I am not for a return to that definition of liberty under which for
many years a free people were being gradually regimented into the
service of the privileged few. I prefer and I am sure you prefer
that broader definition of liberty under which we are moving
forward to greater freedom, to greater security for the average man
than he has ever known before in the history of America.
April 28, 1935.
Since my annual message to the Congress on January fourth, last, I
have not addressed the general public over the air. In the many
weeks since that time the Congress has devoted itself to the
arduous task of formulating legislation necessary to the country’s
welfare. It has made and is making distinct progress.
Before I come to any of the specific measures, however, I want to
leave in your minds one clear fact. The administration and the
Congress are not proceeding in any haphazard fashion in this task
of government. Each of our steps has a definite relationship to
every other step. The job of creating a program for the nation’s
welfare is, in some respects, like the building of a ship. At
different points on the coast where I often visit they build great
seagoing ships. When one of these ships is under construction and
the steel frames have been set in the keel, it is difficult for a
person who does not know ships to tell how it will finally look
when it is sailing the high seas.
It may seem confused to some, but out of the multitude of detailed
parts that go into the making of the structure the creation of a
useful instrument for man ultimately comes. It is that way with the
making of a national policy. The objective of the nation has
greatly changed in three years. Before that time individual self-
interest and group selfishness were paramount in public thinking.
The general good was at a discount.
Three years of hard thinking have changed the picture. More and
more people, because of clearer thinking and a better
understanding, are considering the whole rather than a mere part
relating to one section or to one crop, or to one industry, or to
an individual private occupation. That is a tremendous gain for the
principles of democracy. The overwhelming majority of people in
this country know how to sift the wheat from the chaff in what they
hear and what they read. They know that the process of the
constructive rebuilding of America cannot be done in a day or a
year, but that it is being done in spite of the few who seek to
confuse them and to profit by their confusion. Americans as a whole
are feeling a lot better–a lot more cheerful than for many, many
The most difficult place in the world to get a clear open
perspective of the country as a whole is Washington. I am reminded
sometimes of what President Wilson once said: “So many people come
to Washington who know things that are not so, and so few people
who know anything about what the people of the United States are
thinking about.” That is why I occasionally leave this scene of
action for a few days to go fishing or back home to Hyde Park, so
that I can have a chance to think quietly about the country as a
whole. “To get away from the trees”, as they say, “and to look at
the whole forest.” This duty of seeing the country in a long-range
perspective is one which, in a very special manner, attaches to
this office to which you have chosen me. Did you ever stop to think
that there are, after all, only two positions in the nation that
are filled by the vote of all of the voters–the President and the
Vice-President? That makes it particularly necessary for the Vice-
President and for me to conceive of our duty toward the entire
country. I speak, therefore, tonight, to and of the American people
as a whole.
My most immediate concern is in carrying out the purposes of the
great work program just enacted by the Congress. Its first
objective is to put men and women now on the relief rolls to work
and, incidentally, to assist materially in our already unmistakable
march toward recovery. I shall not confuse my discussion by a
multitude of figures. So many figures are quoted to prove so many
things. Sometimes it depends upon what paper you read and what
broadcast you hear. Therefore, let us keep our minds on two or
three simple, essential facts in connection with this problem of
unemployment. It is true that while business and industry are
definitely better our relief rolls are still too large. However,
for the first time in five years the relief rolls have declined
instead of increased during the winter months. They are still
declining. The simple fact is that many million more people have
private work today than two years ago today or one year ago today,
and every day that passes offers more chances to work for those who
want to work. In spite of the fact that unemployment remains a
serious problem here as in every other nation, we have come to
recognize the possibility and the necessity of certain helpful
remedial measures. These measures are of two kinds. The first is to
make provisions intended to relieve, to minimize, and to prevent
future unemployment; the second is to establish the practical means
to help those who are unemployed in this present emergency. Our
social security legislation is an attempt to answer the first of
these questions; our Works Relief program, the second.
The program for social security now pending before the Congress is
a necessary part of the future unemployment policy of the
government. While our present and projected expenditures for work
relief are wholly within the reasonable limits of our national
credit resources, it is obvious that we cannot continue to create
governmental deficits for that purpose year after year. We must
begin now to make provision for the future. That is why our social
security program is an important part of the complete picture. It
proposes, by means of old age pensions, to help those who have
reached the age of retirement to give up their jobs and thus give
to the younger generation greater opportunities for work and to
give to all a feeling of security as they look toward old age.
The unemployment insurance part of the legislation will not only
help to guard the individual in future periods of lay-off against
dependence upon relief, but it will, by sustaining purchasing
power, cushion the shock of economic distress. Another helpful
feature of unemployment insurance is the incentive it will give to
employers to plan more carefully in order that unemployment may be
prevented by the stabilizing of employment itself.
Provisions for social security, however, are protections for the
future. Our responsibility for the immediate necessities of the
unemployed has been met by the Congress through the most
comprehensive work plan in the history of the nation. Our problem
is to put to work three and one-half million employable persons now
on the relief rolls. It is a problem quite as much for private
industry as for the government.
We are losing no time getting the government’s vast work relief
program underway, and we have every reason to believe that it
should be in full swing by autumn. In directing it, I shall
recognize six fundamental principles:
(1) The projects should be useful.
(2) Projects shall be of a nature that a considerable proportion of
the money spent will go into wages for labor.
(3) Projects will be sought which promise ultimate return to the
federal treasury of a considerable proportion of the costs.
(4) Funds allotted for each project should be actually and promptly
spent and not held over until later years.
(5) In all cases projects must be of a character to give employment
to those on the relief rolls.
