(5) The Congress set up the United States Housing Authority to help
finance large-scale slum clearance and provide low rent housing for
the low income groups in our cities. And by improving the Federal
Housing Act, the Congress made it easier for private capital to
build modest homes and low rental dwellings.
(6) The Congress has properly reduced taxes on small corporate
enterprises, and has made it easier for the Reconstruction Finance
Corporation to make credit available to all business. I think the
bankers of the country can fairly be expected to participate in
loans where the government, through the Reconstruction Finance
Corporation, offers to take a fair portion of the risk.
(7) The Congress has provided additional funds for the Works
Progress Administration, the Public Works Administration, the Rural
Electrification Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps and
other agencies, in order to take care of what we hope is a
temporary additional number of unemployed at this time and to
encourage production of every kind by private enterprise.
All these things together I call our program for the national
defense of our economic system. It is a program of balanced
action–of moving on all fronts at once in intelligent recognition
that all of our economic problems, of every group, and of every
section of the country are essentially one problem.
(8) Finally, because of increasing armaments in other nations and
an international situation which is definitely disturbing to all of
us, the Congress has authorized important additions to the national
armed defense of our shores and our people.
On another important subject the net result of a struggle in the
Congress has been an important victory for the people of the United
States–what might well be called a lost battle which won a war.
You will remember that on February 5, 1937, I sent a message to the
Congress dealing with the real need of federal court reforms of
several kinds. In one way or another, during the sessions of this
Congress, the ends–the real objectives–sought in that message,
have been substantially attained.
The attitude of the Supreme Court towards constitutional questions
is entirely changed. Its recent decisions are eloquent testimony of
a willingness to collaborate with the two other branches of
government to make democracy work. The government has been granted
the right to protect its interests in litigation between private
parties involving the constitutionality of federal, and to appeal
directly to the Supreme Court in all cases involving the
constitutionality of federal statutes; and no single judge is any
longer empowered to suspend a federal statute on his sole judgment
as to its constitutionality. Justices of the Supreme Court may now
retire at the age of seventy after ten years of service; a
substantial number of additional judgeships have been created in
order to expedite the trial of cases; and finally greater
flexibility has been added to the federal judicial system by
allowing judges to be assigned to congested districts.
Another indirect accomplishment of this Congress has been its
response to the devotion of the American people to a course of sane
and consistent liberalism. The Congress has understood that under
modern conditions government has a continuing responsibility to
meet continuing problems, and that government cannot take a holiday
of a year, or a month, or even a day just because a few people are
tired or frightened by the inescapable pace, fast pace, of this
modern world in which we live.
Some of my opponents and some of my associates have considered that
I have a mistakenly sentimental judgment as to the tenacity of
purpose and the general level of intelligence of the American
I am still convinced that the American people, since 1932, continue
to insist on two requisites of private enterprise, and the
relationship of government to it. The first is a complete honesty
at the top in looking after the use of other people’s money, and in
apportioning and paying individual and corporate taxes according to
ability to pay. The second is sincere respect for the need of all
people who are at the bottom, all people at the bottom who need to
get work–and through work to get a really fair share of the good
things of life, and a chance to save and rise.
After the election of 1936 I was told, and the Congress was told,
by an increasing number of politically–and worldly–wise people
that I should coast along, enjoy an easy Presidency for four years,
and not take the Democratic platform too seriously. They told me
that people were getting weary of reform through political effort
and would no longer oppose that small minority which, in spite of
its own disastrous leadership in 1929, is always eager to resume
its control over the government of the United States.
Never in our lifetime has such a concerted campaign of defeatism
been thrown at the heads of the President and the Senators and
Congressmen as in the case of this Seventy-Fifth Congress. Never
before have we had so many Copperheads–and you will remember that
it was the Copperheads who, in the days of the War between the
States, tried their best to make President Lincoln and his Congress
give up the fight, let the nation remain split in two and return to
peace–peace at any price.
