|This Week in American History
October 31 - November 6, 1940
On Eve of 1940 Elections, FDR Defends the General Welfare
On Nov. 1, the Friday night before the 1940 Presidential election, President Franklin Roosevelt came to speak at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. War was already raging in Europe and Asia, and a determined group of American financiers was backing the Fascist powers and trying to stop any aid to their victims. The economic policy of these financiers was to destroy every part of the New Deal programs. President Roosevelt, never one to mince words when the general welfare was under attack, pulled no punches in this campaign speech.
He began by citing the strange mixture of viewpoints within the Republican Party, whose leadership contained fascist sympathizers, fiscal conservatives, isolationists, and others. As he would cite later in his speech, without naming names, some of the backing for the party came from people who were great admirers of Hitler and Mussolini. Addressing this "unholy alliance," Roosevelt said that "The only common philosophy and the only common purpose they have is to get wholly rid of all the New Deallock, stock and barreland to get control of Government in their own hands for their own purposes."
The President continued: "Just as they have not been able to foist their falsifications on the American people, they will never be able to foist this only common purpose of theirs upon the American people now. We will all see to that next Tuesday. We all know the story of the unfortunate chameleon which turned brown when placed on a brown rug, and turned red when placed on a red rug, but who died a tragic death when they put him on a Scotch plaid. We all know what would happen to Government if it tried to fulfill all the secret understandings and promises made between the conflicting groups which are now backing the Republican Party.
"There is something very ominous in this combination that has been forming within the Republican Party between the extreme reactionary and the extreme radical elements of this country. There is no common ground upon which they can unitewe know thatunless it be their common will to power, and their impatience with the normal democratic processes to produce overnight the inconsistent dictatorial ends that they, each of them, seek. I am certain that the rank and file of patriotic Republicans do not realize the nature of this threat.
"Something evil is happening in this country when vast quantities of Republican campaign literature are distributed by organizations that make no secret of their admiration for the dictatorship form of government. Those forces hate democracy and Christianity as two phases of the same civilization. They oppose democracy because it is Christian. They oppose Christianity because it preaches democracy."
Roosevelt then reviewed the decade after World War I, "when prosperity was measured only by the stock ticker," and the dark days of the Depression, when "the American Government did nothing to help." Then, in 1933, "the American people began to bestir themselves. Our economic system began again to function. Then came the suggestion from monopolistic finance that while the Government had done a good rescue job, the best thing it could do at that point was to forget all about it, and to turn the whole economic system back to Wall Street to run again.
"But they little knew the temper of the American people. The New Deal was no mere rescue party to restore to a chosen few their old power over the people's savings, the people's labor, the people's lives.
"We had seen social unrest at home and abroadthe frustrated hopes of common men and women, the apathy which is the forerunner of cynicism, the despair which dissolves civilization. What this Administration was determined to do was to save America from that frustration and from that despair.
"You and I have seen nations great and small go down in ruin, or get backed up against the wall, because the reactionary men who led them could not see the real danger that threatened. They were afraid of losing their own selfish privilege and power. They feared the legitimate forward surge of their own common people, more than they feared the menacing might of foreign dictators.
"From them, we in the United States take warning.
"Most Republican leaders in our own country for the last seven years have bitterly fought and blocked that forward surge of average men and women in their pursuit of happiness. And let us not be deluded that overnight those leaders have suddenly become the real friends of these average men and women.
"Do you believe that the bulk of the money to finance this vast Republican campaign is being provided by people who have the interests of the common man at heart? You know, very few of us are that gullible.
"Oh, they may say at election time that they approve the social gains and social objectives of the last seven years. But I say that these men have not yet proven that they even understand what these social gains or social objectives have been."
"Do you want to abandon the protection of people's savings from fraudulent manipulators, the curbing of giant holding companies that despoiled investors and consumers alike, by delivering them into the hands of those who have fought those reforms?
"Do you want to abandon the responsibility for the well-being of those who live and work on the farms of the Nation to those who fought against the farm program every inch of the way?
"Do you want to abandon collective bargaining, the outlawing of child labor, the minimum wage, the time-and-a-half for overtime, the elimination of sweat-shop conditions, by turning them over to the proven enemies of labor?
"Do you want to hamstring the old-age pension system, or unemployment insurance, or aid for children, or maternity welfare, or vocational training for the physically handicapped, or financial aid to the blind by delivering them into the hands of those who have fought and misrepresented those reforms?"
President Roosevelt then reviewed the programs of the New Deal, and stated that "Monopoly does not like this program. Certain types of high finance do not like it. Most of the American plutocracy do not like it. But the vast majority of American business, the backbone of American business, continues to grow and flourish under it. For that business is interested in reasonable profits, not in promoters' tribute."
"We are a nation of many nationalities, many races, many religionsbound together by a single unity, the unity of freedom and equality.
"Whoever seeks to set one nationality against another, seeks to degrade all nationalities.
"Whoever seeks to set one race against another seeks to enslave all races.
"Whoever seeks to set one religion against another, seeks to destroy all religion.
"So-called racial and religious voting blocs are the creation of designing politicians who profess to be able to deliver them on Election Day. But every American citizenrealizing how precious is his right to the sacred secret ballotdoes scorn and will scorn such unpatriotic politicians. The vote of Americans will be Americanand only American.
"The true attitude of some leaders of the Republican party toward the common man is not frequently revealed, but occasionally their true feelings break through the restraints which a political campaign places upon their tongues, and suddenly they misspeak themselves. We can then see their true sentiments in all their naked unloveliness.
"In a Republican campaign speech the other day, a prominent leader of the Philadelphia bar delivered himself in these words, quoted in the New York Times.
"'The President's only supporters,' he said, 'are paupers, those who earn less than $1,200 a year and aren't worth that, and the Roosevelt family.'
"I think we might just as well forget the Roosevelt family, but these Americans whom this man calls 'paupers,' these Americans who, in his view, are not worth the income they receive, small though it iswho are they? They are only millions and millions of American families, constituting a very large part of the Nation! They are only the common men and women who have helped build this country, who have made it great, and who would defend it with their lives if the need arose.
"The demand for social and economic justice comes from those who receive less than $1,200 a year, but not from them alone. For I believe that when Americans cross the dividing line of $100 a month, they do not lose their devotion to social and economic justice.
"They do not suddenly become greedy and selfish. And I count among my supporters millions of other men and women who vote by the dictates of their hearts and minds, and not by the size of their bank accounts.
"'Paupers' who are not worth their saltthere speaks the true sentiment of the Republican leadership in this year of grace.
"Can the Republican leaders deny that all this all-too-prevailing Republican sentiment is a direct, vicious, unpatriotic appeal to class hatred and class contempt?
"That, my friends, is just what I am fighting against with all my heart and soul.
"I am only fighting for a free Americafor a country in which all men and women have equal rights to liberty and justice.
"I am fighting against the revival of Government by special privilegeGovernment by lobbyistsGovernment vested in the hands of those who favor and who would have us imitate the foreign dictatorships.
"I am fighting, as I always have fought, for the rights of the little man as well as the big manfor the weak as well as the strong, for those who are helpless as well as for those who can help themselves.
"I am fighting to keep this Nation prosperous and at peace. I am fighting to keep our people out of foreign wars, and to keep foreign conceptions of Government out of our own United States.
"I am fighting for these great and good causes. I am fighting to defend them against the power and might of those who now rise up to challenge them.
"And I will not stop fighting."