Franklin D. Roosevelt
Second Inaugural Address, 1937
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Wednesday, January 20, 1937
When four years ago we met to inaugurate a President, the
Republic, single-minded in anxiety, stood in spirit here. We
dedicated ourselves to the fulfillment of a vision? to speed the
time when there would be for all the people that security and
peace essential to the pursuit of happiness. We of the Republic
pledged ourselves to drive from the temple of our ancient faith
those who had profaned it; to end by action, tireless and unafraid,
the stagnation and despair of that day. We did those first things
Our covenant with ourselves did not stop there. Instinctively
we recognized a deeper need? the need to find through
government the instrument of our united purpose to solve for
the individual the ever-rising problems of a complex civilization.
Repeated attempts at their solution without the aid of government
had left us baffled and bewildered. For, without that aid, we had
been unable to create those moral controls over the services of
science which are necessary to make science a useful servant
instead of a ruthless master of mankind. To do this we knew
that we must find practical controls over blind economic forces
and blindly selfish men.
We of the Republic sensed the truth that democratic government
has innate capacity to protect its people against disasters once
considered inevitable, to solve problems once considered unsolvable.
We would not admit that we could not find a way to master
economic epidemics just as, after centuries of fatalistic suffering,
we had found a way to master epidemics of disease. We refused
to leave the problems of our common welfare to be solved by the
winds of chance and the hurricanes of disaster.
In this we Americans were discovering no wholly new truth; we
were writing a new chapter in our book of self-government.
This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the
Constitutional Convention which made us a nation. At that Convention
our forefathers found the way out of the chaos which followed the
Revolutionary War; they created a strong government with powers
of united action sufficient then and now to solve problems utterly
beyond individual or local solution. A century and a half ago they
established the Federal Government in order to promote the general
welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to the American people.
Today we invoke those same powers of government to achieve
the same objectives.
Four years of new experience have not belied our historic instinct.
They hold out the clear hope that government within communities,
government within the separate States, and government of the
United States can do the things the times require, without yielding
its democracy. Our tasks in the last four years did not force democracy
to take a holiday.
Nearly all of us recognize that as intricacies of human relationships
increase, so power to govern them also must increase? power to
stop evil; power to do good. The essential democracy of our Nation
and the safety of our people depend not upon the absence of power,
but upon lodging it with those whom the people can change or
continue at stated intervals through an honest and free system of
elections. The Constitution of 1787 did not make our democracy
In fact, in these last four years, we have made the exercise of
all power more democratic; for we have begun to bring private
autocratic powers into their proper subordination to the public's
government. The legend that they were invincible? above and
beyond the processes of a democracy? has been shattered.
They have been challenged and beaten.
Our progress out of the depression is obvious. But that is not
all that you and I mean by the new order of things. Our pledge
was not merely to do a patchwork job with secondhand materials.
By using the new materials of social justice we have undertaken
to erect on the old foundations a more enduring structure for the
better use of future generations.
In that purpose we have been helped by achievements of mind
and spirit. Old truths have been relearned; untruths have been
unlearned. We have always known that heedless self-interest
was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics. Out of
the collapse of a prosperity whose builders boasted their
practicality has come the conviction that in the long run economic
morality pays. We are beginning to wipe out the line that divides
the practical from the ideal; and in so doing we are fashioning an
instrument of unimagined power for the establishment of a morally
This new understanding undermines the old admiration of worldly
success as such. We are beginning to abandon our tolerance of the
abuse of power by those who betray for profit the elementary
decencies of life.
In this process evil things formerly accepted will not be so easily
condoned. Hard-headedness will not so easily excuse
hardheartedness. We are moving toward an era of good feeling.
But we realize that there can be no era of good feeling save among
men of good will.
For these reasons I am justified in believing that the greatest
change we have witnessed has been the change in the moral
climate of America.
Among men of good will, science and democracy together offer
an ever-richer life and ever-larger satisfaction to the individual.
