town or city are in part to provide work, for it is through work that we wish to give help in keeping with the dignity of American manhood and womanhood. But much of their funds are necessary to provide direct relief to those families where circumstances and ill fortune can only be met by direct assistance. Included in many community appeals are the sums necessary to the vital measures of health and character building, the maintenance of which were never more necessary than in these times.
The Federal Government is taking its part in aid to unemployment through the advancement and enlargement of public works in all parts of the Nation. Through these works, it is today providing a livelihood for nearly 700,000 families. All immigration has been stopped in order that our burdens should not be increased by unemployed immigrants from abroad. Measures have been adopted which will assure normal credits and thus stimulate employment in industry, in commerce, and in agriculture. The employers in national industries have spread work amongst their employees so that the maximum number may participate in the wages which are available. Our States, our counties, our municipalities, through the expansion of their public works and through tax-supported relief activities, are doing their full part. Yet, beyond all this, there is a margin of relief which must be provided by voluntary action. Through these agencies Americans must meet the demands of national conscience that there be no hunger or cold amongst our people.
Similar organization and generous support were provided during the past winter in localities where it was necessary. Under the leadership of Colonel Woods, we succeeded in the task of that time. We demonstrated that it could be done. But in many localities our need will be greater this winter than a year ago. While many are affected by the depression, the number who are threatened with privation is a minor percentage of our whole people.
This task is not beyond the ability of these thousands of community organizations to solve. Each local organization from its experience last winter and summer has formulated careful plans and made estimates completely to meet the need of that community. I am confident that the generosity of each community will fully support these estimates. The sum of these community efforts will meet the needs of the Nation as a whole.
To solve this problem in this way accords with the fundamental sense of responsibility, neighbor to neighbor, community to community, upon which our Nation is founded.
The possible misery of helpless people gives me more concern than any other trouble that this depression has brought upon us. It is with these convictions in mind that I have the responsibility of opening this nationwide appeal to citizens in each community that they provide the funds with which, community by community, this task shall be met.
The maintenance of a spirit of mutual self-help through voluntary giving, through the responsibility of local government, is of infinite importance to the future of America. Everyone who aids to the full extent of his ability is giving support to the very foundations of our democracy. Everyone who from a sympathetic heart gives to these services is giving hope and courage to some deserving family. Everyone who aids in this service will have lighted a beacon of help on the stormy coast of human adversity.
The success and the character of nations are to be judged by the ideals and the spirit of its people. Time and again the American people have demonstrated a spiritual quality, a capacity for unity of action, of generosity, a certainty of results in time of emergency that have made them great in the annals of the history of all nations. This is the time and this is the occasion when we must arouse that idealism, that spirit, that determination, that unity of action, from which there can be no failure in this primary obligation of every man to his neighbor and of a nation to its citizens, that none who deserve shall suffer.
I would that I possessed the art of words to fix the real issue with which the troubled world is faced in the mind and heart of every American man and woman. Our country and the world are today involved in more than a financial crisis. We are faced with the primary question of human relations, which reaches to the very depths of organized society and to the very depths of human conscience. This civilization and this great complex, which we call American life, is builded and can alone survive upon the translation into individual action of that fundamental philosophy announced by the Savior 19 centuries ago. Part of our national suffering today is from failure to observe these primary yet inexorable laws of human relationship. Modern society cannot survive with the defense of Cain, "Am I my brother's keeper ?"
No governmental action, no economic doctrine, no economic plan or project can replace that God-imposed responsibility of the individual man and woman to their neighbors. That is a vital part of the very soul of a people. If we shall gain in this spirit from this painful time, we shall have created a greater and more glorious America. The trial of it is here now. It is a trial of the heart and the conscience, of individual men and women.
In a little over a month we shall celebrate our time-honored festival of Thanksgiving. I appeal to the American people to make November 26 next the outstanding Thanksgiving Day in the history of the United States; that we may say on that day that America has again demonstrated her ideals; that we have each of us contributed our full part; that we in each of our communities have given full assurance against hunger and cold amongst our people; that upon this Thanksgiving Day we have removed the fear of the forthcoming winter from the hearts of all who are suffering and in distress--that we are our brother's keeper.
I am on my way to participate in the commemoration of the victory of Yorktown. It is a name which brings a glow of pride to every American. It recalls the final victory of our people after years of sacrifice and privation. This Nation passed through Valley Forge and came to Yorktown.