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Franklin D. Roosevelt, Thirty-second President, 1933-1945

Franklin D. Roosevelt was the product of a powerful political family that had already sent one of its members, Theodore, to the White House. Bred for public service, his career began early with forays into New York State politics.

In 1921, a bout with polio paralyzed his lower body, a condition with which Roosevelt would struggle, mentally and physically, for the rest of his life. Despite this setback, his political star continued to rise with his election to governor of New York in 1928 and president in 1932.

Roosevelt's immediate task upon entering the White House was to grapple with the Great Depression, which, to the relief of American citizens, he tackled enthusiastically, if not always effectively. Together with his "Brain Trust" of top policymakers and his influential wife, Eleanor, he enacted a multitude of government programs designed to shore up the economy and provide relief to millions of destitute Americans. One controversial result of this activism was a much-enlarged and empowered federal government. Though not universally liked, Roosevelt nevertheless proved popular enough to be elected to an unprecedented four terms.

By 1941, early in Roosevelt's third term, the looming world war was commanding more attention; but the United States was caught flat-footed by Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt rallied the country once again, creating a wartime industrial machine that helped clinch the war for the Allies, revive the American economy, and thrust the United States into a new status as a world superpower. By the war's end, Roosevelt's health was failing, and he died in 1945. He will long be remembered as one of the country--and the world's--most powerful and influential statesmen.


Radio in Political Campaigns

The returns of the 1920 presidential contest between Harding and Cox were read on the inaugural program of station KDKA, the first licensed commercial radio station. By 1924, radio had found its way into the Republican and Democratic National Conventions at a time when there were 500 commercial stations and three million receiving sets in America. During this campaign the radio expenses of the Republican National Committee totaled $120,000 while the Democrats spent only $4,000; Calvin Coolidge, the Republican nominee, was the victor.

By 1932, radio budgets totaled $5 million for the two major parties. Radio was Franklin Roosevelt's major weapon against strong opposition from the country's newspapers during the hard-fought campaign of 1936. He also used radio to cement his relationship with the American public in his intimate "fireside chats."

In 1934 the Federal Communications Act became law. Section 315, adopted from earlier legislation, states that "If any licensee shall permit a legally qualified candidate for any public office to use a broadcasting station, he shall afford equal opportunities to all other such candidates." This has been an important factor in political programming on commercial radio and television stations.

From "We the People: The American People and Their Government" (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1975) 54.


Text of March 12, 1933 "Fireside Chat"

March 12, 1933. Address of President Roosevelt by radio, delivered from the President's Study in the White House at 10 P.M.

I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking--with the comparatively few who understand the mechanics of banking but more particularly with the overwhelming majority who use banks for the making of deposits and the drawing of checks. 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.

First of all let me state the simple fact that when you deposit money in a bank the bank does not put the money into a safe deposit vault. It invests your money in many different forms of credit-bonds, commercial paper, mortgages and many other kinds of loans. In other words, the bank puts your money to work to keep the wheels of industry and of agriculture turning around. A comparatively small part of the money you put into the bank is kept in currency--an amount which in normal times is wholly sufficient to cover the cash needs of the average citizen. In other words the total amount of all the currency in the country is only a small fraction of the total deposits in all of the banks.

What, then, happened during the last few days of February and the first few days of March? Because of undermined confidence on the part of the public, there was a general rush by a large portion of our population to turn bank deposits into currency or gold. A rush so great that the soundest banks could not get enough currency to meet the demand. The reason for this was that on the spur of the moment it was, of course, impossible to sell perfectly sound assets of a bank and convert them into cash except at panic prices far below their real value.

By the afternoon of March 3 scarcely a bank in the country was open to do business. Proclamations temporarily closing them in whose or in part had been issued by the Governors in almost all the states.

It was then that I issued the proclamation providing for the nation-wide bank holiday, and this was the first step in the Government's reconstruction of our financial and economic fabric.

The second step was the legislation promptly and patriotically passed by the Congress confirming my proclamation and broadening my powers so that it became possible in view of the requirement of time to entend (sic) the holiday and lift the ban of that holiday gradually. This law also gave authority to develop a program of rehabilitation of our banking facilities. I want to tell our citizens in every part of the Nation that the national Congress--Republicans and Democrats alike--showed by this action a devotion to public welfare and a realization of the emergency and the necessity for speed that it is difficult to match in our history.

The third stage has been the series of regulations permitting the banks to continue their functions to take care of the distribution of food and household necessities and the payment of payrolls.

This bank holiday while resulting in many cases in great inconvenience is affording us the opportunity to supply the currency necessary to meet the situation. No sound bank is a dollar worse off than it was when it closed its doors last Monday. Neither is any bank which may turn out not to be in a position for immediate opening. The new law allows the twelve Federal Reserve banks to issue additional currency on good assets and thus the banks which reopen will be able to meet every legitimate call. The new currency is being sent out by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in large volume to every part of the country. It is sound currency because it is backed by actual, good assets.

