Franklin D. Roosevelt was born into a noted wealthy family and, despite having a privileged upbringing, developed a strong sense of social responsibility while at school. After attending law school and working in a Wall Street law firm, he married Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, a distant relative, in 1905. The couple were active in New York social circles but also concerned with the lot of the common people. Inspired by his uncle, US President Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin became involved in politics and won a seat as a Democrat in the New York State Senate in 1910. Between 1913 and 1920 he was Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President Woodrow Wilson.
Despite contracting polio in 1921 Franklin was elected President in 1932, pledging a ‘New Deal’ for the US people and galvanising the country when the national banking system collapsed in March 1933. His famous speech assuring people that ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself’ demonstrated his considerable powers of leadership in a crisis. He then used federal government power to bring about the nation’s economic recovery from the Great Depression. His popularity did not wane: he was overwhelmingly re-elected in 1936 and in 1940 won a third term.
President Hoover, Mr Chief Justice, my friends:
this is a day of national consecration, and I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candour and a decision which the present situation of our nation impels.
This is pre-eminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper.
So first of all let me assert my firm belief than the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigour has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days. In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things. Values have shrunken to fantastic levels. Taxes have risen, our ability to pay has fallen, government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income, the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade, the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side, farmers find no markets for their produce, the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone.
More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.
Yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply.
Primarily, this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failures and abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.
‘Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.’
True, they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit, they have proposed only the lending of more money.
Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored conditions. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers.
They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish ….
Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money, it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.
The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow-men.
‘When there is no vision the people perish,’ … This nation asks for action, and action now.
Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously.
It can be accompanied in part by direct recruiting by the government itself, treating the task as we would treat the emergency of a war, but at the same time, through this employment, accomplishing greatly needed projects to stimulate and reorganize the use of our national resources.
Hand in hand with this, we must frankly recognize the over-balance of population in our industrial centres and, by engaging on a national scale in a redistribution, endeavour to provide a better use of the land for those best fitted for the land.
The task can be helped by definite efforts to raise the values of agricultural products and with this the power to purchase the output of our cities.
It can be helped by preventing realistically the tragedy of the growing loss, through foreclosure, of our small homes and our farms.
It can be helped by insistence that the Federal, State, and local governments act forthwith on the demand that their cost be drastically reduced.
It can be helped by the unifying of relief activities which today are often scattered, uneconomical and unequal. It can be helped by national planning for and supervision of all forms of transportation and of communications and other utilities which have a definitely public character.
There are many ways in which it can be helped, but it can never be helped merely by talking about it. We must act, and act quickly.
Finally, in our progress toward a resumption of work we require two safeguards against a return of the evils of the old order: there must be a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments, there must be an end to speculation with other people’s money, and there must be provision for an adequate but sound currency.
These are the lines of attack. I shall presently urge upon a new Congress in special session detailed measures for their fulfilment, and I shall seek the immediate assistance of the several States.
‘This nation asks for action, and action now .
… I am prepared under my constitutional duty to recommend the measures that a stricken nation in the midst of a stricken world may require.
But in the event that the Congress shall fail to take one of these courses, and in the event that the national emergency is still critical, I shall not evade the clear course of duty that will then confront me.
I shall ask the Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis …
broad executive power to wage a war against the emergency as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.
For the trust reposed in me I will return the courage and the devotion that befit the time. I can do no less.
We face the arduous days that lie before us in the warm courage of national unity, with the clear consciousness of seeking old and precious moral values, with the clean satisfaction that comes from the stern performance of duty by old and young alike.
We aim at the assurance of a rounded and permanent national life.
We do not distrust the future of essential democracy. The people of the United States have not failed. In their need they have registered a mandate that they want direct, vigorous action.
They have asked for discipline and direction under leadership. They have made me the present instrument of their wishes. In the spirit of the gift I will take it.
In this dedication of a nation we humbly ask the blessing of God. May He protect each and everyone of us! May He guide me in the days to come.
In November 1941 diplomatic negotiations between the US and Japan broke down and, although Japan had not declared war on the US, American spies indicated that Japanese naval forces were moving towards the oil-rich East Indies and Malaya. Reports that
aircraft carriers were heading towards Hawaii were not taken seriously.
On 7 December 1941, Japan unexpectedly attacked the US Pacific fleet at its base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. By noon that day eight US battleships had been sunk or disabled and 2,403 Americans killed. The next day Roosevelt declared war on Japan. On 11
December Japan’s allies, Germany and Italy, declared war against the US.
Once in the war, Roosevelt mobilized industry for military production, worked with Winston Churchill to determine military and naval policy and formed alliances with Churchill and Stalin at Tehran in 1943 and Yalta in 1944. Roosevelt won an unprecedented fourth term as President in 1945 but, exhausted by the pressures of wartime leadership, died soon afterwards.
Mr Vice President, Mr Speaker, Members of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives:
Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.
Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleagues delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.
It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.
The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.
Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.
Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island.
And this morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.
Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.
As commander in chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defence. But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.
No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.
I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.
With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph – so help us God.
I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.