|This Week in American History
April 1117, 1945
FDR Writes His Last Speech, To Celebrate Thomas Jefferson's Birthday
On March 30, 1945, President Franklin Roosevelt arrived at Warm Springs, Georgia to recoup his failing health and to work, for a few weeks, at a slower pace than was possible at the White House. The Allies were succeeding on both the Atlantic and Pacific fronts, and Roosevelt knew that the war in Europe would last no longer than late spring or early summer.
One of the President's tasks was to work on a speech for Thomas Jefferson's birthday, which he intended to deliver over the radio on April 13. Robert Sherwood, one of his speech writers, had sent him the draft of a possible speech about Jefferson. Roosevelt, according to his usual custom, then dictated a speech to his secretary on the afternoon of April 11, using Sherwood's draft as a takeoff point. While he was working on the speech, Roosevelt also did some research, trying, unsuccessfully, to find a link between Thomas Jefferson and Isaac Roosevelt, FDR's ancestor who had worked with Alexander Hamilton during and after the American Revolution.
Roosevelt had always been interested in Thomas Jefferson, and during his Presidency had made the construction of the Jefferson Memorial one of his projects. He had pushed it through despite the threats, not carried out, of a group of women who said they would chain themselves to the cherry trees which had to be moved in order to make room for the monument on the Tidal Basin.
President Roosevelt had dedicated the Jefferson Memorial on April 13, 1943 on the 200th anniversary of Jefferson's birth. It became only the third memorial to an American President in the nation's capital. In his dedication speech, Roosevelt said that, "The words which we have chosen for this Memorial speak Jefferson's noblest and most urgent meaning; and we are proud indeed to understand it and share it: 'I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.'"
Now, almost two years later, Roosevelt was working on the draft he had dictated for Jefferson's birthday, writing in further corrections and additions on the typed copy. At this point in the war, it was not just Jefferson which claimed his attention, but the shape of the postwar world and the possibility of preventing another such conflict. The speech began: "Americans are gathered together this evening in communities all over the country to pay tribute to the living memory of Thomas Jeffersonone of the greatest of all democrats; and I want to make it clear that I am spelling that word 'democrats' with a small 'd.'
"I wish I had the power, just for this evening, to be present at all of these gatherings.
"In this historic year, more than ever before, we do well to consider the character of Thomas Jefferson as an American citizen of the world.
"As Minister to France, then as our first Secretary of State and as our third President, Jefferson was instrumental in the establishment of the United States as a vital factor in international affairs.
"It was he who first sent our Navy into far-distant waters to defend our rights. And the promulgation of the Monroe Doctrine was the logical development of Jefferson's far-seeing foreign policy.
"Today this Nation which Jefferson helped so greatly to build is playing a tremendous part in the battle for the rights of man all over the world.
"Today we are part of the vast Allied forcea force composed of flesh and blood and steel and spiritwhich is today destroying the makers of war, the breeders of hatred, in Europe and in Asia.
"In Jefferson's time our Navy consisted of only a handful of frigates headed by the gallant 'U.S.S. ConstitutionOld Ironsides'but that tiny Navy taught Nations across the Atlantic that piracy in the Mediterraneanacts of aggression against peaceful commerce and the enslavement of their crewswas one of those things which, among neighbors, simply was not done.
"Today we have learned in the agony of war that great power involves great responsibility. Today we can no more escape the consequences of German and Japanese aggression than could we avoid the consequences of attacks by the Barbary Corsairs a century and a half before.
"We, as Americans, do not choose to deny our responsibility.
"Nor do we intend to abandon our determination that, within the lives of our children and our children's children, there will not be a third world war.
"We seek peaceenduring peace. More than an end to war, we want an end to the beginnings of all warsyes, an end of this brutal, inhuman, and thoroughly impractical method of settling the differences between governments.
"The once powerful, malignant Nazi state is crumbling. The Japanese war lords are receiving, in their own homeland, the retribution for which they asked when they attacked Pearl Harbor.
"But the mere conquest of our enemies is not enough.
"We must go on to do all in our power to conquer the doubts and the fears, the ignorance and the greed, which made this horror possible.
"Thomas Jefferson, himself a distinguished scientist, once spoke of 'the brotherly spirit of Science, which unites into one family all its votaries of whatever grade, and however widely dispersed throughout the different quarters of the globe.'
"Today, science has brought all the different quarters of the globe so close together that it is impossible to isolate them one from another.
"Today we are faced with the preeminent fact that, if civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationshipsthe ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together and work together, in the same world, at peace.
"Let me assure you that my hand is the steadier for the work that is to be done, that I move more firmly into the task, knowing that youmillions and millions of youare joined with me in the resolve to make this work endure.
"The work, my friends, is peace. More than an end of this waran end to the beginnings of all wars. Yes, an end, forever, to this impractical, unrealistic settlement of the differences between governments by the mass killing of peoples.
"Today, as we move against the terrible scourge of waras we go forward toward the greatest contribution that any generation of human beings can make in this worldthe contribution of lasting peace, I ask you to keep up your faith. I measure the sound, solid achievement that can be made at this time by the straight edge of your own confidence and your resolve. And to you, and to all Americans who dedicate themselves with us to the making of an abiding peace, I say:
"The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith."
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died at 4:35 P.M. on April 12, 1945 at Warm Springs. He had amended the concluding paragraph of the Jefferson Day speech, and the final sentence had been written into the typed draft in his own hand. Therefore, that paragraph has been carved into the final wall of the FDR Memorial, which is located on the Tidal Basin across from the Jefferson Memorial.