American Rhetoric in the New Deal Era, 1932-1945: A Rhetorical History of the United States, Volume 7 0870137670, 9780870137679

The New Deal era is hard to define with precision—in time or in ideology. Some historians use New Deal to designate the

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American Rhetoric in the New Deal Era, 1932-1945: A Rhetorical History of the United States, Volume 7
 0870137670, 9780870137679

Table of contents :
Introduction: American Rhetoric in the New Deal Era
1. No Ordinary Rhetorical President: FDR’s Speechmaking and Leadership, 1933–1945
2. FDR as Family Doctor: Medical Metaphors and the Role of Physician in the Fireside Chats
3. Dictator, Savior, and the Return of Confidence: Text, Context, and Reception in FDR’s First Inaugural Address
4. FSA Photography and New Deal Visual Culture
5. Eleanor Roosevelt: Social Conscience for the New Deal
6. The Rhetoric of Social Security and Conservative Backlash: Frances Perkins as Secretary of Labor
7. Necessity or Nine Old Men: The Congressional Debate over Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1937 Court-Packing Plan
8. The Thundering Voice of John L. Lewis
9. Father Charles E. Coughlin: Delivery, Style in Discourse, and Opinion Leadership
10. Reconsidering the Demagoguery of Huey Long
11. Resisting the “Inevitability” of War: The Catholic Worker Movement and World War II
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A RHETORICAL HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES Significant Moments in American Public Discourse


A Rhetorical History of the United States Significant Moments in American Public Discourse Volumes I–X Under the General Supervisory Editorship of

Martin J. Medhurst Baylor University Editors: Volume I: Volume II: Volume III: Volume IV: Volume V:

James R. Andrews, Indiana University Stephen E. Lucas, University of Wisconsin, Madison Stephen Howard Browne, The Pennsylvania State University David Zarefsky and Michael Leff, Northwestern University Martha Solomon Watson and Thomas R. Burkholder, University of Nevada, Las Vegas Volume VI: J. Michael Hogan, The Pennsylvania State University Volume VII: Thomas W. Benson, The Pennsylvania State University Volume VIII: Martin J. Medhurst, Texas A & M University Volume IX: David Henry and Richard J. Jensen, University of Nevada, Las Vegas Volume X: Robert Hariman, Drake University, and John Louis Lucaites, Indiana University

Editorial Board Members: Raymond Camp, North Carolina State University; Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, University of Minnesota; Celeste Michell Condit, University of Georgia; A. Cheree Carlson, Arizona State University; Bruce E. Gronbeck, University of Iowa; Thomas H. Olbricht, Pepperdine University; Kathryn M. Olson, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee; Christine Oravec, University of Utah; Michael Osborn, University of Memphis; Tarla Rai Peterson, Texas A & M University; Ronald F. Reid, University of Massachusetts; Kathleen J. Turner, Davidson College.

American Rhetoric in the New Deal Era, 1932–1945 Edited by THOMAS W. BENSON

A RHETORICAL HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES Significant Moments in American Public Discourse

Michigan State University Press East Lansing


Copyright © 2006 by Michigan State University Press The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of ANSI/NISO Z39.48–1992 (R 1997) (Permanence of Paper). Michigan State University Press East Lansing, Michigan 48823–5245 Printed and bound in the United States of America. 12 11 10 09 08 07 06 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA American rhetoric in the New Deal era, 1932-1945 / edited by Thomas W. Benson. p. cm.—(A rhetorical history of the United States ; v. 7) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN-13: 978-0-87013-767-9 (casebound : alk. paper) ISBN-10: 0-87013-767-0 (casebound : alk. paper) 1. United States—Politics and government—1929–1933. 2. United States—Politics and government—1933–1945. 3. Rhetoric—Political aspects—United States—History—20th century. 4. New Deal, 1933–1939. 5. World War, 1939–1945—United States. 6. United States—Social policy. 7. Social movements—United States—History—20th century. I. Benson, Thomas W. E806.A638 2006 973.917—dc22 2006021609 Cover and book design by Sans Serif, Inc., Saline, Michigan

Michigan State University Press is a member of the Green Press Initiative and is committed to developing and encouraging ecologically responsible publishing practices. For more information about the Green Press Initiative and the use of recycled paper in book publishing, please visit

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The following individuals, departments, colleges, and universities provided subvention funds to help offset the initial publication costs of this ten volume series. Michigan State University Press expresses its sincere thanks to each. A. CRAIG BAIRD DISTINGUISHED PROFESSORSHIP University of Iowa COLLEGE OF ARTS AND SCIENCES Indiana University COLLEGE OF LIBERAL ARTS Texas A&M University DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNICATION Texas A&M University DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNICATION ARTS AND SCIENCES The Pennsylvania State University DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE Indiana University DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNICATION STUDIES Northwestern University SCHOOL OF COMMUNICATION Northwestern University


INTRODUCTION: American Rhetoric in the New Deal Era


Thomas W. Benson 1. No Ordinary Rhetorical President: FDR’s Speechmaking and Leadership, 1933–1945


Vanessa B. Beasley and Deborah Smith-Howell 2. FDR as Family Doctor: Medical Metaphors and the Role of Physician in the Fireside Chats


Suzanne M. Daughton 3. Dictator, Savior, and the Return of Confidence: Text, Context, and Reception in FDR’s First Inaugural Address Davis W. Houck and Mihaela Nocasian


4. FSA Photography and New Deal Visual Culture Cara A. Finnegan


5. Eleanor Roosevelt: Social Conscience for the New Deal Beth M. Waggenspack


6. The Rhetoric of Social Security and Conservative Backlash: Frances Perkins as Secretary of Labor Ann J. Atkinson


7. Necessity or Nine Old Men: The Congressional Debate over Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1937 Court-Packing Plan Trevor Parry-Giles and Marouf Hasian Jr.


8. The Thundering Voice of John L. Lewis Richard J. Jensen


9. Father Charles E. Coughlin: Delivery, Style in Discourse, and Opinion Leadership Ronald H. Carpenter


10. Reconsidering the Demagoguery of Huey Long Robert S. Iltis


11. Resisting the “Inevitability” of War: The Catholic Worker Movement and World War II Carol J. Jablonski











American Rhetoric in the New Deal Era Thomas W. Benson

merica between 1932 and 1945, the era of the Great Depression and World War II, was crowded with voices and images interpreting the crises and attempting and to shape policies and attitudes. The rhetoric of those years in America is the subject of this book, which samples some, but far from all, of the significant speakers, images, and issues of the period. As with any era in American history, the “New Deal” is hard to define with precision—in time or in ideology. Some historians use “New Deal” to designate the intense period of domestic reform legislation of the first Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration, 1933–37, or of the first two terms, after which President Roosevelt gradually turned his attention more and more to the impending international crisis. Others confine “New Deal” to the legislation of 1933 and describe another wave of legislating in 1935 as a “Second New Deal.” More loosely, the “New Deal era” is sometimes the general designation for what might also be called the “Roosevelt era,” from 1932 to 1945. In organizing this book, the looser designation is employed, to take in the period from 1932 to 1945, not so much to assert any claim about the ideological coherence of the period as to acknowledge its political and rhetorical center, recognized in the experience of those years and in our general collective memory as the Roosevelt era, that bundle of years taking in the Great Depression and World War II. Most of the chapters in this book focus on the prewar period, with glimpses forward to the rhetoric of the approach to and engagement in World War II, which is to be treated in more detail in a later volume in this series.1 The phrase “New Deal” became the descriptor of the era, as these things often happen, partly by accident. In 1932, Roosevelt’s nomination by the Democratic Party was not certain when the convention assembled in Chicago in June, and his





majority was achieved only on the fourth ballot. Roosevelt, then governor of New York State, broke all tradition by flying to Chicago to accept the nomination in person. He told the delegates, “I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people.”2 William Leuchtenburg writes that “the very next day, an alert cartoonist plucked from Roosevelt’s speech the words ‘new deal’—a phrase to which the Governor had attached no special significance—and henceforth they were to be the hallmark of the Roosevelt program.”3 As in its origins, so also in the American collective memory, the New Deal is a rhetorical construction. The leading rhetorical feature of the era is Roosevelt’s defining presence, around which even the most recognizable alternative voices orbited. Whatever objections there may be to imposing an artificial historical coherence on the Roosevelt era, virtually every historian of the period acknowledges the enormous changes in American society and international identity in the fifteen or so years of Great Depression and World War II. Though complete recovery from the economic hardships of the Great Depression did not arrive until the United States increased manufacturing and trade in preparing for and participating in World War II, the prewar years saw important changes in the American society, government, and economy. The New Deal introduced Social Security; extended protections for the right of collective bargaining; rationalized the regulations governing banking, home mortgages, finance, and the stock market; provided for a minimum wage and unemployment insurance; initiated projects that brought roads and electricity to rural areas; and integrated the national economy, laying the groundwork for social change in the South, which in turn stimulated the civil rights movement. Although politicians and historians have in the decades since 1932 variously celebrated the New Deal or lamented that it went either too far or not far enough, something like a consensus has emerged and endured that FDR and his colleagues saved both capitalism and democracy from real threats. In Europe and Asia in the decades after World War I, totalitarian regimes emerged on both the right and the left and eventually dragged the world into another world war. In the United States, among the competing claims swirling in the era of the Great Depression for relief, redistribution, recovery, and reform, even revolution, David Kennedy argues that the key achievement of the New Deal was “security—security for vulnerable individuals, to be sure, as Roosevelt famously urged in his campaign for the Social Security Act of 1935, but security for capitalists and consumers, for workers and employers, for corporations and farms and homeowners and bankers and builders as well. Job security, life-cycle security, financial security, market security—however it might be defined, achieving security was the leitmotif of virtually everything the New Deal attempted.”4 The New Deal era witnessed rapid growth and change in all areas of public and popular communication—public address, radio, television, film, photography, graphic arts, and the press. The era was also intensely self-conscious about the powers of communication for good or ill, with concerns about propaganda and demagoguery on the one hand and celebrations of the potential of public address, democratic discussion, mass media, and the arts to cultivate social progress on the other. The central figure in American public address of the New Deal era was Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt changed the idiom of the presidency at the same time that he advanced what Jeffrey Tulis has called the “rhetorical presidency.” Tulis, a political scientist, has observed that Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson initiated the rhetorical presidency by frequent appeals to public opinion over the heads of the Congress. The change thus introduced into the role of the presidency constitutes what Tulis has called a “second Constitution,” something quite different from what the founders envisioned for the president.5 Tulis is concerned that the routine adoption of the rhetorical presidency can preempt the deliberative give and take of

the legislative process. He concedes that some times appear to call for energetic presidential leadership. “The rhetorical presidency appears to be a reasonable extension of executive power to the extent that it is necessary to effect such constitutionally legitimate enterprises as the New Deal. Energy, the possibility of social change, and democratic legitimacy were insufficiently fulfilled promises of the original Constitution.”6 Some of the rhetorical changes Roosevelt introduced came about through his energetic and imaginative use of radio. In 1924, radio sets were available in only 4.7 percent of American households. By 1932, that percentage had increased to 60.6 percent and by 1945 to 88 percent.7 From the first, radio was primarily a medium of entertainment, but it also became a considerable political force for President Roosevelt as it did for rivals such as Father Charles E. Coughlin and Huey Long, whose national reputations depended largely on their use of radio. Broadcasting historians Christopher Sterling and John Kittross write that “until Americans acknowledged the worldwide threat of events in Europe, news and public affairs were limited in both national and local programming,” but they also note some evidence for civic uses of radio. “One of the better-known national programs, The University of Chicago Roundtable, began in 1931, went network (NBC) in 1933, and lasted for nearly twenty-five years. The surprisingly popular format consisted of faculty members and, occasionally, distinguished guests discussing a current topic. This program often out-rated commercial programs and drew substantial mail from listeners seeking transcripts of programs.”8 American ideas of oratory and public speaking were changing in the early twentieth century. There still remained echoes of nineteenth-century oratory, but these were fading. The competing forces represented by the civic debating societies of nineteenth-century colleges and the elocutionary movement, with its emphasis on style and delivery, made room for an early-twentieth-century cultural vernacular of the young business and professional man, getting ahead by speaking with confidence and pep. Popular education in public speaking is perhaps best represented by the work of Dale Carnegie (1888–1955), author of Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business (1937), a revision of his 1926 bestseller, Public Speaking: A Practical Course for Business Men, and How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936). Carnegie had taught public speaking courses for the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) for some years after having tried his hand at acting and sales without much apparent success. His books and his career as a public-speaking teacher made him famous. Carnegie advised his readers that persistence would see them through. Citing William James, he wrote that “the entire question of your success as a speaker hinges upon only two things—your native ability, and the depth and strength of your desires. . . . If you want to be a confident public speaker, you will be a confident public speaker. But you must really wish it.”9 Carnegie had little to say about the intellectual substance of public speaking, though his work was filled with references to famous leaders and teachers. His doctrine of public speaking emphasized confidence and the skills of memory, arousing interest, and vocal and physical delivery. The spirit so successfully represented by Carnegie had been lampooned by Sinclair Lewis in Babbitt (1922), the story of a Midwestern real estate agent struggling without much success to come to terms with an identity trapped in the ethos of boosterism and business. One day Babbitt comes across an ad promising “POWER AND PROSPERITY IN PUBLIC SPEAKING,” offered by “Prof. W. F. Peet” through the “Shortcut Educational Pub. Co. of Sandpit, Iowa.” Babbitt concedes that “it certainly is a fine thing to be able to orate. I sometimes thought I had a little talent that way myself.” But he tells his wife and children, “No need to blow a lot of good money on this stuff when you can get a first-rate course in eloquence and English and all that right in your own school.” As a businessman and university graduate,





Babbitt is skeptical of the “notices of mail-box universities which taught Shortstory Writing and Improving the Memory, Motion-picture-acting and Developing the Soul-power, Banking and Spanish, Chiropody and Photography, Electrical Engineering and Window-trimming, Poultry-raising and Chemistry.” But he cannot help admiring the business success of these educational enterprises and acknowledges that “course I’d never admit it publicly—fellow like myself, a State U. graduate, it’s only decent and patriotic for him to blow his horn and boost the Alma Mater—but smatter of fact, there’s a whole lot of valuable time lost even at the U., studying poetry and French and subjects that never brought in anybody a cent. I don’t know but what maybe these correspondence-courses might prove to be one of the most important American inventions.”10 Babbitt’s passage through the novel is rendered with frequent descriptions of his growing success in public oratory. Dale Carnegie became rich and famous, but so did Lewis, whose Main Street and Babbitt created powerful images of a stultifying American bourgeois culture and its empty rhetoric of pep and prosperity.11 In colleges, a new, twentieth-century discipline of public speaking was born with the founding in 1910 of what is now the Eastern Communication Association and in 1914 of what is now the National Communication Association, together with its journal, now called the Quarterly Journal of Speech. The new discipline broke away from departments of English literature and composition to which it had become subordinate in the later nineteenth century, finding its intellectual resources in the revival of classical Greek and Roman rhetorical theory, the study of democratic eloquence, and the emerging social sciences.12 The academic teachers of public speaking promoted it as both civic and practical, both humanistic and scientific, and they attempted to break decisively from elocution and English composition. By the 1930s, scholarship in the new discipline was beginning to take hold, colleges and universities were recognizing a common interest in teaching public speaking and related subjects in speech and drama, and doctoral programs had begun in several leading institutions. The academic teaching of public speaking was strongly influenced by James A. Winans of Cornell University, whose textbook, Public Speaking, was first published in 1915, then revised and more widely circulated in a 1917 edition. In 1938, now at Dartmouth, Winans published Speech-Making, a revision of the earlier texts. Winans united the classical approaches of Plato and Aristotle to the new psychology, especially drawing from William James’s theories of attention. Winans advocated a direct, conversational approach to audiences and a practical unity of substance and psychological motivation to win interest and assent. “The old argument about the relative importance of the orator in ancient and modern times need not detain us at all; for whatever the answer may be to that question, in these latter days of ever multiplying organizations with their conferences, conventions, and dinners, and in a country governed by discussion and public opinion, it has come about that there is greater opportunity and demand for speech-making than ever before. The average man finds it greatly to his advantage in civic, organization, and business affairs to be able to speak his mind.”13 In the period under study in this book, the academic field of rhetoric and public address took hold as a scholarly enterprise. The Quarterly Journal of Speech, founded in 1915 as the Quarterly Journal of Public Speaking, gradually published more and better historical, theoretical, and critical studies in rhetoric among the continuing mix of articles on drama, speech correction, radio, and pedagogy. The period saw the emergence of regional academic associations, all of which eventually created scholarly journals. The Southern Speech Bulletin, now the Southern Communication Journal, first appeared in 1935. The western region was next with Western Speech, now the Western Journal of Communication, which began publication in 1937. The Central States Speech Journal now Communication Studies, did not begin

until 1949. The Eastern States Association, the oldest of all the regional associations, was founded in 1910, but did not begin publishing Today’s Speech, now Communication Quarterly, until 1953. The national association started Speech Monographs, now Communication Monographs, in 1934; the journal published articles in rhetorical studies along with the growing mix of interests nurtured in the expanding discipline. Scholarship in rhetoric and public address often took the form of rhetorical biography, recovering through study of the careers of model orators lessons that could be brought to the public-speaking classroom. There were few full-length studies of contemporaries. In the period 1932–45, the Quarterly Journal of Speech published studies of Henry Ward Beecher, Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Edmund Burke, George Whitefield, John Calhoun, St. Augustine, Samuel Gompers, Daniel Webster, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Charles Fox, Robert Green Ingersoll, Henry W. Grady, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Seargent Prentiss, Phillips Brooks, Martin Luther, Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill, Tom Corwin, Isaac Barré, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Hart Benton, Benjamin Morgan Palmer, William Ellery Channing, and James Madison. Most of the articles were brief by standards now in place, though the foundations were being laid for the emergence of a canon of rhetorical texts. The articles in this period offered virtually no close analysis of rhetorical texts and often what may now seem superficial or secondary treatments of historical matters, but these authors were sensible and thoughtful men and women, and they were creating a new discipline. Scholarship in rhetoric and public address was usually closely tied, at least implicitly, to the scholars’ roles as teachers of public speaking, which was understood as civic education. Those who published in the speech and rhetoric journals bore heavy teaching loads, often in first-year public-speaking classes and as debate coaches. Partly for this reason, their articles frequently were driven by a common search for models and standards and also by a dedication to the practical importance of speech in civic life, a dedication that is sometimes attenuated in the critical work of our own era, when the link between rhetorical scholarship and the public-speaking classroom does not seem so evident. At the same time, these first twentieth-century historians and critics of public address were setting an agenda for the scholarship that was to come. Martin Medhurst laments that in 1933 William Norwood Brigance had called for combined historical and critical studies in public address, but that before the publication in 1943 of Brigance’s A History and Criticism of American Public Address, very little of substance had been published.14 Medhurst comments that “the so-called ‘critical studies’ [in the Brigance volumes] were really much more historical and biographical than critical or analytical [but that] this should not obscure the fact that history and criticism were conceived as two related, but substantively different enterprises. In point of fact, the general historical surveys were, on the whole, better scholarship than the ‘critical’ studies of leaders.”15 Along with the gradual emergence of full-length—though brief—articles on a variety of speakers, the Quarterly Journal of Speech featured in this era “Contemporary Speeches,” which ran yearly in the journal from 1928 through 1938. In 1928, V. E. Simrell of Dartmouth College analyzed a debate between Judge Ben B. Lindsey and Rabbi Stephen S. Wise on whether companionate marriage—“marriage with birth-control and the possibility of divorce by mutual consent”—should be legalized. Simrell described the last annual message to the New York State legislature by Governor Alfred E. Smith, which broke Smith’s precedent by not being delivered in person but presented in writing. Smith deplored various measures taken by the legislature in the past that had, in Smith’s words, “attempted to throttle freedom of speech,” and Smith described Prohibition, of which he disapproved, as a national rather than a state matter, while hinting that in some parts of the state, local police officials might not enforce Prohibition with much strictness. Simrell observes that the address serves not only as a message to the legislature but as



Smith’s apologia and the opening of his campaign for the presidency. Simrell also wrote of Clarence Darrow’s summation to the jury in the murder trial of Caligaro Greco and Donato Carillo, who had been accused of murdering “two Fascists, dressed in their black shirts and on their way to march with their contingent in New York’s Decoration Day parade.” Simrell observes that Darrow introduced “little deliberative speeches” into what was primarily a forensic address and that “Darrow’s emotional appeal, even when most direct, has a concreteness which saves it from sentimentality.” The defendants were unanimously acquitted, though Simrell reminds his readers that “it is hard, after all, to estimate the effectiveness of a jury speech.” In the same issue, Mack Easton of Swarthmore College commented on President Calvin Coolidge’s speech to the Pan-American Conference in Havana, observing that Coolidge needed to pay lip service to the notion that each of the American states was equal while tacitly preserving the right of U.S. intervention.16 In April 1933, Simrell commented in the “Contemporary Speeches” section on several campaign speeches by Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Norman Thomas, and supporters of both major candidates. Simrell especially admires a speech by Owen D. Young in support of Roosevelt in New York on 3 November 1932. Simrell comments sharply on what he regards as Hoover’s two claims of irresponsibility and indispensability, and quotes with approval a passage from Young’s refutation of Hoover: I have no objection to a man saying that he would like to hold his job. I would do so, too. I have no objection to his presenting the reasons why he can do the job better than others. I would do so, too. But I resent at any time or at any place the attitude that the safety of the country depends on any man holding his job. No man has achieved that strength and this country has not deteriorated to that weakness.17



Simrell recommends a number of current speeches to his readers and adds that “perhaps of as much interest to students of rhetoric as any of the campaign speeches themselves are some of Walter Lippmann’s comments on them, the best rhetorical criticism of our time.”18 In the November 1934 “Contemporary Speeches” feature, Dayton McKean of Princeton University surveys the debates of the U.S. Seventy-third Congress, commending speeches by senators and congressmen including Edward P. Costigan, Robert Doughton, Robert Wagner, Henry D. Hatfield, Thomas D. Schall, and others. McKean notes that “the highwater mark, in my opinion, of good argument was reached in May and June in the debates upon the reciprocal tariff treaties bill. Excellent speeches were made by Senators [William E.] Borah, Costigan, [Walter] George, and [Joseph T.] Robinson of Arkansas. The constitutional arguments were, perhaps, as good as the Senate has heard.” And yet, McKean acknowledges, “the general persuasive value that the members of Congress put upon their speeches may, perhaps, be summed up in a remark made by Hamilton Fish of New York: ‘It is not necessary for the Members to stay, but there is no reason why I should not be allowed to talk.’”19 In the same issue, Simrell describes FDR’s speeches to Congress on 8 June; on radio on 28 June; and at Green Bay, Wisconsin, on 9 August; a speech by General Hugh S. Johnson at Waterloo, Iowa; and a Labor Day address by New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia at Chicago. Simrell reports wryly that “the rhetorical campaign of the National Administration during most of 1933 was concentrated against Fear. . . . So far during 1934, the campaign has been directed chiefly against Confusion.”20 In “Contemporary Speeches” in 1935, Lee Chapin of Stanford University comments on Upton Sinclair’s campaign for governor of California, whose speeches were not transcribed in the state’s newspapers. Simrell surveys speeches by FDR

and Donald Richberg and notes the emergence of a coherent opposition to the New Deal in a speech by Ogden Mills. Simrell celebrates the first volume of Vital Speeches of the Day, which published biweekly transcripts of significant speeches, concluding that “it deserves the attention of students of contemporary rhetoric.”21 The “Contemporary Speeches” section of the national journal, when added to the full-length articles on a wide variety of speakers, shows a generation of scholars inventing a new discipline by reviving an old one, refining their critical and historical scholarship while searching for practical models they can use in the publicspeaking classroom and at the same time engaging in rhetorical criticism as an inquiry into the foundations of civil life. The “Contemporary Speeches” section of the Quarterly Journal of Speech ended in 1938, but by then general access to speech texts had been enhanced by the appearance of the periodical Vital Speeches of the Day in 1934 and the book series Representative American Speeches in 1937. Together, these series made dozens of significant speeches available for study in schools and libraries. Representative American Speeches was edited by A. Craig Baird of the University of Iowa, one of the leading departments for the study of speech and communication, from 1937 to 1959.22 The Quarterly Journal of Speech stayed in touch with the Baird volumes in a series of notices by various rhetorical scholars in its book review section. In a review of the 1941 volume, Wilbur Gilman of the University of Missouri noted with approval Baird’s observation that “radio is restoring speaking to that proper key of conversational directness, close speaker-listener contact, semantic simplicity, that teachers of public speaking have long advocated.” Gilman warmly reinforced the widely shared view of his colleagues in the organic connection of teaching and research, civic participation and academic scholarship, noting that Baird’s volume “is a significant contribution not only to the study of contemporary public address, but also to speech education.”23 In the academic scholarship of the period, as in the generally available public address of the period, the years 1932–45 witnessed both great advances and ringing silences in the area of human rights rhetoric. Regrettably, it was not possible to find a contributor to write a chapter about the rhetoric of human rights in the period under study. The omission of such a chapter, however, may itself tell us something about the current study of civil rights and human rights discourse in the discipline and serve as a call for more detailed studies of a period so important to changes in American attitudes and practices with regard to class, race, gender, and ethnicity. Standard anthologies of great speeches generally turn up no entries by civil rights leaders during the Great Depression and World War II. Yet there was considerable rhetorical activity and significant historical change in the period. Harvard Sitkoff argues in A New Deal for Blacks that although the Roosevelt administration did less than it should have for equal rights, it nevertheless improved material conditions and stimulated a renewed optimism by African American leaders and their white allies that much greater progress was possible. Roosevelt had consistently refused to campaign for an end to the poll tax, for a federal antilynching law, or for equal rights and integration in military and government service. Nonetheless, his administration’s evident support for black progress led to a massive migration of black voters to the Democratic Party in the elections of 1932, forging a relation that has continued. Sitkoff argues that broadly communicated cultural events created revulsion against the racism of Nazi and fascist dictatorships, stimulated in part by the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 and the snubbing of Jesse Owens by Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Black and white Americans cheered for Joe Louis and his triumph over Max Schmeling in 1938, who had been celebrated by Joseph Goebbels as a champion of German racial superiority over the African American champion.24 When in 1939 the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused to allow African American singer Marian



Anderson to present an Easter concert at Constitution Hall, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes arranged for a concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and Eleanor Roosevelt resigned her membership in the DAR. Sitkoff cites as evidence of the emergence of a coherent national African American leadership the events surrounding the March on Washington Movement of 1941, led by A. Philip Randolph, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. As the day of the scheduled march approach, the administration negotiated with the leadership to cancel the event. Agreement was reached a week before the march, which was called off in exchange for Executive Order 8802, establishing the Committee on Fair Employment Practices (FEPC). “It stipulated that all employers, unions, and government agencies ‘concerned with vocational and training programs’ must ‘provide for the full and equitable participation of all workers in defense agencies, without discrimination because of race, creed, color, or national origin.’” The rhetorical and organizational victory of the black leaders was an important stimulus for the larger civil rights movement that emerged in the 1950s and 1960s. “The Negro press,” reports Sitkoff, “immediately hailed the order as a second emancipation proclamation. Black leaders termed it the greatest leap forward for Afro-Americans since the Civil War. The accounts of the negotiations emphasized that Randolph and [Walter] White [of the NAACP] had forced Roosevelt to capitulate and that the order represented an uncompromised victory for black protest.”25 The New Deal itself employed a strong core of advocates for racial equality and for reform measures that could improve the material conditions of all citizens in all regions of the country. John Egerton especially singles out Roosevelt aide Harry Hopkins, Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace, Rexford G. Tugwell, and Will Alexander as highly placed advocates, along with Eleanor Roosevelt, for racial change.26 Roosevelt appointed the Federal Council on Negro Affairs, generally referred to as his “Black Cabinet,” to advise him on racial matters. Its leading member was Mary McLeod Bethune; the Black Cabinet served as an important liaison between Roosevelt and civil rights advocates around the country.27 Patricia Sullivan traces the roots of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s directly to the New Deal period. Relying heavily on oral history, Sullivan reconstructs the inner life of the struggle for equality in the work of Palmer Weber, Charles Houston, Ella Baker, Clark Foreman, Henry Wallace, Virginia Durr, Osceola McKain, and others, and she concludes that the modern movement for racial justice in the United States was born during an extraordinary era of economic transformation mediated by government expansion and social innovation. Although little, if any, memory of the New Deal years informed the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the activists of the earlier decades tilled the ground for future change. They created legal precedents, experimented with new political forms, and organized around issues of social and economic justice.28



New Deal thought extended reflections about human rights to embrace a number of areas in addition to African American civil rights. John Collier, who assumed the office of commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1933, specifically considered questions of cultural autonomy in redirecting the government’s policies toward Native Americans. “The central theme of Collier’s policies was an uncompromising rejection of past efforts to assimilate Indians into white society. As commissioner, Collier sought to carry out a philosophy of cultural pluralism that both tolerated and encouraged Indians to be Indians.” But “despite the considerable advances that the New Deal brought to the Navajos, the era did not produce the result that Collier

most sought. He hoped fervently that his administration would end the demoralization of Indians, root out the sense that their race was vanishing, and reawaken their energies and purposes. . . . How Collier could have conserved the Navajos’ land and avoided their alienation posed a question that neither he nor anyone else could answer.”29 In some ways the inherited situation of the Navajos in 1933, compounded by the Depression and the ecological crisis of the dust bowl, created problems that proved virtually intractable. Regulation of grazing, including reduction of herds, would mean that the land could support fewer Navajos in traditional occupations. But at the time, there were few avenues of employment open to Navajos in the general economy, which already had an oversupply of trained labor. Collier introduced a much greater measure of American Indian self-government. Medical care was improved, along with other social services.30 The New Deal did offer a far more enlightened and less coercive policy than earlier administrations, but the new policies met resistance from both American Indian leaders (often trained in white schools) and whites, and they often had unintended consequences. Graham D. Taylor writes that the Indian New Deal, however enlightened in contrast to previous or subsequent Indian programs, was fatally weakened by its emphasis on tribal reorganization and the assumptions about contemporary Indian societies which formed the basis for the tribal idea. Furthermore, the failure of the Collier administration to achieve genuine tribal revival, or to recognize the reasons why that effort failed, undermined as well the ambitious and farsighted plans for ensuring Indian economic self sufficiency. No amount of technical aid, funding, administrative sophistication, or outside support could guarantee the success of the economic programs unless the Indians themselves were prepared to provide support; and this, for a variety of reasons, they did not do. The reforms of the Indian New Deal failed to endure because, in the last analysis, they were imposed upon the Indians, who did not see these elaborate proposals as answers to their own wants and needs.31 World War II brought new civil rights challenges to the Roosevelt administration—challenges that have produced an evolving rhetoric of moral and historical reconsideration. In the wake of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, President Roosevelt, responding to a growing sense of “rage and insecurity,” and a military recommendation, signed Executive Order 9066, which provided for the relocation and internment of Japanese aliens and American citizens of Japanese descent.32 Some of these men, women, and children were confined in camps for more than three years, losing their homes and businesses. In later decades, the Japanese internment has been regarded as both needless and unconstitutional, though it enjoyed wide support among white Americans at the time. Since the full extent of the Holocaust began to emerge after the discovery of the German death camps at the end of World War II, there has emerged an enormous body of literature debating whether the Roosevelt administration could and should have done more to rescue European Jews. Some advocates argue that the administration had early evidence of the Holocaust, and the means to save many of the Jews, but that anti-Semitism, distraction, or indifference interfered with serious attempts at rescue. Others have maintained that the administration properly devoted all of its strategic resources to winning the war, arguing that shortening the war was the best means of saving its victims.33 The New Deal era was thus a time of tremendous material progress and for gathering rhetorical energy to advance domestic reform, international affairs, and human rights, and yet the aspirations and energies released by the New Deal also





created a sense of impatience, led to false starts, and in some cases left a disappointing record. The enormous advances quickly became taken for granted as part of the liberal consensus; the unfinished business and the disappointments remained on the rhetorical agenda. This effect can be observed both in the rhetoric of political actors and in writings of historical and rhetorical scholars in the decades after the New Deal years. A sampling of that scholarship is reviewed and reconsidered in the following chapters. Vanessa Beasley and Deborah Smith-Howell provide a systematic quantitative and qualitative overview of the speaking of Franklin Delano Roosevelt during his presidency. They base their method on the approach developed by Roderick P. Hart in The Sound of Leadership, which analyzes the speechmaking of Presidents Truman through Reagan.34 Beasley and Smith-Howell report that Roosevelt created a rhetorical practice that avoided many of the alleged dangers of the rhetorical presidency even as he advanced the view that the presidency is “preeminently a place of moral leadership” exercised through rhetorical means. In Roosevelt’s case, they argue, rhetoric was not a substitute for action but a means of organizing for action. Beasley and Smith-Howell discovered 662 public speeches and 989 press conferences; even discounting the press conferences, which were not generally available to the public except in indirect reports, this record shows an average of 55 public speeches—more than one a week—to the American people every year of his presidency, a remarkable record given the record of earlier presidents, the special burdens of office in the Great Depression and World War II, the amount of presidential effort that went into the preparation of the speeches, the substantive and educational approach that Roosevelt adopted, and the limitations on travel at the time. The election-year speeches show more speaking, more travel, and increased attention to local audiences and government topics. Roosevelt differed from his successors by speaking much more often during election years and much less often in nonelection years, exhibiting a discipline that kept the dangers of the rhetorical presidency under control. Beasley and Howell-Smith also report finding, in comparison with later presidents, that Roosevelt showed an unusual ability to combine discussions of the human dimensions of America’s problems with detailed and pedagogical explanations of the nuts and bolts of government programs. Suzanne Daughton examines FDR’s self-depiction as a rhetorical healer in his “fireside chats,” taking on the role of a family doctor attending to the ills of a nation prostrated by the Great Depression. Daughton celebrates Roosevelt’s mastery of radio, which he used to establish a sense of direct contact with millions of listeners and which became the medium for establishing his role as a wise and capable leader. At the same time, Daughton worries that Roosevelt’s rhetorical leadership may have carried a danger of authoritarianism, gathering so much power to the presidency that other democratic institutions were diminished. Daughton argues that in his fireside chats, Roosevelt depicted the nation as having suffered traumatic experiences, and that, first as Dr. New Deal and then as Dr. Winthe-War, Roosevelt, both in explicit metaphors and in implicit, archetypal patterns of language and imagery, provided comfort and cure. Davis Houck and Mihaela Nocosian examine FDR’s first inaugural address, providing a close reading of the text and an account of its development and reception. They argue that an examination of the reception of the speech, taken together with an examination of its context and the drafting process, provides a way to read the text as prompting a return of confidence by an appeal to action, inspiring listeners to perceive Roosevelt as a divinely inspired leader who should be granted extensive power over the economy. Houck and Nocosian take issue with earlier readings of the inaugural address, with earlier celebrations of Roosevelt’s authorship of the address, and with what they characterize as conventional contrasts between Herbert Hoover and FDR.

Cara Finnegan argues that the New Deal was constituted both in its own time and in our cultural memory partly through visual rhetorics and especially by the hundreds of thousands of documentary photographs compiled at the time by the photographers of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) under the direction of Roy Emerson Stryker. She discusses a number of the photographs, including “Fat man dozing under the shade of a tree, New Hampshire,” which drew the scorn of Senator Homer Capehart of Indiana as an alleged waste of taxpayer dollars, and the iconic Dorothea Lange photograph of a migrant mother. Finnegan considers the FSA photographs as a record for posterity, as tools for New Deal publicity, as instruments of social justice, and as art. Finnegan’s distinctly rhetorical approach to the photographs emphasizes the context that motivated their creation and the patterns of circulation, publication, and interpretation that established their shared— and sometimes contested—social meanings. She traces the connections of the photographs to the impulses of early-twentieth-century social science, eager to document and describe social conditions in the country, and to put its knowledge at the service of social justice. As a mode of art, writes Finnegan, the photographs created a “way of seeing” that has shaped the way photographs are made and understood. Taken together, the impulses of remembering, publicizing, working for social justice, and creating enduring art shaped the period’s understanding of itself and our collective memory of the New Deal era. Beth Waggenspack considers how Eleanor Roosevelt changed the rhetorical role of First Lady, making original uses of the media and devoting herself to social issues such as civil rights, homestead farms, and the youth movement. Eleanor Roosevelt acted as a crucial advocate within the inner circle of FDR’s advisers and as a public advocate in speeches, personal visits, press conferences, lectures, radio broadcasts, and newspaper and magazine articles. Through her own direct address and in the wide coverage of her travels and comments in the words and photographs of the press, Eleanor Roosevelt became a familiar, influential, and sometimes controversial figure. In her twelve years as First Lady, she delivered more than 1,000 speeches; authored nine books; wrote, after 1935, a daily newspaper column; and engaged in a variety of other communicative activities. Ann Atkinson describes the rhetoric of Frances Perkins, who served as secretary of labor from 1933 to 1945—the first woman to serve as a cabinet secretary. Atkinson traces the roots of Perkins’s social and political views and then examines her rhetoric at two crucial moments in her rhetorical career—as the major advocate for Social Security and as the victim of a conservative backlash from a hostile congressional committee. Perkins, as a student at Mount Holyoke Seminary, was strongly influenced by Jacob Riis’s How the Other Half Lives: Studies among the Tenements of New York and by class field trips to nearby textile mills, where she could see for herself the working and living conditions of industrial employees. In 1911, working in New York City, Perkins was a witness of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire. She later wrote, “We heard the fire engines and rushed into the Square to see what was going on. We saw the smoke pouring out of the building. We got there just as they started to jump. I shall never forget the frozen horror which came over us as we stood with our hands on our throats watching that horrible sight, knowing there was no help.”35 The fire had been caused by unsafe working conditions, and the women workers were unable to escape because all exits were locked or inaccessible. One hundred and forty-six women died in the fire. Perkins was drawn into the reform movement that was stimulated by the fire, finding colleagues and mentors in the New York political world. While serving as FDR’s secretary of labor, Perkins chaired the Committee on Economic Security, which developed the legislation creating Social Security. Atkinson analyzes a series of radio addresses by Perkins, delivered in 1934 and 1935, supporting the new social insurance plan. In 1935, Social Security was signed into law. Atkinson then turns to an episode in which





Perkins was brought before the House Judiciary Committee on a charge of impeachment because she had not ordered the deportation of Harry Bridges, an Australian citizen and a West Coast labor leader who was accused of being a Communist. The charges were organized by congressional conservatives such as Martin Dies of Texas, chair of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and J. Parnell Thomas of New Jersey, a later chair of the HUAC, who were using Red-scare tactics to advance their anti–New Deal views. On 8 February 1939, Perkins addressed the Judiciary Committee. The motion to impeach failed to pass in committee, and the matter was dropped, but not without a final statement from ten Republican representatives that Perkins had been “lenient and indulgent to Harry Bridges.” Frances Perkins, one of the most respected speakers and leaders of the New Deal period, continued to serve effectively throughout the Roosevelt administration. At the beginning of his second term, President Roosevelt, frustrated at Supreme Court rulings that struck down New Deal experiments, proposed to increase the number of justices, thereby allowing his measures to be assured of Court approval. Thus began the “court-packing” episode. Trevor Parry-Giles and Marouf Hasian Jr. analyze the court-packing episode from a rhetorical perspective, asking why the FDR plan failed to win legislative approval despite his having just won reelection in a landslide, how the Court rallied support in Congress, how the Court’s position was rhetorically insulated by ideology and institutional tradition, and how the episode influenced democratic institutions in the longer run. Parry-Giles and Hasian argue that the debate hinged on tensions between what some perceived as a necessity to innovate to save an economy in the midst of the Great Depression and the desire to protect individual freedom of action from government influence. The debate was thus posed as a conflict between legal ideologies of “necessity” and “liberty” that were already being intensely debated before Roosevelt initiated his plan to enlarge the Court. FDR defended his plan on the grounds of “necessity,” but a series of events in 1937 made the reorganization plan seem less necessary than it had been when he proposed it months earlier, and he lost his control of the important claim that the relatively modest systemic reformation he proposed was the best way to preserve American liberties. The latent ideological power of the Court as a protector of “liberty” gave Roosevelt’s opponents an important rhetorical tool, which they used to advantage, not only to defeat the proposal but also to weaken the New Deal coalition. John L. Lewis was president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) from 1919 until 1960 and was founder and the first president of the Committee for Industrial Organization (which later became the Congress of Industrial Organizations [CIO]). As a supporter and then an opponent of Roosevelt and the New Deal, Lewis extended his influence beyond the powerful labor movement of his day to national politics. Richard J. Jensen describes the rhetorical career of Lewis, depicting him as a dominating, independent figure whose power depended in part on his effective use of rhetoric, expressed in a thundering, sonorous voice and embodied in a large and powerful frame topped by a massive head and shaggy eyebrows, characteristically formed into an expression of indignation. Jensen shows that Lewis was such a colorful figure that it is possible to forget how influential he was at the height of his power. Lewis was one of the most prominent and visible leaders of a labor movement that grew from fewer than three million members in 1933 to more than ten million by 1941. Jensen describes how Lewis restlessly pressed for change and growth in the labor movement, retaining the loyalty of his own union even when his impatience with FDR drove him into opposition. In 1940, he supported Roosevelt’s opponent, Republican Wendell Willkie, for the presidency, claiming that Roosevelt’s campaign for a third term “may create a dictatorship” and promising that if Roosevelt won he would resign as the leader of the CIO; after the

presidential election, the CIO elected Philip Murray as his successor. Lewis’s controversial leadership of the UMWA continued, and during World War II he led the miners in a series of strikes. Lewis was, writes Jensen, revered by the workers he led, a memorable orator and an inspirational leader. Father Charles E. Coughlin began broadcasting Sunday services from his Church of the Little Flower in Royal Oak, Michigan, in 1926. The Golden Hour of the Little Flower began to be picked up by radio stations around the country, and Coughlin began to address various social, political, and economic issues. Ronald H. Carpenter describes Coughlin’s rise to rhetorical influence, arguing that writing Coughlin off as a demagogue because of his later turn to anti-Semitism and his silencing by the Catholic Church misses the important story of Coughlin’s rhetorical skill and its significant exploitation of the medium of radio. Coughlin was an early supporter of FDR, telling his millions of listeners that it was “Roosevelt or Ruin.” By 1934, his relations with Roosevelt soured, and he changed the slogan to “Roosevelt and Ruin.” Coughlin turned increasingly radical, and for a time his influence increased. He campaigned against United States’ association with the World Court and contributed significantly to defeating the nation’s participation in the court. Finally, his own improprieties and excesses led to the collapse of his peculiar but highly successful rhetorical career. One of the strangest figures to give voice to the Great Depression was Huey Long, who served as governor and then senator from Louisiana and who was assassinated in Baton Rouge in September 1935. Like Coughlin, Long is an uneasy figure for historians and rhetorical critics. Huey Long, the Kingfish, attracted the charge of demagoguery, and yet he achieved immense popularity and influence, challenging the old order and the corporations with his brand of radical populism. Robert Iltis maintains that dismissing Long as a demagogue is too simple, both because it leads us to overlook Long’s great gifts as a persuader and also because of his rhetorical contributions to the idea that government intervention could and should improve the social and economic condition of common working people. Iltis acknowledges that the attempt to rehabilitate Long is paradoxical, since Long did establish something like a dictatorship in Louisiana to push through his vast, though graft-ridden, programs of public works and did speak in oversimplified ways about the economy. Yet something positive remains, Iltis argues, beyond mere rhetorical skill—a populist suspicion of great concentrations of wealth and a desire for government to intervene in the economic order to balance private interest with public welfare. The extremism and the oversimplifications of Long may have helped make room for the more moderate reforms of the New Deal. Carpenter and Iltis report, in their essays on Charles Coughlin and Huey Long, that they can find no magical critical key that in itself identifies and justifies the automatic dismissal of the rhetoric of these men. Still, the two resist placement as part of the general political rhetoric of their day and remain a challenge to historical and rhetorical understanding. Both had great oratorical skills, exploited the medium of radio to great advantage, attracted huge followings, and influenced mainstream political decision making. Nonetheless, they were in many ways isolates whose individual visions, personal power, and restless ambitions were, during the time of their greatest power, not subject to the discipline and balance that may come from the collaboration and conflict of the wider political arena—however crude that arena may itself have been at times. Father Coughlin and Huey Long were widely known during the Great Depression and have remained iconic figures ever since. Carol Jablonski recovers the work of another but less well known voice of the time in her essay on Dorothy Day and the radical Catholic Worker movement. The Catholic Worker movement began when Dorothy Day, a journalist, was persuaded by Peter Maurin, a lay theologian, to start the Catholic Worker as a radical Catholic newspaper based on anarchist and



pacifist principles. The Catholic Worker became widely known among Catholics, who were themselves gradually emerging into mainstream political discussions. During the 1930s, the movement campaigned for radical pacifism and for a variety of progressive causes. The movement advocated among Catholics for acknowledgment of the largely ignored papal encyclicals of Leo XIII and Pius XI calling for just and living wages, the sharing of material wealth, and the promotion of trade unions. The movement was a consistent advocate of civil rights and was an early source of information and public argument about the Nazi Holocaust. As World War II approached, the Catholic Worker maintained a position of radical pacifism, which eroded its influence in the mainstream church. Jablonski writes of Day that “although her perfectionist pacifism and leftist views made her a controversial figure in Catholic circles, her evident piety and her service to the poor made her a saint in some people’s eyes.” One of the dominating impressions gained by the editor and contributing authors of this volume is that although a great deal of first-rate scholarship has emerged in the discipline about the period 1932–45, much of the rhetoric of the period calls out for recovery and reexamination. We hope to have engaged those processes here, and we offer these essays both as a way to rethink the rhetoric of the New Deal era and as an invitation to renewed scholarship.




1. In an essay written in 1944, the American reporter A. J. Liebling wrote that with the American entry in World War II, the phrase “New Deal” more or less disappeared from the rhetorical agenda: “The term ‘New Deal’ is now in the same limbo as ‘Popular Front.’” A. J. Liebling, “Notes from the Kidnap House—1944,” Mollie and Other War Pieces (1962; reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004), 154. 2. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt (New York: Random House, 1938) 1:659. 3. William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932–1940 (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1963), 8. 4. David M. Kennedy, Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929–1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 365. 5. Jeffrey K. Tulis, The Rhetorical Presidency (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987), 4, 6. An earlier iteration of the notion of the rhetorical presidency may be found in James Ceaser, Glen E. Thurow, Jeffrey Tulis, and Joseph M. Bessette, “The Rise of the Rhetorical Presidency,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 11 (1981): 158-71. For an alternative view emphasizing the rhetoric of the presidency as a contrasting field of study to the rhetorical presidency, see Martin J. Medhurst, “A Tale of Two Constructs: The Rhetorical Presidency versus Presidential Rhetoric,” in Beyond the Rhetorical Presidency, ed. Martin J. Medhurst (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1996), xi–xxv. 6. Tulis, Rhetorical Presidency, 175. 7. Christopher H. Sterling and John Michael Kittross, Stay Tuned: A History of American Broadcasting, 3rd ed. (Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002), 862. 8. Ibid., 200, 217. 9. Dale Carnegie, Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business (New York: Association Press, 1937), 127. 10. Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt (New York: Penguin, 1996), 69–75. 11. Academic teachers of public speaking were also reading Lewis. In 1935, Lionel Crocker wrote, “It is likely that we teachers of public speaking are as fully aware of the possibilities for sarcasm existing in our field as Sinclair Lewis is, although we may lack the ability to express our amusement. But we should welcome anyone who can entertain us by showing the foibles in our precinct. . . . There is enough truth in his jibes, which


13. 14.

15. 16. 17. 18. 19.

20. 21. 22.

23. 24. 25. 26.

27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33.

34. 35.

he no doubt wrote with his tongue in his cheek, to make us smile and occasionally wince.” Lionel Crocker, “Sinclair Lewis on Public Speaking,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 21 (1935): 232, 235. Thomas W. Benson, “The Cornell School of Rhetoric: Idiom and Institution,” Communication Quarterly 51 (2003): 1–56; Karl Wallace, ed., A History of Speech Education in America (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1954); Herman Cohen, The History of Speech Communication: The Emergence of a Discipline, 1914–1945 (Annandale, Va.: Speech Communication Association, 1994). James A. Winans, Speech-Making (New York: D. Appleton-Century, 1938), 2–3. Martin J. Medhurst, “The Academic Study of Public Address: A Tradition in Transition,” in Landmark Essays on American Public Address, ed. Martin J. Medhurst (Davis, Calif.: Hermagoras Press, 1993), xvii–xix. Medhurst is referring to William Norwood Brigance, “Whither Research,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 19 (1933): 552–61; and William Norwood Brigance, ed., A History and Criticism of American Public Address, 2 vols. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1943). Medhurst, “Academic Study of Public Address,” xx–xxi. “Contemporary Speeches,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 14 (1928): 456–63. V. E. Simrell, “Contemporary Speeches,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 19 (1933): 290. Ibid. Another “Contemporary Speeches” section appears in the November 1933 issue of the journal. Dayton D. McKean, “Contemporary Speeches,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 20 (1934): 593. This section appears in the November issue of the journal; another appears in the April 1934 issue. V. E. Simrell, “Contemporary Speeches,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 20 (1934): 594. V. E. Simrell, “Contemporary Speeches,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 21 (1935): 293. See, for example, Owen Peterson, “A. Craig Baird (1883–1979),” Southern Speech Communication Journal 47 (1982): 130–34; and Anne G. Mitchell, “A. Craig Baird, Editor and Teacher,” Speech Teacher 18 (1969): 1–8. Wilbur E. Gilman, review of Representative American Speeches, 1940–1941, ed. A. Craig Baird, Quarterly Journal of Speech 27 (1942): 249. Harvard Sitkoff, A New Deal for Blacks: The Emergence of Civil Rights as a National Issue, vol. 1, The Depression Decade (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978): 298–99. Ibid., 321–22. John Egerton, Speak Now against the Day: The Generation before the Civil Rights Movement in the South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), 84–85, 92–98. Ibid., 102–3; Kennedy, Freedom from Fear, 378. Patricia Sullivan, Days of Hope: Race and Democracy in the New Deal Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 275. Donald L. Parman, The Navajos and the New Deal (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1976), xi, 296. Ibid., 292–95. Graham D. Taylor, The New Deal and American Indian Tribalism (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1980), xii–xiii. Greg Robinson, By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001), 241. The Holocaust literature is enormous; for an entry through the lens of rhetorical scholarship, see Marouf Hasian Jr., “Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Holocaust, and Modernity’s Rescue Rhetorics,” Communication Quarterly 51 (2003): 154–73; and Marouf Hasian Jr., “Remembering and Forgetting the ‘Final Folution’: A Rhetorical Pilgrimage through the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum,” Critical Studies in Media Communication 21 (2004): 64–92. Roderick P. Hart, The Sound of Leadership: Presidential Communication in the Modern Age (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987). Leon Stein, The Triangle Fire (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1962), 212. INTRODUCTION


No Ordinary Rhetorical President: FDR’s Speechmaking and Leadership, 1933–1945 Vanessa B. Beasley and Deborah Smith-Howell

s Doris Kearns Goodwin has reminded us, the FDR years were no ordinary time. Even though she was referring specifically to the latter years of Roosevelt’s presidency, this description aptly characterizes the rest of his executive tenure as well. The nation was in the most severe fiscal crisis of its history when FDR took office, for example, and once Americans had begun to enjoy some economic recovery by the mid-1930s, they then found themselves faced with devastating dust bowls, floods, and other natural disasters. Spirits were so low during the second half of the 1930s that the United States’ birth rate fell below the number needed for zero population growth.1 Such pessimism was soon eclipsed by outright horror, as the threat of another world war loomed large by the decade’s end and was realized shortly thereafter. Overall, the FDR years were so taxing that when Vice President Harry Truman attempted to console Eleanor Roosevelt on her husband’s death by asking what he might do for her, the First Lady did not hesitate in her now well-known reply. “Is there anything we can do for you?” she asked Truman. “Because you are the one in trouble now.”2 Despite Eleanor Roosevelt’s weary tone, her husband is often remembered for his persistence and vigor. On the campaign trail, over the radio airwaves, or in the Oval Office, Roosevelt appeared to attack the United States’ problems fearlessly, maneuvering with such facility on the otherwise mucky playing fields of national politics that his presidency still bears the standard for political efficacy. In his landmark study In the Shadow of FDR: From Harry Truman to Bill Clinton, William Leuchtenburg has suggested that Roosevelt’s efforts have left such a mark on his successors and their surroundings that his ultimate contribution may have been to democratic “statecraft” rather than any partisan or legislative agenda.3 Erwin Hargrove has concurred. In his comparative overview of presidential leadership,






Hargrove writes that “history would have been different without Roosevelt. He provided the reform leadership that met the expectations of American political culture.” Ultimately, Hargrove concludes, “[h]is leadership enhanced citizenship.”4 How did FDR achieve such a monumental legacy? Most historians would agree that Roosevelt shaped both his times and ours through “energy and action.”5 The spate of legislation he initiated in the spring and summer of 1933 certainly supports this claim, as do even FDR’s less successful endeavors, such as the court-packing scheme. Eager to experiment and unconstrained by rigid ideology, Roosevelt was not afraid to create new policies and proceed boldly as chief executive.6 Even today, FDR’s results-oriented approach to governance continues to haunt politicians eager for even a few days of legislative productivity equal to his first one hundred. Yet Roosevelt also clearly shaped his times through his words, and much of the “action” still associated with his presidency was rhetorical. One of the first chief executives to have access to mass media, he anticipated the need for the sound bite in broadcast addresses as well as the need for an endless campaign in an increasingly electronic age.7 Public address was so central to Roosevelt’s leadership style that Eleanor Roosevelt first used the phrase “no ordinary time” to prepare supporters for an upcoming period of uncharacteristic silence from their president.8 Today FDR is considered by many to be one of the first and most adept rhetorical presidents in U.S. history.9 It is the exact nature of this latter distinction that concerns us here, however. In the years since FDR, rhetorical presidents have been increasingly accused of abandoning real leadership in favor of the appearance of leadership through rhetoric. Although the distinction between “real” and rhetorical leadership might seem superficial or even contradictory to most students of public address, there is no denying that some modern presidents have been criticized for talking too much and, worse yet, for possibly letting their abundance of talk substitute for action—for letting public speaking, which once merely “attend[ed] the process of governance,” itself become governance, as Roderick P. Hart has observed.10 Yet most students of FDR’s speechmaking make no such indictment of this president, and even those who would label him a rhetorical president would presumably agree that his dependence on rhetoric did not diminish his ability to govern. What are we to make of the Roosevelt case, then? How could he have been such a master of the rhetorical presidency without also succumbing to its ills? In short, what made FDR a “good” rhetorical president? There are at least three possible explanations. First, Roosevelt may not have actually been a rhetorical president at all—not, at least, in the ways that would have made him comparable to his successors. FDR faced far less ubiquitous media scrutiny than his successors would, for example. A second possibility is that FDR might simply have been a different kind of rhetorical president than his successors have been. While Roosevelt is still remembered for numerous “great speeches” at significant moments during his presidency, we know much less about how much he used rhetoric the rest of time. Perhaps he did not speak to the American people all that often, preferring instead to focus his efforts on more private deliberations on Capitol Hill. Or it could be that Roosevelt spoke frequently to the American people but somehow handled these interactions differently than his successors would. A third possibility is that critics of the rhetorical presidency have been wrong about its potential ills, having overlooked, perhaps, the potential for rhetorical leadership within the Oval Office. In order to understand which, if any, of these explanations best fits the Roosevelt case, in this chapter we have extended the comparative work on the modern rhetorical presidency conducted by Roderick Hart in The Sound of Leadership:

Presidential Communication in the Modern Age to the presidential speechmaking of FDR. In other words, for this analysis we determined how, when, and to whom FDR spoke from 1933 until 1945 in order to see how these efforts compared with those of subsequent chief executives Harry Truman through Ronald Reagan as discussed by Hart. The resulting analysis of 662 of FDR’s statements allows us to see how Roosevelt’s presidency measured up to his successors’ in terms of Hart’s quantitative indices, such as speaking frequency and audience preferences, and in light of more qualitative indicators, including topics and themes. We also took such a comprehensive view because we believed that many of the claims about the rhetorical presidency—and rhetorical leadership in general—have not been sufficiently investigated through empirical studies. Ultimately, then, we hoped that our analysis might discover trends in FDR’s overall rhetorical profile as president and also shed light on the implications of his case for our understanding of the rhetorical presidency. Our quantitative analysis reveals that FDR was indeed a pioneer of the rhetorical presidency. He repeatedly spoke directly to voters and used his speaking schedule to advance his agenda, just as his media-savvy successors have. Yet this analysis, along with its qualitative counterpart, also suggests that Roosevelt may indeed have been a slightly different type of rhetorical president. The president took care to offer his messages in ways likely to appeal to voters, to be sure, but his discourse was consistently both disciplined and balanced, a combination that suggests a more restrained and systematic approach to the rhetorical presidency than perhaps has been utilized by his successors, at least according to Hart’s data. Before further discussing Roosevelt’s habits and their implications, let us turn first to the methods of this study.

Methodology For this project, we examined the speeches printed in The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt.11 In our opinion, this collection represents the most complete body of FDR’s public messages currently available and the most accurate assortment of Roosevelt’s speeches as known to the American public at that time. We were aware, however, that using this collection meant that we were subject to at least two notable limitations. First, the thirteen volumes in this series were not collected and printed as subsequent volumes have been by the Government Printing Office, meaning that this series may be perceived as the product of a less independent, rigorous, or thorough compilation process.12 Because The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt does not include all of FDR’s speeches, we tried to account for texts omitted from these volumes by searching the explanatory notes printed in the volume for references to additional speeches. When possible, we included these addresses in the analysis by recording, researching, and coding them as completely as possible.13 A second limitation of our database is its omission of the complete record of FDR’s press conferences. President Roosevelt conducted such meetings regularly throughout his executive tenure. Most observers agree that the president’s relationship with the press was crucial to his executive efficacy, and Betty Houchin Winfield has even suggested that he managed these interactions better than any of his successors.14 Yet FDR’s comments from these interactions were not known to the American public as presidential statements in the same way his addresses would have been. Indeed, the ground rules of these meetings dictated specifically that the president could not be quoted directly unless the White House granted permission

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by issuing an official transcript of the conference, and very few of these transcripts were ever issued.15 Even though Roosevelt’s Public Papers feature some excerpts from these encounters, we chose not to include these transcripts in our database in order to keep our focus on the president’s more direct communication to the American people.16 We did, however, take into account the number of times FDR spoke to the press when this figure was necessary to make our data more comparable to previous findings based on other presidents’ use of press conferences. In addition, throughout this analysis we assumed that Roosevelt would have been keenly aware of media coverage of his speechmaking.

QUANTITATIVE DATA We analyzed each of the 662 addresses using a coding scheme based on the conceptual and procedural parameters established by Hart in The Sound of Leadership.17 Published in 1987, Hart’s study still represents the most comprehensive account of the logistics of modern presidential speechmaking available to date, and this information was necessary in order to compare FDR to some of his most immediate successors. Each of FDR’s speaking events was coded for the following sixteen characteristics:18 1. Date: year, month, day; 2. Administrative year: year in FDR’s tenure as president; 3. Order: place in daily speaking (e.g., first speech of the day, second speech, etc.); 4. Activity: total number of speeches on the day of this speech; 5. Election year versus nonelection year; 6. Season of the year: winter, spring, summer, fall; 7. Topic: science, economy, government, human services, human values, international cooperation, international conflict, multiple topics, or miscellaneous topics; 8. General topic: systemic or humanistic;19 9. General location: Washington, D.C.; U.S. city; or international city; 10. Setting: ceremony, briefing, organizational meeting, political rally, or miscellaneous; 11. Specific or special setting: type of ceremony (initiating, honorific, or celebrative) or type of political rally (open or closed); 12. Audience: government workers, local audience/press, national audience, invited guests, group members, or other; 13. Specific state and section: Northeast, Midwest, South, or West; 14. State population: twelve most populous, large states, small states, twelve least populous; 15. State’s political partisanship: Democratic, Republican, or neutral voting patterns; 16. State’s political significance: dense/neutral, medium/neutral, dense/ partisan, sparse/neutral, and sparse/partisan.20




For each speech, we also took note of specific textual references and arguments. More specifically, we looked closely at FDR’s use of what Hart termed “systemic” and “humanistic” themes and then also analyzed extended passages where Roosevelt associated either or both theme(s) with his agenda. Because these themes are discussed in The Sound of Leadership, and in light of our interest in comparing our

findings with Hart’s, we coded each of Roosevelt’s speeches for topical foci in the same manner as Hart did. FDR’s choice to focus on humanistic or systemic themes was also important because of the themes’ differing emphases on perceived problems and suggested solutions, matters that this president had to address repeatedly during his tenure. According to Hart, chief executives rely on humanistic themes when emphasizing “patriotic values, moral or spiritual attitudes toward problems of the day.” Such talk lends itself well to reflections on “health and human services, the delivery of public welfare, and educational goals and achievements,” and so on. Conversely, when presidents present “legal or technological solutions to human problems,” they are likely to dwell on systemic matters, which can include such topics as “science and agriculture, labor disputes, economic fluctuations, governmental bureaucracies, and formalized institutions and statutes.”21 Seeing how often and when Roosevelt used these themes helps us understand the types of answers he offered to the American people throughout his tenure. After analyzing each of the 662 speeches for what FDR said as well as where, when, and to whom he spoke, we have created what we believe to be the most thorough profile of his speechmaking to date. Nevertheless, this project has been informed greatly by previous studies of Roosevelt’s rhetoric as well as major works on the rhetorical presidency.

FDR and the Rhetorical Presidency Much of the scholarship concerning FDR has been characterized as “hero worship of FDR’s leadership.”22 Public address scholars are apparently no exception, with most of them having given Roosevelt’s oratory almost universally high marks. John F. Wilson and James Andrews have written that the president was perhaps “the most expert public speaker to hold the presidency” in the twentieth century.23 Likewise, Thomas W. Benson has suggested that FDR might be “second only to Abraham Lincoln as a canonically eloquent president.”24 Even during and immediately after his presidency, Roosevelt’s rhetoric caught the attention of other critics who held him in similarly high esteem.25 FDR, most observers seemed to agree, had a gift, and he also seemed to be consistently gifted. In their essay in Marie Hochmuth’s 1955 landmark volume A History and Criticism of American Public Address, Earnest Brandenburg and Waldo Braden launched the most comprehensive investigation of FDR’s political speeches ever attempted in their times and suggested that many of his repeated successes could be explained through his unusually good incorporation of identification. FDR could speak to the American people in ways that made them feel that they “knew Roosevelt, intimately and well,” according to the authors.26 Historical accounts corroborate Brandenburg and Braden’s findings. David Burner and co-authors have noted that FDR “possessed a personality precisely suited for the times. . . . He did not hold himself back from the people, but seemed eager to meet each one personally.” They explain: One woman, trying to express to her grandchildren in later years her feeling toward Roosevelt, remarked that if the president had come into her kitchen for morning coffee she would have been perfectly comfortable and not the least bit surprised. A young soldier, standing outside the White House at night after hearing of the president’s death, said: “I felt as if I knew him. I felt as if he knew me—and I felt as if he liked me.” . . . Someone remarked that Roosevelt

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could say “my old friend” in ten languages while [his predecessor] Hoover could say it in none.27



Long before any mention of the concept of a rhetorical presidency, then, Roosevelt was considered a leader with whom followers could feel connected, and this perceived connection was presumably a function of his repeated efforts to speak directly to them and in their own language. While such skill was presumably admired by Brandenburg, Braden, and the numerous other rhetorical scholars who have studied Roosevelt’s discourse, some political scientists suggested in 1981 that this type of perceived intimacy might in fact be dangerous.28 In their groundbreaking essay “The Rise of the Rhetorical Presidency,” James W. Ceaser, Glen E. Thurow, Jeffrey Tulis, and Joseph Bessette lament what they saw as a relatively new development in presidential politics. “Popular or mass rhetoric,” they write, “which presidents once employed only rarely, now serves as one of their principal tools in attempting to govern the nation.” As a result, the authors argue, “we have seen an ever-increasing reliance on inspirational rhetoric to deal with the normal problems of politics.” This increase was troublesome because it “leads us to neglect our principles for our hopes and to ignore the benefits and needs of our institutions for a fleeting sense of oneness with our leaders.”29 According to these observers, then, the same “oneness” that helped fuel FDR’s popularity and productivity could also be harmful to the United States’ political system. Such charges were serious, and they appeared even more so when rhetorical scholar Roderick P. Hart supported them with in his 1987 study of the modern presidency. In The Sound of Leadership, Hart examined the speechmaking of Presidents Truman through Reagan and concluded that modern chief executives had increasingly emitted the sounds of “friendship, not leadership.” As Ceaser and his colleagues had, Hart associated this change with the modern mediated presidency, which demanded “excessive concentration on matters rhetorical,” the exact condition that the nation’s founders had sought to avoid in the executive branch. “The presidency has been transferred from a formal print-oriented world into an electronic environment specializing in the spoken word and rewarding casual, interpersonally adept politicians,” he warned.30 In The Sound of Leadership, Hart seems to agree with Ceaser and colleagues that rhetorical presidents’ dependence on oratorical and interpersonal skills over more noble aptitudes for governance could jeopardize the fate of the United States’ political institutions. The rhetorical presidency, these authors concurred, “may bode ill for leadership, if not for the Democracy itself.”31 Oddly enough, however, Franklin Roosevelt—the originator of the “fireside chat” who, by his own admission, loved to read public opinion polls—has not been explicitly chastised on these grounds by any of these authors. In fact, Ceaser and colleagues (and later Jeffrey Tulis alone in his extended work The Rhetorical Presidency) suggest that FDR was one of the few modern presidents who used rhetoric both wisely and well. These scholars excuse Roosevelt from the more opprobrious crimes of the rhetorical presidency by noting that he used rhetoric “programmatically” and during times of crisis, when such “popular leadership” may be necessary.32 But these authors neglect to explain his overall successes in greater detail and ultimately associate Roosevelt with the worrisome “doctrine” of the rhetorical presidency by recalling that he characterized the executive office as “pre-eminently a place of moral leadership.” Tulis and Ceaser and colleagues are deeply suspicious of this view, arguing that it implies that “presidential speech soars above the realm of calm and deliberate discussion of reasons of state or appeals to enlightened self-interest.”33

Hart also classifies FDR as a rhetorical president. He echoes Leuchtenburg that Roosevelt “wrote the basic political hymnal used by his eight successors” and suggests that FDR’s long shadow hung over future presidents’ speeches as well as their legislation. Hart notes how Ronald Reagan, a Republican ideologue, replicated the “persistent and insistent” speaking stance of Roosevelt, a Democrat who claimed to have no ideological allegiances.34 In encouraging leaders of all stripes to “never let up,” the rhetorical presidency seems happily nonpartisan. Indeed, this characteristic underlies one of Hart’s main critiques of the rhetorical presidency: that it encourages voters to judge candidates based on their oratorical prowess rather than their ideologies, ideas, or leadership qualities. In expressing this concern, he remarks that one of the most unfortunate consequences of FDR’s description of the presidency as “a place of moral leadership” is that it “excuses presidents from being unable to fix broken politics.” Hart explains: Presidents speak confidently about “health care systems,” “pockets of poverty,” “nuclear stalemates,” “balances of trade,” “windows of opportunity,” and the other benumbing abstractions of modern politics, but the use of such phrases presents the constant danger that the chief executive will fail to remember the empirical problems of the empirical people being discussed. . . . In a removed sense, a president knows about [the] human referents of the abstractions he treats in his speeches, but the more he lives in a world of words the less he is able to see the various tragedies etched into the faces he governs.35 Not so FDR, however. Even if his view of the executive office could lead to such oversights, it seems wrong to assert that this particular president’s dependence on rhetoric kept him from seeing “the various tragedies etched into the faces” of his constituents. In fact, James MacGregor Burns offers anecdotal evidence to support the idea that rhetoric enhanced both FDR’s relationship with the American people and his ability to act in ways that directly affected their circumstances. Recalling the president’s northeastern speaking tour during the 1936 campaign, for example, Burns writes: In an almost literal sense the tour was not a campaign but a triumphal procession. The president himself said that the trip brought out the “most amazing tidal wave of humanity” he had ever seen. There was something terrible about the crowds that lined the streets, Roosevelt remarked to Ickes—he could hear men and women crying out, “He saved my home,” “He gave me a job.” Roosevelt made the entire New England swing in an open car, and even hard-bitten reporters were incredulous over the wild enthusiasm of the crowds. As he waved and talked to such crowds Roosevelt seemed to catch their militancy. His speeches took on a sharper edge, struck a more positive note.36 Still suffering from the Great Depression, those in this New England crowd were presumably more enthusiastic about the president’s ability to save their homes and their livelihoods than his references to political abstractions or skillful use of tropes; there is no historical evidence that anyone in the New England crowds cried out as appreciatively for the president’s use of alliteration. This response suggests that Roosevelt’s rhetoric was not perceived in its day as a substitute for action or a limitation of his presidential leadership but rather as quite the opposite, as a catalyst for action that enhanced the president’s ability to govern. To be sure, Roosevelt’s rhetoric was certainly perceived by himself and the American people as being, well, rhetorical. FDR was conscious of his speeches’ political significance, and so were both his supporters and detractors.37 We are not

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suggesting, then, that the president and his audiences were naive about his strategic use of speech, nor are we backing away from the claim that FDR was an early master of the rhetorical presidency. Indeed, this study reveals that in some ways FDR was probably more talented and disciplined as a rhetorical president than we might have previously assumed. Instead, our position is that Roosevelt’s rhetorical presidency may be more complicated than some of his successors’. Specifically, FDR’s presidential speechmaking does not appear to be accompanied by the worrisome entailments discussed by the leading critics of the rhetorical presidency, and most important, it seems not to have eroded or even inhibited his leadership. To offer insight into how and why this could be so, let us turn to a more thorough discussion of this study’s findings.

A Quantitative Analysis of FDR as a Rhetorical President Many scholars have agreed with Hart, Tulis, and others that FDR was a rhetorical president. In his 1988 book Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Rhetorical Presidency, Halford Ryan defends this characterization by noting that “Roosevelt addressed the American people in order to persuade them to accept him and his political agenda from 1933 to 1945.” Analyzing some of FDR’s most memorable speeches, Ryan shows how the president “practiced the tenets of the rhetorical presidency and usually excelled in all of them.”38 There can be little doubt that Ryan and others are correct that Roosevelt’s case incorporates all three of the factors associated with the rise of the rhetorical presidency by Ceaser and colleagues: a particular doctrine of presidential leadership, reliance on the mass media, and the demands of the modern presidential campaign.39 Yet given the novelty of the doctrine and the technological limitations on media and campaign travel during Roosevelt’s day, some might assume that FDR was a less fervent or mobile rhetorical president than his successors would be. Our study suggests that this is not so. Roosevelt spoke more often and directly to more people than his historical circumstances would perhaps lead us to believe.




FDR delivered at least 662 public speeches and held 989 press conferences while in office. When compared to the comparable data Hart collected on Presidents Truman through Reagan, as figure 1 illustrates, these efforts make FDR one of the most rhetorically active presidents of the twentieth century. To be more precise, Roosevelt was in fact the most loquacious of this cohort group, with his combined total of speeches and press conferences amounting to 1,651. Ronald Reagan comes in second place with 1,637 and Lyndon Johnson third at 1,636.40 These figures may not be all that surprising given the length of FDR’s executive tenure. Nevertheless, Roosevelt’s totals can be considered high in light of the circumstances of his era, which include limited technology and travel options, as well as the facts of his personal health. If the mere frequency of speaking is problematic to those troubled by the rhetorical presidency, Roosevelt should be foremost among those indicted on such grounds. To be clear, almost 60 percent of FDR’s 1,651 rhetorical exchanges took place at press conferences and were therefore utterances that we did not code for this study. Owing to the technological limitations of the media in Roosevelt’s day, these interactions would not have been known to the American people in the same way

Figure 1 Presidential Speechmaking FDR–Reagan* 2000 1500 1000 500 0








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FDR’s total includes his 989 press conferences as well as his 662 publicized speeches. While FDR’s press conferences were not known to the public at the time, the press conferences were published later in Complete Presidential Press Conferences of Franklin D. Roosevelt (New York: DeCapo Press, 1972).

those of his successors’ would have been. Still, when we subtract the press conferences from FDR’s total, we are left with a minimum average of 55 speeches addressed directly to the American public per year. We believe that this amount is relatively high, especially when one considers the circumstances of FDR’s case. Speaking so often placed at last two major sets of demands on FDR: he had to prepare for the speeches, and he frequently had to leave Washington, D.C., to give them. President Roosevelt spent a great deal of time preparing for speeches. He typically reserved five or six nights a month to oversee their creation, according to Carol Gelderman, even during times of crisis. On these evenings, Gelderman explains, the president and his trusted advisers would follow a creative ritual: Roosevelt and his writers . . . gathered at 7:15 in the president’s study for drinks, which FDR mixed from a tray on his desk. Shoptalk was discouraged . . . [and] conversations usually consisted of gossip, funny stories, and reminiscences. At precisely 7:45, the men sat down to eat. . . . Dinner over, the president moved to a sofa near the fireplace and read aloud the most recent draft, while a secretary sat ready to take his dictated revisions and addenda. Together he and his writers tightened and simplified phraseology, eliminated sentences, paragraphs, and often whole pages, and dictated fresh passages to take their place. The president often drew material from his own speech file, a collection of miscellaneous items that he had been accumulating for many years. . . . After the president went to bed, [Samuel] Rosenman and Robert Sherwood and often Harry Hopkins, the speechwriting team during the 1940s, worked most of the night to produce another draft, which was placed on the president’s breakfast tray the next morning. . . . The process continued day and night until they agreed on a final reading copy.41 The amount of time FDR invested in each address would presumably vary according to its perceived importance, of course, but such long hours and the ritualized

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nature of this interaction show how eager the president was to remain as involved as possible in the crafting of his public messages. While Gelderman suggests that this involvement may have helped the president reform and refine policy, a second motive stems from FDR’s view of presidential rhetoric. In short, he saw public address as an important opportunity for the direct leadership of the American people. This view is underscored by Felix Frankfurter’s notion that FDR believed in giving the American people “a full dress exposition and analysis” of his ideas, policies, and programs.42 Such a belief is consistent with the doctrine of the rhetorical presidency, but FDR took this philosophy one step further, associating the political with the pedagogical. Referring to his speeches as “seminars” for his audiences, FDR “understood that great presidents must be great teachers,” according to Gelderman.43 As such, “Professor” Roosevelt was not content to let others write his lesson plan; there was simply too much new material to teach and too much at stake if the lessons remained unlearned. Giving an average of fifty-five speeches a year would also have been tiring for Roosevelt in the same ways that it would have been for anyone during his day who ventured very far from home as often as he did; almost 60 percent of his presidential speeches were given outside of Washington, D.C., as figure 2 indicates. This percentage seems especially high when one considers Hart’s finding that Presidents Truman through Reagan spoke outside of the Beltway only 30 percent of the time.44 The fact that Roosevelt’s successors had many more transportation options than he did makes such efforts seem even more remarkable. Most of FDR’s travel was conducted by train or automobile, and even though such outings were inevitably complicated, we have found that he spoke in all but five of the thenforty-eight states at least once during his executive tenure. (President Roosevelt never spoke in Arizona, Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire, or New Mexico.) Without the assurance of television crews or reliable radio transmitters to spread his remarks throughout the land, the president had to travel if he was going to speak directly to the American people, as he was so determined to do. A closer look at his speechmaking calendar makes his determination even more evident. Once FDR had arrived in a particular locale, for example, he usually gave several speeches during his visit and often made multiple addresses during the

Figure 2 Presidential Speechmaking Outside Washington D.C. FDR–Reagan 80 70


60 50 40 30 20 10 0 VA N E S S A B . B E A S L E Y A N D DEBORAH SMITH-HOWELL









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Figure 3 September–October, 1937 Tour Date



September 23

Informal Extemporaneous Remarks Informal Extemporaneous Remarks Informal Extemporaneous Remarks Informal Extemporaneous Remarks

Marshalltown, Iowa Clinton, Iowa Boone, Iowa Carroll, Iowa

September 24

Informal Extemporaneous Remarks Informal Extemporaneous Remarks Informal Extemporaneous Remarks Informal Extemporaneous Remarks

Cheyenne, Wyoming Wheatland, Wyoming Thermopolis, Wyoming Casper, Wyoming

September 26

Informal Extemporaneous Remarks

West Yellowstone, Montana

September 27

Informal Extemporaneous Remarks Informal Extemporaneous Remarks Informal Extemporaneous Remarks

Boise, Idaho Ontario, Oregon Baker, Oregon

September 28

Address Address

Bonneville Dam, Oregon Timberline Lodge

September 30

Informal Extemporaneous Remarks Informal Extemporaneous Remarks

Victoria, B.C. Home of Lieutenant-Governor Port Angeles, Washington

October 1

Informal Extemporaneous Remarks Informal Extemporaneous Remarks

Tacoma, Washington Everett, Washington

October 2

Informal Extemporaneous Remarks Informal Extemporaneous Remarks Informal Extemporaneous Remarks

Ephrata, Washington Spokane, Washington Grand Coulee Dam

October 3

Informal Extemporaneous Remarks Informal Extemporaneous Remarks

Havre, Montana Fort Peck, Montana

October 4

Informal Extemporaneous Remarks Address Informal Extemporaneous Remarks Informal Extemporaneous Remarks Address

Fargo, North Dakota Grand Forks, North Dakota Breckenridge, Minnesota Willmar, Minnesota St. Paul, Minnesota

October 5

Address Informal Extemporaneous Remarks

Chicago, Illinois Toledo, Ohio

same day. The itinerary of a typical speaking schedule during the fall of 1937 reveals just how relentless Roosevelt’s schedule could be during these tours. As figure 3 indicates, in less than two weeks, the president traveled to eleven states and a Canadian province in order to give thirty speeches. Our analysis also reveals that FDR tried to make sure that his local speeches were inviting to all comers. He primarily spoke to local audiences when traveling, giving 61 percent of his presidential address to such crowds and their press representatives in “open” situations. In other words, whoever wanted to listen to President Roosevelt typically could, without membership in a particular group or organization. Less than 8 percent of his presidential addresses were delivered in an organizational meeting, in which audience membership would have been limited, and virtually all of his political rallies were “open” rather than being restricted to party regulars or contributors.

FDR’S SPEECHMAKING AND L E A D E R S H I P, 1 9 3 3 – 1 9 4 5


Ensuring that as many citizens as possible could attend his addresses was important to Roosevelt for philosophical as well as more obviously political reasons. In a 1937 address to residents of Cheyenne, Wyoming, he suggested that frequent travel was essential to his executive leadership by noting that “I have thought it was part of the duty of the Presidency to keep in touch, personal touch, with the Nation.” Public speaking across the nation, FDR explained, also gave him the opportunity “to take a ‘look-see,’ to try to tie together in my own mind the problems of the Nation, in order that I may, at first hand, know as much about the questions that affect all the forty-eight states as possible.”45 James McGregor Burns has suggested the president also used his travel to circumvent the national press corps. During the summer and fall of 1937, for example, Roosevelt was frequently infuriated by coverage of his efforts. Burns reports that the president shared his frustrations and his strategy with his ambassador to Spain: “[A]ll of the fat cat newspapers—85 percent of the whole—have been utterly opposed to everything the administration is seeking, and the best way to describe the situation is that the campaign of the spring, summer, and autumn of 1936 is continuing actively throughout the year 1937.” In order to “detour around the reporters and their publishers . . . the President decided on a trip to the Northwest.” Burns writes: Late in September the long presidential special headed out of the Capital, rolled across the cornfields of the Midwest and through the long valleys of Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. It was like the election campaign all over again, as Roosevelt gave his chatty little homilies from the back platform, grasped the hands of local politicians, confabbed with governors and senators. The president told a Boise crowd that he felt like Antaeus— “I regain strength by just meeting the American people.”46 We will return to the topic of Roosevelt’s travel again in this chapter; for now, however, it is enough to understand that the president’s frequent local speeches occurred in spite of the long hours, strenuous work, and intricate arrangements such occasions required, and that FDR used his travel schedule to suit his political needs—a tendency common to rhetorical presidents, according to Hart. Still, when one considers how many other tasks and challenges faced this particular president and his aides throughout his tenure, one wonders how FDR found time to speak so often.




Roosevelt made time to speak, we have found, when it mattered most. That is, while FDR may have been more rhetorically active than we might have expected, he was far more strategic about when he spoke than the sheer frequency of his speeches alone might lead us to believe. As figure 4 reveals, FDR gave an overwhelming majority of his speeches during presidential and congressional election years, with 421, or almost two-thirds, of his total 662 speeches occurring then. At first glance, this increase in election-year speaking seems consistent with Hart’s finding that future presidents would similarly “increas[e] their rhetorical efforts across the board during elections.”47 Yet FDR seems to have devoted a greater proportion of his total rhetorical efforts to election-year speaking than most of his successors would, and this difference may have something to do with Roosevelt’s ability to conduct a “good” rhetorical presidency. According to Hart, although Presidents Truman through Reagan spoke more often during election years than during nonelection years, this increase appears “comparatively modest” in most cases. Dwight Eisenhower gave an average of 108

Figure 4 FDR’s Election Year Speaking

36% Election

64% Non-Elect

speeches per year during nonelection years, for example, and a little over 123 per year on average during election years, amounting to an average increase of only 15 speeches per year. Similarly, Richard Nixon was likely to give an average of only 21 additional speeches per year when an election was at stake. While other chief executives spoke noticeably more often during such times, only one president in this group approximates FDR’s increase during election years: Harry Truman, his onetime vice president and immediate successor, whose ratio of election-year to nonelection-year speaking is also approximately two to one.48 Hart suggests that the relatively small differences between most presidents’ speechmaking frequency in even or odd years reveals less about the demands of campaigns and more about those of the ubiquitous rhetorical presidency. “Yes, presidents speak more frequently during elections,” he writes, “but they also speak a good deal all the time, as if the American people voted each day . . . via the Roper and Gallup polls [and] through telegrams to their representatives to Congress,” for example.49 A rhetorical president is ostensibly accountable to voters all of the time, according to this argument, not just in the months preceding election day. This perceived accountability results in an overall increase in speechmaking, which is especially dangerous, in both Hart’s and Tulis’s opinions, when it manifests itself in increasingly epideictic and less deliberative discourse.50 FDR and Truman may have been less subject to this pressure due to the relative youth of the ubiquitous media; with fewer cameras and microphones following them around, these executives might have simply had less opportunity for nonelection-year “spinning” than their future brethren. Our investigation suggests an alternative or at least additional hypothesis in Roosevelt’s case, however; he may have purposefully limited his nonelection-year speechmaking. President Roosevelt was extremely sensitive to voters’ perceptions and could have taken advantage of the new opinion polls to speak to them whenever he thought it might be advantageous. The impulse to respond and adjust to such information may, in fact, be a driving force behind his numerous press conferences, as some observers have suggested. But as we have seen, FDR was far less likely to speak directly to the American people when there was no specific referendum on the line. Figure 5 breaks down his speechmaking by year and shows how great the contrast in its frequency was in election versus nonelection years. As seen in figure 5, the president’s top three years of speechmaking frequency coincide with (arguably) the three most important election years of his executive tenure: 1936, 1938, and 1940. Similarly, our accounting indicates that the total

FDR’S SPEECHMAKING AND L E A D E R S H I P, 1 9 3 3 – 1 9 4 5


Figure 5 FDR’s Speaking by Year


200 150 100 50 0 1933 1934 1935 1936 1937 1938 1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945



number of speeches given during these three years alone equals 47 percent, or almost half, of all of FDR’s presidential speechmaking and that the famously difficult year of 1936 alone accounts for 25 percent of all of FDR’s presidential speeches, with 167 out of the 662 occurring then. Roosevelt’s Herculean efforts during these times may not seem surprising. Faced with daunting threats from Republicans, the courts, and the much of the American business community in 1936, for example, FDR acted like a prototypical rhetorical president would, going directly to the American people to seek political support for the continuation of his New Deal programs. One interpretation of this habitual increase, then, is that it shows just how central public address was to Roosevelt’s incumbent campaign style. On the other hand, figure 5 also reveals some notable differences between election years and their intermittent counterparts. For instance, the contrast between the oratory-filled 1936 and its preceding year, when Roosevelt gave only 52 speeches, is stark. Even though the political challenges he would face during the 1936 election were brewing and in some cases were already imminent in 1935, the president did less than one-third of the amount of speaking then than he would the following year. Thus a second interpretation of figure 4 suggests that instead of behaving more like a rhetorical president when the challenges first arose— “grabbing at persuasive opportunities before others notice them, constructing the persuasive ground rules before . . . opponents have a chance to do so, injecting rhetorical solutions into situations that would have previously been dealt with privately”—Roosevelt waited to take his case to the American people until closer to election time.51 In sum, FDR may have been a more patient rhetorical president than subsequent executives have been, putting less effort into constantly ministering to his constituents’ whims and more into making sure his speaking stood out when he wanted it to matter most. Indeed, when FDR did speak to the American people, he appears to have been similarly disciplined about the nature of these interactions. In 1936, 1938, and 1940, as in all other presidential and congressional election years, Roosevelt used the bully pulpit in a systematic fashion, displaying the five habits shown in figure 6. As habitually as he clung to each of these habits during election years, Roosevelt abandoned them during the electoral off-season, creating a rhetorical cycle that tells us a great deal about how he used rhetoric throughout his presidency and how he differed from most of his successors. To get a fuller sense of this cycle, we discuss each of its five characteristics. First, Roosevelt spoke more often each day during election years. He delivered 58.5 percent of his election-year addresses on days when more than one speech was scheduled. (In contrast, Hart’s study reveals that Presidents Truman through

Figure 6 Characteristics of FDR’s Election Year Speaking ◆ Increased speaking per day—in election years, the majority of speeches delivered on days with multiple speeches (58.5%); in nonelection years, the majority of speeches are one per day (70.1%). ◆ Increased travel—in election years, over 68% of speeches given on the road; in nonelection years, over 45% of the speeches given outside of Washington, D.C. ◆ Voter-driven travel—More emphasis on most populous states: over 37% of speeches delivered in most populous states in election years compared to 17% in non-election years. More emphasis on dense/neutral states: 34% of speeches delivered in dense/neutral states in election years compared to almost 15% in non-elections years. ◆ Increased local audiences—over 70% of speeches in election years given to local/press audiences compared to just over 45% in non-election years. ◆ Government talk—in election years, government topic of almost 22% of speeches compared to only a little over 9% in non-election years.

Reagan, on average, displayed multiple speech activity only 44.95 percent of the time during election years.)52 During nonelection years, Roosevelt typically gave no more than one address per speaking day, speaking an average of 34.4 times a year. Presidents Truman through Reagan, on the other hand, spoke an average of 237.5 times a year during nonelection years.53 In general, then, President Roosevelt gave more multiple speeches per day during election years—an exhausting enterprise in 1935 or 1985—but was dramatically quieter than his successors during nonelection years. Similarly, FDR traveled more often for speeches during election years than in nonelection years. He was more likely to leave Washington, D.C., during these times, giving 68.2 percent of his election-year speeches on the road versus the 45.2 percent he would give there in nonelection years. By comparison, the presidents Hart studied left the nation’s capital an average of only 36.3 percent of the time during election years.54 Like his successors, Roosevelt did not wander aimlessly on these occasions; he was most likely to visit populous states and to spend more time in dense/neutral states during election years. This strategic travel, a third component of his electionyear modus operandi, is a trend that Hart’s research suggests most other modern chief executives have embraced. A campaigning rhetorical president is “a strategist above all else,” Hart writes, “one who knows that the Midwest may not have the physical endowments of the mountain states but that its many millions of inhabitants make campaign visits there rewarding nonetheless.”55 Accordingly, FDR did most of his election-year speaking in the populous Northeast (with 29.7 percent of his speeches occurring there versus only 10 percent during nonelection years) and the least amount in the West (with 6.4 percent of election-year speeches occurring there versus 10 percent during nonelection years). These choices differ only slightly from the successors studied by Hart, who were most likely to visit the Midwest and least likely, like FDR, to speak in the West.56 Roosevelt’s election-year speaking itineraries thus reflected population density, supporting Hart’s claim that the modern rhetorical presidency promotes “an almost perfect ‘democratization’ of rhetoric—one person, one vote, one speech.”57 By choosing to focus on dense/neutral states, the president could maximize the impact of his visit by addressing voters who were presumably less partisan than other citizens. Even his election-year political rallies were more likely to be “open” than partisan.

FDR’S SPEECHMAKING AND L E A D E R S H I P, 1 9 3 3 – 1 9 4 5


With this increased travel came a change in the types of people FDR talked to—the fourth important characteristic we found in his election-year speaking. Although he gave 45 percent of his addresses to local audiences and their press representatives during nonelection years, the president favored these types of audiences over 70 percent of the time when there was an upcoming political race at stake. FDR may have chosen to focus on smaller, more provincial audiences during election years because of his success with similar crowds during his prepresidential days.58 Likewise, he may have thought that being among the people would renew their confidence in his physical stamina. Or he may have favored a “divide and conquer” approach in order to diffuse and refute his public critics. Whatever his reasons, this preference seems to have foreshadowed the hurried campaign travel and attendant attempts to speak directly to voters that Hart reports among Roosevelt’s successors. More notable than FDR’s prescience, however, was his persistence: his efforts to reach such crowds are even more pronounced than those of his travel- and technology-assisted cohorts, who gave an average of 54.6 percent of their election-year addresses to local and/or press audiences.59 The fifth characteristic of Roosevelt’s election-year speaking is his preference for a specific topic. As much effort as FDR put into being seen on the campaign trail, an accomplishment that would help later rhetorical presidents even more by guaranteeing local television coverage, he also worked hard on what the voters would hear on these occasions. Figure 7 reveals that he talked about government far more often than other topics during election years. Over the course of his entire presidency, Roosevelt addressed the matter of government more than twice as often during election years as at other times; over 20 percent of his election-year speeches concerned governmental topics, while this focus accounted for only 9.1 percent of his speeches during nonelection years. Only two of his successors through Reagan would speak about governmental topics more often during elections than FDR did, according to Hart’s analysis.60 These two leaders, Truman and Ford, presumably had to adopt such a strategy to legitimize their administrations, as both initially inherited the presidency rather than winning it as the result of a traditional campaign. In addition, the fact that other modern presidents have spoken less about such topics during election years than FDR did suggests that even when they are trying their hardest to sound presidential, such rhetors have increasingly spoken of nongovernmental matters.61

Figure 7 Percent of Speeches with Government as Primary Topic Election Years vs. Non-Election Years

30% Election



These five patterns—increased speaking, increased travel, more strategic travel, increased attention to local audiences, and an increased focus on governmental topics—hold true in all four of Roosevelt’s presidential campaign years as well as in those with congressional races. These findings support the conventional view of Roosevelt as a tireless and efficient campaigner, and they provide empirical evidence of just how habitual his campaign style was. They also shed light on FDR’s rhetorical habits during the political off-season, when he presumably gave fewer speeches per day; traveled less; spoke more often to audiences in Washington, D.C.; and was more likely to speak on a wider range of topics. Perhaps more important, the comparisons discussed here show that although FDR was more likely to speak more often during election years than Presidents Truman through Reagan, he spoke far less often than these presidents during nonelection years, showing rhetorical restraint not displayed by most other modern chief executives. Overall, both of these sets of differences—those within Roosevelt’s presidency as well as those between FDR and his successors—suggest that Roosevelt was in more control of his rhetorical presidency than it was in control of him, the plight that Hart, Ceaser and colleagues, Tulis, and others have feared has befallen other modern chief executives. If President Roosevelt designed his speaking calendar around electoral deadlines, there was at least one other cycle that influenced his efforts as well. In both election and nonelection years, Roosevelt was far more likely to speak during the fall months than during any other season. Over 27 percent of his presidential speeches occurred in October, for example, with the next highest frequencies taking place in September and November, with 12.1 percent and 12.8 percent, respectively. Hart’s study suggests that most modern presidents similarly do most of their speaking in the fall.62 This preference is especially striking for Roosevelt, however; as figure 8 illustrates, over half of his total presidential speeches occurred during this season. Fall speaking is easily explained during election years, as all politicians might be expected to speak most often in the weeks leading up to November at these times. This increase might be especially apparent during presidential election years, whose “regular periodicity . . . gives campaigns a tidal aura” with both ebb and flow revolving around election day, according to Edwin Black.63 Franklin Roosevelt

Figure 8 Seasons and FDR’s Speaking 400





0 Winter




L E A D E R S H I P, 1 9 3 3 – 1 9 4 5


Figure 9 Percent of Annual Speaking in Fall




0 1933 1934 1935 1936 1937 1938 1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944



certainly sought to ride this wave, as our previous finding might lead one to suspect. In fact, our analysis suggests that all of FDR’s general election-year rhetorical tendencies were dramatically exaggerated during the fall months of these years.64 Yet FDR spoke more often during these months in nonelection years, too, even when there was no election at stake. In fact, as figure 9 indicates, one of the top three years in which Roosevelt’s fall speaking most dramatically exceeded other seasons’ was not an election year at all. How might we explain this preference? If “political experience is seasonal and cyclical,” as Black has suggested, it could be that Roosevelt’s years of experience compelled him to act on the same impulses every fall, when FDR might have simply gone into rhetorical high gear out of habit alone. Our previous discussion of Roosevelt’s capacity for rhetorical restraint during nonelection years suggests an alternative interpretation, however; his preference for fall speaking might also reveal a more strategic approach to the rhetorical presidency. If voters and the media are accustomed to hearing political messages every other fall, why not take advantage of this cycle and campaign for one’s ideas— albeit in a disciplined, systematic fashion—even when no specific referendum is at hand? As we have already discussed, President Roosevelt fancied himself as something of an educator when speaking to the American people. It may be that, like a schoolteacher, the president put his best foot forward each fall, offering the American people the most information about his programs as well as the most access to himself (and his ideas) through increased speaking and travel in September and October. According to Black, “the seekers of power live out their spasmodic careers, timing things, always timing things in the hope that their transitory apogees occur at the moment of public choice.”65 Franklin Roosevelt might have understood that the American people make choices not only on one day in the fall of even-numbered years but also during the rest of their lives. For FDR, fall was not only “electing time,” to use Black’s phrase, but the most rhetorically important “governing time” as well—the season when the president put the most effort into speaking to and being seen by the American people, while remaining relatively silent the rest of the year. In general, our quantitative analysis of when and how often FDR spoke reveals that the thirty-second president was a savvy and tireless rhetorical creature. The marked increase in Roosevelt’s strategic communication directly to the American people during election years confirms his status as a rhetorical president, especially in the model established by Hart’s The Sound of Leadership, in which presidential speechmaking is viewed as increasingly voter-driven. In these moments, FDR’s oratorical efforts are consistent with the definition of the rhetorical presidency

described by Ceaser and colleagues, in which chief executives use “popular or mass rhetoric . . . as one of their principal tools in attempting to govern the nation.”66 Our quantitative analysis also reveals, however, that FDR might have been concerned that presidential rhetoric could be both a “principal tool” and a doubleedged sword—that the more a president speaks, the less his words may matter. FDR’s election-year speechmaking is noteworthy not only for the ways in which it foreshadows the rhetorical presidency but also for the contrast it invites between FDR’s more quiet moments in nonelection years and the seemingly nondiscriminatory, nonstop banter of his successors. In short, FDR’s comparatively restrained approach to the bully pulpit at these times may have helped his words matter more at other times. As Ceaser and colleagues have noted, “one of the great ironies of the modern presidency is that as the President relies more on rhetoric to govern, he finds it more difficult to deliver a truly important speech, one that will stand by itself and continue to shape events.”67 An alternative approach is Milkis’s contention that FDR did not contribute much to the “rhetorical” presidency because “FDR’s leadership of public opinion was intentionally restrained.”68 Our qualitative analysis of FDR’s four-term speaking calendar suggests that he may have observed periodic silences that made his eloquence much more noticeable. From the comprehensive quantitative analysis and the focused qualitative analysis, it is clear that FDR exemplifies a presidency that is rhetorical and provides leadership.

