The Fireside Chats of Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Not only business recovery, but the general economic recovery of
the nation will be greatly stimulated by the enactment of
legislation designed to improve the status of our transportation
agencies. There is need for legislation providing for the
regulation of interstate transportation by buses and trucks, for
the regulation of transportation by water, for the strengthening of
our Merchant Marine and Air Transport, for the strengthening of the
Interstate Commerce Commission to enable it to carry out a rounded
conception of the national transportation system in which the
benefits of private ownership are retained while the public stake
in these important services is protected by the public’s
government.

Finally, the reestablishment of public confidence in the banks of
the nation is one of the most hopeful results of our efforts as a
Nation to reestablish public confidence in private banking. We all
know that private banking actually exists by virtue of the
permission of and regulation by the people as a whole, speaking
through their government. Wise public policy, however, requires not
only that banking be safe but that its resources be most fully
utilized in the economic life of the country. To this end it was
decided more than twenty years ago that the government should
assume the responsibility of providing a means by which the credit
of the nation might be controlled, not by a few private banking
institutions, but by a body with public prestige and authority. The
answer to this demand was the Federal Reserve System. Twenty years
of experience with this system have justified the efforts made to
create it, but these twenty years have shown by experience definite
possibilities for improvement. Certain proposals made to amend the
Federal Reserve Act deserve prompt and favorable action by the
Congress. They are a minimum of wise readjustments of our Federal
Reserve System in the light of past experience and present needs.

These measures I have mentioned are, in large part, the program
which under my constitutional duty I have recommended to the
Congress. They are essential factors in a rounded program for
national recovery. They contemplate the enrichment of our national
life by a sound and rational ordering of its various elements and
wise provisions for the protection of the weak against the strong.

Never since my inauguration in March, 1933, have I felt so
unmistakably the atmosphere of recovery. But it is more than the
recovery of the material basis of our individual lives. It is the
recovery of confidence in our democratic processes and
institutions. We have survived all of the arduous burdens and the
threatening dangers of a great economic calamity. We have in the
darkest moments of our national trials retained our faith in our
own ability to master our destiny. Fear is vanishing and confidence
is growing on every side, renewed faith in the vast possibilities
of human beings to improve their material and spiritual status
through the instrumentality of the democratic form of government.
That faith is receiving its just reward. For that we can be
thankful to the God who watches over America.

September 6, 1936.

I have been on a journey of husbandry. I went primarily to see at
first hand conditions in the drought states; to see how effectively
federal and local authorities are taking care of pressing problems
of relief and also how they are to work together to defend the
people of this country against the effects of future droughts.

I saw drought devastation in nine states.

I talked with families who had lost their wheat crop, lost their
corn crop, lost their livestock, lost the water in their well, lost
their garden and come through to the end of the summer without one
dollar of cash resources, facing a winter without feed or food–
facing a planting season without seed to put in the ground.

That was the extreme case, but there are thousands and thousands of
families on Western farms who share the same difficulties.

I saw cattlemen who because of lack of grass or lack of winter feed
have been completely compelled to sell all but their breeding stock
and will need help to carry even these through the coming winter. I
saw livestock kept alive only because water had been brought to
them long distances in tank cars. I saw other farm families who
have not lost everything but who, because they have made only
partial crops, must have some form of help if they are to continue
farming next spring.

I shall never forget the fields of wheat so blasted by heat that
they cannot be harvested. I shall never forget field after field of
corn stunted, earless and stripped of leaves, for what the sun left
the grasshoppers took. I saw brown pastures which would not keep a
cow on fifty acres.

Yet I would not have you think for a single minute that there is
permanent disaster in these drought regions, or that the picture I
saw meant depopulating these areas. No cracked earth, no blistering
sun, no burning wind, no grasshoppers, are a permanent match for
the indomitable American farmers and stockmen and their wives and
children who have carried on through desperate days, and inspire us
with their self-reliance, their tenacity and their courage. It was
their fathers’ task to make homes; it is their task to keep those
homes; it is our task to help them win their fight.

First let me talk for a minute about this autumn and the coming
winter. We have the option, in the case of families who need actual
subsistence, of putting them on the dole or putting them to work.
They do not want to go on the dole and they are one thousand
percent right. We agree, therefore, that we must put them to work
for a decent wage; and when we reach that decision we kill two
birds with one stone, because these families will earn enough by
working, not only to subsist themselves, but to buy food for their
stock, and seed for next year’s planting. Into this scheme of
things there fit of course the government lending agencies which
next year, as in the past, will help with production loans.

Every governor with whom I have talked is in full accord with this
program of doing work for these farm families, just as every
governor agrees that the individual states will take care of their
unemployables but that the cost of employing those who are entirely
able and willing to work must be borne by the federal government.

If then we know, as we do today, the approximate number of farm
families who will require some form of work relief from now on
through the winter, we face the question of what kind of work they
should do. Let me make it clear that this is not a new question
because it has already been answered to a greater or less extent in
every one of the drought communities. Beginning in 1934, when we
also had serious drought conditions, the state and federal
governments cooperated in planning a large number of projects–many
of them directly aimed at the alleviation of future drought
conditions. In accordance with that program literally thousands of
ponds or small reservoirs have been built in order to supply water
for stock and to lift the level of the underground water to protect
wells from going dry. Thousands of wells have been drilled or
deepened; community lakes have been created and irrigation projects
are being pushed.

Water conservation by means such as these is being expanded as a
result of this new drought all through the Great Plains area, the
Western corn belt and in the states that lie further south. In the
Middle West water conservation is not so pressing a problem. Here
the work projects run more to soil erosion control and the building
of farm-to-market roads.