This Congress has ended on the side of the people. My faith in the
American people–and their faith in themselves–have been
justified. I congratulate the Congress and the leadership thereof
and I congratulate the American people on their own staying power.
One word about our economic situation. It makes no difference to me
whether you call it a recession or a depression. In 1932 the total
national income of all the people in the country had reached the
low point of thirty-eight billion dollars in that year. With each
succeeding year it rose. Last year, 1937, it had risen to seventy
billion dollars–despite definitely worse business and agricultural
prices in the last four months of last year. This year, 1938, while
it is too early to do more than give an estimate, we hope that the
national income will not fall below sixty billion dollars. We
remember also that banking and business and farming are not falling
apart like the one-hoss shay, as they did in the terrible winter of
Last year mistakes were made by the leaders of private enterprise,
by the leaders of labor and by the leaders of government–all
Last year the leaders of private enterprise pleaded for a sudden
curtailment of public spending, and said they would take up the
slack. But they made the mistake of increasing their inventories
too fast and setting many of their prices too high for their goods
Some labor leaders goaded by decades of oppression of labor made
the mistake of going too far. They were not wise in using methods
which frightened many well-wishing people. They asked employers not
only to bargain with them but to put up with jurisdictional
disputes at the same time.
Government too made mistakes–mistakes of optimism in assuming that
industry and labor would themselves make no mistakes–and
government made a mistake of timing in not passing a farm bill or a
wage and hour bill last year.
As a result of the lessons of all these mistakes we hope that in
the future private enterprise–capital and labor alike–will
operate more intelligently together, and operate in greater
cooperation with their own government than they have in the past.
Such cooperation on the part of both of them will be very welcome
to me. Certainly at this stage there should be a united stand on
the part of both of them to resist wage cuts which would further
reduce purchasing power.
Today a great steel company announced a reduction in prices with a
view to stimulating business recovery, and I was gratified to know
that this reduction involved no wage cut. Every encouragement ought
to be given to industry which accepts the large volume and high
If this is done, it ought to result in conditions which will
replace a great part of the government spending which the failure
of cooperation has made necessary this year.
From March 4, 1933 down, not a single week has passed without a cry
from the opposition, a small opposition, a cry “to do something, to
say something, to restore confidence.” There is a very articulate
group of people in this country, with plenty of ability to procure
publicity for their views, who have consistently refused to
cooperate with the mass of the people, whether things were going
well or going badly, on the ground that they required more
concessions to their point of view before they would admit having
what they called “confidence.”
These people demanded “restoration of confidence” when the banks
were closed–and demanded it again when the banks were reopened.
They demanded “restoration of confidence” when hungry people were
thronging the streets–and again when the hungry people were fed
and put to work.
They demanded “restoration of confidence” when droughts hit the
country–and again now when our fields are laden with bounteous
yields and excessive crops.
They demanded “restoration of confidence” last year when the
automobile industry was running three shifts and turning out more
cars than the country could buy–and again this year when the
industry is trying to get rid of an automobile surplus and has shut
down its factories as a result.
It is my belief that many of these people who have been crying
aloud for “confidence” are beginning today to realize that that
hand has been overplayed, and that they are now willing to talk
cooperation instead. It is my belief that the mass of the American
people do have confidence in themselves–have confidence in their
ability, with the aid of government, to solve their own problems.
It is because you are not satisfied, and I am not satisfied, with
the progress that we have made in finally solving our business and
agricultural and social problems that I believe the great majority
of you want your own government to keep on trying to solve them. In
simple frankness and in simple honesty, I need all the help I can
get–and I see signs of getting more help in the future from many
who have fought against progress with tooth and nail.
And now following out this line of thought, I want to say a few
words about the coming political primaries.
Fifty years ago party nominations were generally made in
conventions–a system typified in the public imagination by a
little group in a smoke-filled room who made out the party slates.