BALANCING THE RHETORICAL PRESIDENCY FDR’s eloquence was noticeable, of course. Some observers might conclude that his many memorable turns-of-phrase alone made him a rhetorical president.69 To see what Roosevelt spoke about at other times and to look for patterns throughout his presidential speechmaking, we also analyzed his 662 speeches for their thematic focus. We included this type of analysis in this study because what rhetorical presidents say has implications for their leadership, according to leading critics of the rhetorical presidency. Ceaser and colleagues worry that the rhetorical presidency weakens executive leadership because it encourages presidents to “minister to the moods and emotions of the populace” rather than following a more deliberative, executive-style course.70 “The rhetorical presidency is more deleterious than beneficial to American politics because the rhetorical presidency is not just the use of popular leadership, but rather the routine appeal to public opinion,” Tulis writes.71 In this view, rhetorical presidents do not lead “the people” as much as “the people” lead rhetorical presidents. Hart’s analysis of the speechmaking of Presidents Truman through Reagan supports such concerns. Although the notion that democratic leaders would be responsive to the needs of their constituents does not seem troublesome in theory, Hart fears that “a rhetorically minded president [will give] less scrutiny to the conceptual heft of [his] ideas . . . and more to who will buy what he has to sell.”72 President Roosevelt would seem especially vulnerable to this criticism. He had a lot to sell from 1933 to 1945. He had to create solutions for the American people’s problems, for which he convened brain trusts of academics and other advisers, and he had to offer solutions that his already overwhelmed and frightened constituents could appreciate.73 In short, he had to make “revolutionary ideas feel familiar,” as Carol Gelderman has written, and for most of his presidency, he had a new tool to help him do so: public opinion polls.74 Although public opinion polls are particularly troublesome to critics of the rhetorical presidency, they were particularly useful to Roosevelt, even in their infancy.75 Most of his biographers and historians agree that the president “regularly” consulted Elmo Roper’s survey results and George Gallup’s public opinion polls.

FDR’S SPEECHMAKING AND L E A D E R S H I P, 1 9 3 3 – 1 9 4 5


There is considerably less consensus about what Roosevelt did with this information. James MacGregor Burns recounts that an exasperated Harry Hopkins once complained that the president would “rather follow public opinion than lead it.” Winston Churchill may have concurred. Without mentioning Roosevelt’s name outright, he cryptically commented in 1941 that “nothing is more dangerous in wartime than to live in the temperamental atmosphere of a Gallup poll, always feeling one’s pulse and taking one’s temperature. . . . There is only one duty, one safe course, and that is to try to be right and not to fear to do or say what you believe to be right.”76 Other contemporaries of the president’s thought that he did opt for this “safe course,” using the polls to adjust how he spoke of his plans rather than altering the plans themselves. Hadley Cantril, founder of Princeton University’s Office of Opinion Research who occasionally spoke with FDR about such matters, maintained that the president did not let the data dictate his policy decisions. According to Cantril, he never “change[d] his mind . . . because of what any survey showed. But he did base his strategy a great deal on these results.”77 Carol Gelderman reaches a similar conclusion. “Roosevelt expended so much energy in discerning the public’s opinion of certain issues . . . not to figure out which way to veer,” she writes, “but to discover how much and what kind of persuasion was needed to bring people along.”78 Although we will never know the exact nature of the polls’ influence on Roosevelt, we know that he put great stock in them as a means of audience analysis, a tendency that seems consistent with his other fine-tuned oratorical instincts. The Roosevelt case may thus shed light on how a rhetorical president can remain true to both his ideas and his audiences, paying attention to both what he had to sell and who was buying, to use Hart’s metaphors. In this way, rhetorical presidents can serve two theoretically antagonistic masters, at least in the model espoused by Ceaser and colleagues, in which presidents seem to have to follow either principles or public opinion. Gelderman has argued that FDR remained true to both principles and public opinion by using his speeches to enact the “point by point navigation” of his ideas through voters’ minds. Public opinion data helped FDR “determine what to emphasize, which illustrations to use to clothe the unorthodox in the garb of the familiar, what argument to employ to banish fear and rally the nation,” she explains.79 Our analysis supports Gelderman’s but also suggests that Roosevelt may have navigated these difficult waters in ways far more subtle than her “trope-totrope” description would imply.




If it were possible to listen to an audiotape of FDR delivering all of his 662 presidential messages back-to-back, one would hear the president’s oft-imitated patrician stylings and his slow, deliberate pace.80 Listening more carefully, however, one might also hear tension, an audible struggle between two distinct voices battling for control of the president’s words. At some times, Roosevelt might sound solicitous, full of concern for people and their ideals, values, and experiences; in this voice Roosevelt might tell listeners that he could “feel their pain,” to borrow from a more recent president’s lexicon. At others, the president would sound far less engaging and far more pragmatic; this voice would convey an administrator’s frustrated eagerness to implement solutions rather than discuss them. When compared to each other, these two voices might express conflicting impulses: one patient, the other busy; one paternal, the other officious. And because of their apparently

contradictory nature, these voices might be expected to be in external competition with each other; sometimes Roosevelt might sound like a caregiver and, at others, a bureaucrat. It might not be surprising to hear a president of the United States take on two such different rhetorical personae. The voices in FDR’s speeches are consistent with the thematic patterns Hart found within all modern chief executives’ rhetoric in The Sound of Leadership. There Hart reported on two overarching themes in presidential discourse, and he associated each with its typical topical foci to illustrate their contrast. Hart classified humanistic themes as those addressing “patriotic values, moral or spiritual attitudes towards problems of the day” and systemic ones as dealing with “legal or technological solutions to human problems.”81 In our reading of Hart’s categories, the most important distinction between them is implied agency. We take humanistic themes to be those emphasizing the idea that people solve their own problems, perhaps through reconsidering their own opinions or rededicating themselves to historic values and/or ideals, for example. Systemic appeals, on the other hand, usually overlook individual or collective agency to emphasize institutional efforts and/or material answers. From this perspective, new attitudes do not solve problems; new technologies do. How do presidents decide which theme to use? One might suppose that, given Hart’s conclusion that the rhetorical presidents sound more like friends than leaders, they would be more likely to use the more interpersonally inviting humanistic themes. Hart’s analysis suggests that political realities drive them into the exact opposite direction, at least during election years. His comparison of Presidents Truman through Reagan reveals that presidents rely significantly more heavily on systemic speaking during election campaigns, when it is presumably advantageous to stress more pragmatic, de-individuated solutions to problems so as not to offend voter’s diverse—and more deeply held—habits of the heart.82 Lyndon Johnson, for example, spoke on humanistic topics far more than most other modern presidents have, Hart found. But during the 1964 campaign, LBJ was much more likely to speak about the gross national product than social programs because he needed to emphasize citizens’ shared material concerns rather than emphasize their fractured social ones. Likewise, Ronald Reagan “largely ignored” the salient humanistic themes implicit in the Republican Party’s ultraconservative platform in the 1980s in order to discuss the more “bottom-line” oriented details of his fiscal policies, according to Hart.83 Given the wildly divergent directions of the two men’s social policies, one can infer that it is the humanistic impulse, with its potential for provoking wildly divergent values, attitudes, passions, and beliefs, rather than any specific ideological leanings per se that presidents (or would-be presidents) have learned to avoid when selling themselves and their ideas. One might suppose that FDR, perhaps keenly aware of his constituents’ differences via their responses to opinion polls, would have also spoken on systemic matters in order to avoid more divisive matters. This would be especially likely if he increased systemic speaking when campaigning on the road, as Hart has reported his successors would do dramatically.84 Given our findings about how often FDR spoke to local audiences, one might suspect that his systemic scores were high. In addition, one might also suppose that FDR spoke on systemic matters frequently simply because of the technical types of things he was presumably talking about: his New Deal programs, whether in their original or revised iterations, with their implicit bureaucratic and institutional answers to the American people’s problems. Our study shows, however, that FDR struck a fairly predictable balance between systemic and humanistic topics, a feat that simultaneously makes him appear similar to subsequent rhetorical presidents but might also explain how he might have been different from them. Let us address the similarities first. As figure

FDR’S SPEECHMAKING AND L E A D E R S H I P, 1 9 3 3 – 1 9 4 5


Figure 10 FDR’s Topical Focus1

56% Not Coded

25% Systemic 19% Humanist


Speeches not coded for general topic include speeches with a multiple topic focus, international topics, and those speeches without a text available in Public Papers of . . .

10 indicates, the percentages of FDR’s total speeches that were dedicated to either systemic or humanistic matters seem roughly in line with those of other chief executives. Approximately one-quarter of all of FDR’s speeches were systemic, and almost one-fifth were humanistic, resulting in numbers that appear to be fairly consistent with those from Presidents Truman through Reagan. We have also found that, like his successors, FDR was most likely to address systemic matters during election years.85 Judging from these statistics alone, then, it appears that the engineer of the New Deal and its attendant federal bureaucracy often reveled in the type of technocratic talk one would expect from an engineer, especially when he was on the campaign trail. Figure 11 also tells another story, however. Readers may notice that none of the presidents’ combined percentages add up to 100 percent. Hart used a third category in his analysis, as we have here, for speeches that could not be reliably coded as predominantly systemic or humanistic.86 After reading all 662 of FDR’s speeches, we concluded that this third category was important in his case, as much of the time Roosevelt seemed reluctant to embrace solely systemic or humanistic themes alone, as figure 10 suggests.

Figure 11 FDR through Reagan Topical Focus President



FDR Truman Eisenhower Kennedy Johnson Nixon Ford Carter Reagan

Percent of Speeches with Systemic Focus

Percent of Speeches with Humanistic Focus

25.4 29.86 18.58 22.64 25.01 21.08 26.49 31.78 35.83

19.3 16.22 19.0 20.70 28.77 19.13 16.67 18.79 20.24

In reading the “not coded” speeches, we were struck by how often Roosevelt used both humanistic and systemic themes in the same speech. Not having read all of the other presidents’ uncoded speeches, we cannot compare them to Roosevelt’s, of course. Still, we suspect that FDR’s ability to speak about systemic and humanistic matters simultaneously might have contributed to his success as a rhetorical president.

BLENDED THEMES IN FDR’S 1934 NEW DEAL RHETORIC Our critical analysis reveals that Roosevelt frequently humanized systemic topics while also systematizing human ones. When talking to corporate leaders about new industry regulations, for example, FDR might discuss how such utterly lifeless measures were necessary to reinvigorate American democracy. On the other hand, when talking to impoverished farmers about their troubles, the president might gently explain how a new technology or administrative bureau could relieve some of their all-too-human suffering. Over and over again, patiently and purposefully, President Roosevelt would find a way of using both voices at the same time, telling the American people about the symbiotic relationship between their lives and their nation’s institutions. This strategy was a smart way to sell his programs to the American people, and it might have helped him avoid the dangers of the rhetorical presidency as well. How and why this might have been so are especially apparent in speeches FDR gave in 1934, when the president’s “honeymoon” period had ended as his programs met with increasing criticism. At times FDR defended the New Deal by humanizing its systemic nature and, more specifically, by personalizing the massive bureaucratic infrastructure necessary for its initiatives. When he had an opportunity to report to Congress on his first year’s efforts in 1934, the president chose to speak of the crucial need for a wholly new system. The nation needed a “new structure,” the president said, one “designed better to meet the present problems of modern civilization. Such a structure includes not only the relations of industry and agriculture and finance to each other but also the effect which all of these three have on our individual citizens and on the whole people as a nation.”87 Here FDR sounds as systemic as any New Deal Democrat could; a new structure, not new attitudes, could rejuvenate American citizens and their productivity. Minutes later in the same speech, however, when Roosevelt reassured members of Congress of their constituents’ support for his plans, he suggested that the most important ingredient for success of this new structure was a new attitude or, more specifically, the return to an old one: “Without regard to party, the overwhelming majority of our people seek a greater opportunity for humanity to prosper and find happiness. They recognize human welfare has not increased and does not increase through mere materialism and luxury, but that it does progress through integrity, unselfishness, responsibility, and justice.”88 FDR’s recipe for recovery was thus twofold: the nation needed a new system as well as a new way of thinking, a conscious turning away from the avarice of a previous era. In this speech the president discussed both institutional and individual elements as being equally important to the New Deal, and he took care never to speak about one at the expense of the other. Indeed, for all of the systemic, policy-oriented details crammed into this address—including foreign exchange rates, federal banking insurance, unemployment, labor relations, farm prices, the Tennessee Valley Authority, illegal alcohol sales, and organized crime—the president ultimately returned to the subject of “American habits” to justify his new program:

FDR’S SPEECHMAKING AND L E A D E R S H I P, 1 9 3 3 – 1 9 4 5


It is to the eternal credit of the American people that this tremendous readjustment of our national life is being accomplished peacefully, without serious dislocation, with only a minimum of injustice and with a great, willing spirit of cooperation throughout the country. Disorder is not an American habit. Selfhelp and self-control are the essence of the American tradition—not of necessity the form of that tradition, but its spirit. The program itself comes from the American people. It is an integrated program, national in scope. Viewed in the large, it is designed to save from destruction and to keep for the future the genuinely important values created by modern society.89 In his first annual message to Congress, then, Roosevelt repeatedly associated the New Deal with the wants and needs of the American people. Here the New Deal is portrayed as being something far greater than merely a new layer of bureaucracy within the federal government: it is, instead, the guarantor of “genuinely important values.” The American people could certainly be expected to support such a program, if only because the most radical changes ever administered through U.S. institutions were ultimately nothing more than an extension of their “spirit.” In this speech, as in much of his New Deal rhetoric, FDR cloaked one of the most intricate and innovative policy changes in U.S. history in the transcendent rhetoric of its people’s values. This strategy allowed the president to usher in radical change without sounding radical—to go forward by making it sound as if he were actually reaching backward into a collective past. Roosevelt did not reserve this strategy for congressional audiences alone. Some of the best examples of his blending of these themes appeared in local addresses and extemporaneous remarks. Visiting the Subsistence Homes Exhibition on 24 April 1934, FDR linked agricultural planning and forestry, scientific topics that might be considered dry and technical, to the higher fulfillment of “human and social needs” of the “little pockets of humanity” found in “every state of the Union” where “the people come from good, sound stock, but had never had the opportunity of making good.”90 Likewise, when viewing many of the construction projects initiated under the New Deal, occasions that might strike most rhetors as classic moments for systemic themes lionizing technology or economic assistance from the government, the president took care to cast their advantages in human terms. Similarly, while visiting Oregon’s Bonneville Dam in August 1934, Roosevelt spoke knowledgeably of the edifice’s benefits to the local economy and transportation systems, comparing them to those of the Hudson River near his New York home. Yet suddenly the president became less of a civil engineer and more of a philosopher, quickly transforming the construction site into a metaphor for the futures of a forward-thinking American people: Out here you have not just space, you have space that can be used by human beings. You have a wonderful land—a land of opportunity—a land already peopled by Americans—who know whither America is bound. You have people who are thinking about advantages for mankind, good education, and above all, the chance for security, the chance to lead their own lives without wondering what is going to happen to them tomorrow.91



This latter “chance,” of course, provided FDR himself with an excellent opportunity to discuss one of his own programs. “They are thinking about security for old age,” the president continued, “security against the ills and the accidents that come to people, and, above all, security to earn their own living.”92 With this entree into a discussion of social security, the president began to expand on the second combination of his blended themes: the offering of systemic solutions to human needs. In general, FDR approached this task by suggesting that the federal government should be the custodian of the American people’s

individual concerns. Roosevelt argued that a centralized institutional (that is, governmental) effort could more effectively address human needs than people could by themselves. Indeed, in many of his local addresses, Roosevelt used this strategy to lay the groundwork for a then-revolutionary idea essential to the success of his New Deal programs: that individual and local concerns were also national ones. When systematizing humanistic matters, FDR typically spoke first about human problems, stressing his understanding that in times of crises, people tended to focus on themselves. He acknowledged this tendency before an American University audience in 1934: In cities and hamlets and on farms, men and women in their daily contacts are discussing, as never before except in time of war, the methods by which community and national problems are ordered. In the broader problem of government of all kinds, local and State and Federal and international, we in this country today are thinking not merely in terms of the moment, but in terms that apply to the rest of our lives and the lives of our children.93 When people come together in their everyday lives to discuss their “community and national problems,” FDR observes, they think about their own needs “in terms that apply to the rest of our lives and the lives of our children.” Instead of telling his audience that such a local focus is selfish or inappropriate during a time of national crisis, the president capitalizes on it: Because the American people are caught up in their own problems, they need an external, less emotional body to address larger concerns. Roosevelt explains: It would have been possible for all of us to have sought only a temporary cure for the immediate illness of the nation. We can be thankful that we have studied and are engaged in the process of eradicating the deeper causes of that illness and of many other illnesses in the body politic. . . . We need disinterested, as well as broad-gauged, public officials. This part of our problem we have not yet solved, but it can be solved and it can be accomplished without the creation of a national bureaucracy which would dominate the national life of our governmental system.94 “Disinterested,” “broad-gauged” thinking is necessary to solve national problems, according to the president, who only moments earlier in the same speech was trying to convince his audience of his awareness of their deeply interested frames of mind. Here the New Deal (“the creation of a national bureaucracy”) is offered as a systemic, institutional means to allow people to focus on their individual human problems. The nation’s crises have resulted in heightened self-interest, according to this argument, and this focus itself has in turn led to a need for “disinterest” and long-term thinking at the national level. FDR combined humanistic and systemic themes at other times during his presidency, to be sure.95 We offer these from 1934 as one set of examples of the sustained efforts the president put into balancing this combination. In these moments, Roosevelt asked the American people to look both within and outside of themselves for solutions and to trust both their hearts and their government for answers. The president’s repeated combination of humanistic and systemic themes might have done more than just help him win support for his programs, however. While other critics have noticed Roosevelt’s tendency to balance competing themes in his discourse for a variety of reasons,96 the blending studied here might have also helped him avoid some of the dangers of the rhetorical presidency. As the architect of the New Deal and its daunting bureaucratic infrastructure, FDR never forgot that he had to sell these new systems to people. But he was also unwilling to let

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the fears of his constituents set the tone for the nation’s recovery or ruin the success of his initiatives. He therefore had to humanize the New Deal enough for people to see its benefits and relevance to their everyday lives, while also systematizing it enough to render his programs less vulnerable to the more quotidian political challenges. Taken together, systemic and humanistic themes might have served as safeguards upon each other in FDR’s rhetoric, enabling the president to speak directly to the American people’s interests without letting his speechmaking minister too much to their fears or itself impinge too greatly on his own ideas. FDR’s strategic and disciplined combination of these themes might have thus enabled him to navigate the tricky waters of the rhetorical presidency. If he had spoken too often of humanistic themes alone, for example, FDR might have fallen into the traps bemoaned by Ceaser and colleagues, Hart, and others: his words, while plentiful, might have lost their meaning and his programs, their punch. If, on the other hand, he had spoken too often of systemic themes alone, his programs might not have been as politically viable. Republican and other opponents might have been able to argue more successfully that the “Roosevelt Revolution” was actually a Democratic Party effort to steal power away from the American people and into the hands of “Big Government.” In short, blending humanistic and systemic themes helped FDR appear responsive to the American people without overadjusting his programs in reaction to their moods. Roosevelt’s consistent and seemingly disciplined use of this type of thematically balanced rhetoric may have saved him from the dangers of the rhetorical presidency. We might never have seen this irony, however, if we had not paid very close attention to what Roosevelt said in addition to when, to whom, and how often he spoke. The FDR case suggests that indictments of the rhetorical presidency that focus too heavily on logistical particulars alone may do so at the peril of a fuller understanding of this same phenomenon. Knowing when Roosevelt spoke, and when he did not, can shed new light on his relative successes in the bully pulpit, as we have discussed. Knowing more about what he said on these occasions may help us learn more about how rhetoric can enhance democratic leadership rather than necessarily sabotaging it.

An Eloquent Rhetorical President In his classic work Leadership, James MacGregor Burns defined his central concept: I define leadership as leaders inducing followers to act for certain goals that represent the values and motivations—the wants and needs, the aspirations and expectations—of both leaders and followers. And the genius of leadership lies in the manner in which leaders see and act on their own and their followers’ values and motivations.97



It is fitting that such a definition would come from one of the foremost biographers of Franklin Roosevelt. Throughout his presidency FDR repeatedly asked the American people to act for certain goals, and he used rhetoric masterfully to explain his requests and how they corresponded with the “wants and needs, aspirations and expectations” of his constituents. These same practices might have qualified him for the less praiseworthy title of a rhetorical president, at least according to some definitions of this concept. As we have seen here, Roosevelt spoke often—more often, in more places, and to more people than we might have supposed. He also spoke strategically, frequently letting voter density and other electoral considerations drive his speechmaking. Likewise,

he spoke more about systems and structures and less about values and beliefs when a presidential election was drawing near. In these ways, FDR resembled those who would walk—and talk—in his shadow. In other ways he did not, however. He spoke far less often in nonelection years than his successors and preferred to do most of his speaking in the fall every year. These preferences resulted in regular presidential silences, a rhetorical stillness not seen or heard since FDR’s time. In addition, Roosevelt appears to have repeatedly balanced his use of systemic and humanistic themes, resulting in a message that neither pandered to nor neglected the American people. Perhaps it is this combination of characteristics, knowing when and how to use rhetoric judiciously rather than merely strategically, that suggests that FDR was no ordinary rhetorical president. As Martin J. Medhurst has written, “[t]he art of rhetoric lies not in whether or not persuasion actually happens, but in the intellectual powers displayed by the rhetorician,” especially with regard to the choices he or she makes about when and how to use speech.98 In this sense, FDR’s rhetorical leadership seems particularly artful and may in fact approximate the standard Hart sought for presidential eloquence in The Sound of Leadership. Calling eloquence “more than communication,” Hart has defined it as “communication that reaches deep into the emotional sinews of voters and motivates them to be grander than they are by nature. Eloquence is a blending of the practical with the imaginative so that the old thoughts are given fresh life and so that new truths can be passionately embraced.”99 It may be, then, that Roosevelt escaped some of the pitfalls of the rhetorical presidency simply by being eloquent. More than most politicians, perhaps, FDR was always mindful of the practical, the pragmatic need for votes every other fall and the equally basic but never-ending requirement for popular support, especially after the advent of public opinions polls. Such considerations have not gone away and, as Hart’s study shows, have weighed increasingly heavily on the minds of some of the nation’s subsequent chief executives. Yet our comparison of Roosevelt’s speaking habits with those of the presidents studied by Hart suggests that many of the presidents who have followed FDR may have been less capable of tempering their practicality with imagination in the same way that FDR did. Relative to FDR, at least, they seem to have found it more difficult to imagine and practice silence, for example, just as they seem to have had trouble finding new ways of talking to the American people. As Hart has noted, “[i]t is more than a bit ironic that an era that has made public discussion so technologically feasible has also produced so little of communicative excellence. Presidents are now inundated by their rhetorical duties, but they all too often shrink from rhetoric that challenges or stimulates or questions or educates.”100 Critics may scoff at FDR’s view of the executive office as a place of “moral leadership,” but so thinking of his duties may have kept Roosevelt from “shrinking” from the nobler and more necessary rhetorical objectives of challenging, stimulating, questioning, and educating the American people. Specifically, this view may have helped him approach his job pedagogically, imagining himself as teaching the American public rather than manipulating or even simply responding to its self-reported needs. If the presidency has “always been a place for rhetorical leadership,” as David Zarefsky has argued, here we have seen both the unique and notso-unique aspects of FDR’s rhetorical leadership.101 Roosevelt’s executive successors may face more daunting challenges from the ever-evolving media and perhaps even from their constituents, and one wonders if it would even be possible for a president to follow Roosevelt’s relatively consistent patterns of speechmaking and silence. Nevertheless, FDR’s ability to exercise rhetorical leadership without falling into the pitfalls of the “rhetorical presidency” deemed objectionable by its some of its critics does seem rather extraordinary today as it was in his own time.

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1. David Burner, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Eugene D. Genovese, and Forrest McDonald, An American Portrait, 2nd ed. (New York: Scribner and Sons, 1985), 2:635. 2. William E. Leuchtenburg, In the Shadow of FDR: From Harry Truman to Bill Clinton (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993), 1. 3. Ibid., 251. 4. Erwin C. Hargrove, The President as Leader: Appealing to the Better Angels of Our Nature (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998), 165. 5. Burner et al., American Portrait, 628. 6. The view that FDR’s legislative success resulted from his freedom from strict political philosophies has been associated with Arthur Schlesinger’s The Politics of Hope (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1963). 7. Frank Friedel, “Election of 1932,” in History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–1968, ed. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and Fred L. Israel (New York: Chelsea House, 1971), 3:2733. 8. As Doris Kearns Goodwin recounts the story, when Eleanor Roosevelt addressed the delegates at the Democratic National Convention in 1940, she told them that the escalating military tensions in Europe meant that her husband would not be able to devote much time to the upcoming presidential campaign. “This is no ordinary time,” she explained, “no time for weighing anything except what can we do best for the country as a whole.” The delegates would surely understand, she continued, if they saw and heard far less of her husband than usual in the coming months. See Doris Kearns Goodwin, No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994), 133. 9. We are defining this term as James W. Ceaser, Glen E. Thurow, Jeffrey Tulis, and Joseph Bessette first did in “The Rise of the Rhetorical Presidency,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 11 (1981): 158–71. That is, a rhetorical president is one who uses “popular or mass rhetoric” as “one of [his] principal tools in attempting to govern the nation” (159). 10. Roderick P. Hart, The Sound of Leadership: Presidential Communication in the Modern Age (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 14, 39. 11. The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt (New York: Random House, 1938) (hereafter cited as PPAFDR). 12. As most students of FDR know, the president himself wrote most of the introductions and explanatory notes included in the first nine volumes, with his longtime aide Samuel Rosenman compiling the final four volumes as well as providing the explanatory and editorial comments therein. 13. The notes within The Public Papers typically provided an excellent starting point, as they reveal information about the date, location, audience, and setting of these speeches, for example. Thus on the occasions that we could not locate the actual text of an address, we still entered the speech in our database based on this information alone. There were, however, a few speeches for which we could not locate even this most basic contextual information. These addresses occurred during the war years of 1941–45, when the president’s movements and speaking schedule were not published due to wartime security measures. Most of these addresses appear to have taken place at U.S. military bases during various presidential tours and were thus less likely to have been available in any form to the American public at large. 14. Betty Houchin Winfield, FDR and the News Media (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990). See also B. H. Winfield, “Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Efforts to Influence the News during his First Term Press Conferences,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 11, no. 2 (1981): 189–99. 15. Jonathan Daniels, “Introduction,” in Complete Presidential Press Conferences of Franklin D. Roosevelt, ed. Franklin D. Roosevelt (New York: Da Capo Press, 1972). 16. As a reference point, compare the number of press conferences Roosevelt gave with his number of public speeches. Overall, he chose to speak to the press more often than to the American people, with his total number of presidential press conferences (989) representing an almost 30 percent increase over his total number of published

17. 18. 19. 20.

21. 22. 23. 24.



27. 28.

29. 30. 31. 32.

33. 34. 35. 36. 37.

speeches (662). For instance, 1936 was the only year that his public addresses (167) totaled more than his press conferences (70). In other years, he was at least twice as likely to speak to the press as to address a public audience (e.g., 1933: 82 press conferences, 40 speeches; and 1939: 97 press conferences, 34 speeches). Hart, Sound of Leadership, 215–45. As Hart did, we relied upon the information provided in PPAFDR to determine most of this data. Consistent with Hart, we coded only domestic speeches for general topic. Additionally, we did not code speeches with multiple topics for this characteristic. Coding on measures 13 through 16 was done only on domestic speeches given outside of Washington, D.C., following the procedure established in The Sound of Leadership. Hart, Sound of Leadership, 217–18. Mark J. Rozell and William D. Pederson, FDR and the Modern Presidency: Leadership and Legacy (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1997), 5. James R. Andrews, The Practice of Rhetorical Criticism (New York: Macmillan, 1983), 11. Thomas W. Benson, “FDR at Gettysburg: The New Deal and the Rhetoric of Presidential Leadership,” in The Presidency and Rhetorical Leadership, ed. Leroy G. Dorsey (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2002), 145–83. See, for example, Robert D. King, “Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Second Inaugural Address,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 23 (1937): 439–44; Harold P. Zelko, “Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Rhythm in Rhetorical Style,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 28 (1942): 138–41; Earnest Brandenburg, “The Preparation of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Speeches,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 35 (1949): 214–21; Earnest Brandenburg, “Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Voice and Pronunciation,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 38 (1952): 23–30; and Earnest Brandenburg, “Franklin D. Roosevelt’s International Speeches: 1939–1941,” Communication Monographs 16 (1949): 21–40. Earnest Brandenburg and Waldo W. Braden, “Franklin Delano Roosevelt,” in A History and Criticism of American Public Address, ed. Marie Kathryn Hochmuth (New York: Longmans, Green, 1955), 3:458. Burner et al., American Portrait, 627. It should be noted that not all political scientists take this view. For example, Erwin Hargrove writes approvingly that Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “greatest skill was rhetoric” and notes that “his greatest legacy to the American polity was his contribution to the quality of democratic discourse.” See Hargrove, President as Leader, 161–65. Likewise, political scientist Mel Laracey has wondered if FDR’s “dynamic presidenc[y]” was one of the reasons that the practice of “going public” ultimately raised fewer eyebrows during the twentieth century. See Laracey, Presidents and the People: The Partisan Story of Going Public (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2002), 18. Ceaser et al., “Rise of the Rhetorical Presidency,” 159, 170. Hart, Sound of Leadership, 14, 36. Ibid., 2. The characterization of FDR’s rhetoric as programmatic appears in Ceaser et al., “Rise of the Rhetorical Presidency,” 163. The latter discussion of the need for rhetorical appeals during the Great Depression and World War II can be found in Jeffrey Tulis, The Rhetorical Presidency (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987), 181. Apart from this brief discussion and a few other references, however, Tulis also neglects to examine the Roosevelt case in detail. He refers to Roosevelt as one of a select few presidential “paradigm(s) of rhetorical leadership properly conceived and exercised” without offering a more thorough explanation of what this ideal might entail. Ceaser et al., “Rise of the Rhetorical Presidency,” 163. Hart, Sound of Leadership, 20, 149. Ibid., 205. James MacGregor Burns, Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1956), 282. In Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Rhetorical Presidency Halford Ryan presents a poem sent to the president by one of his critics in which the author sighs, “I’m so tired—Oh so tired— of the whole New Deal/Of the juggler’s smile; the barker’s spiel/Of mushy speech; the

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39. 40.

41. 42.

43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56. 57. 58.

59. 60. 61.

62. 63. 64.



65. 66. 67. 68.

loud bassoon/And tiredest of all of the leader’s croon.” See Halford Ryan, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Rhetorical Presidency (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988), 8–9. Ibid., xi. Ryan also offers criticism of some of Roosevelt’s less successful oratorical efforts, noting “how certain tenets should not have been abused and how they could have been practiced better.” Ibid., 1–12. See Ceaser et al., “Rise of the Rhetorical Presidency,” 161–68. The figures for the other presidents come from Hart, Sound of Leadership, 234. Although we did not code FDR’s press conferences or use them in other parts of our analysis, we included them here to make this comparison more compatible with Hart’s data. Carol Gelderman, All the President’s Words: The Bully Pulpit and the Creation of the Virtual Presidency (New York: Walker, 1997), 13–14. Sidney M. Milkis, “Franklin D. Roosevelt, Progressivism, and the Limits of Popular Leadership,” in Speaking to the People: The Rhetorical Presidency in Historical Perspective, ed. Richard J. Ellis (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998), 184. Gelderman, All the President’s Words, 11–14. Hart, Sound of Leadership, 228. “Extemporaneous Remarks at Cheyenne, Wyoming, September 24, 1937,” PPAFDR, 379–83. Burns, Roosevelt, 317. Hart, Sound of Leadership, 170. All data for Presidents Truman through Reagan are from Hart, Sound of Leadership, table 5.1. Ibid., 157. Hart notes that from 1945 to 1985, the increases in election-year speaking “involved not just campaign speeches but also ceremonies and briefings.” Ibid. Ibid., 158. Data compiled from table A.5 in ibid. Data compiled from table 5.1 in ibid.. Data complied from table A.5 in ibid.. Ibid., 179. Data compiled from table A.1 in ibid.. Ibid., 177–78. While campaigning for reelection to the New York senate in 1912, Roosevelt became ill with typhoid fever. In an alliance that would raise eyebrows today, New York Herald reporter and longtime Roosevelt fan Louis McHenry Howe came to the senator’s aid by devising a unique campaign plan. Under Howe’s direction, the FDR camp sent “thousands of ‘personal’ letters from Roosevelt to farmers throughout the district, publish[ed] large newspaper advertisements, and mail[ed] ready-to-print boiler-plate articles emphasizing specific Roosevelt proposals, such as standard-size fruit barrels.” The publicity helped, according to Betty Houchin Winfield; Roosevelt was elected to a second term by a wide margin. From his senatorial days on, Roosevelt remained convinced of the value of the personal appeal. See Winfield, FDR and the News Media, 12–13 Data compiled from table A.5 in Hart, Sound of Leadership. Ibid., 237–39. This decrease seems especially disheartening given that the increased presence of mediated and computer technologies has allegedly made information about government more readily accessible to the citizenry. See table A.4 in Hart, Sound of Leadership. Edwin Black, “Electing Time,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 59 (1973): 125. In other words, during the fall months FDR spoke more often each day, traveled to more voter-sensitive locations, spoke to more local audiences, and spoke more often about government. Black, “Electing Time,” 125. Ceaser et al., “Rise of the Rhetorical Presidency,” 159. Ibid., 164. Milkis, “Franklin Roosevelt,” 183.

69. For a more complete list of some of Roosevelt’s most famous sound bites, see Ryan, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Rhetorical Presidency, 1. 70. Ceaser et al., “Rise of the Rhetorical Presidency,” 161. 71. Tulis, Rhetorical Presidency, 181. 72. Hart, Sound of Leadership, 200. 73. Suzanne M. Daughton has noted, for example, that in his first inaugural, Roosevelt needed to persuade the American people toward two seemingly contradictory emotional states: calmness, on one hand, and readiness to act, on the other. See Suzanne M. Daughton, “Metaphorical Transcendence: Images of the Holy War in Franklin Roosevelt’s First Inaugural,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 79 (1993): 427–46. 74. Roosevelt had always been interested in his constituents’ perceptions of their problems and his abilities to address them, even during his brief legal career and earliest political posts. As president, he saved and compiled letters, clippings, and other reactions to his leadership that gave him anecdotal evidence of the American people’s perceptions. The rise of scientific polling in the mid-1930s gave him a more efficient way of gathering this information. 75. Tulis explains, “When a speech is designed to appeal to public opinion, especially in oral, visible appearance, the effect upon public discourse is more troublesome than a transient arousal of passion in the demos. More significantly, the terms of discourse that structure subsequent ‘sober’ discussion of policy are altered, reshaping the political world in which that policy and future policy is [sic] understood and implemented. By changing the meaning of policy, rhetoric alters policy itself and the meaning of politics in the future.” Tulis, Rhetorical Presidency, 179. 76. Burns, Roosevelt, 458–59. 77. Gelderman, All the President’s Words, 12. 78. Ibid. 79. Ibid., 13. 80. Ryan, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Rhetorical Presidency, 19. 81. Hart, Sound of Leadership, 217. 82. Hart, Sound of Leadership, 173–74. 83. Ibid., 173. 84. See table 5.4 in ibid. 85. See figure 1.2 in ibid. 86. In Hart’s analysis, as in ours, the majority of speeches in this category had multiple topical foci or concerned international topics, in which domestic matters were typically not addressed. 87. “Annual Message to the Congress, January 3, 1934,” PPAFDR, 8. 88. Ibid., 8–9. 89. Ibid. 90. “Extemporaneous Speech at the Home Subsistence Exhibition, April 24, 1934,” PPAFDR, 193–99. 91. “Extemporaneous Remarks at the Site of the Bonneville Dam, Oregon, August 3, 1934,” PPAFDR, 352–55. 92. Ibid. 93. “We Need Trained Personnel in Government,” Extemporaneous Address before American University, Washington, D.C., on Receiving an Honorary Degree, 3 March 1934, PPAFDR, 1934, 121–22. 94. Ibid. 95. Perhaps the best-known example was his annual message to Congress in 1936. Although much of this address can be categorized as systemic, in which the president lists his administration’s bureaucratic achievements during its first term, as the speech progresses the president devotes more and more attention to the humanistic philosophy of his new system. The New Deal was designed to move the government away “from the clamor of partisan interest to the ideal of the public interest,” according to the president. “Our aim was to build upon essentially democratic institutions, seeking all the while the adjustment of burdens, the help of the needy, the protection of the weak, the liberation of the exploited and the genuine protection of people’s property.”

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96. See, for example, Tarla Rai Peterson, “The Will to Conservation: A Burkean Analysis of Dust Bowl Rhetoric and American Farming Motives,” Southern Speech Communication Journal 52 (1986): 1–21. 97. James MacGregor Burns, Leadership (New York: Harper and Row, 1978), 19. 98. Martin J. Medhurst, “A Tale of Two Constructs: The Rhetorical Presidency versus Presidential Rhetoric,” in Beyond the Rhetorical Presidency, ed. Martin J. Medhurst (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1996), xvi. 99. Hart, Sound of Leadership, 210. 100. Ibid., 201. 101. David Zarefsky, “The Presidency Has Always Been a Place for Rhetorical Leadership,” in The Presidency and Rhetorical Leadership, ed. Leroy G. Dorsey (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2002), 20–41.



FDR as Family Doctor: Medical Metaphors and the Role of Physician in the Fireside Chats Suzanne M. Daughton

No President since Roosevelt has made as many speeches that are as memorable and quotable, and none has left a list of speeches with the American people as enduring as his Fireside Chats. —KENNETH D. YEILDING AND PAUL H. CARLSON

ive days after Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s inauguration as the thirty-second president of the United States, the Los Angeles Times ran, at the top center of its front page, a pointedly approving political cartoon.1 Under the italicized caption, “The New Doctor!” cartoonist Gale depicted FDR as a strong-jawed, thickarmed, no-nonsense physician. The patient, a shirtless and surprised-looking Uncle Sam, had presumably been yanked out of both bed and shirt and was lying on his chest on a hard table, where “F. D. Roosevelt, M.D.” was administering some serious chiropractic medicine. Roosevelt was pictured with his right knee across Uncle Sam’s shoulders, and with his right hand smacking Sam on the back, while his left hand jerked Sam’s legs up and back at an impossible angle. While Uncle Sam looked none too happy about this new treatment, he also looked strong enough to take it, with bulging biceps muscles clearly visible. A large bottle of castor oil rested next to FDR’s medical bag, and behind that, crowded onto the bedside table, was an assortment of fourteen smaller bottles. The sign tacked on the wall above the bottles told the reader that these were “The Old Treatment. Political Remedies, Cure-Alls, and Sedatives.” Clearly, there was nothing wrong with Uncle Sam that a combination of an old standby (castor oil, presumably to lubricate the wheels of business) and a new, experimental procedure (chiropractics) could not cure. Certainly this cartoon was prophetic of Roosevelt’s leadership style, which advertised and often delivered bold experimentation, tacking back and forth between liberal and conservative traditions. In this chapter, I show that this powerful image is far from being simply a cartoonist’s fancy: Franklin D. Roosevelt did indeed cast himself in the metaphorical role of physician and prescribe metaphorical “treatment” for the “ailing” United States. This study presents a metaphorical analysis of the “fireside chats” in two




Figure 1



senses: In addition to focusing on the medical metaphors in FDR’s fireside chats, I examine the specific functions of a doctor that Roosevelt is performing metaphorically. In other words, the medical metaphors provide clues, and larger patterns of linguistic behavior in the fireside chats justify the metaphorical interpretation of FDR as doctor. Once the doctor role is invoked as a frame, many elements of the chats can be understood as part of a larger, coherent system of discourse, one that went beyond his chats and summed up the way in which Roosevelt conducted his presidency. Many of FDR’s “patients,” the Americans of the 1930s and 1940s, were quick to adopt the appropriate roles to enable this rhetorical drama, often suggesting new facets of the characterization in their discourse to and about the president. Although, as Gale’s cartoon indicates, many welcomed FDR’s “new treatment,” was it really “just what the doctor ordered”? More precisely, was FDR justified in taking on the role of the doctor in his rhetoric? What were the implications of such a

choice, and what would be the implications of such a choice in contemporary society? In what ways could the public have benefited by this arrangement, and in what ways might it have endangered democratic principles? These questions form the basis of this study.

Situating the Analysis THE GREAT DEPRESSION The Great Depression of the 1930s was unquestionably one of the most serious crises in American history, perhaps second only to the Civil War of 1861–65. Upon his entry into the office of the presidency in March 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt faced an economic and rhetorical problem of gargantuan proportions. How could one deal with the Depression in ways that would put American minds at ease and American bodies back to work at a living wage? Historian Basil Rauch, writing in 1944, documented the effects of the Great Depression on the country: The total income of all individuals fell during the years 1929 to 1932 from eighty-two billion dollars to forty billion. The income of corporations, as reported for taxes, fell from eleven billion to two. . . . Despite the frantic search of professional optimists, no “bright spots” could be found; the national economy functioned as a unit: nothing was exempt. However slightly aware the average citizen might be of the statistical definition of the depression, a day arrived when its meaning was brought home to him. . . . Whether he was thrown out of work, or his broker told him his account was liquidated, or his wages were cut, or the bank refused to renew his mortgage, or customers stopped buying in his store, whatever guise it took, no one entirely escaped the depression. The immediate doctrinal resource that was as available to an American who suffered economic mishap as his next breath of air was the individualism according to which he had only himself to blame. This doctrine presumably sustained and guided the private citizen while those who had the nation’s welfare in charge assured him that the depression was a natural phenomenon which would automatically adjust certain ill-defined minor imbalances of the economic system.2 Perhaps because of the prevailing doctrine of rugged individualism, the Depression affected people psychologically no less than materially. In fact, one could argue that the physical privations were, in some ways, easier to bear than the baffling emotional repercussions of the Depression. Historian Irving Kristol describes the 1930s as “ten years in a tunnel” and a “nightmare,” saying that “Americans were at a loss to understand what was happening to them.”3 Melvyn Dubofsky summarizes, “The Depression cut like a scythe through the ranks of workers, leaving nearly a third of the labor force without jobs and income at the depth of the economic contraction in the winter of 1932–1933.”4 Until the Great Crash of 1929 and its disastrous aftermath, Americans believed, and President Herbert Hoover encouraged them to believe, that the secrets of ever-climbing prosperity had been revealed to their nation, or at least, to the Republican Party. Historian William E. Leuchtenburg writes, “Hoover had, by his own hubris, placed himself in an impossible position. Nothing he said could free him from the inconsistency of claiming credit for prosperity but shirking blame for depression.”5 Perennial Socialist Party presidential candidate Norman Thomas explains the shock of the Depression by recalling the widespread optimism that preceded it, which included “the general conviction that there would be no more



big wars, certainly not those involving the U.S.”6 The most savage of ironies, for many citizens, was the realization that the people of the United States were suffering want in the midst of plenty. Leuchtenburg notes that “the persistence of the depression raised questions not merely about business leadership but about capitalism itself. . . . Something seemed to be fundamentally wrong with the way the system distributed goods.”7 He describes how factories stood idle while millions were unemployed and millions of others were in desperate need of the items those workers could have produced; city dwellers starved while farmers’ crops rotted in the fields and ranchers destroyed livestock they could afford neither to market nor feed.8 In his biography of FDR, Nathan Miller writes simply, “[The Depression] seemed a destructive force beyond human control.”9 In FDR’s Fireside Chats, Russell D. Buhite and David W. Levy write that the Depression caused many Americans to question beliefs they had previously accepted as fundamental truths: Most Americans had assumed, for example, that free-enterprise capitalism, if not directly ordained by a benevolent deity, was at the very least based on the eternal principles of natural law. . . . Any difficulties within the economic system, they believed, were bound to be temporary; they would soon be corrected by the automatic and self-adjusting mechanisms of the free market, by the innate hardiness of American individualism, and, when necessary, by the generosity of private charities. Governmental interference in the workings of the economy was to be avoided at all costs. . . . Most Americans had always assumed, furthermore, that poverty was a sign of laziness, drunkenness, plain incompetence, or some other moral, physical, or intellectual defect of its victims. The idea that healthy, intelligent, and industrious Americans might find themselves utterly destitute through no fault of their own was almost as foreign to Americans as the idea that monarchy was the best form of government.10 Indeed, Americans’ faith in the “natural superiority” of the democratic republic system of government, and all things American, was tested and shaken in unprecedented ways as a result of the inexplicable suffering they witnessed on a daily basis. Buhite and Levy summarize, It was impossible that so pervasive and sharp an attack on American beliefs, bolstered as it was by clear evidence of the system’s failures, could fail to weaken the normal confidence of the American people. Indeed, to some historians of the early 1930s, the wonder is not that a spiritual malaise and a weakening of faith should have accompanied a cataclysm of such vast proportions. The real wonder is that so much of the traditional political and economic system was able to survive, that the strenuous efforts of homegrown revolutionaries and radicals should have made such little headway despite the natural discontent bred by the collapse.11



Revolution seems to have been prevented not by force but by the hopelessness that marks clinical depression: the American people felt helpless and already defeated. Revolution occurs only when conditions have improved enough to motivate people.12 Many of the nation’s business leaders, who later became his staunchest opponents, initially supported Roosevelt. Indeed, after the first fireside chat, the Wall Street Journal raved that “an incredible change” had “come over the face of things here in the United States in a single week” because “the new Administration in Washington has superbly risen to the occasion.”13 Although many critics of Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal legislation characterized him as Socialist or even Communist, Roosevelt’s earliest reform efforts during what Basil Rauch and others refer to as the “first,” more conservative New Deal of 1934–35 were

primarily directed at propping up business.14 In fact, Norman Thomas said, “[FDR] once told me what indeed he also said publicly—that he was saving capitalism and that he resented the criticism of those he was saving.”15 Presidential adviser and speechwriter Raymond Moley wrote that “capitalism was saved in eight days.”16

ROOSEVELT AND RADIO Franklin Roosevelt is commonly thought to be our first mass-media president, primarily because of the legendary status of the fireside chats in American political rhetoric. Buhite and Levy describe how Franklin Roosevelt (born in 1882) and the new mass medium of radio (invented in 1895) “came to maturity together.”17 Yeilding and Carlson provide a helpful synopsis of radio history: By 1925, [President Herbert] Hoover could authoritatively declare that the radio is a “vital force” in America, for the number of radios had increased in three years about seven fold [to approximately two to three million] and the number of radio broadcast stations had almost doubled from 320 to 563. This dramatic progress added a new richness to the fabric of the American culture. It was now possible for the churches to extend their ministry to the sick, elderly, and homebound. The monotony of the life of the American farm family was broken, for they could receive not only daily market and weather reports but also evening entertainment. The housewife performed her chores while listening to the serialized “soap operas” and musical programs. Millions of families stayed closer to home while the mother knitted, the father smoked, and the son or daughter “monkeyed” with the radio dials. Americans soon placed greater reliance on reports of the radio newscasters and commentators than newspapers. In addition, sporting events gave the home audience dramatic presentations of minute-to-minute events. . . . often the home audience knew more of the events’ progress than some of the spectators. Thus, by the mid-twenties, when one-half of the American people could receive inspiration from an important speech, modern Presidents were on the verge of reestablishing an intimacy with the citizens unknown since the time of the leaders of the small city-states of ancient Greece.18 Buhite and Levy write that speakers who “tried to transfer to the airwaves the style and techniques of platform oratory . . . were not terribly successful. Those . . . who adopted a tone and style more suitable to radio, more relaxed and conversational, did better.” They continue, “At the 1924 Democratic convention, Roosevelt’s nomination speech for Al Smith had been broadcast and was widely praised. . . . By the time he became president, it is arguable that Franklin Roosevelt understood the essence of the medium better than any major political figure.”19 Yeilding and Carlson explain that shrewd audience analysis was the source of Roosevelt’s radio canniness: “Since he tailored the nominating speech to the radio audience, not the delegates, Roosevelt was among the first to realize the importance of the instrument as a vehicle for distributing campaign materials.” Four years later, FDR nominated Smith again. “By this time, moreover, Roosevelt was thoroughly convinced that the radio had rendered obsolete the old-fashioned type of campaign oratory. The major political parties echoed his concept as in the subsequent campaign ten times more dollars were spent in radio advertisements than in newspapers.”20 In the 1936 election, Kansas governor Alf Landon, the Republican nominee for president, suffered from the comparison to FDR on radio. Leuchtenburg comments dryly, “Republican speakers contrasted the steady-going Landon, with his agreeable smile and comfortable air, with the sophisticated Roosevelt with his unsettling and vaguely dishonest charm. Since Landon spoke so wretchedly, people knew he was sincere.”21





Buhite and Levy present a persuasive case that Roosevelt and his use of radio changed the modern presidency forever, making possible a political climate in which citizens know and care more about their chief executive than they do about their local politicians.22 Joy Elizabeth Hayes agrees that FDR’s use of radio was masterful but traces a continuity with Alfred Smith and Herbert Hoover, Roosevelt’s immediate predecessors in the New York governorship and the U.S. presidency, respectively. She argues that one of FDR’s unrecognized strengths was “his ability to incorporate his predecessors’ innovative broadcasting strategies into his own radio style.”23 Samuel Becker traces the influence of both radio and television broadcasting on presidential power in the first half of the twentieth century. He concludes, “we sense a shift in the balance of power from the Congress to the President which we must attribute in some part to the ability of the President, through using these media, to greatly influence public opinion by speaking directly to each individual in the population.”24 Baskerville and Willett concur that radio helped FDR gain unique access to the electorate. They write, “Beginning his ‘Fireside Chats’ with phrases such as ‘my friends,’ and employing a familiar, down-home imagery to put his message across, Roosevelt swiftly showed himself to be a skillful communicator, ideally equipped for the establishment less of an ‘imperial’ than of what has been aptly termed an ‘intimate’ presidency.”25 In Hayes’s analysis, “Roosevelt personalized both himself and his audience and directly engaged each listener in a dialectic of personal intimacy and national community.”26 While I agree that FDR’s intimacy with constituents marked a significant and in many ways laudable turning point in the American presidency, I will also argue that a tendency toward authoritarianism, if not imperialism, manifested itself as the “darker side” of Roosevelt’s leadership persona. In The Coming of the New Deal, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. writes of Franklin Roosevelt’s conscious cultivation of the new medium of radio for direct and seemingly personal communication with the American people. Even during his governorship, FDR realized the potential for reaching out to listeners “over the heads” of the sometimes contrary New York State legislators and generating popular support for his policies.27 Nathan Miller describes FDR’s radio speeches as governor as “the forerunner[s] of the Fireside Chat[s] of the White House years”: “Speaking in simple, uncomplicated language, he persuaded his listeners of the justice of his position. A flood of letters descended upon the offending lawmakers after each talk, and radio proved to be a valuable weapon in the governor’s arsenal.”28 These letters from citizens only increased in volume after Roosevelt became president. As Gerard Hauser notes, through his intimate communication with the American people, Roosevelt “encouraged a vital epistolary space into being.”29 His ability to discourse directly with the American people was a powerful tool that could arguably be used for the ends of dictatorship or democracy. Many citizens (and congressional representatives) were wary of FDR’s potential to become a dictator, but many also urged him to assume such powers.30 As Davis W. Houck and Mihaela Nocasian establish in their analysis of FDR’s first inaugural address, Roosevelt’s stated willingness to assume “broad executive power” was not the first inkling of this possibility: “the discourse of dictatorship—and a generally favorable discourse at that—dominated political conversation in the month leading up to Roosevelt’s induction into office.”31 In his look back at the idea of the “rhetorical presidency,” Jeffrey Tulis expresses concern over the tendency to govern through direct appeals to the people rather than the Congress.32 However, Hauser sees the fireside chats, especially, as a model of participatory democracy, for Roosevelt had richly textured public opinion delivered to his home on a daily basis, and he used it to shape policy. Sometimes he adopted the language of constituents in his addresses, and sometimes he used their thoughts to strong-arm cooperation from their elected representatives.33 Roosevelt himself said, “Amid many developments of civilization

which lead away from direct government by the people, the radio is one which tends on the other hand to restore direct contact between the masses and their chosen leaders.”34 One can focus on the latter half of that statement and see the ways in which “direct contact” can be used as political leverage.35 But one can also focus on the first part of Roosevelt’s statement, which situates radio as a balancing force in restoring some measure of “direct government by the people.” Hauser argues that those who saw him as attempting to destroy democratic institutions were guilty of misreading his utter conformity to the rules of the game. What set him apart from his age was the Jacksonian spirit with which he brought the weight of public sentiment to bear on the political process of legislating. . . . Orchestrating social action of this sort was true to the spirit of American democracy because it returned to ordinary citizens their ultimate power and maximized citizen authority through pressure they applied on their elected representatives.36 Both of these possibilities—dictatorship and democracy—come to the fore in the fireside chats.

THE FIRESIDE CHATS The president’s eldest son, James Roosevelt, reminiscing about his father a halfcentury later, said, “I’ve always felt that the great appeal of the fireside chats was not because of his voice, although I suppose that fit the medi[um] perfectly. It was because somehow he got across the message that he was talking to you individually, to you as a person, not to a great mass of people. As a result I think it would be fair to say that a sense of individual responsibility and opportunity was reborn.”37 Schlesinger notes, “Of the various forms of radio address, the ‘fireside chat’ proved most effective. The ‘fireside’ phrase (actually invented by Harry C. Butcher, manager of the Columbia Broadcasting System office in Washington) conveyed Roosevelt’s conception of himself as a man at ease in his own house talking frankly and intimately to neighbors as they sat in their living rooms.”38 Although Roosevelt did not invent the term “fireside chat,” he did not dispute its use and came to use it himself. In a note appended to the announcement of the first fireside chat on the banking crisis, Roosevelt writes, “The name ‘fireside chat’ seems to be used by the Press even when the radio talk is delivered on a very hot mid-summer evening.”39 In her study of the evolution of political speechmaking, Kathleen Hall Jamieson adopts the term as a metaphor, discussing how the old-fashioned “flame of oratory” was toned down to become the more intimate, mass-mediafriendly “fireside chat.”40 In their midcentury studies of FDR’s speechmaking, Waldo Braden and Earnest Brandenburg agree with John Sharon that each chat focused on one issue. Later, Halford Ryan disputes this claim, arguing that “Roosevelt used an individual speech or chat for a variety of purposes.”41 Over the course of his presidency (1933–45), Franklin Roosevelt gave many fireside chats. “Only the conviction of his advisers that he ought not use the fireside chat too frequently prevented the delivery of far more such ‘intimate talks.’”42 Ryan counts thirty of them; others, such as Braden and Brandenburg, give a more modest estimate of twenty-eight. Yeilding and Carlson are most conservative, listing only twenty-six. Buhite and Levy are most generous in their inclusion of thirty-one speeches in their collection, which boasts transcripts of tapes of the chats as they were actually broadcast. I rely on their versions of the speeches, because of Roosevelt’s propensity to ad lib, edit, and amend his speeches during delivery.43



Many critics agree that the chats differed from both formal addresses and the less vital speeches (such as occasional addresses) in style, tone, and content.44 Yeilding and Carlson describe the contemporary understanding: First, the radio industry itself defined the Fireside Chats as being non-political reports on “the state of the nation” in which the President informally talked with the American people with conviction and confidence. Hence, the Fireside Chats fell within the public events broadcast classification, and as such no charge was levied. If, however, the networks determined that an address was political, a fee was levied. Another distinguishing factor was that nearly all of the Fireside Chats, unlike many of the other addresses, were delivered either from the Diplomatic Reception Room or the special White House studio in the oval-shaped basement room of the White House. In addition, although it was claimed that the presidential staff treated all radio addresses the same, President Roosevelt was keenly aware of the difference. His favorite speaking format was that of the “fireside” concept, and he easily identified with it. He pictured himself as a man at ease in his own home talking frankly with a neighbor, or as a father discussing public affairs with his family in the living room by the hearth.45 Brandenburg and Braden point out that Roosevelt’s style of argument was not always logical: they cite his tendency to oversimplify “complex causal relationships” and to use arguments that were sometimes faulty. His use of ethical and pathetic appeals, however, was masterful.46 Buhite and Levy describe some of the common overall features of the fireside chats, noting his use of the “simplest possible language,” the first-person and second-person terms of address, and “concrete examples and everyday analogies.” Additionally, they observe that he often chose to scapegoat some enemy, make patriotic reference to American tradition, and end with an appeal to God.47 Ryan notes, correctly, that Roosevelt’s language was not merely “simple,” it was finely calibrated for a specific effect. Roosevelt recognized the requirements of a president to be distant but not detached, apart but not aloof. Verbally, he achieved that posture by selecting language that was a cut above ordinary parlance but not haute couture. . . . He took care to excise language that speech writers thought elegant or tasteful but that FDR believed inappropriate. . . . On the other hand, FDR’s favorite stylistic techniques elevated his talks. Alliteration, anaphora, and metaphor were the hallmarks of FDR’s diction.48 Nonetheless, Mr. J. C. Cassell of Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, writing in response to the second fireside chat, provided a memorable testament to the accessibility of FDR’s radio speeches. (Mr. Cassell had presumably corresponded with the president previously, because he knew that his letter would be read and answered by Louis McHenry Howe, Roosevelt’s secretary.) Dear Mr. Howe— The greatest compliment I have heard of the Presdts talk Sunday was by a child here who said—“The Presdts speech could not have amounted to much because even I could understand it”—



Respy J C Cassell Mount Joy PA49

Figure 2 Roosevelt’s Domestic Fireside Chats* The Banking Crisis (12 March 1933) Progress Made During the New Deal’s First Two Months (7 May 1933) Praising the First Hundred Days and Boosting the NRA (24 July 1933) Assessing the New Deal and Manipulating the Currency (22 October 1933) Answering the Critics (28 June 1934) Government and Modern Capitalism (22 September 1934) Defending the WPA and Pressing for Social Security (28 April 1935) A Pre-Election Appeal to Farmers and Laborers (6 September 1936) Defending the Plan to “Pack” the Supreme Court (9 March 1937) New Proposals at Home, Frightening Storm Clouds Abroad (12 October 1937) Supporting the Unemployment Census (14 November 1937) Combating the 1937–38 Recession (14 April 1938) Purging the Democratic Party (24 June 1938) *The speeches are listed in order of delivery, with the titles used by Buhite and Levy in FDR’s Fireside Chats.

In his response to Mr. Cassell, Louis Howe reported that this story “greatly amused” FDR.50 After the third fireside chat, F. S. Bright of Washington, D.C., wrote, “My dear Mr. President: Listening to your speech last night I was reminded of an answer James Whitcomb Riley made to the question of why his poetry was so popular. All Riley had to say was ‘I don’t put the fodder too high in the racks’” (25 July 1933). Although the barnyard image, like the child’s criticism, is none too flattering to Roosevelt or to his audience, it is clear that the public saw the president’s language as accessible without being condescending. While it would be inaccurate to claim that Franklin Roosevelt wrote his own speeches, he was heavily involved in every phase of the drafting process. In fact, in All the Presidents’ Words: The Bully Pulpit and the Creation of the Virtual Presidency, Carol Gelderman describes Franklin Roosevelt’s close collaboration with his policy advisers in the speechwriting process as an ideal that few contemporary successors have achieved. She says approvingly,

Figure 3 Foreign Policy Fireside Chats Reaction to War in Europe: Preparing for Cash-and-Carry (3 September 1939) Deepening Crisis in Europe and American Military Readiness (26 May 1940) The Arsenal of Democracy: Introducing Lend-Lease (29 December 1940) Proclaiming National Emergency (27 May 1941) The Greer Incident: Quasi-War in the Atlantic (11 September 1941) War with Japan (9 December 1941) Fighting Defeatism (23 February 1942) A Call for Sacrifice (28 April 1942) Stabilization of the Price of Food (7 September 1942) Report on a Trip across the Country (12 October 1942) Dealing with Striking Coal Miners (2 May 1943) The First Crack in the Axis: The Fall of Mussolini (28 July 1943) Armistice in Italy and the Third War Loan Drive (8 September 1943) Report on the Cairo and Teheran Conferences (24 December 1943) A National Service Law and an Economic Bill of Rights (11 January 1944) Report on the Capture of Rome (5 June 1944) Launching the Fifth War Loan Drive (12 June 1944) Work or Fight (6 January 1945)



Roosevelt did not delegate speechwriting to others. He insisted on being involved in the construction, from start to finish, of all major speeches. Although crises followed one after another relentlessly during FDR’s occupancy of the White House, the president set aside five or six nights a month to work on speeches. . . . A naturally gregarious man who preferred talking to reading or writing, FDR liked to think out loud. Written speeches force an administration to make decisions, crystallize policy, impose discipline. The speech preparation process did exactly that for FDR.51 Typically, Roosevelt’s speechwriters, members of the so-called brain trust (which included university professors, lawyers, and, eventually, prize-winning writers of the day such as Archibald MacLeish and Robert Sherwood), would work up drafts based on directions and dictations from “the Boss.”52 Roosevelt would read the writers’ versions and make changes, cutting, adding, and redictating portions, until he was satisfied.53 As Yeilding and Carlson tell it, Eventually the drafts began to emerge, often as many as six or seven. [Roosevelt’s secretary] Grace Tully recalls that twelve drafts were completed once or twice. (Trying a little levity, the writers once, when working to 3:00 A.M., labeled a draft as being the twenty-fourth, but the President did not respond. She was later appalled to find the “joke draft” on display at the Hyde Park library!) Roosevelt would carefully and thoroughly read each draft, insert his own lines, argue incessantly with the writers, and remove complexities of construction; in fact, he almost knew a speech by heart by the time it was completed. Again the writers argued among themselves, secretaries took dictation, and everyone struggled for vividness and compactness. Finally, sitting around the big table in the Cabinet Room, by now strewn with sheets of paper, books, clippings, cigarette stubs, sandwich wrappers, and empty ginger ale, beer, and Coca-Cola bottles, the writers watched the final version of the speech emerge, sometimes within one to three hours of actual radio delivery time.54 Ryan concludes that despite the stable of speechwriters, the imprint of the man upon his rhetoric was unmistakable: A close examination of the drafts revealed enough Rooseveltian emendations and dictations, enough famous phrases that were his inventions, and enough consistency over time with relationship to alliteration, anaphora, and metaphor (often nautical in nature) that one could reasonably conclude that Roosevelt’s speeches had style and it was his.55 As one former FDR speechwriter attests, Roosevelt was “a better phrase maker than anyone he ever had around him.”56 Evidence from the existing drafts of the fireside chats confirms these claims. The fireside chats were usually delivered from a room on the first floor of the White House, or, on occasion, from the president’s home in Hyde Park, New York. Roosevelt sat at a desk loaded with microphones, surrounded by technicians, friends, and public officials.57 As Labor Secretary Frances Perkins describes it,



His voice and his facial expression as he spoke were those of an intimate friend. . . . I realized how unconscious he was of the twenty or thirty of us in that room and how clearly his mind was focused on the people listening at the other end. As he talked his head would nod and his hands would move in simple, natural, comfortable gestures. His face would smile and light up as though he were actually sitting on the front porch or in the parlor with them. People felt this, and it bound them to him in affection.58

The American people responded to this intimate style with warmth, desperation, and relief. They wrote to FDR in record numbers, increasing the volume of White House mail by a factor of ten from the previous presidency.59 “After a Fireside Chat, it was not unusual for forty or fifty thousand ‘fan letters’ to arrive at the White House.”60 With some exceptions, of course, the American people seemed to experience the president’s communication in his fireside chats as “spontaneous and authentic.”61 In his first fireside chat, Roosevelt reached an approximate sixty million Americans in twenty million homes.62 Seven years later [1939] he spoke over a network of 500 (of the nation’s 800) radio stations to an audience of 100,000,000, or more than three of every four Americans. By 1943, he so commanded the airwaves that both radio and newspapers literally carried his addresses to every corner of the globe. On at least one occasion newspapers printed maps as an aid to the public’s understanding of his speech. Without question, radio found its master. . . . The President’s success on the radio was phenomenal. Not only could he empty the theaters on Sunday night, December 29, 1940, when the famous “Arsenal of Democracy” Fireside Chat was delivered, but also he could literally depopulate small towns to the nearest radio receivers. The drug store was one such favorite gathering place. It is almost no exaggeration to say that in larger metropolitan areas one could walk around any suburban block during a Fireside Chat and not miss a word of the speech.63 Historians Stephen W. Baskerville and Ralph Willett credit Roosevelt’s first fireside chat, specifically “the comforting impact of Roosevelt’s explanation on radio of how the new banking system would work,” with partial success in resolving the banking crisis that greeted the incoming president.64 Of course, no scholar would claim that FDR’s single-handed rhetorical might saved American ideals and way of life. “But,” say Buhite and Levy, “it seems very clear that he was at least partly responsible.”65 Baskerville and Willett assert that “from the beginning of his administration, the most important task facing the new President had been the restoration of confidence and hope; quite literally he had to change the mood of the country.”66 Roosevelt, by many accounts, did change the mood of the country. Norman Thomas admitted, “The change made by Roosevelt’s inauguration and his first one hundred days in office was extraordinary. He brought back hope and confidence. The people responded to his own ebullience and his pragmatic program.”67 Roosevelt biographer James MacGregor Burns elaborates: “A dozen days after the inauguration a move of adulation for Roosevelt was sweeping the country. Over ten thousand telegrams swamped the White House in a single week. Newspaper editorials were paeans of praise. The new President seemed human; he seemed brave; above all, he was acting. A flush of hope swept the nation.”68

ANALYTIC FOCUS As the title of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book attests, the Roosevelt era was “no ordinary time.”69 The crisis of the Depression elided into (and was ultimately resolved by) the crisis of the Second World War. Roosevelt’s strategy in response to this substitution of one crisis for another was to change the focus of his rhetoric but not its metaphorical style. As a close reading of FDR’s fireside chats shows, his rhetorical choices (in particular, his adoption of the doctor role) played a part in the nation’s attitudes toward overcoming the Great Depression and meeting the challenges of World War II. The first part of this analysis focuses closely on



Roosevelt’s delivery and the public reaction to the first thirteen of his national radio addresses, for it was there that the president forwarded, defended, and explained various aspects of his New Deal. The second part of the analysis examines the later fireside chats on foreign policy, in which FDR adopted the persona of “Dr. Win-the-War.”

SPEECH COMMUNICATION RESEARCH The motivational implications of the doctor role deserve critical assessment. Although FDR’s strategies may have “worked” at some level, does that mean that they were uniformly praiseworthy? Contemporary speech communication scholarship on metaphor, particularly that of rhetorical critics who focus on the power of metaphor in political discourse, demonstrates that motive and ideology are discernable via careful analysis of language.70 Roosevelt’s choice of medical imagery has ideological implications that resonate beyond the 1930s and 1940s. In his classic essay on the “second persona” (the “you” or the “implied auditor” to whom a rhetorical act is addressed), Edwin Black called for critical judgment of rhetorical texts.71 Philip Wander later articulated a need to discover the “third persona” (the “it,” or “objectified other,” of a rhetorical text) in ideologically charged rhetoric.72 In order to access and then assess the implications of FDR’s self-portrayal, this chapter brings to light Roosevelt’s choice of rhetorical role (or “first persona,” the “I” who speaks), before turning to questions of audience invitation (second persona) and exclusion (third persona). As Edwin Black wrote, It seems a useful methodological assumption to hold that rhetorical discourses, either singly or cumulatively in a persuasive movement, will imply an auditor, and that in most cases the implication will be sufficiently suggestive as to enable the critic to link this implied auditor to an ideology. The best evidence in the discourse for this implication will be the substantive claims that are made, but the most likely evidence available will be in the form of stylistic tokens.73



Traditionally in public address studies, scholars have focused a great deal upon the first persona, and I certainly will do so here. However, analyzing the second and third personae in conjunction with the first allows me to pursue an activist agenda, to assess Roosevelt’s rhetoric based on social justice criteria. I am concerned not just with what he did well in these speeches (and I admire much that is in them) but also with the ways in which he pursued his goals and what he did not do. Black’s call for the investigation of stylistic tokens is answered in Robert L. Ivie’s “Metaphor and the Rhetorical Invention of Cold War Idealists,” which describes and demonstrates a method for conducting metaphorical analysis. Ivie also offers a compelling justification for doing analyses of metaphor in rhetoric. He writes, “I begin with the premise that metaphor is at the base of rhetorical invention. Elaborating a primary image into a well-formed argument produces a motive, or interpretation of reality, with which the intended audience is invited to identify. The form of the argument actualizes and literalizes the potential of the incipient figure.”74 Attention to patterns of metaphors in texts allows a critic some insight into the rhetorical invention of the author and enables him or her to discover the implicit invitation issued to the audience. This is a crucial first step toward describing the created audience, what Black called the second persona. “The critic can see in the auditor implied by the discourse a model of what the rhetor would have his[or her] real auditor become. . . . This condition makes moral judgment possible . . . [because] we know how to make appraisals of [people].”75 Having established

motive, what Ivie called “the interpretation of reality” that the rhetor invites the audience to share, the critic can then assess the morality of that rhetorical invitation by answering the questions, Who would this rhetoric have me become? And is that person moral? Similarly, although he was careful to avoid tying the concept to the notion of intent, one can determine what Wander called the third persona by asking, Who would this rhetoric have me not become, and not even acknowledge, but rather exclude and negate? What are the ideological and real-world implications of such exclusion? Wander cautions that traditional approaches to rhetorical criticism and theory have overlooked oppressive potential; that is, the unacknowledged audience is negated in history: Just as the discourse may be understood to affirm certain characteristics, it may also be understood to imply other characteristics, roles, actions, or ways of seeing things to be avoided. What is negated through the Second Persona forms the silhouette of a Third Persona—the “it” that is not present, that is objectified in a way that “you” and “I” are not. . . . The Third Persona, therefore, refers to being negated. But “being negated” includes not only being alienated through language—the “it” that is the summation of all that you and I are told to avoid becoming, but also being negated in history, a being whose presence, though relevant to what is said, is negated through silence. . . . Operating through existing social, political, and economic arrangements, negation extends beyond the “text” to include the ability to produce texts, to engage in discourse, to be heard in the public space.76 Each of these approaches provides clues to the ideology of a given rhetorical text and allows for critical assessment. Used in conjunction, they highlight different aspects of the texts and enable a fuller understanding of the power and potential (positive and negative) of the doctor role.

Depression as Illness “Depression” is, of course, a metaphor. It confers on the economic situation it describes a sense of being physically low or a sense of psychological malaise, sadness, and inertia. When people in the 1930s spoke of how to get out of the “Depression,” however, it became clear that the psychological or medical sense took precedence.77 The common terms for overcoming the Depression were “relief” and “recovery,” both of which are medical metaphors having to do with the easing of pain and the physical or emotional healing of a patient after some illness or trauma. (Of course, these “literal/metaphorical” boundaries were often blurred, because the pain was often physical as well as symbolic.) Thus, in addressing the crisis of the Depression on an emotional and metaphorical as well as on a physical or literal level, President Roosevelt was acknowledging appropriately the seriousness of the moral, spiritual, and psychological trauma of the American people. As Buhite and Levy summarize, “Any . . . leader [who] did not recognize and address both [economic and spiritual] aspects of the catastrophe would be woefully inadequate.”78 But Roosevelt did recognize and address both elements, by choosing a role uniquely suited to the physical as well as the psychological aspects of the trauma, that of physician. The metaphorical role of doctor was well suited to the crisis of the Depression because Americans in the 1930s relied on doctors for practical advice and actions as well as for comfort, confidence, and hope. The health care system was not the massive behemoth that confronts us today; people often had personal relationships with their family doctors, who saw them through every sniffle and crisis from



cradle to grave. In The Horse and Buggy Doctor, written in the 1930s, Arthur Hertzler, M.D., described the typical practice of a country physician and surgeon in the early decades of the twentieth century.79 He argued emphatically that the good family doctor understood the importance of taking a careful health history and knowing when to operate and when not to operate; that is, only by understanding human nature and knowing one’s patients could the physician discern when the real source of the patient’s complaint was not physical but emotional and, consequently, how that patient should be treated. As a result, patients trusted their physicians implicitly. Hertzler provided an example of such stress-related illness, long before it was part of popular understanding: One can sense the business condition of the country by these cases [of patients with stomach complaints]. Immediately after [World War I] it was the cattlemen. They were big-fisted men from the plains with stomachs that had laughed at sowbelly and beans from childhood—until the Depression came. Then came the bankers with wobby [sic] notecases representing frozen assets reflected by their faces. Then came the millers. Speak understandingly to these men of business conditions and they will tell you that they have been under a great nervous strain synchronizing with their stomach complaint. A wily stomach specialist told me of a patient of his whose stomach condition could be foretold by watching the cotton market. If there was a big drop the patient would most assuredly appear for treatment. These patients respond to nerve sedatives and understanding.80 Franklin Roosevelt adopted just such a role in his presidential discourse, displaying careful attention to when his audience needed a “nerve sedative and understanding.” Distinguished pediatrician Robert S. Mendelsohn, writing in the early 1980s, fondly recalled the family doctor of the century’s early years: Unless you have passed the half-century mark and were brought up outside the major cities of our country, you can’t be expected to remember the classic “family doctor,” for today there are scarcely any to be found. Those of us who can remember them are apt to do so with feelings of warmth and affection, for we recall the family doctor as a friendly, sensitive, unpretentious, reassuring, compassionate figure in our lives. The family doctor of that era often had been intimately involved with our families for two, three, and even four generations. He knew each of us as individual personalities, was sensitive to our attitudes, moods, and idiosyncrasies. He viewed us as human beings in need of help, not as clinical subjects for all of the technological and pharmacological interventions that doctors today have substituted for careful examination and common sense. Our family doctor knew our medical histories and often those of our parents and grandparents as well. Most of the time he listened to us without impatience, answered our questions thoughtfully, calmed our fears, and explained simply and clearly what was going on in our bodies and our minds. His office was warm, comfortable, and nonthreatening, and he had a personality to match it. If we felt too sick to go there, he came to us, believing that it made more sense for a healthy doctor to visit a sick patient than vice versa. He didn’t let his medical education and his ego get in the way of his humanity and his common sense. If we needed a pill, we got one, but more often he allayed our fears and anxieties with nothing more than calm reassurance and a friendly pat on the head and let nature do its work without interference.81



Mendelsohn allows that his memory may be “somewhat romanticized,” but that powerful, idealized mythical image is precisely what Roosevelt was drawing on in his creation of himself as “Dr. New Deal” and later, “Dr. Win-the-War.”

The concepts of the Depression as an illness and the country as a patient in need of a cure were in the national consciousness long before Roosevelt took office, and they remain there today. The cartoon shown in figure 1 was printed three days before the first fireside chat. The medical metaphor resonated with the people because it came from the people. The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York, contains files of public reaction to the president’s speeches. Hundreds of ordinary citizens wrote to FDR using medical terms to explain their experience of the Depression and his attempts at solving it. At times they quoted the president’s language from the fireside chats, and at other times they anticipated, or perhaps even inspired, his words.82 The resonance of the medical metaphor was not merely a feature of 1930s America. Those who experienced the Great Depression firsthand, as well as later biographers and historians, continue to find the medical metaphor, and in particular the view of FDR as healer, useful in their writing. Describing Roosevelt’s first inaugural address, Nathan Miller says, “The speech was designed to give the American people a badly needed transfusion of hope and courage.”83 Lady Bird Johnson, at an academic conference assessing the New Deal fifty years later, characterized Roosevelt’s programs as “first aid” and “rescue.”84 In 1944, Basil Rauch wrote: Rugged individualism now seemed to require of millions of unemployed docile waiting for the bottom to be reached and the upturn to begin, as well as self-blame if they did not find or make for themselves the economic opportunities which were equally free to all. But the official analysis that deflation and its attendant ills were natural phenomena, and repeated statements that prosperity was “just around the corner,” gradually lost their popular appeal, particularly as it appeared that . . . President [Hoover’s] utterances were invariably followed by plunges of the indices to new depths. With the waning of faith in the old gods came a search for new doctrines which should more adequately explain the cause of the depression and suggest a less painful cure. . . . Radical doctrines ranging from orthodox Marxism to native cure-alls . . . all won converts, but none ever acquired large popular support. Curiously, academic economists who were expected to know all about the “facts,” ordinarily had no dogmas on the cause or cure of the depression to offer. Rather, a hybrid type, to be found in the area bounded by journalism, the universities, the churches, the minority political parties, and the publicity and research branches of business, farm, and labor organizations came forward as the most influential leader in the formulation of diagnoses and prescriptions for dealing with the Depression.85 Writing in the 1980s, Baskerville and Willett seem almost addicted to the contents of the medicine cabinet, writing of failed “nostrums and panaceas,” the “numbed stoicism,” and the “debilitating” worries of the time; calling fear “the scourge of the times, a twisting, crippling disease”; and describing the “spreading paralysis of the nation’s financial structure.”86 Irving Kristol refers to the 1930s as “the decade in which American democracy suffered a nervous breakdown.”87 Several writers invoke the exact FDR-as-doctor, America-as-patient scenario. Burns writes, “During 1933 and 1934 [FDR] watched the ups and downs of the nation’s economic temperature like a doctor following the condition of a feverish patient.”88 In describing Roosevelt’s relations with members of Congress, Schlesinger tells the reader, “Here, occasionally, it was necessary for the President to intervene and supply healing poultices.”89 Along the same lines, Leuchtenburg observes, “After the lacerating Second Hundred Days, Roosevelt saw 1936 as a time of healing, when he would unite the party by salving the wounds of his opponents and avoid new conflicts with Congress until he had won re-election.”90



At times, this image of FDR as healer has been complicated and enriched by the public’s perception of his own physical struggle with polio. Biographer Ted Morgan says, “His illness made it possible for him to identify with the humiliations and defeats of depression America.”91 Kenneth Davis writes of the American people on the eve of Roosevelt’s inauguration: “And they focused massively upon a single man, the laughing, big, confident physically crippled man who had been chosen to lead a crippled nation out of sick depression into a new order of prosperous good health.”92 As Davis makes clear, FDR’s own physical health was a paradox: this leader whom he describes as “laughing, big, and confident” sounds like the picture of physical health, yet Roosevelt was “physically crippled.” When he was struck with polio at the age of thirty-nine, FDR’s promising political career seemed doomed. But Roosevelt’s determination, his personal energy, and his positive public attitude combined to allow him to “overcome” his illness, at least in the public perception. Although the American public knew that he had contracted polio, Roosevelt’s insistent vigor overwhelmed that memory. He gave the impression of being vigorous and strong because of his well-developed upper body, which was all most American people ever saw of him.93 Indeed, it was possible for the public to forget that he had any physical disability, as Gale’s caricature of FDR as a vigorous, ablebodied man suggests.94 Many people actually believed that FDR had been able to “conquer” his disease. Characterizing the popular image of FDR, Leuchtenburg writes, “the President was leading the nation, as he had himself, to full ‘recovery’ from the paralysis that once had afflicted both man and country.”95 In any case, his physical limitations were closely guarded from the public, although FDR was proud of his ability to crawl and hoist himself about when in private.96 Secret Service agents were under instruction to confiscate the cameras of anyone who managed to photograph the President in his wheelchair or moving awkwardly with the aid of crutches and personal assistance. As a result, such photographs are quite rare.97 Because of the presentness of the Depression-as-illness metaphor, Roosevelt could suggest and invoke it, and his corresponding role of doctor, subtly. To turn away from the role of physician, when it was so clearly what the nation needed, would have been tantamount to violating some sort of public servant’s Hippocratic Oath.

DR. NEW DEAL AND DR. WIN-THE-WAR In a World War II press conference, more than a decade after he took office and began implementing the New Deal, Roosevelt provided reporters with an elaborate allegorical explanation of his own view of himself as the country’s doctor. Associated Press reporter Douglas Cornell said, “Mr. President, after our last meeting with you, it appears that someone (Dilworth Lupton, Cleveland Press) stayed behind and received word that you no longer liked the term ‘New Deal.’ Would you care to express any opinion to the rest of us?”98 Roosevelt’s response was quite detailed, as he indicated that he had given some thought to this matter:



Oh, I supposed somebody would ask that. In the future—I will have to be terribly careful in the future how I talk to people after these press conferences. However, what he reported was accurate reporting, and—well, I hesitated for a bit as to whether I would say anything. It all comes down, really, to a rather puerile and political side of things. I think that the two go very well together— puerile and political. However, of course some people have to be told how to spell “cat”—lots of people have to be told how to spell “cat,” even people with a normally good

education. And so I—I got thinking the thing over, and I jotted down some things that—oh—a lot of people who can’t spell “cat” had forgotten entirely. And of course, the net of it is that—how did the New Deal come into existence? It was because there was an awfully sick patient called the United States of America, and it was suffering from a grave internal disorder—awfully sick— all kinds of things that happened to this patient, all internal things. And they sent for the doctor. And it was a long long process—took several years before those ills, in that particular illness of ten years ago, were remedied. But after a while they got remedied. And on all those ills of 1933, things had to be done to cure the patient internally. And it was done—took a number of years. And there were certain specific remedies that the old doctor gave the patient, and I jotted down a few of those remedies. The people who are peddling all this talk about “New Deal” today, they are not telling about why the patient had to have remedies. I am inclined to think that the country ought to have it brought back to their memories, and I think the country ought to be asked too, as to whether all these rather inexpensive critics shouldn’t be asked directly just which of the remedies should be taken away from the patient, if you should come down with a similar illness in the future. It’s all right now—it’s all right internally now—if they just leave him alone. But since then, two years ago, he had a very bad accident—not an internal trouble. Two years ago, on the seventh of December, he was in a pretty bad smashup—broke his hip, broke his leg in two or three places, broke a wrist and an arm, and some ribs; and they didn’t think he would live, for a while. And then he began to “come to”; and he has been in charge of a partner of the old doctor. Old Doctor New Deal didn’t know “nothing” about legs and arms. He knew a great deal about internal medicine, but nothing about surgery. So he got his partner, who was an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Win-the-War, to take care of this fellow who had been in this bad accident. And the result is that the patient is back on his feet. He has given up his crutches. He isn’t wholly well yet, and he won’t be until he wins the war. And I think that is almost as simple, that little allegory, as learning again how to spell “cat.” The things—the remedies that the old Doctor New Deal used were for internal troubles. He saved the banks of the United States and set up a sound banking system. . . . One of the old remedies was Federal Deposit Insurance, to guarantee bank deposits. . . . Another remedy was saving homes from foreclosure. . . . Well, your old doctor, in the old days, old Doctor New Deal, he put in Old Age Insurance, he put in Unemployment Insurance. . . . Well, my list [of remedies] just totaled up to thirty, and I probably left out half of them. But at the present time, obviously, the—principal emphasis, the overwhelming first emphasis should be on winning the war. In other words, we are suffering from that bad accident, not from an internal disease.99 The president’s main point, of course, was that the New Deal had been successful and that the country’s current problems were the result of its “external ills” (read “foreign affairs”), not the “internal” (“domestic”) Great Depression. His contemporary critics disagreed with Roosevelt’s claim, as do most historians today, arguing that his economic policies alone were not successful in “remedying the internal disease” and that it was only the country’s economic mobilization as a result of its war effort that finally “cured” the Depression. One aspect of this “little allegory” that is particularly intriguing is Roosevelt’s bifurcation of his own rhetorical persona into the partners of Dr. New Deal and Dr. Win-the-War. When the patient got into that “pretty bad smashup,” Roosevelt justified his own change of focus away from the New Deal agenda by splitting his rhetorical personality: He divided up the duties of the family doctor and made each partner a specialist in one form of medicine. In this manner, he could claim expertise in both domestic and foreign arenas without returning to “medical school” for more training or calling in



another politician to be commander in chief. By incorporating the “other” physician as a consultant and partner into his own political practice, Roosevelt gave the impression of bringing in “fresh reserves” of talent and energy, which would encourage his listeners, but at the same time, he preserved the sense of continuity patients need in times of crisis, when we want our “own doctor” to attend to our needs. Also, the change of name from Dr. New Deal to Dr. Win-the-War allowed FDR to distance himself from the New Deal’s policies, after the initial enthusiasm had worn off and after the legislative momentum of his first term in office had diminished. He made explicit his shift in attention from the domestic to the overseas arena and defended this choice by pronouncing the patient cured of the original internal (domestic) disorder and seriously threatened only by events in other parts of the world, which impinged on the patient’s body as objects impacting from outside. Clearly, Roosevelt was tapping into a powerful archetypal structure, one that derived from his listeners’ personal lives and which granted them comfort in times of crisis. The system of metaphors of disease, medicine, and cure by physicians encourages audiences to trust speakers who portray themselves as doctors, to do as the speakers/doctors recommend, and (before the malpractice lawsuits that became common in the latter half of the twentieth century) not to blame them when treatment fails. The following section provides illustrations of FDR’s use of medical language and role and discusses the usefulness, wisdom, and public acceptance of those rhetorical strategies.




In his description of the old-style family practitioner, Dr. Mendelsohn provides a sense of the doctor’s familiar, comforting presence.100 The prototypical general practitioner had multiple duties, many of which Roosevelt performs metaphorically and rhetorically in the fireside chats. A brief sketch of each duty here will precede the systematic discussion of each fireside chat in turn. The doctor makes house calls. As Roosevelt’s mail suggests, the American people were touched and honored to have him “come into their homes” via the radio. Of the president’s fireside chats on radio, “[a]lmost all of the speeches were given in the evening and almost a third of them on Sunday.”101 Metaphorically, the president was visiting the patients who were too sick to come to him, and he was doing it after regular “office hours.” Ryan notes the media savvy of this timing, in which Roosevelt planned his speeches for maximum media coverage the following day.102 The doctor examines patients: looking, listening, and feeling in order to assess their general state of health. In addition to bringing his voice into their living rooms and parlors, Roosevelt brought his actual physical presence into his constituents’ regions by traveling extensively, particularly during the times when the national “body” was physically threatened by drought and flood. And when he could not travel, his partner, Eleanor, was his “eyes and ears.” In fact, the First Lady traveled so much that the Washington Star once ran a headline on its society page, “MRS. ROOSEVELT SPENDS NIGHT AT WHITE HOUSE.”103 The doctor diagnoses illness and injury. Accurate diagnostic skills require penetrating sight, a broad base of knowledge, and excellent judgment. In his speeches, Roosevelt makes it clear that his political opponents, by contrast, do not possess the required excellence of vision and diagnostic skills. The doctor treats the patients in order to cure them of their diseases. Treatment can take many different forms. One such form involves prescribing and administering doses of medicine, which has its metaphorical parallel in setting up programs for “relief and recovery.” The doctor also performs surgery on occasion, for example,

by cutting programs and budgets. And physicians inoculate patients against diseases that they have not yet contracted: the fireside chats are replete with examples of FDR forecasting and answering probable critiques of his administration and its programs, rhetorical functions that would later come to be called “inoculation” against counterarguments. As Drs. Hertzler and Mendelsohn suggest, the family doctor provides comfort. This Roosevelt does by his personal, reassuring tone. As the public reaction files attest, many American citizens were cheered immeasurably by the president’s words. The doctor advises the patient on healthful living practices, in other words, recommending actions for the improvement of physical and mental health. This also includes recommendations against choices that will prove unhealthy (often, these choices are suggestions of political opponents). In the realm of bureaucracy, the doctor has a responsibility to keep medical records. Roosevelt’s review (near the beginning of many of the chats) of events since his last address to the people (his last “house call”) serve as the rhetorical parallel of the doctor’s review of a patient’s health history. Doctors make periodic checkups, giving their patients physical examinations in order to prevent and detect problems as early as possible. FDR’s recommendation and establishment of government agencies to regulate business is one such example of periodic examination.