As a result we start tomorrow, Monday, with the opening of banks in the twelve Federal Reserve bank cities--those banks which on first examination by the Treasury have already been found to be all right. This will be followed on Tuesday by the resumption of all their functions by banks already found to be sound in cities where there are recognized clearing houses. That means about 250 cities of the United States.

On Wednesday and succeeding days banks in smaller places all through the country will resume business, subject, of course, to the Government's physical ability to complete its survey. It is necessary that the reopening of banks be extended over a period in order to permit the banks to make applications for necessary loans, to obtain currency needed to meet their requirements and to enable the Government to make common sense checkups. Let me make it clear to you that if your bank does not open the first day you are by no means justified in believing that it will not open. A bank that opens on one of the subsequent days is in exactly the same status as the bank that opens tomorrow.

I know that many people are worrying about State banks not members of the Federal Reserve System. These banks can and will receive assistance from members banks and from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. These state banks are following the same course as the national banks except that they get their licenses to resume business from the state authorities, and these authorities have been asked by the Secretary of the Treasury to permit their good banks to open up on the same schedule as the national banks. I am confident that the state banking departments will be as careful as the National Government in the policy relating to the opening of banks and will follow the same broad policy. It is possible that when the banks resume a very few people who have not recovered from their fear may again begin withdrawals. Let me make it clear that the banks will take care of all needs--and it is my belief that hoarding during the past week has become an exceedingly unfashionable pastime. It needs no prophet to tell you that when the people find that they can get their money--that they can get it when they want it for all legitimate purposes--the phantom of fear will soon be laid. People will again be glad to have their money where it will be safely taken care of and where they can use it conveniently at any time. I can assure you that it is safer to keep your money in a reopened bank than under the mattress.

The success of our whole great national program depends, of course, upon the cooperation of the public--on its intelligent support and use of a reliable system.

Remember that the essential accomplishment of the new legislation is that it makes it possible for banks more readily to convert their assets into cash than was the case before. More liberal provision has been made for banks to borrow on these assets at the Reserve Banks and more liberal provision has also been made for issuing currency on the security of those good assets. This currency is not fiat currency. It is issued only on adequate security--and every good bank has an abundance of such security.

One more point before I close. There will be, of course, some banks unable to reopen without being reorganized. The new law allows the Government to assist in making these reorganizations quickly and effectively and even allows the Government to subscribe to at least a part of new capital which may be required.

I hope you can see from this elemental recital of what your government is doing that there is nothing complex, or radical in the process.

We had a bad banking situation. Some of our bankers had shown themselves either incompetent or dishonest in their handling of the people's funds. They had used the money entrusted to them in speculations and unwise loans. This was of course not true in the vast majority of our banks but it was true in enough of them to shock the people for a time into a sense of insecurity and to put them into a frame of mind where they did not differentiate, but seemed to assume that the acts of a comparative few had tainted them all. It was the Government's job to straighten out this situation and do it as quickly as possible--and the job is being performed .

I do not promise you that every bank will be reopened or that individual losses will not be suffered, but there will be no losses that possibly could be avoided; and there would have been more and greater losses had we continued to drift. I can even promise you salvation for some at least of the sorely pressed banks. We shall be engaged not merely in reopening sound banks but in the creation of sound banks through reorganization. It has been wonderful to me to catch the note of confidence from all over the country. I can never be sufficiently grateful to the people for the loyal support they have given me in their acceptance of the judgment that has dictated our course, even though all of our processes may not have seemed clear to them.

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.

From FDR Museum and Library Website http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu


"Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Back Again," Franklin D. Roosevelt campaign song

"Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Back Again" from the recording entitled Presidential Campaign Songs 1789-1996, Folkways 45051, provided courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. © 1999. Used by permission.

This song celebrates the ending of Prohibition and the optimism following Roosevelt’s election.

Partial lyrics:
" …Back Again (Back Again)
Back Again (Back Again)
We’ve got Franklin D. Roosevelt back again
Since Roosevelt’s reelected
Moonshine liquor’s been corrected
We’ve got Franklin D. Roosevelt back again…"


"One-Third of A Nation," From American History in Ballad and Song

"One-Third of A Nation" from the recording entitled American History in Ballad and Song , Folkways FH 5802, provided courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. © 1962. Used by permission.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt describes the ravage of hunger during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Partial Transcript:
"…I see one-third of a nation ill housed, ill clad, ill nourished. The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much. It is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."


Related Images

Franklin D. Roosevelt's radio addresses reached millions of Americans.
Franklin D. Roosevelt's radio addresses reached millions of Americans.
Microphone from CBS, one of the networks that covered Roosevelt's
Microphone from CBS, one of the networks that covered Roosevelt's "fireside chats"

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