The direct primary was invented to make the nominating process a
more democratic one–to give the party voters themselves a chance
to pick their party candidates.
What I am going to say to you tonight does not relate to the
primaries of any particular political party, but to matters of
principle in all parties–Democratic, Republican, Farmer-Labor,
Progressive, Socialist or any other. Let that be clearly
It is my hope that everybody affiliated with any party will vote in
the primaries, and that every such voter will consider the
fundamental principles for which his or her party is on record.
That makes for a healthy choice between the candidates of the
opposing parties on Election Day in November.
An election cannot give the country a firm sense of direction if it
has two or more national parties which merely have different names
but are as alike in their principles and aims as peas in the same
In the coming primaries in all parties, there will be many clashes
between two schools of thought, generally classified as liberal and
conservative. Roughly speaking, the liberal school of thought
recognizes that the new conditions throughout the world call for
Those of us in America who hold to this school of thought, insist
that these new remedies can be adopted and successfully maintained
in this country under our present form of government if we use
government as an instrument of cooperation to provide these
remedies. We believe that we can solve our problems through
continuing effort, through democratic processes instead of Fascism
or Communism. We are opposed to the kind of moratorium on reform
which, in effect, is reaction itself.
Be it clearly understood, however, that when I use the word
“liberal,” I mean the believer in progressive principles of
democratic, representative government and not the wild man who, in
effect, leans in the direction of Communism, for that is just as
dangerous as Fascism itself.
The opposing or conservative school of thought, as a general
proposition, does not recognize the need for government itself to
step in and take action to meet these new problems. It believes
that individual initiative and private philanthropy will solve
them–that we ought to repeal many of the things we have done and
go back, for instance, to the old gold standard, or stop all this
business of old age pensions and unemployment insurance, or repeal
the Securities and Exchange Act, or let monopolies thrive
unchecked–return, in effect, to the kind of government that we had
in the twenties.
Assuming the mental capacity of all the candidates, the important
question which it seems to me the primary voter must ask is this:
“To which of these general schools of thought does the candidate
As President of the United States, I am not asking the voters of
the country to vote for Democrats next November as opposed to
Republicans or members of any other party. Nor am I, as President,
taking part in Democratic primaries.
As the head of the Democratic Party, however, charged with the
responsibility of carrying out the definitely liberal declaration
of principles set forth in the 1936 Democratic platform, I feel
that I have every right to speak in those few instances where there
may be a clear-cut issue between candidates for a Democratic
nomination involving these principles, or involving a clear misuse
of my own name.
Do not misunderstand me. I certainly would not indicate a
preference in a state primary merely because a candidate, otherwise
liberal in outlook, had conscientiously differed with me on any
single issue. I should be far more concerned about the general
attitude of a candidate towards present day problems and his own
inward desire to get practical needs attended to in a practical
way. We all know that progress may be blocked by outspoken
reactionaries, and also by those who say “yes” to a progressive
objective, but who always find some reason to oppose any special
specific proposal to gain that objective. I call that type of
candidate a “yes, but” fellow.
And I am concerned about the attitude of a candidate or his
sponsors with respect to the rights of American citizens to
assemble peaceably and to express publicly their views and opinions
on important social and economic issues. There can be no
constitutional democracy in any community which denies to the
individual his freedom to speak and worship as he wishes. The
American people will not be deceived by anyone who attempts to
suppress individual liberty under the pretense of patriotism.
This being a free country with freedom of expression–especially
with freedom of the press–there will be a lot of mean blows struck
between now and Election Day. By “blows” I mean misrepresentation,
personal attack and appeals to prejudice. It would be a lot better,
of course, if campaigns everywhere could be waged with arguments
instead of with blows.
I hope the liberal candidates will confine themselves to argument
and not resort to blows. In nine cases out of ten the speaker or
the writer who, seeking to influence public opinion, descends from
calm argument to unfair blows hurts himself more than his opponent.