Medical Metaphors and the Doctor’s Role In his extended metaphor of Dr. New Deal and Dr. Win-the-War, Franklin Roosevelt portrayed himself as a humanitarian who responded to the needs of the people of the United States: “they sent for the doctor,” and he came (and stayed for years), refusing to leave before the patient was fully recovered.104 Buhite and Levy re-create the sense of disjunction between Roosevelt’s campaign and his presidential actions: “On the basis of his bland campaign, few Americans would have predicted that the ascendancy of Franklin Roosevelt to the White House would result in either the revolutionizing of the presidency or the headlong flurry of antidepression legislation that was about to follow. . . . And it was . . . this program that Roosevelt set out to explain and justify to the nation in the first thirteen of his Fireside Chats.”105 Because it was so groundbreaking and provoked such tremendous response, the first fireside chat deserves to be discussed in some detail, before moving more expeditiously through the other speeches. Given just over a week after he took office, this speech was the first chance the American people had to hear specifically what Roosevelt had in mind for his New Deal. In the months leading up to Roosevelt’s inauguration, the Depression had reached its nadir, and public anxiety had reached its zenith. As Buhite and Levy tell it, the country was in great need of a good doctor. Between the time of Roosevelt’s election in November 1932 and his inauguration in March 1933, the disease [of bank closings] became an epidemic. State governors began, by proclamation, to close their banks protectively by declaring temporary banking “holidays.” The first occurred in Nevada in October 1932 and others followed (seventeen states closed their banks the day before the inauguration). Early on the morning of March 4, all remaining states declared their banks to be officially closed.106



FDR was inaugurated on Saturday. On Sunday, he let members of Congress know that he would require their presence beginning on Thursday for a special session to deal with the banking crisis. On Monday, Roosevelt proclaimed a four-day banking holiday. Three days later, on the first day of the special session, Congress approved the holiday and passed the emergency banking bill that granted Roosevelt the power to extend the ban and lift it gradually, as banks were examined for soundness and reorganized if necessary. That next Sunday night, 12 March 1933, Roosevelt addressed the nation in the first of what would come to be known as the fireside chats. The next morning, such was the public confidence engendered by FDR’s words and actions that banks reopened to greet depositors seeking to return money to their accounts.107 In this first fireside chat, FDR opened quite simply: My friends, I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking—to talk with the comparatively few who understand the mechanics of banking, but more particularly with the overwhelming majority of you 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, and why it was done, and what the next steps are going to be.108



The language here is representative of that used in FDR’s fireside chats as a whole: it is accessible without sounding condescending. Listeners well versed in finance might have felt complimented on their knowledge, while those whom Roosevelt defines as “the overwhelming majority” would have felt comfortable as his target audience and reassured by their depiction as “normal” American citizens. It is no wonder that the majority of the people who wrote to Roosevelt expressed relief and gratitude for the straightforward explanation and the candor with which he reassured them. Roosevelt made several references to the Depression-as-illness and his plan for the safe reopening of the banks as a (metaphorical) sensible course of treatment. He began by commending the American people on the “fortitude and good temper” with which they faced the banking holiday (12). He assumed the ability to measure and assess their strength, both physical and mental, and he found the test results heartening. Next, FDR discussed the bank runs by depositors as “a rush so great that the soundest banks couldn’t get enough currency to meet the demand” (13), praised the legislation passed by Congress because it “gave authority to develop a program of rehabilitation of our banking facilities” (14), and assured his listeners that “we do not want and will not have another epidemic of bank failures” (14). He explained that the reopening of the banks would take some time “to enable the government to make commonsense checkups” (14). In each of these examples, FDR turned his metaphorical stethoscope upon the body of the banking system. Some banks were healthy, but others needed assistance in recovering their full strength, and the president and his administration would be available and empowered not only to provide such assistance but also to control and prevent the further spread of illness. Roosevelt acknowledged that “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 to you that the banks will take care of all needs except of course the hysterical demands of hoarders” (15). The patient here was again the American people, but far fewer of them. The identity of the patient shifted twice. In the beginning of the speech, FDR addressed the American-peopleas-patient but congratulated them on being basically cured: they were strong and had a good temper. Then Roosevelt turned his attention to the banking system, which was the patient in need of real attention. Again, he reassured his listeners that the second patient was largely healthy, albeit in need of closer examination

and localized treatment. The prognosis, he assured his audience, was so positive that they had no need of worry. By the end of the speech, the only patients who remained had been pronounced malingerers (and thus not “real” patients at all): those “few” who still harbored fear, which was so unrealistic as to be classified as “hysterical.” Clearly the rhetorical pressure here was to define oneself as one of the many more optimistic individuals. Edwin Black’s “second persona,” the ideal audience called forth by the speech, is one that possesses confidence in the government’s ability to evaluate and, if necessary, repair the banking system. Hysterical, demanding hoarders would be a clear example of the “third persona” Philip Wander describes, an audience posture that Roosevelt explicitly urged listeners to reject. A more subtle picture of the third persona emerges when one considers that people who were so destitute that they had no bank accounts, or those who had already lost all they possessed, were neither addressed nor envisioned by this discourse and were thus effectively erased. In this first speech, FDR metaphorically diagnosed the country’s economic (specifically banking) ills, namely, loss of confidence caused by incompetent and dishonest bankers, and he prescribed remedies (legislation) as well as long-term advice for healthy living through moderation of the appetites (the avoidance of speculation and hoarding). He thanked his patients for their trust in his diagnostic and curative expertise, implicitly assuring them that their positive attitude and determination to heal themselves would be a great asset: I can never be sufficiently grateful to the people for the loyal support that they have given me in their acceptance of the judgment that has dictated our course, even though all 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 themselves. Confidence and courage are the essentials of success in carrying out our plan. (16–17) Thus, through the use of linguistic metaphors and metaphoric role functions, Roosevelt assumed the mantle of family physician. By speaking with confidence and without qualification, he demonstrated that he had the ability to assess accurately the nation’s state of health and that he was wise enough to discern true illness from hysteria. But Dr. New Deal did not claim unalloyed power here. He also knew that the patient’s mental outlook had a great deal to do with the chances for a full and fast recovery, and he thus empowered many of his listeners (those who were not already beyond hope) with this knowledge, referring to the plan, and the responsibility for its success, as “ours.” The response of the American public to this first fireside chat was overwhelmingly positive, grateful, even adoring. Kenneth Davis writes, Of all the dozens of “fireside chats” that would ultimately be made, none was more hugely successful, more utterly effective of its specific purpose than this first of them. It marked the end of the banking crisis, though grave problems remained unresolved, for there were no runs on the reopened banks, on Monday, the thirteenth. On the contrary, deposits far exceeded withdrawals as hoarded currency poured back into bank vaults all over the country. . . . It would continue the same during the weeks and months ahead as more and more banks were reopened.109 William Leuchtenburg observes, “Since the President had said the banks were safe, they were; Roosevelt, observed Gerald Johnson, ‘had given a better demonstration than Schopenhauer ever did of the world as Will and Idea.’”110 Basil Rauch describes the momentum created by the first fireside chat: “The swift and successful



solution of the banking crisis, the clearing away of danger and fear as if by magic, launched the administration on a high tide of public enthusiasm and support.”111 Biographer Nathan Miller sums up the effect of FDR’s first days in office in medical terminology: “The panic had been halted, but the virus that caused it was yet to be isolated.”112 Thousands of letters poured in to the White House, praising Roosevelt for his bold leadership and thanking him for doing the unprecedented, for “visiting” with them, for speaking to his listeners in an intimate, down-to-earth fashion over the radio. Seventy years later, American citizens take the president’s appearance in their living rooms as a matter of course, and it may be difficult to remember that it was not always thus. But the astonishment with which people greeted this initial act is touching in its sincerity, humility, and gratitude. A letter from F. W. Meyers, of Iowa City, Iowa, is representative:113 My dear Mr. President;It was cosy and friendly and cheery to have you with us last night. We invited some friends in “to meet the President,” not forgetting to place an easy chair by the fireplace for the guest of honor, and when your voice came, so clear and vibrant and confident, we had but to close our eyes to see you sitting there with us, talking things over in friendly fashion. There were eight of us, all voters, four women and four men. Some republicans and some democrats, but, for the first time in our lives, unanimous, and all for you. I wish you would come and chat with us every Sunday evening. It would give us that “personal touch” so necessary to united action and make us feel that we were really a part of our government, that our opinions and cooperation were of value and that we were worthy to be consulted with and kept informed. There will come rifts, and misunderstandings. . . . But if you will visit us each week, even for fifteen minutes and take us into your confidence as you did last night, it will make a wonderful difference and I believe would enable you to carry your measures through “in spite of Congress and highwater.” . . . I believe I express the wishes of millions of people when I urge you to make it a habit to come again each Sunday evening for a friendly, neighborly chat. Our latch strings will always be out. (March 1933)



Many listeners expressed similar thoughts, assuring FDR that these personal chats, which meant so much to them, would be effective in gaining popular support, even against the wishes of the legislature.114 Meyers portrays ordinary citizens as disrespected by previous generations of politicians. Ironically, he is so grateful for Roosevelt’s departure from that norm that he practically licenses FDR to become a benevolent despot, as long as the president keeps the American public informed of his purposes. (Indeed, in Meyers’s letter, the position of third persona is occupied by Congress-as-obstacle. The political opposition to the president’s policies becomes silenced by both the president and his supporters.) In this way, the first fireside chat and the public’s response to it set the stage for a complicated push and pull of political agency, with Roosevelt honoring voters with his confidence, and voters returning the favor. This high degree of expressed mutual trust was an idyllic situation but one that contained the seeds of its own destruction, and of course it could not last forever. But while it lasted, it was incredibly powerful. Many citizens expressed their gratitude and enthusiasm for this first chat with apt medical imagery. George Cramer of the Bronx, New York, wrote, “Your Sunday night Broadcasts are the most soothing and your word the most healing, than any President has thus undertaken” (13 March 1933). Daniel Crawford of Philadelphia wrote, “You did more in fifteen minutes to inspire a depressed people than has been

done during the past four years” (13 March 1933). Margaret Dodge of Boston made the metaphor explicit: My dear Mr PresidentDo you realize what your clear talk over the Radio Sunday night meant to the people? It gave us the feeling that one has when a beloved one is sick;—the doctor, in whom one has confidence, comes with a smile from the sick room and assures those who have been waiting anxiously, that, with care, all will be well. Yours gratefully, (Mrs.) Margaret H. Dodge March 15th [1933] In fact, several writers made their doctor metaphors almost distressingly graphic. Estes Baker, for example, compared Roosevelt to “a skilled surgeon who has lanced a malignant tumor and is now engaged in cleaning the incision and treating the patient to bring him back to health, with complete assurance of success” (18 March 1933). Hundreds of people wrote to urge Roosevelt, in the words of Henry H. Blagden of Saranac, New York, to “[t]alk to us some more, it is good medicine and what we need” (13 March 1933). Each of these writers used language that specifically invoked the image of Roosevelt as physician and the country as patient. Margaret Dodge’s letter indicates that the subtleties of Dr. New Deal’s reassurances were not lost on his listeners: it is clear that the patient is not the writer herself but a “beloved one.” Dodge and most of the rest of her family are quite healthy; the invalid is only one person and recovering: “with care, all will be well.” In other words, Dodge had comprehended Roosevelt’s message perfectly: the American people were no longer in danger as long as they had confidence, and the banking system, the only truly threatened entity, was on the mend. These patterns of public reaction continued throughout the fireside chats. As people became more used to hearing their president on the radio, the novelty of the rhetorical act itself wore off somewhat, and the flow of mail slowed slightly to reflect the heatedness (or lack thereof) of the issue under discussion. On certain controversial topics, such as Roosevelt’s infamous plan to “pack” the Supreme Court (by appointing a new justice for every one over the age of seventy who refused to retire), the volume of unfavorable mail was considerable. But every fireside chat provoked some reaction (more positive than otherwise), and the medical metaphors and doctor role continued to appear in both the speeches and the letters of response, functioning as an important part of the collective consciousness. In the other domestic chats, Roosevelt made many mentions of common medical metaphors, such as: “economic/simple panaceas”;115 “cure-alls”;116 “economic ills”;117 “relief”;118 “recovery”;119 “cure”;120 “remedy”;121 and “sound” (economic life, currency, protection, policies, banks, and so on).122 Other fairly ordinary metaphors that Roosevelt used to describe the status of the nation’s economic and social structure included “revive” as in “reviving private enterprise”;123 “vital”;124 “stimulate”;125 “rehabilitation”;126 “vigor”;127 “healthy (employment, agricultural) conditions”;128comfort/misery or distress”;129 “strength/weakness”;130 “impairment”;131 “survival/saving life,” as in “the saving and safeguarding of our national life”;132 and “well-being/welfare.”133 Since these involve the assumption of the Depression as illness from which the country needed “relief” and “recovery,” many of these images appear when he is dealing most explicitly with the economy, as in his fireside chat on combating the 1937–38 recession (14 April 1938), and are less prevalent during his thirteenth fireside chat, on “purging” the Democratic Party (24 June 1938).



Many of these metaphors are relatively common and general, but on several occasions Roosevelt used medical metaphors that were more distinctive and colorful. The president’s second fireside chat, in which he assessed the progress of the New Deal’s first two months, contains the dramatic declaration, “Two months ago as you know we were facing serious problems. The country was dying by inches. It was dying because trade and commerce had declined to dangerously low levels; prices for basic commodities were such as to destroy the value of the assets of national institutions such as banks, and savings banks, and insurance companies, and others” (19–20). It is significant that the patient here was “the country,” not “we.” This allowed FDR and his listeners to presume themselves active, able agents rather than recovering victims who needed to treat themselves gingerly. The reasons for the country’s medical emergency were several, Roosevelt said, but the danger was clear: if the government would not intervene to stop foreclosures and a general tightening of credit, unprecedented disaster would follow: a further loss of homes and farms and savings and wages, but also a loss of spiritual values—the loss of that sense of security for the present and the future that is so necessary to the peace and contentment of the individual and of his family. When you destroy those things you find it difficult to establish confidence of any sort in the future. And it is clear that mere appeals coming out of Washington for more confidence and the mere lending of more money to shaky institutions could not stop that downward course. (20) Here, of course, Roosevelt managed a dig at the Hoover administration and its (infamous, if apocryphal) reassurances that prosperity was “just around the corner.” Dr. New Deal thus offered the American people a “second opinion” they desperately needed, and incidentally provided the speech with a sense of drama, a contest between the prescriptions of two medical practitioners. The proper treatment, of course, was medical intervention: “A prompt program applied as quickly as possible,” like a poultice (20). Here Dr. New Deal was metaphorically going over his patient’s medical history, reminding his listeners that his earlier diagnosis, unlike his predecessor’s, had been correct, and that the treatment he had prescribed was having the desired effect. The public’s response was overwhelmingly positive and included medical metaphors and depictions of FDR as healer. J J Bruin, a self-identified Roosevelt delegate from Lowell, Massachusetts, telegraphed, “JUST LISTENED TO YOUR ADDRESS INFLATION IS THE REMEDY” (7 May 1933). Herbert Clark of Rosendale, Massachusetts, wrote “It is so gratifying to know that we have such a beloved President in Washington, who tells the people in a straight forward, and courageous manner, just what our government is doing to make our dear land once again, a happy, prosperous and a healthy nation” (7 May 1933). Percy A. Barlow, M.D., who described himself as “just a Stork Doctor, who reads a good deal, thinks a good deal, and writes some,” sent the president a copy of a “little article” he had written, inspired by the second fireside chat. In it, Barlow described the fireside chats as occasions when



once in a while, [the president] takes the whole American Nation into his confidence, by gathering us all in the drawing room of the White House at 10 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, on a nice quiet Sunday Evening. These are what you might call, “Friendly Chat, Get Together, Father and Family Talks.” Some Presidents are only “Uncles” or “Second, Cousins” to us all. But not so, Franklin “Delay Not” Roosevelt. He “Chooses” to play the Role of GRAND PATER FAMILIAS. (Father of The Family). What more fitting, than that our Big Father, down in Washington, should let us go to Church three times on Sunday, and then after getting home, and all

comfortable in dressing gown and slippers in the library, we turn on the Radio, and there is the calm, cool, quiet, well modulated voice of Franklin “Delay Not” Roosevelt, with those conversational tones, quietly telling us just why it is necessary for us to take a nice dose of “Tasteless” Castor Oil, or a Big dose of Sulphur and Molasses Spring Tonic. And really, with such a N I C E Father, it isn’t hard to take at all. (10 May 1933) As Barlow’s letter demonstrates, the role of father often included the role of home doctor. The prescribed treatments were commonly known to be “good for you,” but unpleasant to the taste. According to Barlow’s testimony (in effect, a second doctor validating the opinion of what we now call the primary care physician), Roosevelt, with paternal authority, was able to convince listeners that unpleasant taste was a minor inconvenience when a greater good would result. Images of Franklin Roosevelt as the nation’s father, or as the friendly neighbor who stops in for a cozy chat, recur in both the letters to the White House and in Roosevelt’s rhetorical persona, and it is no wonder.134 As B. R. Smith writes, “FDR’s speeches reflect his own style and personality, his unique sense of hope, humor, and neighborliness. Roosevelt apparently viewed his role as a combination of patient schoolteacher and champion of the common citizen, eager for conflict with enemies of progress.”135 Each of these images mingles the essential elements of paternal authority, kindliness, and wisdom that are also central to the role of trusted family doctor. But there is a darker side to this, as well. Refusal to follow the doctor/neighbor/teacher/father’s advice could have serious consequences, for the authoritative patriarch could become a stern and unforgiving military general at times (as prefigured in his first inaugural address and as I will elaborate later).136 As Michael Osborn pointed out to me in correspondence in August 2002, these two Janus-images parallel Leni Riefenstahl’s double-edged construction of Adolf Hitler in her Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will. Film historian Gerald Mast describes the film’s heroic portrayal of “the Führer as a combination of Pagan god of strength and Christian savior of mildness.”137 It is no great surprise that, later in his presidency, critics would call Roosevelt a dictator and compare him to Hitler. Patriarchy works on the basis of these joined appeals, for the powerful, protective hero can quickly become someone to fear if those under his charge disobey him. Roosevelt returned to medical imagery in his third fireside chat, praising the first hundred days and boosting the National Recovery Act. He claimed that “for many years the two great barriers to a normal prosperity have been low farm prices and the creeping paralysis of unemployment” (32). The illness, he could imply, was worsened, if not caused, by earlier administrations’ mistakes over the course of “many years.” FDR, who had personally known (and at least in the public mind, substantially overcome) the effects of paralysis, was prescribing work as the remedy. Work thus became metaphorically equated with activity, healthy exercise, movement, economic life itself. But work was not simply to be equated with production: “The cure,” the president said, “is not to produce so much. . . . [T]his method is in a sense experimental, but so far . . . we have reason to believe that it will produce good results” (32). In other words, the new treatment was being tested by a bold medical practitioner and his courageous patients. FDR, as Miller tells us, knew much about the effects and treatments of paralysis. After his own diagnosis, Roosevelt studied polio, searching for a cure and trying a variety of experimental methods. Eventually he became “something of an authority” on the disease and its treatment.138 This expertise allowed FDR to jump effortlessly from “victim” to healer and to speak with unique authority. (No wonder his listeners considered him healed.) In this speech, FDR referred to “smaller employers” as “a vital part of the backbone of the country” (35), an image that brings to mind the spine’s function in facilitating and protecting movement and life through conveying messages from





the brain to regulate the body’s systems. Here one could read the national government as the brain, making decisions and sending nerve impulses for the rest of the body to carry out. Again, members of the public wrote to FDR. Sidney B. Bowman of New York City proclaimed himself “thrilled to the very last red corpuscle” (25 July 1933). But others felt free to offer criticism, writing seriously to the president about obstacles they saw to the “rehabilitory efforts of your Administration” (G. J. Bohle, Forbes, N.D., 25 July 1933); describing bureaucratic and political shortcomings, such as noting that “the Public Works program is likewise afflicted” (Bruce Craven, Trinity, N.C., 25 July 1933); and making suggestions for what would “bring a prompt revival of business” (R. W. Braucher, Chicago, 25 July 1933). Each of these writers quoted here, even when calling negative aspects of New Deal legislation or administration to the president’s attention, assumed Roosevelt to be a good-hearted man whose wish was to treat the ailing economy in the best way possible. (Roosevelt’s correspondents’ assumptions of his good intentions can be read as a political parallel to the famous phrase from the Hippocratic Oath, “First, do no harm.”) The image of paralysis appeared again a year later, in the fireside chat of 28 June 1934, when Roosevelt responded to criticism of the New Deal legislation. In justifying relief spending, the president said that the need for such measures “comes from the paralysis that arose as the aftereffect of that unfortunate decade characterized by a mad chase for unearned riches and an unwillingness of leaders in almost every walk of life to look beyond their own schemes and speculations” (47–48). In this case, citizens and leaders who engaged in the wrong kinds of activities, without the wisdom to regulate their own desires, debilitated the country. Although the paralysis was itself a problem, it was also a fitting linguistic “stop” that had caused the nation to recognize the madness of the “chase” and the irresponsibility of those in every “walk” of life who had not the clear vision of Dr. New Deal. In other words, the wisdom of the body had called a halt to dangerous activities, even at risk to its own continuance, thus gaining the attention of those who might enable it to heal itself. Reaction to this address was heated. The president was attempting to answer criticisms of the New Deal from those on both the right (who said that the government was interfering in business) and the left (who charged that the government was not doing enough to help people out of the Depression). Predictably, Roosevelt’s framing of his administration’s efforts “toward the saving and safeguarding of our national life” satisfied some and inflamed others (47). In this speech, Roosevelt asked a series of questions of his listeners, beginning with the one that Ronald Reagan would appropriate successfully a half-century later: “Are you better off than you were last year? Are your debts less burdensome? Is your bank account more secure? Are your working conditions better? Is your faith in your own individual future more firmly grounded? . . . Have you as an individual paid too high a price for these gains? . . . Have you lost any of your rights or liberty or constitutional freedom of action and choice?” (48–49). Some audience members took him at his word and faithfully supplied written answers, reporting on the state of their financial health. The answers were not always what the president had confidently predicted he would hear. Some correspondents were rather hostile, expressing the widely shared frustration and horror about the administration’s notorious slaughter of sows and piglets: “Isn’t it a stupid thing to do, to kill so many pigs and to plow up so many crops when people are both hungry and unclothed, and isn’t it still more stupid to pay a farmer more for failing to produce something, than he would receive for creating something that could be used” (H. W. Spencer, Louisville, Ky., 12 July 1934). George P. Hall of Richmond, Virginia, telegraphed his disapproval efficiently, “IN YOUR RADIO ADDRESS TONIGHT I UNDERSTOOD YOU TO SAY MY FRIENDS DO YOU MEAN MY FRIENDS OR MY COMRADES” (28 June 1934). On at

least one occasion, the metaphor of paralysis was turned about on Roosevelt: “my children and my children’s children will be handicapped by the burden of debt service which you are placing on their shoulders. It is unkind and unfair” (Wellen H. Colburn, Wollaston, Mass., 1 July 1934). The initial enthusiasm for the New Deal had waned somewhat, and FDR, while still popular, had his share of detractors. No longer was it assumed that he was totally sincere and well-meaning; many members of the public had begun to suspect that political expediency rather than a coherent framework underlay some administration policy decisions. But others adopted the second persona and used the medical imagery in the pattern Roosevelt had encouraged, thanking him for the broadcast, which “came as a tonic to those who began to doubt as to the policies of the administration” (Herbert A. Kosterlitz, Chicago, 29 June 1934), and confirming that “your diognosis was absolutely true” (G. A. Hook, Ashville, Ohio, 30 June 1934). Samuel Sinaink of Philadelphia proclaimed, “Your gigantic plan for rehabilitation and constant recovery has gained new life and power as a result of the cooperation” of Congress (28 June 1934). Three months later, Roosevelt again addressed the nation, speaking this time about “the relations between capital, labor, and government in a free society.”139 Midterm elections were approaching, and the president was eager to highlight what he saw as the gains of the New Deal. Casting back over the previous year and a half, he recollected, “It was in this spirit that we approached our task of reviving private enterprise in March 1933. . . . the banks had collapsed. Some banks could not be saved but the great majority of them . . . have been restored to complete public confidence” (55). Not only was Roosevelt taking credit for bringing the banking system back to life, but he was claiming responsibility also for the healing that had continued because of the public’s view of the banks. Health was thus an attitude, and as a rhetorician, Roosevelt could rightly claim to have the ability to effect this kind of healing. Moreover, listeners picked up on and reinforced these implicit claims about the curative powers of the fireside chats, saying, “The arguments presented by you are unanswerable as to plan and program, for the cure of present ills” (Thomas Kelly, Venice, Calif., 1 October 1934), and “Your radio fire side talks invariably heal and comfort millions of poor souls in need of your guiding hand in these hours of suffering” (J. E. Lavigne, Chicago, 5 October 1934). A long time passed before the next fireside chat, at the end of April 1935. In this address, the president focused on defending the Works Progress Administration from anticipated criticism and on urging public support for measures currently before Congress, such as the Social Security Act. Roosevelt articulated a rationale for his practice of going over the heads of Congress, calling upon his unique position as having been elected by all the voters of the country (65). Despite his relative distance from his constituents, he could therefore claim a closer personal connection to them as a whole than could any single member of Congress, who spoke for, and answered to, only a fraction of the populace.140 It is clear from the public reaction, as well as from the historical accounts of the period, that lively debate and criticism of Roosevelt’s legislative program abounded. Many letter and editorial writers mentioned Father Charles E. Coughlin, Louisiana senator Huey P. Long, and Dr. Francis E. Townsend, who were gaining popularity by taking stands that Roosevelt would not. Such criticism became a target of FDR loyalists, who sometimes invoked medical images in defending their president: “Unkind and foolish and irrational criticism should be left off while our nation recovers,” wrote W. N. Lowrance of Oxford, Mississippi (1 May 1935). “The main trouble in the United States at present, according to my knowledge, is that we have too many Rev. Coughlins, and Hughey Longs, that I believe are poison for United States” (Jake Levich, Sioux City, Iowa, 1 May 1935). Here and elsewhere, writers quoted FDR’s words, or invoked his images, in their responses. The language of relief and recovery dominated this April address;





“recovery” appeared eight times and “relief” fifteen. Assessing the health of the public spirit, the president asserted that “Americans as a whole are feeling a lot better—a lot more cheerful than for many, many years” (65), and one writer assured him, “I felt much better after your talk of last evening. . . . I would sujest however that you continue your Fire side talks from time to time your long absence from the air left many of us worried” (John A. McLean, Tucson, Az., 29 April 1935). Many wrote to condemn FDR’s policies as being “attacks on big business” (Ernest H. Lewis, East Orange, N.J., 30 April 1935). But one editorial in the St. Louis StarTimes of 30 April 1935, sent in as a clipping by Sidney S. May, presented this more nuanced analysis of the situation: “It would be erroneous, therefore, to say that the Roosevelt administration and big business are deeply in conflict. Big business thinks they are, but the relationship as seen by the President appears to be that of physician and patient, with some uncertainty about the therapeutic effect of the medicine used.” This editorial analysis lends credence to the idea that in the fireside chats, the third persona being negated is not the capitalist but the Communist who sees no value in the market economy. Progressive politicians had long sought to create a coalition between farm and labor without much success. On the eve of Labor Day in 1936, Franklin Roosevelt joined this tradition, using the radio to attempt to convince the two groups that their interests were truly intertwined and that those mutual interests would be best served by reelecting him that November. The coalition did not last long, but it was good while it lasted. Roosevelt’s victory that year was stunning. In addition to conventional mentions of “relief,” Roosevelt said, “I want to make it clear that no simple panacea can be applied to the drought problem in the whole of the drought area” (77). One writer commended Roosevelt on his address, identifying a problem using medical language. “Your speech last evening is the best yet. . . . The nation is becoming conscious that we really have a farm problem, However, but few have properly appraised our greatest handicap that is we labor under a heavy and increasing capital levy tax on our property” (F. F. Elkin, Midland, Tex., 7 September 1936). The next fireside chat was one of the most infamous. Although Roosevelt’s people referred to the topic as “the court fight,” “court-packing” is the term by which most people know the topic today. This speech, given 9 March 1937, was quite bloody, full of graphic images of bodily injury, arterial blockage, and the possibilities for rejuvenation. The Supreme Court had recently declared unconstitutional two of the New Deal’s most important pieces of legislation, the Agricultural Adjustment Act and the National Industrial Recovery Act, and had found a New York State minimum wage law unconstitutional as well. (Historically, the Court had only rarely used its power to overturn legislation.141 With the advent of the New Deal, however, the Court suddenly became activist and struck down a dozen laws in a brief period of time.) To add insult to injury, not a single justice had had the courtesy to die or retire during Roosevelt’s first term in office, permitting him no opportunity to appoint a judge favorable to his legislative program. (Indeed, rumors circulated at the time that the Supreme Court Justices were staying alive simply to spite the president.) These reversals boded ill for the future of attempts to counteract the Depression by government action. To many in FDR’s administration, as well as the nation as a whole, the pursuit of further New Deal legislation seemed pointless. Some employers even dallied about complying with laws already passed, betting that the Court would overturn them. Faced with the threatened loss of precious legislative momentum at what should have been his strongest moment (after a reelection the previous November in which he gained all but a handful of electoral votes), Roosevelt proposed a desperate measure that startled Congress, the public, and even his closest advisers. Arguing that a constitutional amendment would take too long, and even then would only mean what the Supreme Court

said it meant, he sought to secure passage of the judicial reorganization bill, which would allow him to appoint a new Supreme Court justice (as well as others in the federal court system) for each one over the age of seventy who chose not to retire. Roosevelt portrayed his landslide victory over Republican challenger Alf Landon as a “mandate” for judicial reform because (he argued) it indicated the desires of voters for a continuation of his New Deal programs. In the midst of the court fight, the Court shifted and began ruling in favor of New Deal legislation. With this sea change, the propacking forces came to believe that the change was less necessary. This was quickly followed by the death and retirement of two justices, giving Roosevelt his chance to shape the judiciary. Essentially, Roosevelt lost the battle but won the war—with substantial damage to his ethos. In his book on Roosevelt’s rhetorical presidency, Halford Ryan maps the rhetorical roads not taken in four of Roosevelt’s 1937 speeches: his second inaugural address, his judiciary message in February, his 4 March Democratic Victory Dinner address, and the 9 March fireside chat itself. Although it is impossible to know for certain how events might have happened otherwise, Ryan builds a credible case that Roosevelt could have made his appeal to the people much more compelling by being more forthright from the first moments of his second term. FDR should have admitted that the problem for which he sought redress was the Court’s flouting of the will of the people as expressed through the laws passed by a democratically elected Congress. Instead, the president focused on the pseudo-issues of the age of the justices and the backlog of cases, both of which were easily disputed by opponents of the measure.142 The fireside chat of 9 March 1937 employs all the usual metaphorical instruments in the doctor’s bag, as well as some more specialized tools: Today’s recovery proves how right that policy [taking the country off the gold standard] was. . . . In 1933 you and I knew that we must never let our economic system get completely out of joint again . . . We also became convinced that the only way to avoid a repetition of those dark days was to have a government with power to prevent and to cure the abuses and the inequalities which had thrown that system out of joint. We then began a program of remedying those abuses and inequalities—to give balance and stability to our economic system. (85) Most of these metaphors stand out only in their close proximity to one another; they firmly serve to depict FDR as healer of the nation’s economic ills, a role that, by this time, listeners had associated with Roosevelt for years. But soon comes a twist. In addition to the commonplace images of recovery, cure, and remedy, the speech is memorable for its explicit references to the “possibilities of injury to America” (86) and for Roosevelt’s characterization of his judicial reorganization plan as one bent on “infusing new blood into our courts . . . a steady and continuing stream of new and younger blood . . . [in order to] save our national Constitution from hardening of the judicial arteries” (90). Historian Kenneth Davis describes the 9 March fireside chat as “dwell[ing] wholly upon judicial obstructionism as disease, the bill as cure.”143 The plan, argued Roosevelt, “seeks to maintain the federal bench in full vigor” (91), rather than allowing the Court’s caprice to, in the words of dissenting Justice Robert Stone, render government “impotent” (89). Examination of these two images together displays the fallacious nature of the age argument; clearly, if the “nine old men” of whom FDR spoke were truly in need of increased energy and life force, they would not have had the muscle to emasculate their government. Whereas most of the previous medical metaphors in Depression-era discourse had characterized the Depression as an illness inflicting the American body



politic, in this address FDR targeted the Supreme Court justices themselves as the cause of the disease. And the illness this time, in addition to having disturbing sexual overtones (impotent, vigor) had affected the “national Constitution.” This claim was far more divisive than any of his previous scapegoating maneuvers, as I discuss further below, and much of the resulting public reaction recognized the ploy and even turned it back on Roosevelt. The volume of mail on both sides of the issue was high. Davis recounts Gallup poll data that found 45 percent in favor, 45 percent opposed, 10 percent undecided.144 Many citizens were persuaded by the president’s appeals in the fireside chat and the two messages leading up to it, agreeing that the Court possessed “harmfull powers” that endangered the “welfare of our people” (Peter Pappas, Milwaukee, 13 March 1937) and even going farther than Roosevelt, claiming that “the Supreme Court have been exercising Dictatorship they are bent on Paralyzing our Government and Preventing the overwhelming majority of American People from getting what they comparatively need and have Demanded at the Polls” (Peter Pappas, New York City, March 1937).145 But many others were understandably reluctant to give him carte blanche in this matter and wrote to the chief executive indignantly demanding that he retract his proposal. Some writers, such as the author of the following telegram, indicated that, far from being the healer he purported to be, the president himself was the one threatening the health of the nation with deadly toxins: “YOUR VENOM ON INTEGRITY OF COURT JUSTICES INTERNATIONAL DISGRACE TO OUR COUNTRY” (W. R. O’Shaughnessy, Brooklyn, N.Y., 9 March 1937). “Your attack on the Supreme Court is sickening to all thoughtful people,” wrote another (E. L. Rogers, Berkeley, Calif., 4 March 1937). Others expressed a sense of betrayal by one in whom they had vested the utmost trust: “I want to like and respect you but personally I have been so shocked at your proposal that it has really undermined my health” (Vera Eleanor Rowley, Detroit, 8 March 1937). Many writers offered to disabuse the president of the notion that he had been given a mandate on judicial reform: “The country has given you no commission to take it down what has been called ‘The suicide road’” (F. W. Oliver, Claremont, Calif., 22 February 1937). One writer, for whom the entire genre of fireside chats had apparently been ruined by the court fight, wrote, “Why do you not call them Bedtime Stories instead?” (A. E. Osmond, Cincinnati, 13 March 1937). Even among first-year Democratic members of Congress, loyalty to FDR could not ensure their support on this measure. After the public debate had begun, but before the fireside chat, one troubled constituent wrote: I listened most thoughtfully to your [Democratic Victory Dinner] speech last night and I must call attention to the fact that your opposition on your Supreme Court Plan is coming from Democrats of whom I am proud to be one. . . . Put what you want in an amendment, submit it to the electorate and I’m with you—but I shall fight to the last ditch against your present plan. . . . You are a great man and I do not doubt your good intentions in the matter for a moment—but you are making a mistake. It is your lack of frankness that has me afraid as you must have feared us last election when you withheld this plan from us—When, during the campaigne, you said you “had only just begun to fight” you knew then that you wanted to change the Supreme Court. Why did you not tell us your plan then? (Mrs. Nell R. Owens, Chevy Chase, Md., 5 March 1937, original emphasis, last line doubly underlined)



Those who opposed Roosevelt’s plan did so with all the agency and vigor one could wish in a healthy populace. This was the instance in which the American patient most emphatically refused the doctor’s treatment, effectively reprimanding Roosevelt with the charge that he was flaunting his ethical responsibility by endangering their health rather than promoting it. In Black’s terms, many of FDR’s

listeners rejected the second persona evoked by this discourse and gave voice to what Wander would call a third persona that the president’s words had negated. That October Roosevelt again addressed the nation, forecasting upcoming proposals for a special legislative session and alluding to the growing violence that would become the Second World War. The speech is fairly ordinary in its use of images of recovery, strength, and national well-being. But one small image is notable: Roosevelt critiqued fickle manufacturers who complained about farm production controls while they “[threw] men out of work” to adjust to a lowered demand for their products: “When it is their baby who has the measles, they call it not ‘an economy of scarcity’ but ‘sound business judgment’” (101). In this image, the illness remained economic, but business was trivialized as the overprotective and shortsighted parent who ignores the threat to the equally important “baby” of another “family.” Clearly, Roosevelt’s patience with the business community was at an end. The speech generated admiration as well as hostility, with some listeners looking forward to a third term in 1940, and one saying, “You could be our president for the next hundred years” (Glen Martin, Norwalk, Ohio, 12 October 1937). Others took this to be Roosevelt’s ambition; one unsigned letter referring to him as “Frank the Great” and “Pontius Pilate” was deemed serious enough to be sent to the Secret Service (New York City, 14 October 1937). The authority Roosevelt assumed with such confidence allowed the interpretation that the president was less than respectful of the rights of citizens in a democracy to disagree with, and critique, their leaders. One month later Roosevelt used the radio to urge cooperation with the unemployment census about to be launched. The economy had recovered substantially, and the government was seeking to ascertain the extent of the problems that remained. Roosevelt depicted unemployment as “one of the bitter and galling problems that now afflicts mankind,” saying that “the situation calls for a permanent cure and not just a temporary one” (107). Although the address itself was fairly innocuous, it did prompt an exceptionally vituperative response from a Denver investments specialist, who picked up the medical metaphor and ran with it: You are asking, and are going to ask, business to help you in reducing unemployment. Is it possible you have not heard that business is deceased? The death certificate gives “starvation” as the cause. Business had been ailing more or less since the New Deal policies got well under way. At first its health was very good. Your promises, before the election of 1932, to balance the budget, and to reduce government expenses 25% acted like a tonic, and everybody thought the patient was on the way to recovery. . . . But when these promises went sour, the body of the patient became heavily acidulated, aggravated by a malignant infection of taxeatus, the decline set in, which resulted in the recent demise of the patient. (W. B. Ladd, Denver, 16 November 1937) According to this writer, Roosevelt was guilty of manslaughter if not murder. He had poisoned the body of the business world with what one supposes is a form of economic cancer, “tax-eat-us.” Soon after it was completed, the unemployment census was rendered irrelevant. Fearful of causing economic dependence upon the government, Roosevelt had withdrawn economic support from a number of relief programs. The seemingly miraculous recovery of 1935–36 proved its fragility with the ensuing “Roosevelt recession” of 1937–38.146 In response, FDR delivered a speech on combating the recession that brimmed with images of recovery, vitality, rehabilitation, and strength and with promises that government would once again be stepping up its relief efforts. Quoting from his own message to Congress, Roosevelt told his listeners, “In this situation there is no reason, there is no occasion for any American to allow his fears to be aroused or his energy and enterprise to be paralyzed by doubt





or uncertainty” (116). Here, the paralysis had both a different cause and a different target from its earlier appearances. The causative agent of the paralysis was no longer a previous administration’s bumbling, since Roosevelt himself had filled the previous term in office. The individual’s initiative, not the nation’s economy, was the potential victim or patient this time, and only the individual could prevent that particular form of paralysis from striking. Indeed, in this scenario, only the uncooperative individual (the third persona) was truly to blame if the paralysis did take hold. The country’s health, although poorer than one would have hoped, was still better than it had been before the doctor’s first visit. The cure, and the prevention of future illness, would be effected by adopting the second persona, the ideal auditor, who would have confidence in Dr. New Deal and, rather than blaming him for the illness, work with him “to consolidate and maintain the gains we have achieved” (116). Both doctor and patient had been through this illness before, Roosevelt assured his listeners, and both knew what the appropriate remedy was. The patient’s responsibility was psychological. However, with rare exceptions, the public response that adopted those images was overwhelmingly anti-Roosevelt. Although one writer said, “I am sure [FDR’s New Deal] is the only program that can aid our very sick America” (C. Albert Swanson, Chicago, 18 April 1938), many more were critical of Roosevelt’s plans: “We have learned that your one panacea—such an easy one,—is to spend more money, our money” (Gladys M. Corinth, Newtonville, Mass., 15 April 1938), and “If the spending cure did not work then, and even you must admit that it did not, why try it again?” (A. D. A. Crawford, 16 April 1938). These writers attributed public insecurity to mistrust of Roosevelt: “In addition to the fears you spoke of—fear of war, etc., there was, and is, one that you missed—fear of you and your policies” (A. D. A. Crawford, 16 April 1938), and “There is fear and bewilderment and you’re the reason for it. . . . I really feel badly that we have to have 2 more years of your administration” (Milton C. R. Carlson, Minneapolis, 15 April 1938). The nation’s economy was still the ailing patient, but individuals also related their personal feelings to Roosevelt’s actions. Not only was the doctor issuing the wrong prescription, according to these correspondents, he himself was exacerbating, or even generating, the disease. Two months later, in June 1938, Roosevelt delivered what would be his last “domestic” fireside chat, reporting on the achievements of Congress, attacking his opponents as “Copperheads,” and setting forth his own definitions of “liberal” and “conservative.” These definitions reflected FDR’s long-cherished wish for party realignment, for a party composed of former Republican progressives and Democratic liberals and a party of conservatives made up of those on the right in both major parties. However, Roosevelt neglected to provide his audience with a surefire way of distinguishing “true” liberals from those he mockingly called “yes, but” liberals based on their voting records. Instead, the president talked vaguely about “attitudes” and left himself open to the charge that the “Tory press” and FDR’s opponents gleefully made, that Roosevelt was blackmailing elected representatives for their political lives, demanding unquestioning acceptance of his interpretation of the will of the electorate and the goals of the party. To be sure, many sympathized with the president’s frustration over “closet conservatives” who were “elected as ostensible New Dealers . . . [but who joined] their Republican brethren in obstructing the president’s liberal political agenda in 1937–38.”147 But even these listeners were often dismayed at FDR’s methods of seeking such realignment through unprecedented presidential involvement in party primaries. As with the Supreme Court fight, Roosevelt took this issue personally, seeking particularly to oust nine conservative Democratic senators who had been instrumental in blocking his reform measures. Although FDR did receive mail in support of his position, the overall public perception of Roosevelt suffered as a result of what became known in the

press and in public discourse as his attempt to “purge” the Democratic Party of those who had opposed him, especially in the recent Supreme Court fight. Roosevelt’s American audience, acquainted from afar with “Hitler’s bloody purge of early Nazis and Stalin’s of Old Bolsheviks,” desired neither war nor dictatorship; the image of a “purge” conjured up specters of both.148 Most of the medical images that appear in this chat are fairly standard and sparse: recovery, remedy, relief. However, the definitions Roosevelt offered of liberalism and conservatism were clearly self-serving (and hardly tempered by FDR’s initial qualifying phrase, which would quickly fade from memory when the speech was experienced aurally): Roughly speaking, the liberal school of thought recognizes that the new conditions throughout the world call for new remedies. Those of us in America who hold to this school of thought, insist that these new remedies can be adopted and successfully maintained in this country under our present form of government as an instrument of cooperation to provide these remedies. . . . The opposing or conservative school of thought, as a general proposition, does not recognize the need for government itself to step in and take action to meet these new problems. It believes that individual initiative and private philanthropy will solve them—that we ought to repeal many of the things we have done and go back, for example, to the old gold standard, or stop all this business of old age pensions and unemployment insurance, or repeal the Securities and Exchange Act, or let monopolies thrive unchecked—return, in effect, to the kind of government that we had in the 1920s. (133) In this medical scenario, liberals (the second persona) recognized the disease and had solutions for it, while conservatives (the third persona, the posture the audience was urged to reject) saw nothing wrong in allowing the illness to spread. Conservatives offered no treatment because they did not even concede that the patient was in danger. A significant third persona, one silenced by FDR’s message, is that of the listener who disagreed with Roosevelt’s self-serving characterizations of liberalism and conservatism. Those targeted in Roosevelt’s purge often used racist appeals to their constituents, implying that FDR wished to erode white supremacy. Such arguments were the final word for many. One person wrote angrily, “A review of where your strength lies—87% of the Negroes for you—must comfort you. Come to this section and try to hire a negress to do general housework! As the intelligence of the various groups increases [barring outright gifts to the farmers etc.], your popularity decreases” (R. A. Johnson, Glenside, Pa., 27 June 1938). But others wrote expressing their agreement with Roosevelt’s sentiments, affirming his recent negative characterization of the press, and calling for a third term of his administration: “[Your speech] was wonderful, the only thing you had Better be afraid of is we the people of this great country might draft you again for President, it can be done” (Sydney Loring, Compton, Calif., 25 June 1938).149 “We are just two of many millions who spend our evenings reading the newspapers who’s only aim it seems to us is to inject in our veins a deadly fear of the future” (Mr. and Mrs. Clement L. Lee, Chicago, June 1938). “It makes me breathe easier to know there is some-one like you at the helm!” (Mrs. Joan A. Hunt, 25 June 1938). “My my [your talk] was shure good to here it was a tonic for troubled nerves it destroyed all the poisen that has been put out by the press for the last 6 months and how I prayed for it to sooth into the minds and Harts of the millions that was listning to it” (T. J. Lyons, Fairbury, Ill., 25 June 1938). For these listeners, Roosevelt remained the healer, and the press was misrepresenting him in obedience to the wealthy newspaper owners, whose “toes had been stepped on” by the New Deal’s reforms. Ultimately, the rich were still to be



blamed for the economic illness that afflicted the nation, and their doctor was worthy of every defense. But when the primaries and the general election returns had been counted, Roosevelt’s influence had been negligible, except perhaps to harden the opposition against him. The purge was notoriously unsuccessful, and the midterm elections of 1938 brought an increase in conservative strength in Congress, effectively putting an end to further New Deal legislation. In a telling metaphor with violent connotations of medicine gone wrong, Halford Ryan refers to Roosevelt’s purge as “the second of a one-two self-inflicted wound that he dealt his rhetorical presidency—the other was the ill-fated court fight”.150

DR. WIN-THE-WAR AND THE FOREIGN POLICY FIRESIDE CHATS Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration faced the two greatest crises of the twentieth century. Historian Waldo Heinrichs argues for the close connections between the two: the Great Depression made World War II possible, he writes, because the “world economic crisis . . . undermin[ed] confidence in the world order, [shook] the foundations of political power in every country, and promot[ed] authoritarian rule.”151 For several years, President and Commander in Chief Roosevelt had been walking a fine rhetorical line. The strong isolationist sentiment in the country following the First World War allowed the passage of several “neutrality laws” in the 1930s. As a result, the United States was forbidden to trade with or otherwise aid belligerents, no matter who seemed to be the aggressor.152 Although Roosevelt sometimes used what Ryan calls “words of war” in his speeches, as in his famous “Quarantine” speech (5 October 1937), he refused to stray far ahead of public opinion.153 Many biographers and historians note that as the war in Europe dragged on, the president longed for freer rein to aid the Allies, sometimes wishing out loud for some event to crystallize public opinion in favor of such assistance.154 After one of his meetings with Roosevelt, Winston Churchill told his cabinet that the American president had made a “secret promise that he would wage war against Nazi Germany but not declare it; everything was to be done to force an incident.”155 Between 1937 and 1941 the president had to be politically bilingual, speaking alternately the language of peace and the language of war, careful to sound strong (and encourage preliminary preparations for war production) without alarming the populace by sounding eager for participation in a conflict that seemed distant from American shores. Buhite and Levy put it succinctly: “The tactic he chose . . . was to blend isolationism and intervention.”156 After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, Roosevelt’s words became unapologetically warlike. The rhetorical power of the wartime fireside chats was, and is, undeniable. In addition to boosting the morale of his country’s citizens, Roosevelt was able to encourage the Allies abroad. The Axis powers went to considerable trouble, in fact, to combat the effectiveness of the president’s speeches. They actually timed attacks to compete with the president’s message:



Nazi Germany and later Japan tried to undermine the effectiveness of the Fireside Chats in mobilizing American opinion for and response to the President. Frequently both countries used psychological warfare to weaken the speeches’ impact. Nazi Germany doctored up wire recordings of some of the Fireside Chats to produce pro-German speeches that were then broadcast to the Allies! On the night that Roosevelt gave his “Arsenal of Democracy” Fireside Chat— December 29, 1940—the Germans subjected London to one of the heaviest bombings of the War. In that raid, although St. Paul’s Cathedral miraculously escaped, fire destroyed a large part of the city. The Japanese sent a submarine to

throw a few shells off the coast of California near Santa Barbara in an abortive attempt to reduce the effectiveness of the Fireside Chat of February 23, 1942. Both countries timed the creation of major disturbances with Fireside Chats in the hope that the problems would blanket the speeches in the morning’s news and mitigate the effect that Roosevelt’s words might produce around the world. Such tactics were used often, but never to much avail.157 Although the fireside chats on foreign policy, both leading up to and during World War II, contain fewer medical images than those on domestic issues, each speech does include at least one such image, and the president continued to perform the metaphorical duties of a physician. FDR’s detailed analogy of Dr. New Deal and Dr. Win-the-War in the press conference of 1943 indicates that, at least at that moment, he saw his healing role as one that carried over into the second major crisis of the times. But the image need not have been consciously constructed and maintained in order to exert continued rhetorical power; as I have shown, it took on a life of its own in the discourse of the president and ordinary citizens alike. It seems that even published authors are not immune to its appeal. Historians have adopted the image of Roosevelt as healer during the war as well. For example, in their introduction to the “Arsenal of Democracy” speech, Buhite and Levy conclude, “But given the state of Britain’s defenses and the paucity of its dollar reserves, the Destroyers-Bases deal would prove to be little more than a palliative.”158 And Yeilding and Carlson welcome both medical partners into their depiction of historical events: “As World War II began, Roosevelt turned his attention, as did his Fireside Chats, to foreign affairs. As he did so, Dr. New Deal necessarily took a back seat to Dr. Win-the-War.”159 “Strength/weakness” was the most common medical metaphoric cluster Roosevelt used in these chats on foreign policy issues, including discussions of “stamina,” “endurance,” and “fortitude.”160 These images appear in fifteen of the eighteen fireside chats the president delivered between 1939 and 1945, not surprisingly, since strength is such a versatile image. In these speeches, it most often serves to focus listeners’ attention on the importance of military success to national (and international) health. Roosevelt could use the discourse of strength in the years before the country was formally at war as a way of appearing to do everything in his power to prevent American entry into the conflict, and once the nation had joined the fray, he could continue to speak of the degree of resolve and fighting talent available on both sides. The second persona here was a listener who hated war but realized the necessity of defending democracy at home and abroad. The third persona explicitly included isolationists and those who favored appeasement. Not even invoked by the discourse, the hidden third personae, are committed pacifists and those who found the Axis powers plan or philosophy appealing. Several other medical images, or images that refer to the country as a body in danger, recurred in these later chats. “Vital” appeared in eight speeches, often multiple times in the same address.161 In May 1941, in a speech proclaiming national emergency, FDR used variations of the word “vital” three times. Buhite and Levy characterize this chat as “lack[ing] firm direction” “to a greater extent than most” of his fireside chats.162 “We insist,” the president said, “upon the vital importance of keeping Hitlerism away from any point in the world which could be used or would be used as a base of attack against the Americas” (184). But what did this actually mean? With new technology, almost any place on earth could be a potential base of such operations. Specific policy implications were impossible to draw from such a statement. In a political sense, this statement simply meant that Roosevelt had the unenviable task of needing to sound forbidding, without having the war powers to make good on his threats. Proclaiming something to be “vital” was one way of doing little else about it. Conversely, Roosevelt left his options open, with the





plausible rationale that almost anyplace could be “defended” by the United States under such a broad rationale. After the United States became a full-fledged participant in the armed conflict, Roosevelt used the term “vital” on a regular basis. The speech in which it appeared with the greatest frequency was on the topic of stabilizing the price of food— hardly one that, at first glance, seemed crucial to the war effort. But Roosevelt’s rhetorical task was to draw close connections between the foreign fronts and the home front, to pressure Congress (by appealing to the listeners at home) to pass his measure regulating prices. He did so by using the term “vital” to reference pending legislation as well as military decisions, effectively putting home and foreign problems on equal footing. Several other metaphors referred to the health and life of the nation. Images of poison appeared in three of the speeches, always referring to the dangers posed to the American nation by rumor or propaganda and the division that could result.163 As Thomas Benson points out, “The poison metaphor is a negative one, which is usually applied to someone else’s message.” And censorship is the most obvious logical policy implication when one is trying to protect one’s audience from the poison of someone else’s propaganda.164 Certainly, the hint that critical voices need not be heard is one of the factors that led to accusations that Roosevelt had dictatorial tendencies. When he used images of poison, FDR always put himself in the position of wise, perceptive healer, able to distinguish bitter medicine from poison, truth from falsehood. Images of paralysis appeared again in the foreign policy speeches, as they had in the domestic fireside chats. Roosevelt referred to Americans’ future efforts to “help a crippled humanity” (148), the prospect of the nation being struck by “political paralysis” as a result of divisive propaganda campaigns (161), and the bleak picture of life under Nazi rule: “The whole fabric of working life as we know it . . . all would be mangled and crippled under such a system. Yet to maintain even that crippled independence would require permanent conscription of our manpower” (178). Once the war began, however, these images of paralysis disappeared completely. Their rhetorical purpose presumably lay in the threat of the paralysis that would ensue unless the recommended course of action (support of the Allied military forces) was pursued; a savvy politician would never admit, much less proclaim, paralysis as the status quo, since the nature of the image forbids the action and movement necessary to solve the problem. Once the United States had entered the war, paralysis may have seemed too forbidding a specter even to mention, invoking as it would images of Allied helplessness that would guarantee Axis victory. A variety of other metaphors with medical connotations found their way into these later fireside chats. Roosevelt referred three times to national and international “economic well-being/condition,” but most of the other metaphors appeared only once or twice.165 Images that featured heavily in the domestic speeches appeared only rarely in the foreign policy addresses. For example, in the early years of Roosevelt’s administration, “revival,” “rehabilitation,” “recovery,” and “relief” did much of the rhetorical work of depicting the Depression as an illness, but each image appeared only once or twice in the entire body of eighteen foreign affairs speeches.166 When these old standbys did crop up, they were sometimes vested with connotations that diverged widely from their original meaning. For example, in his famous “Arsenal of Democracy” speech, Roosevelt cautioned sternly of the “revival of the oldest and the worst tyranny” (169), and two years later he referred to the Allies’ objective as “to destroy completely the military power of Germany, Italy, and Japan to such good purpose that their threat against us and all the other United Nations cannot be revived a generation hence” (248). Apparently, during the years of focus on the domestic economy, any “signs of life” were automatically good. During the world war, however, Dr. Roosevelt became far more

discriminating; only certain kinds of governments and policies deserved continuation. Only a wise physician was qualified to make such an accurate examination and subsequent diagnosis. In the wartime fireside chats, the term “revival” functioned as a warning that a danger commonly considered past was likely to threaten the country again—if Roosevelt’s policies were not followed.

THE DOCTOR CONDUCTS MEDICAL EXAMINATIONS Once the Dr. New Deal and Dr. Win-the-War frames are invoked, two other related patterns in the speeches reward interpretation in new ways. Understanding Roosevelt as a family physician allows one to make sense of his repetition, throughout the entire collection of fireside chats, of images of and allusions to sight and physical integrity. FDR was continually encouraging his listeners to see what he saw and for them to experience their needs as intricately, even organically, connected to the needs of their compatriots. Although this personification of a nation does not in itself connote medical imagery or a doctor/patient relationship, it is the underlying synecdoche that makes such imagery possible. For instance, when FDR urged unity between farmers and laborers, or otherwise stressed the interdependence of various regions and interest groups in the United States, he implicitly called upon his audience to visualize themselves as all members of one body. The patient would not become healthy, the doctor warned, by treating only one part of the body well and ignoring or maltreating the rest: “In a physical and in a property sense, as well as in a spiritual sense, we are members of one another” (77), and “Thus city wages and farm buying power are the two strong legs that carry the nation forward” (79). In May 1940, urging his fellow Americans to military readiness, the president said: But as this program proceeds there are several things we must continue to watch and to safeguard, things which are just as important to the sound defense of a nation as physical armament itself. While our Navy and our airplanes and our guns and our ships may be our first lines of defense, it is still clear that way down at the bottom, underlying them all, giving them their strength, sustenance, and power, are the spirit and the morale of a free people. (159) In this example, the unified people (the second persona) draw their physical strength from their national soul. “In this war,” Roosevelt proclaimed in January 1944, “we have been compelled to learn how interdependent upon each other are all groups and sections of the whole population of America” (286). The national body could only survive, gain strength, and eventually regain its full health if it recognized and embraced its identity as an organic unit. But since the domestic economy was no longer the main crisis threatening the patient, America was not the only metaphorical body that concerned Dr. Win-the-War. By October 1937, Roosevelt-the-internationalist was beginning to look farther afield in his claims of corporeal unity, implying that the entire world was one body in such statements as “violations to these rules of conduct are an injury to the wellbeing of all nations” (105, original emphasis). By the time that the United States had entered World War II, Roosevelt was able to describe the United Nations as having the qualities of an organic whole, sharing “in a unified plan in which all of us must play our several parts, each of us being equally indispensable and dependent one on the other” (216).167 Two months later, after detailing the contributions to the war effort of people all around the globe, FDR asserted, “This great war effort must be carried through to its victorious conclusion by the indomitable will and determination of the people as one great whole” (226). Once the nation/world-as-body assumption is established, FDR’s repeated use of such vision-oriented terms as “farsighted,” “short-sighted,” and “hindsight” can



make sense in the context of the doctor’s duty to see clearly in order to diagnose and prescribe properly.168 Of course, a careful examination of the patient’s body is crucial for appropriate diagnosis: One form of examination was the unemployment census, the subject of the eleventh fireside chat on 14 November 1937. In his Labor Day appeal to farmers and laborers, FDR had stressed that he traveled frequently to different parts of the country in order to check up on what one could read as his (entire) patient, the American people (74–76). Two of the later fireside chats were almost entirely composed of Roosevelt’s reports on his trips across the country inspecting war production facilities and training camps (12 October 1942, 2 May 1943). In the public radio drama of the domestic fireside chats, one type of third persona becomes particularly clear: those who did not take the time or were not perceptive enough to see and therefore accurately diagnosis the country’s economic ills, those who promised “cure-alls” and “miracles” and “panaceas.” In other words, FDR’s Republican predecessor, Herbert Hoover, and FDR’s other political opponents were essentially discredited as “quacks.” Later, in the foreign affairs addresses, the connotations of accurate vision would take a darker twist. Much of the rhetorical force of the “Arsenal of Democracy” speech came from its emphasis on the necessity of clear, unblinking vision so that the nation’s citizens could truly understand the tenuous world situation. Contrary to his famous statement in his first inaugural that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” FDR assured his listeners solemnly that fear was, at times such as these, entirely appropriate: Let us no longer blind ourselves to the undeniable fact that the evil forces which have crushed and undermined and corrupted so many others are already within our own gates. Your government knows much about them and is already ferreting them out. Their secret emissaries are active in our own and in neighboring countries. ... There are also American citizens . . . who, unwittingly . . . are aiding and abetting the work of these agents. . . . These people not only believe that we can save our own skins by shutting our eyes to the fate of other nations. . . . They say that we can and should become the friends and even the partners of the Axis powers. . . . But America never can and never will do that. The experience of the past two years has proven beyond doubt that no nation can appease the Nazis. No man can tame a tiger into a kitten by stroking it. There can be no appeasement with ruthlessness. There can be no reasoning with an incendiary bomb. We know now that a nation can have peace with the Nazis only at the price of total surrender. (168–69)



This passage is ripe with vivid and memorable images that contrast well-intentioned (but misapplied) peaceful means with their disastrously violent consequences. Fortunately for the American public/patient, Dr. New Deal had the wisdom, judgment, and perception to discern which situations could be handled diplomatically and which could not. Dr. New Deal was evolving into Dr. Win-theWar, and he did not like what he saw. Nine months later FDR addressed the nation about the Greer incident. Historians disagree over the extent to which Roosevelt, by this time, might have been wishing for an excuse to deepen American participation in the war. Clearly, his sympathies and those of most Americans lay with the Allies. But isolationist sentiment remained strong. On 4 September 1941, the U.S. destroyer Greer, delivering mail to Iceland, had been notified by a British plane that a Nazi submarine lay ahead.169 The World War I–vintage Greer, which “had orders to track and locate any U-boats in the area,” spent several hours searching for the submarine,

eventually pinpointing its location for another British plane, which dropped depth charges.170 The submarine responded by firing torpedoes at the Greer, in the apparent (and logical) belief that it was the source of the depth charges. The Greer then dropped depth charges as well. None of the missiles hit their marks. In his address to the nation a week later, Roosevelt presented the situation as an example of Axis aggression, neglecting to mention the Greer’s role as hunter. Certainly, the ongoing submarine war in the Atlantic had been threatening the free movement of all ships, including those of the then-neutral United States. As historian Waldo Heinrichs writes, “Roosevelt did not rest his case on the ambiguities of the chase, however, but placed the incident in the larger context of German U-boat warfare and American devotion to the freedom of the seas.” In this fireside chat, Roosevelt accused the Nazis of “piracy,” of plotting “to abolish the freedom of the seas,” but he denied that he was reacting solely on the basis of a single incident. “Instead, we Americans are taking a long-range point of view in regard to certain fundamentals, a point of view in regard to a series of events on land and on sea which must be considered as a whole—as a part of a world pattern.”171 Roosevelt’s perspective appears to be that of a defensive lookout, someone with an elevated view who can detect threats that those on the ground cannot. Such superior visual capacity has a metaphorical parallel in the world of the medical doctor as well. The superior diagnostician can detect important and deadly patterns across time and space, alerting the patient to physical dangers to avoid. However, the doctor in this case was not informing the patient of all of the relevant facts, so our contemporary notion of “informed consent” for surgical procedures was not being strictly followed. As rhetors do, Roosevelt selectively presented data, maneuvering in ways that worked to prepare the country for greater involvement in the European war, rather than trusting the majority of citizens (and their congressional representatives) to come to the same conclusion he had. But such tactics may of course be carried out with the best of intentions. As Tom Benson observed to me in a telephone call in February 2003, the general practitioner of the 1930s and 1940s would not necessarily have told his or her patient about a diagnosis of heart disease or cancer. Instead, to avoid the added stress of worry on the patient’s health, the family doctor would have quietly managed the patient’s condition with medication as much as possible. Rhetorically, the constructed audience (second persona) is invited to trust their president’s presentation of the events. The third persona would be those who questioned FDR’s account, his motives, or his conclusion. (Again, the medical parallel would be that of compliant patients versus noncompliant ones.) On 11 January 1944, the president was looking ahead to the conclusion of the war and the economic steps that would then need to be taken. Roosevelt castigated the “people who burrow, burrow through the nation like unseeing moles, and attempt to spread the suspicion that if other nations are encouraged to raise their standards of living, our own American standard of living must of necessity be depressed” (285). This image put economic isolationists on a par with foreign policy isolationists; both were “short-sighted,” perhaps intentionally, and their “lack of vision” could only result in harm to the country.

POTENTIALLY HARMFUL SIDE EFFECTS Although Yeilding and Carlson note that the broadcast industry characterized the speech genre of “fireside chat” as “nonpolitical,” such a characterization seems naive at best. Some of his contemporary critics charged that FDR was using the chats as “an electioneering device.”



One radio station executive in 1936 refused to carry the Fireside Chats unless the air time was purchased by the Democratic National Convention. Two years later a leading newspaper used the term “modernized Big Stick” to characterize Roosevelt’s political usage of the radio. The paper editorially conceded that the Fireside Chats were useful for the President to keep in touch with the people as well as to pressure Congress. However, the editorial proclaimed that the “going over the head of Congress directly to the people as a regular technique is something else again. It is not representative government, but a higher form of messenger service.” In 1938 the venerated American Newspaper Publishers Association even gave the veiled complaint that Roosevelt’s usage of the radio “is a precedent which in the future might encourage a dictatorship.” That group further accused the President of using the air waves for strictly political propaganda purposes.172 Of course, media outlets are often jealous and protective of their power, and thus the newspaper publishers might have had financial reasons to discourage the use of radio. But the chats often were extremely “political,” and ultimately the accumulated authority of the doctor’s role allowed FDR to ask for silent obedience or “cooperation.” At times such unquestioning allegiance was no doubt useful and necessary for the nation’s survival. But the power that Roosevelt assumed, and which his listeners sometimes granted him, may have been fundamentally incompatible with the principles of democratic government. As I noted in my examination of his first inaugural address, FDR’s adoption of the dual roles of military and religious leader also contained this danger, because “both set [him] above the people in such a rigid hierarchy that the very act of questioning [him was] forbidden.”173 In fact, Franklin Roosevelt explicitly asked for unswerving devotion early in his first term, when public opinion was mobilized for his actions: While we are making this great common effort there should be no discord and dispute. This is no time to cavil or question the standard set by this universal agreement. It is time for patience and understanding and cooperation. The workers of this country have rights under this law [the National Industrial Recovery Act] which cannot be taken away from them, and nobody will be permitted to whittle them away but, on the other hand, no aggression is now necessary to attain those rights. (36)



In other words, Roosevelt often implied that there was no valid reason to question or critique the New Deal’s policies. He was saying, in effect, “Doctor’s orders: Take your medicine like a good patient.” For the most part, at least early in his administration, people did. In a letter to Harry Hopkins in 1934, Martha Gellhorn wrote from North Carolina of the affection and reverence in which FDR was held. His portrait was in every home, she said; “he was ‘at once God and their intimate friend.’”174 Later, FDR would state that he welcomed suggestions and well-intentioned criticism, but his often-harsh treatment of critics in the fireside chats makes such a claim seem more idealistic than accurate. Robert Ivie’s essay on George Kennan’s political rhetoric contains a helpful discussion of the ways in which metaphors of illness can generate fear.175 In Roosevelt’s case, the metaphors of illness were in place when he arrived at the White House. His initial rhetorical task was that of providing comfort to replace the fear: hence, the appropriateness of the doctor role. But a leader would also derive some benefit from keeping people fearful of that which he or she defined as the disease. Certainly, this was the case in the later fireside chats, those focusing on foreign affairs. In this respect, the later fireside chats were logical forerunners to Kennan’s

anti-Communist fear appeals. Just as patients sometimes need motivation to continue treatment after they begin to feel better, one could argue that by the late 1930s, economic conditions had improved enough so that the American people believed they had something to protect, and they did not wish any longer to follow the advice of their president. Roosevelt, making the transition from Dr. New Deal to Dr. Win-the-War, reminded listeners that fear was sometimes a valid response to serious external threats. Compliments are clear indications of the “second persona” that Roosevelt sought from his listeners. In his first fireside chat, FDR thanked his audience for their “fortitude and good temper,” a tactic that clearly functions as a request for more of the same (12). Several other times Roosevelt thanked the American people for being “patient” or asked for or remarked on their “patience.”176 At other times the president provided a clear picture of the behavior he desired from the American people when he made confident proclamations about their actions, knowledge, or attitudes, as in the following examples: “I feel very certain that the people of this country understand and approve the broad purposes behind these new governmental policies” (22); “You and I know that a business that loses the confidence of its customers and the goodwill of the public cannot long continue to be a good risk for the investor” (70); “In 1933 you and I knew that we must never let our economic system get completely out of joint again” (85). In his 1936 Labor Day appeal to farmers and laborers, FDR praised the farmers’ willing cooperation, as a metaphorical example of a patient willing to try experimental treatment and rest to allow the national body to heal: In the drought area people are not afraid to use new methods to meet changes in nature, and to correct mistakes of the past. If overgrazing has injured range lands, they are willing to reduce the grazing. If certain wheat lands should be returned to pasture, they are willing to cooperate. If trees should be planted as windbreaks or to stop erosion, they will work with us. If terracing or summer fallowing or crop rotation is called for, they will carry them out. They stand ready to fit, not to fight, the ways of nature. (78) But to his credit, Roosevelt as physician did not completely reserve all the power for himself. The closing statement of his first fireside chat, on the banking crisis, borrowed a line from Abraham Lincoln and reflected a theme of empowerment that also wove its way throughout the chats: “It is your problem, my friends, your problem no less than it is mine. Together we cannot fail” (17). Here, Dr. New Deal was acknowledging the power that his patients had to heal themselves by keeping a positive attitude and working steadily for recovery. This belief in the patient’s power to effect healing was no mere political gesture: Roosevelt’s philosophy was based on his own optimism and resilience, most notably displayed in his approach to his own paralysis.177 Certainly FDR’s carefully managed public appearances encouraged the American public to see him as one who had overcome his paralysis through positive thought and action. In such a context, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” becomes more than a slogan; it is a way of life. Presumably, FDR spoke from successful personal experience, and this added weight to his prescription for the country. In the conclusion of the second fireside chat, the first extant draft shows rewriting that personalized the response Roosevelt wished to encourage from his listeners. He systematically changed third-person to second-person terms of address, replacing “they” and “the people” with “you.” The administration (“we”) directed its attentions to “you,” the people, expressing gratitude and granting them responsibility and credit for the early success of the recovery. How had the people contributed to such success? By being “patient,” by “grant[ing] us wide powers,” by



being “approving,” and by being “confident” (16). In other words, by trusting in their doctor and demonstrating that trust with quiet compliance, the American people had displayed the appropriate amount and kind of activity necessary for their own recovery. But what of the third persona, what Philip Wander would describe as the discursive sketch of “characteristics, roles, actions, or ways of seeing things to be avoided,” the depiction of “a being whose presence is negated through silence”?178 Schlesinger notes that the American people’s trust in Roosevelt was not unanimous; some sophisticated listeners even critiqued the paradoxical mass-mediated intimacy of the doctor’s rhetorical house calls: Some, including a few who supported his policies, found the simplicities of the fireside chat a bit patronizing, even false. “There is a man leaning across his desk,” John Dos Passos observed of the radio voice, “speaking clearly and cordially to youandme, explaining how he’s sitting at his desk there in Washington, leaning towards youandme across his desk, speaking clearly and cordially so that youandme shall completely understand that he sits at his desk there in Washington with his fingers on all the switchboards of the federal government.”179 But it did not take a celebrated novelist and social critic to detect FDR’s sometimes heavy-handed scapegoating of particular groups of people. Buhite and Levy note that Roosevelt had a tendency to rely on scapegoats in almost every speech: “chiselers” were one of his most popular targets.180 (Of course, they were also a safe target, since no self-respecting citizen would self-identify with that label.) Presumably, this technique served a comforting and unifying function for the majority of the radio audience, who could say, for example, “Well, at least I’m no chiseler; I’m not an economic royalist.”181 But some listeners unavoidably saw themselves in the president’s attacks; for them, such distancing was not an option. Leuchtenburg provides a plaintive quote from Russell Leffingwell, of the House of Morgan, who wrote FDR, “It hurts our feelings to have you go on calling us money changers and economic royalists.”182 One letter in particular challenged FDR’s transparent characterization of all critics as “those who seek special political [or financial] privilege” (49). Clearly attempting to discount the voices of the opposition, Roosevelt had admitted, “it is true that the toes of some people are being stepped on and are going to be stepped on. But these toes belong to the comparative few who seek to retain or to gain position or riches or both by some shortcut which is harmful to the greater good” (49). Wellen Colburn, for one, wasn’t having any of that. Passionately eloquent, he responded with righteous indignation, culminating in a scathing attack that FDR surely deserved:



In passing I cannot help but comment upon the injustice of your characterization of those who disagree with you. Perhaps I am a “theoretical diehard;” you say so. Perhaps I and my kind are “plausible self-seekers.” . . . What “special privilege” I am seeking I do not understand. I am an engineer, not a politician. Engineers deal in facts; politicians deal in half truths which are the biggest of all lies. If a desire to have perfect truth and honesty in politics is a desire for “special privilege” I am that seeker. If a desire to have financial resources enough to assure a comfortable home, opportunity for culture, an education for my children, and a competence for old age without dependence on any one is a desire for “special privilege” I am that seeker. My toes and the toes of others like me have been stepped on. . . . These remarks of yours seem an insult to the character and the intelligence of the American people. (Wellen H. Colburn, Wollaston, Mass., 1 July 1934)

The foreign affairs fireside chats brought a new kind of third persona onto the scene, the “fifth columnists” (185) and the “secret emissaries” of the Axis powers, who would “seek to stir up suspicion and dissension to cause internal strife” (168). But these named traitors were one thing, those negated by the discourse were another. The title of “patient” did not suit every American. Citizens who disagreed with the doctor’s prescriptions, including those who, indeed, had specifically requested the services of a different physician, were free neither to refuse treatment nor to seek it elsewhere. While persons could vote for, or support financially, other political figures (Long, Coughlin, Townsend), they were not at liberty to disobey selectively laws of the land (by not paying into the Social Security fund, for instance).

Conclusion By embracing his alter ego Dr. New Deal and keying in on that role by using medical imagery, Roosevelt responded to the economic emergency of the Great Depression on multiple rhetorical levels, as if it were a life-and-death medical situation. Arguably, it was, metaphorically and literally, because that is how it was perceived by those who experienced it. The Depression-as-illness metaphor and the idea that such problems could be solved by a warm and sympathetic doctor were understandable to ordinary Americans because they were part of everyday experience. The fireside chats/house calls were uniquely suited to the intimate medium of radio, for listeners suddenly had the chance to feel that they had a personal relationship with their president, who addressed them as “my friends,” spoke in language all could understand, and came into their homes. Later, when the nation drew closer to military involvement in World War II, Roosevelt’s doctor changed specializations, becoming an orthopedic surgeon to address the damage done from outside the nation, rather than an internist focusing on domestic concerns. But the consistent adoption of medical imagery and role functions smoothed the transition. For a nation already used to granting the president a great deal of power, continuing to do so was natural. Although this resulted in rhetorical benefits, it also posed troubling problems, both for specific groups of citizens and for the democratic ideal. The power of the physician’s role was more complete in the 1930s than it is today, partly because of contemporary malpractice suits and growing frustration with, and skepticism about, the health care industry. Although the medical profession still wields considerable rhetorical power in the public imagination as well as in political reality, politicians who cast themselves as doctors today might be greeted with a bit more caution. The image of the kindly family doctor making house calls is something that most living Americans know of only secondhand. But in 1933 when Roosevelt took office, the doctor was a savior, and a desperate people welcomed a strong leader willing to play that role.

Notes An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Speech Communication Association Convention, New Orleans, November 1994. The author would like to thank Stephen E. Lucas, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Thomas W. Benson, Michael M. Osborn, Nathan P. Stucky, the archivists at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, and the anonymous reviewer for their assistance and perceptive advice; Lois J. Einhorn, Robert L. Ivie, and



Roderick P. Hart for their encouragement; and the trustees of the Karl R. Wallace Memorial Award for the generous financial support that made this project possible.



1. Gale, “The New Doctor!” Political cartoon, Los Angeles Times, 9 March 1933. 2. Basil Rauch, The History of the New Deal 1933–1938 (New York: Creative Age Press, 1944), 8–9. 3. Irving Kristol, “Ten Years in a Tunnel,” in The Thirties: A Reconsideration in the Light of American Political Tradition, ed. Morton J. Frisch and Martin Diamond (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1968), 8–9. 4. Melvyn Dubofsky, ed., The New Deal: Conflicting Interpretations and Shifting Perspectives (New York: Garland, 1992), xi. 5. William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal: 1932–1940 (New York: Harper and Row, 1963), 16. 6. Norman Thomas, “The Thirties in America as a Socialist Recalls Them,” in As We Saw the Thirties, ed. Rita James Simon (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1967), 104–5. 7. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt, 22. 8. Ibid., 22–23. 9. Nathan Miller, F.D.R. An Intimate History (New York: Madison Books, 1983), 1. 10. Russell D. Buhite and David W. Levy, FDR’s Fireside Chats (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992), 7. 11. Ibid., 8. 12. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt, 95. 13. Qtd. in Kenneth S. Davis, FDR: The New Deal Years 1933–1937 (New York: Random House, 1979/1986), 61–62. 14. Rauch, History of the New Deal, vi-vii. 15. Thomas, “Thirties in America,” 111. 16. Raymond Moley, After Seven Years (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1939), 155. 17. Buhite and Levy, FDR’s Fireside Chats, xiii. 18. Kenneth D. Yeilding and Paul H. Carlson, comps., Ah That Voice: The Fireside Chats of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Odessa, Tex.: The Presidential Museum, 1974), ix–xi. 19. Buhite and Levy, FDR’s Fireside Chats, xiv. 20. Yeilding and Carlson, Ah That Voice, xi–xii. 21. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt, 175. 22. Buhite and Levy, FDR’s Fireside Chats, x–xi. 23. Joy Elizabeth Hayes, “Did Herbert Hoover Broadcast the First Fireside Chat? Rethinking the Origins of Roosevelt’s Radio Genius,” Journal of Radio Studies 7 (2000): 76. 24. Samuel L. Becker, “Presidential Power: The Influence of Broadcasting,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 47 (1961): 18. 25. Stephen W. Baskerville and Ralph Willett, Nothing Else to Fear: New Perspectives on America in the Thirties (Dover, N.H.: Manchester University Press, 1985), 4. 26. Hayes, “Did Herbert Hoover Broadcast,” 87. 27. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., The Coming of the New Deal: The Age of Roosevelt (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1958), 558–59; Buhite and Levy, FDR’s Fireside Chats, xiv. 28. Miller, F.D.R., 231. 29. Gerard A. Hauser, Vernacular Voices: The Rhetoric of Publics and Public Spheres (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999), 239. 30. For a discussion of this trend in response to Roosevelt’s first speech as president, see Davis W. Houck and Mihaela Nocasian, “FDR’s First Inaugural Address: Text, Context, and Reception,” Rhetoric and Public Affairs 5 (Winter 2002): 670–74. 31. In particular, debate over the “Reorganization of Executive Departments” provision of the Treasury–Post Office Bill (HR 13520), signed into law by Herbert Hoover on 3 March 1933, tended to reflect representatives’ trust in the extent to which the new president would use his newly broadened powers. See Houck and Nocasian, “FDR’s First Inaugural Address,” 671–72. 32. Jeffrey Tulis, “Revising the Rhetorical Presidency,” in Beyond the Rhetorical Presidency, ed. Martin J. Medhurst (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1996), 3–14. 33. Hauser, Vernacular Voices, 238–42. 34. Qtd. in Schlesinger, Coming of the New Deal, 559.

35. Hauser provides a delightful illustration: “One can imagine the unnerving experience of being summoned to the White House where, upon being ushered into the Oval Office, the conversation might begin with the concerns of Mrs. McGillicudhy—one’s own constituent—whose views on a measure now before you were better known to the president than to oneself.” Hauser, Vernacular Voices, 307 n.12. 36. Ibid., 251–52. 37. James Roosevelt, “Reminiscences of Franklin Roosevelt,” in The New Deal: Fifty Years After. A Historical Assessment, ed. Wilbur J. Cohen (Austin: The Board of Regents, University of Texas, 1984), 45–46. 38. Schlesinger, Coming of the New Deal, 559. 39. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, ed. Samuel I. Rosenman (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1938), 7:60. 40. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Eloquence in an Electronic Age: The Transformation of Political Speechmaking (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 43–66. 41. Halford R. Ryan, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Rhetorical Presidency (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988), 28. 42. Waldo W. Braden and Earnest Brandenburg, “Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats,” Speech Monographs 22 (1955): 293, 301, cite John H. Sharon, “The Fireside Chat,” Franklin D. Roosevelt Collector II (November 1949): 2–30. 43. Buhite and Levy, FDR’s Fireside Chats, xviii. 44. See, for example, Sharon, “Fireside Chat;” Braden and Brandenburg, “Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats,” 290–302; and Buhite and Levy, FDR’s Fireside Chats. 45. Yeilding and Carlson, Ah That Voice, xiii. 46. Earnest Brandenburg and Waldo W. Braden, “Franklin Delano Roosevelt,” in A History and Criticism of American Public Address, ed. Marie K. Hochmuth (New York: Longmans, Green, 1955), 3:487, 491–99. 47. Buhite and Levy, FDR’s Fireside Chats, xvii–xviii. 48. Halford R. Ryan, “Roosevelt’s First Inaugural: A Study of Technique,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 65 (1979): 161–62. 49. In all quotations from public reaction letters, I have preserved original punctuation and spelling. 50. Louis McHenry Howe reply to Cassell, 13 May 1933. 51. Carol Gelderman, All the Presidents’ Words: The Bully Pulpit and the Creation of the Virtual Presidency (New York: Walker, 1997), 13, 16. 52. Yeilding and Carlson provide what appears to be a nearly exhaustive list of the regular Roosevelt speechwriters: “Judge Samuel I. Rosenman, Harry Hopkins, Robert Sherwood, Raymond Moley, Thomas G. ‘Tommy the Cork’ Corcoran, Rexford Guy Tugwell, Hugh Johnson, Archibald MacLeish, Donald Richberg, Louis Howe, William Bullitt, Benjamin Cohen, and Felix Frankfurter.” Yeilding and Carlson, Ah That Voice, xiv–xv. 53. Buhite and Levy, FDR’s Fireside Chats, xv–xvii; Gelderman, All the Presidents’ Words, 13–16; Ryan, Presidency, 166–67; Schlesinger, Coming of the New Deal, 559–60. 54. Yeilding and Carlson, Ah That Voice, xv. 55. Ryan, Presidency, 167. 56. Charles Michelson, The Ghost Talks (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1944), 12–13, cited in Buhite and Levy, FDR’s Fireside Chats, xvi. 57. Samuel I. Rosenman, foreword to The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1950), 10:ix, qtd. in Buhite and Levy, FDR’s Fireside Chats, xix. 58. Frances Perkins, The Roosevelt I Knew (New York: Viking Press, 1946), 72, cited in Buhite and Levy, FDR’s Fireside Chats, xix. 59. Schlesinger, Coming of the New Deal, 571. 60. Yeilding and Carlson, Ah That Voice, xvii. 61. Schlesinger, Coming of the New Deal, 572. 62. Yeilding and Carlson, Ah That Voice, xii. 63. Ibid., xii–xiii, xx. 64. Baskerville and Willett, Nothing Else to Fear, 5. 65. Buhite and Levy, FDR’s Fireside Chats, 8. 66. Baskerville and Willett, Nothing Else to Fear, 4.





67. Thomas, “Thirties in America,” 111. 68. James MacGregor Burns, Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1956; reprint, New York: Harvest/HBJ, 1984), 168. 69. Doris Kearns Goodwin, No Ordinary Time. Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994). The phrase “no ordinary time” comes from Eleanor Roosevelt’s address at the 1940 Democratic National Convention. 70. Twentieth-century rhetorical theorists I. A. Richards and Kenneth Burke helped formulate much of our contemporary understanding of metaphor and its rhetorical dimensions, as have linguist George Lakoff and philosopher Mark Johnson. See I. A. Richards, The Philosophy of Rhetoric (New York: Oxford University Press, 1936); Kenneth Burke, A Grammar of Motives (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1945); and George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980). For a sample of work on metaphor in rhetorical discourse, see Michael M. Osborn and Douglas Ehninger, “The Metaphor in Public Address,” Speech Monographs 29 (1962): 223–34; Michael Osborn, “Archetypal Metaphor in Rhetoric: The Light-Dark Family,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 53 (1967): 115–26; Kathleen Hall Jamieson, “The Metaphoric Cluster in the Rhetoric of Pope Paul VI and Edmund G. Brown, Jr.,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 66 (1980): 51–72; Michael Leff, “Topical Invention and Metaphoric Interaction,” Southern Speech Communication Journal 48 (1983): 214–29; Robert L. Ivie, “Metaphor and the Rhetorical Invention of Cold War Idealists,” Communication Monographs 54 (1987): 165–82; and Karrin Vasby Anderson, “Hillary Rodham Clinton as ‘Madonna’: The Role of Metaphor and Oxymoron in Image Restoration,” Women’s Studies in Communication 25 (2002): 1–24. For studies focusing on FDR’s use of metaphor (specifically in his first inaugural address), see Ryan, “Roosevelt’s First Inaugural”; and Suzanne M. Daughton, “Metaphorical Transcendence: Images of the Holy War in Franklin Roosevelt’s First Inaugural,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 79 (1993): 427–46. 71. Edwin Black, “The Second Persona,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 56 (1970): 109–19. 72. Philip Wander, “The Third Persona: An Ideological Turn in Rhetorical Theory,” Central States Speech Journal 35 (1984): 197–216. 73. Black, “Second Persona,” 112. 74. Ivie, “Metaphor and Rhetorical Invention,” 167. 75. Black, “Second Persona,” 113. 76. Wander, “Third Persona,” 209–10. 77. Heather Aldridge examines FDR’s use of the Depression-as-illness metaphor, along with the military metaphor, in his campaign rhetoric. Heather Aldridge, “Leading the Great Army: The Use of Archetypal Metaphor by Franklin Delano Roosevelt,” paper presented at the Central/Southern States Communication Association convention, Lexington, Ky., 1993. In their analysis of the production and reception of Roosevelt’s first inaugural address, Houck and Nocasian reveal that FDR’s adviser Raymond Moley began various drafts of that address with notes about a “Sick world” and “sickness—In sickness—strife.” Houck and Nocasian, “FDR’s First Inaugural Address,” 658. 78. Buhite and Levy, FDR’s Fireside Chats, 3. 79. Arthur E. Hertzler, The Horse and Buggy Doctor (Garden City, N.Y.: Blue Ribbon Books, 1941). 80. Ibid., 154. 81. Robert S. Mendelsohn, How to Raise a Healthy Child . . . In Spite of Your Doctor (New York: Ballantine Books, 1984/1987), 6–7. 82. I examined approximately 1,200 messages (letters and telegrams) in response to FDR’s first fireside chat and approximately 100 per speech for the remaining twelve domestic fireside chats, for a total of roughly 2,400 messages. Specific quotations from the letters will include the author’s name, date, and city. All such references are from Franklin D. Roosevelt, Public reaction: Letters and telegrams, President’s Personal File (PPF 200), Holdings of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum (FDRPL), Hyde Park, N.Y. 83. Miller, F.D.R., 3.

84. Mrs. Lyndon B. [Claudia/Lady Bird] Johnson, Questions from the audience, qtd. in Cohen, New Deal, 38. 85. Rauch, History of the New Deal, 9–10, my emphasis. 86. Baskerville and Willett, Nothing Else to Fear, 1, 3, 4. 87. Kristol, “Ten Years in a Tunnel,” 8. 88. Burns, Roosevelt, 195. 89. Schlesinger, Coming of the New Deal, 556. 90. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt, 170. 91. Ted Morgan, FDR: A Biography (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985), 771. 92. Davis, New Deal Years, 16, my emphasis. 93. After contracting polio, FDR’s greatest fear was of being trapped in a fire. Slender as a young man, the mature Roosevelt built his upper body strength to the point where he could drag himself down halls and stairways if necessary. The champion boxer Jack Dempsey once remarked that Roosevelt had the most impressive shoulder muscles he had ever seen. Miller, F.D.R., 190, 192. 94. Ibid, 2. 95. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt, 170. 96. Morgan, FDR, 258, 262; Miller, F.D.R., 190. 97. Personal interview, archivist, FDRPL, January 1994. See also Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt, 169, who notes that “news photographers in the twenties voluntarily destroyed their own plates when they showed Roosevelt in poses that revealed his handicap, and by the thirties there was a strong taboo, sometimes enforced by the Secret Service, against depicting the President’s paralysis.” Leuchtenburg cites William McKinley Moore, “F.D.R.’s Image: A Study in Pictorial Symbols” (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin, 1946), 427ff., 477ff., 634ff. 98. “Press and Radio Conference #929. December 28, 1943,” Complete Presidential Press Conferences of Franklin D. Roosevelt. (New York: Da Capo Press/Plenum, 1972), 22:245. 99. Qtd. in Complete Presidential Press Conferences, 22:245–51. 100. Mendelsohn, How to Raise a Healthy Child, 6–7. 101. Buhite and Levy, FDR’s Fireside Chats, xix. 102. Ryan, Presidency, 32. 103. Time, 24 June 1935, 9, cited in Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt, 192. 104. Qtd. in Complete Presidential Press Conferences, 246. 105. Buhite and Levy, FDR’s Fireside Chats, 9. 106. Ibid., 11, my emphasis. 107. Ibid., 12; Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt, 42–45; Rauch, History of the New Deal, 60–63. 108. Buhite and Levy, FDR’s Fireside Chats, 12. All quotations from the speeches are from the Buhite and Levy collection and will be cited parenthetically by page number in the text, with my emphasis throughout. 109. Davis, New Deal Years, 61. 110. Gerald W. Johnson, Roosevelt: Dictator or Democrat? 4th ed. (New York: Harper, 1941), 222, cited in Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt, 44 111. Rauch, History of the New Deal, 63. 112. Miller, F.D.R., 313. 113. In these examples, I have preserved original punctuation, spelling, and emphasis, except as indicated. 114. This technique of appealing directly to the people over the heads of Congress, with which Roosevelt had so much success, has been a routine strategy with presidents ever since. “Carte blanche” invitations like the one above were offered by so many Americans that it is perhaps little wonder that FDR misjudged the extent to which he could influence the popular will on the issue of the “purge” of the Democratic Party, for example. 115. See, for example, the speeches of 7 May 1933, 20; 30 September 1934, 57; 6 September 1936, 77. In the first extant draft of the speech of 7 May, Roosevelt added the word “panaceas” in place of “theories.” The original sentence was, “Such a situation did not call for any complicated consideration of economic theories or fancy plans. We were faced by a condition and not a theory” (draft #1, p. 2). The edited version read, “That



116. 117. 118. 119. 120. 121. 122. 123. 124. 125. 126. 127. 128. 129. 130. 131. 132. 133. 134. 135. 136. 137. 138. 139. 140.

141. 142. 143. 144.




146. 147. 148. 149.

situation in that crisis did not call for any complicated consideration of economic panaceas or fancy plans. We were faced by a condition and not a theory” (amendments in italics). The revision made the description more definite and specific (“that situation,” “that crisis”), allowing Roosevelt to appear certain and confident in his diagnosis. The substitution of panaceas rids the text of the redundancy of “theories” and “theory,” in addition to making the implicit medical connotation of “condition” more explicit. See, for example, the speech of 24 July 1933, 36. Ibid. See, for example, the speeches of 7 May 1933, 22; 28 June 1934, 47; 30 September 1934, 57; 6 September 1936, 78. See, for example, the speeches of 24 July 1933, 36; 22 October 1933, 44; 28 June 1934, 48; 28 April 1935, 72; 14 April 1938, 121; 24 June 1938, 127. See, for example, the speeches of 9 March 1937, 85; 14 November 1937, 107. See, for example, the speeches of 9 March 1937, 85; 24 June 1938, 133. See, for example, the speeches of 22 October 1933, 42, 44; 28 June 1934, 50; 6 September 1936, 77; 9 March 1937, 92; 14 April 1938, 118. See, for example, the speeches of 30 September 1934, 55; 14 April 1938, 119. See, for example, the speeches of 30 September 1934, 58; 14 April 1938, 117. See, for example, the speeches of 7 May 1933, 22; 28 June 1934, 52; 28 April 1935, 71. See, for example, the speeches of 12 March 1933, 13; 14 April 1938, 115. See, for example, the speeches of 12 October 1937, 105; 14 April 1938, 114. See, for example, the speech of 6 September 1936, 79. See, for example, the speeches of 7 May 1933, 21; 24 July 1933, 32; 28 April 1935, 66; 12 October 1937, 100. See, for example, the speeches of 7 May 1933, 27; 28 June 1934, 47; 14 April 1938, 115. See, for example, the speech of 28 June 1934, 49. See, for example, the speeches of 28 June 1934, 47; 30 September 1934, 55; 28 April 1935, 72. See, for example, the speeches of 24 July 1933, 35; 22 October 1933, 38; 28 April 1935, 64; 30 September 1936, 79; 12 October 1937, 105. Hauser also describes this pattern of ascribing paternalism to President Roosevelt. See Hauser, Vernacular Voices, 248. B. R. Smith, “FDR’s Use of Radio during the War Years,” Journal of Radio Studies 4 (1997): 78. See Ryan, “Roosevelt’s First Inaugural”; and Daughton, “Metaphorical Transcendence,” for discussion of military imagery in Roosevelt’s first speech as president. Gerald Mast, A Short History of the Movies, 4th ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1986), 154. Miller, F.D.R., 191. Buhite and Levy, FDR’s Fireside Chats, 53. Carol Gelderman establishes that although Woodrow Wilson was the first president to articulate this intimate relationship with the American people, Roosevelt raised it to the level of an art form. Gelderman, All the Presidents’ Words, 3, 33–35. Rauch, History of the New Deal, 191. Ryan, Presidency, 109–30. Kenneth S. Davis, FDR: Into the Storm 1937–1940 (New York: Random House, 1993), 73. Roosevelt lost support by maintaining silence while his opponents argued their case in public, and he regained the points he had lost with his fireside chat, but only back to his original measure of support. See Davis, Into the Storm, 75. Although the last two correspondents share a name, their styles of address and handwriting distinguish them as separate individuals. Buhite and Levy, FDR’s Fireside Chats, 111–12. Ryan, Presidency, 131. Davis, Into the Storm, 295. See chapter 8 of Hauser’s Vernacular Voices for systematic analysis of public correspondence to the president on the issue of the third term.

150. Ryan, Presidency, 131, my emphasis. 151. Waldo Heinrichs, Threshold of War: Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Entry into World War II (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 3. 152. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt, 219–30. 153. Ryan, Presidency, 138. 154. Buhite and Levy, FDR’s Fireside Chats, 174. 155. David Grubin, writer and producer, “FDR: The Juggler,” The American Experience (Boston: WGBH Educational Foundation, 1994, 1997). 156. Buhite and Levy, FDR’s Fireside Chats, 147. 157. Yeilding and Carlson, Ah That Voice, xix. 158. Buhite and Levy, FDR’s Fireside Chats, 163, my emphasis. 159. Yeilding and Carlson, Ah That Voice, xix. 160. See the fireside chats of 26 May 1940, 156, 159–61; 29 December 1940, 171, 173; 27 May 1941, 183, 186–87; 11 September 1941, 195; 9 December 1941, 200–201, 205; 23 February 1942, 207–8, 212, 214; 28 April 1942, 226; 7 September 1942, 237–38; 12 October 1942, 240–41; 2 May 1943, 255; 28 July 1943, 261, 263, 266; 24 December 1943, 278–81; 11 January 1944, 291; 12 June 1944, 303; 6 January 1945, 313–14. 161. See the addresses of 29 December 1940, 166; 27 May 1941, 176, 184, 187; 11 September 1941, 196; 23 February 1942, 210; 28 April 1942, 226; 7 September 1942, 232, 235–38; 24 December 1943, 276–77; 11 January 1944, 284. 162. Buhite and Levy, FDR’s Fireside Chats, 174. 163. See the speeches of 26 May 1940, 161; 23 February 1942, 213; 6 January 1945, 308, 315. 164. Thomas W. Benson, “Poisoned Minds,” Southern Speech Journal 34 (Fall 1968): 58. 165. For discussions of economic well-being, see the speeches of 29 December 1940, 171; 5 June 1944, 297; 6 January 1945, 313. Other medical images include “collapse” (297); “hysterical” (191); “fatal mistake” (194); “stagger” (233); “national suicide” (303); and, notable for Roosevelt’s unusual relinquishing of the doctor role, “prayers . . . that God will heal the wounds and the hearts of humanity” (162). 166. Roosevelt spoke of “the speed with which we recovered from this savage attack,” referring to the Battle of the Bulge (307), and of the economic expense of providing aid to a newly liberated Italy as “a form of relief” (297). When the president spoke of the need to provide GIs with “full opportunities for education and rehabilitation” after the war, however, he likely was using “rehabilitation” in its literal sense (280). 167. “The term United Nations refers to the twenty-six countries at war with Axis powers. These nations constituted the nucleus of the world governance organization that began its work, with fifty-one nations, in October 1945.” Buhite and Levy, 214 n.10. 168. For “far-sighted,” see, for example, the speeches of 12 October 1937, 103; 14 November 1937, 110. For “short-sighted,” see, for example, the speech of 6 September 1936, 81. For “hindsight,” see, for example, the speech of 6 September 1936, 78. 169. Buhite and Levy, FDR’s Fireside Chats, 188. 170. Robert Smith Thompson, A Time for War: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Path to Pearl Harbor (New York: Prentice Hall, 1991), 354. 171. Heinrichs, Threshold of War, 167, 190–91. 172. Yeilding and Carlson, Ah That Voice, xviii–xix. 173. Daughton, “Metaphoric Transcendence,” 439. 174. Martha Gellhorn to Harry Hopkins, 11 November 1934, Harry L. Hopkins Papers, Holdings of the FDRPL, qtd. in Schlesinger, Coming of the New Deal, 572. 175. Robert L. Ivie, “Realism Masking Fear: George F. Kennan’s Political Rhetoric,” in PostRealism: The Rhetorical Turn in International Relations, ed. Francis A. Beer and Robert Hariman (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1996), 55–74. 176. See the speeches of 7 May 1933, 27; 24 July 1933, 36; 22 October 1933, 44; 14 April 1938, 112. 177. His attitude toward illness had remained the same ever since his experience establishing the Warm Springs Foundation, the “first modern treatment center for infantile paralysis in the country” (Grubin, “FDR: The Juggler”). Roosevelt, who had funded the facility in 1926 by investing two-thirds of his personal fortune ($195,000), took treatments there, just like any other patient (Grubin, “FDR: The Juggler”; Miller, F.D.R.,



178. 179. 180. 181.