Spending like this is not waste. It would spell future waste if we
did not spend for such things now. These emergency work projects
provide money to buy food and clothing for the winter; they keep
the livestock on the farm; they provide seed for a new crop, and,
best of all, they will conserve soil and water in the future in
those areas most frequently hit by drought.

If, for example, in some local area the water table continues to
drop and the topsoil to blow away, the land values will disappear
with the water and the soil. People on the farms will drift into
the nearby cities; the cities will have no farm trade and the
workers in the city factories and stores will have no jobs.
Property values in the cities will decline. If, on the other hand,
the farms within that area remain as farms with better water supply
and no erosion, the farm population will stay on the land and
prosper and the nearby cities will prosper too. Property values
will increase instead of disappearing. That is why it is worth our
while as a nation to spend money in order to save money.

I have used the argument in relation only to a small area. It holds
good in its effect on the nation as a whole. Every state in the
drought area is now doing and always will do business with every
state outside it. The very existence of the men and women working
in the clothing factories of New York, making clothes worn by
farmers and their families; of the workers in the steel mills in
Pittsburgh, in the automobile factories of Detroit, and in the
harvester factories of Illinois, depend upon the farmers’ ability
to purchase the commodities they produce. In the same way it is the
purchasing power of the workers in these factories in the cities
that enables them and their wives and children to eat more beef,
more pork, more wheat, more corn, more fruit and more dairy
products, and to buy more clothing made from cotton, wool and
leather. In a physical and a property sense, as well as in a
spiritual sense, we are members one of another.

I want to make it clear that no simple panacea can be applied to
the drought problem in the whole of the drought area. Plans must
depend on local conditions, for these vary with annual rainfall,
soil characteristics, altitude and topography. Water and soil
conservation methods may differ in one county from those in an
adjoining county. Work to be done in the cattle and sheep country
differs in type from work in the wheat country or work in the corn
belt.

The Great Plains Drought Area Committee has given me its
preliminary recommendations for a long-time program for that
region. Using that report as a basis we are cooperating
successfully and in entire accord with the governors and state
planning boards. As we get this program into operation the people
more and more will be able to maintain themselves securely on the
land. That will mean a steady decline in the relief burdens which
the federal government and states have had to assume in time of
drought; but, more important, it will mean a greater contribution
to general national prosperity by these regions which have been hit
by drought. It will conserve and improve not only property values,
but human values. The people in the drought area do not want to be
dependent on federal, state or any other kind of charity. They want
for themselves and their families an opportunity to share fairly by
their own efforts in the progress of America.

The farmers of America want a sound national agricultural policy in
which a permanent land-use program will have an important place.
They want assurance against another year like 1932 when they made
good crops but had to sell them for prices that meant ruin just as
surely as did the drought. Sound policy must maintain farm prices
in good crop years as well as in bad crop years. It must function
when we have drought; it must also function when we have bumper
crops.

The maintenance of a fair equilibrium between farm prices and the
prices of industrial products is an aim which we must keep ever
before us, just as we must give constant thought to the sufficiency
of the food supply of the nation even in bad years. Our modern
civilization can and should devise a more successful means by which
the excess supplies of bumper years can be conserved for use in
lean years.

On my trip I have been deeply impressed with the general efficiency
of those agencies of the federal, state and local governments which
have moved in on the immediate task created by the drought. In 1934
none of us had preparation; we worked without blueprints and made
the mistakes of inexperience. Hindsight shows us this. But as time
has gone on we have been making fewer and fewer mistakes. Remember
that the federal and state governments have done only broad
planning. Actual work on a given project originates in the local
community. Local needs are listed from local information. Local
projects are decided on only after obtaining the recommendations
and help of those in the local community who are best able to give
it. And it is worthy of note that on my entire trip, though I asked
the question dozens of times, I heard no complaint against the
character of a single work relief project.

The elected heads of the states concerned, together with their
state officials and their experts from agricultural colleges and
state planning boards, have shown cooperation with and approval of
the work which the federal government has headed. I am grateful
also to the men and women in all these states who have accepted
leadership in the work in their locality.

In the drought area people are not afraid to use new methods to
meet changes in Nature, and to correct mistakes of the past. If
overgrazing has injured range lands, they are willing to reduce the
grazing. If certain wheat lands should be returned to pasture they
are willing to cooperate. If trees should be planted as windbreaks
or to stop erosion they will work with us. If terracing or summer
fallowing or crop rotation is called for, they will carry them out.
They stand ready to fit, and not to fight, the ways of Nature.

We are helping, and shall continue to help the farmer to do those
things, through local soil conservation committees and other
cooperative local, state and federal agencies of government.

I have not the time tonight to deal with other and more
comprehensive agricultural policies.

With this fine help we are tiding over the present emergency. We
are going to conserve soil, conserve water and conserve life. We
are going to have long-time defenses against both low prices and
drought. We are going to have a farm policy that will serve the
national welfare. That is our hope for the future.

There are two reasons why I want to end by talking about
reemployment. Tomorrow is Labor Day. The brave spirit with which so
many millions of working people are winning their way out of
depression deserves respect and admiration. It is like the courage
of the farmers in the drought areas.

That is my first reason. The second is that healthy employment
conditions stand equally with healthy agricultural conditions as a
buttress of national prosperity. Dependable employment at fair
wages is just as important to the people in the towns and cities as
good farm income is to agriculture. Our people must have the
ability to buy the goods they manufacture and the crops they
produce. Thus city wages and farm buying power are the two strong
legs that carry the nation forward.

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