With this change in our moral climate and our rediscovered ability
to improve our economic order, we have set our feet upon the
road of enduring progress.
Shall we pause now and turn our back upon the road that lies
ahead? Shall we call this the promised land? Or, shall we continue
on our way? For "each age is a dream that is dying, or one that is
coming to birth."
Many voices are heard as we face a great decision. Comfort says,
"Tarry a while." Opportunism says, "This is a good spot." Timidity
asks, "How difficult is the road ahead?"
True, we have come far from the days of stagnation and despair.
Vitality has been preserved. Courage and confidence have been
restored. Mental and moral horizons have been extended.
But our present gains were won under the pressure of more
than ordinary circumstances. Advance became imperative under
the goad of fear and suffering. The times were on the side of
To hold to progress today, however, is more difficult. Dulled
conscience, irresponsibility, and ruthless self-interest already
reappear. Such symptoms of prosperity may become portents
of disaster! Prosperity already tests the persistence of our
Let us ask again: Have we reached the goal of our vision
of that fourth day of March 1933? Have we found our happy
I see a great nation, upon a great continent, blessed with
a great wealth of natural resources. Its hundred and thirty
million people are at peace among themselves; they are
making their country a good neighbor among the nations.
I see a United States which can demonstrate that, under
democratic methods of government, national wealth can
be translated into a spreading volume of human comforts
hitherto unknown, and the lowest standard of living can be
raised far above the level of mere subsistence.
But here is the challenge to our democracy: In this nation
I see tens of millions of its citizens? a substantial part of its
whole population? who at this very moment are denied the
greater part of what the very lowest standards of today call
the necessities of life.
I see millions of families trying to live on incomes so meager
that the pall of family disaster hangs over them day by day.
I see millions whose daily lives in city and on farm continue
under conditions labeled indecent by a so-called polite society
half a century ago.
I see millions denied education, recreation, and the opportunity
to better their lot and the lot of their children.
I see millions lacking the means to buy the products of farm
and factory and by their poverty denying work and productiveness
to many other millions.
I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.
It is not in despair that I paint you that picture. I paint it for
you in hope? because the Nation, seeing and understanding
the injustice in it, proposes to paint it out. We are determined
to make every American citizen the subject of his country's
interest and concern; and we will never regard any faithful
law-abiding group within our borders as superfluous. 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.
If I know aught of the spirit and purpose of our Nation, we
will not listen to Comfort, Opportunism, and Timidity. We will
Overwhelmingly, we of the Republic are men and women of
good will; men and women who have more than warm hearts
of dedication; men and women who have cool heads and willing
hands of practical purpose as well. They will insist that every
agency of popular government use effective instruments to
carry out their will.
Government is competent when all who compose it work as
trustees for the whole people. It can make constant progress
when it keeps abreast of all the facts. It can obtain justified
support and legitimate criticism when the people receive true
information of all that government does.
If I know aught of the will of our people, they will demand
that these conditions of effective government shall be created
and maintained. They will demand a nation uncorrupted by
cancers of injustice and, therefore, strong among the nations
in its example of the will to peace.
Today we reconsecrate our country to long-cherished ideals
in a suddenly changed civilization. In every land there are
always at work forces that drive men apart and forces that
draw men together. In our personal ambitions we are individualists.
But in our seeking for economic and political progress as a nation,
we all go up, or else we all go down, as one people.
To maintain a democracy of effort requires a vast amount of
patience in dealing with differing methods, a vast amount of
humility. But out of the confusion of many voices rises an
understanding of dominant public need. Then political leadership
can voice common ideals, and aid in their realization.
In taking again the oath of office as President of the United
States, I assume the solemn obligation of leading the American
people forward along the road over which they have chosen
While this duty rests upon me I shall do my utmost to speak
their purpose and to do their will, seeking Divine guidance to
help us each and every one to give light to them that sit in
darkness and to guide our feet into the way of peace.