211). According to biographer Nathan Miller, the other patients called him “Dr. Roosevelt” because of his pioneering therapies and inventions (Miller, F.D.R., 210). “His prescription? Swimming, sunlight, and belief on the patient’s part that the muscles are coming back” (Grubin, “FDR: The Juggler”). “You’ve got to know you’re going to improve,” he would say (Miller, F.D.R., 210). Wander, “Third Persona,” 209–10. John Dos Passos, “The Radio Voice,” Common Sense, February 1934, qtd. in Schlesinger, Coming of the New Deal, 572, “youandme” condensed in original. Buhite and Levy, FDR’s Fireside Chats, xviii. For a description of the strategic implications of scapegoating, see Kenneth Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action, 3rd ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), 39–43. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt, 190.

Dictator, Savior, and the Return of Confidence: Text, Context, and Reception in FDR’s First Inaugural Address Davis W. Houck and Mihaela Nocasian

n 5 March 1995, at Texas A&M University, political scientist George C. Edwards III threw down the gauntlet to his assembled audience, a group comprised principally of a small but elite group of presidential rhetoric scholars. Edwards’s target, though, was an entire field of inquiry, and he took aim at an acknowledged Achilles heel of rhetorical studies—that of effect or influence. He began: “Unsupported assumptions can be dangerous. . . . If they are seriously in error, they may direct scholars into unproductive lines of inquiry. If assumptions are discovered to be completely without justification, the legitimacy of a research enterprise may be undermined.”1 Edwards, though, was just getting warmed up, for he proceeded to “take off the gloves” and name names. And not just any names. No, Edwards went after the most prominent targets. He began with David Zarefsky—“no evidence is offered” for claims of effect. He moved to Roderick Hart— again, “no systemic evidence” is forthcoming for claims of effect. He turned next to his colleague Martin Medhurst—“we do not have evidence” to support assertions of influence. Theodore Windt was next as the public humiliation continued— again, no evidence for effect. Craig A. Smith and Kathy Smith not only “are clearly wrong,” but they, too, “offer no evidence” for assertions of influence. Edwards concluded his carnage by targeting Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and Kathleen Hall Jamieson—who are guilty of a “lack of documentation [of effects] of any kind.” Much like the filmic version of The Gauntlet, the rhetorical bus pulling into College Station was badly damaged by the fusillade. But this was no conspiracy— perpetrated either by rogue authorities or a nameless right wing. It was critique— and by a colleague. While some of the specifics of Edwards’s claims are debatable, the general point is an important one: if scholars of presidential rhetoric are serious about






making claims of effect and influence, those claims, by dint of their argumentative status as claims, require evidence. Whatever the “true” status of his motives, Edwards’s critique can serve as an inventional and argumentative stimulus to presidential rhetoric scholars. In many respects, the specifics of Edwards’s attack are not novel; in fact, rhetorical criticism dates its emergence in the twentieth century to the all-important issue of effect. In 1925, when Herbert A. Wichelns essentially defined the field of rhetorical criticism, contra literary criticism, he did so under the rubric of effect: “we find that its [rhetorical criticism’s] point of view is patently single. It is not concerned with permanence, nor yet with beauty. It is concerned with effect.” By effect, Wichelns seemed to have in mind something quite specific: “the effect of the discourse on its immediate hearers is not to be ignored, neither in the testimony of witnesses, nor in the record of events.”2 Wichelns’s call was not unheeded, but the critical problems soon became legion: What constituted effect? What were specifiable causes to those effects? How could effects be accurately measured, and with what sorts of instruments? What if an audience reaction was not preserved or recorded? What of the speech that failed to have any consistent effects on an audience? Perhaps not surprisingly, the relatively recent “renaissance” in public address scholarship has not been borne on the back of Herbert Wichelns and effect but rather on the internal workings of the speech itself and the relationship of those workings to the rhetorical situation.3 As Leah Ceccarelli notes, “Most critics do not currently focus on how texts were received by their contemporary audiences, choosing instead to imagine how an audience in a particular rhetorical situation might have responded to the text’s invitation.”4 Recently, though, scholars working in and out of the field of public address have returned to questions of effect and reception. Ceccarelli, for example, recommends that a return to audience reception can and should guide critical interpretation if for no other reason than to examine a rhetor’s influence or an audience’s resistance to that influence. In the 2001 special issue of the Western Journal of Communication on the state of the art of rhetorical criticism, both Carole Blair and Michael Leff revalue reception and its relationship to criticism. Blair closes her essay by raising several “urgent” issues that need to be addressed, the second of which is: “How can we be confident that what critics identify as significant features of the rhetoric they study have significant influence? How do critics distinguish between aspects of rhetorical texts or objects that are merely surface features and those that do rhetorical work?”5 By raising the question, of course, Blair hopes for an answer. Unlike Blair, Leff gently acknowledges his own complicity in the move away from studies of reception: “the original motive for the project [textual criticism] was to avoid reducing rhetorical criticism to the study of effects and to distinguish the invitation to meaning constructed within the text from its actual reception.” That motive, in short, “encouraged interpretive critics to hunker down within the boundaries of the text.” Borrowing from Ceccarelli, Leff acknowledges the shortcomings of drawing such sharp textual boundaries; instead he advocates that “if we attend to the way contemporary receptional fragments interpret texts, we can gain insight into the context that surrounds the primary text and thus better understand its rhetorical workings.”6 Thus does the rhetorical critic share the interpretive spotlight with audience members. This we take to be a democratic move; it is also a prudent move given our preoccupation with influence. The return of reception makes for an interesting critique of where the field of rhetorical criticism has been; more specifically, in her diachronic analysis of the trajectory of critical claims, Blair makes a suggestive case for the culpability of the symbolic turn. That is, with the field’s adoption of Kenneth Burke’s dramatic approach, rhetorical critics have taken as their most basic unit of analysis the symbol. “In recent memory,” she argues, “rhetoric has been defined by, and theorized

according to, its most ephemeral quality: its symbolicity. At least in speech communication’s rendition of rhetoric, one does not have far to look for a near consensus about its basic character; it is treated definitively, even exhaustively, as symbolic.” Why “ephemeral”? Blair argues that “symbols refer us consistently beyond themselves to their referential or meaning domains.” Blair’s critique, though, is not of ephemera; it is far more consequential in terms of the telos of the critical act. Instead of an exclusive account where “meaning” drives the critical act, Blair seeks for something more “consequential”: “There are some things that rhetoric’s symbolicity simply cannot account for. One is its consequence.”7 If rhetoric matters, if rhetoric does work in the world, then a critical model that emphasizes exclusively symbolicity might quickly degenerate into a series of critical non sequiturs—and thus irrelevance. As we will demonstrate throughout this chapter, Franklin Roosevelt’s first inaugural address “mattered” in the most material ways: not only did it generate a huge response, but it also changed the nation’s mood—a change absolutely fundamental to economic recovery. More specifically, the nation’s reactions to the address were remarkably consistent: the new president had restored the nation’s confidence; his mandate to lead was a divinely sanctioned one; and he could and should arrogate great powers for himself, even dictatorial powers. This threefold response was occasionally articulated in the same letter. Shortly after listening to the president’s speech on radio, for example, Clifford L. Maxwell of Waco, Texas, typed out a one-page, single-spaced letter to the “Hon. Franklin D. Roosevelt.” He began, “Tears came to my eyes while you delivered your inaugural address. It was wonderful, breathing confidence and the dawning of a new day!” Giving expression to that confidence and even transcending it was a lineage that many other letter-writers would note: “Washington and Lincoln, among our Presidents, were men of destiny, apparently God sent, raised up to redeem a people desperately in need of leadership, lights of deliverance in darkness and uncertainty.” Roosevelt was “sent,” too: “But you are the man of destiny of destinies to meet the greatest crisis that has ever confronted this republic!” But beyond confidence and the nation’s cherished civic religious history was policy: “you are the man that this country will rise up and called ‘Blessed’ in days to come. You are an instrument in God’s hands to right the wrongs that have been imposed upon this country by unscrupulous individuals by selfish class legislation.”8 As God’s chosen vessel, the new president held the extraconstitutional clout to right policy wrongs. Divine selection far superseded constitutional discretion. The aforementioned three themes dominated the nation’s response to Roosevelt’s inaugural address. More important, each of these themes provides us with important historical and critical cues that help us account for how the speech evolved during the drafting process—and how that evolution is organic with several relevant contexts. What we propose to do, then, is not atypical of what Thomas W. Benson describes as constituting contemporary public address scholarship— namely, the attempt to “illustrate the possibilities of seeing the three elements of production, text, and reception not only as sequential but also as mutually and inseparably part of the same larger text.”9 The only point where we differ with Benson is in the order of the sequence; that is, we begin with reception and work backward. In so doing, we hope to illustrate just how a reading that begins with a speech’s listeners and their collective reactions can inform the formation of that speech and its historical contexts. We first provide a brief chronology of the inaugural address’s drafting and the important role played therein by Raymond Moley. We then turn to critical commentary on the inaugural address in order to situate our study. The next section moves between reactions to the address and historical and textual analysis informed by those reactions. In the final section, we offer concluding remarks.



No small mythology attends the creation of Franklin Roosevelt’s first inaugural address. And much of that mythology, not coincidentally, was shaped by the man who delivered it. In his important 1956 biography, Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox, James MacGregor Burns begins his sixth chapter: The evening of February 27, 1933, at Hyde Park was cloudy and cold. A stiff northwest wind swept across the dark waters of the Hudson and tossed the branches of the gaunt old trees around the Roosevelt home. Inside the warm living room a big, thick-shouldered man sat writing by the fire. From the ends of the room two of his ancestors looked down from their portraits: Isaac, who had revolted with his people against foreign rule during an earlier time of troubles, and James, merchant, squire, and gentleman of the old school. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s pencil glided across the pages of yellow legal cap paper. “I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our Nation impels.” The fire hissed and crackled; the large hand with its thick fingers moved rapidly across the paper. “The people of the United States want direct, vigorous action. They have made me the instrument, the humble instrument”—he scratched out “humble”; it was no time for humility—“of their wishes.” Phrase after phrase followed in the President-elect’s bold, pointed, slanting hand. Slowly the yellow sheets piled up. By 1:30 in the morning the inauguration speech was done.10



Only eleven years after Roosevelt’s death in 1945, it was clear that his first inaugural address was dramatically linked to political biography; it was a speech of mythic origins, authored by an increasingly mythic presence. And James MacGregor Burns was on the leading edge of that myth. Burns’s story is true in its essentials: on 27 February 1933 in Hyde Park, New York, at Springwood, the family mansion, Franklin Roosevelt did write out in longhand, and on yellow legal cap paper, what would become his inaugural address. And he did finish his “drafting” sometime near 1:30 A.M. on the twenty-eighth. But what Burns strategically excluded from his story goes to the heart of the myth. Sitting close by on a couch next to the “hissing” and “crackling” fire was Raymond Moley, a professor of political science at Columbia University. In March 1932, Roosevelt had asked Moley to coordinate both the policy and the rhetorical arms of his floundering presidential campaign. Roosevelt learned quickly that his New York counselors Louis Howe, Samuel Rosenman, and Colonel Edward M. House had not been up to the task, especially in the all-important sphere of crafting good speeches. With Moley as his principal speechwriter and policy coordinator (along with Columbia University colleagues Adolph A. Berle Jr. and Rexford Tugwell), with Howe as his behind-the-scenes operative, and with the amiable Jim Farley as his front man, Roosevelt had won the party’s nomination on the fourth ballot in Chicago. Four months later and with the same key advisers, Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover by an overwhelming majority, both in the popular and electoral votes. Fellow Democrats rode the anti-Republican sentiment to achieve decisive majorities in both houses of what would be the Seventy-third Congress. Along the way, Roosevelt had found Moley’s services invaluable. Not only was Moley a good strategist, but perhaps more important, he had proved himself to be a very accomplished rhetorician.11 Such was Roosevelt’s complete trust in his abilities that on the night of 22 September 1932 in San Francisco, and with victory clearly in sight, Roosevelt conversed with the professor about topics for his inaugural address. Moley was assigned to write the first drafts of the speech. In early February, nearly three months after the election, Moley returned to this important task.

Based on his conversation with Roosevelt and Ed Flynn on the evening of 3 February 1933, Moley recorded the first traces of what would become the inaugural address. On two 6?-by-10?-inch pieces of paper headed “Memorandum,” he enumerated: 1. Sickness–1 page In sickness–strife 2. Failure of us: of all due to method 1⁄2 page 3. 10 points–1 page 4. Intra-nat[ional]–1⁄2 page 5. The good neighbor action needed 6. Dictatorship 7. No failure of Dem[ocracy] 8. Tribute to people of U.S. encourage them.12 On 12 February 1933, nine days after recording this striking inventory, Moley drafted another one. In the intervening days, he had not consulted with Roosevelt, who was vacationing and largely incognito off the coast of Florida aboard Vincent Astor’s 263-foot motor yacht, the Nourmahal. As Moley’s note at the top of the page suggests, it would be his “final” outline. Sick Nations The Failure Cause of Failure Bad Leaders Money changers The Phil[osophy] in people Wholesome values lost sight of This is a moral failure too honest politics and business Rehabilitation–10 points or so Our house in order The Good Neighbor How to get it Disciplined action–purgation -repeal–hypocrisy Under dictatorship if necessary No essential failure of Democ[racy] Tribute to people.13 The essentials were now in place, all Moley had to do was to put these suggestive ideas into prose form. He made a first attempt on the following day, the thirteenth. His first sentence began, “America is a sick nation in the midst of a sick world. We are sick because of our failure to recognize economic changes in time, and to make provisions against their consequences.”14 Moley composed several more sentences that day, most of which did not make it in to the final draft. Sometime between 18 and 26 February, Moley finished what would be the first complete draft of the inaugural address. On the twenty-sixth, Moley traveled north from his apartment in New York City to the Roosevelt estate in Hyde Park. In his briefcase was the draft of the address—which brings us back to James MacGregor Burns. The following day, 27 February, Roosevelt and Moley moved to the library following dinner. The professor retrieved his draft, which the president-elect proceeded to read. He seemed very pleased with Moley’s work. There followed an





awkward moment, but one that the professor had anticipated. Roosevelt informed Moley that he had better rewrite the entire speech in a familiar hand. If Louis Howe, FDR’s secretary and confidante who was arriving the next day, saw that the draft was not in Roosevelt’s own handwriting, he would have a fit. Howe was indeed very suspicious of those close to “the Boss,” his preferred appellation for Roosevelt. But Moley knew that he had already won over the ashenfaced, gnomish Howe during the course of the campaign. At every key juncture, Moley had worked hard to include Howe and to acknowledge his contribution to the campaign’s effectiveness. The professor had long been aware that cordial relations with the exceedingly loyal and jealous Howe were necessary for cordial relations with Roosevelt. Moley did not protest Roosevelt’s somewhat unusual request; in fact, he had anticipated just this response: he had even brought along the “yellow cap legal paper” for Roosevelt to write on. 15 Moley had one more gesture—far more dramatic—that would attest to his rhetorical fealty. As the editing began, Moley sat on a long couch in the library, situated in front of a brightly burning fire. The two went back and forth as they carefully considered the rhetorical choices manifest in each sentence, sometimes in every word. Occasionally they agreed to make a change to Moley’s draft. They took occasional breaks. At one such break, Moley became preternaturally aware of the history in which he clearly recognized he was participating. At 11 P.M., he wrote in his notebook: “Before the fire in the library at Hyde Park. Alone w[ith] F.D.R. He is writing inaugural on a card-table. On the table [a] letter from Lamont with direful warning re[:] banks. Will Woodin calls. Cordell Hull calls. Silence. I am lying on [the] couch. Glasses—whiskey for us. Talk re[:] postal savings banks to care for the people’s money.” And then Roosevelt broke the solemnity with the question: “How do you spell foreclose?” Moley waxed historic. “A week—yes five days—this man will be Pres[ident] of U.S.” He closed his brief note with “A strong man F.D.R.”16 Roosevelt continued the writing. Nearing 1:30 in the morning on Tuesday, Moley informed Roosevelt that he had purposefully omitted a peroration. He figured that the president would want to have the last word for his inaugural address. It would be personal. It should invoke the Deity. Roosevelt scribed, “In this dedication of a nation we humbly ask the blessing and the guidance of God. May he protect each and every one of us. May he guide me in the days to come.”17 Before he signed his name at the end of page ten, Roosevelt crossed out “and the guidance.” The nation needed “blessings.” He would reserve God’s guidance for himself. The address was now finished, nearly four and a half hours after they had begun. Moley had been anticipating—and choreographing—this moment of closure. It needed something grand, something dramatic, perhaps some gesture to empower the new author of the speech. Moley rose slowly from the couch. He deliberately collected the pages of the draft that he’d brought with him to Hyde Park, the pages that Roosevelt had painstakingly copied. He approached the glowing embers of the fire—and tossed the pages into the fireplace. The pages were quickly consumed. Moley turned to the future president. “This is your speech now.”18 James MacGregor Burns to the contrary, Franklin Roosevelt was no rhetorical savant—at least not when it came to drafting his public speeches. While Roosevelt consulted frequently with Moley on the contents of the inaugural address, the form was all Moley’s, or at least nearly all Moley’s. The following day at Hyde Park, 28 February, Louis Howe did indeed want to have a careful look at the inaugural address. But generally he liked what he read. No doubt he also liked what he saw: ten legal pages in Roosevelt’s own handwriting. Howe made several changes to the draft. Some were later changed back to the Moley/Roosevelt original, which were

recorded in a typed draft (with penciled emendations by Howe and Roosevelt) on 1 March. Three days later, Roosevelt delivered the speech, with very minor changes, to an anxious nation. To date, despite the fact that in a recent poll of public address scholars the speech was ranked as the third “best” speech of the twentieth century, only three critics have examined it.19 The scholars who have critically examined the speech have largely taken up only the “finished” version, the text as delivered by Roosevelt on 4 March. That finished version, to no one’s surprise, also informs their reading of the “relevant” contexts—theoretical and historical. Thomas B. Farrell, for example, uses the final draft to argue for its civic sophistication and the speech’s decisive break with “conventional government.” He argues further that Roosevelt’s genius was “to redefine in practical terms the constitutive vocabulary detailing the duties and obligations of a government. A politics of praxis replaced the rhetoric of restraint, principle and legalistic imperative, embodied by Hoover.”20 In other words, Roosevelt ushered in with his inaugural address a rhetorical revolution—a reconstituted, discursively performed public sphere instantiated by a new vocabulary. Much of that “new vocabulary” borrows figuratively from the vernacular of warfare. The speech, claims Farrell, is not Hoover; it is a break with the Hooverian rhetoric of conservatism that attaches itself to precedent, tradition, and law. Such a negative treatment of Herbert Hoover is hardly surprising—but hardly accurate. As we argue more fully in the next section, Hoover’s presence infuses Roosevelt’s inaugural address—and not simply in a negative way. To take but one example, Farrell argues that much of the inaugural’s persuasiveness had to do with Roosevelt’s “figurative genius.” Leaving aside authorship for the moment, what are we to make of Roosevelt’s extensive use of war metaphors in the speech? If we read the speech as safely bracketed or decontextualized, we miss the very important fact that Hoover had also figured the Depression in warlike terms—for the better part of three years. How, then, can a discursive reconstitution happen at the level of metaphor when the same metaphor (warfare) had already been appropriated for the same rhetorical ends (fighting the Depression)? How, in a word, was the rhetoric different across administrations, since difference inheres in Farrell’s claim? Farrell’s reading is a suggestive one, especially within his larger project of rehabilitating Aristotelian rhetorical theory, but ultimately it is a closed one, safely bracketed from the vicissitudes of historical context. Such is also the case with Suzanne M. Daughton’s metaphorical reading of the speech.21 Her examination of the inaugural focuses on two seemingly divergent metaphorical clusters in the speech: terms that cluster around religion and terms that cluster around warfare. She argues that the clusters coalesce into the concept of a holy war, thus allowing Roosevelt to achieve his twofold purpose of allaying fear (by using religious imagery familiar to the country’s civil-religion sensibilities) and activating the nation for action (by metaphorically constructing an army). Daughton not only does not examine earlier drafts of the address to trace and contextualize the genealogy of the two clusters, but she, like Farrell, also safely brackets the new and salvific Roosevelt administration from the outgoing and misanthropic Hoover administration. The rhetoric of discontinuity, then, is premised on the straw man of Herbert Hoover. Thus Daughton’s claim that “rather than simply telling his listeners that economic recovery was ‘just around the corner,’ as Herbert Hoover had done, or asking them to ‘endure’ their suffering passively (with the assurance that they would be rewarded in the hereafter), Roosevelt told them [via military metaphor] that they could and indeed, must, take an active role in solving the crisis.”22 Two problems arise from this statement. First, contrary to popular memory, Herbert Hoover never said that economic recovery was “just around the corner.” At an address to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on 1 May 1930, he did



state, “While the crash only took place 6 months ago, I am convinced we have now passed the worst and with continued unity of effort we shall rapidly recover.”23 Later in the same address, the president cautioned his listeners, “We are not yet entirely through the difficulties of our situation.” While the infamous “just around the corner” statement has been blithely (mis)attributed by generations of historians to Hoover, what they also fail to comprehend is that optimistic economic preachments about the future were fundamental to Hoover’s vision for economic recovery–a vision that Roosevelt addressed directly, more than once, in his inaugural address. Hoover (and Roosevelt) firmly believed that a change in mental outlook—increased confidence—could have material effects on the economy. Daughton, and others, miss this key similarity. A second problem, one familiar to Farrell’s work, is that Herbert Hoover had long employed the rhetoric of warfare in his attempts to combat the Depression. Franklin Roosevelt did not hold a monopoly on this metaphorical construction; as such, claims of rhetorical effect (military metaphors activated the moribund populace) need to at least acknowledge, if not directly engage, Hoover’s “war” as well. One final comment on Daughton’s reading of the speech as inaugurating a holy war: what are we to make of the fact that none of her evidences for a holy war (described in newspaper accounts) merge the two metaphorical clusters? Did the public “get it,” the way that she claims? That question is left unanswered, as Daughton does not survey the myriad reactions, particularly private reactions sent to the new president, to the address. Had she examined those reactions, she would have not only found some support for her claim, she would have found confirmation of the antidemocratic dangers inherent in metaphorical clusters featuring Roosevelt as commander in chief and Roosevelt as high priest, a point to which we will return. Of the three critics who have carefully examined the inaugural, only Halford Ross Ryan makes use of archival sources at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York.24 Specifically, he uses earlier drafts of the address, particularly the 1 March draft, to illustrate some of the strategic rhetorical choices that Roosevelt made—not those made by Moley or Howe. Ryan goes on to illustrate three rhetorical techniques that Roosevelt utilized: scapegoating the banking and financial communities; using military metaphors to garner support for his administration; and applying a carrot-and-stick approach to the new Seventy-third Congress. Ryan also depicts the extent to which the media acknowledged each of these rhetorical techniques in their coverage of the address. Again, like Farrell and Daughton, Ryan dismisses Herbert Hoover as unimportant to his analysis, not even mentioning the fact of Hoover’s extensive use of military metaphors. What also are we to make of Ryan’s claim that Roosevelt was “successful” in scapegoating the banking and financial communities when many in both groups were on their way to Washington, D.C., to consult with the new president on proposed banking legislation? If the “money changers” had indeed abdicated their seats in the temple of finance and had fled, what was the administration doing by calling them back to the “holy of holies”? Finally, with respect to the carrot-and-stick technique that Ryan details, a careful reading of the “stick” suggests cooperation more than subjugation. That is, Ryan quotes Roosevelt to the effect that



but in the event that the Congress shall fail to take one of these two courses, 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.25

This is a dramatic pronouncement for sure, but note that the powers Roosevelt would seek—war powers—would be delegated to him only if Congress agreed to do so. The president would have “to ask,” he could not assume. This brief review is not to suggest that Farrell, Daughton, and Ryan have nothing important to say about Roosevelt’s first inaugural address—quite the contrary. Each has opened important interpretive possibilities in their readings. But what each has often failed to do is to see the complexity of the address as it evolved over time. When did the religious imagery get added? Why? How might Roosevelt’s inauguration day “war” have differed from Hoover’s “war”? How does an emphasis on economic confidence change our reading of the speech? How did Moley and Roosevelt’s initial invocation of dictatorship change across drafts? Why? These are just a few of the questions that we address in the next section. According to several prominent historians, the White House was flooded with 500,000 reactions to Roosevelt’s first inaugural address. In our research at the Roosevelt Presidential Library, we turned up several thousand reactions, not several hundred thousand. They came from all across the country; they came from across the class spectrum; and they came from the very young and the very old. Despite this ostensibly heterogeneous authorship, the contents of the letters and telegrams are remarkably homogeneous. Many of the letter writers simply commented favorably on the speech that they had heard firsthand on the radio, wished the new president well at the outset of his presidency and closed with an appeal to the Deity, something along the lines of “May God bless you in the challenges that confront you.” Many others, however, communicated their reactions to the inaugural address in very specific ways, and we now turn to these reactions. Perhaps the dominant interpretive pattern by which the public (and the press) reacted to the speech involved confidence. It was a most interesting reaction for three reasons: confidence references some of the extratextual motives behind the speech; it provides a thematic link to the Hoover administration; and it provides an important inventional window on drafts of the address. Charles H. Abbott of Atlantic City, New Jersey, wrote to the new president, “I am confident that this is only the forerunner of other history[-]making messages that will spread your light before men and inspire that degree of confidence which is so eminently essential to the restoration of peace, progress and prosperity, in our nation.” Mrs. George Brewer of Atlanta wrote, “You have accomplished more already than any other man now living has, for you have gained the confidence of all good people.” F. W. Clements of Rochester, New York, was more specific about how Roosevelt had in fact produced such confidence: “Your voice on Saturday carried more conviction and inspired more confidence in the people than could page after page of the printed word. It’s your voice that the people want to listen to.” From Magnolia, Arkansas, Charles Colquitt wrote, “You will find that the people do not expect the impossible, but that true leadership is the great need, and there is now a renewed confidence here since yesterday[’]s address by you.” Allen R. Carter of Louisville wrote, “Your inaugural heralds the dawn of a new day, the beginning of a new deal, the awakening of a new hope, the renewal of faith in our Government, the rebirth of confidence in the office of the President of the United States, the Renaissance of idealism and fair play.” Carter closed his note, as did many of the letter writers, by comparing the inaugural address to “Lincoln’s immortal Gettysburg Oration.” Morris Sterns of Columbus, Georgia, also linked confidence with Lincoln at Gettysburg: “This noon your inaugural address electrified us. Its clarity, logic and sincerity struck us with the force and simplicity of Lincoln’s Speech at Gettysburg. Your address restored confidence to the entire nation. It will also become a classic.” For Maurice Sado of Brooklyn, New York, the link that Moley and Roosevelt made between confidence and action had clearly been communicated: “what our country





needed most of all was action on the part of those vested with authority; action, however, which was prompt and unremitting and which would have the psychological effect of dispelling constant fear on the part of most people. . . . Your leadership, courage and frankness, will do much toward giving the people confidence in the future, spurred on through constant constructive action on a large scale.” Louis Ferguson of Evanston, Illinois, also linked confidence and action in his telegram to Roosevelt: “Your speech was a great one and timed to the moment [.] [F]earless courageous American morals are more potent than money[.] [W]e have confidence in you as you have in the people[.] [W]e need action as we have needed it for four years[.] [W]e are glad we may see it now[.]” For Raymond Hummel of Cleveland, the confidence was evident in corporeal ways: “To-day sitting among a gathering of the all but ‘forgotten men’ during your inaugural address, I seen [sic] those worried looks replaced by smiles and confidence, eyes fill up with tears of gratitude, shoulders lifted and chest out, with the new confidence your words gave us.” From Madison, Wisconsin, H. C. Carson’s letter praised the president’s speech for its assurance of faith, honesty, sincerity, intelligence, and courageous leadership. For him, “these characteristics are the foundation for confidence building and confidence is fundamentally the precursor of success.” It is evident from these and scores of other letters that the nation had not only received the message of confidence but also that the speech as a whole had rekindled confidence among the nation’s citizens. The same could be said of the nation’s press as well. Before the address was even delivered, however, some journalists had already pinpointed confidence as the nation’s great need. Famed journalist Walter Lippmann in his column of 3 March wrote, “the restoration of good times requires that confidence which only unity can produce.”26 Similarly, Truman A. DeWeese editorialized in the New York Herald Tribune that “the only hope of business recovery lies in the restoration of confidence through a change in public psychology.”27 William H. Grimes of the Wall Street Journal hoped that the inaugural would “go a long way toward restoring confidence throughout the country. If it does this, emergency action might be unnecessary and conditions would be improved.”28 Just a day or two following the Lippmann-DeWeese-Grimes ruminations on confidence, Roosevelt’s speech met nearly unanimous approval from newspapers across the country. Perhaps not surprisingly that approbation was often expressed in terms of confidence. From the northeast, the Hartford Courant editorialized, “It is a message that radiates faith, courage and optimism, that stresses moral values and is well calculated to inspire confidence.”29 The Philadelphia Inquirer concluded succinctly, “All in all, the short inaugural address would have the effect of inspiring confidence in the American people.” The African American Pittsburgh Courier was less restrained in its reaction: “[C]onfidence literally arose from its hiding place and is today a living actuality. Confidence has arrived.” In the South, the Atlanta Constitution enthused, “never in the long list of presidential utterances has there ever been one more appealing in force, nor more inspiring in its power to create confidence.” Editors at the Chattanooga Times likewise agreed that the inaugural “manifests unwavering faith in America and breathes a spirit of hope and confidence.” In the Middle West, newspapers in Chicago and St. Louis noted the return of confidence. The Chicago Tribune averred, “President Roosevelt’s inaugural strikes the dominant note of courageous confidence.” The St. Louis Globe Democrat was more emphatic: “The spirit of courage and confidence with which [Roosevelt] addresses his prodigious task is in itself impressive, and particularly so at a time when it is just that spirit which is most needed by the country.” Out west, where Roosevelt had received a great deal of support during the campaign from Democrat and Republican Progressives, talk of confidence was also in the air. The Los Angeles Times editorialized, “The address was one well fitted to the

occasion and well calculated to inspire confidence. There can be no question of the energy and determination of the new executive.” The Portland Oregonian was less sanguine in its evaluation of the address, if only perhaps for the constituency it invoked: “By his direct assault against the established order in finance [Roosevelt] dashes the hopes of thousands of financial institutions already sorely pressed that his address would include something reassuring to public confidence and public credit.” In sum, then, reaction to Roosevelt’s inaugural address frequently invoked confidence—and more important, its return on 4 March. That reaction would have no doubt pleased Ray Moley. As Moley neared the twilight of his life, he clearly wanted to set the record straight. In 1939, at the age of fifty-three, he had published his account of his involvement in the campaign of 1932, as well as his involvement in the administration’s remarkable first hundred days. That account, After Seven Years, was not warmly received by Roosevelt; in fact, such was his ire with his former chief adviser and speechwriter that he put people to work on researching possible refutations. But in his account, Moley omitted several important events and details—most notably his intimate engagement with the drafting of the first inaugural address. So at eighty years of age, and with the assistance of Rutgers University professor, Elliot A. Rosen, Moley re-recorded many of the events of the early New Deal—what he called the “first New Deal”—including his work on the inaugural address. In chapter 7, and for the first time, Moley detailed the extent of his involvement with the speech, going so far as to reproduce his handwritten documents that he had saved leading up to and following the dramatic incineration during the early morning hours of 28 February 1933.30 Those same documents are now housed at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace on the campus of Stanford University—an ironic place for the once-partisan New Dealer’s papers to end up. In addition to providing invaluable historical documents detailing the drafting of the speech, Moley also for the first time revealed just what the administration was attempting to accomplish in its early days in office. “Roosevelt believed that the very quantity of the legislation passed would inspire wonder and confidence. Nearly everyone who participated and knew what was happening,” claimed Moley, “realized that these measures per se could not promote economic recovery. They would, however, create a climate in which natural forces would reassert themselves.”31 Ever the rhetorician, Moley (and Roosevelt) understood the rhetorical force that vast and rapidly produced and passed legislation could have. It was confidence that the new administration looked to catalyze, and the inaugural address was the text in its formation. At a meeting in 1967 of the Organization of American Historians, at which he had been invited to respond to Roosevelt historian Frank Freidel, Moley confided, “I would like to make a final observation which is essentially the theme of my whole book [The First New Deal], . . . a major factor in the recovery that followed Roosevelt’s inauguration was the igniting of confidence over the country among all sectors of the economy. In this, Roosevelt’s immense capacity to win confidence must be recognized.”32 If Roosevelt, through rhetorical means, could reenliven the nation’s collective confidence, then economic recovery would take hold. It was a remarkable proposition: an immaterial state of mind could fundamentally alter the material prospects of the nation. If people could be persuaded to believe that the immediate economic future augured well, then they would take positive economic actions in the present—which would benefit all citizens. The economic logic of collective confidence was circular, not linear: a “mere” belief about the future held very real consequences for today. At this point in our analysis, we have come to an important historiographical crossroads. We have the principal author of the speech on record as saying that one key aim of the inaugural address was to induce confidence on the part of the





citizenry. We have also seen, based on a review of the reactions from laypersons and journalists alike, that confidence was in fact created as a consequence of the address. All that remains to do, it seems, is to engage the text in an attempt to understand just how that confidence might have been engendered—“might” since we are here dealing strictly for better or worse in the realm of interpretive probabilities. But to engage in this line of inquiry is to carefully bracket Herbert Hoover from Franklin Roosevelt; it is to assume an important and consequential discontinuity between the two men and their rhetorical practices. Such a discontinuous treatment in both the historical and rhetorical literature has long held sway.33 That is, strictly at the level of assumption, radical difference between their administrations has been assumed; moreover, in the sphere of popular memory, such assumed differences have assumed the rhetorical force of the taken-for-granted. To take but one recent example of how this assumption continues to manifest itself at the level of popular public discourse, David Grubin’s “FDR: A Documentary,” part of the Public Broadcast System’s series on the American presidency, makes the following claim: “Since the start of the Depression, the Republican president, Herbert Hoover, had settled into a dismal pessimism. . . . Hoover believed there was nothing he could do to turn the economy around. The crisis would have to resolve itself without the aid of government.”34 It is an astonishing claim, particularly in light of the radical interventions that Hoover signed into law in the winter and spring of 1932. One such intervention–the creation of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) in January 1932—elicited this response from Nebraska’s progressive senator, George Norris: “I have been called a socialist, a Bolshevik, a communist and a lot of other terms of a similar nature, but in the wildest flights of my imagination I never thought of such a thing as putting the Government into business as far as this bill [the RFC] would put it.”35 In brief, Herbert Hoover was far from the laissez-faire pessimist who did nothing as the economy crumbled around him; after all, it was none other than Franklin Roosevelt who more than once accused him of being a dangerous radical in the fall presidential campaign.36 All too often a discontinuous treatment ends up, perhaps unintentionally, in hagiography rather than in informed and historically accurate accounts. On the other hand, a more continuous historiographical posture, one that links the two men even while acknowledging important differences, complicates matters greatly. Instead of hero and villain, black and white, we are forced to sift through the many shades of gray that inevitably follow. With respect to economic policy, several contemporary historians have argued persuasively for a continuous view of the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations.37 In his Pulitzer Prize–winning historical account of the period spanning 1929–45, David M. Kennedy concludes: “If Roosevelt had a plan in early 1933 to effect economic recovery, it was difficult to distinguish from many of the measures that Hoover, even if sometimes grudgingly, had already adopted.”38 Others closer to the historical scene went even further. In 1935, and having witnessed what would be termed the “Roosevelt Revolution,” Lippmann noted that Roosevelt’s policies represented “a continuous evolution of the Hoover measures.”39 Perhaps even more compelling are the accounts of Moley and Tugwell. “[W]hen we all burst into Washington after the inaugural,” Moley reflected, “we found every essential idea enacted in the 100-day Congress in the Hoover Administration itself.”40 Similarly, Tugwell noted Roosevelt’s “amazing resemblance to Hoover” and claimed that “practically the whole New Deal was extrapolated from programs that Hoover started.”41 Decades later, in a letter to Moley, Tugwell confessed, “we were too hard on a man who really invented most of the devices we used.”42 For rhetoricians, continuous historiography is most appropriate when examining Roosevelt’s first inaugural address and the thematic of confidence. As Davis W.

Houck, Albert U. Romasco, and James S. Olson, among others, have each illustrated, Herbert Hoover’s three-year battle with the Great Depression was fought principally on the sole front of confidence.43 Beginning with the stock market crash in 1929 and extending until his last hours in office, Hoover’s rhetorical and legislative aims centered around reenlivening the nation’s collective confidence. Many in the nation picked up on the confidence mantra, some even going so far as to view the entire crisis as a function of belief. But regardless of Hoover’s fervent plea for confidence, there was one main problem: for confidence to manifest itself, it needed to attach itself to some positive economic news or event. This brings us back to Roosevelt’s inaugural address and the stated aim of rekindling confidence. During his very first meeting with Moley to discuss plans for the speech, Roosevelt figured that he “would have to contend with a badly stricken and confused population.” The nation, Roosevelt aptly noted, with Hoover’s confidence economics clearly on his mind, “had already heard too much of optimistic preachment.”44 On inauguration day, whatever else the new president might say, “nothing should be said . . . to lessen the public’s impression of the critical realities.” From the very outset of the planning stages for the speech, Roosevelt clearly viewed Hoover’s emphasis on confidence as a conditioning factor on what he might say. Clearly he could not engage in the same rhetorical game—even though increased confidence was the stated aim. That Moley kept Roosevelt’s admonition in mind is evinced by the surviving drafts. Moley’s outlines of the address bear an unmistakable realism, with a metaphor from the campaign thrown in for good rhetorical measure. That is, Moley initially relied heavily on the use of health and sickness terminology, even going so far as to place the nation’s collective sickness first in speaking priority. Recall that point number one of his first outline begins, “Sickness–In sickness–strife.” A different outline begins, “Sick world.” In his “Final” outline before beginning to draft the address, the first third of the address would be given over to explaining causes for why the nation was sick. Further, recall also that Moley’s very first sentence began: “America is a sick nation in the midst of a sick world.” Given the predominance and the temporal priority of the sickness metaphor in the early drafting, it is striking to observe that sometime between 18 and 26 February, the metaphor disappeared from the text entirely. Moley never indicated why the seemingly radical turn away from the vernacular of sickness occurred, but we would suggest one possible explanation. On 18 February, Franklin Roosevelt received a remarkable ten-page, handwritten letter from the president. The letter was hand-delivered to the president-elect by the Secret Service. That evening, Roosevelt shared its contents with his close advisers, including Moley and Howe. The letter was Hoover’s attempt to secretly explain the devolving banking crisis that had recently enveloped the nation. He stated the matter in typically Hooverian terms: “The major difficulty is the state of public mind—for there is a steadily degenerating confidence in the future which has reached the height of general alarm.”45 Hoover advised Roosevelt that “a very early statement by you upon two or three policies of your administration would serve greatly to restore confidence and cause a resumption of the march of recovery.” Of course the “two or three policies” that Hoover hoped Roosevelt might share with the nation were those of fiscal orthodoxy—since only a rhetoric of orthodoxy might ease the public’s alarm and enable the return of confidence. The temerity of the letter was noted by all in the Roosevelt inner circle—how could a president who had been roundly rejected by the nation urge the new president to continue his administration’s favored policies and to adopt his administration’s overweening emphasis on confidence as the sine qua non of economic recovery? This letter, and the general Hooverian emphasis on confidence, with its eleven explicit references to public confidence and eleven explicit references to fear, alarm, and panic, appears to have had a significant impact





on Moley’s drafting of the inaugural, particularly the draft that he brought with him to Hyde Park on the 26 February, to which we now turn. Instead of a “sick nation in the midst of a sick world,” the Moley/Roosevelt draft’s first paragraph read: “I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction to the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our nation impels. This is no occasion for soft speaking or for the raising of false hopes.”46 The very first sentence in the inaugural address was a not-so-subtle allusion to the fact that Franklin Roosevelt would be no Herbert Hoover; he would not soft pedal the economic gravity of the moment, nor would he optimistically forecast improvements. No, today—and the inaugural address in particular—was a time for truth-telling, honesty, and candor. Importantly, Moley and Roosevelt couched this crucial opening as a generic expectation; it was Roosevelt’s “fellow Americans” who “expected” such candor and decision. In speaking this way, the new president was only furthering his identification with them, since he was already quite explicit about their expectations. An introduction to a speech about the expectations about speaking—it was a brilliant stroke, but it remained for Roosevelt to enact the candor and decision of which he spoke. That identificatory bond between leader and led was given historical precedent in the second paragraph. In the War for Independence and the Civil War, “a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is an essential to victory.” Attention exclusively to analogy and metaphor here would miss the extension of the argument declared in the first paragraph. Roosevelt’s rhetorical leadership would continue in the best tradition of frank (some saw a subtle pun) and vigorous speech—which the nation would understand and support. That the present situation was warlike was not the key consideration; rather, it was Roosevelt’s rhetorical style, contra Herbert Hoover. Without even invoking his name, a clear distinction between the two men and their rhetorical proclivities (truth-telling versus soft optimism) had been articulated. In the third paragraph, Moley and Roosevelt attempted to enact further the rhetorical leadership favored in the first two paragraphs. They signaled the truthtelling: “In such a spirit on my part and yours we recognize our common difficulties.” Moley and Roosevelt then proceeded to list those difficulties in explicit detail—a listing that functioned rhetorically as candid and frank address. Material values had shrunk to “fantastic” levels; taxes had risen; the ability to pay had fallen; government income had been seriously curtailed; trade was “frozen”; industrial enterprise was dying; farmers could find no markets; and people’s savings had disappeared. More important, though, was the fact that “a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence and an equally great number toil with little return.” For even the darkest pessimist, this was an exceptional list, a truth-telling the likes of which the nation had never heard from its previous president. Indeed, this was no soft speaking. Moley and Roosevelt were not yet done with the initial inventorying of the bad news. One final sentence directed the American people’s ears to draw a clear contrast as to what they’d just heard: “Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.” That foolish optimist, of course, was Herbert Hoover, who had pleaded optimistically for the return of confidence for three long years. It was a forceful and clear punctuation to an opening conspicuous in its explication of bad economic news. But detailing such news was precisely the point: Roosevelt would be no Hoover when it came to rhetorical leadership and the Great Depression. The onslaught against Hooverian confidence was far from over, however. In its place, Moley and Roosevelt aimed for a different type of confidence, not its

overthrow. They transitioned to blame—for who or what was responsible for the overwhelmingly “dark reality.” Interestingly, Moley’s earlier drafts that emphasized sickness come into sharp relief, if for no other reason than its firm repudiation. “Our national distress comes from no failure of substance.” In less than two weeks, the dominant motif of sickness had disappeared as cause and consequence altogether. Instead, Moley and Roosevelt targeted “the rulers of the exchanges of mankind’s goods” for both their “stubbornness” and their “incompetence.” When faced by the twin failures of credit and profit, “they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence.” Faced with the implosion of their own economic incentives at the heart of capitalism, only a lachrymose appeal to confidence was left. It, too, had been met with “no response.” That Herbert Hoover was in fact complicitous with the scapegoats of high finance is underscored by his involvement with the RFC. “Faced by a failure of credit they have offered only the lending of more money.” As a lending institution funded and founded by the federal government, and thus Herbert Hoover, the RFC had been roundly criticized for lending large amounts of money to the “rulers” and “money changers,” the very groups who had most benefited from the speculative orgy of the 1920s. It was now time for the new president to restore the “temple to the ancient truths.” These truths included the moral—as opposed to the material—value of work, the joy of creative effort, and the value of ministering to ourselves and others. To close this opening section of the inaugural address, Moley and Roosevelt returned to the most fundamental of ancient truths: “Small wonder that confidence lags; it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, on unselfish performance. Without them it cannot live.” Moley and Roosevelt knew full well that for prosperity to return, confidence would have to precede it. But here for the first time was Rooseveltian confidence explicitly stated; more important, the first third of the speech had already enacted that very confidence. It was decidedly not Hooverian confidence, but it was confidence all the same. In sum, then, if as critics we are seduced by the aphorism and the metaphors, we lose a very important context for understanding how many Americans made sense of the speech within its historical moment. It was a clear and direct repudiation of Hoover’s rhetorical leadership. That same repudiation functioned to enact a vastly different rhetorical style—one premised on the very characteristics that would engender confidence. As mentioned, Louis Howe saw the Moley/Roosevelt draft on 28 February. He made several important changes to that draft, but none were more important than those he made to the opening paragraph. Based on the surviving evidence, Howe clearly saw the opening paragraph as too hurried. He moved to amplify its sentiments, not fundamentally alter them. He left the first sentence without editorial change–not even the insertion or deletion of a comma. But he removed the entire second sentence. Instead of a negatively phrased statement—“This is no occasion for soft speaking or for the raising of false hopes”—Howe opted for a positive counterphrasing. “This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly.”47 The sentence still gestured back to Hoover but not quite so explicitly; moreover, the frank and bold declaration had something of a juridical ring about it: Franklin Roosevelt had just taken one oath with his left hand on the family’s thick Dutch Bible, and this was the second. Just like a witness swearing an oath in a court of law, the new president vowed to tell the truth, “the whole truth,” to the assembled jurors. For a trained lawyer, as Roosevelt was, the rhetorical gesture was most appropriate. Perhaps such a self-conscious oath-taking was even more appropriate given the enactment of confidence about which he was to embark. But before doing that, Roosevelt offered a reason and a reassurance for such bold truth-telling: “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.” Honesty, in other words, was premised on the stated assurance that the nation would indeed survive. It was a confident statement. No doubt it was a statement meant to induce confidence. But it was not a statement that linked economic prosperity solely to a state of mind. It was an assertion that drew its suasory force from the linkage of past and present. The assertion led to a conclusion—probably the best-remembered conclusion ever uttered by an American president: “So first of all let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes the needed efforts to bring about prosperity once more.” This sublime aphorism, so intimately linked with the memory of Franklin Roosevelt, remains something of an enigma among Roosevelt scholars down to the present day. Eleanor Roosevelt thought it came directly from a book her husband was reading by Thoreau immediately prior to the inauguration. Moley and others never saw such a book on his nightstand. Later historians, once the drafts and chronology became available, rightly gave the credit to Louis Howe. But from what source did Howe’s phrase originate? Howe would later claim that he borrowed the phrase from, of all places, an advertisement that ran in a New York newspaper in early January 1933.48 Not surprisingly, despite assiduous research, no one has found the supposed advertisement. This lack of evidence, though, does not surprise us because Louis Howe might have been shielding his source. Noted Roosevelt scholar and sometime apologist William E. Leuchtenburg has accurately noted, “In declaring there was nothing to fear but fear, Roosevelt had minted no new platitude. Hoover had said the same thing repeatedly for three years.”49 We would go a step further and suggest, albeit tentatively, that Howe appropriated the idea—not necessarily the phrasing—from Herbert Hoover. Based on its contents and with the fact that Howe read it carefully and discussed it with Roosevelt and his other advisers, the fearing fear aphorism has at least a confirmation, if not its genesis, in Hoover’s 18 February letter to Roosevelt. The lengthy epistle is an extended testimony to the dangerous effects of fear—and how fear had gained the upper hand in the president’s protracted battle to engender public confidence. As a poet, playwright, and artist, Howe was certainly capable of coining the aphorism on his own. That said, the letter offers one compelling source for its ideational origins. This possibility also explains why Howe might have purposefully misled many about its “true” source. But quite apart from origins, the fearing fear addition was decidedly not a statement to the effect of “have confidence so that economic prosperity will return.” As stated in the textual unfolding of the address, it was a conclusion following from premises of certain endurance, revival, and prosperity. Interestingly, Roosevelt clearly did not see the aphorism within the circumscribed ambit of economics. Over Howe’s typed draft of “the needed efforts to bring about prosperity once more,” Roosevelt inserted in his own handwriting, “needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” The Roosevelt addition has perhaps the intended consequence of signifying action, forward movement that serves to trump the “paralysis” of fear. That Roosevelt himself could not walk unaided adds a certain irony and poignancy to the passage. Importantly, Howe clearly got the gist of what Moley and Roosevelt were attempting to do with respect to impugning Hooverian confidence and enacting Rooseveltian confidence. Aside from the amplification of the first paragraph, Howe made very few changes in the first third of the address. But he did make one significant addition in the middle portion of the text. In the section on putting people back to work and how Roosevelt proposed to accomplish it, Howe invoked a telling binary: “There are many ways in which it [putting people back to work] can be helped, but it can never be helped merely by talking about it. We must act and

act quickly.” Again, Howe offered yet another not-so-subtle jab at Hoover’s rhetorical leadership. No small irony attends the fact that Roosevelt would belittle speech precisely at the moment when he was giving a most important one. More important, though, is the link that Moley, Roosevelt, and Howe were attempting to make between confidence and action. That message, moreover, had indeed gotten through, as exemplified in the letters of Louis Ferguson and Maurice Sado. The question, though, remains as to how–how was Roosevelt able to link action and confidence when in fact his administration had not yet “done” anything? Perhaps most important was the acknowledgment that bold, decisive, and prompt action was needed immediately. As early as their first conversation on the speech, back in September at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, Moley and Roosevelt agreed that “the New Administration must provide an example of positive and expeditious action.”50 Recall that in his first outline, Moley had inserted and underscored “action needed.” Later, in his “final” outline of 13 February, Moley had written, “Disciplined action.” Moley’s first draft version of the address, which occurred on 13 February, included, “Therefore what’s needed is action along comparatively new lines carefully planned in advance.” In the same document, Moley also wrote, “Action necessary. In getting this action [we] must get orderly consent as govt. intended to function.” In the Moley and Roosevelt draft of 27 February, and in language that would be utilized nearly verbatim on 4 March, Roosevelt’s “program of action” had crystallized into something quite specific. The transition to what the Roosevelt administration would shortly propose to do was signaled by a brief transition: “Restoration calls however not for standards alone. This nation asks [for] action and action now.” What followed was an elaboration of his program of action. Just as significant, we would argue, is how Moley and the president-elect textualized that program. The “primary task” was to put people to work. Using anaphoric constructions, the task was specified: That can be accomplished 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 our natural resources. The task can be helped by frank recognition of the overbalance of population in our industrial centers and by engaging on a national scale in a redistribution to provide a better use of the land for those best fitted for the land. It 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 treating realistically the tragedy of the growing loss through foreclosure of our farms and small homes. It can be helped by insistence that the federal, state and local governments act forthwith on the demands that their cost be drastically reduced. It can be helped by the unifying of relief activities which today are often scattered, unequal and uneconomical. To this was added, in the Howe draft: 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. In this section of the address, form and content artfully merge: the careful repetition of “it can be helped” rhetorically enacts the very action that Moley, Roosevelt,



and Howe sought to emphasize. This careful listing was action—even though symbolic action. The listing also augured persuasively for legislative action that would soon take shape in the administration’s famous first hundred days. There are at least three important contextual factors to consider in accounting for the suasory appeal of Roosevelt’s call for action. First, the nation was collectively starved for some—perhaps any—program for constructive action. During the Seventy-second Congress’s lame-duck session, lasting from 5 December 1932 to 4 March 1933, partisan bickering and a lack of cooperation prevailed. Moreover, the open feuding among members of both the House and the Senate were reproduced in the relations between Hoover and Roosevelt. At several key points during the interregnum period, Hoover had attempted to cajole Roosevelt into adopting his administration’s positions—initially on war debts, the ongoing World Disarmament Conference, and the forthcoming London Economic Conference, and later on emergency banking legislation. At each stage, Roosevelt declined to participate; he would act only when he had been conferred with presidential powers. By the time of Roosevelt’s inauguration, the nation was starved for constructive action. Syndicated humorist Will Rogers spoke for many: “The whole country is with him. Even if what he does is wrong they are with him, just so he does something.”51 Second, this desperation for action helps us make sense of Moley’s and Roosevelt’s inventional choices. Action and its related imagery are anathema to a master organizing metaphor of sickness. At some point in the drafting process, between 18 and 26 February, Moley changed his mind. Unlike the campaign during which Roosevelt frequently invoked metaphors of sickness and health, the need for rapid action on the legislative front, exacerbated by the three-month inaction of the Seventy-second Congress, militated against such rhetorical constructions. An enfeebled nation could not simultaneously be an active and vigorous one. Third, we should recall that Hooverian confidence was exclusively a mental confidence, a willingness to believe that things would soon improve. Confidence would not necessarily crystallize as a result of legislative actions; rather, a changed state of mind would set into motion the very economic actions (that is, putting money back into circulation by redepositing it in banks) that would have positive material consequences. Moley, Roosevelt, and Howe clearly understood that confidence needed to take root in a rhetoric of honesty, frankness, and action. Such a rhetoric stood in stark relief to the passive confidence espoused by Herbert Hoover.



The focus on confidence supplied by citizens and journalists from across the country provides a very revealing window on the text, but it is not the only one. Even more pervasive among the public’s response to Roosevelt’s first inaugural address was the sense of divine mission and election. Roosevelt’s inauguration, for many, was not just a secular ritual of Republican governance; rather, it represented a fundamental Judeo-Christian intervention–with Franklin Roosevelt functioning as God’s chosen vessel. But Herbert Hoover had also frequently invoked the God of the Old and New Testaments in attempting to make sense of the Great Depression. A Quaker from childhood, Hoover was no stranger to the discourse of the Bible to contextualize the nation’s suffering. Though it was vastly important, Roosevelt had more than the discourse of religion on his side. As we detail below, many interpreted the inaugural address within a religious frame as a result of the interaction between text and immediate context. On the evening of 15 February, just seventeen days away from his inauguration, Franklin Roosevelt disembarked from the massive Nourmahal in Miami. Up to this point in the interregnum, public opinion was not on the president-elect’s side. Not only had he been less than cooperative with Hoover, but he was also playing it very close to the vest as to what his policy plans were for the nation. An article that

Moley had “ghosted” for Roosevelt that appeared in a December issue of the largecirculation Liberty Magazine was also very vague on specifics.52 Even Democratic senators and representatives who met with the president-elect in January and early February were flummoxed as to the plan of action his administration might pursue once in office. For all intents and purposes, Roosevelt remained a cipher—and strategically so. Perhaps most important, public opinion had little use for ciphers when banks were closing, home mortgages were being foreclosed, and unemployment and underemployment continued to rise. But in the immediate aftermath of the dramatic happenings at Miami, public opinion swung decidedly to Roosevelt’s favor. He and a small entourage had driven just a few blocks to Bay Front Park, where Roosevelt was scheduled to briefly address a large crowd of Floridians. Nearly 20,000 people had gathered to see and hear their new president. Waiting in the crowd that night was a thirty-three-year-old unemployed bricklayer, Giuseppe Zangara. He had arrived early to get a front-row seat. Instead of climbing out of his vehicle, always a difficult task for the paralyzed Roosevelt, the president-elect addressed the crowd from atop the backseat of his open-canopied automobile. Just after he concluded his very brief impromptu speech, five shots rang out. Two people went down immediately, one of whom was Chicago’s mayor, Anton Cermak. Roosevelt’s driver moved immediately to get the president-elect out of harm’s way. Roosevelt ordered him to stop. Since his would be the first car out of the park, Roosevelt ordered the mortally wounded mayor to be put into his car. As his car moved out of the crowd, Roosevelt was finally able to detect Cermak’s pulse. Meanwhile, the would-be assassin, Zangara, had been corralled by Secret Service agents and shoved into another car in the motorcade. The story that eventually emerged out of the chaos at Bay Front Park was one of heroism—and good fortune. Zangara had unloaded his revolver perhaps fewer than ten yards from Roosevelt. Two things had saved his life: Zangara had leaped onto a wobbly park bench to get a clearer shot, which made his aim unsteady; and a woman, Lillian Cross, had nudged Zangara’s outstretched arm at the last moment. But the nation also learned of Roosevelt’s unflinching and selfless bravery in the face of mortal threat. A totally immobile target had thought first of his friend Cermak rather than immediately flee the scene. This an anxious nation soon learned. Fewer than three weeks later, many Americans coupled the events at Bay Front Park with the message of 4 March. It all added up to an inexorable conclusion. Wrote Joseph Williams of Detroit, “under You, President Roosevelt, our great country will prosper and return to its former greatness. Just as God made You the President of the American people, as He preserved you at Miami, I feel sure that He has destined You to be the Saviour of Our Country.” Mrs. William Showalter of Westmont, New Jersey, noted similarly, “I am quite certain that it was not a mere bit of chance that brought you to the office you now hold. I truly believe you have been sent directly by god to our nation, for such a time as this.” Ike Spellman of New York City also linked the two events: “‘God’ was with you, in spareing you from that terrible incident in Miami, Florida last month, and I have all the confidence in the world in you and that all your cabinet will do everything in their power to bring our government to its feet again.” Walter S. Hardie of Bellerose, New York, also glimpsed the Divine Hand at work: “The Divine Providence which shielded and guarded you from the recent attack of an assasin, watch over, protect and guide you throughout your administration and the years to follow.” Nelson Ehrlich of Newark, New Jersey, wrote, “Thanks be to God that you were spared in Miami. My first thought then was that you were destined to achieve your lofty purpose as a factor in these dark days.”





For many other Americans, the inaugural address, by itself, was proof of divine intercession. Mrs. Peter Gaskins of Valley Falls, Rhode Island, wrote, “I firmly believe that the Almighty, in his goodness, has placed the right man in the right place at the right time.” “Such an inaugural,” exclaimed Ethel Crisson of Lansing, Michigan, “it will go down in history. You are chosen of God to fulfill His mission—His wish for humanity.” J. I. Hilliard was even more specific: “In several points of your speech today I thought of Jesus Christ and it seemed to me his spirit was directing you.” Professor Joseph Janis of Los Angeles informed the president of the “miracle” that had occurred. “Every word and syllable of your message fell like a heavenly benediction on our hearts and, as we soon learned, on the hearts of all your listeners. The troubled people took heart again.” Frank Lane of Philadelphia shared with the president that he was “an unemployed interior decorator and I have bigger hopes now than at any other time, because you have become our guardian Angel, the champion of a new deal.” “Your leadership is a godsend,” confided Olaf Nielson of New York City, “and compared with all our past and present leaders you are a Christ.” For John Stanton of San Francisco, the link with Moses was clear: “at last we have a Moses to lead us out of the wilderness into the Promised Land, away from the worship of the Golden Calf, back to a true sense of things.” George Townsend of Chicago noted the same parallel: “The Almighty ruler always sends a Moses at his appointed time and a united people now rejoices at his coming and knows that our ‘Forward march’ began the very moment your final words were spoken.” Ilse Tierney of Seattle was in lockstep: “we felt literally, as though we had gone through a much longed for portal into a Promised Land. Actually . . . we believe today with our whole heart that you have been chosen to lead an oppressed people out of bondage.” George Wilson of Ruark, Virginia, also noted the analogy: “God has sent us a leader—one who is truly a God-fearing man—to lead the country out of its despair and away from its fears, even as Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt and the house of bondage.” Bernett Kahn of New York City wrote, “You have come to a deprest people in the darkest hour of their need, And like Moses came to the people of Isreal to lead them out of bondage, so you have come to lead them out of the darkness that surrounds them.” Jenny Whitelock of Detroit literalized the analogy: “We are the children of Israel and our heavenly father have [sic] sent us a real leader to deliver us from the bondage of pharoah today.” Joshua, not Moses, was the analogy preferred by Rector Edmund Trotman of Asbury Park, New Jersey: “it is with grateful heart to Almighty God for his selection of a modern Joshua to lead his people in this great crisis which has so greatly hampered the prosperity of our country that I now write this letter.” To say that Franklin Roosevelt’s inaugural address was understood by the American people as inspired by God is to badly understate the matter. For many, he was God’s chosen man, sent to deliver the nation in much the same way that Washington and Lincoln had. On Roosevelt’s shoulders now rested the nation’s cherished civil religion. It was only partially an inheritance passed on to him in taking the oath of office, in the same way that each of his thirty-one predecessors had. Perhaps more noteworthy was the extent to which his first speech as president convinced so many that if he was not quite God, he was certainly of God. The question, of course, remains as to how Roosevelt was able to effect such a perception over the course of a mere twenty minutes. Part of that answer, for some, lay in the events of Miami. It was simply too improbable that a bullet did not so much as graze him. Others had carefully noted Roosevelt’s actions on inauguration morning. On 2 March, on the train ride from New York to Washington, D.C., Roosevelt had confided to Jim Farley, “You know, I think a thought to God is the right way to start off my administration. A proper attitude toward religion and belief in God will in the end be the salvation of all peoples.”53 He shared with Farley his plans to attend services at St. John’s Episcopal

Church on the morning of 4 March. He would ask his family and his cabinet to join him for the brief service. The nation took notice. W. H. Baylor of Portsmouth, Virginia, wrote, “Your many individual Bible references and your attendance at St. Thomas’ [sic] church a few hours before being sworn in as our President hearten me greatly.” “Your emphasis upon the spiritual needs of this day was very gratifying as a note in your inaugural address,” noted Hinson Howelett of West Chester, Pennsylvania. “We are glad that you went to a service before the ceremonies. That is a good testimony.” Jack Kelly of New York City agreed, “The fact that you stopped in Church to ask the blessings of Almighty God before you were sworn in impressed this nation more profoundly than anything you possibly could have done.” What is perhaps most ironic in documenting the nation’s profoundly religious interpretation of the inaugural address is that the speech began as a most secular text. Only after the assassination attempt and a death-defying event involving Moley did the vernacular of religion enter the address. That secularism is perhaps best represented in Moley’s first prose draft of the address on 13 February. He and Roosevelt had not yet discarded the master metaphor of sickness. But more germane to the text’s secularism was Moley’s explanation for that sickness. “For a quarter of a century tremendous developments have taken place. The machine age in this time has moved more rapidly in the direction of replacing men with machinery than in the one hundred years before.” In addition, “We have moved faster in productive capacity not only in agriculture, but to a larger extent in industry than in the entire history of our country.”54 In other words, the cause for the Depression was underconsumption; the machine age had brought with it a supply that far outpaced demand. Such a view certainly had nothing to do with values, morals, or the religious. Consumption, or more precisely underconsumption, was a most economic and thus secular explanation. As if to underscore the point, Moley employed a conspicuous metaphor in the same draft to indicate the philosophical undergirding of a new deal: “It is time to face the facts and get away from the idea that we can return to conditions that approximate those of four years ago. It is not a restoration of the old that we seek, but an evolution into a new.” Such an evolution “must be guided by informed and enlightened thought, with no disposition to reject experimental and tentative efforts merely because they are new and untried.” The incremental and thoroughly secular logic of evolution would guide the new administration. It was the discourse of the Enlightenment. It was also the rehashed discourse of the spring and fall campaigns. At Oglethorpe University in May 1932, Roosevelt had talked of “bold, persistent experimentation” to solve the nation’s economic problems. Almost exactly four months later, the Democratic nominee had spoken of the “last frontier” having “long since been reached” in San Francisco at the Commonwealth Club. The task was therefore the “soberer, less dramatic business” of administering resources, establishing foreign markets, and meeting the problems of underconsumption.55 “The day of enlightened administration” had indeed arrived. Equal parts Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer, and progressive writer Herbert Croly, the discourse that had guided the campaign now seeped into the drafts of the inaugural address. This is not to say that the early thinking about the speech was entirely devoid of religious discourse, but that discourse seemed to be in keen competition with a decidedly nonreligious discourse. In a word, Moley seemed confused. On 12 February, for example, after he had constructed his “final” outline, he attempted to elaborate causes. He scribbled “befuddled leaders.” Then he tried the scientistic: “This failure is due to method—not substance—not failure of nature—not even of human nature—but of mechanics of method.” After composing this brief paragraph, Moley seemed to get a flash of insight. He scribed in the margins, “as the moneychangers [sic] were driven from the temple, so it behooves us to return to





moral values.” Here was the first overt mention of religion, specifically Christ’s expulsion of the money changers as recorded in the Gospel according to John. While the wording would change, the reference to the money changers would remain. That Moley continued to tinker with religious parallels is attested to by an isolated note. He wrote, “M[oses]’s 40 days in the desert.” Whether the parallel was with Roosevelt, the American people (Israel), or both, Moley did not specify. Even so, as he was about to head south to meet with Roosevelt in Miami, the draft that he developed on 13 February was devoid of any overtly religious references. There was no Moses, no Israel, no money changers; rather, he seemed wedded to economic theory—industrial production had simply “outrun consumption.” This changed sometime after Moley arrived back in New York City on the evening of 17 February. While we cannot be sure why method, mechanics, and economic theory disappeared for good from the inaugural address, the cataclysmic events on the evening of 15 February and the late afternoon of 17 February might have exerted an influence. Following the assassination attempt at Bay Front Park and after several hours at a local hospital, Moley went to the Dade County jail to interview the would-be assassin, Zangara. He had a hypothesis he desperately wanted to verify. The professor of government, whose specialty was criminology and the courts, was hoping to find an insane man. There was a simple reason: mental pathology was organic to a mind, not political to a cause. Moley spelled out his motives in a letter to Fred Charles of the Buffalo News: “I interviewed Zangara after the shooting that night and in my opinion no psychologist would declare him insane in the legal sense of the word. I made it very clear in my statement to the newspapers, after examining him that I found no political ideas. I did this not only because it was true, but because I felt it was desirable to avoid, so far as possible, any hysteria on the subject of radicalism.”56 Ever the rhetorician, Moley wanted to avoid, less than three weeks before inauguration day, the possibility that Zangara was acting out of organized, political motives. The nation did not need to concern itself with an armed insurrection on the eve of a Roosevelt presidency. Moley carefully observed another man that night. He was curious to see firsthand just how the seemingly carefree, nonchalant president-elect would react to the attempt on his life. He confessed amazement at what he witnessed in the early morning hours of the sixteenth aboard the Nourmahal. “I confess that I have never in my life seen anything more magnificent than Roosevelt’s calm that night.”57 Roosevelt seemed unfazed by it all. To Moley, it was a transcendent response; it had nothing of fear or impending mortality in it. Was this reaction coming from someplace the professor could not see? Was there something of destiny in the events of 15 February? If so, what, then, was the inaugural address? Was it now less a state paper, a presidential ritual, and more an important moment in an orchestrated calling? Moley was not easily given over to such explanations. His was a world of strategic planning and careful analysis, not predetermined and divine intercession. That world got another existential jolt on 17 February. Moley’s friend Trubee Davis was the assistant secretary of war in charge of air operations. He had agreed to help his friend make a speaking engagement in Cincinnati on the evening of the seventeenth; a two-seat army aircraft would be at Moley’s disposal in Jacksonville. It was a most generous gesture. Moley met his pilot, a Lieutenant Coons, in the morning. By 10:30 A.M. they were in the air vectoring north by way of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. After taking on fuel there, Coons and his charge headed west and north toward southern Ohio. They never made it. With no means of ground communication and with blanketing, low clouds, Coons was quickly lost. The mountainous terrain of northeastern Tennessee loomed below. As the clouds thickened and the sun dimmed, fuel became a

concern. Moley feared for his life—and why not? Providence had already intervened in the most improbable and fortuitous of ways fewer than forty-eight hours earlier. It seemed like a reasonable quid pro quo: a future president for a political science professor. Just as things looked most grave, Coons gunned the plane through a small, lit opening in the otherwise impenetrable cloud deck. The ground was immediately upon them. Somewhere in Maynardville, Tennessee, Moley and Coons laughed an exuberant death-cheating laugh. The plane was destroyed. Both men walked away completely unscathed. Moley and Roosevelt met in Hyde Park on the evening of 26 February. It was a Sunday. Religion—the Judeo-Christian religion—now returned to the drafting. That same morning at St. James Episcopal Church in Hyde Park, Franklin Roosevelt was clearly giving thought to Moley’s “money changers.” In a moment it came to him: “The philosophy of the money changers stands indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.” A curious admixture of the religious and the popular, it seemed to work and it was duly inserted into the draft. One of the reasons it worked so well is because it employed the vernacular of religion and not the vernacular of politics. It was vague. Even a “money changer” might not be able to identify himself or herself as such. It was also ambiguous enough that Roosevelt could enlist the titans of finance and Wall Street in his administration’s emergency banking legislation. This he did on the very morning of his inaugural address, as he instructed Moley to bring them immediately to the capital. And they came. Moley and Roosevelt continued the metaphor: “After many years, it is no longer the creed of the temple of civilization. We can proceed now to restore that temple to the ancient truths.” That restoration lay in “the moral stimulation of work” and “the joy of creative effort.” For too long the nation had witnessed “the shams of evanescent profits accruing without work.” The sacrilege perpetrated by the money changers involved invalidating the ethos, perhaps the Christian ethos, of work. Under Roosevelt, the moral contract of work for money would be restored. It was a religious imperative: “We have rediscovered the truth that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves.” It was a seemingly selfish figure of speech, but for too long the nation had been unable to minister at all. Howe would make the expression more philanthropic by adding “and to our fellow men.” But at the apogee of the Great Depression, work was much less about “mere monetary profit.” Real work, honest work, was about metaphysics, about identity. Work was about morals and creativity; along the way a paycheck was also earned. Notwithstanding the overt New Testament references, there was a palpable ambivalence on the subject of blame. Instead of the earlier ambivalence between method and mechanics and religion, Moley and Roosevelt opted for a rhetoric of naturalism. “Our national distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it. But a vast use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply.” God had not cursed his people as he had Pharoah. The nation was not collectively sick. In less than two weeks, Moley and Roosevelt denied their original master metaphor; it was a metaphor susceptible to interpretations of heaven-sent curses. It was also a metaphor that militated against armies of action. But such naturalism was decidedly not depicted as a cyclical pattern. Whereas many had argued for an understanding of the Depression in terms of a “natural” pattern of bust followed by boom, and vice versa, Moley and Roosevelt again trained their sights at the top, but this time they secularized the enemy: “It [national distress] is because the rulers of exchanges of mankind’s goods have abdicated through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence.” Hardheaded



stupidity, not primordial evil, was at fault. The ambivalence—rulers of exchanges as opposed to money changers—would not be resolved in the final draft. In her search for the religious in the inaugural speech, Daughton argues that a later section of the address invokes parallels with the Good Samaritan. We disagree. The reference in question—“the good neighbor”—is, if anything, the anti–Good Samaritan. During the interregnum, the Hoover administration had tried desperately to internationalize the New Deal by prioritizing the thorny and explosive issue of World War I debts owed to the United States. Hoover wanted Roosevelt to work with him on solving the problem. On 20 January, Roosevelt met with Hoover, Hoover’s secretary of state, Henry Stimson; his treasury secretary, Ogden Mills; and Democratic internationalist Norman Davis. Roosevelt brought only Moley. After several hours of vigorous debate, Roosevelt sided with the professor: he would wait until after his inauguration to deal with debtor nations—and he would deal with each on a case-by-case basis. The tangible rhetorical result of Roosevelt’s position was the good neighbor. Thus: “In the field of world policy, I would dedicate this nation to the policy of the good neighbor—the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and because he does so respects the rights of others.” This neighbor also “respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a world of neighbors.” This was no Good Samaritan. Thirteen months earlier, Roosevelt had publicly disavowed the League of Nations in a speech to the New York Grange. In his inaugural address, the good neighbor was less a chivalrous and kindly friend and more a responsible borrower who honored “the sanctity of his [economic] agreements.” Moley notes in his diary that the draft he brought with him to Hyde Park was purposefully shorn of a benediction. Roosevelt added his own: “In this dedication of a nation we humbly ask the blessing of God. May he protect each and every one of us. May he guide me in the days to come.” It was a most fitting end: God had indeed duly “protected” the authors of the address. And God’s guidance, given the dire hour, would be measured in days, not even weeks—let alone a full administration. The nation’s overwhelmingly Judeo-Christian response to the address thus had both textual and extratextual warrants. For those inclined to see the Divine Hand of Providence at work, Roosevelt’s miraculous escape in Miami was a sign— perhaps the sign—that God had sent another Washington or Lincoln at the appointed hour. His chosen nation would continue, as would the ancestral lineage binding the great leaders of the past to the present. Many others could not resist the subject position that Roosevelt (and Moley) had cultivated throughout the address–that of savior. After all, it was Christ who had expelled the money changers from the temple. Of course, many were compelled to read Miami, the inauguration-day trip to St. John’s Episcopal Church, and the religious rhetoric within the inaugural as a composite sign that their new president had a godly mandate to lead. It was this last possibility that worried those less religiously inclined. While explicit references to “dictatorship” had been removed from the final draft, it was a sentiment that had gained much currency, to say nothing of respectability, over the previous month.



Perhaps the best gauge of just how desperate the American people had become by inauguration day was reflected in their willingness to suspend, perhaps even disavow, the most sacrosanct idea of the nation’s civic heritage. In the immediate aftermath of the inaugural address, Americans wrote to their constitutionally bound president to foreswear immediately the oath that he had just taken. Wrote Joseph D’Angelo of Long Island, New York, “May I suggest, that what American needs today is a dictator, which I believe you can be while not hurting the people. We all have faith in your judgment.” The president of Calvin College in Grand Rapids,

Michigan, R. B. Kuiper, wrote to the president with similar sentiments: “In the present crisis it is hardly possible for you to assume too great ‘dictatorial’ powers. I am convinced that the exercise of such powers alone can save the country from a complete collapse.” Mr. and Mrs. William Lister of Chicago thanked their new president, for “each word of your inaugural address made sentences of drastic assurance to your people of our country who are ready for your dictatorship right now.” A. H. Woods of Connellsville, Pennsylvania, linked the religious with his preferred form of government: “I am led to believe that you are not so much affected by the wisdom of men as by the power of God; therefore I sincerely hope that Congress will allow you many dictatorial powers.” A. Hercher sent the new president a telegram with the suggestion that he appoint “five dictators or rather subdictators.” Such a tribunal should be “modestly paid but with full supervisory control over industry and commerce[,] labor[,] farming[,] finance and transportation.” And Los Angelino Daniel Boone Herring also advised Roosevelt on dictatorship specifics: “Science has given you the radio—a medium through which you may speak to the world. Use it. Continue to use it even though you must confiscate it and make it a government agency and deny private use of it.” Even from the distance of a new millennium these are remarkable sentiments. Many Americans who had little or no information about their new leader—a president, we should keep in mind, who revealed very little about his legislative agenda during both the spring and fall campaigns—were willing to entrust him with nearly any and all decisions bearing on public policy. This tendency had earlier worried the famed editor and journalist William Allen White: “No one knows his heart and few have seen behind the masking smile that wreathes his face. We have had to be satisfied with urbanity when we needed wisdom, with mystery when we should have a complete understanding.” As such, the voice of the Emporia Gazette concluded, “We are putting our hands in a grab-bag. Heaven only knows what we shall pull out.”58 In four years, the cherished American democratic ritual of presidential succession had become the occasion for democracy’s suspension. How could this have happened? How, in such a short period of time, could so many of Roosevelt’s listeners urge him not merely to arrogate to himself extraconstitutional powers but to become their democratically elected dictator? The simple answer, of course, is that desperate times called for desperate measures; fear and hunger do not always square with constitutional rectitude. But, as with much of Roosevelt’s inaugural address, things aren’t quite so simple. Another possibility, certainly one warranted by the text, is that Roosevelt (and Moley) encouraged the dictatorship sentiment all along. Moley’s first three outline drafts contained “dictatorship,” “dictatorial powers,” and “under dictatorship if necessary,” respectively. Moreover, while the dread d-word did not make it into the final draft, many in Roosevelt’s audience did not miss the allusion to it. Indeed, it was hard to miss: And it is to be hoped that the normal balance of executive and legislative authority may be wholly equal, wholly adequate, to meet the unprecedented task before us. But it may be that an unprecedented demand and need for undelayed action may call for temporary departure from that normal balance of public procedure. I am prepared under my constitutional duty to recommend the measures that a stricken nation in the midst of a stricken world may require. These measures, or such other measures as the Congress may build out of its experience and wisdom, I shall seek within my constitutional authority to bring to speedy adoption. But in the event that the Congress shall fail to take one of these two courses, 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.59





As revealed by his 13 February text, Moley had drafted this statement, which drew the loudest ovation from the estimated 100,000 listeners assembled in Washington, D.C. If it was a statement of dictatorship, as no doubt many interpreted it, Roosevelt could not be accused of a dictatorship of his own devices; no, his would be what members of the press were calling a constitutional dictatorship. Others, such as Daughton, would likely argue that many Americans’ positive response to, and even encouragement of, a Roosevelt dictatorship was a function of the new president’s own self-fashioning; that is, the repeated references to the Judeo-Christian religion cast Roosevelt as the new savior, sent by God to lead the people. Theology and democracy, as Woods’s quote above suggests, do not necessarily go together. In his review of the speech, the inimitable and esteemed Edmund Wilson spoke for many of his fellow writers and journalists: “The thing that emerges most clearly is the warning of a dictatorship.”60 But there is another plausible answer to the question of how so many people, contra Wilson, would heartily recommend dictatorship. It is an answer informed by the drafts of the address, but only as those drafts interact with a most important context. Without a careful consideration of the Treasury–Post Office Bill, adjudicated in February and signed into law by Herbert Hoover on 3 March, and the rhetoric it engendered, we overlook the extent to which the discourse of dictatorship—and a generally favorable discourse at that–dominated political conversation in the month leading up to Roosevelt’s induction into office. Franklin Roosevelt had ambitions of legislative success for the second session of the Seventy-second Congress. With a Democratic majority in the House and a strong Speaker in John Nance Garner (the vice president–elect), and an almost evenly divided Senate, Roosevelt figured to get some of his domestic New Deal through the legislative machinery. While the president-elect, of course, had no legal authority to propose legislation, he did have the ear of key party operatives in both branches of Congress. But even Roosevelt underestimated the extent of the acrimony and ill-will during the interregnum. As E. Pendleton Herring notes in his legislative review of the session, “The necessities of the time called for cooperative planning and swift united action, but the exigencies of politics suggested procrastination and obstruction. And the latter considerations prevailed.”61 That said, despite the “stalemate and inaction” of the session, one very important piece of legislation was signed into law. Title IV, an amendment to the Treasury–Post Office Bill (H.R. 13520) known as the Reorganization of Executive Departments provision, became law after a bitter one-month battle. That debate typically entailed the extent of executive power—and just how much the Congress was willing to cede to the incoming administration. As a debate about executive power, the term “dictatorship” appeared early and often. For example, in Senate debate on Title IV on 2 February, even a supporter of the measure, Senator R. S. Copeland (D-NY) noted, “I understand by Title IV we are conferring extraordinary powers upon the President–practically dictatorial powers.” Copeland’s understanding of Title IV was that it would grant to Roosevelt “the power to do anything that he may see fit to do in the reorganization of the departments.” While Copeland confessed that there was “some question about the constitutionality of such action, I do believe that objections could be cured and that power could be conferred upon the President for a limited time.”62 The matter ultimately redounded less to the Constitution and more to personal trust: “I would not vote to confer such dictatorial power upon any President unless I had the conviction in my own heart that he would not abuse it. I have that confidence in the President elect.” Even as debate began in Congress, the nation’s press pricked up its collective ears to that debate and its draconian vernacular. “We shall not have dictatorships in the old world sense,” editorialized the Boston Herald, “but unless our legislators do what must be done, an American brand of dictatorship may be adopted as the only way out.”63

The Senate passed its version of Title IV on 7 February. Sponsored by South Carolina senator James F. Byrnes (Dem.) and with the full support of Roosevelt, the measure was a far cry from what Texas representative James P. Buchanan (Dem.) and Speaker Garner wanted to push through the House. Even so, the normally staid New York Times began its page-one coverage of the Senate bill in a most unstaid way: “The Senate tonight voted practically dictatorial powers to Presidentelect Roosevelt to reorganize the entire executive branch of the Federal government in the interest of public economy.”64 While both measures would have given the new president unprecedented peacetime powers to reorganize the executive branch to reduce costs, the House version went much further. The Cleveland Plain Dealer claimed it would make “Mr. Roosevelt dictator of the budget for two years.”65 More specifically, Roosevelt would be authorized to decrease or suspend contractual appropriations already agreed to; hold up, impound, or decrease any congressional appropriations; merge or abolish any existing executive agency or departments; decrease salaries of federal employees; and reorganize the executive branch whether Congress was in session or not. Little wonder, then, that debate in the House was intense. Representative Leon L. Ludlow (D-In) noted Title IV’s “epochal significance,” yet he tried to downplay the rhetorical significance of the term then in circulation: “There are those who claim the delegation of so much power to the President is dangerous and who raise the bogus cry of ‘dictator,’ but I am not scared by such hobgoblins.” The representative continued, “We are not creating a dictator in the White House. We are giving the President authority to do a very definite job and when that job is completed the authority will cease.”66 Many members of Congress were not convinced of such redefinitions, though. House minority floor leader Bertrand H. Snell (R-NY) thundered, “I shall oppose giving any executive carte blanche authority to reorganize and abolish the entire executive department of government. Those provisions would make an absolute dictator of Mr. Roosevelt. It would give him more power than any executive in the world except Mussolini.” Snell concluded, “We are not ready for a Mussolini in America. If we are we better abolish congress and go home.”67 Predictably, with such talk flying through the hallowed halls of Congress, the nation’s press was quick to reproduce the debate in terms of dictatorship. A pageone headline in the 10 February edition of the New York Times announced, “House Chiefs Would Give Roosevelt ‘Dictatorship’ Over Federal Economies.” Similarly, a page-one headline in the New York Herald Tribune read, “Borah Suggests Roosevelt Flout Dictator Power.” A page-three article in the Los Angeles Times appeared with the caption, “‘Dictatorship’ Given Backing.” The Sunday, 12 February, front page of the Boston Herald proclaimed, “Democrats Use Lash to Force ‘Dictatorship.’” Just two days earlier, the Herald’s front page read, “‘Dictatorship’ for Roosevelt.” So widespread was the dictatorship discourse that it even infiltrated Hoover’s 18 February top-secret epistle to Roosevelt: “all the chatter about dictatorship,” the president exclaimed, was having deleterious effects “upon the public mind.”68 Hiram Johnson, the progressive former governor of California, had heard much of that chatter from his seat in the Senate chamber. He wrote gravely to his sons, “We are . . . much closer to a sort of dictatorship in this country than we have been during our lives.”69 Meanwhile, debate raged on in the House. On 21 February, Snell continued his onslaught. “We are not discussing personalities. We are not discussing economy. We are discussing what our forefathers shed their blood for and that which took centuries to acquire, and that is, representative government, with a constitution clearly defining the powers of the executive and legislative branches of government.”70 Representative McGugin (Dem.) of Kansas immediately followed Snell. He would not even debate the possibility that the deliberative arm of American democracy had broken down. “That parliamentary government has broken down



in a crisis has been so overwhelmingly demonstrated by the Seventy-second Congress that it is now a self-evident fact generally accepted by the American people.” There was thus only one conclusion to draw: “If we have a President coming into power who is willing yet to try to save democracy in America, let us give him the power to do it.”71 Despite Snell’s and others’ opposition, the House version of Title IV was passed on 21 February. While the Garner-Buchanan provision to grant Roosevelt unlimited powers over federal purse strings was defeated, the powers granted to Roosevelt were even more substantial than in the Senate’s version. As the New York Times summarized, as passed in the House, Title IV would “clothe the new Executive with practically unlimited power to readjust the executive branch of the government.”72 Passage of the measure predictably elicited even more dictatorship discourse. Perhaps more important, public opinion seemed to be in favor of the socalled dictatorship provision. The New Republic attempted to explain such sentiments: “the public reaction to the dictatorial power proposal has been a generally favorable one, and this is easy to understand. The incompetence of Congress has been so clearly demonstrated, not only in this session but during the last year, that the repute in which the body is publicly held today is . . . almost unprecedentedly low.” It concluded that “the people as a whole will welcome giving him more power and Congress less. It may not be constitutional, but that is what they want— and so does he.”73 The Conference Report of the Treasury–Post Office Bill passed the House on 1 March. Two days later the bill passed the Senate and was immediately signed into law by President Hoover. The final bill differed little from the House version. It provided the president with the authority, for two years, to “abolish the whole or any part of any executive agency and/or the functions thereof,” save that the ten cabinet-level departments were to remain. Only by a two-thirds vote of the Congress could the president’s executive orders be overturned; otherwise, such orders would become law after sixty days. No small irony attends the fact that Hoover signed a bill upon leaving office that gave his successor—a successor with whom he was none too friendly—important new powers that he had coveted for the better part of his presidency. It was a magnanimous gesture—especially considering that on 19 January, the House had decidedly rejected the president’s own, far less radical, executive reorganization measure.



We have attempted to answer both how and why Franklin Roosevelt’s first inaugural address, as a rhetorical document that exerted profound influence in March 1933, did its work. Our answers strongly suggest a symbiotic relationship between text and context, one in which confidence is connected to Herbert Hoover and the textual action and enactment of the address; one in which the Judeo-Christian civic religion is bound up with Roosevelt’s miraculous escape at Miami and Moley’s at Maynardville, Roosevelt’s inauguration-day activities, and the vernacular of the Bible; and one in which dictatorship is linked to the press’s response to and contextualization of Title IV of the Treasury–Post Office Bill, and Roosevelt’s direct reference to extraconstitutional powers. Equally important, the surviving drafts and outlines of the address illustrate that confidence, religion, and dictatorship had a complex genealogy that did not spring forth fully formed only on 4 March. Audiences matter in rhetorical acts; as such, they should also matter in rhetorical criticism. In treating an audience’s reaction as meaningful and important, we do not mean to suggest that a critic’s job is simply to correlate patterns of response with rhetorical strategies in a text; rather, as we hope to have illustrated here, a careful study of a speech’s reception can reveal the organic nature of text and context, and thus to paraphrase Leff, we can gain greater insight into and understanding of how a text actually worked within a historical moment to influence an audience.

Of course, such a critical project does not “totalize” a text such that further critical comment is foreclosed. As a recent poll of public address scholars reveals, for example, Roosevelt’s first inaugural address continues to wield significant influence— and the context of that influence, most likely, differs markedly from when Roosevelt delivered the address.74 The influence of Roosevelt’s speech in the present also extends far beyond specialists in American political rhetoric, as evidenced by a recent article in USA Today.75 In our post-9/11 world, Roosevelt’s fearing fear aphorism has taken on new meaning, far different than the economics of confidence of 1933. As such, we can and should continue to study the text, perhaps as a living text in ways different from those illustrated here—but in ways where an audience still has a say.

Notes 1. George C. Edwards III, “Presidential Rhetoric: What Difference Does it Make?” in Beyond the Rhetorical Presidency, ed. Martin J. Medhurst (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1996), 200. Of the seven scholars Edwards targets, only one, Jeffrey K. Tulis, is a political scientist. Singling out Tulis likely stems from the fact that the conference was dedicated to addressing his important book, The Rhetorical Presidency (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987). 2. Herbert A. Wichelns, “The Literary Criticism of Oratory,” in Methods of Rhetorical Criticism: A Twentieth-Century Perspective, 2nd. ed., ed. Bernard L. Brock and Robert L. Scott (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1980), 67, 70. 3. Stephen E. Lucas, “The Renaissance in American Public Address: Text and Context in Rhetorical Criticism,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 74 (1988): 241–60. 4. Leah Ceccarelli, “Polysemy: Multiple Meanings in Rhetorical Criticism,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 84 (1998): 407. 5. Carole Blair, “Reflections on Criticism and Bodies: Parables from Public Places,” Western Journal of Communication 65 (2001): 288. 6. Michael Leff, “Lincoln at Cooper Union: Neo-Classical Criticism Revisited,” Western Journal of Communication 65 (2001): 240, 246. 7. Carole Blair, “Contemporary U.S. Memorial Sites as Exemplars of Rhetoric’s Materiality,” in Rhetorical Bodies, ed. Jack Selzer and Sharon Crowley (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999), 18, 19. 8. For the public’s reactions to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address, see the President’s Personal File, Box 200B, “Personal Reactions, March 4, 1933,” Containers 6, 7, and 8, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park, N.Y. (hereafter cited as FDRL). 9. Thomas W. Benson, “‘To Lend a Hand’: Gerald R. Ford, Watergate, and the White House Speechwriters,” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 1 (1998): 224 n.5. 10. James MacGregor Burns, Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1956), 161. 11. Moley passed his first rhetorical test with flying colors: Roosevelt’s 7 April 1932 speech, remembered as the “Forgotten Man” address, was delivered via radio to a national audience; it was generally well received. That address was Moley’s creation. While Roosevelt would typically discuss inventional ideas with Howe, Samuel Rosenman, Adolph A. Berle, Rexford G. Tugwell, and Moley, the drafting of speeches often fell to one of them. Occasionally, Roosevelt would have little if any input on major addresses, such as his much-heralded Commonwealth Club address, which he delivered on 23 September 1932. 12. Raymond Moley Papers, Box 289-5, F. D. Roosevelt, Schedule A, “Roosevelt, Franklin D. Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933,” Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif. (hereafter cited as HIWRP). 13. Moley Papers, Box 289-5, HIWRP. 14. Ibid.





15. While we assign co-authorship to the draft that emerged on the evening of 27 February and the early morning hours of the twenty-eighth, Halford Ross Ryan does not: “Although FDR wrote this first draft [of the twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth], he was not responsible for its authorship. Rather, Raymond Moley composed the first draft.” See Halford Ross Ryan, “Roosevelt’s First Inaugural: A Study of Technique,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 65 (1979): 138. The issue of authorship also interested Harvard historian Frank Freidel, perhaps Roosevelt’s most accomplished biographer. In a 29 June 1965 letter to Moley, he conjectured about Roosevelt’s motives for seeking sole authorship of the address: “He [Roosevelt] refers to ‘his first draft’—leaving out of his statement [a memo dictated by Roosevelt to Stephen Early] any allusion to your earlier drafts, as though they did not count as speech drafts but were rather the materials out of which he prepared his first draft.” Freidel concluded, “There is no doubt in my mind that Roosevelt wanted to think of the First Inaugural as entirely his own handiwork— that he could be as adroit when he put pen to paper as Woodrow Wilson or Winston Churchill.” See Moley Papers, Speeches and Writings, Freidel, Frank, Box 245–6, HIWRP. 16. Raymond Moley diary, maintained by Celeste Jedel, entry of 27 February 1933, Moley Papers, Box 1, HIWRP. 17. Franklin D. Roosevelt, handwritten draft of inaugural address, Speech Files 610–614, Container 13, FDRL. 18. Raymond Moley with Elliot A. Rosen, The First New Deal (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1966), 114. 19. Martin J. Medhurst and Stephen E. Lucas, “American Public Address: The Top 100 Speeches of the Twentieth-Century,” paper presented at the National Communication Association, November 2000, Seattle, Wash. 20. Thomas B. Farrell, Norms of Rhetorical Culture (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993), 83–93. 21. Suzanne M. Daughton, “Metaphorical Transcendence: Images of the Holy War in Franklin Roosevelt’s First Inaugural,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 79 (1993): 427–46. 22. Ibid., 433. 23. Herbert Hoover, 1 May 1930 address to the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, 1930 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1976), 171. 24. Ryan, “Roosevelt’s First Inaugural,” 137–49. 25. Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Inaugural Address. March 4, 1933,” in The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, ed. Samuel I. Rosenman (New York: Random House, 1938), 2:15. 26. Walter Lippmann, “E Pluribus Unum,” Los Angeles Times, 3 March 1933. 27. Truman A. DeWeese, New York Herald Tribune, 2 March 1933. 28. William H. Grimes, “Bank Plan Ready for Roosevelt,” Wall Street Journal, 4 March 1933. 29. Newspaper reactions can be found in the Washington Post, 5 March 1933. 30. Moley and Rosen, First New Deal, 96–119. 31. Ibid., 339. 32. Moley Papers, “Speeches and Writings,” speech to the Organization of American Historians, a review of Frank Freidel’s paper on the 1932–33 interregnum, 28 April 1967, Box 245–18, HIWRP. 33. For comprehensive historiographical accounts related to the Hoover presidency see, Ellis W. Hawley, “Herbert Hoover and Modern American History: Sixty Years After,” in Herbert Hoover and the Historians, ed. Mark M. Dodge (West Branch, Iowa: Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Association, 1989), 1–38; and Albert U. Romasco, “Hoover-Roosevelt and the Great Depression: A Historiographical Inquiry into a Perennial Comparison,” in The New Deal, ed., John Braeman, Robert H. Bremner, and David Brody (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1975), 3–26. 34. David Grubin, “FDR: A Documentary,” PBS, 1994. 35. Qtd. in Richard Lowitt, George W. Norris: The Persistence of a Progressive (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1971), 498.