(6) Projects will be allocated to localities or relief areas in
relation to the number of workers on relief rolls in those areas.
I next want to make it clear exactly how we shall direct the work.
(1) I have set up a Division of Applications and Information to
which all proposals for the expenditure of money must go for
preliminary study and consideration.
(2) After the Division of Applications and Information has sifted
those projects, they will be sent to an Allotment Division composed
of representatives of the more important governmental agencies
charged with carrying on work relief projects. The group will also
include representatives of cities, and of labor, farming, banking
and industry. This Allotment Division will consider all of the
recommendations submitted to it and such projects as they approve
will be next submitted to the President who under the Act is
required to make final allocations.
(3) The next step will be to notify the proper government agency in
whose field the project falls, and also to notify another agency
which I am creating–a Progress Division. This Division will have
the duty of coordinating the purchases of materials and supplies
and of making certain that people who are employed will be taken
from the relief rolls. It will also have the responsibility of
determining work payments in various localities, of making full use
of existing employment services and to assist people engaged in
relief work to move as rapidly as possible back into private
employment when such employment is available. Moreover, this
Division will be charged with keeping projects moving on schedule.
(4) I have felt it to be essentially wise and prudent to avoid, so
far as possible, the creation of new governmental machinery for
supervising this work. The national government now has at least
sixty different agencies with the staff and the experience and the
competence necessary to carry on the two hundred and fifty or three
hundred kinds of work that will be undertaken. These agencies,
therefore, will simply be doing on a somewhat enlarged scale the
same sort of things that they have been doing. This will make
certain that the largest possible portion of the funds allotted
will be spent for actually creating new work and not for building
up expensive overhead organizations here in Washington.
For many months preparations have been under way. The allotment of
funds for desirable projects has already begun. The key men for the
major responsibilities of this great task already have been
selected. I well realize that the country is expecting before this
year is out to see the “dirt fly”, as they say, in carrying on the
work, and I assure my fellow citizens that no energy will be spared
in using these funds effectively to make a major attack upon the
problem of unemployment.
Our responsibility is to all of the people in this country. This is
a great national crusade to destroy enforced idleness which is an
enemy of the human spirit generated by this depression. Our attack
upon these enemies must be without stint and without
discrimination. No sectional, no political distinctions can be
It must, however, be recognized that when an enterprise of this
character is extended over more than three thousand counties
throughout the nation, there may be occasional instances of
inefficiency, bad management, or misuse of funds. When cases of
this kind occur, there will be those, of course, who will try to
tell you that the exceptional failure is characteristic of the
entire endeavor. It should be remembered that in every big job
there are some imperfections. There are chiselers in every walk of
life; there are those in every industry who are guilty of unfair
practices; every profession has its black sheep, but long
experience in government has taught me that the exceptional
instances of wrong-doing in government are probably less numerous
than in almost every other line of endeavor. The most effective
means of preventing such evils in this Works Relief program will be
the eternal vigilance of the American people themselves. I call
upon my fellow citizens everywhere to cooperate with me in making
this the most efficient and the cleanest example of public
enterprise the world has ever seen.
It is time to provide a smashing answer for those cynical men who
say that a democracy cannot be honest and efficient. If you will
help, this can be done. I, therefore, hope you will watch the work
in every corner of this Nation. Feel free to criticize. Tell me of
instances where work can be done better, or where improper
practices prevail. Neither you nor I want criticism conceived in a
purely fault-finding or partisan spirit, but I am jealous of the
right of every citizen to call to the attention of his or her
government examples of how the public money can be more effectively
spent for the benefit of the American people.
I now come, my friends, to a part of the remaining business before
the Congress. It has under consideration many measures which
provide for the rounding out of the program of economic and social
reconstruction with which we have been concerned for two years. I
can mention only a few of them tonight, but I do not want my
mention of specific measures to be interpreted as lack of interest
in or disapproval of many other important proposals that are
The National Industrial Recovery Act expires on the sixteenth of
June. After careful consideration, I have asked the Congress to
extend the life of this useful agency of government. As we have
proceeded with the administration of this Act, we have found from
time to time more and more useful ways of promoting its purposes.
No reasonable person wants to abandon our present gains–we must
continue to protect children, to enforce minimum wages, to prevent
excessive hours, to safeguard, define and enforce collective
bargaining, and, while retaining fair competition, to eliminate so
far as humanly possible, the kinds of unfair practices by selfish
minorities which unfortunately did more than anything else to bring
about the recent collapse of industries.
There is likewise pending before the Congress legislation to
provide for the elimination of unnecessary holding companies in the
public utility field.
I consider this legislation a positive recovery measure. Power
production in this country is virtually back to the 1929 peak. The
operating companies in the gas and electric utility field are by
and large in good condition. But under holding company domination
the utility industry has long been hopelessly at war within itself
and with public sentiment. By far the greater part of the general
decline in utility securities had occurred before I was
inaugurated. The absentee management of unnecessary holding company
control has lost touch with, and has lost the sympathy of, the
communities it pretends to serve. Even more significantly it has
given the country as a whole an uneasy apprehension of
overconcentrated economic power.
A business that loses the confidence of its customers and the good-
will of the public cannot long continue to be a good risk for the
investor. This legislation will serve the investor by ending the
conditions which have caused that lack of confidence and good-will.
It will put the public utility operating industry on a sound basis
for the future, both in its public relations and in its internal
This legislation will not only in the long run result in providing
lower electric and gas rates to the consumer, but it will protect
the actual value and earning power of properties now owned by
thousands of investors who have little protection under the old
laws against what used to be called frenzied finance. It will not