36. See, for example, Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Radio Address on Unemployment and Social Welfare. Albany, N.Y. October 13, 1932,” in Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt 1:790. 37. See, for example, William Barber, From New Era to New Deal (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985). 38. David M. Kennedy, Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929–1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 118. 39. Walter Lippmann, “The Permanent New Deal,” Yale Review 24 (1935): 649–67. 40. Raymond Moley, “Reappraising Hoover,” Newsweek, 14 June 1948, 100. 41. Qtd. in Joan Hoff Wilson, Herbert Hoover: Forgotten Progressive (Boston: Little, Brown, 1975), 158. 42. Rexford Tugwell to Raymond Moley, 29 January 1965, Moley Papers, “Speeches and Writings,” Box 245–49, HIWRP. 43. Davis W. Houck, Rhetoric as Currency: Hoover, Roosevelt and the Great Depression (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2001); Albert U. Romasco, The Poverty of Abundance: Hoover, the Nation, the Depression (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965); James S. Olson, Saving Capitalism: The Reconstruction Finance Corporation and the New Deal, 1933–1940 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988). 44. Moley and Rosen, First New Deal, 98. 45. Herbert Hoover to Franklin Roosevelt, 18 February 1933, President’s Personal File, Box 820, Herbert Hoover, 1933–1944 and Cross-References, FDRL. 46. Franklin D. Roosevelt, handwritten draft of inaugural address, Speech Files 610–614, Container 13, FDRL. 47. For Howe and Roosevelt’s 1 March corrections to the 27/28 February draft, see Franklin D. Roosevelt, Speech File, Container 13, File 610, FDRL. 48. Frank Freidel, Franklin D. Roosevelt: Launching the New Deal (Boston: Little, Brown, 1972), 202–3. 49. William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal 1932–1940 (New York: Harper and Row, 1963), 42. 50. Moley and Rosen, First New Deal, 99. 51. Will Rogers, Los Angeles Times, 6 March 1933. 52. See Franklin D. Roosevelt, “The Election—An Interpretation,” Liberty Magazine, 10 December 1932, 7–9. 53. Qtd. in Jim Farley, Jim Farley’s Story: The Roosevelt Years (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1948), 36. 54. Moley Papers, draft of 13 February 1933, Part I, Box 289-5, F. D. Roosevelt, Schedule A, Franklin D. Roosevelt Inaugural Address, 4 March 1933, HIWRP. 55. Franklin D. Roosevelt, “The Country Needs, the Country Demands Bold, Persistent Experimentation,” address at Oglethorpe University, 22 May 1932, 639–47; Franklin D. Roosevelt, “New Conditions Impose New Requirements upon Government and Those Who Conduct Government,” campaign address on progressive government at the Commonwealth Club, San Francisco, 23 September 1932, both in Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1: 742–56. 56. Raymond Moley to Fred Charles, 24 February 1933, Moley Papers, Box 65, File 3, HIWRP. 57. Raymond Moley, After Seven Years (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1939), 139. 58. Qtd. in “Grave Problems the New President Faces,” Literary Digest, 4 March 1933, 7. 59. Roosevelt, “Inaugural Address. 4 March 1933,” 15 60. Edmund Wilson, “Inaugural Parade,” New Republic, 22 March 1933, 154. 61. E. Pendleton Herring, “Second Session of the Seventy-second Congress, December 5, 1932, to March 4, 1933,” American Political Science Review 27 (1933): 404. 62. U.S. Congress, Congressional Record, 72nd Cong., 2nd sess., 24 January–4 February 1933, vol. 76, pt. 3, 3160, Washington, D.C. 63. “A Governor Dictator,” Boston Herald, 4 February 1933. 64. “Regrouping Power Given to Roosevelt,” New York Times, 8 February 1933. 65. Qtd. in “To Hand F.D.R. the Economy Ax,” Literary Digest, 25 February 1933, 7. 66. U.S. Congress, Congressional Record, 72nd Cong., 2nd sess., 21 February–4 March 1933, vol. 76, pt. 5, 4602, Washington, D.C.



67. Qtd. in Cecil B. Dickson, “Garner Proposes to Put All Funds Under President,” Atlanta Constitution, 10 February 1933. 68. Herbert Hoover to Franklin Roosevelt, 18 February 1933, FDRL. 69. Hiram Johnson, letter of 12 February 1933, in The Diary Letters of Hiram Johnson, vol. 5, 1929–1933, ed. Robert E. Burke (New York: Garland, 1983), n.p. 70. U.S. Congress, Congressional Record, 72nd Cong., 2nd sess., 21 February–4 March 1933, vol. 76, pt. 5, 4612, Washington, D.C. 71. Ibid. 72. “Roosevelt Powers Approved by House,” New York Times, 22 February 1933. 73. “Washington Notes,” New Republic, 1 March 1933, 71. 74. See Medhurst and Lucas, “American Public Address.” 75. Rick Hampton, “A Last-Minute Change in FDR Speech Still Inspires,” USA Today, 1 November 2001.



FSA Photography and New Deal Visual Culture Cara A. Finnegan

It is difficult for us who are in the midst of all these things to judge what is important and enduring and what is ephemeral. What we must try to do is preserve as complete a record as possible of what is taking place, discarding only what is obviously trivial and leaving it for the scholar of the future to make final judgments. —ROY EMERSON STRYKER, Chief, FSA Historical Section photography project

enator Homer Capehart of Indiana was irate. It was May 1948, and the large man from Indiana thundered on the floor of the Senate against wasteful government spending. “I hold in my hand,” he announced to his colleagues, brandishing several photographs, “examples of what would seem to have been a waste of possibly as much as $750,000 of the money of the taxpayers of the United States.” He explained that the images were fifteen or twenty photographs taken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Security Administration (FSA), now on file at the Library of Congress. Capehart dredged up images from the nowdefunct program to make a larger point: “I wish to call attention,” the senator continued, “to how silly and ridiculous and foolish are some of the undertakings the Government departments enter upon.”1 One by one, Capehart held up the photographs to describe them. “Mr. President,” he explained,



another photograph which I have in this group shows a telephone—an ordinary telephone—in the hands of some person who is about to use it. The caption of the photograph is “Washington, DC, November 1937. The telephone used in the Information Division of the United States Department of Agriculture.” I cannot conceive of anything quite so ridiculous. There were others, Capehart announced to his colleagues: “The next is a dandy. It was taken in New Hampshire, in September 1937. The caption says, ‘Fat man dozing in the shade of a tree in New Hampshire.’ That is all it shows, just a fat man, about as fat as I am, sitting under a tree. There is no name, nothing to show who he is, nothing to show the purpose of the picture” (figure 1). On and on Capehart 115

went, occasionally interrupted in his tirade by colleagues calling out mock praise for photographs made in their home states. Senator Millard E. Tydings announced of a photograph of a farmhand in Maryland, “That is probably the best picture in the whole lot, since it was taken in Maryland.” These photographs and thousands of others like them, Capehart told his colleagues, were housed in the Library of Congress, where the Library “does not know what to do with them.” Colleagues queried Capehart as to the purpose of the images, but the senator replied, “I haven’t the slightest idea; I do not know.” He urged his fellow senators to examine the images for themselves: “I hope every Senator will examine them, and then will go to the Library of Congress and look at the literally tens of thousands of them which are on file there. . . . Take a good look, and then, Mr. President, you will find where your money has gone for the past 15 years.”2 Capehart and his fellow senators apparently had short memories. Life magazine reminded readers as much a few weeks later: “In addition to the turkeys which Capehart found, the FSA photographers produced some excellent documentary work, especially of the victims of the farm depression of the ’30s” as well as some images that had been “useful in propaganda work abroad during the war.” To illustrate its more favorable view, Life ran one of what it called the “better” images of the FSA in order to demonstrate the photographs’ worth.3 But Capehart apparently had some success in making the FSA photographs stand synecdochically for wasteful government spending. The Washington Post reported that Congress cut appropriations to the Library of Congress by $2 million for fiscal year 1949—“due to silly photos.”4 For former chief of the FSA Historical Section photography project Roy Emerson Stryker, who had left the project nearly five years earlier when it was turned over to the Office of War Information (OWI), such criticism was amusing but certainly not new. Even years after the FSA photographers had stopped roaming the nation with their cameras, their images remained controversial. This was to be expected; after all, one person’s complete record was likely to be another person’s trivia.

Figure 1



“Fat man dozing in the shade of a tree, New Hampshire.” Photograph by Edwin Locke, Sept. 1937. FSA-OW1 Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USF33004297-M3.

That there even were photographs to fuel this posthumous controversy was, not to exaggerate, nothing short of a miracle. For in many ways, to paraphrase Life’s take on the controversy, there really was no logical reason why the government should have paid to shoot “all those rolls of perfectly good film.”5 In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 7027 to create the Resettlement Administration (RA), a New Deal agency that would be charged with the management of rural poverty in the United States.6 He put Rexford Guy Tugwell, a close adviser and member of his famous “Brains Trust,” in charge of the agency. Tugwell, anticipating the rhetorical difficulties associated with Roosevelt’s vast plan for expanding the federal government, included in the new agency’s structure an Information Division that would chronicle and publicize the agency’s efforts before Congress as well as to the general public. Though the effectiveness of the RA, which later became the FSA, has been much debated, the FSA did leave an unparalleled visual legacy: the more than 150,000 photographs made under Roy Stryker’s direction from 1935 to 1943, each and every one paid for by the federal government.7 In constructing a rhetorical history of the New Deal era, attention to this fascinating corpus is vital for several reasons. First, the FSA photographs were not only influential in their own time, but their traces remain in our popular national consciousness today. Indeed, the FSA images are a staple of the photographic art world, and they continue to circulate in popular culture. Images such as Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” or Walker Evans’s sharecropper families are indelibly linked in our collective memory to the 1930s. In addition, the body of images itself stands as a significant record of life in America, particularly nonurban America, during the Depression and early war years. Photographs made by project photographers provide unparalleled visual access to social and cultural aspects of the New Deal era. The images should not merely be considered transparent documents of history, however; rather, they should be understood as products of New Deal public philosophy and as a process by which that philosophy was visualized for the public. Attention to both of these facets of the FSA’s project enriches our understanding of the rhetorical history of the New Deal era. Finally, though all cultures are visual cultures to the extent that they exhibit varying degrees of visuality, the 1930s mark a transition period in American visual culture in a number of ways. The rhetoric of the New Deal era was very much a visual rhetoric.8 Given the vastness of the enterprise, one of the challenges of studying the FSA photography project is that it is difficult to account coherently for the photographs’ rhetorical force. There are literally hundreds of thousands of images, the content of which reflects nothing less than the broad range of American experience in the late 1930s and early 1940s.9 As collected in the Library of Congress, they are filed under twelve headings, which in turn are divided into an incredible 13,000 subheadings.10 The challenge for the scholar of rhetorical history, then, is to provide an accurate and nuanced picture of the multiple valences of these images’ rhetorical force. Such a goal cannot be accomplished by doing close readings of individual photographs or by merely sketching a sweeping history of the project itself. Rather, my goal here is to work in a more middle space: to situate the project in the contexts of New Deal visual culture and to offer an account of the various rhetorical struggles embedded in the photographs. Most studies of the FSA project do not negotiate this “middle space” very well. I have argued elsewhere that scholarship on the FSA photographs has tended to depend upon one of two approaches—an auteur approach in which the accomplishments of individual photographers receive the primary focus and little attention is paid to how the images participated in the wider discourses of the New Deal; or a revisionist approach that reads the images broadly as examples of New Deal hegemony but fails to appreciate the fluidity and specificity of the images’ meanings across the contexts in which they circulated in the 1930s and 1940s.11



Because the FSA photographs constituted only one of many visual rhetorics in the New Deal era, I begin by engaging some features of 1930s visual culture in general. Then I explore themes of the New Deal’s public philosophy, considering how the New Deal wedded itself to the power of the visual. The bulk of the chapter considers the FSA photographs as a particular, unique, and enduring manifestation of the New Deal’s interest in visualizing America, particularly an America in need. Indexing the rhetorical tensions embodied in the images, I engage the FSA photographs along four axes: as a collection for posterity; as tools for New Deal publicity; as potential instruments of social justice; and finally, as art. These categories are not meant to be exhaustive, nor are they meant to be mutually exclusive. Instead, they represent a matrix of tensions that influenced the production, reproduction, and circulation of the photographs in their own time, tensions for which rhetorical historians should account.

Visualizing Culture in the 1930s While political historians generally see the period as the age of Franklin D. Roosevelt, cultural historians are more likely to call it the age of Mickey Mouse. —WARREN SUSMAN, “The Culture of the Thirties”

It is impossible to provide here a full sense of the variety and drama of visual culture in the 1930s; others, most notably Warren Susman, have offered excellent meditations on the subject.12 But it is important to note that the decade of the 1930s was marked by a series of cultural trends that contributed to the birth of the FSA project and to the growth of New Deal visual culture more generally: the need to visualize the social conditions of the Depression; the growing preoccupation with discovery of a uniquely “American” culture; and a focus upon authenticity as a key trope of representation. Though it would be facile to reduce the decade entirely to these themes, they do offer a framework for interpreting and evaluating the rhetorical culture out of which the FSA photography project emerged. In his germinal study of the documentary tradition of the 1930s, William Stott notes that the Depression brought with it the need to visualize. Stott quotes writer Lewis Allen, who observed in 1947 that “one of the strangest things about the Depression . . . was that it was so nearly invisible to the casual eye.”13 Life magazine concurred: “depressions are hard to see because they consist of things not happening, of business not being done.”14 Part of the impulse to visualize came from the fact that the federal government had, to a great extent, tried to keep the Depression invisible. Although the Hoover administration did attempt to quell anxiety, efforts at morale-building proved . . . lugubrious: [Hoover] assured the American people that their hoboes were fed better than hoboes had ever been, that everyone would have a job once the current generation of workers died off, that adversity was good for the soul and prosperity was just around the corner.15



The political importance of visualizing was emphasized in 1933 when Franklin D. Roosevelt took office. Roosevelt used visual language to make it clear that he would mobilize the resources of the federal government to address the economic and social problems of the nation. Throughout his first inaugural address, for example, Roosevelt relied heavily upon two terms with a distinctly visual inflection: “facing” and “recognizing.” During the first few years of the Depression, many in

government and business had buried their heads in the sand, but Roosevelt asked the American public to turn and “face” the problems of the Depression squarely and courageously. Only when Americans had faced the Depression, Roosevelt explained, could they then go on to “recognize” what would be necessary for recovery.16 Roosevelt’s visual language echoed a larger cultural shift, a move from invisibility to visibility. Technological developments in visual media also facilitated the impulse to visualize. The rise of radio and the continuing maturation of film in the 1920s created a vital popular culture in the 1930s, one that was becoming increasingly national in scale. In 1930, with the public still intoxicated by the new technology of sound, movie attendance averaged 110 million people per week. Although the economic hardship of 1931–33 put a large dent in that number, even in the darkest days of the Depression some 60 million Americans went to their local movie houses each week.17 Technological changes in publishing made possible increased circulation of photographic images in print; improved print quality meant mass circulation of high-quality photographs was now possible. The picture magazine boom began in the United States in 1936 with the introduction of Life magazine, which quickly reached over a million readers each week and launched a revolution in magazine publishing.18 Simultaneously, the rise of 35-mm photography and flash photography in the late 1920s and early 1930s fueled the public’s increasingly insatiable appetite for images.19 The FSA project was able to capitalize on these developments, and the success of the project was based at least in part upon Historical Section chief Roy Stryker’s skillful use of these new print media’s interest in photographs. In addition to their interest in visualizing, Americans became increasingly interested in defining what it meant to be an American; Warren Susman has called it a “quest for culture.”20 During the 1930s, people sought evidence of an “American way of life,” relying on a developing cultural belief that with proper investigation one could locate a uniquely American culture and history “out there” if one only looked hard enough. But the search for “Americanness” was not unique to the era. Earlier generations of Americans also sought “a usable national history.” For example, in the early twentieth century Van Wyck Brooks and his “Young Intellectuals” developed an interest in moving beyond what they were learning in history books, a desire to break free from iconic cultural figures of the past. Brooks famously called it the search for a “usable past.”21 Yet the Young Intellectuals’ plan to reconstruct history was cut short by World War I; at the close of that conflict a deep cynicism about history infected intellectuals. By the 1920s, many Americans appeared to prefer living in the present; as historian Alfred Haworth Jones puts it, they were “determined to forget the recent past.”22 With the economic catastrophe of the late 1920s and early 1930s, however, interest in the idea of a usable past returned, though in a much different guise. Those seeking to understand American history, to identify a uniquely American past, were humbled by the dramatic, catastrophic events of the 1930s. Art historian Wanda Corn points out that the rhetorical dimensions of the nineteenth-century obsession with “Americanness” were quite different from those of the twentieth century. In the nineteenth century, ideas such as democracy and the frontier framed Americans’ self-conception, while in the twentieth century American identity was constructed in terms of beliefs about the machine age, industrialism, and consumerism.23 But rather than “repudiate their forebears,” as Brooks and his contemporaries had done, 1930s social critics sought to understand them: “They felt drawn toward history—‘driven,’ in John Dos Passos’ words—‘by a pressing need to find answers to the riddles of today.’”24 The search for Americanness involved not only recovery of America’s past but also a particular orientation toward representations of America’s present. Thus





“American art,” for example, was not just to be art by Americans but also art about America. Indeed, because nationalism was strong at a point in time when American isolation was not only political but also cultural, “the promise of arts which were distinctly American was tantalizing indeed.”25 Miles Orvell observes that “the artist felt the need to connect with a tradition of creation that derived from American conditions, American materials, and an idealized American political ethos.”26 Yet Susman rightly warns us not to oversimplify this characterization: “The issue, then, is not that the 1930s simply produced a new era of nationalism,” though this was in fact the case. “It was rather the more complex effort to seek and to define America as a culture and to create the patterns of a way of life worth understanding.”27 The cultural projects of the New Deal era, then, especially those related to visuality and the arts, need to be understood in terms of this search for the “patterns of a way of life,” an idea of Americanness. Those worrying about Americanness wanted not only to locate an American past but also sought what was uniquely American in the present. Historian Jonathan Harris points out that the New Deal federal arts projects contributed to FDR’s attempts to construct “what it means to be an American”; art, in particular, was a site where “a commonality of culture, of social identity, might be created.”28 As we shall see, Roy Stryker’s vision for the FSA project included an emphasis on this activity of “showing America to Americans” was a foundation of Roy Stryker’s vision for the FSA project as well. Americanness. A third cultural trend to consider is the decade’s privileging of authenticity. Miles Orvell argues that the early decades of the twentieth century may be in large part understood as marking a shift from imitation (more prevalent in the late nineteenth century) to authenticity: “The new culture of authenticity derived its form more specifically as a response to the vast consumer culture that was implacably taking shape in the early decades of the twentieth century.”29 Given the feeling that the “real” had been lost in a consumer culture that sought only to approximate an idea of the real and then sell it, the culture of authenticity sought to restore a lost, more authentic sense of the real. As Orvell puts it, “It sought to reconnect the worker and the thing made, and yet celebrate the positive virtues of the machine; it would affirm social values that allowed the individual his or her development while affirming also a community of individuals; . . . it was progressive in its orientation to the future, yet founded on a past that was defined in “American” terms.” The culture of authenticity that developed in the early twentieth century, and that to a great extent came to its fruition in the 1930s, “was a kind of balancing act, an effort at cultural synthesis, and fraught accordingly with certain irreconcilable tensions.”30 Related to the search for authenticity was a rising interest in documentary. Media were increasingly used by those who sought to record social facts in compelling ways. Photography, in particular, came to be used by those who sought to visualize the conditions of real life; the medium was rearticulated into “a mode (in the 1930s) that was rooted in the ‘objectivity’ of social science.”31 Yet documentary was not in reality the objective collection of social facts; John Grierson, the filmmaker credited with coining the term “documentary” in the 1920s, called it the “creative dramatization of actuality.”32 The FSA photography project fully embodies the paradox of documentary: it purports to offer “fact” but must always do so through the rhetorical construction of dramatic narrative. The preceding discussion of these three cultural trends—the need to visualize, the quest for Americanness, and the privileging of authenticity—is meant merely to be suggestive of the rhetorical culture out of which the FSA and other New Deal cultural projects emerged. Yet these themes, prevalent as they were, do not by themselves explain why the New Deal was amenable to visual representation to the extent that it was. The foundations of the New Deal itself, as we shall see, were

indebted to early-twentieth-century Progressives whose social philosophy left room for the recognition of the value of visual culture.

New Deal Visual Culture and the Public Philosophy Democracy is a way of life controlled by a working faith in the possibilities of human nature. —JOHN DEWEY, “Creative Democracy: The Task Before Us”

Arthur A. Ekirch observes of the New Deal, “The developing political economy of the New Deal was part of a new public philosophy in the United States which emerged most clearly and directly from the crisis of the depression.”33 That “public philosophy” was not only political and economic but also social, cultural, and aesthetic: “In the 1930’s for the first time in American history, aesthetic goals became a part of official thinking and the public philosophy.”34 Importantly, “official thinking” and “public philosophy” came with dollars attached. Although visual representation had always played a part in American politics and governments had funded artistic expression in a number of ways, the New Deal cultural projects marked the first truly federal effort to address the question of what the government’s relationship to art and visual representation should be.35 New Deal rhetoric emphasized an “ideal of a reconstructed American society that could transcend the general ideological crisis engendered by the early years of the Depression.”36 That reconstructed society involved, in part, what historian Jane de Hart Mathews has called a “quest for cultural democracy.” The vitality of the arts in the Depression, Mathews argues, was the result of “the ideas and aspirations of a New Deal elite who sought to integrate the artist into the mainstream of American life and make the arts both expressive of the spirit of a nation and accessible to its people.”37 But what Ekirch calls the New Deal’s “public philosophy” did not appear overnight. The search for cultural democracy itself dated back to the founding of the nation. The founders were concerned about the relationship between art and the public. While art was deemed “a necessary antidote to the vulgarization of life presumably characteristic of a democracy,” efforts to make art truly accessible typically failed.38 It was not until the Progressive Era that the question of truly public art reemerged with any substance. Yet, Mathews asserts, the Progressives’ desire to merge art and democracy would have been short-lived had it not been for the government’s interest in the arts during the Depression.39 John Dewey was one of the Progressives whose philosophy of democracy is known to have influenced a range of New Deal thinkers and policy-makers across the spectrum. In particular, his work on human experience and art was often explicitly invoked by those in charge of New Deal cultural programs.40 Dewey’s educational philosophy, for example, had long pointed out the importance of recognizing the experiences of students and the democratic value of the laboratory of the classroom. The publication of Art as Experience in 1934 made public Dewey’s thinking on art in particular. His ideas fit perfectly with a developing New Deal philosophy that viewed aesthetic production as a cornerstone of efforts to create a modern American cultural democracy. For Dewey, democracy was not only an end but also a means to an end.41 This held true in cultural production as well, for Dewey believed that art should not be kept apart from the public or placed high on a pedestal but that it should actually engage citizens.42 For Dewey, art was a perfect form of communication; while speech and writing may fail us, Dewey explained, art would not—not because art is





universally understood in the same way everywhere but because art creates understanding through recognition of the interests and desires of others. Art’s function in society, then, was about “communication and participation in values of life by means of the imagination, and works of art are the most intimate and energetic means of aiding individuals to share in the arts of living.”43 Dewey’s understanding of the functions of art fit with the beliefs of those who nurtured the nascent federal art projects. Many New Dealers working on visual projects adopted Dewey’s notion of valuing art as an experience rather than as a product. As a result, they conceptualized art, especially the visual arts, as the form of communication closest to a model of ideal citizenship. According to historian Jonathan Harris, New Deal visual culture was vital because it both constructed and embodied new ideals of citizenship.44 These ideals included belief in grassroots democracy, the importance of broad education, and the value of collective action. The New Deal’s quest for cultural democracy included attention to the role of the artist as well. The projects were grounded in the idea that artists were, in many ways, the ideal citizens. Their art made tangible the abstract category of citizenship, and their activity thus embodied the ideal of citizen participation in cultural democracy.45 At the same time, artists were also framed by the federal projects as “productive workers,” directly contradicting cultural stereotypes of artists (invoked in 1948 by Capehart on the Senate floor) as useless to society and redefining their role to align them with the wage labor being supported by other New Deal programs.46 These linkages between the role of the artist and the role of the citizen reconstructed the artist’s identity in an effective and powerful fashion. As Mathews puts it, “the belief that the union of artist and the people would create a revitalized American art was in the 1930s a rhetorical common place and almost an article of faith.”47 In line with its interest in the relationship between art and citizenship, the New Deal public philosophy also argued that the people needed more access to art. Art, some New Dealers maintained, should be truly democratic and available to average Americans, as opposed to something that elites experience through patronage of art galleries or museums. In our age of (often contentious) public funding of art, we tend to forget that such funding was not always so. Up until the 1930s there was little public funding of art to speak of, especially at the federal level. The New Deal cultural projects were founded in part in the belief that art had become the “property of the monied few,” which was bad not only for the public but for art itself as well. In addition, art was notoriously inaccessible in large portions of the middle of the nation. Public access to art was limited to the coasts, leaving out the Midwest and the South almost entirely. Finally, because most Americans were denied “culture,” those New Dealers arguing on behalf of the art and cultural projects asserted that most Americans were addicted to mass culture because that was all they had access to.48 The issue involved more than access, however. Holger Cahill, director of the Federal Art Project (FAP), knew keenly that mere exposure to art would not be enough; the people had to feel as though the art were made for them: “If these Depression-born ventures were to achieve institutional permanence, the arts must not only be physically accessible but also intellectually and emotionally accessible. The arts must have social meaning if they were to elicit response.”49 Although most of the New Deal’s cultural programs shared the foundational assumptions outlined above, this should by no means suggest that the programs were similar in all respects, administered in the same manner or received by the public in the same way. To the contrary, two of the fascinating things about the New Deal cultural programs are their staggering variety and scope, in part a result of the widely different political and social contexts from which they emerged. Before moving on to discussion of the FSA’s Historical Section photography project, it is worthwhile to offer a sense of this scope and variety.

Two men figure prominently in the New Deal’s early attempts to construct a federal visual culture: Edward Bruce and Holger Cahill. Bruce headed the New Deal’s first seven-month-long pilot project, the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP). Created in late 1933 and housed in the Treasury Department, PWAP used emergency funds from the Civil Works Administration (CWA) to hire artists to decorate federal buildings. Having proven the success of this initial effort, Bruce was able to establish the Section of Painting and Sculpture (later, the Section of Fine Arts) in the Treasury Department, which lasted from 1934 until 1943. Belisario R. Contreras notes that Bruce viewed the artist not as a rebellious individual but as “a professional worker in his or her chosen field.” Thus “Bruce’s art programs assumed officially approved and socially useful forms, as decorative art to transform public buildings, not as propaganda to transform society.”50 In 1934, the socialist realist painter George Biddle, whose May 1933 letter to FDR was widely believed to have sparked the president’s interest in the creation of such programs, wrote in Scribner’s of the Treasury Department’s undertakings: “For the first time in our history the government has recognized the social necessity of art in life. Not only does it recognize the same responsibility to indigent artists as to indigent plumbers or bricklayers, it accepts a further responsibility to foster art and keep it alive during the depression.”51 Claims such as this may seem quaint at best or at worst wholly unreflective about the complex relationship between art and government. Yet historian Francis V. O’Connor cautions us against applying our own worldview to that of the 1930s: “Life and art were seen more literally during the 1930s, ‘ordinary people’ were valued and there was a basic bond of trust between them and the government that no longer prevails. What ‘Art’ meant then—especially governmentsponsored art—and what it might signify some sixty years later can be quite different things.”52 The Works Progress Administration’s (WPA) Federal Art Project was launched by WPA head Harry Hopkins in the fall of 1935, at just about the same time that the RA was launching its own photography and documentary film projects. Headed by Holger Cahill, a museum curator and former acting director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the FAP took a more democratic approach than the Treasury programs had, emphasizing the Deweyan vision of bringing art to “the people.” The FAP initially undertook several projects, including the establishment and organizing of art centers and exhibits across the country and the employment of needy artists in various creative projects.53 WPA employees in the FAP created murals for prisons, high schools, and other public buildings and produced lithographs, easel paintings, and photographs; the FSA’s Dorothea Lange photographed one such project at a high school in Fullerton, California, in 1937 (figure 2). Photography was used in many other New Deal contexts as well. The most famous images, of course, and the ones that have continued to produce the greatest impact, are those of the RA/FSA’s Historical Section. Yet other agencies also took advantage of the camera. In their study of New Deal photography, Pete Daniel, Merry A. Foresta, Maren Stange, and Sally Stein observe that there is evidence that “practically all government departments kept complete photographic records of their activities.” While the express purposes of these images were not exclusively or even primarily aesthetic (and, it is important to note, neither were the purposes of the FSA), many of these images are of FSA quality. In particular, substantial photograph collections were produced by the Soil Conservation Service, the National Youth Administration (NYA), the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the WPA, and the USDA. New Deal photographers, the authors observe, “ranged from sheer novices and gifted amateurs to beleaguered professionals who turned to the government for employment.”54 In all, the cumulative impact of the New Deal art projects was, according to Mathews, the creation “of a nation of cultural consumers, for, if recovery were to be



Figure 2

“High school showing part of Federal Art Project mural decoration. Fullerton, California.” Photograph by Dorothea Lange, May 1937. FSA-OWI collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USF34-016509-E.

achieved in the arts as well as the economy, government would have to provide potential consumers access to the arts.”55 Although the RA/FSA’s Historical Section was not technically a part of the federal art programs sponsored by the Treasury Department or the WPA, it nevertheless participated in the boom of New Deal art, particularly of the visual arts, during the Depression years. Thus while my analysis now turns to the FSA project specifically, it is worth remembering that the FSA was by no means the only visual game in town. In fact, as we shall see, many of the tensions surrounding the project itself were at least partly the result of public responses to New Deal cultural projects in general.

The Historical Section Project Introduces Americans to America You know how these things were looked at in those days. Congressmen just loved to make fun of all kinds of projects of a cultural sort. —REXFORD GUY TUGWELL, 1965



In 1935, FDR named Rexford Guy Tugwell as head of the newly created RA. Always controversial because of his progressive ideas about economics, Tugwell would

resign not more than a year later when the RA was absorbed into the USDA to become the FSA. According to historian Sidney Baldwin, the RA and FSA were either a “dangerous, radical, and un-American experiment in governmental intervention” or “an heroic institution designed to secure social justice and political power for a neglected class of Americans; a pioneering effort to strike at the causes of chronic rural poverty.”56 Never as successful as their founders would have liked, the RA and FSA nevertheless undertook important reforms and were ultimately responsible for the creation and organization of one of the most complete documentary collections ever assembled. In fact, were it not for the photographs themselves, the agencies might not be remembered at all. When Tugwell was appointed head of the RA in 1935, he asked Roy Emerson Stryker, a graduate student, to help him at the new agency. In the 1920s, Stryker had helped Tugwell produce a textbook, American Economic Life; Stryker’s job had been to locate and arrange photographs to illustrate it. When he brought the younger man to Washington, D.C., Tugwell purposely kept Stryker’s job description vague: “We didn’t want to tell them what he was doing. We had no intention of telling them what he was doing. You know how these things were looked at in those days. Congressmen just loved to make fun of all kinds of projects of a cultural sort.”57 Despite the vague nature of the job description, Stryker became chief of the Historical Section, which was part of the Information Division of the RA. One of Stryker’s first tasks was to hire photographic staff: Arthur Rothstein, amateur photographer and Stryker’s former Columbia University student; Walker Evans, a well-known New York photographer; Dorothea Lange, a San Francisco portrait photographer who had turned to documentary; and Carl Mydans, who left not long after to join the staff of the new magazine Life. Ben Shahn, Evans’s roommate and a WPA painter, also made occasional photographic trips for the agency. When Mydans departed for Life, Stryker hired former engineer Russell Lee to replace him. In succeeding years, Marion Post (Wolcott) was hired, along with John Vachon, Jack Delano, Gordon Parks, and others. In its First Annual Report, the RA described the nature and purpose of the Historical Section and noted that “in setting up a photographic section the Resettlement Administration departed somewhat from conventional procedure.”58 Though the duties of the Historical Section were not clearly defined at first, the photographers’ work generally came to involve a range of activities. The photographers made “project photographs” that were designed to show how the New Deal was working on behalf of the nation’s rural poor. Later, the Historical Section made similar types of images for other agencies, including the Departments of Public Health and Soil Conservation. FSA photographer Walker Evans’s official government job description reveals the broad scope of the project’s charge: “To carry out special assignments in the field, collect, compile and create photographic material to illustrate factual and interpretive news releases, and other informational material upon all problems, progress and activities of the Resettlement Administration.”59 More important for Stryker, photographers made photographs that were designed to chronicle “American” subjects. Stryker wanted photographers to document all aspects of Depression life in America, arguing later that one of his goals of the project was to “introduce Americans to America.”60 The First Annual Report called these types of photographs “historical record” photographs because they were made in order to preserve “photographically certain aspects of the American scene which may prove incalculably valuable in time to come.”61 Although clearly the thousands of images made by FSA photographers should not be reduced to an analysis of the impulses of one man, Stryker nevertheless emerges as a key figure in this story. Stryker was both a consummate bureaucrat and a voracious collector of images; these characteristics framed his approach to the job of collecting and circulating the photographs.62 Given little guidance on



how to proceed with the new entity, Stryker wielded much power in determining the goals for the section. But that power must be contextualized within the everchanging and often chaotic whims of the institutions overseeing the project. Stryker was a busy, committed, but often distracted administrator, someone who often had to work within the system despite its flaws. In doing so, Stryker was not so much committed to a grand, master plan for the project as he was attempting to do what so many people did during that era: he attempted to make do. Thus, although the Historical Section was a product of New Deal bureaucracy and its public philosophy, by no means should the project be treated as “merely” an example of Roosevelt’s New Deal agenda. The project was more complicated than that. Analysis sensitive to the rhetorical dynamics of the project and its historical, social, and institutional contexts enables us to understand the tensions at work in those years when the U.S. government stretched the boundaries of the public’s understanding of the potential of photographic communication. The remainder of this chapter demonstrates the value of such critical attention by indexing along four axes the rhetorical tensions embodied in the Historical Section photographs as a collection for posterity; as tools for New Deal publicity; as potential instruments of social justice; and as art.

THE FSA PHOTOGRAPHS AS A COLLECTION FOR POSTERITY I took my job description somewhat literally, being a collector, recognizing the value of documents. —ROY EMERSON STRYKER, 1965



Roy Stryker was not a photographer, but he knew that documentary photographs could make important contributions not only to social reform but also to the preservation of the American scene. He wanted the Historical Section photographs to do for the 1930s what Mathew Brady had done for the Civil War, what Lewis Hine had done for child labor and immigration in the early 1900s: preserve a record of American experience. But Stryker knew that his work would necessarily be different from that of these earlier photographers. Because Tugwell had left Stryker’s duties vague, the younger man was able to create something new—within, of course, a bureaucratic context. Though his initial assignment was left purposefully ambiguous, from the beginning Stryker was intensely committed to the vast project of collecting images. Indeed, throughout the life of the project and beyond, several of the photographers criticized Stryker’s commitment to the collection of images. They observed that in his passion to collect, Stryker often lost sight of the ways in which the photographs might be used to promote contemporary social change. When Tugwell moved Stryker to the Historical Section, the younger man had been working with his mentor at the USDA to develop a book called The Pictorial Sourcebook of American Agricultural History. The men intended it to be a kind of visual encyclopedia of American agriculture. That project eventually went by the wayside in light of the developing work with the RA, though Stryker initially intended to make the RA photographs do double duty by using photographs made by the Historical Section photographers in the Pictorial Sourcebook. He recalled, “Now I certainly didn’t go down [to Washington] on purely the idea that I was to be a collector of documents . . . [yet] before I saw the great feelings of humanity [in the photographs] I saw certain agricultural elements and I said this kind of stuff will do well, we can use this to get ourselves a lot of pictures for our encyclopedia.”63

Figure 3

“Machinery against the garage on Matt Henry’s farm near Tipler, Wisconsin. Note primitive scythe rake.” Photograph by Russell Lee, May 1937. FSA-OWI Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USF341-010865-B.

Though that book never materialized, the encyclopedic impulse behind it always grounded Stryker’s orientation to the Historical Section’s mission. Examples of Stryker’s desire to collect fill the Historical Section’s photographic file and contribute to the curious dialectic in the photographs between present and future. Though the images were ostensibly collected to illustrate the RA/FSA’s contemporary efforts to alleviate rural poverty, they also contain within them an awareness that they will be studied by future generations as evidence of what the Depression looked like: how people lived, what tools they used, what cars they drove. Images of street scenes, newsstands, and storefronts offer broad snapshots of American culture of the 1930s; yet sometimes they also tell us something very specific about their subjects. For example, Russell Lee’s photograph of farm implements (figure 3) is to contemporary eyes a fascinating aesthetic study in shadow and line, yet it also illustrates the relatively primitive agricultural tools used during the era. In fact, Lee’s own caption for the photograph encourages the viewer to “note primitive scythe,” suggesting that the photograph is as much about agricultural economics as it is about the interplay of shape and shadow. In another example, images of newsstands (figure 4) suggest the rise of an increasingly visual mass print culture. The ubiquity of such images also points to some of the cultural anxiety that accompanied such a shift: what does it mean, the photographers seem to be asking, that our culture of reading is increasingly becoming also a culture of looking? In building his collection, Stryker became intensely interested in photographic studies of the American small town. Because one of his goals was to preserve images of contemporary America for future generations, Stryker encouraged photographers to pick up small town photographs whenever they could. Once the section had been under way for a few years and its resources and staff had stabilized, Stryker was able to sponsor some extended studies of specific small towns, including two by Russell Lee (San Augustine, Texas, and Pie Town, New Mexico) and another by Marion Post in New England small towns (figures 5 and 6). Stryker had



Figure 4

“Newsstand. Norfolk, Virginia.” Photograph by John Vachon, Mar. 1941. FSA-OWI Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USF34-062571-D.

become increasingly concerned as time wore on that the file overemphasized the “negative” aspects of American rural life at the expense of a fuller picture. Thus the small town studies are important because they represent a rhetorical attempt to construct a national memory of small town life that corresponded in part to Stryker’s own vision for what was good about America. That vision was not entirely idiosyncratic, however. For example, Stryker had read the Middletown studies of

Figure 5



“Street scene, San Augustine, Texas.” Photograph by Russell Lee, Apr. 1939. FSA-OWI Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USF33-012142-M3.

Figure 6

“Town meeting, Woodstock, Vermont. One of the big issues was question of sale on intoxicating liquors.” Photograph by Marion Post, Mar. 1940. FSA-OWI Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USF34-053266-D.

the 1920s and met its co-author Robert Lynd, and as a result Stryker tapped specifically into Lynd’s ideas as he made suggestions to photographers about what to photograph.64 Judging from the size and scope of the file today, Stryker was successful in establishing it as a collection for posterity. However, the ethos of collecting ran into several obstacles. Stryker continually had to answer for his methods in the context of budgetary issues and in the face of ever-shrinking resources available from Congress. Though the photographers did not begin their most extended studies of small towns until 1939 and 1940, as early as 1936 Stryker was writing about the small town studies to Dorothea Lange, in the context of a rant about the evertightening budget: “The budget cut has been so serious that they do not feel that we can do much of the documentary work in which I am primarily interested. . . . I see no hope of getting very far on some of the projects which have been very close to my heart. My New England village study, I fear, will now go by the board.”65 Collecting images with little apparent immediate, practical use was difficult to justify to Congress. The second tension that emerged from Stryker’s interest in building the file for posterity actually came from his own staff. By the time the Historical Section was absorbed into the Office of War Information in 1943, photographs from the file had appeared in nearly every major magazine and newspaper in the country as well as in museum exhibits, congressional reports, government pamphlets, specialized periodicals, and picture books. Yet the principals later disagreed about whether the photographs had achieved enough influence in their own time, whether their circulation had been sufficient. Interviewed in the mid-1960s for the New Deal and the Arts Oral History Project, Roy Stryker contended that the photographs were significant only if they were used: You see, in the end, the 270,000 or 250,000 pictures are only going to be significant if somebody goes in and takes fifteen of them, one of them, fifty of them, and does something. He does an article, makes an exhibit, he puts the



frontispiece, he puts the cover. . . . I think that’s the answer—what can somebody do with it?66



A number of photographers, however, countered in their own interviews that Stryker’s real focus had been on the construction of a vast, encyclopedic file to record the decade for posterity, not on the use of the images to influence the current political climate. As a result, during the years when the photographs were needed most, they claim, Stryker did not do as much to encourage their publication as he could have. During the years that she worked for the Historical Section, Dorothea Lange was probably the most vocal staff member on this issue. Lange and her husband, the Berkeley economist Paul Taylor, had collaborated on documentary social science research for California’s State Emergency Relief Administration (SERA). Their activities for the SERA had included the creation of innovative reports that combined Taylor’s studies of conditions in the field with reproductions of Lange’s photographs of migrant laborers. Lange sought to continue and expand the public policy aspects of her work when she joined the Historical Section. Although Stryker did not object in principle to Lange’s goals, his focus on collecting left him with less interest in such projects. Working with Taylor, Lange had many opportunities to mount exhibits and create reports using the FSA photographs, which she sought to accommodate despite the limited resources available from Washington. In just one letter to Stryker in November 1936, Lange described at least five separate projects that were taking up her attention. She told Stryker she was being “flooded with requests for photographs” from, among others, Life magazine, the regional Social Security office, the federal Department of Labor, and Mills College.67 Years later in an interview for the New Deal and the Arts Oral History Project, Lange’s frustration was still apparent. She observed that the photographic file “wasn’t used in those days. The file was not used. Not much. Not much. It was one of the problems, that it wasn’t used. . . . What actually came out was a trickle for what became a pretty big organization.”68 Other photographers concurred. Photographer Arthur Rothstein noted, “I think the pictures could have had wider circulation at the time . . . it could have been used more effectively. . . . [T]he picture was the end—that was it. Once that picture got in the files, that was the end. The idea was to get the pictures in the files.”69 Photographer John Vachon explained that he had always believed Stryker to have been more interested in increasing the size of the file for posterity: “I’m pretty sure that Stryker had a strong feeling that this was an important thing that he was putting together [the file], and that it was the important thing.”70 These conflicting memories demonstrate the tensions surrounding the question of the purpose of the project. Perhaps the best indication that Stryker’s vision for the project extended far beyond the Historical Section and its sponsoring agencies was his plan for the future of the collection. Clues that reveal the extent of Stryker’s motives may be found in a series of memos and documents that Stryker wrote beginning in about 1938. Stryker recognized that the government currently did not have in place any longterm plan for the preservation of the Historical Section file as well as other photographic records of life in the United States. He sought to remedy this exclusion. In late 1938, Stryker wrote to Lewis Hine about his hope that the government could be persuaded to purchase Hine’s large personal collection of images—some of the first documentary photographs of the twentieth century.71 In late 1939, Stryker began a series of meetings with Archibald MacLeish, the librarian of Congress, on the possibility of creating a permanent photographic collection at the Library of Congress. The function of such a collection, Stryker wrote in his notes from that meeting, would be “to collect and preserve pictorial material existing both within the government and without; to create new photographic material; to make these

materials available to professional people and to the general public.”72 Materials would be obtained for the collection by consolidating what the government held already—including the contents of the FSA file—and adding copies of photographs held by other entities, private collections, and original material produced by staff photographers. Such an operation would thus both enable the creation of new images and at the same time preserve what had already been collected. A confidential memo that came out of that meeting argues eloquently for the importance of such a collection. Because “the photograph is assuming a place of importance,” Stryker contended, the Library of Congress should create an archive that enables the collection of the best of its labors. The function of the Library of Congress, Stryker noted, was to “not only collect and preserve material, but to make it available for use.” Stryker used as his parallel the photographic collection of the New York Public Library, which he said served “an enormous number of people in research—designers, mural painters, dramatists, motion picture scenarists”—up to 200 people per day. The Library of Congress, he noted, could be the same.73 Yet it is important to recognize that Stryker deployed the term “use” differently than did photographers such as Lange. For Stryker, use of the photographs was about future use: preserving the collection for posterity so that future researchers could construct a rich, accurate picture of life during the Depression. This definition of “use” was quite different from that of Lange and other photographers, who tended to think of the photographs as rhetorical documents of the here and now. To a large extent, Stryker’s goal of preserving the FSA photographs for posterity succeeded. In 1943, Archibald MacLeish announced the formation of a committee at the Library of Congress “‘to insure the proper development’ of the Library’s photographic archive.” In 1944, the Library assumed permanent custody of the FSAOWI file.74 If Stryker’s primary goal often appeared to be the preservation of the file for posterity, this was by no means the reason for the creation of the Historical Section in the first place. Indeed, Stryker’s desire to collect was consistently in tension with another, more pressing goal: the need for the photographs to function as instruments of New Deal publicity in the institutional context of the Information Division.

THE FSA PHOTOGRAPHS AS TOOLS FOR NEW DEAL PUBLICITY The Government’s relations with the public turns largely upon the use it makes of available means of communication in stating its plans and defending its policies. —E. PENDLETON HERRING, political scientist, 1935

In 1937, Arch A. Mercey, assistant director of information for the RA, published a short essay in Public Opinion Quarterly called “Modernizing Federal Publicity.” The goal of federal publicity, Mercey argued in the essay, should be “public service— service to the interest and inquiry of the public and education of the citizen on the problems of his government.”75 But the federal government was not doing a good job of living up to this charge. Indeed, with a few exceptions, Mercey declared that government attempts at coordinating publicity were weak. Mercey was not alone in his interest in using the tools of publicity in service to the greater good. With the advent of the Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt and others had sought to modernize Progressive Era reform ideals in the face of the new crisis. They embraced Keynesian economics, which rose to prominence in the late 1920s and depended upon the idea that business could not be properly conducted if deliberation remained bound to the technical sphere; technical questions would not fuel public



opinion, Keynes noted, but rather psychological or moral ones.76 Roosevelt became the figurehead of this modern Progressive movement in publicity, a chameleon able to embody older ideals and utilize new media to achieve them: In some ways FDR was a Jeffersonian publicist, an eighteenth-century democrat, committed to ongoing “civil instruction,” believing in the possibility of informed public debate. At the same time, FDR was a prototypical twentieth-century persuader, intuitively sophisticated about public psychology, remarkably attuned to the modern media apparatus and to the powers of visual communication.77



Yet while Roosevelt himself used new media, particularly radio, with incredible skill, the agencies of the New Deal were struggling to “modernize” to fit Roosevelt’s vision. Mercey’s essay focuses a great deal on the visual media of publicity, including film, the graphic arts, and photography. While all of these media had great potential in terms of the aims of government publicity, Mercey argued that the U.S. government had only begun to scratch the surface of their usefulness. In terms of film, for example, the U.S. government was far behind European countries. Mercey observed that major European countries had state-run movie units, while in the United States the idea of the “‘government movie’ is almost a term of contempt in the picture industry.”78 The graphic arts, too, held great potential for federal publicity but had yet to be exploited to their fullest. “Charts, pictographs, posters, layout, and design,” Mercey contended, belonged in a central agency that “would be able to coordinate and initiate ideas and work which would greatly improve this phase of government service.”79 Mercey reserved the most praise for the photography produced by his own agency, the RA. Mercey lauded the Historical Section’s project and mentioned the work of its photographers as examples of the best of government publicity. Yet the RA’s photographers, Mercey admitted, were the exception rather than the rule: “Measured by standards of documentary still photography the country over, the Federal government is doing a significant though largely inefficient job.”80 Many photographic labs were staffed by “hacks,” and most photographers were poorly trained. Federal publicity would benefit, Mercey wrote, from the creation of “a central photographic organization” that would be in charge of all photographic work for the government. Such an agency would have some similarities to what Stryker had proposed to MacLeish at the Library of Congress. Mercey concluded, “a coordinated photo agency could give more direction to pictorializing the world in which we live and toward achieving real photo-documentation.”81 After explaining the problem, Mercey offered a program for improving government publicity activities. First, the technical services of publicity needed to be coordinated into units: one agency for government film, one for all graphic arts output, and one for photography. Such consolidation would both streamline current efforts in each area and provide a single clearinghouse through which all work in each medium would pass. Next, Mercey advocated the creation of a large central government entity that would oversee these units as well as coordinate agencies in various government departments, functioning as a “check on all information agencies as to general direction and responsibility with regard to governmental policy.” Anticipating objections, Mercey noted that such an agency would not be a huge propaganda machine seeking to enact censorship of government efforts but rather would be a place that would direct users to government data more efficiently.82 Mercey’s ideas, offered in the ostensibly value-free language of a developing paradigm of social science, both masked and reflected the complex and controversial goals of federal publicity. His arguments about the need to unify agencies were

relevant in an era in which many different government agencies performed parallel tasks of publicity. Though today we tend to think that the U.S. government got into the film business through Pare Lorentz’s New Deal documentary work on The Plow That Broke the Plains and The River, in fact various agencies of government had been engaged in filmmaking for years; the USDA, for example, formed its Department of Motion Pictures as early as 1913.83 In terms of photography, the Historical Section was most certainly not the only game in town, though it did become the best known. Several agencies employed photographers. Mercey’s dismissal of these other agencies’ work suggests implicitly his belief in the need to professionalize government media, to make it comparable to work that the public might find in commercial markets. Mercey and others realized that they were competing with an increasingly demanding and sophisticated audience, one accustomed to consuming high-quality images. If federal publicity were to work, Mercey suggested, it needed to be more than typical “government work.” The article’s insistence on the necessity for consolidation in order to achieve “coordinated government publicity” likely struck fear into the hearts of many who observed the increasing size and scope of the New Deal. As Elisha Hanson, attorney for the American Newspaper Publishers Association, observed in 1935, “For the first time in their history, the American people have seen their Government turning to propaganda in myriad forms to win their favor and keep their support.”84 Well before 1937, of course, concerns about the rapidity with which Roosevelt was effecting changes in the federal government were pervasive. Anxieties that the government was too big, that its reach extended everywhere, and that Roosevelt aspired to dictatorship fueled the ire of businesspeople in the private sector and anti-Roosevelt forces in the government. Thus, although from Mercey’s perspective New Deal publicity was nowhere near what it could be in terms of efficiency and effectiveness, it was in fact the perceived “popular success of the New Deal’s publicity apparatus that was one of the most rankling causes of alarm.”85 Harvard political scientist E. Pendleton Herring argued that the government was attempting directly to control national media: “News comes out of the Federal bureaus in a flood. Today’s mistake is washed away by the plan of tomorrow.”86 While Herring did not take the stance that everything coming out of New Deal publicity was inherently problematic (indeed, he commented that the federal publicity machine’s power “is great and its purpose generally justified”), he did note that such strategies functioned to “give the administration a disproportionate amount of influence in the formulation of public opinion.”87 In one of many attempts to counter the public philosophy being offered via the New Deal publicity machine, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) sponsored a massive campaign with the slogan, “There’s No Way Like the American Way.” Funded by more than a million dollars donated by corporate interests, “this 1937–38 campaign put up 20,000 billboards in its first year and 45,000 in the second. By 1938, every location in the country with a population of more than 2,500 had at least one of these signs.”88 Using what Stuart Ewan calls “Rockwellesque family scenes as visual reinforcement,” the billboards showed happy white middle-class families enjoying the fruits of the “American Way,” including fine suburban homes, happy children, and new luxury automobiles. Yet in an unanticipated twist, the billboards designed specifically to counter New Deal publicity were critiqued by it. Dorothea Lange, Edwin Locke, Arthur Rothstein, and other FSA photographers took good advantage of the opportunity to demonstrate visual irony as they encountered the billboards in the field (figure 7).89 The publicity wars continually being waged between anti–New Deal forces and New Deal agencies certainly framed the experiences of Stryker and the photographers, though the Historical Section was by no means the only publicity arm of the RA. There were five sections in the Information Division: an editorial section to



Figure 7

“Sign, Birmingham, Alabama.” Photograph by Arthur Rothstein, Feb. 1937. FSA-OWI Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USF33-002393-M2.



handle general publicity in news releases and bulletins; a publications section, responsible for longer communications; a radio section; a documentary film section (headed by director Pare Lorentz); and the Historical Section for photography.90 Despite the lofty goals outlined in Mercey’s Public Opinion Quarterly piece, the Historical Section’s adventures in publicity were bumpier and much less streamlined than Mercey might have liked. Just as anti–New Deal forces actively fought to counter the publicity efforts of the federal government, so, too, those forces posed a concrete, identifiable obstacle for Stryker and the project. Indeed, Stryker’s letters suggest a complicated political situation that literally changed from day to day. In 1936, he wrote to Dorothea Lange about the security of her job status: “To date I can say you are still secure with us. Yesterday things looked pretty blue and discouraging for the photographic section, but not quite so bad today. However, we have to carry out economy to the limit. Do not send any telegrams that are not absolutely necessary.”91 Though in retrospect Stryker noted that he was relatively “protected” during those years, the archive itself suggests that Stryker perpetually felt intense uncertainty about the future of the photographic venture.92 The professional skills that Mercey praised in the Historical Section photographers also posed political problems because the modes of modern federal publicity advocated by Mercey were not accepted warmly by some in Congress. At Christmastime in 1936, Tugwell, by now the outgoing head of the RA, presented the president with the agency’s first annual report. Prepared with great care by the Information Division, the 173-page report included a full-color pull-out map of the United States, statistical charts, and quality reproductions of sixty photographs, most by Historical Section photographers. In a professional presentation that “would have made the editors of Fortune magazine proud,” the RA outlined its mission and offered detailed evidence of its success.93 Photographs featured clients who had been helped by RA loans and programs, with captions like this one emphasizing the contributions of the agency: “Children of a mid-western farmer who have been living on a sub-standard level until their parents were helped by the Resettlement Administration” (figure 8).94

Figure 8

“Rural Rehabilitation,” page from Resettlement Administration’s First Annual Report (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1936), 14.

The New York Times picked up immediately on the irony of an agency devoted to managing poverty electing to produce such an expensive document. The newspaper pointed out that the “gayly [sic] bound” report was “unlike the small, gray documents which government departments ordinarily publish”; rather, it was “the size of a college year book and is printed on heavy slick paper with many photographs and charts.”95 Coming directly on the heels of Tugwell’s announcement that he would resign as head of the RA, the report seemed to many to represent precisely what was wrong with FDR’s “alphabet agencies”: they spent too freely and in misplaced ways with few visible results. As Sidney Baldwin understated it, “The report was received by economy-minded members of Congress and other conservatives . . . with something less than acclaim.”96 Indeed, the report came back to haunt the agency not soon thereafter. Stryker noted in a letter to Dorothea Lange in February 1937, “Congress raised hell with us for the annual report. It is conceded by some upstairs that that annual report cost us a million dollars.”97 The agency apparently learned an important lesson, however, for in 1937 and then again in 1938 it published more conventional reports that were smaller in size (only twenty to sixty pages in length) and contained no photographs at all.98



Sparked by Tugwell’s resignation and a growing concern that the RA, as an independent agency of the executive branch, was a loose cannon, in 1937 the RA was folded into the USDA. As a result of new legislation, it was renamed the FSA and given a modified mission. While the RA had emphasized Tugwell’s more radical solutions of resettlement and experimentation with cooperative living, the FSA focused on rehabilitation—on the management of rural poverty in order to help farmers stay on their land. The move to the USDA eased Stryker’s budget woes somewhat, because he began to see that the Historical Section’s mission might be broadened. He wrote to Lange, “Our going to Agriculture has given us a new lease on life, we hope. There are so many things that we can do pictorially, not only for Resettlement, but for Agriculture.”99 After the move to the USDA, Stryker increasingly took on photographic assignments for other departments, such as Public Health and Soil Conservation. Although these assignments in some cases replaced the kind of work he wanted photographers to be doing and produced less interesting photographs, they also gave the agency greater relevance in a tough budget environment. Stryker recalled years later of these outside assignments, “We were promoting ourselves by being useful, we were promoting Farm Security in strategic places.”100 Yet even as he celebrated these new possibilities for survival, Stryker remained painfully aware of the perpetual precariousness of the Historical Section’s status. He confided to Dorothea Lange in 1939, more than four years into the project, I suppose we ought to consider ourselves lucky that we have worked as long as we have. There are still times that I am surprised that we have been permitted to do as much photographing of the United States as we have. . . . I think it has wide appreciation even now. I feel certain that someday it will be a more important record than it now seems at the moment.101



Despite fiscal anxieties, the requirements of New Deal publicity still needed to be met by the agency, and Stryker made sure that the kinds of images the section produced reflected at least to a certain extent the publicity needs of the agency. Although it can be argued that all of the images in the file might be viewed as “publicity” or “government propaganda” in the sense that they were produced under the auspices of an administration that sought to use them as such, the archives suggest that Stryker himself did not believe that all of the photographs were inherently “publicity” images. Only those specifically requested by higher-ups seemed to fit Stryker’s definition of publicity. In February 1937, Edwin Locke and Walker Evans were heading to the Deep South when Stryker asked them to stop in Reedsville, West Virginia, to photograph a government project called Arthurdale. Arthurdale would have been well known to the photographers; it was one of the subsistence homestead projects inherited by the RA in 1935. The high-profile venture was nurtured by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who had conceived of the Arthurdale project after a visit to the poverty-stricken coal-mining area in 1933. Elsewhere, the government was already building subsistence homesteads, which were meant to be cooperative communities that would lead, eventually, to the selfsufficiency of their residents. By building modest homes and establishing suitable manufacturing, the belief went, the federal government could make it possible for the poorest of families in the area to not only survive but thrive. Yet the subsistence homesteads, particularly Arthurdale as Eleanor Roosevelt’s pet project, were lightning rods for criticism. Cost overruns were high, initial construction work was shoddy and expensive, and many critics wondered why the government needed to give “backwards” miners’ families indoor plumbing and refrigeration. According to Eleanor Roosevelt biographer Blanche Wiesen Cook, “From the beginning, every indoor faucet, every shrub and tree was scrutinized and

ridiculed in the press and vilified by unionists. . . . For some, the New Deal had now become a ‘communist plot,’ led by ER and epitomized by Arthurdale.”102 Stryker’s letter requesting that Locke and Evans detour to Arthurdale is a fascinating document, for it acknowledges the publicity needs of the agency and at the same time suggests that such jobs were often taken by Stryker with more than a grain of salt: It is quite necessary that you and Evans stop off at Reedsville and take a series of pictures on that project. Our files have practically nothing and there is a big publicity job on. Incidentally, Allie Freed is getting out a report on Reedsville for the President. It is getting a lot of publicity and they are after us for pictures. Everybody here feels that a good set is necessary. Mercey and McKinnon are preparing a shooting script and will mail it to the project manager to hold for you. . . . Incidentally, I think this Freed is pulling something screwy, but we can’t judge on this matter.103 Allie Freed, here Stryker’s main suspect in the Arthurdale propaganda venture, was a close colleague of Eleanor Roosevelt’s and a wealthy industrialist with philanthropic interests in cooperative housing. At the time of the writing of this letter, Freed was negotiating with the Phillips-Jones Shirt Company to establish a factory in Arthurdale that would employ twenty to thirty of the women in the community, thus giving a good boost to the community’s economy.104 Stryker’s irritation and skepticism are obvious, yet the importance of the photographic venture at Arthurdale is clear. Historical Section photographers had been to Arthurdale before; Evans had first made images there in 1935, and other government photographers had chronicled the initial construction of the project in 1934. But it was vital to Freed, Eleanor Roosevelt, and other supporters of Arthurdale to have an ongoing photographic record of this controversial project; thus Stryker’s photographers needed to go back. Photographs made by Edwin Locke and Walker Evans during this “emergency” trip to Arthurdale demonstrate the kinds of images needed for publicity of the project. Locke photographed the burgeoning community businesses, including the craft shop (where homesteaders made hand-crafted furniture for sale to the general public), the community center, the vacuum cleaner factory, and the general store (figure 9). Evans, who had already photographed the landscape of Arthurdale on a 1935 trip and who notoriously hated “project work” like that which Stryker expected at Arthurdale, appears to have left most of the work to Locke. Of the photographs made during the 1937 trip, very few are attributed to Evans. Photographs like those made at Arthurdale were important to the survival of the section because they were concrete demonstrations of its willingness to participate in the publicity activities of the Information Division. Yet they are by no means the only examples of such images. Indeed, despite the FSA file’s reputation for offering sophisticated documentary expression and art photography, it was in fact the “project pictures” like those made at Arthurdale that were the bread and butter of the agency. The belief that the agencies of the Information Division were propaganda machines fueled critics’ attempts to discredit them. The Annual Report of 1936 capped off a first year filled with controversy for the Information Division. In the late spring of 1936, the RA released Lorentz’s The Plow That Broke the Plains, financed in part by the RA.105 Despite the film’s dry subject of soil erosion, and the fact that its high quality—unusual for a “government film”—challenged Hollywood’s monopoly on filmmaking, it eventually obtained commercial distribution and became quite successful. Initially, New Dealers (including the president) and film critics alike responded positively to the film.106 But with success came controversy. Republican legislators and other conservatives spoke out strongly about the film, some in oddly



Figure 9

“Workers in the vacuum cleaner factory at Reedsville, West Virginia.” Photograph by Edwin Locke, Feb. 1937. FSA-OWI Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USF34-013119-D.



comic ways. In Texas, state representative Eugene Worley warned, “If Dr. Tugwell doesn’t destroy the film, I’m liable to punch him in the nose. . . . That picture is a libel on the greatest section in the United States.”107 In South Dakota, the state chair of the Republican Party declared, “If there was any doubt about it before, ‘The Plow that Broke the Plains’ has made South Dakota definitely Republican.”108 Closer to home, controversy touched the Historical Section as well. In August 1936, a photograph made by section photographer Arthur Rothstein in North Dakota appeared on the front page of the avowedly Republican Fargo Forum newspaper just days before President Roosevelt was scheduled to make his much-touted election year “drought tour” of the Midwest. Under the headline “It’s a Fake,” the newspaper contended in one of many outraged editorials that Rothstein’s photographs of a steer’s skull on parched ground were being circulated nationwide as evidence that the drought in the plains was in fact worse than it really was (figure 10). It was impossible, they argued, that the steer in question had died as a result of recent drought; the skull was bleached and had probably been lying there on the plains for years. After the Forum’s initial charge, searches of other newspapers and the Historical Section’s file revealed the existence of other skull photographs made against the backdrop of apparently different landscapes. That similar images existed suggested to the Forum that the photographer had moved the skull from place to place, using it as a “movable prop.”109 Stryker happened to be on vacation when the controversy blew up, and his assistant Edwin Locke had to do damage control. Locke told the Associated Press (correctly) that Rothstein had made all of the photographs within the limits of a small area, that the skull had not been moved more than ten feet, and that Rothstein was not in the practice of using the skull as a prop. Rather, he was engaging in good photographic practice by making multiple exposures of the same scene using slightly different viewpoints for each.110 Though the controversy eventually blew over, others appeared on its heels, raising again the specter of propaganda and calling unwanted attention to the Historical Section’s practices.

Figure 10

“It’s a Fake: Newspapers Throughout the United States Fell for This Gem Among Phony Pictures.” Fargo Forum, Aug. 27, 1936. Image courtesy of ProQuest.

In another controversy a few months later, Russell Lee’s photograph of a tenant farmer’s teenaged daughter and her younger sister was reprinted in a feature on tenancy in the Des Moines Register. The photograph, captioned “Tenant Madonna,” seemed to imply that the sisters were in fact mother and daughter.111 The Historical Section was accused of “faking” the caption to make the older girl appear promiscuous and immoral. In fact, the photograph had been miscaptioned before being sent to the newspaper, a fact for which Mercey apologized to the photographer: “The notes you have sent in with pictures have always been scrupulously accurate and honest, and it is unfortunate that a mistake made in Washington should be charged against you.”112 These controversies suggest the extent to which the very idea of the “government photograph” was viewed with suspicion. The photographers and Stryker were working, both in Washington, D.C., and in the field, in the face of sometimes strong opposition. In addition, that both of these controversies took place outside of the nation’s capital is striking. Stryker and others involved in the New Deal publicity venture were often preoccupied with the opinions and criticism of those in Congress—not surprising since Congress was the hand that fed the projects. Yet as Sidney Baldwin points out, beyond Washington most in the general public were unclear about what the various agencies did and why they were important. He quotes one RA field investigator who reported back to Washington in the fall of 1936 that “85–90 percent of the people in the small towns did not have the vaguest idea what Resettlement is trying to do.”113 The controversies about the Historical Section photographs suggest a certain amount of public anxiety about the practice of photography itself, particularly photography in the service of publicity. What does it mean, the controversies implied, to photograph “public fact”? To what extent, and for what purposes, might images of the poor be manipulated for purposes other than to aid those pictured?



These tensions about representation were present throughout the Historical Section’s years of activity. They appeared in moments of controversy in which the publicity function of the agency was questioned and in other contexts of the section’s work. A third tension operating in the project, one that must be accounted for in any rhetorical history of the project, is the question of the social utility of the photographs—the extent to which the photographs could be used not only to bring publicity to the agencies but actually to do social justice work on behalf of those subjects pictured in the photographs.

THE FSA PHOTOGRAPHS AS INSTRUMENTS OF SOCIAL JUSTICE Ragged, ill, emaciated by hunger, 2,500 men, women and children are rescued after weeks of suffering by the chance visit of a Government Photographer. —SAN FRANCISCO NEWS, 10 March 1936



In early October 1936, barely a year into the Historical Section’s life, budget cuts prompted Roy Stryker to rethink his relationships with photographers currently on the payroll. Though arguably the most talented photographer in the Historical Section corps, Dorothea Lange was also the costliest because she worked out of her home in Berkeley, California. Stryker made the decision to keep two photographers stationed in Washington—Arthur Rothstein and Carl Mydans (who would leave just a few months later to work for the new magazine Life)—and elected to drop Lange temporarily from the payroll until the budget situation improved. Lange responded to this news somewhat characteristically by leaping over Stryker’s head and making an impassioned plea directly to Information Division chief M. E. Gilfond: “My dear Mr. Gilfond: There is a job for Resettlement which should be done right away. I need the time and authorization from you to do it.” Lange explained that she wanted to photograph at Arvin, one of the government’s new migrant agricultural worker camps now operating in Kern County, California. Lange observed that this first migrant worker camp built under the auspices of the federal government constituted “a democratic experiment of unusual social interest and national significance.” Yet there were few photographs of its recent operation: “The only photographs which we have in the files were made in the early days when the camp was newly-opened and had few occupants. They do not represent present development or present conditions.” Lange acknowledged that she had only a few working days left on the Historical Section payroll, but she begged Gilfond to authorize a trip: “At this time the camp is fully occupied (to capacity) and the harvesting of cotton is at its peak. The drought refugees continue to pour in there. If the photographs are not made now it will be another year before the time will again be right.”114 Gilfond handled the matter by upbraiding Stryker for not having better control of his photographers and writing to Lange what she termed a “mighty nasty telegram . . . the tone of which was unjustifiable.” Lange did recognize, however, that her push to get the Kern County camp photographs had posed a bureaucratic problem for Stryker. She wrote to her boss, “I am indignant at his bad manners but am sorry indeed that any action of mine caused you added difficulties at a time when I know that you are already having to defend our work on every front.”115 Such impolitic impulses were not unusual for Lange. Just eight months earlier, she had rushed to the offices of the San Francisco News with a selection of photographs of migrant pea pickers stranded and starving in frozen pea fields. Among them was Florence Thompson, an Oklahoma mother living with her children in a makeshift lean-to. Lange made several exposures of Thompson and some of the

children; one of those images became Lange’s, indeed the era’s, most famous— now known almost universally as “Migrant Mother.” The News forwarded the photographs to the United Press (UP), and shortly thereafter the News published a UP wire story about the plight of the pea pickers and reported that the government was sending food to those who were stranded in the camps.116 Yet examples like these are relatively rare in the history of the Historical Section. One common assumption about the FSA photography project is that it functioned as a visual mode of social justice, that photographs made by Historical Section photographers functioned directly to improve conditions for the poor in the United States. While this certainly may be true in a broad cultural sense, this perception does not necessarily reflect the complex reality of the project itself or of the practices of individual photographers. While some photographers, most notably Lange, did seek out opportunities to work actively for social justice, that desire always had to be tempered by the needs and demands of the section and its sponsoring agencies. In addition, even someone like Lange never quite fit the image of crusading photojournalist out to save the world. If there was a commitment to social justice on the part of the project and photographers such as Lange, it was a social justice not tied to mass forms of social protest but rather a social justice intimately linked to the rising discourses of social science. Nothing better exemplified this orientation than the partnership of Dorothea Lange and Paul Taylor. Lange’s commitment to the use of photography to foster social justice had ties going back to the late nineteenth century in the United States. In the 1880s, Jacob Riis made a series of photographs of the slums of New York City, which he assembled into a traveling show of lantern slides called “How the Other Half Lives.” The slide show and the book that emerged from the project objectified the poor and embodied disturbing modes of surveillance but nevertheless functioned to call attention to the poor and raise photography’s profile as a technology for imaging “the other.”117 By the turn of the century, progressive activists had come to recognize the value of the photographic record for pursuing social justice. Social photography, as it came to be called, rose simultaneously with the modern methods of social science. In 1907, Paul Kellogg, who was to become editor of two important social welfare magazines—the Survey and, in the 1920s, Survey Graphic—was hired by a national foundation to survey social conditions in Pittsburgh. Kellogg assembled a group of investigators to join him in studying all aspects of life in the city, including Lewis Hine, a New York photographer and teacher. When the Pittsburgh Survey was completed nearly two years later, it stood as the first “modern” sociological study of conditions in America’s industrialized, multiethnic cities. Hine’s photographs, published in the six-volume study as well as in magazine articles about the project, demonstrated the potential value of the camera to this new kind of social research.118 Partly as a result of his work with Kellogg on the Pittsburgh Survey, Hine was hired by the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) a few years later for a more clandestine job: to infiltrate America’s industrialized factories and farms in order to document the child labor crisis in American business. In the years before the term “documentary” was coined, Hine called this type of photographic work “social photography.” Well into the 1930s, Kellogg continued to publish Hine’s work in his visually oriented social welfare magazine Survey Graphic. Lange was aware of the work of Riis and Hine, and so was Lange’s partner, Paul Taylor. As an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, Taylor had studied the Pittsburgh Survey with interest; later, as a young economics professor at Berkeley, Taylor encountered Kellogg’s Survey Graphic, a self-billed “magazine of social interpretation” that consciously employed images as well as text to advocate progressive solutions to social problems.119 The two men met in Chicago around 1929, Taylor inviting Kellogg to join him in the field in Texas where Taylor was doing research on Mexican immigrant labor. Taylor, who had been an amateur photographer since his



days in the marines, had taken to using his camera to document conditions in the field that his written notes would not adequately describe. The two men got along, Taylor later recalled, because Kellogg shared with him an interest in social photography and “welcomed photography as a part of the documentation and presentation of social situations.” When Taylor finished his Mexican immigration project in 1930, “he had approximately 450 negatives, and these amounted to the first systematic photo survey of an immigrant group at flood tide.”120 Kellogg asked him to write an article summarizing his research and arranged to have it published.121 Taylor’s commitment to photography was an extension of his qualitative, ethnographic approach to social science research, a commitment much more closely tied to his work as a social scientist than to any activist impulses about social justice. Yet Taylor recognized that if his work was to have public policy implications and social consequences, his words alone would not be enough; thus his orientation to image making had a decidedly rhetorical inflection. The image should complement the word, and the two together could produce public action that might change social conditions for the better. Taylor made photographs to accompany his research out of the belief that “knowing the conditions and reporting them in a way to produce action were two different things.”122 In 1934, Taylor saw an exhibit of Dorothea Lange’s documentary photographs in a San Francisco gallery. Lange had worked for years in San Francisco as a successful portrait photographer, but in the early 1930s had ventured out into the streets to begin making documentary images of the Depression. One image on display, made during a San Francisco strike, so impressed Taylor that he arranged to have it published to accompany an article on the San Francisco general strike he had cowritten for Survey Graphic. Lange and Taylor met months later when Taylor commissioned Lange and other area photographers to join him in photographing a self-help cooperative he was studying north of San Francisco.123 Later in that year, Taylor was recruited to do research for the Rural Rehabilitation division of the SERA. Taylor’s job would be to help the agency determine the unique relief needs of California. Taylor made the unusual request that a photographer be hired for his research team and was met with some resistance: I said that I would like for the people in the Relief Administration, who would read my reports, evaluate them and make the decisions, to be able to see what the real conditions were like. . . . Well, we talked back and forth a good deal. One of the questions was, “Would social scientists generally ask for a photographer on their research staff?” To which I answered, “No, they wouldn’t, but I wanted a photographer.”124



And he wanted Dorothea Lange. Still reluctant to hire a photographer for Taylor’s staff, the SERA agreed to put Lange on the payroll—as a typist. A few months later, once Lange had proven the worth of photography to the research venture, she was hired as a full-time photographer.125 Lange and Taylor came to see that together, they could combine effectively the social science research of Taylor’s pen with the visual documentation of Lange’s camera to raise the visibility of the problems of the rural poor in California. The results were produced in a series of field reports to the SERA. The reports served as policy proposals (specifically, arguments for building federally funded migrant worker camps) as well as documentation of the desperate conditions that they were encountering in the field. Taylor anchored the reports minimally with explanatory text while Lange’s photographs dominated—taking up thirty-nine pages in one report and twenty-four pages in another commissioned just months later.126 First circulated widely among New Deal agencies in California, the reports found their way to the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) in Washington. More or

less as a result of the Lange and Taylor reports, in 1935 the federal government allotted $20,000 toward the construction of the first federal migrant worker camp at Arvin in Kern County, California.127 Just after the appropriation, the RA was created, and the camp program was transferred into Tugwell’s care; it was at this point that Lange’s photography came to the full attention of Tugwell and Stryker. From this brief description of the evolution of Lange and Taylor’s collaboration, we may see the outlines of their belief that social science should be used for social justice. Through her exposure to Taylor’s innovative ethnographic social science, infused with a Progressive’s desire to produce order out of the chaos of poverty, Lange came to understand that her photography could play an important role on behalf of social justice, particularly for California’s poor. Thus her sense of urgency and lack of patience with Stryker and other administrators in Washington need to be contextualized within this broader matrix of interests. It was not that Lange was difficult, though she could be, or controlling of her images, though she was—it was that she did these things out of a desire to see her photographs directly produce social change.128 That they did not accomplish this to a greater extent often left her frustrated.129 Lange and Taylor’s interest in creating social justice through the methods of social science was relatively unique in the context of the FSA photography project. However, their work does not by any means constitute the only example of a more active approach to social justice in the file. The photographers responded in their own ways to the conditions they discovered in the field and often used their cameras to alert Stryker and those in Washington to what they had found. In New Madrid County, Missouri, for example, Arthur Rothstein chronicled with his camera what became a relatively major news story in early 1939: the eviction and subsequent political demonstration of 1,000 mostly African American sharecroppers in the cotton counties of Missouri.130 Rothstein’s photographs called attention to the unique problems of sharecroppers and farm tenants in the plantation system of the South. His images of the group camped along the highway visualized direct political protest in a way that relatively few FSA photographs did; but at the same time, many of the images also possess the timeless quality that made the FSA photographs different from other types of photography (figure 11). Such records stand in curious

Figure 11 “Evicted sharecropper and child, New Madrid County, Missouri.” Photograph by Arthur Rothstein, Jan. 1939. FSA-OWI Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USF33-002945-M2.



relationship to the idea of “news,” for although the photographers chronicled the issues of the day, the Historical Section was not a news agency or a wire service. Because the agency’s focus (despite the urgings of Lange, in particular) was often elsewhere, these urgent visual messages frequently were overshadowed by the other goals of the project, particularly those related to collecting and publicity. Up to this point, I have accounted for the FSA project by developing a narrative that emphasizes the various rhetorical tensions in operation during the Depression-era years of the project. Yet given the remarkable cultural influence of the FSA project and its rhetorical staying power today, accounting for the project in terms of collecting, publicity, and social justice is still not enough. In the following pages I consider a fourth rhetorical tension, the one that, perhaps more than the others, continues to frame our interpretation of the photographs today: the tension of art.

THE FSA PHOTOGRAPHS AS ART I don’t adjust too easily to the reverence with which fragments of our portrait of America are hung on the walls of sophisticated New York galleries entirely given over to photography as Fine Art. —EDWIN ROSSKAM, former FSA photo editor, 1981

No one will deny that many individual FSA photographs rise to the level of art. Some, including the sparse interiors of sharecropper homes made by Walker Evans, embody the straight photography aesthetic that came to dominate art photography in the 1930s (figure 12). Others, such as Dorothea Lange’s compelling portraits of migrant workers, reflect equally their documentary context and Lange’s unique vision of portraiture (figure 13). Throughout the years the Historical Section operated, its photographs were often discussed in terms of their aesthetic and

Figure 12



“Corner of kitchen in Floyd Burroughs’ cabin. Hale County, Alabama.” Photograph by Walker Evans, 1935–1936. FSA-OWI Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USF342-008137-A.

Figure 13

“Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California.” Photograph by Dorothea Lange, Feb. 1936. FSA-OWI Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USF34-009058-C.

technical merits. Yet the relationship of the FSA project to the discourses of art was by no means straightforward; indeed, the artfulness of some of the FSA images occasionally appeared to contradict other goals of the project. There was an irreconcilable tension in the project between the goals of photographic aesthetics and those of the RA/FSA as agencies committed to managing rural poverty. Roy Stryker recognized that in order to make the project matter, the photographs needed to visualize their subjects in ways that appealed to the aesthetic and the social sensibilities of viewers. Yet at the same time, he strenuously avoided discussing the FSA photographs solely in terms of their aesthetic or technical qualities. Years after the Historical Section folded, Stryker wrote about the relationship between the FSA’s photographs and art: “There’s no question that photographers . . . produced some great pictures, pictures that will live the way great paintings live. But is it art? Is any photography art? I’ve always avoided this particular controversy. Nothing strikes me as more futile, and most of us in the unit felt the same way.”131 Stryker’s avoidance of “art talk” resulted both from the specific context in which he was operating and from his knowledge that questions about the relationship of photography to art had always dogged the medium. Because photography was a chemical and mechanical process, early writers on photography made much of the new medium’s ability to remove the hand of the artist from the process of creation. As the renowned art director M. F. Agha put it in 1936, “Photography was born not only with a silver nitrate spoon in its mouth but with a complete set of aesthetics around its little neck.”132



In 1843, the Edinburgh Review extolled the virtues of the brand new medium of photography, explaining that “by the art of Photography, . . . we obtain perfect representations of all objects.”133 Yet Lady Elizabeth Eastlake, writing in the London Quarterly Review in 1857, argued that this capacity for “perfect representation” was in fact the very reason photography was not an art. The chemical science of photography was good for purveying factual knowledge but could not do justice to the aesthetic demands of traditional subjects of art, such as portraits and landscapes. Photography was thus good for duplication but not aesthetic expression: “For all that requires mere correctness, and mere manual slavery, without any employment of the artistic feeling, she [photography] is the proper and therefore the perfect medium.”134 Those who believed that the photograph should aspire to the status of art tended to take two positions, which may be identified with two dominant styles in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century photography: pictorialism and straight photography. Pictorialism emphasized the making of photographs for purely artistic intent and set itself apart from more commercial or official uses of photography (portrait studios, mug shots, and the like). Pictorialists fervently resisted the notion that the camera could not function as an aesthetic tool in the same way that a paintbrush or canvas did. During the Victorian age, photographers such as Peter Henry Emerson employed studio props, adopted a painterly use of soft focus, and used darkroom “tricks” to make their photographs look less like photographs and more like paintings.135 Later, as the work of the pictorialists matured, some adopted what came to be known as the straight photography aesthetic. Straight photography held that the art of the photograph lay in the photographer’s exploitation of the unique qualities and limitations of the medium itself. Photography historian Beaumont Newhall argues that its origins came from new movements in progressive art. As painters freed themselves from the constraints of representational art, photographers embraced photography’s representational function and gave up attempts to “compete” with painting. Thus straight photography emerged largely as a response to perceptions that pictorialism distorted the inherent qualities of the photograph: “Critics began to praise ‘photographs that look like photographs,’ those devoid of the manipulation so prevalent in the work of pictorialists.”136 By the 1920s, the straight photography aesthetic dominated fine art photography, fueled by the compelling work of Alfred Steiglitz, Edward Steichen, Paul Strand, and Edward Weston, among others. In the 1920s, younger photographers such as Walker Evans merged the straight aesthetic with their interest in the American scene—an aesthetic orientation that, as we have seen, grew in value after the beginning of the Depression.137 Walker Evans was already well known in the art photography community when Roy Stryker hired him to work for the Historical Section in 1935. Although Evans worked for Stryker for only a few years, during those years Evans produced what many today believe to be his most important body of work: the images of Alabama farm tenants and sharecroppers that became the basis for his collaboration with James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Although the book itself was not published until 1941, some of the images appeared in Evans’s 1938 one-man show at MoMA (the first MoMA show given to a photographer) and were published in the accompanying book, American Photographs.138 Critical responses to the successful show suggest some of the ways in which Evans’s FSA work was interpreted by critics through a decidedly aesthetic lens. Edward Alden Jewell wrote in a New York Times review:



There is, if I mistake not, nothing of the evangelical in Walker Evans’s approach. . . . Even the miserable human flotsam and jetsam has been studied with a detachment that—whatever of compassionate sentiment there may be

underlying it—must in itself be called . . . consistently “clinical.” . . . Although these are, all of them, “social documents,” the motivation seems, on the artist’s part, altogether esthetic. . . . The case is stated, brilliantly stated, in esthetic terms, and there the matter ends.139 Because of Evans’s growing stature and the photographer’s desire to produce images that embodied his aesthetic commitments more than the FSA’s bureaucratic ones, Roy Stryker struggled with how to reconcile the photographer’s art with the institution’s needs. Evans worked slowly and carefully, using a large 8-by-10 format camera that was cumbersome but produced rich, sharp photographs. But as a result of his intense selectivity and attention to detail, Evans produced very few images. In the bureaucratic context in which Stryker needed to prove the worth of his venture, Evans’s lack of productivity was maddening. Just a few months after Evans began to work for the Historical Section, Stryker wrote to him, “Let me again warn you that you must push as hard as possible and get your pictures done because no one knows how long we will be holding forth here, so you had better get everything you can in as short a time as is commensurate with good work. The bureaucrat speaking!”140 Years later, Evans recalled that such admonitions generally were ignored: “I was just in a sense taking advantage of the FSA and using the government job as a chance for a wonderful individual job. I didn’t give a damn about the office in Washington—or about the New Deal, really.”141 Evans left the Historical Section staff in 1937 as a result of these conflicts with Stryker and to pursue publication of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men with Agee. Yet by no means did the departure of the “art photographer” from Stryker’s staff signal that the question of art disappeared. From the beginning, many of the FSA photographs were circulated in public through an aesthetic frame. In 1935 Tom Maloney, a New Yorker who worked in advertising, founded U.S. Camera Annual, a periodical dedicated to publishing the best of American photography.142 U.S. Camera published jury-selected photographs across the range of contemporary genres— photojournalism, documentary, science imaging, fashion, and fine art. What held the wide variety of images together was Maloney’s democratic vision (influenced by his relationship with Edward Steichen, the famed art and commercial photographer) that all photographs could be artful. The FSA photographs became an important element of that vision. Between 1936, its first year of publication, and 1943, U.S. Camera published nearly one hundred FSA photographs.143 In addition to publication in the magazine, each year’s selections were exhibited in a salon that toured to promote the volume. Several months before the MoMA debuted Evans’s work, the FSA photographs figured prominently in an important exhibit chronicling the history and current status of photography. Between 18 and 24 April 1938, the First International Photographic Exposition was held at the Grand Central Palace in New York City. Planned to mark the centennial of photography, the exhibition was “an effort to present a complete cross-section of past and contemporary photographic achievement.”144 Three thousand images were on display, including more than twelve special invitation sections, of which the FSA was one. The exposition proved extremely popular with New Yorkers, drawing more than 7,000 people on its first day.145 The FSA’s portion of the exhibit received strong reactions from viewers and critics. Frank Crowninshield, writing of the event in U.S. Camera 1939, declared the FSA’s exhibit “the most interesting of all the modern galleries”: Many of the Farm Security pictures revealed hungry families on the march, old men and young children leaving their cabins; barefoot girls carrying heavy burdens and women bent with age and despair. And how austere and dignified



they all were; how touching seemed their fate and how stout must have been their fortitude.146 That Crowninshield refers to the very contemporary poverty of those represented in the FSA photographs in the past tense suggests one problem that aesthetic framing posed for the project. The interpretation of the FSA photographs in the context of art seemed at times to fly in the face of their nature as documentary evidence of current social and economic conditions. If the “austere” and “dignified” poor that Crowninshield writes about were to be understood merely as interesting photographic subjects hung on a wall in a gallery, and not the hopeful recipients of government aid, then the Historical Section project had to a certain extent failed at its job. Stryker seemed to understand this intuitively. Although he welcomed the circulation of the photographs (any publicity for the project was good publicity), he was also wary of framing the FSA’s mission in light of questions of aesthetics or, worse, photographic “technique.” Popular Photography magazine, for example, wrote to Stryker with a list of queries about equipment used by Historical Section photographers. Stryker replied curtly, “I will try to answer some of the questions which you attached to your letter. They are the type of questions which to us, seem awfully irrelevant, but I can understand how a publisher would like to incorporate some such information in his article.”147 Years later, Stryker recalled of such questions, “You’d be surprised that we were bombarded . . . ‘What stop did you use on this picture?’ ‘What film was used?’ And I didn’t know. And I didn’t care.”148 In addition to understanding that a focus on art might cloud the social and publicity purposes of the photographs, Stryker also came to recognize the futility of engaging in conversations about the art in photography with those in the art world. In 1938, Professor James McCamy of Bennington College invited Stryker to speak on campus about the FSA project. But he cautioned Stryker against focusing on the question of art: My only suggestion is that you stay off “ART” and talk about photography as documentation and as a medium of information, education, publicity, propaganda, or whatever word you prefer to use for “publicity.” Of course incidental reference to the aesthetic quality of a picture would be appropriate, but I wouldn’t make esthetics a central or very noticeable part of the talk. You know as well as I how little can be accomplished in talking to artists on such debatable subject. . . . Of course your exhibit will be damned good art and will be recognized as such, but I know from experience that a social studies speaker is always more impressive if he stays off of esthetics. McCamy explained further, “Well, there are a lot of artists around here, most of them having views on photography. . . . The artists would disagree, however, on what was art and what not art in the particular photograph.”149 Stryker’s proposed title for the talk, “Photographing a Third of a Nation,” suggests that he already understood the need to “stay off ‘ART.’” Indeed, given the section’s precarious position in terms of congressional funding, Stryker paid close attention to what would work and wouldn’t work in justifying the section’s mission. For example, in a budget request for 1941, Stryker submitted a statement that focused on the important role the section’s photographs had played in “introducing Americans to America”:



In the six years of its existence the FSA photographic section has made and assembled more than 50,000 photographs which record American civilization as no other civilization has ever been recorded. Everyone recognizes the FSA style, which at its best combines technical virtuosity with a mature, intelligent, and

candid approach to the subject: the state of the nation in terms of the land and the people.150 Although Stryker mentions the photographs’ recognizable “style,” he focuses primarily on the ways in which that style functions in service to the subject: “the land and the people.” As we have seen, Stryker was not alone in the concerns that criticism of the images as “art” would damage the section’s chances for continued funding. He was well aware of debates in Congress and elsewhere about the relevance, efficacy, and financial reasonableness of other New Deal culture and art programs. He wanted to protect his section from those debates and keep it apart from such criticism. Nearly fifty years after the Historical Section photographers first began roaming the country, former FSA photo editor Edwin Rosskam complained that aesthetic aspects of the FSA photographs continued to be emphasized apart from their social or documentary functions: “It seems to me that as the file ages, it is being turned from a living organism into a cult object. But then I don’t adjust too easily to the reverence with which fragments of our portrait of America are hung on the walls of sophisticated New York galleries entirely given over to photography as Fine Art.” He concluded, “What bothers me, I think, . . . is that these pictures were all related to each other as the parts of an organism are related, and were never intended for framing.”151 For Rosskam, what should continue to matter today is the photographs’ collective meaning as a chronicle of American life, not their consumption as art objects. Yet in an age where collectors pay “quite startling sums for prints available from the Library of Congress for a few bucks,” the legacy of the FSA photographs continues to be bound up with the conventions of art, including its consumption.152

The Adjective and the Adverb: The Visual Grammar of FSA Photography My purpose in this chapter has been to work within a middle space that uses the critical tools of rhetorical history to account for the rhetorical power of the FSA photographs. The images, I have argued here, must be understood as simultaneously activating a number of rhetorical tensions that bear sorting out. As a collection for posterity, the photographs constructed a narrative of Depression-era life and preserved for future generations a vast, though always incomplete, vision of life in the United States during the 1930s. As instruments of New Deal publicity, the photographs worked with and against the era’s newly emerging methods of “modern” publicity to highlight the Roosevelt administration’s attempts to manage rural poverty. As instruments of social justice, the photographs embodied their makers’ desire to participate in the direct relief of rural poverty and their commitments to the use of social science to facilitate those ends. As examples of the artfulness of photography, the photographs cemented in the American visual imaginary a mode of documentary vision, a way of seeing, to which all documentary photography that has come after it has necessarily become heir. As he neared the end of his life, Roy Stryker observed that the FSA photographs are not really documents of their era in the way that news media images are. By way of illustration, he pointed out that the file contains only one photograph of perhaps the most famous person of the era: I think it’s significant that we have only one picture of Franklin Roosevelt, the most newsworthy man of the era—this, mind you, in a collection that’s



sometimes said to have reported the feel and smell and taste of the thirties even more vividly than the news media. No, I think the best way to put it is that newspictures are the noun and the verb; our kind of photography is the adjective and the adverb.153 Stryker parses a compelling visual grammar here and in the process reminds us of the inherent difficulty of placing the FSA photographs rhetorically. Emerging from a New Deal public philosophy that thematized the visual, valued the search for a uniquely “American” culture, and embraced the trope of authenticity, the Historical Section photographs describe, quote, and inflect the events they represent and chronicle, embody the rhetorical tensions of their contexts, eschewing the noun and the verb for the complex interpretive terrain of the adjective and adverb.

Notes Abbreviations used in notes: AAA: Archives of American Art. New Deal and the Arts Oral History Project, interviewer Richard K. Doud. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., microfilm reel 3697 unless otherwise noted. FSA-OWI: Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information Collection. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. PST: Paul Schuster Taylor interviews (1970), California Social Scientist, interviewer Suzanne B. Riess. Regional Oral History Office, Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley, 1973. RES: Roy Emerson Stryker Papers, Photographic Archive, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky. Microfilm version.



1. Senator Homer Capehart, Congressional Record (19 May 1948): 6232, RES, series 2, reel 9. 2. Ibid., 6233. 3. “Senator on Warpath,” Life, 7 June 1948, 41. 4. Jack Doherty, “Library Loses 2 Million Due to Silly Photos,” Washington Post, 21 May 1948, RES, series 3, reel 6. Capehart, however surly, apparently wasn’t all work and no play—he is one of the people credited with inventing the jukebox. See William B. Pickett, Homer E. Capehart: A Senator’s Life, 1897–1979 (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1990). 5. “Senator on Warpath,” 40. 6. Sidney Baldwin, Poverty and Politics: The Rise and Decline of the Farm Security Administration (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1968), 92. 7. The exact size of the FSA file is difficult to determine. According to the Library of Congress, the file consists of 164,000 black-and-white negatives and transparencies, 1,610 color transparencies, and 107,000 black-and-white prints (“Background and Scope of the Collection,” For various ways of breaking down the numbers, see “Appendix: The FSA-OWI Collection,” in Documenting America, 1935–1943, ed. Carl Fleischhauer and Beverly W. Brannan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 330–42. 8. For various ways of defining the term “visual rhetoric,” see David Blakesley and Collin Brooke, “Introduction: Notes on Visual Rhetoric,” Enculturation 3 (Fall 2001):; Cara A. Finnegan, “Doing Rhetorical History of the Visual: The Photograph and the Archive,” in Defining Visual Rhetorics, ed. Charles Hill and Marguerite Helmers (Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2004) 195-214; Cara A. Finnegan, “Review Essay: Visual Studies and Visual Rhetoric,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 90 (May 2004): 231-248.

9. Although the FSA photography project lasted until 1943 and was transferred to the Office of War Information (OWI) where it operated until 1946, I concentrate on the years 1935–40. 10. America, 1935–1946: Index to the Microfiche (Cambridge: Chadwyck-Healey, 1981), 3, 5–49. See also Alan Trachtenberg, “From Image to Story: Reading the File,” in Documenting America, 1935–1943, ed. Carl Fleischhauer and Beverly W. Brannan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 43–73. 11. For an account of FSA scholarship, see Cara A. Finnegan, Picturing Poverty: Print Culture and FSA Photographs (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2003), xviii–xxi. See also F. Jack Hurley, “The Farm Security Administration File: In and Out of Focus,” History of Photography 17 (Autumn 1993): 244–52; and Nicholas Natanson, The Black Image in the New Deal: The Politics of FSA Photography (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992), 10–13. 12. Warren Susman, Culture as History: The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century (1972; reprint, New York: Pantheon, 1984), 150–83. See also Terry A. Cooney, Balancing Acts: American Culture and Thought in the 1930’s (New York: Twayne, 1995). 13. Qtd. in William Stott, Documentary Expression and Thirties America (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1973, 1986), 67. 14. Qtd. in ibid., 68. 15. Ibid., 69. 16. Franklin D. Roosevelt, “First Inaugural Address, 1933,” in American Voices: Significant Speeches in American History, 1649–1945, ed. James Andrews and David Zarefsky (New York: Longman, 1989), 436–39. 17. Andrew Bergman, We’re in the Money: Depression America and Its Films (New York: Harper, 1971), xi. 18. “More Picture Magazines Bob Up,” Business Week, 4 December 1937, 28–29. See also Finnegan, Picturing Poverty, 168–79. 19. For an excellent contemporaneous account of the rise of 35-mm photography, see “The U.S. Minicam Boom,” Fortune, October 1936, 125–29+. 20. Susman, Culture as History, 154. 21. Alfred Haworth Jones, “The Search for a Usable American Past in the New Deal Era,” American Quarterly 23 (December 1971): 711. 22. Ibid., 712. 23. Wanda Corn, The Great American Thing: Modern Art and National Identity, 1915–1935 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), xv. 24. Qtd. in Jones, “Search for a Usable Past,” 715. 25. Jane de Hart Mathews, “Arts and the People: The New Deal Quest for a Cultural Democracy,” Journal of American History 62 (September 1975): 324. 26. Miles Orvell, The Real Thing: Imitation and Authenticity in American Culture, 1880–1940 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989), 154. 27. Susman, Culture as History, 157. 28. Jonathan Harris, Federal Art and National Culture: The Politics of Identity in New Deal America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 10. 29. Orvell, Real Thing, 141. 30. Ibid., 155. 31. Ibid., 199. 32. Qtd. in Paul Rotha, Documentary Film (London: Faber and Faber, 1966), 105. 33. Arthur A. Ekirch, Ideologies and Utopias: The Impact of the New Deal on American Thought (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1969), 105. 34. Ekirch, Ideologies and Utopias, 141. 35. Grace Overmayer chronicles the federal government’s earlier, limited efforts to fund public art in Government and the Arts (New York: W. W. Norton, 1939). 36. Harris, Federal Art, 21. 37. Mathews, “Arts and the People,” 316. 38. Ibid., 317. 39. Ibid., 318.





40. On Dewey’s influence on the public philosophy of the New Deal, especially its arts projects, see Ekirch, Ideologies and Utopias, 126–29, 150–52. 41. See John Dewey, “Democracy Is Radical,” in The Essential Dewey, vol. 1, Pragmatism, Education, Democracy, ed. Larry A. Hickman and Thomas M. Alexander (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998), 337–39; Dewey, “Creative Democracy—The Task Before Us,” in ibid., 340–43. 42. John Dewey, Art as Experience (New York: Minton, Balch, 1934), 3–7. 43. Ibid., 336. 44. Harris, Federal Art, 8. 45. Ibid., 9. 46. Ibid. Another result of defining the artist as a cultural worker akin to the wage laborer was that artists began to organize during the decade. Artists’ unions argued not only that art should be democratic but also that artists should participate in democracy by using their labor power. See Francis O’Connor, Art for the Millions: Essays from the 1930s by Artists and Administrators of the WPA Federal Art Project (Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society, 1973), 19. 47. Mathews, “Arts and the People,” 325. 48. Ibid., 320–21. 49. Ibid., 322. 50. Belisario R. Contreras, Tradition and Innovation in New Deal Art (Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1983), 19. 51. George Biddle, “An Art Renascence under Federal Patronage,” Scribner’s, June 1934, 430. 52. Francis V. O’Connor, “The 1930s: Notes on the Transition from Social to Individual Scale in the Art of the Depression Era,” in American Art in the 20th Century: Painting and Sculpture, 1913–1933, ed. Christos M. Joachimides and Norman Rosenthal (Munich: Presel, 1993), 61–62. 53. Contreras, Tradition and Innovation, 151. 54. Pete Daniel, Merry Foresta, Maren Stange, and Sally Stein, Official Images: New Deal Photography (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1987), xviii. 55. Mathews, “Arts and the People,” 319. 56. Baldwin, Poverty and Politics, 4. 57. Rexford Guy Tugwell, 21 January 1965, unmicrofilmed interview transcript, AAA. 58. Resettlement Administration, First Annual Report (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1936), 97. 59. Resettlement Administration to Walker Evans, 9 October 1935, RES, series 1, reel 1. 60. Roy Emerson Stryker, “The FSA Collection of Photographs,” in Photography in Print, ed. Vicki Goldberg (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1981), 353. 61. Resettlement Administration, First Annual Report, 97. 62. As a result of these tendencies, Stryker is often unfairly made to take on the villain’s role in some FSA scholarship; see, for instance, the characterizations of Stryker by Maren Stange, Symbols of Ideal Life: Social Documentary Photography in America, 1890–1950 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989); and James Curtis, Mind’s Eye, Mind’s Truth: FSA Photography Reconsidered (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989). 63. Roy Stryker, 23 January 1965, AAA. 64. Roy Stryker, “Suggestions recently made by Robert Lynd for things which should be photographed as American background,” 1936, RES, series 2, reel 6. 65. Roy Stryker to Dorothea Lange, 7 October 1936, RES, series 1 , reel 1. 66. Roy Stryker, 17 October 1963, AAA (emphasis in transcript). 67. Dorothea Lange to Roy Stryker, 19 November 1936, RES, series 1 reel 1. 68. Dorothea Lange, 22 May 1964, AAA. 69. Arthur Rothstein, 25 May 1964, AAA (emphasis in transcript). 70. John Vachon, 28 April 1964, AAA (emphasis in transcript). 71. Roy Stryker to Lewis Hine, 2 December 1938, RES, series 1, reel 1. 72. Roy Stryker, “Notes from Conference with Archibald MacLeish,” 24 November 1939, RES, series 1, reel 2.

73. Roy Stryker, “Confidential! Memorandum for Mr. Archibald MacLeish,” 14 December 1939, RES, series 1, reel 2. 74. “Jefferson’s Legacy: A Brief History of the Library of Congress,” Library of Congress web site. Accessed 4 February 2003. The Library already had other photographs in its collection by then as well. In 1920, the collection of the Mathew Brady studios, daguerreotypes produced between 1845 and 1853, were transferred to the Library. Brady’s Civil War–era photographs were donated in 1954. For an analysis of the arrangement of the file by the Library of Congress, see Trachtenberg, “From Image to Story,” 43–73. 75. Arch A. Mercey, “Modernizing Federal Publicity,” Public Opinion Quarterly 1 (July 1937): 94. 76. Stuart Ewen, PR! The Social History of Spin (New York: Basic Books, 1996), 240. 77. Ibid., 241. 78. Mercey, “Modernizing Federal Publicity,” 89. 79. Ibid., 90. 80. Ibid. 81. Ibid., 92. 82. Ibid., 92, 93. 83. Thomas M. Pryor, “Uncle Sam: Film Producer,” New York Times, 12 July 1936. 84. Elisha Hanson, “Official Propaganda and the New Deal,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 179 (May 1935): 176. 85. Ewan, PR!, 289. 86. E. Pendleton Herring, “Official Publicity Under the New Deal,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 179 (May 1935): 167. See also Ewan, PR!, 289. 87. Herring, “Official Publicity,” 174. 88. Ewan, PR!, 320. 89. Ibid., 321. 90. Baldwin, Poverty and Politics, 117. 91. Roy Stryker to Dorothea Lange, 25 August 1936, RES, series 1, reel 1. 92. Roy Stryker, 17 October 1963, 13 June 1964, AAA. 93. Baldwin, Poverty and Politics, 119. 94. Resettlement Administration, First Annual Report, 14. 95. “Gayly [sic] Bound RA Report Is Given to Roosevelt,” New York Times, 25 December 1936. 96. Baldwin, Poverty and Politics, 119. 97. Roy Stryker to Dorothea Lange, 9 February 1937, RES, series 1, reel 1. 98. Resettlement Administration, Report of the Resettlement Administration, 1937 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1937); Farm Security Administration, Report of the Administrator of the Farm Security Administration, 1938 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1938). 99. Roy Stryker to Dorothea Lange, 21 December 1936, RES, series 1, reel 1. 100. Roy Stryker, 23 January 1965, AAA. 101. Roy Stryker to Dorothea Lange, November 1939, RES, series 1, reel 2. 102. Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt, vol. 2, The Defining Years (1933–1938) (New York: Penguin, 1999), 143. 103. Roy Stryker to Edwin Locke, 9 February 1937, RES, series 1, reel 1. 104. Nancy Hoffman, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Arthurdale Experiment (North Haven, Conn.: Linnet Books, 2001), 74–75; see also Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt, 475. 105. Lorentz’s biographer notes that the film was expected to cost the government $6,000. Instead, it cost over $19,000; much of the excess was absorbed by Lorentz himself, whose record-keeping was so poor that he was unable to get reimbursed for many of his expenses. See Robert L. Snyder, Pare Lorentz and the Documentary Film (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968), 37. 106. Ibid., 39–47. 107. “‘Dust Bowl’ Film Brings Threat to Punch Tugwell,” New York Times, 10 June 1936. 108. “Says Film Loses a State,” New York Times, 4 August 1936. 109. “It’s a Fake: Newspapers Throughout the United States Fell for This Gem among Phony Pictures,” Fargo Forum, 27 August 1936. For an extended treatment of this controversy, see Cara A. Finnegan, “The Naturalistic Enthymeme and Visual Argument:




111. 112. 113. 114. 115.




119. 120. 121. 122. 123. 124. 125. 126. 127.


129. 130.



131. 132.

Photographic Representation in the ‘Skull Controversy,’” Argumentation and Advocacy 37 (Winter 2001): 133–49. “The Herald-Tribune questions the authenticity of Resettlement Photographs,” untitled and undated memo, RES, series 2, reel 9; see also “Explains Skull Use in Drought Pictures,” New York Times, 30 August 1936. “Some Iowa Farm Tenant Conditions as Pictured by the U. S. Resettlement Administration,” Des Moines Sunday Register, 2 May 1937. A. A. Mercey to Russell Lee, 21 June 1937, RES, series 1, reel 1. Baldwin, Poverty and Politics, 119. Dorothea Lange to M. E. Gilfond, 19 October 1936, RES, series 1, reel 1. Milton Meltzer, Dorothea Lange: A Photographer’s Life (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1978), 157; Lange to Stryker, 19 November 1936. A search of photographs in the FSA-OWI file indicates that Lange took a trip to the area and made some images of the Kern County camp and surroundings in November 1936. Meltzer, Dorothea Lange, 133. Lange told the story of her encounter with Thompson in “The Assignment I’ll Never Forget: Migrant Mother,” Popular Photography, February 1960, 42–43, 128 (see reprinted version in Meltzer, Dorothea Lange, 132–33). Paul Taylor tells a version of this story in “Migrant Mother: 1936,” American West (May 1970): 41–45. Each of these versions emphasizes Lange’s belief that the mother was willing to help Lange because she knew Lange’s photographs might in turn help her and her children. Although one might assume that the initial relief of food was welcome to all of those in the camp, Thompson herself later argued that she had received nothing good from having been the subject of Lange’s photographs. See Martha Rosler, “In, Around, and Afterthoughts (on Documentary Photography),” in The Contest of Meaning: Critical Histories of Photography, ed. Richard Bolton (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1989), 303–41. On Riis, see Reginald Twigg, “The Performative Dimension of Surveillance: Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives,” Text and Performance Quarterly 12 (1992): 305–28; see also Stange, Symbols of Ideal Life, 1–46. On the Pittsburgh Survey, see Clarke Chambers, Paul U. Kellogg and “The Survey”: Voices for Social Welfare and Social Justice (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1971), 33–45; and Stange, Symbols of Ideal Life, 47–87. Richard Steven Street, “Paul S. Taylor and the Origins of Documentary Photography in California, 1927–1934,” History of Photography 7 (October–December 1983): 294. Ibid., 298; see also Paul Taylor, PST. Paul Taylor, “Mexicans North of the Rio Grande,” Survey Graphic 66 (May 1931): 135–40, 197–202; see also Street, “Paul S. Taylor,” 299. Taylor, PST. Meltzer, Dorothea Lange, 86–88. Taylor, PST. Ibid. Meltzer, Dorothea Lange, 100. Ibid., 101; see also Taylor, PST. The reports served as models for the pair’s later, more sophisticated collaborations in magazines such as Survey Graphic. Their method saw perhaps its fullest realization in American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion (New York: Reynal and Hitchcock, 1939), a text that used photographs and text to tell the story of westward migration during the Depression. James Curtis and F. Jack Hurley, among others, have commented on Lange’s obsession with controlling her negatives; in addition, some of Stryker’s comments about Lange’s “difficult” nature may be found in the archives. See Curtis, Mind’s Eye, 13; see also Hurley, Portrait of a Decade, 74–75, 142–43. Note Lange’s comments, quoted earlier in this chapter, that the file was not used to the extent that it could have been. The New York Times published five articles in five days about the demonstrations in New Madrid. See, for example, “Rain, Snow Defied by Sharecroppers,” New York Times, 12 January 1939. Stryker, “FSA Collection,” 352. M. F. Agha, “Is Photography Art?” U.S. Camera 1936, 5.

133. “The Edinburgh Review, January 1843: An Excerpt,” in Goldberg, Photography in Print, 52. 134. Lady Elizabeth Eastlake, “A Review in the London Quarterly Review, 1857,” in Goldberg, Photography in Print, 96. 135. Beaumont Newhall, The History of Photography, 5th ed. (New York: MoMA, 1982), 141–65. 136. Ibid., 167. 137. Ibid., 184. 138. When it was published, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men was not successful, and it remained largely unremembered until it was rediscovered in the 1960s. See Stott, Documentary Expression; John L. Lucaites, “Visualizing ‘The People’: Individualism vs. Collectivism in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 83 (1997): 269–88. 139. Edward Alden Jewell, “Aspects of America in Three Shows,” New York Times, 2 October 1938. 140. Roy Stryker to Walker Evans, 10 December 1935, RES, series 1, reel 1. 141. Qtd. in Stott, Documentary Expression, 281, 319. Yet Stott rightly points out that although Evans may have claimed not to care for the FSA as an institution, his photographs demonstrate that he shared many of its “social concerns.” 142. For a detailed analysis of the FSA photographs as they appeared in U.S. Camera, see Finnegan, Picturing Poverty, 120–67. The only published history of Maloney and U.S. Camera is Harvey Fondiller, “Tom Maloney and U.S. Camera,” Camera Arts (July–August 1981): 16–23, 106–7. 143. I arrived at this number by tracing references listed in Penelope Dixon, Photographs of the Farm Security Administration: An Annotated Bibliography, 1930–1980 (New York: Garland, 1983). 144. “Photograph Show Will Open April 18,” New York Times, 3 April 1938. 145. “Eager Crowd Opens Photo Show Early,” New York Times, 19 April 1938. 146. Frank Crowninshield, “Foreword,” U.S. Camera 1939. 147. Roy Stryker to Rosa Reilly, 22 June 1938, RES, series 1, reel 1. 148. Roy Stryker, 17 October 1963, AAA. 149. James McCamy to Roy Stryker, 1 February 1938, RES, series 1, reel 1. 150. “Department of Agriculture budget request, probably 1942–43,” RES, series 2, reel 6. 151. Edwin Rosskam, “Not Intended for Framing: The FSA Archive,” Afterimage 8 (March 1981): 11. 152. Ibid. 153. Stryker, “FSA Collection,” 353.



Eleanor Roosevelt: Social Conscience for the New Deal Beth M. Waggenspack

n the preface to her autobiography, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote, “There is nothing particularly interesting about one’s life story unless people can say as they read it, ‘Why, this is like what I have been through. Perhaps, after all, there is a way to work it out.’ Perhaps the most important thing that has come out of my life is the discovery that if you prepare yourself at every point as well as you can, with whatever means you may have, however meager they may seem, you will be able to grasp opportunity for broader experience when it appears. . . . Life was meant to be lived, and curiosity must be kept alive. One must never, for whatever reason, turn his back on life.”1 Her rhetorical activities mirrored that blend of simple identification, self-sacrifice and growth, and seizing opportunities for the betterment of all Americans. She was a woman who approached life as a process of self-education and was never satisfied with simply hearing things from others; she had to be part of their experiences, at least as much as she could. She transformed herself from the confines of a narrow, unhappy, yet privileged world into an acclaimed model of the modern woman. She inspired wives and mothers, championed minorities, angered critics, and forever altered the nation’s expectations of the role of the First Lady. Anna Eleanor Roosevelt’s tenure as First Lady was twelve years, longer than any other First Lady. No prior First Lady possessed her measure of influence, and few have been the center of so many controversies. As Abigail Q. McCarthy notes, “There is general agreement that Eleanor Roosevelt had a pivotal influence on the role of the First Lady: we measure not only her successors but her predecessors by her character and achievements.”2 Although a First Lady is neither appointed nor elected, she is saddled with a set of public and private expectations that belie the lack of official descriptions of her




duties. First Ladies have acted as White House hostess, presidential surrogate, iconic symbol of “First Mother,” political strategist, and homemaker. Myra Gutin describes this range of responsibilities by saying, “There is nothing a first lady must do, but much she is expected to accomplish.”3 Gutin asserts that by analyzing the communication activities of the president’s wife, one is better able to understand and to appreciate the changes in the First Lady’s role that have taken place. Her evaluation of twentieth-century First Ladies suggests that presidential wives have assumed one of three distinct stances as public communicators. Social hostesses and ceremonial presences have extremely limited public contact and rarely communicate their ideas to the nation. The emerging spokeswomen seem more aware of the need to share ideas and projects with a national audience, and they use activities and the press to accomplish these goals. Political surrogates and independent advocates, including Eleanor Roosevelt, engage many communication channels to support projects and positions.4 This chapter assesses Eleanor Roosevelt’s revisions of the role of the First Lady during the New Deal: how she forever altered the First Lady’s media use by reinterpreting the place of communication in the role of the First Lady and how her rhetoric impelled the nation’s involvement in social issues including civil rights for African Americans, the subsistence farm homestead projects, and the youth movement. The juxtaposition of Eleanor Roosevelt’s public personas, role expectations, and personal values presents a unique opportunity to examine the First Lady as independent advocate and political surrogate. Eleanor Roosevelt’s lifelong involvement with causes ranging across social welfare and reform issues presented the American public a “new style” First Lady who championed her husband’s ideas but also put her own forward, albeit within limits. In a “My Day” column of 23 February 1942, she wrote, “People can gradually be brought to understand that an individual, even if she is a President’s wife, may have independent views and must be allowed the expression of an opinion. But actual participation in the work of the government, we are not yet able to accept.”5 Over time, Eleanor would ignore those restrictions on her participation in governmental activity, with varying degrees of success. As a speaker for the dispossessed, she was a prominent advocate for social and civil rights in the White House. Rexford Tugwell, one of the original members of FDR’s brain trust, described Eleanor’s attempts to influence FDR’s agendas, noting, “It would be impossible to say how often and to what extent American governmental processes have been turned in new directions because of her determination.”6 She also took her campaigns directly to the people through personal visits, speeches, press conferences, lectures, radio broadcasts, newspaper columns, and magazine articles. Critics labeled her a naive idealist, yet few would deny that her rhetoric was marked by selflessness and inspiration. Although she had no outstanding speaking talent, little formal education, no brilliant mind, sparse special training, and a tendency toward the banal, she became both a symbol and an institution. She saw humanity in everyone she met, and as a result, her rhetoric argued for equality because that is how she thought a utopian, democratic world could be attained. The Miami Herald eulogized her on 9 November 1962:



The one woman of our time whose name was known on every continent and whose face was familiar to countless millions was Eleanor Roosevelt. Her speeches, her writings, her unabashed politicking and her appearances in such roles as a United States representative to the General Assembly [of the United Nations] were careers in themselves. For a dozen years and more she led public opinion polls as the world’s most admired woman.7

Her commitment to others was recognized by President Harry Truman, who eulogized her as “First Lady of the World.”8 The First Lady’s White House years certainly did not begin with such acclaim. Franklin Roosevelt assumed the presidency at a time of national crisis. With America deep in the Depression, suffering with an economy in turmoil, finding the unemployed and homeless everywhere, the nation faced a loss of faith in government. Eleanor Roosevelt wanted to demonstrate to discouraged Americans that she (and by extension, the administration) was sympathetic to the country’s plight. Her concerns were carried out with the most powerful communication campaign ever mounted by a First Lady. She provided the American public the perception that Franklin Roosevelt’s was a vigorous administration headed by people who were dedicated to erasing the problems the nation faced. The public also discovered in Eleanor Roosevelt a vocal partner in the White House, an advocate who was committed to change. Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born in New York on 11 October 1884, a daughter in a long patrician line. Her father, Elliot, was the younger brother of Theodore Roosevelt; her mother, Anna Ludlow Hall, was the daughter of an old Hudson River family. Wealthy and socially prominent, the Roosevelts lived a life of ease. Eleanor received an aristocratic upbringing: tutored in French, she toured Europe and attended the best schools. But the family’s wealth and position could not protect the Roosevelts, and in 1892 mother Anna died of diphtheria; since she and Elliot had separated because of his profligate life of gambling and alcohol, the Roosevelt children were sent to live with Grandmother Mary Livingston Ludlow Hall. Home life was grim until Eleanor was sent to Allenswood, an English finishing school, in the fall of 1899. She bloomed under the headmistress, Marie Souvestre, and excelled at her studies, found friends, and discovered a love of the theater and art. But most important, in Eleanor’s three years at Allenswood, Souvestre provided her with a passionate concern for public affairs, social politics, and social responsibility. Roosevelt grandson David offers a family perspective on Eleanor’s time in Allenswood that demonstrates that impact, saying, “Allenswood provided her with an emotional and psychological stability of the ‘home’ she had missed for so many years. For the next three years Grandmere was transformed, if not reborn.” David Roosevelt calls Souvestre “the defining factor of Grandmere’s life direction.”9 Summoned home by Grandmother Hall in 1902 to make her society debut, Eleanor set out to free herself of its strictures. She became active in the Junior League, working with some of its members in settlement houses; she was also active in the Consumers’ League. On 11 October 1904 she became engaged to her fifth cousin once removed, Franklin Roosevelt, two years her senior. They had seen each other occasionally over the years and began to see each other regularly after Eleanor returned from Europe. Franklin’s mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, adored her only child and was not exactly enamored of his fiancée. On 17 March 1905, Eleanor became Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt when she was presented in marriage by her uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt. Marriage returned Eleanor to the confines she had felt before leaving for Europe: her mother-in-law rented a house in New York for them three blocks from hers and furnished and staffed it. She pressured Eleanor to abandon her settlement house work, because such work was not done by patrons of society. Grandson David Roosevelt notes that Eleanor’s interest in working in settlement houses had not diminished, “but Sara and her friends convinced her that being around ‘those people’ could have terrible consequences; she could bring home unspeakable diseases.”10 When the Roosevelts’ first child, Anna Eleanor, was born in May 1906, Sara engaged a nurse to care for the baby, and she took every opportunity to deny Eleanor control and authority over her household.11 In 1908, the family moved into twin



town houses in New York, designed by Sara Delano Roosevelt. On each floor, sliding doors made for free movement between houses. The houses seemed to be designed so that Sara could intrude at any time. For the next ten years, Eleanor was occupied with child rearing as planned and executed by Sara, who participated in practically every aspect of her life, from the choice of nannies and servants to the planning of daily meals. Five other children were born in that house: James (1907), Franklin Junior (1909, died the same year), Elliot (1910), Franklin Junior (1914),; and John (1916). Sara’s domination created a chafing that eventually led to a shift in Eleanor’s complacency. Her son Elliot noted, The net result was that it was my grandmother’s iron will working on Mother that helped to have Mother grow. So you see, you don’t always get your development from the all-seeing, wonderful person who guides you. You also get guided by the people who are a terrible, terrible thorn in your side. And you think, “Oh my God, how can I put up with them?” they come through, finally, as helping to develop your character.12 Franklin Roosevelt was busy advancing his career, working for a law firm but moving toward public service. He was elected to the New York State senate in 1910 (over his mother’s objections), and the younger Roosevelts moved to Albany, where their home became a center of political activity. Eleanor was given the opportunity to realize her own personal ambition. In 1913, the Roosevelts moved to Washington, D.C., when Franklin was appointed assistant secretary of the navy by President Woodrow Wilson. Eleanor discharged her social duties as the wife of the navy’s number two man with enthusiasm and high energy, as well as a growing self-confidence. When war was declared in 1917, Eleanor immersed herself in the Red Cross, where for the first time her organizational abilities were utilized as she coordinated the Washington Red Cross canteen and the knitting that was done there for the soldiers. Franklin Roosevelt was a popular, charming, and witty young man, and Eleanor had early on lamented that “I shall never be able to hold him. He is so attractive.”13 His romance with Lucy Mercer, Eleanor’s social secretary, was a factor in Eleanor’s emergence as a person to herself. In September 1918, Eleanor’s discovery of a cache of letters from Lucy to Franklin led her to offer him a divorce; Sara Roosevelt is said to have threatened to cut her son off if he pursued it, and adviser Louis Howe probably told Franklin that such a move would be political death. In addition, there was Lucy Mercer’s Catholicism, which forbade divorce, and the four Roosevelt children to consider. Franklin agreed never to see Lucy again, and he and Eleanor achieved an uneasy reconciliation. Daughter Anna Roosevelt Halstead later reflected on this time as one where Eleanor had broken the bonds of dependence on her husband and mother-in-law, and she remembered this as a period of resurgence: Then came the period in Mother’s life when she began to discover her true abilities, organizationally, communicationally, her grasp of problems. . . . Once she grew to accept that Father was not going to be what she thought he should be—it was then that she really started to build her own independence of thinking on many, many issues. She thought through her position on such issues as women’s rights, labor, welfare, so that when Father went back into public life she had such definite opinions of her own, she could pester the hell out of him.14



In 1920, Franklin Roosevelt received the Democratic vice-presidential nomination; in an attempt to capture the votes of recently enfranchised women, he included Eleanor on his campaign trips as a presence to be seen but not heard. It was

on these trips that Eleanor began to appreciate the mentoring and friendship of Louis Howe, who made it his job to educate her politically. They discussed Franklin’s speeches, examined how the press functioned, and talked about policy decisions. Howe appreciated her political instincts and recognized her value as an adviser on political strategy and issues. Anna Roosevelt Halstead remembered that Howe became a pivotal force in helping Eleanor to recognize her own potential: “Louis Howe as far as I know was the first person who brought out her ability and talent.”15 The two were close friends until Howe’s death in 1936. The Democrats’ defeat did not deter Franklin’s political aspirations; he began planning for his bid for New York governor in 1922. But in the summer of 1921, while the Roosevelts were enjoying their usual vacation at Campobello Island in Canada, Franklin was stricken with infantile paralysis. Sara Roosevelt insisted her son return to Hyde Park, New York, hoping he would spend his life as a country squire. Eleanor and Louis Howe were determined to keep Franklin in politics, and the two worked as a team to keep his political urges going. While Franklin worked to recover the use of his legs, Eleanor became his surrogate with the Democratic Party and the public, keeping his name alive and pushing her into the public political forum. David Roosevelt described his grandmother’s transformation by saying, “Not only had she emerged as a new leader in the struggle for women’s and children’s rights; she had also earned her stripes as FDR’s full-fledged partner and advisor.”16 America in the early 1920s was marked by radical social alteration; the war and the women’s vote added to those transformations. People changed how they spent their leisure time, styles changed, the divorce rate increased. The same type of change was echoed in the so-called aristocratic set, where Eleanor and her friends would modify themselves on social issues. Eleanor increased her public affairs participation by becoming active in Dutchess County politics and joining the Women’s Trade Union League. She explained what it meant to be a Democrat in an attempt to articulate for women why they should be involved in politics: If you believe that a nation is really better off which achieves for a comparative few, who are capable of attaining it, high culture, ease, opportunity, and that these few from their enlightenment should give what they consider best to those less favored, then you naturally belong to the Republican Party. But if you believe that people must struggle slowly to the light for themselves, then it seems to me that you are logically a Democrat.17 She also became involved in two business ventures, the Val-Kill furniture factory, which produced reproductions of early American furniture, and the Todhunter School, where she became a faculty member in 1927, teaching American history, English, American literature, and current events. These obligations also allowed Eleanor to abandon the “society” life that never interested her. Eleanor was asked to head the Women’s Division of Al Smith’s 1928 presidential campaign, and she became so involved in that campaign that she largely ignored her husband’s gubernatorial campaign; Roosevelt was elected, and Smith was not. As New York’s First Lady, Eleanor was extremely busy maintaining political contacts, writing magazine and newspaper articles, teaching at Todhunter, and helping with Val-Kill. But more important in terms of her own public development, during this time she began making inspection trips for her husband, going to places where he could not. This expansion of her role in her husband’s life and political career would have repercussions on her own philosophy and activities for social change. Via her networks and being well versed on the issues of the day, including education, labor, health, and welfare, she became positioned as a prominent woman in this era of political and social change.





Franklin Roosevelt was reelected governor by a landslide in 1930, making him a serious presidential contender for 1932. Eleanor worked with the Women’s Division of the Democratic National Committee during the 1932 election; although it was considered inappropriate for her to campaign for Franklin, she spoke all over New York State to support Herbert Lehman for governor. When Roosevelt won the presidency, Eleanor was sure her hard-won independence would be lost, saying, “Now I will have no identity. I’ll only be the wife of the President.”18 She was keenly aware of the expectations that most Americans had of their First Ladies and noted, “I knew what traditionally should lie before me. I had watched Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt and had seen what it meant to be the wife of a President, and I cannot say that I was pleased at the prospect.”19 Journalist Lorena A. Hickok, in a 9 November 1932 three-part series for the Associated Press profiling the new First Lady, reported the following rumination: “‘If I wanted to be selfish,’ said Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt today, ‘I could wish that he had not been elected.’” Reflecting on the new title she was about to assume, Eleanor Roosevelt said, “There isn’t going to be any ‘First Lady of the land.’ There is just going to be plain, ordinary Mrs. Roosevelt.” Eleanor also revealed, “I never wanted to be a President’s wife, and I don’t want it now. You don’t quite believe me, do you? Very likely no one would—except possibly some woman who had had the job. Well, it’s true, just the same.”20 Despite an awareness of the limitations of her new role, she believed that she could perform an important job as an involved First Lady and approached Franklin with the idea of being his listening post or perhaps handling his mail.21 He turned her down, and in her memoirs she wrote, “I know he was right, but it was a last effort to keep in close touch and to feel that I had a real job to do.”22 Yet Eleanor Roosevelt rapidly redefined her “real job” as First Lady, enlarging her role to engage in public communication on a far greater scale than any previous presidential spouse. Eleanor Roosevelt was First Lady for over twelve years, and by all accounts she was a tireless communicator. From 4 March 1933 to 12 April 1945, she authored countless magazine articles and book reviews; she also wrote nine books. Beginning 31 December 1935, she penned a 400-word daily newspaper column entitled “My Day” that was syndicated in over one hundred newspapers. She gave more than 700 paid lectures for the W. Colston Leigh Bureau of Lectures and Entertainments and spoke frequently over the radio on commercially sponsored broadcasts.23 Estimates are that she gave well over 1,000 speeches. At reporter Lorena Hickok’s suggestion, she held regularly scheduled press conferences.24 Her inspection tours for her husband became legion. Always curious and unflagging, she was apt to appear anywhere at anytime. As a result, her earlier comments on her “real job” were prophetic, as she carved out many new roles. Her part in helping the American people was extraordinary. Often Eleanor Roosevelt carried her campaigns on the behalf of groups or individuals to the appropriate government departments or officials or even to the president. Her influence with FDR was called nagging by some; others preferred to call it lobbying to obtain his aid and to provide him with a personal understanding of human misery. The Depression years, 1933–40, and the war years, 1941–45, found Eleanor Roosevelt emerging in distinctive roles, as did the period following the president’s death. In the first period, she centered her concern in the social welfare programs of the New Deal, and the last section of this chapter examines her rhetoric on three significant issues during this time. Later, she shifted her attention to the Office of Civilian Defense, in which she served as deputy director. During World War II, she improved morale and inspected conditions among American soldiers in Great Britain, the South Pacific, and the Caribbean.

Upon FDR’s death on 12 April 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt moved to New York. Ahead of her were service as a U.S. delegate to the fledgling United Nations and serving as chair of its Human Rights Commission. There would be years of lectures and travel. She remained a political power in the Democratic Party, advocating Adlai Stevenson’s candidacy in 1952, 1956, and 1960. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed her to preside over the Commission on the Status of Women. She died on 7 November 1962 at age seventy-eight. The New York Times on 8 November 1962 declared that “by the end of her life, she was something even rarer than a distinctive First Lady. She was a great lady, a noble personality.”25 As First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt had no official role. The position lacks any constitutional authority but exerts an intangible amount of public influence and leadership. Without set duties, presidential spouses are nevertheless expected to enact expected, suitable roles, knowing they will be scrutinized closely as symbols of the administration’s style or tone. Rejecting the pattern set by her predecessors, Eleanor Roosevelt became the first president’s wife to use her position openly to seek access to the media and to turn this access to her own advantage. In the process, she created intense controversy, sometimes not so much over her ideas as over the example she set. Grandson David Roosevelt said that her individuality was in conflict with the nation’s traditional view of the presidency; while many women of the time chose to seek change through agitation and rebellion, Eleanor chose to “change the reality of her role through information, action, and understanding, not conflict.”26 Gutin suggests that First Ladies who are political surrogates and independent advocates engage many communication channels to support projects and positions.27 Eleanor Roosevelt was involved in a greater range of public communication than any predecessor, speaking and writing to further the causes in which she believed. Her career as a journalist, writer, and speaker continued during her White House tenure; for some of her audience, this may have been acceptable because the columns and speeches reflected her position as a woman helping her husband. Her primary outlets were women’s magazines, and to their readers she represented current society, where many women were aiding their families by working outside of the home. In a way, she was seen as a larger-than-life version of a woman “making do.” For many women, she became both an advocate and a friend because she was so readily accessible through the media. She was the first First Lady (and the only one, until Hilary Clinton) to create controversy by carrying on a moneymaking media career within the White House. For twelve of the most eventful years of the twentieth century, while nations moved from the worst of the Depression through World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt held center stage, easily the single most visible woman in the United States. As First Lady functioning in a position of symbolic importance in the White House and later the United Nations, through the media she presented her own idea of appropriate roles for a woman. In doing so, her communication activities had a pivotal influence on the perceptions of the roles and expectations of future First Ladies. Eleanor Roosevelt’s reluctance about being First Lady centered on fears that she would be forced to limit her interests because of hostess duties. Her journalism career had begun in the early 1920s, when she wrote on issues relating to political reform for the League of Women Voters’ Weekly News. Among her essays were a plea to league members to vote for the best candidate, no matter the party affiliation (“Common Sense versus Party Regularity”) and other articles on the election.28 She made her national journalistic debut in 1923 with an article involving the competition for the Bok Peace Prize. Former Ladies’ Home Journal editor Edward W. Bok offered $100,000 for the best plan for United States’ involvement in creating organized world peace. As one of three judges, Eleanor wrote a full-page article in the October 1923 Ladies’ Home Journal announcing the competition. The public



responded with over 22,000 peace plans, and awarding the prize became a nightmare of public accusations of the contest being a pro–League of Nations ploy.29 Despite the outcry, Eleanor was exposed to the opportunities for reaching the public through the mass media; three months later another national magazine, the Junior League Bulletin, featured her article “Why I Am a Democrat.” In the years prior to FDR’s first presidential election, Eleanor established her voice as a writer, developing a very personal style that was based on her name’s public familiarity and her own personal, social, and political views. She had not led a typical life, but she developed a narrative style that reflected personal experiences, writing in first person as she identified with her audience. In 1927, she began editing a monthly magazine, the Women’s Democratic News, aimed at women voters in New York State, which provided her experience in creating a dummy, proofreading, and editing. The magazine became an example of social feminism, whose philosophy was that women were not disadvantaged but that women could serve society without altering their traditional family roles. Eleanor symbolized this type of social feminist, because she was able to combine family responsibilities with interests outside the home. From 1928 to 1932, during her husband’s gubernatorial days in New York, Eleanor wrote more than twenty-five articles for mass women’s periodicals, ranging on topics from schooling, preparation for careers, suffrage, prohibition, and marriage. In a December 1931 article entitled “Ten Rules for Success in Marriage” for the Pictorial Review, she seemed to reflect upon her own life in discussing marriage: You may count your marriage a success as far as your husband is concerned if you feel that you are useful to him in whatever is the most engrossing interest of his life. He may, as life goes on, have many other helpers besides his wife, particularly if his interests are varied and broad but in the last analysis if he counts on his wife as one of the essential contributors to his success then you have succeeded in establishing a real companionship.30



By 1933, she had totally given up teaching at Todhunter; she began contributing a column entitled “Passing Thoughts of Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt” to the Women’s Democratic News from February 1933 to December 1935. The column focused mainly on the ceremonial activities of the First Lady. She wrote for other magazines, edited the magazine Babies—Just Babies, and then began a monthly column entitled “Mrs. Roosevelt’s Page” for the Woman’s Home Companion, a leading women’s magazine, which ran from August 1933 to June 1935. This groundbreaking column, for which she was paid $1,000 per month, was based on letters addressed to her. She had appealed to her readers to write, and the correspondence covered subjects ranging from vacations, better working conditions, American holidays, and gardening. She used the column to discuss New Deal programs and to uphold the right of married women to work. Her second column in September 1933 urged readers to back a proposed constitutional amendment to outlaw child labor. In October, she urged women to use economic power to improve conditions in sweatshops. In November, the topic was the right of married women to work. In April 1933, Eleanor began a monthly 750-word column for the North American Newspaper Alliance; she was paid $500 for each article, which Louis Howe had engineered as her literary agent. She maintained an informal, semiautobiographical style, giving vivid details of her vacations, state dinners, and child rearing. After six months, the column moved to the McNaught Syndicate, but in 1934 she gave notice of intent to cancel her contract. In November 1933, her book It’s Up to the Women was published and serialized by a rival syndicate; this book compiled her speeches and articles, with its theme being the reforming role that women must assume for the nation and democratic ideals. Its agenda showed her

priorities: peace, the abolition of poverty, and concerns for youth, women’s rights, and the rights of minorities. Mary R. Beard’s 1933 review in the New York Herald Tribune articulated the public’s perspective: “Through her articles, press conferences, and speeches, Eleanor Roosevelt was giving inspiration to the married, solace to the lovelorn, assistance to the homemaker, menus to the cook, help to the educator, direction to the employer, caution to the warrior, and deeper awareness of its primordial force to the ‘weaker sex.’”31 Eleanor also later wrote columns for the Ladies’ Home Journal (“If You Ask Me,” June 1941–May 1949) and McCalls (also entitled “If You Ask Me,” April 1953–November 1962). The journalistic efforts presented Eleanor as an instructor and advocate, and the public saw her as a connection between the White House and their ordinary households in much the same way FDR’s “fireside chats” reached out to galvanize the nation. As the president’s wife, she faced limitations in her ability to write freely on many topics of the day. Roosevelt admitted in her autobiography that on occasion she would send FDR one of the columns about which she was doubtful. The only change he would ever suggest was occasionally in the use of a word, and that was simply a matter of style. Of course, this hands-off policy had its advantages for him, too; for it meant that my column could sometimes serve as a trial balloon. If some idea I expressed strongly and with which he might agree caused a violent reaction, he could honestly say that he had no responsibility in the matter and that the thoughts were my own.32 Occasionally, Eleanor felt unable to discuss more substantive political topics, writing to her literary agent, George T. Bye, “I am very sorry that I cannot write on birth control as long as my husband is President because I feel that as long as it offends the religious belief of a large group of citizens, I have no right to express my own opinion publicly.” She also felt that an article on divorce would be “unwise” because of her children’s own marital woes.33 Her column in the Woman’s Home Companion ended in July 1935 with no announcement of cause. Perhaps it was because of the upcoming 1936 election and the magazine’s desire not to be seen as supporting any candidate. Or perhaps it was her own frustration; Eleanor Roosevelt biographer Ruby Black notes that it was “common gossip in the publishing business that the editors, fearful of political controversies, circumscribed her so she could do little but write essays on the virtues of cleanliness, kindliness, and perseverance.”34 In 1935, Eleanor began writing a 500-word daily column based on her diary for United Feature Syndicate. “My Day” displayed her personality, her philosophy, and her judgments, using the personal narrative style that she had been developing in her earlier essays and articles. In contrast with more weighty political columns of the times, “My Day” was much like a luncheon conversation at the Roosevelt White House, employing a familiar, intimate flavor and casual style. She featured women working in the New Deal, explained White House functions, and discussed childrearing techniques, staying mostly away from politics in the columns. “My Day” provided Eleanor with an expanded opportunity to present her public image, offering glimpses of the Roosevelt’s family life in a way that pictured them as a “typical” American family (or as typical as one could be when living in the White House). The public diary assumed a great importance by giving the reader insight into the role of the president’s wife as she chronicled official dinners and entertainment, discussed popular books and theater. Aimed at women readers, the column usually ran on women’s pages (although some papers treated it as a political column). She usually dictated it in less than an hour and took pride that she never missed a deadline. She used a “teacher” tone, rather bland and unsophisticated, providing instruction and guidance. According to journalist Martha Gellhorn, the “artless”



columns demonstrated that Eleanor was not much of a writer but that she did have an ability to communicate: “Her mass audiences was ordinary people. In language they would understand, she talked to them rather than wrote for them.”35 A 17 April 1939 cover story in Time magazine gushed, Mrs. Roosevelt is an oracle to millions of housewives. She would bring them face to face with right and wrong. Her audience has grown and so have her skill and temerity so she can venture past platitudes. Now people accept her for what she is. The prodigious niece to the ubiquitous, omnivorous Roosevelt I. Everything she does is genuinely and transparently motivated. Sophisticates who would scoff now listen.36



In sampling the columns, a reader would discover how Roosevelt used narrative reflections to approach her audiences. In a 12 October 1932 column, she mused, “Have you ever realized how much you can learn from people’s washlines? I try to gain some idea of how people live by catching a glimpse of their backyards or their front steps or their washlines, by seeing the children playing in the street or the men and women who come out to wave at the passing train or car.”37 A 15 December 1936 column described the average salary and savings of a typical family and recognized that many were not even at average: “The problem involves so many people that we cannot just say, ‘Let the government solve it.’ We, as a people, must solve it by deciding on the type of social and economic philosophy which we wish to see established in this country. When we know what change we want we can then set government machinery to work to accomplish them.”38 A 17 August 1937 column commented on the importance of balancing a household budget: “Like almost every other woman I know of moderate means, I am always terribly nervous until all my bills are paid and I know I still have a balance in the bank. Anything borrowed hangs over my head like a cloud. . . . There are wise and unwise economies, as every housewife knows and, figuratively speaking, the women of the country should be watching their husbands to see that the national budget is balanced wisely.”39 But occasionally the column served as an outlet for the 1936 campaign, supplying anecdotes about the president and his concerns. For example, a 19 March 1936 column reflected on FDR’s desire for a relief bill, saying, “To me his is an encouraging message because it voices a faith in the ability of business organizations to really get together and work for re-employment. This could not be done unless they were genuinely willing to consider the human values. . . . It is a challenge to the common sense and good will of American business people and I feel confident that they will succeed.”40 Perhaps as testament to the column’s popularity, Roosevelt received more than 1,000 letters per week. By 1936, her circulation was a respectable sixty-two papers, and eventually the column ran in ninety papers. By 1940, she was one of America’s most widely syndicated columnists, with a circulation equal to other famous journalists, such as foreign correspondent Dorothy Thompson and political analyst Walter Lippmann.41 “My Day” was to continue for nearly thirty years until her death in 1962. Beasley suggests that the column was both a “way station on the road to women’s liberation” and “a portrait of a woman seeking a personal liberation through circumstances so unusual they offered an irrelevant guide for others.”42 Eleanor Roosevelt’s autobiography This Is My Story was serialized in Ladies’ Home Journal for $75,000 in 1936, which was equal to the president’s salary. It chronicled Eleanor’s lonely childhood, unhappy teenage years, and trying life as a young wife and mother. The autobiography did not, however, discuss FDR’s affair with Lucy Mercer, which was apparently too painful to present. This was an episode that she seldom spoke about, and at some point she destroyed all of FDR’s

correspondence to her, which she had saved for many years. Biographer Blanche Wiesen Cook notes that the Lucy Mercer affair was not referred to for many years. “For all of ER’s autobiographical candor, she does not refer to her most painful marital moment—the moment that most profoundly changed her life.”43 The autobiography presented Roosevelt as a woman seeing life as a process of self-education as she moved from her narrow world of privilege into the broader life of a nation. The book was praised by a New York Times reviewer because it demonstrated a woman’s evolution as she broke away from “America’s old and formal social traditions” and showed her as a woman lacking in “vanity, self-complacence or pettiness.”44 The evolution went beyond one woman, because through her activities, Eleanor Roosevelt was reshaping the nation’s perception of the role of the First Lady. Although she claimed that most of the proceeds went to charity, Eleanor Roosevelt was criticized for commercializing her position as First Lady. She never did account publicly for her entire earnings from her books, magazine articles, and newspaper work. One explanation of why Eleanor felt no need to discuss her financial situation can be seen in her definition of money, which she said was “a token which represents real things; real work of some kind must attend the honest making of money.”45 Beasley asserts that the public “accepted her right to receive payment because she assured the public that her earnings went to worthy causes. She found a congenial market in women’s magazines where her opinions, usually conventional, fit the publications’ ideology of categorizing women primarily as wives and mothers.”46 In her own way, Eleanor Roosevelt was perceived as a wife contributing to the family unit, aiding her husband in his interests. The journalistic career that Eleanor Roosevelt forged as First Lady provided the public with messages reinforcing traditionally held values and forwarding humanitarian concerns. At the same time, some of what she wrote was dismissed as New Deal propaganda, forwarding the Roosevelt agenda. But her articles, essays, and books made her accessible to the nation, and through them, she enlarged the perception of the First Lady’s right to speak out on issues of the day. Eleanor Roosevelt also enjoyed a commercial broadcasting career, starring in several radio series both before and after she became First Lady. Prior to the White House years in a broadcast sponsored by Pond’s, the cold-cream manufacturer, she focused on household tips, child rearing, and family relations. In 1934, she returned to her sponsored radio talks, which she had given up when FDR entered the White House. She wanted the money for her charity work, especially Arthurdale, the most well known of the New Deal resettlement communities to aid the poverty-stricken, which she championed. She began broadcasting for a roofing company, which paid her $500 per minute, the same amount earned by the highest-paid radio stars such as Ed Wynn. Her next sponsor, the Simmons Mattress Company, paid her the same for five commentaries on news stories.47 Her subsequent sponsor was the American typewriter industry, for whom she did six fifteenminute talks on child education. Her 1935 sponsor was Selby Shoes, which paid her $72,000 for sixteen fifteen-minute talks. By 1939, she was dubbed the “First Lady of Radio” by WNBC, which said, “Her microphone manners are exemplary. She listens to suggestions from production men and cooperates in any plan to improve the reception of a broadcast. She arrives in time for rehearsals. . . . She is not averse to a little showmanship here and there, but eschews tricks. Her voice is wellpitched and she speaks softly.”48 As First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt delivered an estimated 1,400 public speeches, addressing millions of people both in America and abroad, despite her early observation that she “was quite certain I could never utter a word aloud in a public place.”49 Her speaking career grew out of social reform and political activities; her first address, a fund-raising speech, was delivered at a 1922 luncheon for the



Women’s Division of the New York State Democratic Committee. She recalled her inexperience: “I had never done anything for a political organization before nor had I ever made a speech in any sizable gathering. Here I found myself presiding at a luncheon, without the faintest idea of what I was going to say or what work the organization was really doing.”50 Although she would become a leading speaker for political campaigns and social causes over the next decade, her lack of training showed. Journalist Lorena Hickok noted during the 1932 campaign, “She was not a good speaker. Her voice, normally soft and pleasant, would become shrill when she was making a speech, and she hated making speeches. She also had a nervous habit of laughing when there wasn’t anything to laugh at.”51 Eleanor Roosevelt’s speaking underwent a remarkable change in content and delivery as she grew into her activist First Lady role. At the start of her speaking career, her verbal delivery was extremely poor, characterized by a falsetto voice, indiscriminate use of inflection and emphasis, and, as political adviser Louis Howe pointed out, a tendency to giggle for no apparent reason. Despite Howe’s attempts to alter her delivery through criticism and practice, it was not until early 1938 that Eleanor found a teacher who was able to provide her with constructive help. Elizabeth Fergeson von Hesse, a New York City speech teacher, heard Roosevelt at Chautauqua “lose an audience of 5,000 within ten minutes.” 52 Von Hesse wrote Roosevelt, telling the First Lady that she could teach her vocal control. Through forty-four hours of study over a two-week period, Eleanor learned breath and diaphragm control, which gave her voice focus and eradicated the falsetto; tone projection and placement, which provided resonance and lowered her voice four major tones; freer gestures; and a new walk, which made her appear more confident and less like a schoolgirl. In addition, Roosevelt was given a card to carry on her travels that reminded her, “The Creator has never as yet made a woman who can talk and laugh at the same time becomingly.”53 When asked what makes a good speaker, Eleanor Roosevelt replied, I do not know that I have been particularly successful as a public speaker. I think I have made progress. I found I did not know how to control my voice, so I took some lessons to help me to do so. Then I worked very hard to think out the things that I wished to say and to find ways in which I could hold the attention of an audience. If I were to define what I believe makes a good speaker, I should say: (a) it is essential to be heard; (b) a speaker must have something to say. The way it is said and the effectiveness of the presentation are largely something that has to be developed through practice.54



When asked if she used a ghostwriter to pen her articles and speeches, Roosevelt said, “I dictate, or sometimes write in long hand, every word of every article or speech which I make.”55 As to her speaking style, she reported, “Lecturing grew easier as time went on, but I still never get up to speak without nervousness, though as I talk it vanishes. I use notes for long lectures but never follow a manuscript, because I find it easier to think on my feet and be effective when I am not reading.”56 Eleanor Roosevelt was a major draw on the professional lecture circuit. By the end of 1935, she was in high demand as a speaker, signing a contract with W. Colston Leigh to do two lecture tours a year at a fee of $1,000 per lecture. She spoke on five subjects: the relationship of the individual to the community; problems of youth; the mail of a president’s wife; peace; and a typical day at the White House. The stock lectures usually lasted for an hour, to be followed by a brief questionand-answer period. She remained one of Leigh’s most sought-after speakers until nearly the end of her life.

In 1941, critics noted that Roosevelt’s vocal delivery was now marked by a pleasing change in pace (rapid narration but slower in theoretical material); a variation in emphasis, using greater force in main points; and the clear-cut articulation of a cultured easterner. Perhaps even more of an indication of her vocal changes, in the Movie and Radio Guide’s 1940 grading of the top radio orators, Eleanor was given good marks on voice quality, delivery, and poise, with a total score of ninetythree. This made her second behind the top-ranked FDR, whose score was ninetyseven. But what made Eleanor Roosevelt an outstanding orator was not her eventual mastery of vocal techniques but rather her devotion to and awareness of her audience. She attempted to envision her listeners and tried to remember they were weighing her words against their own experiences. Her speeches usually addressed socially acceptable topics, although she did introduce more controversial issues of civic responsibility, such as public housing and civil rights. She made the listeners’ interests and problems her own and tried out of her own experience to speak meaningfully and simply. She reflected on the impact of her audience, saying, “I read so many human lives every day in their letters; but I do get from those letters a very good picture of the conditions throughout the country and I realize more and more how important it is that we, as individuals, actually shall take an interest in our government.”57 She used identification techniques of inclusive language, illustrating her theses with personal and homely stories, advancing her point of view in a kindly, motherly fashion. She told public speaking students that when speaking, one should “be conciliatory, never antagonistic, toward your audience, or it may disagree with you no matter what you say.”58 Her modesty was demonstrated in a 1940 speech, when she admitted to the audience, “I imagine a great many of you could give my talk far better than I could.”59 A recurring theme was civic responsibility. In a January 1936 speech, she reminded the audience of their community responsibility: “Wherever we live, wherever we are, let us put down roots. We may not live there always, but while we are there we may mean something in that community so that we may really leave a mark on the people that we have associated with, because we have stood for the things we believed in with all our might, and so we shall be part of the consciousness of that community.”60 Her simple audience approach was an easy target for detractors, who wondered why the First Lady should be given such print and broadcasting space when her ideas lacked intellectual merit. The New York Post commented on 23 January 1933 that she was “seeking accolades just because her husband has been elected to something.”61 Critics suggested that she did not possess the scholarly weight and distinction that she was granted. James Kearney observes, “Careful study of her rhetoric leads one to believe that it was often not only stylistically embarrassing but also singularly lacking in both originality and intellectual content.”62 Others, such as Dorothy Thompson, said her speeches and essays were often banal, characterized by a pedestrian style, irrelevant detail, and platitudes such as “People are the most interesting things in the world”63 or “It looks to me as though we can not relax in the study of the general problems which face us all, for there is the nut which must be cracked.”64 Roosevelt embellished her ideas with clichés such as “it seems to me” and “oh, gentle reader.” Her punctuation, as demonstrated elsewhere in this essay, was often inaccurate. Simplicity was fundamental to Eleanor Roosevelt’s spoken rhetoric. When addressing live audiences, she usually spoke from a single page of notes, which she thought kept her speeches fresh and kept her from becoming bored. When asked about coping with stage fright and the use of notes, she said,



Stage fright is something you can overcome by constant practice. One good way to help yourself through the first crucial moments is to write out the beginning and the end of your speech or statement, perhaps only a paragraph. Then you know you have something before you to hold on to if you are frightened so much you are at a loss as to how to begin and then become wound up and do not know how to stop! If you try this method of writing out the beginning and end and carefully thinking out the points you wish to make during your speech, or, if you preside over a meeting, the particular points you want the meeting to keep in mind so that the objective of the meeting is always in sight, I think you will find your stage fright will grow less and you will be able to preside or make your speech without too much difficulty.65



Her public speaking career covered forty years, making her one of the most widely heard women in American history. Eleanor Roosevelt’s professional public career as speaker, radio personality, and journalist enlarged the role of the First Lady by encouraging the rights of any woman to speak out on issues and to earn her own money. Her topics, though, usually stayed within certain traditional boundaries: in keeping in line with social feminist philosophy, she did not challenge the male-oriented political system. Instead, she inspired the public with messages reinforcing traditional values and increasing their scope. She praised what it meant to be a woman: humanitarian, mother, and wife. She credited women with the intelligence and ability to cure the nation’s social problems. In a Gallup poll of January 1939, 67 percent of those polled said that they approved of the way Eleanor Roosevelt had conducted herself as First Lady; only 58 percent approved of her husband’s actions as president. Time magazine featured her on the cover, calling her an “oracle to millions of housewives” and the “world’s foremost female political force.” She had become the dominant American woman of her times.66 Even before FDR was inaugurated, Eleanor broke tradition with her announcement that she would hold press conferences for women reporters only. Her good friend, journalist Lorena Hickok, had pointed out that this would help women keep their jobs, an argument that never failed to win Eleanor’s attention. 67 Eleanor’s willingness to have personal contact with reporters broke all precedents for a First Lady’s press relations, and her openness promised exciting new opportunities for women reporters. Her press conferences demonstrated an increased interest on the White House’s part to communicate with the public.68 These press conferences helped to distinguish Eleanor from her predecessors, alerting the public that change was taking place in the White House. Eleanor Roosevelt wanted to have a meaningful role within the White House. She had been denied the opportunity to help with her husband’s mail, and she felt the loss that refusal had caused her. Through the press conferences, she hoped to make her position of use to others. In her autobiography, she acknowledged, “I realized that I must not trespass on my husband’s prerogatives, that National and international news must be handled by him, but it seemed to me there were many things in my own activities that might be useful. It was new and untried ground and I was feeling my way with some trepidation.”69 As one who needed to feel needed, Eleanor Roosevelt could gain the satisfaction of knowing she was aiding other women to keep employed during the Depression. Reporter Mary Hornaday announced in a 1933 Christian Science Monitor column, “The feminine contingent of the Washington press corps is anticipating more ‘copy’ than they have had for a long time. A number of newspaper women have already obtained additional contracts on the strength of announcements from Mrs. Roosevelt that she will hold meetings with women writers.”70

Eleanor also showed an early grasp of the advantages gained through holding press conferences. She treated the correspondents with respect and consideration. The press conferences gave her the opportunity to manage the impressions that others gave of her. As the one in control of the conference, she could choose the ground rules of time, place, duration, and even topics to consider. In her autobiography, Roosevelt said she decided that “everything that was legitimate news should be given out by me.”71 She remembered each press conference as a battle of wits, saying, “at times it was not easy for me, nor, I imagine for them. . . . Usually I was able to detect the implications of the questions and avoid any direct answer, for Louis Howe had trained me well. My press conferences did not bother me or my husband as much as they seemed to worry other people. I believe the reporters and I came through with mutual respect.”72 She placed limitations on the use of direct quotations; initially, she required reporters to obtain her permission and to check their notes for accuracy with her secretary.73 Bess Furman, then a reporter for the Associated Press, likened the press conference atmosphere to a schoolroom, with Eleanor at the front of the class dispensing information: “Give Mrs. Roosevelt a roomful of newspaper women, and she conducts classes on scores of subjects, always seeing beyond her immediate hearers to the ‘women of the country.’”74 Eleanor Roosevelt and many of the reporters became friends, sharing the rapport of like-minded persons. As she developed close relationships with some of the reporters, they offered her advice on how to conduct the conferences. Beasley suggests that some of the women reporters tried to shield Eleanor from adverse publicity.75 They planted questions, proposed topics, and coached her on the wording (sometimes she accepted, sometimes not). Thus, through a trial-and-error process, Eleanor became accustomed to making headlines. At the same time, reporters criticized her for refusing to talk about controversial subjects, denying them the opportunity to ask questions on anything in the president’s province, and talking only in general terms about housing, married women working, and so on. The conferences rambled, often exceeding ninety minutes. Roosevelt held her first press conference on 6 March 1933, laying out the ground rules: It will save my time enormously if I see you all together once a week and do not have to see three now and three later and so on. I feel that your position as I look upon it is to try to tell the women throughout the country what you think they should know. That, after all, is a newspaper woman’s job, to make her impressions go to leading the women in the country to form a general attitude of mind and thought. Your job is an important one and if you want to see me once a week I feel I should be willing to see you, and anything that I can do through you toward this end I am willing to do. The idea largely is to make an understanding between the White House and general public. You are the interpreters to the women of the country as to what goes on politically in the legislative national life and also what the social and personal life is at the White House.76 Thirty-five women reporters attended, representing the core of the women’s press corps in the capital; they came from Washington newspapers, press associations, and Washington bureaus of metropolitan dailies. Eleanor had restricted the reporters to women, who found themselves battling for equality and suffering discrimination, in order to encourage their employment. Barred from membership in the National Press Club, which provided great access to prominent figures making news, they were routinely paid less than men. Relatively few attempted to compete with male journalists covering politics and government; most were relegated to writing features for the women’s and society pages.





The early conferences were not supposed to cover political questions, but that stipulation soon vanished. When a reporter cautioned her about an answer that could cause trouble, she said, “Perhaps I am making these statements on purpose to arouse controversy and thereby get the topics talked about.”77 Associated Press correspondent Bess Furman contrasted FDR’s and Eleanor’s styles: “At the President’s press conferences, all the world’s a stage; at Mrs. Roosevelt’s all the world’s a school.”78 By functioning as a focal point on occasion for Eleanor’s social concerns about youth, the aged, and the poverty-stricken, the press conferences called attention to inequitable socioeconomic conditions. They became a testing ground for later columns, speeches, and campaigns. For example, the administration’s interest in social security was reflected in press conferences in 1940, resulting in Eleanor’s testimony before Congress, securing improvements in substandard conditions at the District of Columbia’s Blue Plains home for the aged poor.79 Whether deliberate or not, Roosevelt also used her press conferences for New Deal image-making. In May 1933, Eleanor Roosevelt invited the press women to join her on a tour of Robert E. Lee’s Stratford ancestral home and Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home. The symbolic value was that in her remarks, she linked the Roosevelt administration to the traditional values embodied by these national historical sites. Eleanor Roosevelt did not really care about social conventions or personal appearance. For society writers, Eleanor was not a captivating subject, because while they put a premium on makeup and dress, she did not care. Dorothy Ducas, who covered Eleanor from 1933 to 1935, said, “She had no pride in her physical appearance at all. That was implicit in everything she did—she never played up her blue eyes, for example.”80 Ducas also observed that Eleanor showed little social interest and added little to the society pages. Reporter Rosamond Cole noted, “Mrs. Roosevelt wasn’t a society glamour girl . . . and she didn’t help the society pages, so maybe society reporters felt she had let them down.”81 In the White House, she did seek to improve her wardrobe, arranging more fashionable clothing at reduced rates in return for being photographed in clothing identified with the store. Questions about her wardrobe came up repeatedly, but she recognized that during the Depression years, when one-third of the population was underhoused, poorly clothed, and ill-fed, it was unwise to be seen as a clothes horse. Eleanor Roosevelt held twenty-nine conferences in 1933 and thirty-eight in 1934, the former a record number for a single year while she was in the White House. At times, the conferences were used to publicize other leading women whom she invited to meet the reporters. These guests included Madame Chiang Kai-shek and Queen Wilhelmina of Holland. She turned the conferences into a platform for prominent New Deal women, including Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins; Mary Anderson, head of the Women’s Bureau; and Dr. Louise Stanley, chief of the Bureau of Home Economics. By presenting such women, Roosevelt positioned herself at the center of a network of those involved in women’s causes, lending her ethos to their concerns. The news value of the conferences soared in early 1934, when Eleanor Roosevelt revealed that alcoholic beverages (American wine, preferably) would be served in the White House after the repeal of Prohibition. Known to be against the use of alcoholic beverages, Eleanor emphasized that she personally did not drink.82 In the spring, the press conferences became a forum for Eleanor Roosevelt to answer criticism about her involvement in the resettlement controversy at Arthurdale, a planned community for subsistence farming and factory work. By furnishing ammunition for public controversy, the conferences grew in importance. As First Lady, she held 348 press conferences in the White House; most did not make front-page news, but they did have historical impact of their own. From widening opportunities for women reporters to creating a favorable relationship between the White House and the press, the press conferences served to

solidify the First Lady’s unique qualities that set her apart from the wives of previous presidents. Eleanor Roosevelt understood mass communication’s value and through it maintained close contact with the American public. She thought that the New Deal programs would benefit the nation; she wanted to encourage participation in New Deal programs on the part of the people. But she also wanted to maintain her own separate life and career. Eleanor Roosevelt developed an approach to her audience that made her unique: she attempted to envision the audience weighing her ideas in light of their own experiences. She made her audience’s interests, problems, and activities her own and then tried, from her own context, to say things simply and meaningfully to evoke understanding. Thus she was able to identify with her listeners, to illustrate her thesis with personal, homely stories and analogies as she taught them about social issues. She saw her own career as writer and lecturer as an opportunity to point an audience toward the good, toward creating a community spirit and encouraging individual sacrifice. She accomplished change not through rebellion but by applying traditional values to changing needs. Few people ever wondered about Eleanor Roosevelt’s opinion on a given topic, as she expressed her thoughts so openly in countless trips, lectures, radio broadcasts, speeches, press conferences, books, magazine articles, and newspaper columns. A common vision runs through her rhetoric: she was unwilling to accept words instead of real solutions, and she believed that it was the responsibility of everyone to participate as active, educated citizens in making those solutions work. As she said in her last book, Tomorrow Is Now, “In the final analysis, a democratic government represents the sum total of the courage and the integrity of its individuals. It cannot be better than they are. . . . In the long run there is no more liberating, no more exhilarating experience than to determine one’s position, state it bravely and then act boldly.”83 She placed pressure on FDR’s administration to make the Four Freedoms he had championed into reality. She took advantage of her position as First Lady to educate her audience as she discussed her visions of a better America. In attempting to analyze Eleanor Roosevelt’s rhetoric, influence, and contributions to America during the New Deal, it is difficult to distinguish the blurred line between distinctly political concerns and the broader area of public policy. It is not possible here to chronicle the hundreds of programs and issues that encompassed Eleanor Roosevelt’s White House years and her journalistic and First Lady roles. The New Deal years show Roosevelt’s promotions of democratic reform through the development of educated citizens; the impact of compassionate, responsive government programs; and her championship of the unique needs of minorities and youth. As she defined her First Lady role, Eleanor Roosevelt advocated solutions for complex and controversial problems of social and political policy. Three of the causes that dominated her time and energy as First Lady during the New Deal will be examined: civil rights for African Americans, the subsistence farm homestead projects (in particular, Arthurdale, the flagship subsistence experiment), and the youth movement. As Black asserts, these were some of the issues that Roosevelt considered critical to achieving a national transformation, issues that “ER believed central to achieving true democratic reform.”84 Roosevelt thought that complacency and apathy on the part of Americans were never acceptable and that the active participation of all made a democratic nation. She urged 1938 Todhunter graduates to seek an active role in their nation, and in doing so, she revealed her own position on activism: “Don’t dry up by inaction but go out and do things. . . . [D]on’t believe what somebody else tells you, but know things by your own contacts with life. If you do that you will be of great value to the community and the world.”85





New Dealers who had solutions for almost every social problem often shied away from issues of race, and Eleanor Roosevelt understood this firsthand. Although her social status dictated a pattern of working in service for others as a matter of noblesse oblige, her upbringing had cultivated in her an image of blacks as quaint and eager to please, ignoring the fact that so many were forced via discrimination and segregation to live in poverty. She was largely unaware of racial discrimination, racial violence, or the effects of racism. Joanna Zangrando and Robert Zangrando assert that Roosevelt and her cohorts who came to positions of authority and influence in the 1920s and 1930s had been reared in presumptions of racism, in which theories of racial hierarchies abounded.86 Eleanor Roosevelt’s expressed values and social interests made her hospitable to concerns over minority needs and aspirations; contrarily, she had had limited experience with their problems before she became First Lady. During the early 1920s, when she was becoming politically active in New York, no word pertaining to African Americans surfaced in her writings or speeches. In 1928, during a lengthy article where she elaborated on the issues of the upcoming presidential election, a discussion of racial discrimination is absent.87 Yet she seems to have known that in certain social areas, black Americans were subjects of discrimination. Among her early writings is a fragment dated 1928 containing the words, “I have never attacked the South for its attitude toward the Negro.” The essay continues to suggest, however, that if southerners were going to enforce the Prohibition amendment, then they should be consistent and enforce the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments as well.88 By 1930, she was openly expressing the opinion that southerners had “brought to a free country a subject race which has cost us much and created for us a problem which is far from satisfactorily solved even today.”89 As she began to tour the nation, Eleanor Roosevelt met civil rights leaders such as National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) leader Walter White and educator Mary McLeod Bethune, who encouraged her to speak out against racism, and she witnessed firsthand the effects of segregation. Roosevelt refused to remain insulated, and by the late 1930s she was recognized as a champion for overturning racial discrimination and violence. During her terms as First Lady, she received black sharecroppers in the White House, visited them in their cotton-field shacks, initiated discussions of race relations on the front pages of newspapers and in American homes, and called for programs to create equal opportunity for all races. Two examples of her changing perceptions on race are revealed in “My Day” columns. A 24 January 1939 column revealed her thoughts on a production about Abraham Lincoln that she had attended, where she had to cross a picket line of “colored people who were barred from all District of Columbia theatres except their own. It seemed to me ironic that in the nation’s capital, there should be a ruling which would prevent this race from seeing this picture in the same theater with white people.” The same column ended by noting, “This occurrence in the nation’s capital was but a symbol of the fact that Lincoln’s plea for equality of citizenship and for freedom, has never been quite accepted in our nation.”90 In 1941, she wrote about a ban on black enlistment in the armed forces (which was overturned in 1942), saying, “You know and I know how bitterly the Negro people are disturbed over their inability to participate in national defense or to obtain employment in defense industries. Here again, there are many difficulties and complications.”91 She was outspoken on black rights long before the race riots of the 1940s, long before civil rights became a fashionable term. In fact, her emergence as a civil rights advocate lent further weight to the movement. Martin Luther King Jr. later acknowledged in the Amsterdam News on 24 November 1962 that “the courage she displayed in taking sides on matters considered controversial, gave

strength to those who risked only pedestrian loyalty and commitment to the great issues of our times.”92 Eleanor Roosevelt was tenaciously engrossed with the rights of blacks. Tamara Hareven considers Eleanor’s commitment to black rights the “best expression of her social thought and activities; it is the cardinal point upon which the various aspects of her thought converge: her faith in democracy, her struggle for social justice and equality, and her support of a pluralistic society.”93 Roosevelt called discrimination a moral issue, and she strove to bring the plight of blacks to the attention of the president and the American people. Hers was a lonely crusade. FDR was not insensitive or opposed to seeking more advantages for blacks, but it was not one of his priorities. Eleanor Roosevelt utilized a number of strategies in attempting to further civil rights causes. Her initial attempts centered on the New Deal, which she thought should treat blacks equally with whites.94 She sought and obtained employment for blacks in the National Youth Administration (NYA), the General Emergency Relief Administration (GERA), and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The need for treatment of minorities (in particular, blacks) as Americans rather than as isolated social or racial groups was one of Eleanor Roosevelt’s most distinguishing arguments. In a statement made shortly after FDR’s election to the presidency, she declared that “the fundamental, vital thing which must be alive in each human consciousness is the religious teaching that we cannot live for ourselves alone and that as long as we are here on this earth we are all of us brothers, regardless of race, creed, or color.”95 She began to include in her remarks phrases such as “Much that I am going to say tonight would apply with equal force to any of us living in this country”96 and “We must be proud of every one of our citizens, for regardless of nationality or race, every one contributes to the welfare and culture of the nation.”97 Eleanor Roosevelt demonstrated an understanding of the differences in arguments appealing to white and black audiences when speaking of civil rights issues, and she used a two-pronged approach when speaking to white and black audiences about discrimination and equality. With whites, she created arguments contrasting legal and political inequality on one side and moral inequality on the other. She could then say that discrimination was a moral inequality that would destroy the foundations of democracy. Because the government could not dictate tolerance on the part of its people, the social acceptance of equality could not be mandated. However, the government could and should eliminate laws that created barriers to equality, whether those barriers were in education, voting, justice, employment, or other areas. For example, in a “My Day” column following her visit to an institution for young black girls that did not pass inspection, she reported, Never have I seen an institution called a school which had so little claim to that name. Buildings are unfit for habitation—-badly heated, rat-infested with inadequate sanitary facilities. Children are walled in like prisoners, in spite of ample grounds and beautiful views. . . . [T]here is practically nothing but incarceration for the juvenile delinquent. Congress has already granted an appropriation to remedy some of the worst features. It will, however, take more than appropriations to set this institution straight.98 She demonstrated her philosophy on the responsibility of whites by later declaring: We must not just accept things that are wrong and placidly sit back and say, “well, people have stood that for a long while, they’ll probably live through it some time longer,” and be content with things as they are. You’ve got to want to change the things that are not satisfactory. You have got to want to do it so much that you will take some trouble about it.99



She reproached another white audience by telling them that they had a moral responsibility for problems in the black community. Roosevelt asserted that discrimination was immoral and undemocratic and that it marred the foundation of the nation. Quoting Booker T. Washington’s prediction that whites could not “keep the Negro in the gutter without staying there with him,” she argued that Americans had to stand up to the threats that discrimination posed.100 She reminded readers of the New Republic on 11 May 1942, I keep on repeating that the way to face this situation [whites’ attitudes toward blacks] is by being completely realistic. We cannot force people to accept friends for whom they have no liking, but living in a democracy it is entirely reasonable to demand that every citizen of that democracy enjoy the fundamental rights of a citizen. Over and over again, I have stressed the rights of every citizen: Equality before the law. Equality of education. Equality to hold a job according to his ability. Equality of participation through the ballot in the government. These are inherent rights in a democracy, and I do not see how we can fight this war and deny these rights to any citizen in our own land. The other relationships will gradually settle themselves once these major things are part of our accepted philosophy.101 Her arguments contrasted the realities of law and the democratic morality that superseded them. She wanted white Americans to understand that they could not write and speak about democracy and the American way “without consideration of the imperfections within our systems with regard to its treatment of the Negro” that encouraged racism.102 When speaking to blacks, Eleanor asserted that they bore as much responsibility as did whites for their conditions.103 In pragmatic terms, she stressed that they should be practical, developing skills and abilities within the existing social and political framework. She wrote in It’s Up to the Women that if she spoke to blacks, she would suggest “first of all that you concentrate on your effort on obtaining better opportunities for education.”104 She also argued that blacks should work to produce leaders who could educate people and “qualify as the best in any field of endeavor. Every time we fail, every time we don’t do our best, we don’t just let ourselves down; we let down all the others that might help if we did succeed.”105 Roosevelt voiced her increasing awareness of the need for quality education that was felt by black Americans on 11 May 1934, when she made an NBC radio address to the National Conference on Fundamentals in the Education of Negroes. In her first public speech against discrimination, she expressed dismay at an article she had read that morning detailing the different costs in some states for the education of black and white children, noting that she could not help but think “how stupid we are.” The First Lady asserted:



There are many people in this country, many white people, who have not had the opportunity for education . . . and there are also many negro people who have not had the opportunity. Both these conditions should be remedied and the same opportunities should be accorded to every child regardless of race or creed. We can have no group beaten down, underprivileged without reaction on the rest. . . . We must learn to work together, all of us regardless of race, creed or color. We must wipe out the feeling of intolerance wherever we find it, of belief that any one group can go ahead alone. . . . To deny any part of a population the opportunities for more enjoyment in life, for higher aspirations is a menace to the nation as a whole. There has been too much concentrating wealth, and even if it means that some of us have got to learn to be a little more unselfish about sharing what we have than we have in the past, we must realize that it will profit us all in the long run.

She dramatically urged the nation to address the inequities in public school funding for blacks and whites, but her most ominous prediction was also tempered with an optimistic view. Discrimination would fall if people joined together to battle it: I think the day of selfishness is over; the day of really working together has come, and we must learn to work together, all of us, regardless of race or creed or color; we must wipe out, wherever we find it, any feeling of intolerance, of belief that any one group can go ahead alone. We go ahead together or we go down together.106 Her call for universal education was remarkable in its tone, and the educators attending the conference officially condemned educational segregation, the first time that had been done. Harvard Sitkoff concludes that Roosevelt’s speech inspired activists in Washington and throughout the country: “Certainly, no individual did more to alter the relationship between the New Deal and the cause of civil rights.”107 As she began giving public voice to her feelings on civil rights, she also began to exercise her influence in other ways as well. She became friends with the NAACP’s Walter White and the New York’s Division of Negro Affairs chief Mary McLeod Bethune, who helped to shape the First Lady’s perceptions of problems facing black Americans. In fact, Eleanor credited her friendship with Bethune for helping her to move into racial awareness, calling her the “closest friend in [my] own age group.”108 Eleanor assisted activists by raising their legislative concerns with the president. One example of this consciousness raising was a proposed federal antilynching bill in 1934. During the Depression, there was a resurgence of lynching; in 1933, there were twenty-eight lynchings, with twenty-four of the victims being blacks. Walter White was a strong proponent of the antilynching measure; however, he could not get in to speak with the president until Eleanor arranged the meeting. FDR was not opposed to the bill, but he told White that he had to work with Congress, and since a majority of the important committees were chaired by southerners, he had to be judicious in supporting certain controversial issues in fear of alienating them. He commented, “I did not choose the tools with which I must work. If I come out for the anti-lynching bill now, they will block every bill I ask Congress to pass to keep America from collapsing. I just can’t take the risk.”109 The bill never did come up for a vote, and FDR’s support for black social equality was viewed by Eleanor as lukewarm at best. Throughout FDR’s first two terms, there was no legislation or executive move that was directed toward reducing disadvantages for blacks. Eleanor recalled in her autobiography “wanting to get allout support for the anti-lynching bill and the removal of the poll tax, but though Franklin was in favor of both measures, they never became ‘must’ legislation. When I would protest, he would simply say: ‘First things come first, and I can’t alienate certain votes I need for measures that are more important at the moment by pushing any measure that would entail a fight.’”110 Grandson David Roosevelt suggests that “perhaps no other issue created a greater philosophical division between her and her husband” than did Eleanor’s commitment to civil rights.111 The respectful place that she set for her black listeners earned the praise of the black press. Eleanor Roosevelt’s ethos in the black community remained compelling; in December 1935 her picture appeared on Opportunity’s cover, and the magazine hailed her National Urban League’s twenty-fifth anniversary commemorative address as being “unparalleled in the history of America. . . . [N]ever before has a First Lady made a plea in behalf of fair play and equal opportunity for Negro citizens.”112 The Chicago Defender pointed out that during one of her major



speeches, “Not once . . . did she find it necessary to refer to the racial identity of the audience. . . . Her utterances bespoke a genuine interest in the major problems which confront, and have confronted American Democracy.”113 In the minds of many, Eleanor’s image merged with that of her husband, and if FDR was unable to risk an outspoken position, his wife could still assure black audiences that those at the top were against discrimination. She would subject herself to vilification by racists and to congressional ire, and FDR could remain above the fray. Her surrogacy was a political advantage: the Roosevelt name could be placed on the side of an issue that the president could not politically endorse. Eleanor remembered, “I knew that many of my racial beliefs and activities in the field of social work caused great concern. They [FDR’s advisers] were afraid that I would hurt my husband politically and socially, and I imagine they thought I was doing many things without Franklin’s knowledge and agreement. On occasion they blew up to him and to other people.”114 The implication of Eleanor’s statement is that she did have her husband’s consent for her stands on racial matters. It is impossible to believe that FDR, with his great sense of political realities, was not aware of the advantages he derived from his wife’s public statements. Her willingness to speak out allowed him to assume two different attitudes at the same time. Eleanor Roosevelt fused the administration’s reputation to her own by praising New Deal agencies as though they were directed exclusively toward blacks. After praising black artists in a speech before the National Urban League, for example, she said, “Perhaps the NYA is beginning to take advantage of their opportunity and is showing to the country as a whole what a contribution can be made to the culture and the art of this nation. And I am sure that the WPA and its art program have given many of us an opportunity to know Negro artists that we would never have known otherwise.”115 Eleanor’s linking of black benefits with administration policies helped to further a pro-black attitude that her disparagers derided. It should not be inferred that political considerations were paramount in Eleanor Roosevelt’s concern for greater justice. She demonstrated in small gestures and fundamental stands that she possessed a deep belief in the evils of discrimination. A small sampling of her actions reveals her willingness to engage blacks in democratic activity inside and outside of the White House. She held receptions for black leaders and student groups at the White House. The National Council of Negro Women met there occasionally. She hosted sixty students (mostly black) from the National Training School for Girls in Washington to a garden party at the White House. When she was attending the meeting of the Southern Conference on Human Welfare in Birmingham, Alabama, Eleanor recalled The meetings . . . were attended by both colored and white people, although they were segregated in the meeting place. Aubrey Williams and I were late at one session and dashed into the church where the meeting was being held and sat down on the colored side. At once the police appeared to remind us of the rules and regulations on segregation. I was told that I could not sit on the colored side. Rather than give in I asked that chairs be placed for us with the speakers, facing the whole group.116



She attempted to include a black reporter in her weekly press conferences. She urged appointment of Mary McLeod Bethune to a leadership position in the NYA. She forwarded hundreds of letters detailing racial violence and discrimination to presidential advisers Harry Hopkins and Aubrey Williams.117 Correspondence at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park details her appeals and thoughts to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes concerning civil rights issues. Walter White and the presidents of black universities received invitations to the

White House in 1934 to discuss the depth of institutional racism. Civil rights activist Pauli Murri developed a lifelong friendship with Eleanor, and by 1940 the two women had promoted National Sharecroppers Week and organized the National Committee to Abolish the Poll Tax. They bonded over issues as diverse as defending a sharecropper charged with premeditated murder to collaborating on a report for President John F. Kennedy’s Commission on the Status of Women in 1961. Eleanor Roosevelt’s instrumental support, activity, and influence in the administration gave black leaders and the rank and file the sense that there was a real voice for them in the White House. Perhaps the most prominent contribution that Eleanor Roosevelt made to equal opportunity for blacks came through a rhetoric of public action. When Marian Anderson, the famous contralto, was invited to the White House in 1936 to sing for the Roosevelts, she made a lifelong friend. Three years later, Anderson was denied access to sing in the Daughters of the American Revolution’s (DAR) Constitution Hall because of her race. This enraged Eleanor Roosevelt, a DAR life member, who demonstrated her distress by highlighting in word and action the discriminatory conduct of the prestigious organization. She discussed the situation in nonthreatening terms with which the majority of her readers could identify, and she described the moral impasse in her 28 February 1939 newspaper column, The question is, if you belong to an organization and disapprove of an action which is typical of a policy, should you resign or is it better to work for a changed point of view within the organization? In the past, when I was able to work actively in any organization to which I belonged, I have usually stayed in until I had at least made a fight and been defeated. Even then, I have, as a rule, accepted my defeat and decided I was wrong or, perhaps, a little too far ahead of the thinking of the majority at that time. But in this case, I belong to an organization in which I can do no active work. They have taken an action which has been widely talked of in the press. To remain as a member implies approval of that action, and therefore I am resigning.118 Roosevelt did not name the incident and did not identify the organization, but the power of her understated words outlined the problem and her response to it. She put discrimination, Marian Anderson, and the DAR’s action on the national stage, moving the dialogue into a much broader arena. The moral argument outweighed the organizational one. Her resignation received widespread national approval; the New York Times estimated that two-thirds of the people questioned about it agreed with her stance.119 Anderson’s failure to procure a Washington concert venue was overturned when the Interior Department, with Eleanor Roosevelt’s intercession, allowed her to use space adjoining the Lincoln Memorial, where she presented a concert before an audience estimated at 75,000 people on Easter Sunday, 9 April 1939. After the concert, Eleanor Roosevelt invited Anderson to the White House to perform for visiting British royalty and later presented the Springarn Medal to her at the NAACP national convention in Richmond, Virginia, the birthplace of the Confederacy. In a speech to the overflowing crowd, which was broadcast live nationwide over NBC radio, Roosevelt said that people must not only confront discrimination they encounter, but they also must be ready to sacrifice their individual desires so that “improvement in the opportunities for people” that society pass over could be obtained.120 Eleanor Roosevelt’s advocacy of the rights of blacks made her offensive to many southerners, who took the opportunity to revile her in the press and in cartoons. Wrath against her below the Mason-Dixon Line began to demonstrate itself in 1935, when the Georgia Woman’s World published photos of Eleanor with blacks and circulated rumors about “Eleanor Clubs,” mythical organizations supposedly urging black servants to refuse to work for white women.121 In early 1936,



delegates to the southern Democrats’ convention found on every seat a copy of the Georgia Woman’s World, which featured a large photo of Eleanor Roosevelt being escorted by two black Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) officers during a visit to Howard University. To it was added a crude drawing that depicted the First Lady dancing with a black man, bearing the caption “Nigger Lover: Eleanor.”122 Her civil rights activities were exploited in the South by extremists and demagogues: that she had ridden in an open car with a black woman on the way to a major speech; that she had given a small black child a flower; that she fed another black child at a picnic. All were described as major negative instances of Eleanor’s behavior. Eleanor refused to respond to these attacks. Republicans had hoped to win the South by exploiting the racial issue, but the South again voted solidly Democratic. By the latter part of FDR’s second term, Eleanor Roosevelt’s efforts on behalf of African Americans had begun to make substantial progress. She was not necessarily a visionary about what could be accomplished, but what she spoke for was in the classic American value tradition: equal opportunity. New Deal civil rights historians report that there was no more ardent champion of the civil rights agenda within the administration than the First Lady.123 Eleanor Roosevelt had a lifelong belief that education was a key to winning this goal, as she noted when speaking to a group of black educators: “[I cannot] help but think how stupid we are in some ways, for of course in any democracy the one important thing is to see as far as possible that every child receives at least the best education that the child is able to assimilate. But we have been slow, many of us who are of the white race, in realizing how important [it is] to our race, that you should have the best educational opportunities.”124 In addition to educational opportunity, Eleanor Roosevelt advocated equal opportunity for training and holding jobs. “We know quite well that we cannot expect anyone who has had a limited opportunity to do as well in one generation or two generations as do people who have had for many generations every opportunity.”125 Eleanor Roosevelt’s stands reaped political dividends for FDR’s administration, but that was a side effect. Her objective remained to help wipe out racial injustice in the best interests of democracy. In her 1940 book The Moral Basis of Democracy, she wrote: Moreover, no one can honestly claim that either the Indians or the Negroes of this country are free. These are obvious examples of conditions which are not compatible with the theory of Democracy. We have poverty which enslaves, and racial prejudice which does the same. There are other racial and religious groups among us who labor under certain discriminations, not quite so difficult as those we impose on the negroes and the Indians, but still sufficient to show we do not completely practice the Democratic way of life.126 Roy Wilkins, former executive director of the NAACP, in assessing the New Deal’s contribution to civil rights, said that Eleanor Roosevelt was a true friend of blacks: “The personal touches and the personal fight against discrimination were Mrs. Roosevelt’s. That attached to [Franklin D.] Roosevelt also—he couldn’t hardly get away from it—and he reaped the political benefit from it.”127 Other black leaders and media recognized her contributions to civil rights. Zangrando and Zangrando describe the reactions of African Americans:



The Chicago Defender, on noting her death in November 1962, said that the black community mourned her. “A hushed silence fell in negro homes across the nation as families heard the sad but expected news that Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the World, had died. They knew they had lost the most outstanding champion of Negroes in the nation.” The New York Amsterdam News said, “whether in praise or criticism millions credit Mrs. Roosevelt with

being a major inspiration and force in the improvement of the status of Negroes over the past 30 years.” The NAACP board of directors said that Eleanor had given “Negro Americans an understanding of their individual worth and capabilities and their rights and responsibilities as American citizens.”128 As an aspect of the efforts of the government to improve black political, legal, economic, and social rights, Eleanor’s forceful moral leadership was vital. It is doubtful that black advancement would have taken place on the scale it did or at the time it did without her active intervention. A Pittsburgh Courier editorial eulogizing her said that “she gave Americans of all races and colors a living example of what interracial relations should be, without mawkish sentimentality or condescension.”129 She brought the prestige of her name and position as the first First Lady to espouse openly a concern for civil rights, and to possess a political finesse, and a spirit of dedication that resulted in very substantial achievement for black Americans. Blacks were not the sole American group that suffered, since the breadth of the Depression meant that virtually every citizen was affected. The Roosevelt administration, confronted with unprecedented distress, believed that a correspondingly massive counterattack led by the national government could bring about recovery. The New Deal, with its unheard of relief methods and its inclusive attack on unemployment, inadequate education, and social ills, was designed to improve the plight of all types of people. Eleanor Roosevelt’s efforts to forge administration objectives reflected her own hopes and desires. She accomplished more solid results in some areas than in others. One of the earliest failed ventures in which Eleanor Roosevelt’s role in New Deal programs evoked heated debate concerned the administration’s program for subsistence homesteads. Her initial interests in such projects began with FDR’s first term and reached its height by the mid-1930s. While she may have had the best moral intentions, her lack of practicality and fiscal responsibility aided in dooming the project. Her devotion to the homesteaders she befriended at Arthurdale, the first of the subsistence homesteads, was palpable; her humanitarian instincts humanized the plight of overlooked groups. At the same time, the lack of balance between her idealism and practicality probably added to the likelihood of failure. Beasley calls the Arthurdale project “the most conspicuous of Mrs. Roosevelt’s ventures into administration programs.”130 As with civil rights, her participation showed the power of the First Lady in recognizing human problems and charging ahead to solve them. The moral imperative to make life better outweighed any practical realities. The ideological roots of early subsistence homesteads came from traditional American values, including agrarian nostalgia (a back-to-the-land value), pioneer vitality, community spirit, and the desire to return to roots. Supporters of subsistence homesteads believed that the poor could be moved from squalid surroundings to thriving new rural communities, on homestead land furnished by the government. Eleanor Roosevelt shared many of these values, noting in an early 1930s speech at Cornell University, “My own roots lie in the soil and the love of nature and country life, but perhaps that is why I feel so strongly that it is from our rural home dwellers that we must hope for vision and determination to bring again contentment and well-being into the homes of our nation.”131 Eleanor Roosevelt’s sentiments toward the advantages of a country environment melded with her desires to eradicate horrible social conditions. In a 12 July 1932 radio address, she voiced her conviction that America had to return to the values of community spirit, praising early pioneers who felt responsible for each other. She called for a return to those values, suggesting that they were not “new” at all: “one of the most important and violent of the ‘new ideas’ necessary to





mankind today is the realization that no civilization can last where even a small percentage of the people have to struggle against impossible social conditions. We cannot go on thinking of ourselves alone. We must begin to think and plan for the race as a whole.”132 This call for a return to past values, contrasting with current laws and societal isolation, reflects Roosevelt’s arguments on the purpose of a democracy as being a place where all citizens enjoyed the same rights. It highlighted her convictions that the way in which individuals could improve their lives (and achieve those rights) was through access to decent housing, education, medical care, and an improved environment, which the government could encourage. FDR shared Eleanor’s belief that the rural life was superior to an urban one, but where her view of homesteads was an idealistic opportunity to restore broken spirits, he understood the practical value of decentralization, of moving people out of the city slums. As New York governor, he had advocated the development of rural-industrial communities.133 In the late 1920s and early 1930s, there were pockets of Americans who were living in conditions that were a national disgrace: minimally productive farms (which Eleanor named rural slums), generational unemployment, and lack of educational opportunity. FDR created the Subsistence Homestead Division in August 1933, with the experimental goal of moving people back to the land and to marry agriculture and industry. The program had been authorized by the National Recovery Act, an omnibus bill that included a revolving fund of $25 million to pay for the Subsistence Homestead appropriation, under which, over time, a million families might be resettled into planned communities. The government would buy the land, build the houses, acquire the livestock and farm machinery, and bring in roads, water, and utilities. The homesteaders would have thirty years in which to pay.134 According to Paul K. Conkin, the federal government came up with three distinct types of subsistence homestead projects. The first would consist of communities of part-time farmers living near industrial employment. The second would showcase all-rural communities for resettled farmers. The third would be communities with newly decentralized industry, what Conkin called the most experimental and most controversial.135 Arthurdale, in which Eleanor plunged her hopes and energies, was of the third type.136 The administrative hierarchy of the Subsistence Homestead Division was split among several New Deal agencies. The parent agency was the National Recovery Administration (NRA), but the public works aspects fell under Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes; under Ickes, Milburn L. Wilson was theoretically head of the division. There were to be ninety-nine such projects constructed by the government as part of the New Deal’s planned community program, whose mission was to provide social and economic rehabilitation for scores of mining families trapped in depressed coal camps. Each project would have an executive committee; in Arthurdale’s case, it was comprised of Wilson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Louis Howe, and University of West Virginia extension agent Bushrod Grimes. Further, the executive committee had subcommittees, often comprised of one person. Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the Subcommittee on Admissions and was solely responsible for the Population Committee; there were also Industrial and Electrification Subcommittees. Such an administrative morass handicapped the enterprise from the start. In addition, Arthurdale attracted the most interest of the projects, not only because it was the first begun and completed but also because Eleanor Roosevelt attached her unrelenting support and personal attention to it. Arthurdale took on a somewhat exaggerated importance to its defenders and critics. To critics, it was an extreme example of bureaucratic waste and bungling, as well as teary-eyed idealism. To its defenders, it was so innovative that it would be the prototype for the fundamental reorienting and reorganizing of American citizens back to lost values. Eleanor Roosevelt had made an initial tour of the coal-mining region around Morgantown, West Virginia, during the summer of 1933, accompanied by Clarence

Pickett of the American Friends Service Committee. She was able to travel largely unrecognized because she had not yet been photographed enough to be widely known. She spent the day going from house to house, talking to the miners and their wives, taking notes as she went. With these visits, she began to develop several narratives that she used to define the people who were to be part of the resettlement efforts. Her narratives would portray the people as in need of the government’s assistance to help themselves out of the morass in which they found themselves. In her memoirs, she recounted the tale of one home, where she met an employed miner who produced his pay envelope; after deductions, the miner had less than $1 per week to care for his six children. As she left the house, two of the children stood in the doorway, one little boy holding his pet white rabbit. His sister told Eleanor, “He thinks we are not going to eat it, but we are.”137 This narrative would be repeated in later speeches and essays as Roosevelt illustrated the despair felt by the subsistence families. She was deeply moved by the harsh conditions she witnessed, most notably at a place called Scott’s Run, where the mines had been almost entirely inoperative since 1920. There was inadequate food, houses that offered little protection from the elements and lacked plumbing and bedding, health crises, and beaten down citizens. Recalling this early trip, she discussed her dreams of what subsistence communities could achieve in providing currently deprived citizens with opportunities to earn enough to help themselves. In a 25 April 1935 address before the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) she reminisced: For many years I had been hearing about conditions in the West Virginia and Kentucky mining fields, particularly in the tent colonies in West Virginia, but my contribution had been purely a financial one and for that reason I did very little about it. Finally, a friend of mine who was working for the Federal Relief Administration urged me to go down and see the work which the Friends Service Committee was doing near Fairmont and Morgantown, West Virginia, and that is how I came in contact for the first time with the work of this Committee. I saw the shop where the unemployed miners were making furniture. I went through a number of camps and brought back with me essays written on “home” by a group of mothers attending a clinic in one of the camps. I saw the gardens which you had fostered and returned with a feeling that you were accomplishing as much as any group could accomplish under extremely difficult conditions. In telling the story, I was able to interest certain government officials in that part of the country and that led to the establishment of the first subsistence homestead nearby. This homestead has received much unfavorable comment and like all experiments, there undoubtedly have been mistakes made. I am much more concerned over these mistakes but I feel however, that if through them we are able to acquire knowledge as to what can be done with people and for people who have been through the most disheartening conditions and long unemployment, we will have gained through our experiment a knowledge which may be of value all over the country. The subsistence homestead has, of course, possibilities for good and for harm, but I feel if intelligently developed, it should be of service not only to groups of people but to the industries in which these people are employed. When I found that I could earn a certain amount of money on the radio, I realized that the FSC was doing work of the type in which I was interested and it was an organization with which I could associate myself. Their program of longtime rehabilitation seems to me to fit with a philosophy which I have always held, namely, that while charity may be necessary, our aim should be to get people back to a point where they can look after themselves. I have never felt that people should be grateful for charity. They should be resentful and so



should we at the circumstances which make charity a necessity. The FSC seems to me to work toward building up people’s own initiative and security, and therefore, I have been particularly happy to be able to work with them in a few details. The health work in Logan County, West Virginia; the school at Arthurdale; the development of handicraft in both Arthurdale and in my own home town of Hyde Park; the scholarship and aid given to certain girls from the mining camps, all these things I hope mean better education, better living conditions, and in the end, greater security for the human beings effected [sic].138 By defending the need for projects like Arthurdale, Roosevelt argued that individuals could improve their lives and achieve lost rights through access to decent housing, education, medical care, and an improved community environment, all to be provided by the government. An example of this came in an address at Vassar College in 1937. Recounting conditions she saw when she first traveled to West Virginia, she reminisced: I think housing is a fundamental problem throughout the country as a whole. You will find that practically all of your difficulties in your community spring out of the housing situation. Where you have very bad housing, you are going to have juvenile delinquency and you are going to have young people who are undernourished and because they are undernourished and badly cared for and haven’t proper homes to go to, they are going to get into trouble of all kinds.139 She went on to describe taking friends to one of the mining towns, recounting the poor conditions: The house was up a steep hill; there was an iron bed with springs but no mattress, just one thin blanket, and the roof leaked. The kitchen had a table, one chair, a few rusty iron pots, two cracked dishes, and one cup. The man was a miner and he had not washed and was just as black as when he came out of the mine. There were no showers or bath at the mouth of that mine so the men could wash. The two children were in that room crouched in the corner on a pile of bags collected from anywhere, had never been washed. The room was grimy with dirt. I have a number of friends who say “you get all wrought up at the things you see. Of course, you couldn’t live there, but these people do not feel the same way. It does not mean the same thing to them as it would to you.” I suppose you do get accustomed to almost anything and you get to a point where you haven’t any fight left in you, but I think a great many people put up a tremendous fight against tremendous odds. The fact that many of us do not know about these conditions and when we see them do not understand them, is what makes that fight so hard. If more of us really knew these people who work very hard in an effort to ameliorate things that seem almost impossible to get away from, it would give these people some hope, at least.140



Eleanor saw Arthurdale (and other resettlement communities) as places where individuals could improve their lives. But they also represented something more than that visible goal: they represented courage, community, chance, and a return to what America had lost. These visions might be characterized as extravagant, because she was calling for community building based upon lost values of citizens’ rights, tinged by her own version of utopia. In a speech in Baltimore on 13 October 1933, she asserted that the nation’s goal had to be the creation of “a new social order based on real religion rooted in people leading the lives they would live if they really wished to follow in Christ’s footsteps.”141

In January 1934, Eleanor Roosevelt began to convert her visions of this great social experiment into reality. She thought that the government not only could rescue “stranded” miners from poverty but would transform an entirely new American way of life as well. In an address in June 1934 to the homesteaders, she said, I want you to succeed not only for yourselves, but for what it will mean to people everywhere, North, South, East and West, who are starting similar projects. You are the first and your success will hearten these people. Some of them will have worse troubles than you, for they are building their own homes and will make mistakes.142 In an article entitled “Subsistence Farming” dated April 1934, she provided a romanticized view of the people that the program would aid, writing, The government experiment near Reedsville, West Virginia, is planning for one hundred and twenty-five families chosen from those miners who are permanently out of work. The land chosen is good land with hills and a certain amount of valley bottom which is typical of much of the West Virginia farming land. The West Virginia College of Agriculture had made a study of unemployed miners’ families and found that many of them only came to the mines within the last few years, attracted by the very high wages paid for a short time. These high wages, alas, lasted not even long enough in some cases to pay for the electric and the Ford car bought on the installment plan and the homes are all deprived of improvements. The conditions in the mining villages were so bad that many of the families who had come from farms longed to return to the land. For the first experiment families will be carefully chosen. Both the husband, the wife and the children and their ancestry will be considered in making the final decision. A government factory will supply the industry end. Every house will have five acres of land. There will be some land suitable for pasture only, which will be owned by the community. The houses, while very simple, are being planned to meet the needs and aspirations of the people who are going to live in them. They want certain very definite things, a chance to be clean, a shower or a bath tub in every house, a suitable tub in which to wash their clothes, enough room so that each member of the family might have a bed of his own. These desires will give you a picture of some of the things which they lack in their present houses.143 But Arthurdale was not simply an experiment in returning to values coupled with the encouragement of self-help. It also became a national example of bureaucratic bungling and allegations of socialism. An examination of these administrative mistakes illustrates the contrast between Eleanor’s idealistic view of people returning to lost values and the harsh realties of social experimentation. The first administrative Arthurdale blunder was in Louis Howe’s predictions that upon the purchase of the Richard M. Arthur estate in early 1934, families would be in their new $2,000 homes by Christmas. He ordered fifty prefabricated houses, which turned out to be inadequate due to their light summer construction and nonfitting foundations. They were ten by forty feet, consisting of prefabricated sections bolted together. The interior walls were made of a sheathing of building paper and a thickness of fiber wallboard, with no other insulation (in fact, the manufacturer advertised them as vacation homes). The original heating was to be supplied by a $15 wood-burning stove and the kitchen range.144 Eleanor Roosevelt discovered Howe’s housing mistake, but her attempts to correct it worsened the situation; the architect who redesigned Howe’s prefabs to fit their foundations created a design that was unworkable, and the foundations had to be revised as well. This nearly tripled the costs of house construction from its original $2,000 estimate. The actual cost of the homes and outbuildings averaged



$8,665, including forty larger and more expensive houses constructed later. 145 Eleanor and her friend Nan Cook helped to design the home’s furniture and interiors, and they selected beautiful and expensive (but impractical) pieces made of maple, pine, and poplar, constructed by the Mountaineer Craftsmen’s Cooperative Association. Each home received a double bed, four single beds, two chests, three tables, a crib, cabinets, cupboards, tables, and chairs. Each home was also graced with linen, curtains, and tapestry; while the women homesteaders made curtains, sheets, and pillowcases, they were paid out of Civil Works Administration funds. Roosevelt justified such “extravagances” in a later editorial: “The root of good social living lies in decent housing. For home owning represents what America represents—an inner urge for independence, a willingness to sacrifice, a willingness to work, and work hard, for the things we want with all the strength and courage and ideals that are in us.”146 She also dismissed critics of the expenses in her autobiography, noting, The homestead projects were attacked in Congress, for the most part by men who had never seen for themselves the plight of the miners or what we were trying to do for them. There is no question that much money was spent, perhaps some of it unwisely. . . . Nevertheless, I have always felt that many human beings who might have cost us thousands of dollars in tuberculosis sanitariums, insane asylums, and jails were restored to usefulness and given confidence in themselves.147 Roosevelt’s defense argued that mistakes were secondary if the end goal of “the good” was achieved. As she remarked in a 1939 New York Times interview, “Over and over again, I have felt that all the money that some people have said was foolishly spent [at Arthurdale], or even wasted, is well expended if it brings some happiness to those who need it, some security where before the future held nothing but terror.”148 This type of rejoinder painted the opposition as heartless and evil, while those who favored the experiment were humanitarians and good. In a later reminiscence about Arthurdale in her autobiography, she concluded, “Oh, yes, the human values were most rewarding, even if the financial returns to the government were not satisfactory.”149 Her romantic, naively idealized image of the hardworking people led Eleanor Roosevelt to present narratives of pioneering women capable of humanizing even the most degrading conditions. Another of her favorite repeated narratives involved how the women made a house into a home. In a 1933 article entitled “They Keep Their Power to Dream” (and later published as a “My Day” column), she described such women:



In the mining industry the general problem has been for the men their unemployment. There is another problem, that of the miners’ wives. This is not an unemployment problem, because the work goes on incessantly from morning until night, but the wherewithal to make that work in any way successful is not always at hand. These workers are wives of the unemployed miners. In spite of the conditions under which they live, they keep their power to dream. In one mother’s club conducted by the relief workers, they had an essay contest on “What Home Means to Me” and out of the old magazines which the relief workers gathered, some of these women compiled scrap-books and wrote around them, making what one woman called “My House o’ Dreams.” One of these essays began “I tries to make my home a home of love.” I have a feeling that even good seed does not grow readily unless the ground where it is sown is fertile ground, and somehow it seems to me that these West Virginia people are good ground to cultivate for future citizens.150

Such narratives reflected Eleanor’s conception of the people being given this chance to start again. They represented the best in what America had been losing; they understood home and hearth; they still could dream of what could be. On 7 June 1934 Arthurdale celebrated its formal opening, although the first 50 homes were incomplete and not occupied. By 15 July, 43 were occupied and construction of another 150 more was planned. Of all the interests Eleanor Roosevelt pursued at Arthurdale, none claimed greater attention than the development of its school. Eleanor had long believed that education was the road to equal opportunity. Biographer Blanche Wiesen Cook observes that initially, Roosevelt believed that Arthurdale’s progressive educational system might transform all of society: “Men and women will finally learn how to live happily and securely together. . . . They will develop in an economy of peace and plenty rather than competition and want.”151 In a 1934 speech to the DAR defending Arthurdale’s educational system and cooperative living, Eleanor noted: I have been interested in many of the efforts that have been going to change these conditions, and of course the vital thing, the thing which will bring about a change, is education but it is a different kind of education, perhaps, from what we would have in many of our schools in more populous areas of the country because those districts need agricultural education; they need the education that comes through books but it is easier for them frequently to get to their books through the things that they do with their hands. And the most useful school probably is a school which teaches vocations, which teaches how to live, how to earn a living, and how to run a house. These schools are primarily vocational schools which we consider really useful to our mountain people because they teach home economics, agriculture, and trades of different kinds. Now, the reason that I would like to see us take a tremendous interest in education of the kind that I visualize, which will prepare people for living better, which will make this possible for them, is that I feel that we are living today in a world where on every hand we hear people talk of war—war as an inevitable thing. . . . I believe in being willing to die for your country when it is necessary, but I do believe strongly that it is more important to lend all of our efforts to education and elimination of the things which bring us to the point where we have to send out young people to die for their country.152 Arthurdale boasted a unique educational system for the times. The six school buildings were constructed in a row and consisted of an administration building, gymnasium, nursery school, primary department, elementary school, and high school. In its progressive curriculum, the school would emphasize practical learning experience rather than abstract or theoretical learning. Students were to be active learners using their hands, minds, and senses. School was to be the center of community life; social and recreational activities such as square dances, music programs, night classes, and a health clinic were to be located there. The curriculum featured the creative arts, including an annual summer music festival and drama program. The school was not accredited because the curriculum did not meet state standards (for example, science was aimed at utility. Students studied plant and animal life, geology, and organic chemistry; botany classes conducted experiments in the cultivation of plants and soil testing). Arthurdale also featured a nursery school, where children went when they were two or three years old and where preand postnatal instruction was given to mothers. The methods used to teach the small children became a widely known model, where children used wooden blocks constructed in the high school shop and learned self-expression through creative painting. In the elementary grades, no examinations or formal teaching





existed; instead, it was boasted that students received a new economic and social freedom; teaching methods included example, discussion, and practical work rather than formal lectures and drill. Problems in the school arose not only because of lack of accreditation but also because of the dearth of financial support. Only large outside subsidies from Eleanor Roosevelt, gained through her writing and speaking projects, allowed the specially trained staff to be paid. There was high staff turnover as well. In addition, the majority of homesteaders seemed to fear that their children were receiving too unorthodox of an education; they did not envision the value in the experiment. As a result, the Arthurdale school was turned over to the Preston County school system in 1936 and became a more traditional educational experience. Unemployment of the miners was a major homesteader issue, and the government’s early promises of light industry were largely failures. Eleanor’s attempts to procure industry for Arthurdale initially involved a government contract with the Post Office Department. Debate concerning this project arose in the House of Representatives in January 1934 when Representative Louis Ludlow (D-Ind.) attached an amendment on a postal appropriations bill blocking authorization of such a project, arguing that such manufacturing would injure private companies presently under contract with the Post Office Department. Upon the failure of that attempted venture, Eleanor Roosevelt persuaded Gerard Swope of the General Electric Company to set up a vacuum cleaner assembly plant in the area, but the operation was such a financial loss that within one year the company canceled its contract. Later ventures also failed, including a cooperative dairy and crop farm, a poultry farm, and other agricultural and retail cooperatives, which could provide employment for small numbers of people. By late 1934, both Ickes and Howe were beginning to voice publicly their strong doubts over the entire project. Ickes’s diary reveals the doubts that began to surface, when he wrote, “Of course, the Reedsville [Arthurdale] project is just one big headache.”153 He later noted, “Mrs. Roosevelt took the project under her protecting wing with the result that we have been spending money down there like drunken sailors—money that we can never hope to get out of the project.”154 A prominent aspect of the homesteads was the emphasis on a revival of traditional American craftsmanship, as opposed to the Industrial Revolution’s massproduced items. This reflected Eleanor Roosevelt’s idealism in a return to a more utopian time, where people in communities created what they needed and shared what they made. Eleanor also believed that handicrafts would lead to vocations in metalworking, pottery making, and weaving, and in turn these would awaken longabsent values of pride in one’s work. She had created such a private scheme in the 1925, called Val-Kill, located on the Roosevelt grounds at Hyde Park, where reproductions of famous early American pieces were constructed by unemployed farm youth. Eleanor argued that a person should put his or her heart into work, that striving for excellence was a worthwhile goal, and that recapturing the traditional methods of production would lead to a more civilized society. Arthurdale’s handicrafts industry was centered in the shop of the Mountaineer Craftsmen’s Cooperative Association, which was located in the community center. In 1934, addressing members of the Rural Homecrafts Project, she asserted, “Home industries will constitute a busy part of a new rural life in America. The result, if predictions are true, will get the worker out of the congested cities into the country, and who with his rural neighbor will not only cultivate land but will develop handicrafts eventually to grow into small industrial plants as a part of the economic and industrial settlement.”155 As can be imagined, such misgivings against industrialization and machines did not receive a receptive response from many businesspeople. Despite her idealistic optimism, Arthurdale did not meet Eleanor’s visions of a fundamental reorientation of society to idyllic long-lost values of pioneer vitality,

self-reliance, and community spirit. The initial conception was that once deprived citizens could make a living, the projects would be virtually self-fulfilling and maintaining. In reality, the Mountaineer Craftsmen’s Cooperative Association, housing a loom, forge, and furniture factory, gave continuous employment to twelve craftsmen. Most of the other men found employment in the continuing construction of homes or other buildings. Subsistence plots, although providing garden crops and livestock products, never replaced the need for a cash income. By 1936, there were plans to turn Arthurdale over to a homestead association, as soon as there was full employment. But with each business failure, the homesteaders lost hope of such a dream. Governmental critics became more strident in their public attacks. The congressional debate on the Post Office factory, the overspending on the homes, and charges that Communist revolutions were being planned in West Virginia were echoed and analyzed by the press. Eleanor Roosevelt took on the critics by saying that experiments by their very nature may have some failures. She attempted to shift the attention from the “minor” details to the larger picture, as demonstrated in this 1936 statement: In every new development, there must be some experimentation, in this case the first project started up is being used as a laboratory. The experience gained here will be of service to all the other homestead projects, not only in organization, but in the types of houses built and in the general direction of both agriculture and industry and the building of a new social condition. The real objective of the whole subsistence homestead movement, the importance of this movement lies in the fact that it is trying to devise a means whereby the industrial worker who at present lives and labors in the big factory cities of the country and the agricultural laborer who at present depends exclusively for his entire living on what, which sometimes most unscientific knowledge, he can wring from the ground, can both be given an opportunity to live a more abundant life by engaging in both occupations simultaneously. This is not only an experiment for the workers, but it is also an experiment for employers of the industrial label. If life for the factory workers and for the farm people may be made easier and better, then we have made a worthwhile experiment which may perhaps have far reaching results in the future. The idea itself is a new departure in our economic life; therefore, it is fitting that the government should take the initial steps and find out if it is feasible and advantageous thing to do. I sometimes wonder whether people stop to think how much money has gone into experiments in various industries. That money represented faith and courage and brought in return material fortunes to the men who experimented. The government is now asking its people to have faith and courage enough to put a little money into experimenting in new methods of living. The returns may not be great materially, but if these people are permanently established in a manner which will raise their standard of living and their purchasing power, it will improve our entire economic situation. There are intangible returns of health and strength and happiness which will mean far more than any mere sums of money which may come to us as a result of this successful experimentation. Many lives which seemed hopeless a year ago have been changed and I think the pride with which homesteaders anywhere in the country show their new homes is proof enough that this government experiment is worthwhile.156 In a 1935 commencement address at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Eleanor Roosevelt articulated her convictions that returning a spark of hope to people would manifest itself in further self-help. She pointed out to graduates: I am going to tell you about one encouragement that came to me the other day to illustrate the fact that sometimes you get encouragement when you least



expect it. There is a certain group of people in whom I have been very much interested. They happen to have taken up land in a government homestead, they were drawn from various mining camps and had lived just about a year as a homesteader’s community. This group of people had lived before under very bad conditions; the older boys and girls had knocked around mining camps, having left school in the fifth and sixth grade and had become pretty much the kind of stuff that makes criminals and the younger children were sadly undernourished but in one year these people built up a school which is a center for the entire community. They are not making much money but the are making a new life with a new set of objectives and a new set of ideals. One of the old foremen wanted more men for a newly reopened mine and he came offering the men on homesteads high wages to go back to mining. The encouraging thing was that not one man wanted to go back to the old life. It was not the money which held them, it was the fact that they had a new vision of what life could mean to them and their children. Things like these will be your encouragements. The important thing for your future is the fact that you will find people to work with, and to live with, who have this new vision and who have a desire to achieve a new kind of living which for them is more worthwhile than our old standards.157 Arthurdale represented an ideology that valued human lives over money, experimentation and failure over lack of trying, and courage over fear. This was classic Eleanor Roosevelt. This optimistic Roosevelt view was also echoed in her 1940 essay “The Ideal Education,” where she pictured a future filled with hope, where “as individuals we will live cooperatively, and to the best of our ability, serve the community in which we live.”158 The Arthurdale experiment ultimately was a failure because it did not develop into the self-sufficient cooperative community its founders had visualized. Unemployment was not solved, the experimental school was dropped, and the community did not develop a direct, self-governing democracy. Yet without full employment or substantial incomes, the homesteaders were well cared for, for they had beautiful homes, a model school, recreational facilities, and extremely reduced rents (by 1940, the average monthly rent was only $9.99). By 1942, after employment increased, Arthurdale was ready to be sold to individual homesteaders rather than to a homestead association, with sales based on income and fair value, no down payment required. But then the project was transferred to the Federal Public Housing Authority, which raised the prices, and liquidation was completed in two years. Eleanor Roosevelt never looked at Arthurdale in financial terms. For her, the social experiment was a great opportunity for comprehensive social reform. In a 1936 speech before the Woman’s National Democratic Club, Eleanor remarked:



I realized when we began that there must be an educational program when you take people from an area whenever they have been living for some time under impossible conditions, but I had no conception what the problem was. I understand it a good deal better than I did three years ago, but I wonder how many other people understand this problem. I was at a meeting when the question was put whether they would be willing to give a certain percent of their crops (to a co-op) before dividing them. There was not a dissenting voice. I am waiting to see whether this will develop into a sense that the government is theirs, and when they deal with the government they are getting only what they give in one way or another. We shall look back on this period as having given us valuable education, because it has shown us the real sore places and the conditions we must face. I hope not only government people but thousands of others will take the trouble to go and see these communities, and also the places from which these people came so they will know what we have had

to face and knowing will be better able to understand what we want to achieve.159 In the end, the public came to view Arthurdale as a prime example of government ineptness and social engineering. Eleanor made misleading statements about cost overruns and failed to achieve many tangible results. Her domineering championship of the project and public defense often seemed like condoning waste and mismanagement rather than championing values or ideals. Each problem was magnified in the press, due to the First Lady’s close connection with the experiment. Yet at the same time, her devotion to the project showed her as a humanitarian and tireless supporter of the underdog, a First Lady who was ready to humanize government. Despite her overprotective handling of the project and the unfavorable attention she drew to the community’s problems, her contribution to the people of Arthurdale needs to be fully appreciated. It was a source of comfort and encouragement to the homesteaders to know that she was on their side, that she really cared, and that she was the wife of the president. Her frequent visits, her willingness to attend the homesteaders’ meetings, and her ability to run interference through the bureaucracy had an immeasurable effect on the community’s resolve to succeed. Blanche Wiesen Cook notes that despite politicians and pundits calling Arthurdale a failure, the homesteaders’ descendants still live on the land, their children went to college, the young men who volunteered for war returned home, and everyone remembers every time Eleanor Roosevelt visited. She concludes, “For the people, Arthurdale was marvelous, and they called it ‘utopia.’”160 In the end, Eleanor Roosevelt preferred to view Arthurdale in terms of its social successes rather than its economic failures. She could reflect on the number of children who had grown up healthy, benefiting from a better education and living in a more stable environment. In these rescued lives she found an ultimate justification for the often difficult venture. In This I Remember, toward the end of her reminiscences of Arthurdale, she wrote, “Nothing we learn in this world is ever wasted and I have come to the conclusion that practically nothing we do ever stands by itself. It if is good, it will serve some good purpose in the future. If it is evil, it may haunt us and handicap our efforts in unimagined ways.”161 Of the many New Deal projects, those designed for youth lay closest to Eleanor Roosevelt’s heart on a personal as well as political level. Winifred D. Wandersee suggests, “Her relationship with the American youth movement provides an excellent opportunity to explore the nature of her political role, the extent to which it reflected her husband’s political needs, and the degree to which it expressed her own personal needs, arising not only from her compassion for others but also from her search for love, friendship, and recognition.”162 Biographers have detailed her unhappy childhood, one marked by bereavement and loneliness, noting that they likely influenced how she perceived the youth of America.163 She was physically plain, a fact that was constantly reinforced by those around her. She was painfully shy and felt herself unloved, except by her father. She was raised in a confined, narrow atmosphere of her maternal grandmother’s shadow, brought up with thoughts and values of a much older generation; her own occasional youthful ideas were quashed without explanation. Her insecurity, loneliness, lack of intellectual stimulation, and sense of uselessness were alleviated only when, at fifteen years old, she went to London to Allenswood finishing school in 1899. What one can surmise is that, in hindsight during the 1930s, Eleanor began to see her childhood as representing nothing truly worthwhile. Her autobiography revealed, “Looking back I see that I was always afraid of something: of the dark, of displeasing people, of failure. Anything I accomplished had to be done across a barrier of fear.”164 She found it easy to associate her youthful lack of affection and self-



esteem with the insecurity and new ideas expressed by American youth in the Depression. Her autobiography acknowledged, Many people may have forgotten how worried we were about the young people in our country during the early days of the depression. How deeply troubled these young men and women were was shown by the fact that many of them felt it necessary to leave their homes, because they could not find jobs and could not bear to eat even a small amount of what little food their families had. I felt that in any efforts they made to help themselves or one another the young people should have all the consideration and assistance their elders could possibly give them. I believed, of course, that these young people had the right to be heard. They had the right to fight for the things they believed in as citizens of a democracy. It was essential to restore their faith in the power of democracy to meet their needs, or they would take the natural path of looking elsewhere.165



Eleanor’s early years became an important part of her subsequent rationale for helping the young take their place as active participants in the democracy. She admits to lobbying FDR for the establishment of the NYA in her autobiography, because of “how deeply troubled I have been from the beginning about the plight of the country’s young people.”166 She was ready to enable young people to mature into useful citizens of a democracy, articulating her willingness to serve in this cause by writing in It’s Up to the Women: “As we grow older it is more important that we be something which furnishes youth with stimulation and courage and, occasionally, when youth is a little too hot-headed, with a word of restraint, although I do not favor much restraint.”167 Eleanor’s vision of the power of youth was marked by admiration for their openness and their willingness to confront challenges. She envisioned pictures of youthful idealism being met at every turn by roadblocks put up by overbearing parents, educational or financial obstructions, or social ills. Eleanor offered her sentiments at a Mother’s Day breakfast at the Brooklyn Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) on 11 May 1924, saying, “The young people are the ones who have the spirit of adventure and imagination which drives us forward. The older generation is the balance wheel that keeps the young from going too far.”168 In an unpublished 1927 article entitled “Ethics of Parents,” she urged that parents could “try letting our children go for a change” and stop worrying so much about them. Her primary parenting ideals included values such as “furnish an example in living; stop preaching ethics and morals; stop shielding your children and clipping their wings; and have vision yourself.”169 Nevertheless, these ideas were contradicted by the fact that her own children suffered through strong, contrary, and sometimes mutually exclusive pressures: an indulgent grandmother, a father who often seemed distant or indifferent to them, a social and family history of wealth, and a mother who herself seemed split between disciplining and indulging. By the time FDR became president, she wrote, “I believe very strongly that it is better to allow children too much freedom than too little.” Young people need help, but “they do not need criticism or interference.” This was to be her philosophy of youth: they should be permitted freedom to speak and to try new routes to solve old problems.170 It was this frame of mind that made Eleanor Roosevelt a popular figure among youth: she believed that they had the right to express their ideas. Eleanor could not resist idealistic, devoted young people, because she identified with them. These subjective, personal conceptions were intertwined with the reality of the Great Depression, whose impact on youth was reflected in high unemployment, child labor, disintegrating families, and grinding poverty. Between three and four and a half million Americans under the age of twenty-one were unemployed between 1933 and 1940. In 1938, for example, the WPA’s survey found that 21

percent of youth in the labor market were out of jobs, and this did not include others who were employed only part-time.171 For Eleanor, it was disheartening to learn of young people out of work, for idleness was dangerous to youth as well as to their communities. The failure of the nation to provide its disillusioned young people with a sense of purpose created in them a defeatist attitude that she felt would harm young people for the rest of their lives. Eleanor had escaped the same type of crippling youth. Biographer Blanche Wiesen Cook suggests that she identified with young people, fearing that democracy might lose an entire generation because of the Depression.172 Eleanor Roosevelt’s autobiography demonstrates that identification: “I felt that in any effort they made to help themselves or one another the young people should have all the consideration and assistance their elders could possibly give them. My deep concern led to my association with various youth groups and to my meeting with many young people who either were brought by their elders to Washington, or came through an organization of their own.”173 In a way, Eleanor Roosevelt felt responsible on behalf of her generation, which she accused of neglect, indifference, and materialism. Youth deserved greater consideration because they held the promise of the future. As she noted in an undated article (probably a 1931–32 draft for a later “My Day” column), It seems to me that we must not only meet each (relief) case as it comes up, but we must have some kind of ultimate vision of what is to come out of all this sorrow and suffering which our people have gone through. There must be certain goals which we strive to reach which will lay foundations for the future. (1) we must see that no children suffer for food, shelter, clothes, or education (2) we much teach mothers to manage food (3) we must keep youth from utter discouragement and find them work with educational value.174 In 1935, Eleanor Roosevelt proposed a temporary solution for youth problems in a project that would combine federal planning with community efforts. This would be geared directly for youth, supplying not only relief work but also meaningful occupations with training value. She joined Harry Hopkins and Aubrey Williams in drawing up plans for the NYA, to be part of the WPA. When she brought it up to FDR, she stressed the plan’s urgency but also warned him that New Deal critics might compare it with Germany’s youth regimentation.175 The NYA was established on 26 June 1935, to be administered under the WPA.176 One purpose was to employ high school and university students so that they could continue their studies. Another goal was to provide jobs and vocational training for young unemployed people who were out of school. In her autobiography, Eleanor wrote that the NYA undoubtedly benefited a great many young people. It offered projects to help high school and college youngsters to finish school, and provided training both in resident and on-resident projects, supplementing the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps in such as way as to aid all youth. It was one of the occasions on which I was very proud that the right thing was done regardless of political considerations. As a matter of fact, however, it turned out to be politically popular and strengthened the administration greatly.177 She described the various NYA projects in her speeches and daily columns, stressing the unique aspects of each. For instance, in a 26 May 1937 “My Day” column, she described her visit to an NYA exhibit, where their “work was heartening from the point of view of their real accomplishments.”178 These narratives transported her readers vicariously to NYA camps in various parts of the nation. They learned about programs providing technical training in sheet metal, automobile





repair and aircraft construction, radio electronics, photography, and health services. By 1936, five programs under the NYA were well under way: student aid ($27 million appropriation); work projects ($20 million appropriation); vocational guidance; camps for unemployed women (forty-five opened between July and November 1935); and training of apprentices in forty-three states.179 The NYA also allowed Eleanor Roosevelt’s insistence on equal treatment for black youth, and as Mary McLeod Bethune noted in 1936, “never before in the history of America has Negro youth been offered such opportunities.”180 Eleanor Roosevelt weighed proposals for new youth projects with care to make sure they would not antagonize business and organized labor, acted as the shock absorber for complaints and public attacks, and attempted to demonstrate that the NYA was simply a stopgap in the problems of youth. One of the unusual features of the NYA (unlike other WPA projects) involved young workers’ education. To Roosevelt, education was not only a relief measure but also an important tool to maintain democracy. It was essential to educate the illiterate and to instruct young workers in basic economics, psychology, history, labor relations, and trade unionism. She saw in workers’ schools an opportunity to instruct students in the meaning of the New Deal. In learning about NRA codes and consumers’ problems, people would better understand “what it is in ourselves, in human nature as a whole, which must be fought down if we want to have a New Deal.”181 The practical projects were but a part of her goals in improving the lives of youth. She envisioned that the end result of her moral leadership would be the creation of an informed, active generation of citizens. One offshoot of early NYA projects was support for unemployed young artists (writers, musicians, and actors), whose aims appealed not only to Eleanor Roosevelt’s sympathy for the unemployed but also to her interests in creativity and the development of a national public receptiveness for the arts. From the beginning of the Depression, she had witnessed the plight of jobless artists, and she wanted the American people to become acquainted with their folk and national cultures. In a nationwide broadcast opening the 1937 session of the Caravan Theatre, she expressed her hopes that such efforts would establish foundations for the popular appreciation of the arts: “Somehow we must build throughout this country a background of culture. No nation grows up until that has been accomplished, and I know of no way which will reach more of our people than the great plays of the past and present-day authors.”182 To Eleanor Roosevelt, encouraging the arts accomplished a dual purpose: it offered individuals an opportunity to develop their talent, and it could provide the nation the chance to revitalize its own distinctive artistic style. The nation would benefit in multiple ways that would return it to the path of an ideal democracy. The NYA proved to be a relatively successful and popular New Deal program, although its accomplishments and acceptance were limited. The NYA’s programs were comprehensive, and it was subjected to criticism from all sides of the political spectrum. John Studebaker, federal commissioner of the Office of Education, opposed the creation of a new federal agency.183 Aubrey Williams, deputy director of the WPA and director of the NYA, developed a reputation for left-wing radicalism that opened him to red-baiting charges,184 and it fell on Eleanor Roosevelt to defend the NYA from outside criticism. But it was not merely from within the confines of the government that Eleanor forwarded her visions of youth in a democracy. Two youth groups that benefited most from her support were the American Youth Congress (AYC) and the American Student Union (ASU), which were broad representatives of what might be termed the “youth movement.” The AYC was an umbrella organization that claimed it represented four and a half million young people in over sixty affiliated groups ranging from the YWCA to the American League for Peace and Democracy. The ASU

was created in 1935 by a merger of Communist and socialist youth groups and probably never had more than a few thousand members. The initial gathering of various youth groups was at the First American Youth Congress in 1934, with participants reflecting the wide political youth spectrum but particularly from the AYC and the ASU. Following earlier conferences of political, campus, and religious youth groups, the congress was loosely designed to pull together young people to discuss their common problems. What actually resulted was a leftist takeover when the AYC adopted a series of resolutions opposing the New Deal’s major agency, the NRA, and demanding the abolition of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). It also called for more trade unions, social security legislation, and militant antiwar activities. The members who ended up controlling the executive board represented the Young People’s Socialist League and the Young Communist League. The Second American Youth Congress, held in Detroit in July 1935, reflected this shifting political philosophy: the administrative council, which appointed all committees, published all the information, and acted as liaison officers with public and governmental organizations, was led by the Young Communist League. Members/leaders of Second AYC supported New Deal policy when Communists did, and they attacked it and accused it of imperialism when the Communists did. From 1936 to 1938, the Communists solidified their hold on the AYC, and the ASU and began moving toward complete support of New Deal foreign and domestic politics. This turn toward a pro–New Deal stance began at the Third American Youth Congress in 1936. The AYC drew up the American Youth Act, a bill providing for a wide range of government-sponsored programs for youth, including vocational training, student support, and college employment, all of which were deemed extravagant programs by critics. Where the NYA’s budget was $50 million per year, this new act would cost about $20 billion per year. The administration would not support such a plan, and when Eleanor Roosevelt went to speak to the National Council of the AYC meeting in January 1936, she faced a hostile audience. In her first direct encounter with the AYC, she patiently pointed out that the American Youth Act was too expensive and not well thought out. She noted that while certain social evils and civil rights violations had shaken the faith of some of the members, “we had lived through a great variety of changes in the past, and our conception of social justice had evolved year by year, and that in all probability we would live through this situation and still remain a democracy.”185 By 1937–38, the administration began to see young people as potential allies against a recalcitrant Congress, which was stalemating New Deal policy implementation. Their attention turned toward support on the Left, and Eleanor Roosevelt became a key link. However, the AYC was impatient with the government’s attempts to stabilize the economy and efforts toward peace, and Eleanor found herself in the complex position of trying to explain how the government operated. In an 27 April 1937 “My Day” column, she mused about youths’ peace activities; explained the differences among democracy, fascism, and communism; and suggested young people had much to learn: I have been thinking a great deal about the peace meeting which young people held all over the country on April 22nd. From the letters I receive and from the talks which I have had, there is no question in my mind that young people are determined to do away with war, but they really are very indefinite as to the way in which it shall be done. . . . If these young people are really going to get anywhere, they must realize that inveighing against a thing is all very well, but their future success lies in



controlling democracy. Only if democracy makes individuals better able to attain their ideals will it survive the test of today. What the young people must do is to find out how their government can meet the demands of the people. Find out how business and invention and what we call modern civilization can bring a greater degree of freedom from fear of any kind, and therefore a greater degree of happiness to the average individual.186 The Fourth American Youth Congress, held in Milwaukee in July 1937, continued the shift toward New Deal support, and this marked the start of the period of Eleanor Roosevelt’s closest participation. The World Youth Congress, held at Vassar College in August 1938, brought together international delegates, and Eleanor Roosevelt was won over. Upon meeting the leaders of the conference, she described her perceptions of the event and the people she met: I have just spent an interesting couple of hours with 14 members of the American Youth Congress. The head of the Congress, Mr. William Hinckley, had made a statement in this morning’s press denying that the group is Communistic, which seems to me rather unnecessary, for it is quite obvious that a group with such varied organizations in it could hardly be called a branch of the Communist party. However, I understand that one of the magazines not only accuses them of this but adds certain little items as to my own connection with the group. Perhaps the fact that there is no basis of truth in these statements makes me less credulous of all other statements. It is interesting to be in a position where you have the opportunity of knowing the truth about a few subjects, but it has the unfortunate side in that it makes you doubt the veracity of so many things which you read and hear. Sometimes think that people are so anxious to believe that certain things are true that they state them as facts without waiting to substantiate them.187



She saw youth as the messengers of the future and bought into their visions of progress for underdeveloped nations. At the end of the Congress, she wrote: “The more I see of this group made up of young people from many nations, the more important I realize it is that in every nation older people who can see the desirability of certain changes in our civilization should work with them. In this way their thought and action will not be one-sided and the impetuousness of youth should gain some benefit from the experience of age.”188 This association with the AYC would later become clouded with controversy, and her defense of the group against the libel of communism would be proven wrong. By 1938, the New Deal programs benefiting youth were well under way. Eleanor Roosevelt became the patron saint of the youth movement. On 21 February 1939, she gave the major address at a banquet where, in a coast-to-coast broadcast, she scoffed at charges that the AYC was Communist dominated. Her comments were to be prescient of her position with them for the next few years: “It is quite obvious that it [the AYC] with such varied organizations in it could hardly be called a branch of the Communist Party.” She said that what youth needed was “a confidence that they may try new things with the backing of their elders, that they may call up on the experience of their leaders, not to hold them back but to help them. We cannot expect in a changing world, to stand still and to find in the old conditions answers to new problems.” As for the AYC, she described it as a group that had “learned an extraordinary amount. I don’t think I know any group of people, young or old, whom I consider today to have grown more over a period of years than that group of young people.”189

By 1939, the AYC abandoned its doomed fight for the American Youth Act and became a lobbying organization for the National Youth Administration. Their primary tasks were to educate citizens through local discussions of community and national issues. The leaders of the AYC now firmly were established as New Dealers, and their views were seen as representing those of youth. They achieved access to the administration, were given responsibilities, and felt power. However, in reality, the AYC was simply following what other Communist-front organizations were doing: becoming conservative and seemingly respectable. Pro-youth New Dealers were being duped into thinking that fascism, not communism, was the greatest threat to the nation. The AYC meeting in July 1939 brought an end to the alliance between New Dealers and the youth movement. New Dealer participants such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Harold Ickes were highly visible. The 3,000 youths who attended were enthusiastic supporters of the New Deal: they demanded a nationwide program of apprenticeship training, federal aid to education, and an expanded NYA. They adopted a creed and resolution condemning all dictatorships, supporting progress through social pioneering, and asserting the right to free worship of God. In her remarks, Eleanor Roosevelt gave practical advice to the participants: “You will want to learn a little more about parliamentary law. It is all very well to have a great many very nice ideas but if you can’t say them so that any child of five can understand them, you might just as well not have them.” She went on to urge them to get to know their own communities: Organize first for knowledge, first with the object of making us know ourselves as a nation, for we have to do that before we can be of value to other nations of the world and then organize to accomplish the things that you decide to want. And remember, don’t make decisions with the interest of youth alone before you. Make your decisions because they are good for the nation as a whole.190 Roosevelt’s claim that education could lead to a betterment of the nation of the whole was one she had made for other social reform causes, and although her association with the AYC would begin to draw stinging criticisms, she felt that youth were making positive progress. The alliance between the youth movement and the New Deal came to an abrupt end with the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 and the outbreak of war. The ASU and the AYC followed the sudden change in the Soviet party line and went from a pro–New Deal, collective security position to an anti–New Deal isolationist position. In the middle of this ideological change, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) held hearings on the AYC and the ASU. Several former members of the Young Communist League testified that the ASU and the AYC were Communist controlled. Eleanor Roosevelt’s role in these hearings was central: she met witnesses and urged them to testify openly. She appeared at the hearings, sitting with some of those called to testify. She invited six of them to spend the night at the White House. She wrote about the hearings in the 1 December 1939 “My Day” column: I have two real interests in this situation. One is that as far as is humanly possible, I give to young people whom I know and trust, the feeling that in any situation, particularly a difficult one, they may count on my assistance. My second interest is a desire to observe to what extent the government is not only striving to uncover un-American activities, but is giving to youth the assurance that their government does not look upon them with suspicion until they are proved guilty, and is anxious to help them in every way to build up the faith



and trust in democracy which should be the heritage of every youngster in the United States.191 At the conclusion of the hearings, Eleanor Roosevelt stated to the press that she had done her own investigation of the AYC and had found nothing to indicate it was Communist controlled. Her supportive public testimony enhanced the credibility of the AYC. In a “My Day” column of 5 December 1939, she explained: It seems to me that something which was said many years ago applies in this instance: “By their works ye shall know them.” When an organization stands up under this amount of investigation, I fail to see how there can be hidden either a Communist or Fascist program or a surreptitious control of any kind. It is true that there might be a number of members who might willingly work for the objectives of an organization and yet belong openly or secretly to subversive groups, but you cannot fight shadows and you must wait till you find the objectives of an organization are being changed or interfered with. If I remember rightly, even Judas Iscariot was used and in the end he repented!192 Eleanor Roosevelt spelled out what she regarded as her knowledge of the AYC’s activities in an undated letter (but probably 1939) to the Americanism Committee of the American Legion, which had demanded the she deny or substantiate a statement attributed to her that the AYC board members were not Communists. She said: I certainly did make that statement and I think that I have taken a good deal of trouble to get at the facts in this situation. How many of your representatives and those of other organizations you mention have met the Chairman of the AYC and the members of the board of directors, who are mapping out the program of work and raising the money, not only once, but many times? How many of you have spent hours at a time discussing various questions with them? How many of you have been over their finances and know how much money they have had and where it came from? How many of you have not only attended their general meetings but have spent some time attending special meetings at their national congress this year? How many of you have read the minutes and resolutions passed at all of their meetings? How many of you have obtained the record of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and carefully studied it? I have done all these things.193



Like many liberals of her day, Eleanor Roosevelt despised the communism label when applied by critics to what she believed were progressive, democratic ideals. After all, she had been accused of harboring Communist sympathies in conjunction with her other activities, so her identification with youth was a logical step. She often overreacted whenever the issue of communism was associated with her friends or activities, as she explained in a speech to youth in December 1938: “I am ashamed of the fear we have allowed to be put over us, so that when somebody said that a particular group is Communist, we don’t even take the trouble to find out how many are Communists. We are afraid to have anything to do with them. It is too foolish.”194 With growing evidence that the AYC was Communist oriented, Eleanor Roosevelt faced a mounting storm of criticism. By 1940, the new Soviet-line policies of

the AYC were openly demonstrated via a mass pilgrimage to Washington, D.C.: it opposed FDR’s “pro-war” foreign policies and demanded a new American Youth Act. In spite of charges of Communist domination, Eleanor Roosevelt fully supported the pilgrimage (which was originally planned as a citizenship institute), putting up members in private homes, inviting members to the White House, and arranging for the army to house and feed youth at Fort Myer, Virginia. In a speech to the marchers arranged by Eleanor, President Roosevelt spoke from the rear portico of the White House in unusually frank terms. He told them that under a different form of government, the kind of meeting they were holding could not take place. He suggested they should not be deluded into expecting utopia overnight. He denounced their resolutions. He did not congratulate youth for their activism; instead, he reminded them of New Deal accomplishments, and opportunities for the unemployed, and he criticized them for condemning a U.S. loan to Finland that was broadly accepted by the American public. The president was greeted with jeers, boos, and silence. The speech created a charged atmosphere, and on the next night Eleanor Roosevelt ended the youthful pilgrimage with an hour-long question-and-answer period. Dewey L. Fleming wrote in the Baltimore Sun that “the nation probably has not seen in all of its history such a debate between a President’s wife and a critical, not to say hostile, auditorium full of politically minded youths of all races and creeds.” Following answers on unemployment and foreign policy, Eleanor Roosevelt warned her audience in what could be deemed a motherly tone: “I want you neither to clap nor hiss until I have finished and then you may do whichever you like.”195 She then presented this summary of her position: I don’t see today the slightest reason why we should go to war and I hope there is not going to be any war and I think it probable that one answer is that up to now we have kept ourselves in armaments . . . a strong nation that nobody wishes to attack. We don’t want war. Do you think the President wants war? But nobody knows what they may face when the world is going through a cataclysm. I could agree with you right this minute that I don’t want war, but I don’t know what you might say under different conditions six months from now. You are sure you will say the same thing, but I am not going to be a prophet until I know what I am prophesying about.196 Michael Straight, a student activist of the 1930s, gave this account of Eleanor Roosevelt’s demeanor to the crowd: She spoke in a whisper. She was very pale. A few of us tried to give her some support by applauding her. Once again, she held up her hand to silence us. She could have said that the president of the United States needed no defenders. She chose instead to defend everything that he had said and done. Her endorsement of him came as a heavier blow than his own speech, for none could question her courage or concern. It was a fearful ordeal, and both she and the audience were exhausted at its end.197 The experience left Eleanor Roosevelt deeply disappointed in youth for their lack of respect for the president. She thought that they were not responding to reasoned arguments and asked that the leadership to clear up their positions on the Communist charges. Critics suggested that her comments were a disservice to youth. The Salt Lake City Tribune said she had demonstrated “misplaced confidence in this misled group of youngsters who needed exactly what the President gave them.” The Detroit Free Press added, “it is impossible to believe that even Mrs. Roosevelt can any longer be under much illusion about the extent to which the



goodness of her heart has allowed her to be exploited and ungratefully mistreated.”198 Yet she continued her support of the AYC throughout spring 1940, ignoring the whispers that she was gullible and had been naive regarding the youth movement. Despite growing press arguments concerning her support, Eleanor Roosevelt remained reluctant to part company with the AYC. She gave leaders of the AYC ample chances to show where they stood, assuming that they would listen to rational argument; she continued to help in their financing, arranged for off-therecord meetings with the president, and kept in touch. In an article that demonstrates her continuing support of youth but her desire for them to consider the world situation as they gathered for their AYC conference, she wrote a “My Day” column on 26 June 1940, reminding them that “it behooves all of them to behave with restraint and fairness, to have the wisdom to find out what the necessary requirements are, and to live up to them on every occasion.”199 She seemed to assert that the problems of youth were resting not in communism but in the conditions that led them to unrest and feelings of alienation. The July 1940 Sixth American Youth Congress at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, was held without the First Lady. She became disillusioned by the unyielding antiwar, isolationist stance of youth in the face of an international crisis. However, she continued to write long letters to the AYC leaders, attempting to educate them about America’s needs. In her 11 July 1940 “My Day” column, she despaired, “The American Youth Congress seems to me to be discussing the world of a year ago, not the world as it is today.”200 It may be that she was unwilling to admit that she was wrong in her perceptions about the group, but it was not until fall 1940 that she finally repudiated the AYC for its opposition to military conscription. There were too many constructive issues to allow her to waste any more time on the AYC, and she replied to questions about her relationship with them: “I don’t think their present attitude is constructive and I don’t have time if I do not think a movement is constructive to work in it.” In a letter to leaders on 16 December, she wrote that they should expect no further help from her: I have been thinking a great deal about my own position in all this lately, because while I believe in the complete sincerity of you, and while I respect the way in which you work for your convictions, and therefore feel no differently personally toward any of you than I ever have, still I find myself in complete disagreement with your political philosophy, and therefore with the leadership which you presently represent in the youth movement. I do not think that you represent the majority of youth, but I do think that you have a right to try to further your ideas and to express your opinions and you should be heard in every gathering. However, when I do not agree with you, I also have an obligation not to help you and not to appear to agree with you.201



Foreign policy was the issue that finally separated Eleanor Roosevelt from the young people she had trusted and with whom she identified. Her positions had shifted from pacifism to world security, from antiwar sentiments to a pro-Allies philosophy. She was disappointed that youth could not see the dangers in the world situation and finally agreed that youth groups were being manipulated by a small clique of pro-Communist leaders. With the German invasion of Russia, the July 1941 meeting of the AYC suddenly adopted a pro–New Deal, prointervention policy. But it was too late to win back Eleanor Roosevelt. When asked to speak, she refused to meet with leaders of the AYC, saying, “I would feel that any delegation organized under the American Youth Congress auspices was probably more interested in what was being done for Russia than in what was being done for young people in the US.”202 The AYC and

the ASU disappeared in 1942 as youth went off to war. The same thing happened with the New Deal’s youth agencies, the CCC, and the NYA: all were victims of the war. Eleanor Roosevelt’s official support of youth shifted to the International Student Service, which assisted foreign youth who had been made refugees. Eleanor Roosevelt had supported the AYC because she believed its leaders wanted the same reforms as the NYA did. Unfortunately, she interpreted AYC actions through a misperceiving lens; there was no partnership, and her compassion for youth colored her judgment. Where she believed that they could grasp the future of democracy, in the end, American youth were unable to make permanent programmatic gains during the New Deal, partly because of the war and the conservative Congress’s reaction to the New Deal. Yet youth had to share some of the blame: they were unable to exploit political opportunities when they arose and instead made ideological shifts that were unpopular. They failed to exhibit Eleanor’s hope in their ability to steer democracy toward the future. Even as late as 1941, however, she was still answering AYC critics by pointing up their failed responses to problems they made for youth. In an essay for Liberty entitled “Why I Still Believe in the Youth Congress,” she reminded readers: The need for a government program to help unemployed people; the need for a government program to help youth get more training for a job; and the need for various groups to get tighter to discuss their own difficult situations, is why we have forums, workers’ alliances, and a youth congress. That is why people do not see in a name just a happy group of youngsters, and why some people are afraid of them. In reality, it is not the youngsters, but it is the circumstances which have led to these groups getting together which inspire people with fear. . . . That is why we find the comfortable people of the world looking at them warily. Between four and five million unemployed young people is the estimate made by the American Youth Commission. Let us stop for a minute to consider just what our attitude as older, responsible citizens in a democracy should be. We cannot deny that we have a certain responsibility, because the world as it is today was made by us. We had better face the fact that at least youth has a right to ask from us an honest acceptance of our responsibility, a study of their problems, cooperation with them in their efforts to find a solution, and patience in trying to understand their point of view and in stating our own. [After describing critics’ responses to the AYC, Eleanor then commented on the damage done by their remarks.] All the attacks made upon the [American Youth] Congress have only consolidated the feeling of “youth against the world.” That is a danger, I think; because what we want to do is to have all ages work together to solve the problems of today. We have gone about obtaining this cooperation most stupidly. Whether we can retrieve what we have lost, and make these youngsters feel that the attacks that have been made upon them in the press do not represent the attitude of thinking and sympathetic older people, I do not know. If we cannot, then I think we have done a dangerous thing; because, whatever else this meeting did, it awakened a great many more young people to the fact that they were being attacked as young people, and that is not a good spirit to foster.203 Eleanor Roosevelt’s arguments reflected the same strategy she used in discussing civil rights with white audiences: she contrasted the responsibilities of citizens on one side and moral inequality on the other. She could then say that the treatment of youth by their elders was a moral inequality caused by a lack of democratic responsibility on the part of older Americans. This irresponsibility had been demonstrated in several ways: criticizing and polarizing youth; ignoring the facts of



unemployment that injured youth; and most important, disregarding the responsibilities inherent on citizens of a democracy. In a similar vein, Eleanor Roosevelt did not give up on youth, when she articulated their challenges to develop and maintain a democratic society. Her 1940 book The Moral Basis of Democracy, written to give a clearer definition of democracy, suggested that young people not only had to define democracy but also would have to decide how to sacrifice to keep it: Youth wishes to do away with war. But youth and the men and women of Democracy will have to set their own house in order first, and show that they have something to offer under a Democratic form of government. . . . . . . Yet, I have a feeling that perhaps in the long run that sacrifice will be the one thing that will drive the young generation of today into doing something which will permanently change the future. They know that a gesture of self-sacrifice is not enough; that they cannot in one war change the basic things which have produced war. They know that they must begin with human beings and keep on, each in his or her own particular sphere of influence, building up a social conscience and a sense of responsibility for their neighbors. . . . The challenge of today is, I think the greatest challenge that youth has faced in many generations. The future of Democracy in this country lies with them, and the future of Democracy in the world lies with them as well. The development of a dynamic Democracy which is alive and actively working for the benefit of all individuals, and not just a few, depends, I think, on the realization that this form of government is not a method devised to keep some particular group that is stronger than other groups in power. It is a method of government conceived for the development of human beings as a whole.204 Eleanor Roosevelt challenged youth to take responsibility for the construction of democracy, much as she challenged blacks in a more pragmatic way to better themselves. But in the case of youth, she supported programs to establish youth service programs; she offered entree for youth leaders into governmental corridors; and she was sensitive to alienated young people to a degree where she tolerated leftist activities that she later disavowed. Eleanor Roosevelt’s attitudes toward youth were created by a combination of dissonant influences: her unhappy childhood and youth, united with her experiences in social work, education, and public life, created a clash between the ideas and practices of an older generation and those of a younger generation with a new set of goals. She believed that the new ways were better, and she turned her belief in freedom and optimism into a blind faith for the accomplishment of change. In a 1935 commencement address at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Eleanor Roosevelt revealed her convictions about the rights of youth. She believed that they must be allowed to express their ideas, even if they fail, pointing out to graduates:



You young ones have got to have the courage, the initiative and the imagination to do something about this problem which is a nationwide problem and a problem in other nations. We are, however, a nation which can quite easily solve our own problems. We are today the strongest nation in ourselves and I believe we have the will and courage in our youth to do this thing if we make up our minds and our hearts to do it. It is going to require that many people who have thought before of success as an individual achievement of one individual shall think of it in different lights. . . . Not long ago somebody said to me “if so and so does that thing he will be accused of certain motives and it will be a bad thing for him.” The answer to that to every one of you is going to come up again: you have got to decide whether the things you want to do are right, whether at least it is right to try to do them, and whether in order to do them, you are willing to have many

people tell you that your motives are questionable, tell you that you are wrong, tell you that it hasn’t been tried before, and that no one can tell you what will happen if you do them. . . . Unless you are sure you think it is right, don’t do it, but if you make up your mind it is right, do not let anyone swerve you or keep you from doing it because that is your only chance of success. If our young people have this kind of character we will succeed as a nation. One of the things you will have to keep up, is your courage and as I have said before, your faith in human beings. Do not fool yourselves, you are going to be disappointed over and over again. People are going to let you down, you are going to test them and they are going to fail and you are going to be discouraged, terribly discouraged, but just pick up your faith and your courage and keep your sense of humor. Remember that you are just one little atom, but if you do not do your share, the majority won’t go on, so you have got to do two things, you have got to feel the greatest kind of responsibility as an individual, and yet never feel that what happens to you matters too much that it takes away your ability to smile at your own defeat. Just go right ahead as though you had never had a defeat.205 Eleanor Roosevelt’s concerns over the future of America’s youth brought her great public attention, much of it tied to her patronage of the National Youth Administration and the AYC. When in 1940 it became apparent that the AYC leadership did not embody ideals close to her own, she would only say that her participation in it provided an invaluable lesson. As she had challenged others, she used her “education for the future” argument in getting past losses, as she strove to improve herself. She refused to be embittered by the youths’ lack of honesty, and she learned from disappointment and defeat. She later said that her experience with Communist tactics in the youth movement helped her to cope with similar tactics in the United Nations: “I learned what communist tactics are. I discovered for myself how infiltration of an organization is accomplished. I was taught how communists get themselves into positions of importance. I understand all their tactics of objection and delay now.”206 The recurring theme in Eleanor Roosevelt’s New Deal rhetoric was one of constructive activism as a response to national challenges. She used unprecedented intercession by the First Lady on the behalf of the downtrodden by acting as an intermediary with the president, New Deal bureaucrats, cabinet members, and the public. Her moral leadership forced FDR to deal with hard human issues, acted as a lightning rod for policies, and provided a vital link between the political left and the administration by befriending people and supporting movements that were dangerous to support.207 Because she was not an elected official, she became more of a political force than many politicians, and she redefined the role of the First Lady in multiple ways. Her media activities demonstrated a growing sophistication with that form of communication as a means of reaching the public. Her human touch provided the nation with confidence in governmental bureaucracy. Eleanor Roosevelt faced extensive criticism over nearly everything she did. Her professional career outside the White House was condemned for its moneymaking opportunities. Racists jeered her promotion of blacks. Her fierce protection of subsistence homesteading, and in particular Arthurdale, was called an example of government waste and misplaced liberalism. Her encouragement of youthful idealism caused her to be labeled a Communist dupe. But Eleanor refused to be distracted by the criticism, whether deserved or not. In a 1958 television interview with Dr. Clarence Kramer of Western Reserve University and Henry Morganthau III, she said in part, “I never minded criticism much because it all passes. If there is no foundation in it, people will find that out.” In the same interview series, Eleanor said that she considered the greatest success of the New Deal period to be in domestic affairs because people could be made to “feel they were part of their government and



what they did really mattered.”208 For Eleanor Roosevelt, giving people a stake in their own lives and making them part of an evolving democracy was worth the criticism that came her way. Eleanor Roosevelt’s rhetorical contributions to the nation are marked by a pragmatic idealism: her ideas took shape as new circumstances dictated. During the Depression and the New Deal, she stressed social and economic causes, including racial equality, employment, and the nation’s future. She argued that reform would come through individual effort and character building and that this individual effort, along with governmental intervention, was necessary for the forwarding of democracy. She rarely demonstrated a conscious program or preplanned tactics, yet she called attention to social abuses that demanded change. She actively promoted many liberal causes, although none of her speeches are immortalized. She adopted causes as they arose, sometimes too many to devote her full attention. While an examination of Eleanor Roosevelt’s discourse and activities reveals contradictions, naïveté, oversimplification, and a lack of critical analysis on her part, the major value of her rhetoric lies in her emphasis on social responsibility, human rights, and human dignity. Eleanor Roosevelt’s rhetorical strength lay in inspiring, exhorting, and challenging; in deeply held, sincere humanitarianism; and in the convictions that her discourse promoted. She communicated to the public to an unprecedented degree for a First Lady, illustrating the impact of the “human factor” on government. Her communication efforts motivated her listeners as they reflected on her moral leadership; she wanted Americans to think about what was right and true and then to act on those convictions. She had been a capable career woman with roots in social welfare causes long before she became First Lady. She viewed herself as a reformer whose commitment to others extended to homesteads, youth programs, and human rights. She became a public persona who represented plainspoken values echoed by disenfranchised groups of the poor, minorities, and youth. Eleanor Roosevelt’s New Deal rhetoric reveals her to be a compelling example of Gutin’s classification of a First Lady as advocate and political surrogate.




1. Eleanor Roosevelt, The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt (New York: Curtis, 1958), xix. 2. Abigail Q. McCarthy, “ER as a First Lady,” in Without Precedent: The Life and Career of Eleanor Roosevelt, ed. Joan Hoff-Wilson and Marjorie Lightman (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), 214. 3. Myra C. Gutin, The President’s Partner: The First Lady in the Twentieth Century (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1989), 2. 4. Ibid., 3. 5. Eleanor Roosevelt, “My Day,” 23 February 1942. 6. Rexford Tugwell, “Remarks,” Roosevelt Day dinner journal, Americans for Democratic Action, 31 January 1963, cited in Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Postwar Liberalism, ed. Allida M. Black (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 47. 7. “Obituary: Anna Eleanor Roosevelt,” Miami Herald, 9 November 1962. 8. Sarah J. Purcell and L. Edward Purcell, The Life and Work of Eleanor Roosevelt, (Indianapolis: Alpha Books, 2002), 239. 9. David B. Roosevelt, Grandmere: A Personal History of Eleanor Roosevelt (New York: Warner Books, 2002), 65, 66. 10. Ibid., 92. 11. Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt, vol. 1, 1884–1933 (New York: Viking Press, 1992), 179.

12. Elliot Roosevelt, Oral Histories, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, Hyde Park, N.Y., 20 June 1979, cited in Roosevelt, Grandmere, 101. 13. Carol Felsenthal, Alice Roosevelt Longworth (New York: Putnam’s, 1988), 138. 14. Joseph P. Lash, interviews with Anna Roosevelt Halstead. Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, Hyde Park, N.Y., n.d., cited in Roosevelt, Grandmere, 113. 15. Ibid. 16. Roosevelt, Grandmere, 126. 17. Joseph P. Lash, Eleanor and Franklin (New York: W. W. Norton, 1971), 280. 18. Felsenthal, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, 180. 19. Roosevelt, Autobiography, 163. 20. Maureen C. Beasley, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Media (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987), 25. 21. Lash, Eleanor and Franklin, 357. 22. Eleanor Roosevelt, This I Remember (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1949), 76. 23. Diane M. Blair, Lisa M. Gring-Pemble, and Martha S. Watson, “Speeches,” in The Eleanor Roosevelt Encyclopedia, ed. Maureen C. Beasley, Holly C. Shulman, and Henry R. Beasley (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001), 494. 24. Roosevelt, This I Remember, 102. 25. “Eleanor Roosevelt Chose a Life of Usefulness,” New York Times, 8 November 1962. 26. Roosevelt, Grandmere, 149. 27. Gutin, President’s Partner, 3. 28. Beasley, Eleanor Roosevelt, 12. 29. Ibid., 13. 30. Gutin, President’s Partner, 15. 31. Mary R. Beard, review of It’s Up to the Women, by Eleanor Roosevelt, New York Herald Tribune Books, 13 November 1933. 32. Roosevelt, Autobiography, 193. 33. Gutin, President’s Partner, 78. 34. Ruby Black, Eleanor Roosevelt: A Biography (New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1940), 110. 35. Rochelle Chadakoff, ed., Eleanor Roosevelt’s My Day, vol. 1, Her Acclaimed Column, 1936–1945 (New York: Pharos Books, 1989), xi. 36. Ibid., 107. 37. Ibid., 35. 38. Ibid., 39. 39. Ibid., 71. 40. Ibid., 14. 41. Black, Eleanor Roosevelt, 3. 42. Gutin, President’s Partner, 99. 43. Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt, vol. 1, 234. 44. Gutin, President’s Partner, 111. 45. Bess Furman, Washington By-line: The Personal History of a Newspaperwoman (New York: Knopf, 1949), 1. 46. Gutin, President’s Partner, 80. 47. Lash, Eleanor and Franklin, 418. 48. “First Lady of the Land Is First Lady of Radio,” Radio Guide 1939. NBC Feature Service, 1939. 49. Roosevelt, Autobiography, 54. 50. Ibid., 121. 51. Lorena Hickok, Reluctant First Lady (New York: Dodd Mead, 1962), 45–46. 52. Lash, Eleanor and Franklin, 423. 53. Helen Wambolt, “Anna Eleanor Roosevelt: A Descriptive and Analytical Study of the Speaking Career of AER” (Ph.D. diss., University of Southern California, 1952), 6. 54. Eleanor Roosevelt, It Seems to Me (New York: W. W. Norton, 1949), 75–76. 55. Eleanor Roosevelt, Speeches and Articles File, 1935–36, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, Hyde Park, N.Y. (hereafter cited as Speeches and Articles File). 56. Roosevelt, This I Remember, 152.





57. Eleanor Roosevelt, speech given before the Institute of Women’s Professional Relations, 28 March 1935, Speeches and Articles File. 58. Beth M. Waggenspack, “Anna Eleanor Roosevelt,” in American Orators of the Twentieth Century, ed. Bernard K. Duffy and Halford R. Ryan (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1987), 342. 59. Eleanor Roosevelt, speech “Civil Liberties and the Individual” given before the Chicago Civil Liberties Committee, 14 March 1940, Speeches and Articles File. 60. Eleanor Roosevelt, speech to the Cause and Cure of War Convention, 23 January 1936, Speeches and Articles File. 61. James Kearney, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt: The Evolution of a Reformer (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1968), 229. 62. Ibid., 226. 63. Eleanor Roosevelt, It’s Up to the Women (New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1933), 81. 64. Eleanor Roosevelt, “My Day,” 16 January 1937. 65. Roosevelt, It Seems to Me, 80. 66. George Gallup, “Mrs. Roosevelt More Popular than President, Survey Finds,” Washington Post, 15 January 1939. 67. James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn, The Three Roosevelts (New York: Grove Press, 2001), 269. 68. Betty Winfield, “Mrs. Roosevelt’s Press Conference Association: The First Lady Shines a Light,” Journalism History 8 (Summer 1981): 54. 69. Roosevelt, Autobiography, 171. 70. Mary Hornaday, “New Mistress of White House Plans Conferences with Press,” Christian Science Monitor, 4 March 1933. 71. Roosevelt, This I Remember, 102. 72. Roosevelt, Autobiography, 172. 73. Beasley, Eleanor Roosevelt, 67. 74. Furman, Washington By-line, 106. 75. Beasley, Eleanor Roosevelt, 42. 76. Ibid., 43. 77. Roosevelt, This I Remember, 102. 78. Beasley, Eleanor Roosevelt, 67. 79. Ann Cottrell Free, “Press Conferences,” in Beasley, Shulman, and Beasley, Eleanor Roosevelt Encyclopedia, 411. 80. Beasley, Eleanor Roosevelt, 55. 81. Ibid. 82. Free, “Press Conferences,” 413. 83. Eleanor Roosevelt, Tomorrow Is Now (New York: Harper and Row, 1963), 119–20. 84. Black, Eleanor Roosevelt, 5. 85. Eleanor Roosevelt to Todhunter graduates, 3 June 1938, cited in Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt, vol. 2, 1933–1938 (New York: Viking Press, 1999), n.p. 86. Joanna S. Zangrando and Robert L. Zangrando, “ER and Black Civil Rights,” in HoffWilson and Lightman, Without Precedent, 91. 87. Eleanor Roosevelt, “Jeffersonian Principles the Issue in 1928,” Current History 28 (June 1928): 354–57. 88. Eleanor Roosevelt, Speeches and Articles File, Box 1, 1928. 89. Kearney, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, 65. 90. Chadakoff, Eleanor Roosevelt’s My Day, 155. 91. Ibid., 208. 92. Zangrando and Zangrando, “ER and Black Civil Rights,” 106. 93. Tamara K. Hareven, Eleanor Roosevelt, an American Conscience (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1968), 112. 94. Ibid., 16. 95. Eleanor Roosevelt, “What Religion Means to Me,” Forum, December 1932, 324. 96. “The Negro and Social Change,” speech before the National Urban League, from Opportunity, January 1936, cited in Black, Casting Her Own Shadow, 34. 97. Speech given to the Southern Conference on Human Welfare, 22 November 1938, cited in Black, Casting Her Own Shadow, 40.

98. 99. 100. 101. 102. 103. 104. 105. 106. 107. 108. 109. 110. 111. 112. 113. 114. 115. 116. 117. 118. 119. 120. 121. 122. 123.

124. 125. 126. 127. 128. 129. 130. 131. 132. 133. 134. 135. 136. 137. 138. 139. 140. 141.

Chadakoff, Eleanor Roosevelt’s My Day, 17. Eleanor Roosevelt, “My Day,” 17 July 1936. Eleanor Roosevelt, “My Day,” 16 August 1937. Eleanor Roosevelt, “Race, Religion, and Prejudice,” New Republic, 11 May 1942, 630. Black, Casting Her Own Shadow, 89. Hareven, Eleanor Roosevelt, 114. Roosevelt, It’s Up to the Women, 157. Eleanor Roosevelt, “Seventeenth Anniversary Address at Hampton Institute,” New York Times, 22 April 1938. Eleanor Roosevelt, “Address to the National Conference on Fundamental Problems in Education of Negroes,” Journal of Negro Education 3 (October 1934): 574–75. Harvard Sitkoff, A New Deal for Blacks: The Emergence of Civil Rights as a National Issue (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 201. Eleanor Roosevelt, “Some of My Best Friends Are Negro,” Ebony, February 1953, 17. Lash, Eleanor and Franklin, 516. Roosevelt, This I Remember, 162. Roosevelt, Grandmere, 192. “First Lady’s Anniversary Address,” Opportunity, December 1935, 5. Kearney, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, 68. Roosevelt, This I Remember, 164. Opportunity, December 1940, 356–57. Roosevelt, This I Remember, 173–74. Allida M. Black, “Civil Rights,” in Beasley, Shulman, and Beasley, Eleanor Roosevelt Encyclopedia, 90. Eleanor Roosevelt, “My Day,” 27 February 1939. Kearney, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, 90. Black, Casting Her Own Shadow, 47. Black, “Civil Rights,” 91. Kearney, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, 72. For a discussion of historians’ views, see, for example, Allida M. Black, “A Reluctant but Persistent Warrior: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Early Civil Rights Movement,” in Women in the Civil Rights Movement: Trailblazers and Torchbearers 1941–1965, ed. Vicki L. Crawford, Jacqueline A. Rouse, and Barbara Woods. (Brooklyn: Carlson, 1990); Nancy J. Weiss, Farewell to the Party of Lincoln: Black Politics in the Age of FDR (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983); and Sitkoff, New Deal for Blacks. Eleanor Roosevelt, undated and untitled manuscript; possibly early draft of 11 May 1934, NBC radio address, Speeches and Articles File, 1934. Eleanor Roosevelt, undated and untitled manuscript, Speeches and Articles File, 1935. Eleanor Roosevelt, The Moral Basis of Democracy (New York: Howell, Soskin, 1940), 47. Hareven, Eleanor Roosevelt, 124. Zangrando and Zangrando, “ER and Black Civil Rights,” 105. “Editorial: Eleanor Roosevelt,” Pittsburgh Courier, 24 November 1962. Beasley, Eleanor Roosevelt, 63. Eleanor Roosevelt, undated speech, Speeches and Articles File, 1934, Box 6. Eleanor Roosevelt, undated speech, Speeches and Articles File, 1932, Box 2. Lash, Eleanor and Franklin, 522. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., The Coming of the New Deal (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1959), 365. Paul Conkin, Tomorrow a New World (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1959), 104–5. Although the community was originally called the Reedsville Experimental Community, it quickly became known as Arthurdale. Roosevelt, This I Remember, 127. Eleanor Roosevelt, draft of broadcast speech given 25 April 1935, Speeches and Articles File, 1935–36. Eleanor Roosevelt, Speeches and Articles File, 1936–37. Ibid. Lash, Eleanor and Franklin, 383.



142. 143. 144. 145. 146. 147. 148. 149. 150. 151. 152. 153. 154. 155. 156. 157. 158. 159. 160. 161. 162. 163.

164. 165. 166. 167. 168. 169. 170. 171. 172.



173. 174. 175. 176.

“First Lady’s Remarks,” New York Times, 8 June 1934. Eleanor Roosevelt, Speeches and Articles File, 1934. W. Stout, “The New Homesteaders,” Saturday Evening Post, 4 August 1934, 5–6. Conkin, Tomorrow, 245. Eleanor Roosevelt, “Homes for Americans,” Woman’s Day, April 1940, 3. Roosevelt, This I Remember, 131. S. J. Woolf, “Energy,” New York Times Magazine, 28 May 1939, 10. Roosevelt, This I Remember, 133. Eleanor Roosevelt, Speeches and Articles File, 1933–34. Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt, vol. 2, 150. Eleanor Roosevelt, speech, 21 April 1934, Speeches and Articles File, 1933–34 Harold L. Ickes, The Secret Diary of Harold L. Ickes (New York: Doubleday, 1953), 207. Ibid., 218. Eleanor Roosevelt, “Economic Readjustments Necessary,” Democratic Bulletin, August 1932, 14. Eleanor Roosevelt, untitled speech, Speeches and Articles File, 1936–37. Eleanor Roosevelt, “Commencement Address at Chapel Hill,” Speeches and Articles File, 1935–36. Eleanor Roosevelt, “The Ideal Education,” in Moral Basis of Democracy, 14. Eleanor Roosevelt, speech, 24 January 1936, Speeches and Articles File, 1936–37. Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt, vol. 2, 151. Eleanor Roosevelt, This I Remember, 132. Winifred D. Wandersee, “ER and American Youth: Politics and Personality in a Bureaucratic Age,” in Hoff-Wilson and Lightman, Without Precedent, 64. Eleanor Roosevelt’s biographers have offered widely different accounts, reflecting a changing perception of the influence of women’s history, how research is conducted and recorded, and access to historical documents. Journalists who wrote early biographies include Black, Eleanor Roosevelt; and Alfred Steinberg, Mrs. R: The Life of Eleanor Roosevelt (New York: Putnam’s, 1958). Doris Kearns Goodwin, No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and the Home Front in World War II (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994), and Kenneth Davis, FDR into the Storm: 1937–1940 (New York: Random House, 1993), discuss Eleanor’s influence on FDR. Scholarly works that focus on Eleanor as a reformer include Tamara K. Hareven, “The Social Thought of Eleanor Roosevelt” (Ph.D. diss., Ohio State University, 1965); and James Kearney, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt: The Evolution of a Reformer (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1968). The first biography authorized by Eleanor’s estate was Lash, Eleanor and Franklin. Women’s historians Joan Hoff-Wilson and Marjorie Lightman edited Without Precedent: The Life and Career of Eleanor Roosevelt, emphasizing the importance of women’s social reform movements on Eleanor’s development. Maureen C. Beasley’s Eleanor Roosevelt and the Media provides a focus on the First Lady’s media use. More recently, biographers have presented Eleanor as a woman whose self-identity was formed by her search for independence. Among these are Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt, vols. 1 and 2; and Black, Casting Her Own Shadow. Roosevelt, Autobiography, 12. Ibid., 208. Ibid., 192. Roosevelt, It’s Up to the Women, 139. New York Times, 12 May 1924. Roosevelt, Speeches and Articles File, 1926–27. Roosevelt, It’s Up to the Women, 120. Kearney, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, 23. Blanche Wiesen Cook, “‘Turn toward Peace’: ER and Foreign Affairs,” in Hoff-Wilson and Lightman, Without Precedent, 120. Roosevelt, Autobiography, 208. Roosevelt, Speeches and Articles File, 1931–32. Roosevelt, Autobiography, 163. The NYA’s main goal was to provide financial help to young people from poor families in order to continue their schooling. Student pay was between $3 and $6 per month

177. 178. 179. 180. 181. 182. 183. 184.

185. 186. 187. 188. 189. 190. 191. 192. 193. 194. 195. 196. 197. 198. 199. 200. 201. 202. 203. 204. 205. 206. 207. 208.

for high school students, but it was often decisive in keeping them in school and out of the job market. Burns and Dunn, Three Roosevelts, 301. Roosevelt, Autobiography, 163. Eleanor Roosevelt, “My Day,” 26 May 1937. Wandersee, “ER and American Youth,” 69. Hareven, Eleanor Roosevelt, 74. Eleanor Roosevelt, “Affiliated Schools for Workers,” Speech, October 1933, Speeches and Articles File, 1934. Eleanor Roosevelt, “My Day,” 8 January 1937. His opposition created a feud that was one factor leading to the demise of the youth program in the 1940s, according to Wandersee, “ER and American Youth,” 67. For a brief biography of Aubrey Williams, see John A. Salmond, “Williams, Aubrey Willis,” in Beasley, Shulman, and Beasley, Eleanor Roosevelt Encyclopedia, 564. For his role in the American Youth Movement and involvement with Eleanor Roosevelt, see Wandersee, “ER and American Youth,” 69. Chadakoff, Eleanor Roosevelt’s My Day, 10, 107. Ibid., 54–55, 107. Ibid., 94, 107. Eleanor Roosevelt, “My Day,” 6 August 1938. Eleanor Roosevelt, “American Youth Congress Address,” Youth Digest, December 1938, 8. Lash, Eleanor and Franklin, 554. Eleanor Roosevelt, “My Day,” 1 December 1939. Chadakoff, Eleanor Roosevelt’s My Day, 148. Lewis Gould, American Youth Today (New York: Random House, 1940), 150–51. Roosevelt, “American Youth Congress Address,” 8. Lash, Eleanor and Franklin, 606. Eleanor Roosevelt, “This Is Youth Speaking” (pamphlet published by American Youth Congress, 1940), 26–27. Wandersee, “ER and American Youth,” 83. Kearney, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, 40–41. Chadakoff, Eleanor Roosevelt’s My Day, 170. Eleanor Roosevelt, “My Day,” 11 July 1940. Eleanor Roosevelt, Speeches and Articles File, 1940. Joseph Lash, Eleanor Roosevelt: A Friend’s Memoir (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1964), 164. Eleanor Roosevelt, “Why I Still Believe in the Youth Congress,” Liberty, 20 April 1940, 30–32. Allida M. Black, ed., Courage in a Dangerous World: The Political Writings of Eleanor Roosevelt (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 49–50. Eleanor Roosevelt, Speeches and Articles File, 1935–36. Roosevelt, This I Remember, 205. Wandersee, “ER and American Youth,” 64. Clarence Kramer and Henry Morganthau, “Interviews with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt,” Heritage Series, Reel 2, pt. 2: Life with FDR, 1958.



The Rhetoric of Social Security and Conservative Backlash: Frances Perkins as Secretary of Labor Ann J. Atkinson

rances Perkins, secretary of labor from 1933 to 1945, was the first woman to hold a cabinet-level post and served longer than any other secretary before her or since, save one.1 She came to the position as a social reformer, not the usual route for appointment as a cabinet secretary. Her career in public service began with her work for the Consumers’ League in New York in the early 1900s and concluded with her contributions to the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University in the early 1960s. Two rhetorical episodes during Perkins’s tenure as labor secretary help to explain her influence as a New Dealer and to detail the backlash against her by conservative Republicans. Perkins achieved rhetorical success in her work as chair of the Committee on Economic Security, which produced the Social Security Act of 1935. Perkins and the New Dealers, among others, would argue this was her best effort. The second moment was a deeply troubling one, one that matched the high moment of success surrounding Social Security with the lows of political backlash, which included suspicions about her political leanings and a difficult public hearing. A resolution of impeachment was brought against her. She responded to the resolution at a House judicial hearing. The range of Perkins’s rhetorical achievement is illustrated by four speeches about social security between August 1934 and February 1935 and by the speech she gave before the House Judiciary Committee on 8 February 1939, responding to the resolution of impeachment.




Political Influences before the New Deal Years From 1898 to 1902, Perkins attended Mount Holyoke Seminary (now College) in South Hadley, Massachusetts. The school was founded by Mary Lyon, a famous educator of the nineteenth century,2 who charged the women who came to the seminary “[t]o meet public, not private wants: to serve the many, not the few.” Lyon added, “[T]he life within these walls must be fitted closely to the life without; the academic must be made to further the uses of the big busy world.”3 Early in her career, Perkins was encouraged to understand how she, as one individual, could make a positive difference within her community. The daughters of Mary Lyon, as students were called during Perkins’s time at Mount Holyoke and today, were not educated to be interesting companions to men who returned to the comfort of home and hearth after a day in the public domain. These women were expected to join the fray. In the late nineteenth century, according to Barbara Solomon, what few women undergraduates there were, were serious, some with very strong, if vague, aspirations to do something important with their education. A larger segment consisted of earnest, hardworking individuals who expected to teach or intended to seek other employment.4 At Mount Holyoke, Perkins was an average student, but she was strongly influenced by one of her professors. Annah May Soule, a history professor, took her students to the textile mills in nearby Holyoke so they could see firsthand the conditions in which some people had to work to make a living wage. Soule assigned photojournalist Jacob Riis’s book How the Other Half Lives: Studies among the Tenements of New York to her students in a course called American Economic History. The daughter of upper-middle-class parents in Worcester, Massachusetts, Perkins was changed by what she read and saw. In Riis’s book, she read: Let me mention here three very recent [1890] instances of tenement-house life that came under my notice. One was the burning of a rear house in Mott Street, from appearances one of the original tenant-houses that made their owners rich. The fire made homeless ten families. Another was the case of a hard-working family of man and wife, young people from the old country, who took poison together in a Crosby Street tenement because they were “tired.” There was no other explanation, and none was needed when I stood in the room in which they had lived. It was in the attic with sloping ceiling and a single window so far out on the roof that it seemed not to belong to the place at all. With scarcely room enough to turn around in they had been compelled to pay five dollars and a half a month in advance. There were four such rooms in that attic and together they brought in as much as many a handsome little cottage in a pleasant part of Brooklyn. The third instance was that of a colored family of husband, wife, and baby in a wretched rear rookery in West Third Street. Their rent was eight dollars and a half for a single room on the topstory, so small that I was unable to get a photograph of it even by placing the camera outside the open door. Three short steps either way would have measured its full extent.5

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Evidence supporting how profound this change was for Perkins exists in her mother’s impression of her at commencement from Mount Holyoke Seminary. Her mother remarked that she no longer knew her daughter, that Frances was leaving the college a changed person.6 It is significant that Frances Perkins came from an upper-middle-class background. The conditions in the factory, the images created in Riis’s book, were

completely foreign to her. She lived a life of ease, a life where a comfortable bed in pleasant surroundings and three square meals a day prepared by an attentive mother were taken for granted. Her college years were experienced in an environment of pastoral serenity. The grounds of Mount Holyoke would have had fewer buildings during her time than today, but the lush foliage and picturesque countryside would have been part of Perkins’s daily view. Her comfortable, protected life had screened her from the misery she now witnessed and read about. She was truly shocked. That shock was transformed, in part through Soule’s skill as a teacher, into a political agenda. Perkins made it her life’s work to ameliorate the conditions she first learned of during her years as a college student. In February 1902, Florence Kelley, then the inspector for the Consumers’ League, came to the college to speak about the need for child labor laws.7 “She [Kelley] was the first and, until Governor Alfred E. Smith appointed Frances Perkins in New York thirty-five years later, the only woman to head a state factory inspection department.”8 Though Perkins never adopted Kelley’s firebrand style, she was influenced by Kelley’s approach to social reform. Florence Kelley had been raised in comfortable surroundings in Philadelphia, the daughter of a U.S. congressman, who, like Frances Perkins’s father, believed in the intellectual capability of his daughter. Kelley had a life-altering experience, similar to Perkins’s visit to the textile mills in Holyoke, when, at the age of twelve, she visited a glass factory near Pittsburgh and saw small boys running to the intense flame to fetch the blower’s mold, clean it, and replace it for the next piece of glass being shaped.9 The image of these children being exposed to such horrendous conditions sustained her energies to pass child labor laws. Kelley’s style, in speaking and writing about individual and community action as it related to labor issues, was to praise or blame. In the book Some Ethical Gains through Legislation, and throughout her speaking career, she praised legislative action and blamed judges for making what she deemed were bad rulings. Bad laws, in her view, were those that did not go far enough to protect women and children in the workplace. Rhetorical critic Karen Altman called this Kelley’s “epideictic impulse.”10 This direct and decisive manner earned her the respect and admiration of the women and men who worked with her on social reform. In a speech given on 31 January 1929, at a luncheon in Kelley’s honor, Perkins referred to Kelley as “that mother of us all.”11 When Perkins was successful in her attempt to craft a compromise so the fiftyfour-hour bill would be passed in the New York legislature, she feared Kelley would be disappointed in her for refusing to stand firm. Perkins had allowed workers in the canneries to be excluded from the bill, which prohibited all women and boys under eighteen from working in the factories for more than fifty-four hours a week.12 Kelley was, much to Perkins’s surprise, pleased with the achievement. Florence Kelley died in February 1932, months before Perkins was appointed to be secretary of labor.13 At the funeral, Perkins spoke, saying, “She took a whole group of young people, formless in their aspirations, and molded their aspirations for social justice into some definite purpose.”14 The next influence on Perkins was Hull House, a place that had been inhabited by her mentor, Florence Kelley. Kelley was a driving force at the settlement house, which had been established in 1889 and in the turmoil of Chicago politics in the early years of the twentieth century. Kelley had co-authored a book with founder Jane Addams and a group of Hull House residents titled Hull House Maps and Papers, which described the settlement house and the social research that had been conducted by the co-authors. Perkins spent her weekends and vacations at the settlement house that promoted social justice and the life of the mind.15 She went to Chicago after a brief stint teaching at a private high school in Worcester, Massachusetts. She was unfulfilled by the



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experience of working with children of privilege and decided to follow in the path of Florence Kelley. Perkins secured a teaching position at a private girls’ school, Ferry Hall in Lake Forest, Illinois, to support herself so she could spend time at Hull House learning how to help people who, in her estimation, truly needed her help. At the settlement house, Perkins was in a community similar to Mount Holyoke. Historian Linda Kerber discusses the concept of the “public female sphere.” These spaces, as exemplified by Hull House and women’s colleges, were public in that they were not domestic spaces, but they were not fully public for there was still a larger public with whom these women, if not actually, at least theoretically needed to contend. The strength of the public female sphere was its ability to empower women in safe spaces.16 Historian Kathryn Kish Sklar argues that women drew social strength from separate female institutions, but to “realize the full potential of their collective power” they needed to reach beyond those boundaries.17 Frances Perkins did. She learned the ropes at the settlement house, beginning with Hull House and continuing at Greenwich House in New York City, and she took those lessons into the political world.18 Simon Patten, an educator like Annah May Soule, also influenced Perkins. He taught at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where Perkins took the first courses toward her master’s degree. In 1907, Patten wrote a book called The New Basis of Civilization.19 In it he argued that poverty would be solved by addressing the systemic, communal nature of the problem, not the problems of particular poor individuals. Mary Richmond, author of The Good Neighbor, also published in 1907, was positioned on the other side of this debate. She pioneered the techniques of casework and was “deeply disturbed by Patten’s preference for group over individual action.”20 Patten believed civilization could discover its appropriate moral and ethical standards when paired constructs were held in balance. The actual balancing of the terms would achieve the appropriate standard. Those oppositional constructs included wealth/want, restraint/abundance, and individual needs/community needs. Patten perceived the very wealthy and the very poor to be equally helpless—the rich from unlimited choice, the poor from a lack of choice. A balance between the two positions would eliminate both satiation and starvation of want.21 To achieve such a balance, the notions of abundance and restraint would need to be paired to produce an economy of restrained abundance. A condition of abundance allowed for individuals in society to develop sophisticated leisure activities while the presence of restraint disallowed decadence in those activities. Maintaining the balance among paired oppositional terms would be achieved with the individual in society seeing and being seen in the efforts to develop and maintain community. The public activities would present themselves in “[t]he slow accumulation of customs, manners, and habits of thought.”22 The notion of leisure time was critical to Patten’s theory. The very rich, he argued, had lifestyles with so many choices and so many possibilities that desire was sated. The very poor could not be tempted to engage in activity other than sleep or rest when they were not at work. In a balance between the two constructs would be a place for the imagination to produce and appreciate all the hallmarks of a civilized culture—art, music, literature, and, in Patten’s theory, even a camp meeting or a circus. These kinds of activities, in addition to providing a shared experience, could keep the citizenry from the pitfalls of abundance—gluttony and vice. The institution for developing the all-encompassing culture of restrained abundance was industry—industry in a socialized mode. Patten asserted, “Education was socialized when men began to perceive its returns in efficiency and good citizenship. Industry will be socialized and poverty checked when health and energy are given their due consideration.”23

Patten looked at his own approach as balancing theory with practice. The personification of that balance was the social worker. He outlined his preferences about the role of these workers in this new profession: It is as necessary to educate the rich to an appreciation of indirect distant gratifications as it is to teach the poor to understand the values in work at more than one remove from the object of desire. Efficiency is indirect work; generosity is indirect enjoyment. Both are stages in the same process of reviving the imagination so that it arouses action and emotion.24 Patten believed that one of his students, Frances Perkins, was more of a doer than a scholar, even though she was studying for a master’s degree at a time when few women pursued a bachelor’s degree much less a graduate degree. She reported that he said to her: “Frances, I think you are a person of action; I advise you to go no further with these academic studies but to get out and satisfy your restless spirit by doing something about it.”25 She chose politics as the way, in the words of her teacher, to “transform local abuses into justice . . . and secure reforms.”26 The 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire was a defining moment in her political career. The shirtwaist factory became an inferno because no one had held the supervisors or owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, to account for the horrible working conditions. Those conditions caused the fire and prevented escape for the 146 individuals, many of whom were young women, who died.27 Perkins was in New York City, just a short distance from the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, on the day of the fire. She said of that day: It was a fine, bright spring afternoon. . . . We heard the fire engines and rushed into the Square to see what was going on. We saw the smoke pouring out of the building. We got there just as they started to jump. I shall never forget the frozen horror which came over us as we stood with our hands on our throats watching that horrible sight, knowing that there was no help. They came down in twos and threes, jumping together in a kind of desperate hope. The life nets were broken. The firemen kept shouting for them not to jump. But they had no choice; the flames were right behind them for by this time the fire was far gone. Out of that terrible episode came a self-examination of stricken conscience in which the people of this state saw for the first time the individual worth and value of each of those 146 people who fell or were burned in that great fire. And we saw, too, the great human value of every individual who was injured in an accident by a machine.28 One of Perkins’s biographers, George Martin, wrote of the fire’s influence on her that “fifty years after, in 1961, Perkins, [Rose] Schneiderman and fourteen survivors attended a meeting conducted by the New York City Fire Department to remember the dead. For those present the horrors of the Triangle fire never faded into history.”29 The Factory Investigating Commission, created after the Triangle fire, owed its composition and consequently its success with the New York State legislature to Al Smith. Perkins wrote that the commission engaged in “four years of searching, of public hearings, of legislative formulations, of pressuring through the legislature the greatest battery of bills to prevent disasters and hardships affecting working people, of passing laws the likes of which has never been seen in any four sessions of any state legislature.”30 Days after the fire, there were several protest meetings. From these gatherings came a unified effort to petition New York’s governor John Dix to take action.



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Perkins, who had joined the Consumers’ League in 1910, accompanied the group to Albany as the league’s representative.31 At the meeting with the governor, all agreed about creating a commission but disagreed about who should be on the commission and who should be responsible for the appointments. Some thought it should be an executive committee of experts. Assemblyman Al Smith believed the members had to have credibility with the legislature. The legislature, after all, would pass or veto the commission’s recommendations in the form of bills. After much discussion, Smith’s point won the day. The New York State Factory Investigating Commission, a legislative committee, was composed of experts and legislators and was chaired by a legislator, Robert Wagner. The vice chair was Al Smith. Their accomplishments, Perkins later wrote, were exemplary.32 Al Smith, as evidenced by his efforts in the creation of the Factory Investigating Commission, and Timothy “Big Tim” Sullivan, in his efforts on the fifty-four-hour bill, taught Perkins much about the intricacies of the political process. Her loyalty to them because of their attention and fairness to her as a young lobbyist and investigator never faltered and, in the case of the Sullivan family, returned to her in a way she could never have anticipated. Frances Perkins became acquainted with “Big Tim” Sullivan late in his career as they worked together to shepherd the fifty-four-hour bill into law. Between January 1911 and March 1912, when the bill was scheduled for a vote, she traveled to the capitol in Albany to lobby legislators.33 At thirty years old, Perkins was at the beginning of her political career, after years spent teaching, working and living at settlement houses, and earning a master’s degree. “Big Tim” Sullivan had been a powerful Bowery boss, a product of Tammany Hall. Officially, Tammany Hall was the executive committee of the New York County Democratic Committee.34 Unofficially, “the party machine organized the electorate in order to control the tangible benefits of public office—patronage, services, contracts, and franchises. . . . Bosses purchased voter support with offers of public jobs and services rather than by appeals to traditional loyalties or to class interests.”35 Sullivan had also been a successful entrepreneur, earning money from saloons, theaters, and gambling places.36 He had served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, but he became bored by the Republican-controlled House and returned to New York. After a successful campaign, he rejoined the state legislature. Sullivan had fought political battles for many years and at this stage in his political life did not always have his “shoulder to the wheel.” According to Harold Zink, Sullivan spent some time in Albany during his last term in the legislature, but “often he was off in search of sporting events.”37 When Sullivan was at his post, he was willing to support and teach the young lobbyist from the Consumers’ League. They were very different people, Perkins and “Big Tim.” She had an advanced degree from Columbia University; “Big Tim” had completed his formal education at the age of eleven. Perkins was a product of an all-women’s college and the settlement house; Sullivan had come up through the ranks of New York City politics as a loyal and very successful Tammany Hall man. Perkins was just beginning to make a name for herself; Sullivan had been well known in the state and, especially, in New York City for a long time. In the 1890s, “[a] portrait of Big Tim was hung in nearly every building in his district. The annual picnic of the Timothy D. Sullivan Association . . . was one of the great Democratic functions of the year.”38 But for all their differences, Perkins and Sullivan agreed on the substance of the fifty-four-hour bill. Perkins, like her mentors Jane Addams and Florence Kelley, was a supporter of protective legislation. Tim Sullivan was, too.39 Additionally, Sullivan was a supporter of the woman suffrage bill, having been the only Democrat for years to vote for it.40 He was sensitive to the needs of his mother and sister, and

used their plights and challenges to understand how legislation could benefit them. According to Perkins, reflecting on her years as a lobbyist during her interviews for Columbia’s Oral History Collection, he responded to her heartfelt concern that the fifty-four-hour bill would fail to become law by saying, “Me sister was a poor girl and she went out to work when she was young. I feel kinda sorry for them poor girls that work the way you say they work. I’d like to do them a good turn. I’d like to do you a good turn. You don’t know much about this parliamentary stuff, do you?”41 For a number of years the Democrats had claimed they favored passage of the bill. In 1912, the lobbyists for the Consumers’ League were told to force the bill to a vote. The McManus Bill in the state senate was acceptable to the League, but the Jackson Bill in the assembly was not, for it had an amendment that exempted women who worked in the canneries. The Rules Committee of the assembly, against Perkins’s earlier voiced hopes and while she was away from the legislative scene for an hour or so, reported out the Jackson Bill. Perkins learned from Tim Sullivan that the favoring of the Jackson Bill was part of the plan. The bill, as amended and passed by the assembly, would die without a roll call in the senate.42 She did not want another year to pass without this protective legislation, so she decided, after trying unsuccessfully to reach Consumers’ League leaders, to accept the amendment and force the vote in the senate. To Perkins, the numbers were compelling. Four hundred thousand women could benefit from the law. The women in the canneries numbered 10,000. She would try to help them later. But then she learned from Sullivan there were other difficult hurdles to overcome. Robert Wagner was the chair of the Rules Committee, but as the temporary president of the senate, he could not act in his capacity as committee chair to call for the vote. Sullivan helped Perkins stay on course once more by reminding the senate that he was the acting chair of the Rules Committee in such circumstances. He then called for a vote on the bill.43 Perkins’s hard work and Sullivan’s political savvy were about to pay off. Tim and his cousin, Christy Sullivan, voted and then left the senate floor to catch the Albany boat home to New York City. A couple of senators, knowing Tim Sullivan had departed, changed the vote they had told Sullivan they would cast. Perkins, moments earlier nervous, yet excited, was now frantic. She called down to the boat and told the operators to send the Sullivans back to the senate. Perkins remembered the moment: “When Tim Sullivan came puffing up the hill after being pulled off the Albany boat, he said to me, ‘It’s all right, me gal, we is wid ya. De bosses thought they was going to kill your bill, but they forgot about Tim Sullivan.’”44 The bill became law, and Perkins never forgot Sullivan, who died the following year, or the political lessons about compromise and the art of parliamentary procedure that he taught her. Sullivan’s family and his political friends taught her about loyalty, too. When Perkins, as secretary of labor, was charged by Congressman J. Parnell Thomas of New Jersey on the floor of the House of Representatives to respond to a resolution of impeachment, Christy Sullivan and other members of the Tammany Hall delegation stood to support her. Perkins recounted that Christy Sullivan ran down the aisle of the House to take the floor, shouting: “You can’t say this about her. This woman comes from New York, and we know her. I’ve known her twenty years. This is a good woman.”45 After the votes were tallied and confirmed on the fifty-four-hour bill, Al Smith said to Perkins, “You pulled a smart one. That was very smart. I didn’t think you had the courage to do it.”46 And she still had to face Florence Kelley about the action she had taken without the Consumers’ League’s blessing, making her act even more courageous than Al Smith knew. In later years, Perkins recalled the



importance of this lobbying effort at the Albany legislature to help working women and boys: “That’s where I cut my political teeth; that’s where I met Al Smith; that’s where I met Robert Wagner.”47 Al Smith had been a member of the state legislature for seven years when he met Perkins. Like “Big Tim” Sullivan, Smith had gained valuable experience in the streets of New York, especially in the Fulton Fish Market, where he had worked as a combination salesman and assistant bookkeeper for John Feeney and Company.48 Smith had been helped by Tammany Hall leader Thomas Foley to secure his first political post in New York City, and Smith supported Tammany Hall’s activities, but he was not, as “Big Tim” Sullivan had been, an active participant in the machine. One of Smith’s biographers, Oscar Handlin, wrote: “True he [Smith] had been a Tammany man. But in a way that added to the impressiveness of his achievement; for so many years he had carried pitch and remained unsmeared.”49 In 1912, Smith began his work as vice chair of the Factory Investigating Commission, created after the Triangle fire. In May of that year, Perkins resigned from the Consumers’ League to join the Committee on Safety. As a member of this committee, she did investigative work for the Factory Investigating Commission. In her oral history, Perkins described the way she made the members of the commission aware of the problems that needed to be solved: We saw to it that the austere legislative members of the Commission got up at dawn and drove with us for an unannounced visit to a Cattaraugus County cannery and that they saw with their own eyes the little children, not adolescents, but five-, six-, and seven-year olds, snipping beans and shelling peas. We made sure that they saw the machinery that would scalp a girl or cut off a man’s arm. Hours so long that both men and women were depleted and exhausted became realities to them through seeing for themselves the dirty little factories.50

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Perkins’s witnessing of the Triangle fire sustained her desire to enact corrective legislation. She believed the members of the commission would be similarly convinced if they saw the conditions rather than heard about them. In the case of Al Smith, her approach tapped into the way he absorbed information and formed policy. “He [Smith] does not start from an interest in general principles and proceed to an interest in detail. He starts with the problem in front of him, and the mastery of that special concrete problem is what leads him to his general principles.”51 Perkins put the problem squarely in front of Smith, and he responded by developing a political agenda that she would later argue laid the groundwork for the programs of the New Deal. In her manuscript “The Al Smith I Knew,” Perkins wrote: “He should be remembered as a great governor, the forerunner of the New Deal, and as a man who was honest, open-minded, devoted to his party, and loyal to his friends.”52 Both Smith and Perkins were better speakers and conversationalists than they were writers. Biographer Oscar Handlin argued that Al Smith was not a writer because he was not a reader of great books.53 Perkins was a reader and yet she, too, was more comfortable talking than writing. Her biography of Franklin Roosevelt, The Roosevelt I Knew, was spoken into a tape recorder.54 When Al Smith was elected governor of New York in 1918, he remembered Perkins’s work for the Consumers’ League and the Committee on Safety and asked her to serve as a member of the Industrial Commission. The commission was responsible for “supervising factory inspectors, setting health and safety standards, mediating disputes, and for making final decisions about awarding workmen’s

compensation.”55 Perkins was skilled in all of these areas, so she was a logical choice, but both she and Smith knew it could be a tough road since she would be the first woman to hold such a post. She asked Smith if she could consider the offer with friends and colleagues first. Smith was not pleased, because he wanted her to speak for herself, but he agreed. Perkins went to see Florence Kelley, for she wanted her to approve and feared she might not. To Perkins’s surprise, Kelley was moved to tears and said to her, “Glory be to God! I never thought I would live to see the day when someone that we had trained, who knew about industrial conditions, cared about women, cared to have things right, would have the chance to be an administrative officer.”56 Frances Perkins and Al Smith taught each other. She learned about the political process from him. He learned about the philosophical underpinnings of social reform from her. When Perkins and Smith were no longer working together, Perkins overheard a man asking a Tammany Hall politician where Al Smith got all his facts and figures. “‘He read a book,’ said the Tammany man. ‘What did he read?’ ‘He knew Frances Perkins and she was a book.’”57

Coming to the Roosevelt Administration Perkins was a seasoned politician by the time she was named to be secretary of labor. She had worked as a lobbyist, worked on the commission that investigated the causes of the Triangle fire, and served as industrial commissioner for New York State. Franklin Roosevelt knew of Perkins’s work from the time they both spent in New York State politics. She and the president had much in common. They were both favored children.58 Perkins sat at her father’s knee to learn Greek and Latin and, at his insistence, was educated at Worcester Classical High, a school comprised almost exclusively of boys who were being prepared for college.59 FDR was pampered by a father old enough to be his grandfather and a mother who did not alter her nurturing ways when Franklin was grown and who often meddled in his married life. Both Perkins and Roosevelt attended schools known for their powerful educational leaders. At Groton, Roosevelt was influenced by Endicott Peabody, who once said, “If some Groton boys do not enter political life and do something for our land, it won’t be because they have not been urged.”60 At Mount Holyoke, founder Mary Lyon insisted that her students understand and be able to work efficiently in the private and public spheres. Franklin Roosevelt was comfortable in the presence of women, perhaps because of his extraordinarily close relationship with his mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt.61 But in this closeness was a constant struggle to develop and maintain his independence without injuring his mother’s feelings. He learned to tell just enough, a habit that he followed in his political life. When Franklin wed Eleanor Roosevelt, his wife and his mother began a power struggle that ended only when Sara died. FDR managed, often with great difficulty, to remain in the good graces of both until a third woman, Lucy Mercer, entered the picture. Franklin’s affair with Mercer ended when Sara told him that a divorce from Eleanor would find him disinherited of his share of the Delano inheritance, which was substantial. Later Marguerite “Missy” LeHand was hired as FDR’s secretary, and she attended to the day-to-day administrative tasks, assisted with scheduling, lived at the White House, and served as hostess for cocktail parties and dinners when Eleanor was out of town. “ER always treated Missy LeHand with warmth and protective affection, and seemed to favor her as an elder daughter or, in the manner of Asian matriarchs, as the junior wife.”62 In this threesome, Eleanor was in control, so FDR



did not have to practice elaborate fence sitting. To be in the company of most women, for Franklin, necessitated complicated maneuvering to remain in favor with all, but women did not betray him.63 Men did, beginning with their taunting laughter at Groton and continuing at Harvard with their refusal to have FDR as a member of the exclusive club, Porcellian, which had welcomed his father and his cousin, Theodore, in their days as students.64 Frances Perkins had gained much of her political acumen from observing and being mentored by men, beginning with her father, Fred Perkins, and continuing with Al Smith, Robert Wagner, and “Big Tim” Sullivan; but, as had been noted by columnist Drew Pearson, she was more apt to be off her guard while in the company of women.65

Epistemic Stances of FDR and Perkins Frances Perkins was a perceptive judge of character, able to analyze colleagues and supervisors and identify their strengths and weaknesses as politicians and managers. Of Franklin Roosevelt during the New Deal years, she held a much different opinion, a far more positive view than the one she held of him when he served as a New York State senator. When he was a young senator, she thought he was shallow, more interested in having authority than in helping those who would grant him that authority. As president, she said of him: He had to have feeling as well as thought. His emotions, his intuitive understanding, his imagination, his moral and traditional bias, his sense of right and wrong—all entered into his thinking, and unless these flowed freely through his mind as he considered a subject, he was unlikely to come to any clear conclusion or even to a clear understanding.66

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This was a president who understood the importance of logic and emotion, not just as he persuaded others but as he came to terms with problems and programs. He was able to make decisions that were seemingly at odds with each other because the decision-making process he utilized was governed by more than the logic of the situation. FDR said as much in a conversation he had with Perkins: “I [Perkins] remarked that logic is an instrument which assists man in his thinking but is not a reliable guide to action, and that man acting on pure logic is often untrue to his nature. The President said, ‘That is exactly right, that is the way I feel.’”67 Let us examine an aspect of the secretary’s and president’s working relationship in terms of the tension between logic and empathy. Perkins often digested works about economic theory for Roosevelt. She could organize the logical structures of particular treatises, and Roosevelt could add what was, for him, the essential ingredient for decision-making, namely, the way the audience would react to the possible changes. Roosevelt was able to gauge how his political actions would be interpreted by a large segment of the population. He had lived a life of ease, but the complicated maneuverings he learned in order to keep his life on an even keel trained him to always think of his actions in terms of the audience for those actions. In his early years, that meant minimizing worry for an elderly, ailing father while providing needed spontaneity in the home and finding ways to separate from a domineering mother without hurting her feelings. Roosevelt not only considered how his audience might respond to his rhetorical presentation; he also preferred to do his own thinking in front of an audience. Perkins observed that Roosevelt learned best when he was involved in conversation. Roosevelt biographer James MacGregor Burns concluded that FDR used

visitors as “more introverted leaders might use books—as sources of information.”68 As governor and then as president, he was aware of the need to understand how information would be processed by the public and, therefore, to reason in the realm of probability and in the particulars of the moment. Probability is central to the rhetorical tradition. Aristotle drew a distinction between the syllogism and the enthymeme because of the enthymeme’s derivation from probabilities. Syllogisms, as counterpoint, are derived from absolutes. Aristotle referred to the enthymeme as the rhetorical syllogism because it relies on the audience to fill in the missing premise.69 The necessity of the audience, the human element, creates the place for probability. FDR understood the political importance of the rhetorical syllogism, for he said to Perkins, “You have to give men an opportunity to understand for themselves in their own way. You can’t rush them. Not in a democracy.”70 Roosevelt was skilled in transferring the theoretical goals of a particular situation into a form that would be accessible to the public as in the “fireside chats” and the programs at the beginning of his first term. He knew that action was necessary. The people needed to see an administration that was trying something, anything, to alter the course of the Great Depression. Roosevelt knew, too, how to suppress an accessible form that would be used to draw inappropriate, theoretical conclusions. He understood how his physical condition could be used as a metaphor for a, to use the acceptable term in the 1930s, crippled nation. To avoid such a comparison, he saw to it that pictures were not taken of him while he was sitting in a wheelchair. Houck and Kiewe, writing in FDR’s Body Politics: The Rhetoric of Disability, argue that FDR’s “concealment had nothing to do with polio per se but with how the public attributed meaning to that affliction.”71 Only three photographs that show FDR’s physical disability are known to have been preserved.72 Both Perkins and Roosevelt could be called visual learners, an approach that is often accompanied by a particular appreciation for picturesque, metaphorical language. The defining moment in Perkins’s career, the witnessing of the Triangle fire, was a powerful moment emotionally and visually. Roosevelt, particularly in terms of his physical self after contracting polio, was always cognizant of the power of the visual in his political career. Perkins understood that FDR was a visual learner. She also knew that he enjoyed categorization as a way to make sense of things, as revealed by his longtime hobbies, taxidermy and stamp collecting.73 Perkins structured her private meetings with Roosevelt so she could get the best of his attention and his ideas. She condensed memos for him. She studied problems and brought two-page synopses of her findings so he could glance at a lot of information quickly.74 She used narrative accounts whenever she could. They worked well together because she was like a good teacher who understands the needs of her students on their terms. Ideas flowed quickly because the table was always set to suit Roosevelt.

Rhetorical Issues at Stake Franklin Roosevelt told Perkins that he was concerned about the desperation of many Americans about the Depression, that he was worried about three plans that were gaining attention as a way to help those in need, and that he did not want the government to provide the “dole.” He appointed her to head the Committee on Economic Security to bring together experts to research existing plans and to prepare a plan for social security that Congress would pass into law. Friends and colleagues maintain Perkins could have called herself the “Mother of Social Security” since it was her hard work that brought this legislation to



fruition. Few Americans now remember that Perkins was the major architect and public advocate for social security. Her approach, though not always assertive or designed to place her at the greatest personal advantage, may have been the best one to ensure the passage of some form of social security. One of the lessons she had learned as a lobbyist—taking the half loaf—would inform her decisions as the leader of the committee. Two programs were the forerunners of the social security legislation in the United States—mothers’ aid and worker’s compensation. The mothers’ aid programs, precursors to the aid-to-dependent-children provisions of the Social Security Act, were first passed in Illinois in 1911.75 Also in 1911 the Wisconsin Workmen’s Compensation Act became the first state law of this kind to go into effect in the United States.76 Nine other states passed similar legislation in the same year.77 New York State had passed a worker’s compensation law earlier in 1910, but it was ruled unconstitutional in 1911. A new law that withstood challenge was passed in 1913.78 These laws were intended to serve particular groups—those who had fallen on difficult times. If circumstances changed for the better, presumably the assistance would no longer be needed. There was no intention to protect everyone simultaneously, though everyone had the potential to be included. In other words, the programs were not meant to be comprehensive, like those that had been in place in Great Britain, Germany, and other European countries for almost fifty years. Why did the United States seem unconcerned with enacting more sweeping legislation? William Lloyd Mitchell, a commissioner of the Social Security Administration, responds: “The first reason was our cherished ideal of ‘rugged individualism.’ Secondly, no extreme and widespread national emergency had arisen. Thirdly, the country was rapidly growing and was rich in natural wealth.”79 To focus more closely on Mitchell’s first point about individualism, a brief discussion of a political figure who identified with this ideal is in order. President Herbert Hoover had used the rhetoric associated with the frontier thesis, the victory of the individual against the odds, throughout his political career as well as during the days after Black Tuesday, 29 October 1929. He talked about the lofty goals that could be accomplished by the individual, unencumbered by state and federal regulation.80 But the American people, with the ballot, had claimed that the ideal of “rugged individualism” to produce change did not work when it came to economic recovery. Franklin Roosevelt had won the 1932 presidential election in a landslide, in part by indicating that the problems were too big for individuals to solve. In a campaign speech given in San Francisco at the Commonwealth Club on 23 September 1932, Roosevelt said: Faith in America, faith in our tradition of personal responsibility, faith in our institutions, faith in ourselves demands that we recognize the new terms of the old social contract. We shall fulfill them as we fulfilled the obligation of the apparent Utopia which Jefferson imagined for us in 1776, and which Jefferson, Roosevelt and Wilson sought to bring to realization. We must do so, lest a rising tide of misery engendered by our common failure, engulf us all. But failure is not an American habit; and in the strength of great hope we must all shoulder our common load.81

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The hardships may have been created by individuals in their quest for individual achievement, but the way out of the crisis was to work together to lighten the burden that had been placed upon everyone. Franklin Roosevelt and Frances Perkins not only disagreed with Herbert Hoover about when reform would be accomplished, but they also had different ideas about how to accomplish change. For Roosevelt and Perkins, recovery and

reform measures needed to be instituted simultaneously to prevent an economic disaster of such magnitude from occurring again.82 To the new president and his secretary of labor, the notions of recovery and reform were in partnership. Social insurance was the needed reform. What did the emergency that prompted the serious study of social security look like to those with the political will to make a change, namely FDR and his cabinet? Many Americans lost their life savings, their homes, and their land. Joblessness was widespread, as high as 25 percent, and many families were hungry. Family structures changed. There was a return to the multigenerational household for economic reasons. Often these living arrangements tacked another level of stress onto an already difficult situation.83 Perkins talked about these complicated arrangements in her 1934 book, People at Work: As the depression went on people began to double up in little apartments in the city. A brother-in-law with his family came home, a niece who had no job had to be provided for. Two families learned to use the same kitchen, and some of them slept in the dining room. It was an unhealthy situation, but there are many unhealthy features of depression besides overcrowding.84 T. H. Watkins writes about the powerful images that would remind later generations of the awful consequences of an economy out of control in the 1930s, images created by photographers charged by Roosevelt and his cabinet to capture the human drama of the Great Depression: [T]here are few Americans who cannot conjure up a visual “memory” of those days whether they lived through them or not. Farmland ravaged by erosion and baked by the sun; Hoovervilles, those magpie villages strewn with litter and disappointment; dust storms boiling up in mountainous black clouds over helpless little towns and lonely, hurrying automobiles; homesteads buried in sand; corn dead on its stalks; cattle bawling helplessly for water . . . men sitting on park benches, eyes downcast, standing in dull, uncomplaining ranks in breadlines, piled into the dim recesses of employment offices . . . apple sellers smiling desperately.85 Few families were spared. Men, women, and children from rural and urban settings were fighting for their existence. The country was ripe for change, willing to place what little hope and faith could be harvested in a new leader. President Franklin Roosevelt demonstrated his desire to take action right away on a wide array of issues when he was inaugurated in 1933. In an unprecedented move, he swore in his cabinet in its entirety hours after taking the oath of office.86 In the first few days, Roosevelt declared a bank holiday to stop runs on banks and allow time for bank officers to refocus and reorganize the efforts of their financial institutions. Americans wanted something, perhaps anything, done to show that solutions were being tried. Roosevelt recognized this need and acted accordingly. In this atmosphere, the notion of economic security began to be discussed. But it was not just the hardscrabble existence that so many Americans found themselves faced with that prompted the new administration’s concern. Other plans about economic reform were surfacing—ones that spoke about the redistribution of wealth and suggested that the way out of the Great Depression was to forsake a risky, capitalistic system in favor of a prescribed, quasi-socialistic one. Three plans were being discussed, one at the state level and two federal ones. The plan being touted for California was the brainchild of Upton Sinclair, the muckraking journalist and author of The Jungle, a critically acclaimed exposé of the meat-packing industry. Sinclair was making a run for governor of California.87 One of his ideas, End Poverty in California (EPIC)—outlined a new economic plan for the state. He



would increase inheritance and property taxes, provide a $50-a-month pension for needy and elderly citizens, return foreclosed farms to the owners who had lost them, and put the jobless to work in idle factories or on dormant farms. These workers would live in dormitories and eat from community kitchens. An elaborate trade scheme from the efforts of the factory and farm workers would support other EPIC activities.88 Sinclair was defeated in his bid for governor, but not before huge sums of money were spent and an unethical media blitz by influential members of the Hollywood business establishment was launched against him.89 Huey Long, the senator from Louisiana and that state’s one-time governor, was promoting his federal Share Our Wealth program. He was calling for the redistribution of the wealth of the country. This would be accomplished with a new set of tax codes for individuals and their heirs. Any person would be permitted to own capital worth $1 million, but monies above that amount would be subject to a capital levy tax. When personal assets reached the amount of $8 million, the individual would pay a 100 percent tax. Needy families would be given a “household estate” of $5,000 to purchase essentials—a home, a car, a radio. Families would receive a yearly income of $2,000 to $2,500 to maintain their levels of comfort. In addition, the federal government would support education, provide old-age pensions, help farmers, and limit working hours.90 The Townsend Plan by Dr. Francis Townsend, an elderly physician from Long Beach, California, suggested monthly checks of $200 for citizens over sixty years of age, to be spent in the following thirty-day period and financed by a 2 percent sales tax. The recipient promised not to look for work. The penalty for any violation of the plan would be a fine of not more than $1,000 or imprisonment of not more than one year, or both.91 The American people were showing government officials, particularly in their participation in Townsend Clubs, that the notion of protection of the elderly and individuals who were in poverty was a necessary step for the nation to take. Franklin Roosevelt was concerned about these plans because they would alter the fundamental notions of capitalism and would do even more damage to the economy than was apparent in 1933. But Roosevelt also knew that the plans were becoming popular with the public. In this environment, he appointed the Committee on Economic Security to study the problem and provide him with recommendations. Members, in addition to Perkins, included Henry Morgenthau Jr., secretary of the treasury; Homer Cummings, attorney general; Henry Wallace, secretary of agriculture; and Harry Hopkins, federal emergency relief administrator. The executive order stated: The Committee shall study problems relating to the economic security of individuals and shall report to the President not later than December 1, 1934, its recommendations concerning proposals which in its judgment will promote greater economic security.92

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Change was to be considered. The committee was faced with a rhetorical situation, which Lloyd Bitzer defines as “a complex of persons, events, objects, and relations presenting an actual or potential exigence which can be completely or partially removed if discourse, introduced into the situation, can so constrain human decision or action as to bring about the significant modification of the exigence. The Great Depression was the exigence, the “imperfection marked by urgency.”93 In FDR’s view, the failure of the economic system came about partly because the ideal of rugged individualism was used as a cover to prevent needed government action. How could the audience be persuaded to alter their beliefs about the “rugged individual”?

FDR himself was constrained by a belief that the “dole,” as unemployment insurance was called in Great Britain, would destroy the American spirit. He had told Perkins, while he was governor of New York State, “I’m against the dole, Frances. Don’t you get any dole in here.”94 An additional constraint was the popularity of the programs being discussed by Sinclair, Long, and Townsend. Roosevelt wanted to help prevent the current economic disaster from occurring again, but he also believed in capitalism and did not want to rip it up by the roots trying to solve the immediate crisis. The time was right for social insurance. FDR knew that, too. He saw that he had a window of opportunity, and he pushed to get the recommendations for a social security program out that open window. Years later, Perkins said of the timing of the bill: The committee, consisting of five cabinet members, faced a difficult operation because a bill had to be prepared quickly since we were confronted with the possibility of losing the good will of Congress if we let it go for another year.95

The Committee on Economic Security As chair of the Committee on Economic Security, Perkins deemed the group’s work would be twofold: “to prepare (1) a comprehensive report embracing all phases of economic security and (2) an immediate legislative program of items to be presented to the next Congress.”96 Perkins had served in government for a long time when she began her work as chair of the Committee on Economic Security. She was fifty-three years old and had been active in politics since 1910, first as a lobbyist and then as a government appointee. Her own awakening at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire and her conversion of Al Smith to factory legislation testified, she thought, to the rhetorical importance of direct experience and concrete acts of witness. When the time came to promote the work of the committee in speeches at club meetings and on radio, she dispensed with complicated discussion and the use of formulas and showed how the ordinary citizen would be helped. At the start of her efforts as chair of the Committee on Economic Security, Perkins knew two of FDR’s preferences. First, he did not want the “dole.” He believed that people wanted to work for remuneration, little though the paycheck might be, and believed that the “dole” would rob people in financial need of their dignity. Second, FDR had a preference for one state unemployment insurance plan over another. He supported the Wisconsin Plan and did not approve of the Ohio Plan. Since he knew that these plans would be reviewed by the Committee on Economic Security as it wrestled with structuring a federal plan, he made no secret of his preference. The Ohio Plan proposed pooled funds. Employers and employees would make contributions. In the Wisconsin Plan, industry would pay the whole cost of the unemployment benefits. Employees would not pay. Reserves would be built up with a percentage of the payroll—2 percent to start. Benefits to the unemployed would be 50 percent of wages for a time specified by law.97 Roosevelt preferred the Wisconsin Plan because he believed it satisfied short- and long-term needs. The unemployed would receive needed monies for the immediate future. Employers, through their efforts to stabilize employment, would help with improving economic conditions.98 FDR disapproved of the Ohio Plan because it encouraged the redistribution of financial resources.99 Perkins, too, was a supporter of the principles expressed in the Wisconsin Plan. In her book People at Work, she had alluded to some of those principles: “The idea grew that employers had a public, social responsibility in the conduct of their industries, and that wage-earners, as



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well as government agencies might be factors in formulating such policies of public responsibility.”100 The Wisconsin Plan became embedded in the proceedings of the Committee on Economic Security with the selection of personnel to assist the committee. Two men from Wisconsin, economics scholars familiar with Wisconsin’s state government and both trained by the famous economics professor and institutionalist John Commons, were brought to Washington, D.C.101 Arthur Altmeyer accepted a post as assistant secretary of labor and soon after became the chair of the Technical Board for the Committee on Economic Security. Edwin Witte was invited to serve as executive director of the Committee on Economic Security. Altmeyer and Witte, in turn, selected individuals to serve on advisory committees who were also favorably inclined toward the Wisconsin Plan. Another man who, at a later date, might be critically important to preserving social security was also, the committee learned through back channels, a proponent of the Wisconsin Plan. He was Justice Louis Brandeis. The Wisconsin Plan was attractive to Brandeis because it would regularize employment.102 Of course, the justice could not state his preference publicly, but the knowledge of his preferences in these matters was useful to a committee that had seen lower courts strike down several New Deal programs.103 The Report to the President of the Committee on Economic Security transmitted by the committee to the president on 15 January 1935 included recommendations for several programs and their administration.104 They were employment assurance, unemployment compensation, old-age security, security for children, awareness of the risks arising out of ill health, and residual relief.105 One of the first compromises made by the Committee on Economic Security was in the area of “risks arising out of ill health.” The committee had been interested in presenting recommendations for a program of health insurance, but when Perkins mentioned this idea in a radio address in August 1934, the response from the medical profession was unfavorable: “Roosevelt was deluged with protesting telegrams and the Journal of the American Medical Association in an editorial stated that the committee would try to push a compulsory health insurance plan through Congress without even consulting the profession.”106 The Report to the President included recommendations about a public health program and an explanation showing that the committee did not wish to “take on” the medical establishment in the first round of debate: “The second major step we believe to be the application of the principles of insurance to this problem. We are not prepared at this time to make recommendations for a system of health insurance.”107 Much discussion focused on how all of the recommended programs would be administered. With regard to the old-age insurance program, Perkins supported a state-federal system. She often came down on the side of states’ rights, for she had spent many years enacting programs at the state level. The final report did not follow Perkins’s preference. A federal system was recommended for logistical reasons. A mobile working population made it impossible for states to predict who would retire there. Since estimates needed to be accurate to calculate costs, the federal system won out.108 When the president received the report of the Committee on Economic Security, he moved quickly, taking issue with only one section at the request of Henry Morgenthau Jr., secretary of the treasury. Morgenthau noticed that monies from general revenues would be utilized to help with the system of old-age insurance, beginning in 1965. Roosevelt changed the report, leaving the use of general revenues out of that system. On 17 January 1935, the Report to the President of the Committee on Economic Security was transmitted from the White House to Congress. It contained recommendations for “federal old age insurance, federal-state public assistance and unemployment compensation programs, and extension of public health services,

maternal and child health services, services for crippled children, child welfare services, and vocational rehabilitation services.”109 The work of the Committee on Economic Security did not conclude with the transmittal of the report. The recommendations were now in the form of two bills that would begin their legislative journeys in the House Ways and Means Committee and in the Senate Finance Committee. More compromises would need to be crafted. Senators and House members would need to respond to their constituencies.

Perkins’s Rhetorical Strategies Social security legislation was passed, in part, because competing plans—Share Our Wealth, EPIC, and the Townsend Plan were seen to be much more threatening to a capitalistic, democratic country than the plans for social security. Perkins was able, with the efforts of many talented academics, politicians, and government appointees, to win the day in her role as chair of the Committee on Economic Security because her committee offered the least radical option. In developing rhetorical strategies to advocate social security legislation, Perkins relied on the fundamental principles that had guided her throughout her career— pragmatics, practicality, and protection. She forged her belief that laws were better than unions during the time she spent on the Committee on Safety in New York State at the beginning of her professional career.110 As the investigator for the Factory Investigating Commission, cochaired by Al Smith and Robert Wagner, she saw deplorable situations in the factories, canneries, and bakeries of New York made better, if not right, by legislation. Further, her mentor and supervisor, Florence Kelley, was a firm believer in the primary importance of crafting labor laws. Perkins placed herself as a pragmatist who believed that government had an obligation to protect its citizens. She demonstrated these beliefs early in her career when she was instrumental in the passage of the fifty-four-hour bill in New York State. To be successful, she had to go along to get along with “Big Tim” Sullivan and Tammany Hall. Her practical nature was brought to bear on the image she chose to project to the public. As a college student, Perkins had been a fashionable dresser, keeping up with the latest trends. As a public servant, she chose a uniform of black dress with a white bow or collar or a string of pearls and a tricorn hat.111 She said the attire was “fit for mill or meeting.” Perkins hoped that the men she worked with would be reminded of their mothers in their interactions with her and would work, without distraction, toward the goal at hand.112 Perkins said in her oral history: They [male politicians] know and respect their mothers—ninety-nine percent of them do. It’s a primitive and primary attitude. I said to myself, “That’s the way to get things done. I’m sure. So behave, so dress and so comport yourself that you remind them subconsciously of their mothers.”113 With regard to protocol, Perkins placed herself in an unusual manner. She told the protocol officer at the White House that she wanted to be treated as if she were the wife of the secretary of labor so there would be no fuss among the wives of the other secretaries since each took her place at official functions according to her husband’s rank. The protocol officer resisted using this interpretation of the rules, but Perkins won out. This meant that Perkins would be seated last because the Department of Labor was the youngest cabinet department at this time, having been created in 1913.



Some of the identity Perkins constructed for the public was as a reaction to her husband’s needs. She did not let her guard down with reporters because to do so might encourage personal questions, which could result in a loss of privacy for her husband, Paul Wilson, who had been hospitalized for mental illness several years after their marriage. He was to remain in a hospital for most of the rest of his life. Today we would label his illness as bipolar depression. Anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson argues in Composing a Life that women understand the notion of protection better than men because women have sharp peripheral vision, which has them focusing on relationships. Men, she argues, have tunnel vision. The thesis of the book is useful in understanding the choice of rhetorical strategies. One with peripheral vision gathers seemingly disparate pieces and weaves them into a whole. A person with tunnel vision keeps eyes straight ahead toward a single goal. Bateson explains the political importance of the peripheral view: We need attention and empathy in every context where we encounter other living beings, and we need them to foster and protect all that we care for, laboratories and factories as well as homes and neighborhoods, fields and woodlands as well as nations and the peaceful relations between them.114 This sense of attention and empathy was evident in Perkins’s relationship with Franklin Roosevelt. In 1940, she wanted to resign as secretary of labor. She had been at the job for seven years during difficult labor disputes; the impeachment proceedings of 1939 had taken a toll on her; and the balancing act she maintained to protect her husband continued to be complicated. FDR would not let her go. He said, “I know who you are, what you are, what you’ll do, what you won’t do. You know me. You see lots of things that most people don’t see. You keep me guarded against a lot of things that no new man walking in here would protect me from.”115 Perkins stayed to prevent her boss from needing to adjust to a “new man.” The notion of protection informed, perhaps even dictated, her political and personal choices. She worked on protective legislation. She protected her husband. She protected her daughter, Susanna, from those who would be critical of Susanna’s father. She protected the expectations of the wives of the cabinet members. She even, according to FDR himself, protected the president.

Protection versus Equal Rights Frances Perkins remained committed to a belief in the importance of protective legislation even when to do so meant turning her back on the Woman’s Party and their fight for equality. Blanche Wiesen Cook writes about the debate between the protectionists and the “ERA [Equal Rights Amendment] women,” as she calls them, or members of the Woman’s Party: The protectionists believed the ERA women were elitists and careerists who cared only for privileged and professional women and were ignorant of and unconcerned about the poor. The ERA activists believed the protectionists were old-fashioned reformers who refused to see that, until women were acknowledged equal in law, all reforms to protect women were frauds that could only work against them.116

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Perkins had seen the conditions in which poor women worked. While a settlement worker, she had gone to homes where women were abused, children were hungry and crying, and husbands were too drunk to clean themselves up. For

Perkins, the short-term approach—protection of women and children defined as economically poor—was in the best interest of the family unit. Perkins was not just protecting women and children. She was attempting to salvage family units among those who could not easily provide for themselves and their loved ones. Further, the women who argued that government protection was antithetical to equality were themselves protected by money and property. Eleanor Dwight, biographer of author Edith Wharton, talks about this notion of the protection of privilege and how Wharton was protected to pursue her writing. She lived in a beautiful setting;117 she was attended to by loyal servants, able to keep to a strict writing schedule and then, at day’s end, able to enjoy an exciting social life. Women of means could reach for the long view, for what could be true in the best of all possible worlds, because they were protected to do so. Several feminists, most notably Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman, were against protective legislation. These were women of means, women who could go for the long philosophical view because they did not have to face or punch a time clock each day. Perkins, too, had been raised in comfortable, moneyed surroundings, but she had also worked as a factory inspector and an industrial commissioner. She had seen horrible working conditions for women and children. She understood the reality of difficult, manual work and how it permeated people’s lives. She believed if government could not be compassionate, then many of these working people would be lost. She was not being patronizing. She was attempting to enact deeply held philosophical and political views. Additionally, Perkins had cast her lot with her mentor, Florence Kelley, who, after the 1921 convention of the National Woman’s Party, had come to perceive Alice Paul as a “‘fiend’ whose only purpose was to hinder the women’s movement and undo twenty years of labor legislation.”118 Paul was single-minded in her pursuit of equal rights for women. Protective legislation did not fit in with the mission of equality, so it was to be rejected out of hand. Historian Winifred Wandersee writes of the debate between the protectionists and the promoters of the ERA and draws a far-reaching conclusion: The social feminists placed protective legislation for women and children ahead of equal rights because they felt that women needed protection more than equality. The Woman’s Party, in contrast, was more concerned with women’s rights than social reform and felt that the Equal Rights Amendment was a natural and necessary extension of the political rights gained under the Nineteenth Amendment. The two groups effectively undermined each other’s efforts at reform, thereby contributing to the general decline of the woman’s movement.119 This debate was not fundamentally about the difference between protection and equality. Rather, the arguments were about short-term/long-term effect, and that debate often has money at its foundation. To place the two terms simplistically, poor people seek out short-term solutions while rich people go for the long view. In the best of all possible worlds, concern for the long view is the preferred stance. But poverty is a harsh reality. It may be tempting when looking at an earlier time to be critical of the women who fought for protective legislation. The problem with dismissing the short-term solution is that there is the chance that, at that moment, “the baby could have gone out with the bathwater.” Rhetorical critic Carrie Crenshaw, writing about a benchmark case in labor law, Muller v. Oregon, said, “Goldmark [Josephine Goldmark of the Consumers’ League] and Brandeis adopted a short-sighted rhetorical strategy that had disastrous long-term consequences for the women they were striving to ‘protect.’”120 I submit that we cannot know if their strategy to link poor health in women with long work hours was short-sighted.121



We can only know that the brief that won the case and a ten-hour workday for women working in Oregon sought to provide what was deemed a necessary, shortterm solution. Franklin Roosevelt was well aware of Perkins’s stance in the protectionist/equal rights debate when he appointed her to be the secretary of labor. As the Committee on Economic Security, the group of individuals who would produce protective legislation for the short- and long-term, was being formed, Perkins asked FDR if another cabinet member, one not so closely identified with social insurance, should be appointed to chair the committee. FDR replied, “No, no. You care about this thing. You believe in it. Therefore I know you will put your back to it more than anyone else, and you will drive it through.”122 Throughout committee deliberations and while the bill made its way through Congress, Perkins took to the stump to tell the American people about the work of the committee and the need for social insurance. I have selected four of her radio addresses for analysis (delivery dates of 13 August 1934, 14 and 22 December 1934, and 25 February 1935). Rhetorical critic Mary Catherine Rankin discovered that these four speeches are the only ones that deal with social security exclusively, were written with a national audience in mind, and were delivered before passage of the Social Security Act of 1935. Other of Perkins’s speeches were given to small groups or had social security as part of a longer message.123

Four Speeches Delivered by Perkins about Social Security

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In August 1934, Frances Perkins was voted one of the five best political speakers in the nation. Washington broadcasters who conducted the secret poll said, “Miss Perkins, ‘who ad-libs,’ is logical and to the point, appealing to men as well as women.”124 Time reported that “she uses no powder, no rouge, no perfume, dresses mostly in severe blacks and dark browns. Her eyes are dark and brilliant. She has shapely white hands that flutter expressively as she talks.”125 In these speeches, examples of deliberative oratory, Perkins infuses her remarks with references to the need for care and compassion. Citizens would be protected with social insurance, a condition that Perkins believed was a right in a democracy. She uses the word “protection” eighteen times and the word “rights” eleven times in the four speeches.126 Of the importance of protection, she says, in the first of the four speeches, that the Committee on Economic Security will “suggest a comprehensive program which will afford protections to the individual in all hazards likely to involve him in distress and dependency.”127 Protection will define the mission of the committee. In the second speech, she says, “I do not want to enlarge tonight on the causes of unemployment, or even the consequences. What I want to discuss with you is how we can best build up protection against the insecurity which it causes.”128 She indicates that different types of protection must be considered when she says in the third speech, “Unemployment insurance can do nothing for the older worker who has lost his job and who has no hope of reemployment. For him an entirely different type of protection is necessary to insure a decent and sheltered old age.”129 In the fourth speech, delivered when the program was before Congress, she tells her listeners that the United States is “behind Europe in providing our citizens with those safeguards which assure a decent standard of living.”130 She goes on to say that “we [the Committee on Economic Security] have recommended the measures which at this time seemed best calculated under our American conditions to protect individuals in the years immediately ahead from the hazards which might otherwise plunge them into destitution and dependency.”131

Of the importance of social insurance as a right, she says in her second speech, “we can provide assistance, as a right that has been bought and paid for, to those who at any particular moment are the victims of these hazards.”132 And in the third speech she argues, “By spreading the cost of the protection over a long period of time and among the greatest possible number of people, we can provide assistance, not as charity, but as a right.”133 Perkins outlines how the depressed situation in the country will change. What has been insecure will now be secure. Fear will be replaced with a feeling of being protected. The community will respond to the needs of individuals. The landscape will be different, like night and day. The Great Depression could be traced to a single moment, 29 October 1929, a useful rhetorical strategy, and not untrue but certainly a simplification of a process that reached the worst-case scenario on that date. The passage of the Social Security Act could be the countermoment, the moment when life could be put back on track, when the pieces made by the Crash could be put together again. It is again a simplification, but a parallel strategy. Deliberative speeches are characterized by their references to future circumstances and the advantages to supporting the particular action under discussion. In Perkins’s view, life would no longer be hopeless with the enactment of social security.

THE TIMING OF THE SPEECHES The dates of the four speeches help to determine the purpose for each speech. The first one, delivered on Monday, 13 August 1934, at 9:45 P.M., a little over two months after Roosevelt signed the executive order creating the Committee on Economic Security, provides a sense of how the Roosevelt administration differed from the Hoover administration on the subject of recovery and reform. Hoover had believed recovery should precede reform. Roosevelt and Perkins argued that, while recovery was important, reform measures must be tried alongside those measures with more immediate goals. She says, “[T]he primary objective of everything that is done now must be recovery and the development of a more stable economic order.”134 Perkins tells her listeners about the Committee on Economic Security and establishes her credibility as its chair by referring to her impressive record in New York State government: Twenty years ago, I had a part in formulating a program for social action in my state, New York. We did not get everything at once; in fact, we did not propose to do so, and it was long before we had gained even most of what we outlined. Before I came to Washington, I looked at that program drawn up twenty years ago. All but one of the items we then set down had come into operation.135 The second and third speeches were delivered in December (one on 14 December at 10:30 P.M. and the other on 22 December at 5:30 P.M.), just a few weeks before the Report to the President of the Committee on Economic Security was transmitted to the White House. Since Perkins had established her credibility as a speaker in the first speech, she now attempts to bring credibility to the notion of social insurance by referring to the successful programs in Europe, though she does say the state-federal structure of the United States makes implementation a different task for the United States than for European nations. She adds that the Committee on Economic Security and the Congress will be able to benefit from the successes and failures of the European plans in the development and implementation of a plan for the United States. In these two speeches, we are able to hear Perkins’s desire to have a statefederal system of old-age insurance (which was overruled). She spends much time



appealing to her listeners to view the proposed measures as state-federal partnerships. She says: It is essential, indeed, if we are to have effective action on social insurance, that the States themselves get busy without delay on their own legislative programs. If they do not get busy, if legislation is not adopted in the coming sessions of the State legislatures, nothing can be done, as you know, for months to come. There is need for decisive, constructive and immediate action on the part of the States. The Administration can lead the way—the rest is in your hands.136 The last speech in this series was delivered on 25 February 1935, at 10:30 P.M., after the report had been reviewed by the president and transmitted to Congress. Perkins outlines the recommendations that have been presented to the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. She tells her listeners that these recommendations represent “a most significant step in our national development, a milestone in our progress toward the better ordered society.”137 Perkins indicates that a proposal for health insurance, absent from the Report to the President of the Committee on Economic Security, is being worked on and will be presented later in the year. The report did not indicate that such meetings would be held.

THE STRATEGIES IN THE SPEECHES In all four speeches, Perkins makes it clear that the Committee on Economic Security and President Roosevelt are of one mind about the need for a complete program of economic security that is “consistent with the competitive industrial system.”138 Capitalism will not be dismantled to solve the current economic crisis. The style of the speeches is straightforward and logical as was noted by the Washington broadcasters in their assessment of her as a talented public speaker. Statistics and illustrations, general not personal in nature, are used as evidence. Perkins relies on few figures of speech. The economy is referred to as a machine; the Depression is seen as an illness; and social insurance is the first line of defense in a war against insecurity and helplessness.

THE OUTCOME The bills were passed in the House and Senate and went to the Committee of Conference for the reconciliation of differences between the two bills that had begun their legislative journeys in the House Ways and Means Committee and in the Senate Finance Committee. All was accomplished except for a provision that came to be known as the Clark Amendment. This amendment allowed for employers and employees to be exempted from the government old-age insurance system if they participated in a private pension plan that was more liberal. The experts were not in favor of the amendment because they believed the administrative difficulties would be monumental.139 This put the bill into a deadlock, which was finally resolved with an agreement to eliminate the Clark Amendment and appoint a special committee to prepare an amendment like the Clark Amendment for consideration in the next session of Congress. With the House and Senate in agreement, the bill was sent to the president.140 At the bill-signing ceremony at the White House on 14 August 1935, Franklin Roosevelt stated: A N N J . AT K I N S O N


This social security measure gives at least some protection to thirty million of our citizens who will reap direct benefits through unemployment

compensation, through old age pensions and through increased services for the protection of children and the prevention of ill health. We can never insure one hundred per cent of the population against one hundred per cent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life but we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age. This law, too, represents a corner stone in a structure which is being built but is by no means complete—a structure intended to lessen the force of possible future depressions, to act as a protection to future Administrations of the Government against the necessity of going deeply into debt to furnish relief to the needy—a law to flatten out the peaks and valleys of deflation and of inflation—in other words, a law that will take care of human needs and at the same time provide for the United States an economic structure of vastly greater soundness.141 As Perkins was preparing to leave her office for the White House to be a part of the ceremony, she was told she had a phone call. Her husband’s nurse was calling from New York. Perkins was most troubled to learn that her husband had disappeared from the treatment facility. He was wandering around New York City all alone. Perkins wanted to leave for New York immediately, but she knew the press would be present at the signing of the Social Security Bill into law and that her presence there would be expected. Rather than arouse suspicion with a press she was never comfortable with, she attended the ceremony. She departed for New York immediately after the pens were distributed and the pictures were taken. Once in the city, with friends, she found her husband, confused but unharmed.142 The way Perkins dealt with her husband’s disappearance illustrates how constant was the principle of protection in Perkins’s life. She could be counted upon to help with the care of her husband, but where people did not share her sense of responsibility or, more important, did not have her resources, the government had to be available to protect its citizens. The Depression created the exigence that allowed for the audience, the American people, to be convinced of the need for a government program of social security. Once the elderly could retire and remain independent from families, “the Great Depression of the 1930’s convinced many Americans that the state rather than the family should provide support in old age.”143 Perkins accepted the assignment as chair of the Committee on Economic Security to fight for a cause—to ensure that the “vicissitudes and hazards of life” would not destroy affected citizens.144 The law was not perfect. Several groups, most notably farmers and domestic workers, were, during the legislative process, deemed not eligible for benefits. The unemployment compensation program needed more work.145 But the woman who understood the importance of compromise had experienced some portion of success and, in the process, helped to change the American landscape.

The Resolution of Impeachment and Perkins’s Response In 1939, Frances Perkins faced her darkest days as secretary of labor. A resolution of impeachment was brought against her, and she appeared before the House Judiciary Committee. The issue of concern was whether a person should be deported if he or she was or at any time had been an avowed Communist. The particular case involved Harry Bridges, leader of the longshoremen in San



Francisco. This labor leader was accused repeatedly of being a Communist and had denied it each time. Perkins did not think that even the admission of belief in Communist ideology and membership in the Communist Party were grounds for deportation. Further, she wanted to wait for the Supreme Court to rule in Kessler v. Strecker before she scheduled a hearing on the Bridges matter. Joseph Strecker had been a member of the Communist Party and had quit. He then applied for U.S. citizenship, making no secret of his past affiliation with the Communist Party. When this became known to immigration officers, they started deportation proceedings. In the final outcome, the Supreme Court ruled that mere affiliation with the Communist Party was not evidence of a desire to overthrow the U.S. government, so Strecker could not be deported solely on those grounds.146 The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), chaired by Texas congressman Martin Dies, wanted Harry Bridges, an Australian, banished from the docks of San Francisco, and from the shores of the United States, and chose to punish the persons who stood in the way of that action, even if those persons believed the evidence did not warrant deportation. In her oral history interviews, Perkins recounted the moments before she gave her testimony before the House Judiciary Committee in February 1939: We went into the large room. It was a very impressive and awe-inspiring sight. They were as silent as the grave. . . . I remember that I turned to Gerry [Gerard Reilly, solicitor of the Labor Department] and said, “Do you remember the priest that walked beside Joan of Arc when she went to the stake?” Gerry sort of said softly, “Oh yes.” On that occasion I actually had one of the few mystical experiences that I have ever had in my life. I had a sense of a spiritual companion.147

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It is fascinating that Perkins, finding herself at one of the defining moments of her career, would be reminded of a woman who had been canonized by the Catholic Church. Joan of Arc was sainted because of the miracles she was a part of and because of the sacrifices she endured to bring the word of God to the people of France. The final sacrifice was not a symbolic one, but her very real public execution by burning. Joan of Arc was a young woman who went against the tide, who spent her short life (1412–31) mostly in the company of men, dressed in men’s clothing, and being compelled by voices to bring a man, Charles VII, to power as the rightful king. Perkins spent most of her career as secretary of labor in the company of men, dressed in a self-designed uniform so that these men would be reminded of their mothers in their interactions with her. She put her career on the line to see that a man, Harry Bridges, was not treated unjustly. What could Perkins have read about Joan of Arc other than the usual historical treatments? Vita Sackville-West’s book Saint Joan of Arc was published in 1936. George Bernard Shaw’s play Saint Joan, first performed in New York in 1923, was published in 1924. Joan of Arc had been canonized as a saint in the Catholic Church in 1920.148 W. P. Barrett’s The Trial of Jeanne d’Arc, the English translations of the trial from original Latin and French documents, was published in 1932. Willard Trask published a book called Joan of Arc: Self-Portrait in 1936, using Joan’s own words from the trial records. The charges against Perkins were dropped after her hearing/trial concluded, but with far less legislative and subsequent journalistic fanfare than existed when the resolution was supported and carried forward. The Supreme Court case, Kessler v. Strecker, whose outcome Perkins had believed would be relevant to the Bridges matter, was decided in a way that validated her stand.

THE TIMING OF THE SPEECH Frances Perkins arrived for her meeting with the House Judiciary Committee on 8 February 1939, dressed in her uniform of black dress with white bow, pearls, and a tricorn hat. This needed to be the performance of her life. The resolution of impeachment was brought to the House of Representatives by Representative J. Parnell Thomas of New Jersey, who outlined the charges: I impeach Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor of the United States; James L. Houghteling, Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service of the Department of Labor; and Gerard D. Reilly, Solicitor of the Department of Labor, as civil officers of the United States, for high crimes and misdemeanors in violation of the Constitution and laws of the United States, and I charge that the aforesaid Frances Perkins, James L. Houghteling, and Gerard D. Reilly, as civil officers of the United States, were and are guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors in office in manner and form as follows, to wit: That they did willfully, unlawfully, and feloniously conspire, confederate, and agree together from on or about September 1, 1937, to and including this date, to commit offenses against the United States and to defraud the United States by failing, neglecting, and refusing to enforce the immigration laws of the United States.149 Perkins was fifty-nine years old, and her life’s work was at risk. If she lost this fight, she was truly alone—banished. Her family would be of small comfort with her daughter grown and her husband hospitalized. She could continue writing, but if she were to leave office in disgrace, who would listen to an explication of her political views? Whether she wanted to or not, she stood in for all women in this post. If she were to lose it, the loss would be a symbolic one.

THE STRATEGIES IN THE SPEECH This forensic speech Perkins gave voluntarily is more expertly crafted than the four deliberative speeches about social security. In this moment, she was speaking directly to her audience, and a hostile one at that, not talking to the public over the airwaves. The reason for speaking was to defuse an attack on her credibility and veracity rather than to explain a social program that was philosophically important to her. She had one chance to change minds, not many opportunities, as was the case with social security. Perkins gets right to the subject at hand. In her oral history, she later discussed how she had learned to make a speech while in Philadelphia working for the Research and Protective Association: “I would be asked to speak at some conference on social progress in Philadelphia and told I could speak five minutes. I had to learn to say something in five minutes.”150 This speech is longer than five minutes, but she wastes no time getting to the central issue. The whole of the speech is reasoned deductively. After stating that she is not guilty of any of the charges stated in the resolution of impeachment and that no conspiracy existed to save Harry Bridges from deportation, she talks about her record as secretary of labor and states categorically that she is not a Communist. This is a loaded sentence in the speech, for it alludes to a different unjust act against Perkins. Prior to the bringing of the resolution to the House, a whispering campaign alleged that Perkins was a communist born outside the United States. It all began during the longshoremen’s strike on the West Coast in 1934, fueled, in part, by the question of Perkins’s birth date. Perkins maintained she was born in 1882 and had recorded it as such on an alumnae form for Mount Holyoke Seminary, yet the Boston registrar reported her birth year as 1880. When inquiries



were made about the birth of Perkins in 1882, the registrar told inquirers that no such birth was on record.151 Perkins then discusses the Bridges case in detail and concludes with the appeal that contains one of the guiding principles of her life and work: Government has a responsibility to protect its citizens, in this case Perkins herself, against injustice and to protect and secure their rights. I recognize the right of any one who has valid evidence of wrongdoing to attack my record or my character, and particularly in public office, and I have no resentment. This is also a part of our democratic method to safeguard against administrative absolutism. But I have entire faith and confidence in the capacity and intent of those who are in charge of the operation of our institutions, not only the courts, but the Congress and its committees, to protect me and to secure my rights and my reputation if I have done no wrong.152 As she discusses the specifics of the Bridges case, she attempts, with a listing of dates and facts of the case, to show the House Judiciary Committee that the matter contained in the case is even more complex than has been understood by HUAC. Perkins, as secretary of labor, has an obligation to protect Bridges until his case proves that he should be deported. She cannot behave in a manner that may be expected by members of Congress to satisfy concerns about the spread of communism, if to do so would have the Department of Labor turn its back on the principles of democracy. She tells her accusers: “As I need hardly say to you, as Secretary of Labor I have no general commission or power to remove an alien merely because I believe him to be ‘undesirable’ or because he is believed to be or is in fact a labor agitator.”153 She is taking a very serious, solemn scene—the hearing of the House Judiciary Committee—and imposing an even more serious standard on the proceedings. The agents, members of the Judiciary Committee, are guilty of shortsightedness. Perkins as the counteragent is to be redeemed for pursuing the more encompassing view, the more democratic one.154 American institutions must “operate without fear or favor and in the spirit of fair play, to the stranger within our gates as well as to the native-born.”155

THE OUTCOME Representative Hatton W. Sumners of Texas, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, submitted House Report 311 on 24 March 1939 to accompany the resolution of impeachment. The report states: The committee [House Judiciary] heard every witness indicated by any of the records or suggested by any person, carefully examined the record in the Strecker case, the files of the Bridges case, the report of the Dies committee [HUAC], considered all of the evidence therein contained, as well as the testimony of the witnesses, and proceeded to consider the resolution and all the facts and circumstances adduced.156

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The House Judiciary Committee found “no competent evidence to support the charge of conspiracy . . . and no competent evidence to support the charge that the accused ‘unlawfully conspired to defer and to defeat the deportation of Harry Bridges.’” At the end of the House report was an “Additional Views” section. In it, ten Republican representatives stated that while impeachment of Frances Perkins, Gerard D. Reilly, and James L. Houghteling was not justified, the three had been “lenient and indulgent to Harry Bridges” and that those actions called for the “official and public disapproval of this Committee.”157 No such action was taken, but

the views based upon the “feelings” so stated by ten of the representatives left the case permanently in limbo rather than providing the three individuals with the total exoneration they deserved in the matter. The powerful ritual that had been enacted to prove guilt was not enacted in its full measure once redemption was in order. Harry Bridges came to the Department of Labor to thank Perkins after his hearing, conducted after the release of House Report 311, which found no evidence to support the call for his deportation. He began their brief conversation by saying: “I’m very grateful to you and to this country for having treated me so fairly in this matter.” [Perkins] said, “I’m glad to know that it’s to your gratification. Of course, you understand that only the operation of justice brings these things out in this way. I hope all is well with you.”158 She was pleased with his thoughtfulness, but she was just doing her job, operating, as she had said in the speech to the committee, “without fear or favor.” Frances Perkins dedicated her public life to enacting legislation that would protect the citizens of the United States. When she was to be impeached by the House of Representatives, she appeared before the Judiciary Committee to tell its members that they had a responsibility to protect her to do her job according to the law. Her difficult personal life caused her to sacrifice what could have been, according to Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok, a positive relationship with the press. They said: It is too bad that she could not have been more relaxed in her contacts with the newspaper people those first months in Washington. If she had, she would probably have had them eating out of her hand. For Frances Perkins can be a most delightful person, humorous, witty, with a marvelous gift for mimicry. Had they been permitted to see that side of her, they would have liked her and would have gone to great lengths to protect her.159 Perkins resigned as secretary of labor in 1945. She was appointed by President Harry S. Truman to serve on the U.S. Civil Service Commission in 1946, which she did until 1953.160 In 1955, after delivering a lecture entitled “The Future Responsibilities of the Labor Movement” at Cornell University, she was invited to join the university’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations as a visiting professor. This was an especially happy time for Perkins, culminating in an invitation, in 1960, by the twentyseven members of the Telluride Association, all men, to be a guest in residence in their house on campus.161 During these days, near the end of her life, she experienced rewarding moments, recalling her life and times to an admiring audience of would-be future leaders of labor and industry.162 Her friend and colleague Grace Abbott, head of the Children’s Bureau, believed that history would record relief as the “brightest spot among all the things that happened in the Depression.”163

Notes 1. Harold L. Ickes, also of the Roosevelt administration, served three months longer than Perkins. 2. Mount Holyoke Seminary was chartered in 1836. The school opened the next year with three buildings. Barbara Miller Solomon, In the Company of Educated Women (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1985), 20.



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3. Beth Bradford Gilchrist, The Life of Mary Lyon (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1910), 198. 4. Solomon, In the Company of Educated Women, 84. 5. Jacob A. Riis, How the Other Half Lives: Studies among the Tenements of New York (New York: Hill and Wang, 1957), 8–9. 6. George Martin, Madam Secretary Frances Perkins: A Biography of America’s First Woman Cabinet Member (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976), 51. 7. Lillian Wald and Jacob Riis both supported Florence Kelley to Theodore Roosevelt to be appointed chief factory inspector of New York in 1899. (John Williams was appointed to the post.) Instead, Kelley became inspector for the National Federation of Consumers’ Leagues. Dorothy Rose Blumberg, Florence Kelley: The Making of a Social Pioneer (New York: Augustus M. Kelley, 1966), 171–75. 8. Josephine Goldmark, Impatient Crusader: Florence Kelley’s Life Story (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1953), 36. 9. Blumberg, Florence Kelley, 18. 10. Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1800–1925: A BioCritical Sourcebook (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993), 301. 11. Penny Colman, A Woman Unafraid: The Achievements of Frances Perkins (New York: Atheneum, 1993), 48–49. 12. Martin, Madam Secretary, 77. 13. Robert McHenry, ed., Famous American Women: A Biographical Dictionary from Colonial Times to the Present (New York: Dover, 1983), 222–23. 14. Colman, Woman Unafraid, 56. 15. Martin, Madam Secretary, 63. 16. Linda K. Kerber, “Separate Spheres, Female Worlds, Woman’s Place: The Rhetoric of Women’s History,” Journal of American History 75 (1988): 32. 17. Kathryn Kish Sklar, “Hull House in the 1890s: A Community of Women Reformers,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 10 (Summer 1985): 659. 18. Greenwich House was located at 26 Jones Street in New York City and opened on Thanksgiving Day in 1902. Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch, Neighborhood: My Story of Greenwich House (New York: W. W. Norton, 1938), 92. 19. This book, The New Basis of Civilization, was Simon Patten’s most popular and influential work. Eight editions were published in sixteen years. Simon N. Patten, The New Basis of Civilization, ed. Daniel M. Fox (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1968), xxxiv. 20. Ibid., xli. 21. Ibid., 40. 22. Ibid., 33. 23. Ibid., 196. 24. Ibid., 210. 25. Martin, Madam Secretary, 494. 26. Patten, New Basis of Civilization, 214–15. 27. For a detailed description of this horrible fire that claimed the lives of 146 individuals on 25 March 1911, see Leon Stein, The Triangle Fire (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1962). 28. Ibid., 212. 29. Martin, Madam Secretary, 90. 30. Stein, Triangle Fire, 212. 31. Simon Patten, the professor who had told Frances Perkins to leave academe and get into the action, helped her to secure her position with the Consumers’ League. 32. Martin, Madam Secretary, 88–89. 33. Colman, Woman Unafraid, 28. 34. Alfred Connable and Edward Silberfarb, Tigers of Tammany: Nine Men Who Ran New York (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1967), 16. 35. Steven Erie, Rainbow’s End: Irish-Americans and the Dilemmas of Urban Machine Politics, 1840–1985 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 2. 36. Bertram Allan Weinert, “Frances Perkins and Timothy Sullivan,” Journal of Progressive Human Services 4 (1993): 114.

37. Harold Zink, City Bosses in the United States: A Study of Twenty Municipal Bosses (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1930), 94. 38. Connable and Silberfarb, Tigers of Tammany, 211. 39. Daniel Czitrom, “Underworlds and Underdogs: Big Tim Sullivan and Metropolitan Politics in New York, 1889–1913,” Journal of American History 78 (1991): 538. 40. M. R. Werner, Tammany Hall (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran, 1928), 506. 41. “The Reminiscences of Frances Perkins,” in Oral History Collection, Columbia University, New York, 1:110. 42. Frances Perkins, The Roosevelt I Knew (New York: Viking, 1946), 13. 43. Martin, Madam Secretary, 93–97. 44. Perkins, Roosevelt, 14. 45. You May Call Her Madam Secretary, prod. and dir. Marjory Potts and Robert Potts, Vineyard Video Productions, 1986, videocassette. 46. “Reminiscences of Frances Perkins,” 1:114. 47. Ibid., 1:89–90. 48. Norman Hapgood and Henry Moskowitz, Up from the City Streets: Alfred E. Smith and a Biographical Study in Contemporary Politics (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1927), 22. 49. Oscar Handlin, Al Smith and His America (Boston: Little, Brown, 1958), 82. 50. Colman, Woman Unafraid, 29–30. 51. Hapgood and Moskowitz, Up from the City Streets, 62. 52. Perkins’s manuscript, “The Al Smith I Knew,” became a book after her death. At the request of Susanna Wilson Coggeshall, Perkins’s daughter, Matthew Josephson and Hannah Josephson took the manuscript and Perkins’s notes and completed a book titled Al Smith: Hero of the Cities: A Political Portrait Drawing on the Papers of Frances Perkins (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969). The quotation from the manuscript is found in Paula Eldot, Governor Alfred E. Smith: The Politician as Reformer (New York: Garland, 1983), 397. 53. Handlin, Al Smith, 190. 54. The material for The Roosevelt I Knew was then transcribed, organized, and edited by a ghostwriter, Howard Taubman, friend and music critic for the New York Times. Martin, Madam Secretary, 473. 55. Colman, Woman Unafraid, 35. 56. Potts, You May Call Her Madam Secretary. 57. Josephson and Josephson, Al Smith, 102. 58. FDR was the only child of James and Sara Delano Roosevelt. Frances Perkins, daughter of Fred and Susie E. Bean Perkins, had one younger sister, Ethel. 59. Martin, Madam Secretary, 44. 60. Geoffrey C. Ward, Before the Trumpet: The Young Franklin Roosevelt (New York: Harper and Row, 1985), 194. 61. Sara Delano Roosevelt was a formidable woman, but one who deferred to two of the most important men in her life. Her father, Warren Delano, maintained a commanding presence in the lives of his wife and children until his death. Sara’s husband, James Roosevelt, was much older than Sara, and he, too, determined the day-to-day goals, interests, and chores in the lives of his wife and son, Franklin. Ward, Before the Trumpet. 62. Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt, vol. 1, 1884–1933 (Penguin/Viking, 1992), 285–86. 63. Blanche Wiesen Cook writes in that FDR was “always unprepared to deal directly with the tensions between his mother and his wife.” Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt, 252. 64. Franklin’s half-nephew (son of half-brother James “Rosy” Roosevelt) was an odd boy who attended Groton and, for a short time, Harvard, while Franklin was at each school. According to Geoffrey C. Ward, Taddy was much of the reason for the laughter. Ward, Before the Trumpet. 65. Susan Ware, Partner and I: Molly Dewson, Feminism, and New Deal Politics (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1987), 194. 66. Perkins, Roosevelt, 153. 67. Ibid., 154.



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68. James MacGregor Burns, Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1956), 53, 204. 69. Aristotle, Aristotle, on Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse, trans. George A. Kennedy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 42–43. 70. Perkins, Roosevelt, 343. 71. Davis W. Houck and Amos Kiewe, FDR’s Body Politics: The Rhetoric of Disability (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2003), 9. 72. Only one is a public photograph, published in Life. It shows Roosevelt at a distance, so little of his disability is evident. Geoffrey C. Ward, A First-Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt (New York, Harper and Row, 1989), 782. 73. Geoffrey C. Ward argues that young Roosevelt’s hobbies, taxidermy and stamp collecting, involved gathering and classifying, activities that fostered independence and allowed the boy to order his world in terms that interested him and left his mother out. Ward, Before the Trumpet, 163. 74. Perkins, Roosevelt, 161. 75. William Lloyd Mitchell, Social Security in America (Washington, D.C.: Robert B. Luce, 1964), 50. The information can also be found in Grace Abbott, From Relief to Social Security: The Development of the New Public Welfare Services and Their Administration (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1941), 231. 76. Arthur J. Altmeyer, The Formative Years of Social Security (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1966), vii. 77. California, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, and Washington were the nine states that passed worker’s compensation laws in 1911. 78. Abbott, From Relief to Social Security, 233. 79. Mitchell, Social Security, 6. 80. In a speech given at a university commencement in 1922, Herbert Hoover said: “The American pioneer is the epic expression of that individualism and the pioneer spirit of response to the challenge of opportunity, to the challenge of nature, to the challenge of life, to the call of the frontier. That spirit need never die for lack of something for it to achieve.” Robert Sobel, Herbert Hoover at the Onset of the Great Depression, 1929–1930, America’s Alternative Series, ed. Harold M. Hyman (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1975), 77. 81. Basil Rauch, ed., The Roosevelt Reader: Selected Speeches, Messages, Press Conferences, and Letters of Franklin D. Roosevelt (New York: Rinehart, 1957), 85. 82. Altmeyer, Formative Years, 257. 83. Carole Haber, and Brian Gratton, Old Age and the Search for Security: An American Social History (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), 43. The information can also be found in Andrew W. Achenbaum, Social Security: Visions and Revisions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 2. 84. Frances Perkins, People at Work (New York: John Day Co., 1934), 103. 85. T. H. Watkins, The Great Depression: America in the 1930s (Boston: Little, Brown, 1993), 11. 86. Members of Roosevelt’s first Cabinet were: Cordell Hull, secretary of state; William H. Woodin, secretary of the treasury; George H. Dern, secretary of war; Homer S. Cummings, attorney general; Claude A. Swanson, secretary of the navy; Harold L. Ickes, secretary of the interior; Henry A. Wallace, secretary of agriculture; Daniel C. Roper, secretary of commerce; and Frances Perkins, secretary of labor. Colman, Woman Unafraid, 117–18. 87. This was Upton Sinclair’s third campaign for governor of California but his first as a Democrat. His first two unsuccessful runs were as a Socialist. 88. Greg Mitchell, “How Media Politics Was Born,” American Heritage, September/October 1988, 36. 89. Actors in the studio system were pressured to donate money to the campaign of the Republican candidate, Frank Merriam. Anti-Sinclair billboards were erected. Phony newsreels were prepared and distributed. Sinclair was encouraged to respond to the attacks, but he did not. Sinclair lost by 250,000 votes, but he received 900,000 votes and

90. 91. 92. 93. 94. 95.

96. 97. 98. 99. 100. 101.

102. 103. 104.

105. 106. 107. 108. 109. 110. 111.

112. 113. 114. 115. 116. 117.


helped thirty EPIC candidates to be elected to the state legislature. Greg Mitchell, “How Hollywood Fixed an Election,” American Film 14 (November 1988): 26–31. Alan Brinkley, Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and the Great Depression (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982), 72–73. H. B. M. Miller, The Answer: A Complete Analysis of the Townsend Plan (San Francisco: Miles and Scott, 1935), 5–6. Martin, Madam Secretary, 343. Lloyd F. Bitzer, “The Rhetorical Situation,” Philosophy and Rhetoric 1 (Winter 1968): 6. Martin, Madam Secretary, 221. Frances Perkins and J. Paul St. Sure, Two Views of American Labor (Los Angeles: University of California, Institute of Industrial Relations, 1965), 10. Actually, there were four cabinet members and Harry Hopkins, federal emergency relief administrator, on the Committee on Economic Security. Hopkins did not become a member of Roosevelt’s cabinet until 1939, when he was appointed to be secretary of commerce. Martin, Madam Secretary, 344. Abbott, From Relief to Social Security, 248. Thomas H. Eliot, Recollections of the New Deal: When the People Mattered, ed. John Kenneth Galbraith (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1992), 74. Roy Lubove, The Struggle for Social Security, 1900–1935 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968), 143. Perkins, People at Work, 137. John Commons had taught his students about pragmatism in the tradition of Charles Sanders Peirce and John Dewey. As an institutionalist, Commons believed that an economic institution was a “collective action in control, liberation, and expansion of individual action.” John R. Commons, The Economics of Collective Action (New York: Macmillan, 1950), 21. Eliot, Recollections, 76. Though the Supreme Court was to rule some of the New Deal programs unconstitutional, Social Security was not among them. The initial executive order called for a 1 December 1934 deadline. The president issued a second order to give the Committee on Economic Security more time to deliberate and draft their report. Eliot, Recollections, 101. Report to the President of the Committee on Economic Security (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1935), iii. Martin, Madam Secretary, 347. Report to the President of the Committee on Economic Security, 6. Martin, Madam Secretary, 348. Altmeyer, Formative Years, appendix 1, 277. Martin, Madam Secretary, 121. Frances Perkins wore a tricorn hat, a fact that some newspaper reporters found amusing. One remarked that the hat looked as though it had been designed by the Bureau of Standards. She chose the tricorn style because her mother had told her the shape would help compensate for her broad face. Martin, Madam Secretary, 5. Patty Lou Puckett, “Yankee Reformer in a Man’s World: Frances Perkins as Secretary of Labor” (Ph.D. diss., Michigan State University, 1978), 15. “Reminiscences of Frances Perkins,” 1:231–32. Mary Catherine Bateson, Composing a Life (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1989), 161. Colman, Woman Unafraid, 95. Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume One, 357. Eleanor Dwight, “Edith Wharton: An Extraordinary Life,” lecture, Port In A Storm Bookstore, Somesville, Maine, 7 August 1994. Eleanor Dwight asserts that Edith Wharton was profoundly influenced by place, wrote eloquently about place in her fiction, and duplicated the look of favorite settings in her homes and on her properties. Eleanor Dwight, Edith Wharton: An Extraordinary Life (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994). Christine A. Lunardini, From Equal Suffrage to Equal Rights: Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party, 1910–1928 (New York: New York University Press, 1986), 161–62.



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119. Winifred Wandersee, Women’s Work and Family Values, 1920–1940 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981), 119. 120. Carrie Crenshaw, “The ‘Protection’ of ‘Woman’: A History of Legal Attitudes toward Women’s Workplace Freedom,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 81 (1995): 78. 121. In 1908, Louis Brandeis and Josephine Goldmark, secretary for the Consumers’ League, presented an inventive brief in the Muller v. Oregon case that included about one hundred pages of sociological data to support the link between poor health in women and long working hours. The approach helped to win the day for Brandeis and Goldmark. The U.S. Supreme Court voted to maintain the ten-hour workday for women working in Oregon. The inclusion of sociological data in briefs became a standard tactic for the Consumers’ League. Ware, Partner and I, 94. 122. Martin, Madam Secretary, 342–43. 123. Mary Christine Rankin, “Frances Perkins on Social Security: An Analysis of Rhetorical Themes and Strategies in Four Radio Addresses” (master’s thesis, The American University, 1972), 9. 124. “Roosevelt Heads List in Radio Appeal Poll; Johnson, Borah, Wallace, Perkins Are Next,” New York Times, 2 August 1934. 125. “Truce at a Crisis,” Time, 14 August 1933, 13. 126. The term “protection” is mentioned eighteen times in the four speeches (Speech #1=4 times; Speech #2=2 times; Speech #3=9 times; Speech #4=3 times). The term “rights” is used eleven times (Speech #1=2 times; Speech #2=3 times; Speech #3=3 times; Speech #4=3 times). 127. Frances Perkins, Radio Address over National Broadcasting Company Network, 13 August 1934. 128. Frances Perkins, Radio Address over National Broadcasting Company Network, 14 December 1934. 129. Frances Perkins, Radio Address over National Broadcasting Company Network, 22 December 1934. 130. Frances Perkins, Radio Address over National Broadcasting Company Network, 25 February 1935. 131. Ibid. 132. Perkins, Radio Address, 14 December 1934. 133. Perkins, Radio Address, 22 December 1934. 134. Perkins, Radio Address, 13 August 1934. 135. Ibid. 136. Perkins, Radio Address, 14 December 1934. 137. Perkins, Radio Address, 25 February 1935. 138. Perkins, Radio Address, 13 August 1934. 139. Altmeyer, Formative Years, 40. 140. No such committee was appointed. The concerns expressed in the Clark Amendment were not fought for after passage of the Social Security Bill. Altmeyer, Formative Years, 42. 141. Rauch, Roosevelt Reader, 144. 142. Martin, Madam Secretary, 356. 143. Haber and Gratton, Old Age, 66. 144. Franklin Roosevelt and Frances Perkins used the phrase “vicissitudes and hazards of life” often in their public statements about the need for Social Security during 1934 and 1935. 145. William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932–1940 (New York: Harper and Row, 1963), 132–33. 146. Charles P. Larrowe, Harry Bridges: The Rise and Fall of Radical Labor in the United States (New York: Lawrence Hill, 1972), 143–44. 147. “Reminiscences of Frances Perkins,” 5:518. 148. Homer D. Swander, ed., Man and the Gods: Three Tragedies (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1964), 121, 123. 149. U.S. Congress, Congressional Record, 76th Cong., 1st sess., 1939, Vol. 84, pt. 1. 150. “Reminiscences of Frances Perkins,” 1:23. 151. Martin, Madam Secretary, 398–99.

152. “Miss Perkins Defense before House Committee in the Bridges Case,” New York Times, 9 February 1939. 153. Ibid. 154. For a more complete discussion of the pentad (act, agent, agency, scene, and purpose) and the ratios among the five terms advanced by Kenneth Burke, see Kenneth Burke, A Grammar of Motives (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), 3–20. For a discussion of “aspects of the scapegoat in reidentification,” and “the sacrifice and the kill,” see Kenneth Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form, 3rd ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), 39–52. 155. “Miss Perkins Defense,” 14. 156. U.S. Congress, House, Committee of the Whole House, a report to accompany H.R. 67, 76th Cong., 1st sess., 1939, H. Rept. 311, 4. 157. Ibid., 5, 11. 158. “Reminiscences of Frances Perkins,” 6:530. 159. Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena A. Hickok, Ladies of Courage (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1954), 191. 160. Martin, Madam Secretary, 480. 161. Ibid., 483–85. 162. Frances Perkins died on 14 May 1965 in New York City. 163. Robert J. Lampman, ed., Social Security Perspectives: Essays by Edwin E. Witte (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1962), 80–81.



Necessity or Nine Old Men: The Congressional Debate over Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1937 Court-Packing Plan Trevor Parry-Giles and Marouf A. Hasian Jr.

The myths of judicial independence and judicial divinity were still too deeply imbedded in the American mind . . . to permit a prompt success to follow a swift move. —MAX LERNER, “Judges are Human”

A liberal cause was never won by stacking a deck of cards, nor by stuffing a ballot box, nor by packing a court. —SENATOR BURTON K. WHEELER

n 5 February 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt boldly asked Congress to help him drastically increase the number of judges and justices that would sit on the federal courts.1 For decades, a politically conservative Supreme Court had been striking down federal and state experiments that altered the role of government in the redistribution of wealth, safety regulation, labor reform, and public health.2 Roosevelt, convinced that the Court had become an antidemocratic and antiquated judicial forum, vehemently denounced such decisions. He was particularly disturbed that such jurisprudence reflected the dominance of the “Four Horsemen”—Justices Willis Van Devanter, James Clark McReynolds, Pierce Butler, and George Sutherland—on the Supreme Court.3 Outwardly, FDR justified his “court-packing” plan as an efficiency measure that would help the land’s highest appellate court with its caseload, though many contemporaries believed this rationale for the plan to be mere subterfuge.4 FDR’s real purpose with his judiciary reorganization plan was fairly transparent; he sought to remake the Supreme Court in his own ideological image. The historical verdict on this epic struggle is still in dispute. In the short run, the Court and FDR’s opponents prevailed, because Congress eventually tabled a version of the court-packing plan on 22 July 1937. Yet the long-term symbolic impact of this struggle is much more difficult to access. Legally, the Court began engaging in new forms of judicial restraint, which outside observers popularly characterized as the “switch in time that saved nine.”5 Legal researchers have traced the ways in which particular Supreme Court justices—especially Justice Owen Roberts—“mysteriously” changed their minds about New Deal legislation following the introduction of the court-packing plan.6 Historians, political scientists, and other investigators have also tried to understand the personal motivations of




Roosevelt and his detractors or to isolate particular events as the reason for FDR’s legislative failure with this proposal.7 Though relevant, such explanations of the court-packing plan fail to explain the ideological significance of this struggle. As rhetoricians, we are interested in explicating the multiple and contradictory myths, narratives, characterizations, and ideological commitments that circulated at the time and that helped to facilitate or hinder Roosevelt in his interactions with Congress. While others have done an excellent job of illustrating what legal and political changes took place, we still have incomplete answers to several questions.8 Why was a popular president—in the wake of the most lopsided election victory in history and still facing economic depression—unable to achieve rhetorical and political success on this one legislative proposal? What were the discursive symbols involved in the creation of a rhetorical atmosphere that would help the Court rally support in Congress? How did the institutional and ideological role of the Supreme Court in American government rhetorically insulate the Court from Roosevelt’s plan? And what are the long-term ideological and discursive ramifications of FDR’s failure to pack the Supreme Court? The court-packing episode is a central element of the rhetorical history of the United States because it forced a reassessment within the American community of prevailing views on the nature of the presidency, the performance and place of the Supreme Court, the power of Congress, and the relationship between private citizen and public welfare.9 In many ways, the court-packing plan magnified a series of conflicts endemic to the American constitutional system and ever present in its political manifestations. Specifically, it enacted a rhetorical tension between commitments to “necessity” in the face of severe economic depression and “liberty” as a cornerstone of the American constitutional system. In turn, this debate expressed meaningful and lasting statements about the nature of the American governmental structure. Our analysis of this rhetorical controversy seeks to explore the 1937 congressional debate over FDR’s reorganization proposal. It examines a range of texts, paying particular attention to the hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the plan, that committee’s final report, and the floor debates in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Of course, such an analysis cannot ignore the Roosevelt administration’s rhetoric regarding the plan and the texts issued by various opinion leaders throughout the United States. Nor do we ignore how the press reported the conflict to the American public. We examine how the narratives and the arguments of the debate inside and outside of Congress promoted and expressed powerful and naturalizing myths concerning the nature of government and the law in the American constitutional system. At bottom, this analysis attempts to explain the ideological and rhetorical significance of the debate over the court-packing plan within its specific historical context in the Depression and the New Deal and within the larger context of the American community in the twentieth century. In order to accomplish this task, this chapter is divided into four sections. The first offers a contextual understanding of the competing jurisprudential ideologies of “necessity” and “liberty” that were actively circulating prior to Roosevelt’s 1937 announcement. The second section highlights the creation of the court-packing proposal and the initial public reaction to the plan. The third illuminates the arguments advanced during the congressional debates. The last section assesses the lasting legacy of this incident for the American community. T R E V O R PA R RY - G I L E S A N D MAROUF HASIAN JR.


The Ideological Contexts of the Court-Packing Plan Proposals for social action, as in FDR’s court-packing plan, emerge within a rhetorically created ideological context of multiple voices and sources. The political language that constrains and determines social behavior and policy, a community’s ideology, is the result of discursive development over time.10 For this reason, to understand the origins of FDR’s plan properly, it essential that we first turn to the ideological environment and the influence of that context on the plan and its disposition. In particular, we address the development of important and specific ideological touchstones (“necessity” and “liberty”) that demarcated the controversy surrounding Roosevelt’s proposal.

IN THE NAME OF “NECESSITY” Human beings have long engaged the question of the limits of human freedoms and liberties. The discursive power of Enlightenment thinking has helped instantiate the privileging of the term “liberty” over “necessity,” but within both public and legal rhetorics we have traditions that have admonished us to remember that in exigent situations citizens too readily turn “liberty” into license. During the last several centuries, the term “necessity” has been used in polysemic ways—it can refer to the power of inexorable natural forces, social and natural constraints on volition, and conditions of personal and communal need. Despite the proclivities of rhetorical criticisms that are fixated on understanding the nature of “liberty,” the ignored ideological power of “necessity” to dictate social policy and behavior is profound.11 This interest in demarcating the lines that purportedly existed between human “liberties” and natural “necessities” can be traced back to the ancient Greeks, who used the characters of Chronos and Moiroae to explain how humans fit within the order of the universe. Plato’s Vision of Er in The Republic was just one of many places where “necessity” was described as the structural force that helped stabilize a potentially chaotic world.12 In many of these Greek tales, the wheels of fate and the cycles of life were used to explain metaphorically just why human beings had to deal with such notions as compulsion, destiny, inevitability, and causation.13 The American polity inherited this ideological vocabulary of equipoise and adapted it to its own ends. The Constitution, for instance, contains the “necessary and proper” clause in Article I that gives to Congress broad powers to put into execution the Constitution’s mandates.14 This ideological history, and the place of “necessity” in the documentary formation of the community, partially explains why this commitment is invoked in difficult or crisis times. Such was the case in the Depression years of the 1930s. While the Depression began during the Hoover administration, Franklin D. Roosevelt, not Hoover, built his policies on the rhetorical themes of emergency and “necessity.”15 The president’s New Deal programs focused attention on the three r’s—relief, reform, and recovery—and millions of voters showed their allegiance by supporting the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Public Works Administration, and the Civil Works Administration.16 Many Americans blamed the nation’s businesses or the upper classes for the Depression, and the notion of laissez-faire economics lost some of its resonance when citizens from all walks of life became unemployed and needed the government’s help. The Roosevelt administration had many detractors who believed that the New Deal programs hindered rather than added to the nation’s economic recovery. This opposition is explained, in part, because in classical liberal political ideology, civil society should optimally provide as many “liberties” as possible with only



occasional “necessitous” conditions. Roosevelt’s appointees and surrogates constantly explained why the executive branch needed such unprecedented powers when the Supreme Court for decades had been instantiating the notion that individual liberties and freedom of contract needed to be protected from governmental regimentation and control. FDR and his administration regularly responded to these criticisms by pointing out that Congress was empowered by the Constitution to use the “necessary and proper” clause of Article I to preserve the nation in times of crisis. Throughout the 1930s, the president’s supporters harnessed the ideological power of the “necessity” to legitimate New Deal policies and to vilify a conservative Supreme Court that was unwilling to accept the need for expansive executive or congressional powers. Solicitor General Stanley Reed, for example, remarked in early 1936 that the Constitution was a “guide” and not a “gaoler,” that it could endure only if its provisions were “accommodated to the developing needs of the people whom it guides.”17

“NECESSITY” AND LEGAL REALISM Within the legal realm, Rooseveltian theories of constitutional law were highly controversial. Critics claimed that the “necessary and proper” clause gave Congress the power to tax, not the power to aggrandize presidential authority. The American Bar Association (ABA), for example, staunchly defended Supreme Court decisions that curtailed Roosevelt’s powers of delegation or restricted the amount of commerce that could be regulated by legislatures. The president and his New Deal also had jurisprudential defenders who enthusiastically embraced a new judicial stance called “legal realism.”18 This approach to the law was usually contrasted to the “formalism” or “metaphysics” used by the conservative ABA or the Supreme Court. Legal realists often invoked Roosevelt’s crisis rhetoric and defended an expansive view of executive and congressional powers during emergencies. Unlike their conservative counterparts, who claimed that the “rule of law” needed to prioritize the “liberties” relating to “property,” legal realists openly acknowledged and advocated the “necessity” for social change and governmental regulation of the marketplace. Angered by the conservative recalcitrance of the Supreme Court, the legal realists began attacking both the consequences of the Court’s decisions and the reasoning processes that were taught by the traditional formalists. An increasing number of writers and theorists began talking about the ways that circumlocutions were being used by conservative jurists to prevent the upward mobility of meritorious, modern youths. The result was significant tension and dispute in legal education and the legal academy. An example comes from Learned Hand, a progressive leader writing decades before the Depression, who argued that conservative political opinion in America cleaves to the tradition of the judge as passive interpreter, believing that his absolute loyalty to authoritative law is the price of his immunity from political pressure and the security of his tenure. Therefore, since he should have no aim but to understand the law as he finds it, conservative opinion finds it monstrous to require of him results which shall suit the changing political aspirations, which being unformulated, must be vague, undifferentiated, and fragmentary.19



Some of the legal realists who built on Hand’s work were not as charitable in their descriptions of conservative jurisprudential norms. Felix Cohen, for example, writing in 1935, argued that those who lived in the nonmaterial world of the romantics were

the disembodied spirits of good faith and bad faith, property, possession, laches, and rights in rem. Here were all the logical instruments needed to manipulate and transform these legal concepts and thus to create and to resolve the most beautiful of legal problems. Here one found a dialectic-hydraulic interpretation press, which could press an indefinite number of meanings out of any text or statute. . . . The boundless opportunities of this heaven of legal concepts were open to all properly qualified jurists, provided only they drank the Lethean drought which induced forgetfulness of terrestrial human affairs.20 Cohen may have exaggerated the degree to which nineteenth-century jurists saw their work as detached from the everyday world, but he nevertheless provided an accurate depiction of the ways in which the legal realists viewed the earlynineteenth-century writers. The realist response to the “reactionary” nature of American jurisprudence was manifested throughout academia during the 1930s, when many scholars taught students the importance of adjusting the law according to observable behavior. From this perspective, Roosevelt’s critics were Langdellian formalists who were afraid of social regulations, the spread of labor unions, or the management of corporations.21 Felix Frankfurter, for example, informed FDR that the public needed education because a “majority of the Court” was “exploiting the public’s devotion because they have exploited the mystery which so largely envelops the Court.”22 Confident that Roosevelt’s elite brain trust could make the nation more efficient, the legal realist writers extolled the virtues of modernity and celebrated the use of the social sciences as a means of uncovering the true factual relationships that existed underneath the “word magic” of conservative obstructionists.23 Premised on the social and economic “necessity” of progressive reform and change, legal realism targeted quite specifically the Supreme Court itself. The most vituperative attack on the Court came in the form of a book entitled The Nine Old Men.24 Written by Drew Pearson and Robert S. Allen, this polemic attacked both the ideological and iconic images employed by defenders of the Court. It achieved wide circulation, was high on the best-seller lists, and was serialized in newspapers nationwide.25 Pearson and Allen clearly recognized the importance of symbolism, and they anchored their realist assault on the Supreme Court on a discussion of the iconic meanings of the recently completed Supreme Court building. The Nine Old Men characterized the new building as a “Taj Mahal,” filled with blocks of marble and a cornerstone that housed a steel box containing the sacred parchments of American jurisprudence. Pearson and Allen ridiculed the “[f]rock-coated justices who stepped into their limousines,” and they argued that the marble used in the building was intended to be “as permanent as the system, which they, as guardians of the Constitution, sought to perpetuate.”26 These authors claimed that it was no coincidence that the “Supreme Court took its most intransigent position” at the “very moment it moved into its first permanent abode and surrounded itself with the trappings of Oriental grandeur.”27 Readers were informed that the new structure cost $9 million, and just the washing and general upkeep of the building cost the nation about $1,000 every week. Furthermore, Pearson and Allen claimed that the edifice was “dead white—colorless, relentless, an atmosphere of austere, Olympian dignity, that yields to no one, that has no soul.” In this building, the nine old “beetles” were “meting out a law as inflexible as the massive blocks of marble that surround them in their mausoleum of justice.”28 The power of such symbolism, and Pearson and Allen’s arguments, was undeniable. During the Senate hearings on the reorganization of the federal judiciary, Nevada senator Pat McCarran blamed “the publication of such books as the Nine Old Men” for the “atmosphere” that contributed to Roosevelt’s court-packing plan.29



“Necessity” becomes, therefore, a useful and ideologically powerful justification for FDR’s plan to pack the Supreme Court. The demands of the Depression, coupled with the intransigence of the Supreme Court, created a need, in Roosevelt’s rhetoric, for a meaningful “reorganization” of the American judiciary. This need possessed jurisprudential legitimacy by the development, largely in academic circles, of “legal realism,” a movement that called for a progressive and materially grounded approach to law and justice. Ultimately, as we shall see, the Roosevelt administration’s uses of “necessity” to justify its court-packing plan only escalated as the debate over the plan proceeded through Congress.




Many conservatives and moderates were skeptical of Roosevelt’s modern “plea of necessity.” One Beloit, Wisconsin, attorney complained in 1937 to Senator Robert La Follette Jr. that he had “heard nothing but emergencies for the last four years.”30 Critics of the New Deal and the Roosevelt administration cried out that the president continued to abuse his emergency powers long after the worst of the Depression was over. In the first one hundred days of his presidency, Roosevelt received broad bipartisan support for many of his initiatives, but with the passage of time there was a gradual erosion of his constituency base. An increasing number of Americans began to worry that the restrictive codes of the National Recovery Administration (NRA) were portentous signs of the coming “regimentation” of the nation. Farmers and industrialists who had initially welcomed the new governmental controls now found themselves allied with other vocal detractors who were worried that their president might be following the paths of Mussolini and Hitler in his pursuit of executive power. FDR’s opponents highlighted the almost total control that the president exercised over congressional decision-making and his repeated attacks on the Supreme Court as evidence for their fears of “tyranny” and the erosion of American “liberty.” To counter Roosevelt’s ideological invocations of “necessity,” Republicans and other defenders of the Supreme Court focused on the importance of American “liberty” and the continuing war against “tyranny.” David Horowitz argues that many of these protests came from the “social anxieties of the old middle class,” which worried about the subordination of the Supreme Court to Congress and the president.31 Yet this underestimates the fragmented nature of the defenses of the Court. Roosevelt found himself besieged by members of many different classes and walks of life. Small business persons as well as wealthy industrialists excoriated Roosevelt for pandering to the poor and forgetting about the importance of self-reliance, selfsacrifice, and conservation of resources. Furious at the Rooseveltian accusation that they were “economic royalists,” these critics of the New Deal saw the Court as the last bastion of individual freedom and autonomy. In the conservative legal mythology of the 1930s, the best way to ensure constitutional court reform was to make sure that jurisprudential reforms followed the “natural” cycles of social, economic, and political change. Sometimes this meant defending forms of “natural law” that came from the words of the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights. At other times this vocabulary defended the “liberties” of a supposedly prudent marketplace. An exasperated Herbert Hoover, still hoping for a political resurrection, observed in 1934 that “liberty” could be defined as the “spirit” that allowed for “constructive initiative and enterprise”—which in turn demanded that recipients learn about the importance of “self-restraint, insistence upon truth, order, and justice, vigilance of opinion, and co-operation in the common welfare.”32 The former president went so far as to claim that the “American system” had brought about “the rise of our race” to the point where it

“marks the high tide of a thousand years of human struggle.”33 Hoover believed that he should lead the struggle against “regimented” individuals who repeatedly claimed that “emergency encroachments” were needed.34 In the social sphere, this also meant recognizing that mercurial and coercive laws did not automatically change heredity or foundational legal perceptions.35 Within these narratives, Roosevelt became a Cromwellian figure who did not understand that any economic problems were to be expected because they were part of the cyclical nature of all functioning marketplaces.36 To make matters worse, he had forgotten his own origins. One Idaho probate judge wrote to Senator William Borah, Republican senator from Idaho, asking him if “this doctrine of class hatred is to go on until the great middle class, which really constitutes the backbone of the country is to be submerged, and labor and the have-nots are the only ones to receive consideration at the hands of government?”37 Political, social, economic, and legal arguments came together as countless defenders of the conservative faith spoke eloquently of the importance of an “independent” judiciary, “liberty” of contract, and laissez-faire politics.38 For example, Owen Roberts, in a speech before the American Bankers Association during the Calvin Coolidge years, warned his listeners about the dangers of letting the government “go into a state of socialism.”39 This future Supreme Court justice, who later played such a crucial role in the court-packing affair, argued that his audience needed to “get out, take off your coats, and root for good old-fashioned AngloSaxon individualism.”40 During the first decades of the twentieth century, millions of Americans had received an education filled with discussions of how the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were documents that contained eternal principles that simply needed to be imbibed, internalized, and memorialized. New Dealers constantly proclaimed the wonders of modern efficiency, extolled the relevance of social needs, and maintained the necessity of economic adjustments. In response, many conservatives and liberal moderates advocated the natural balances and adjustments that occurred without interference from the federal government as healthy markers of American republicanism and virtue. For writers like David Lawrence, author of The Nine Honest Men, Rooseveltian critics of the Court simply did not understand the righteous quality of constitutionalism.41 Such perspectives defended the existence of the foundational legal standards that were thought to be constructed in ways that ordered civil society. A typical example of this jurisprudential approach came from the popular writings of the German jurist Rudolf von Jhering, who dreamed about concepts of jurisprudence that in “their absolute purity” were freed “from all entangling alliances with human life.”42 More notably, J. C. Hutcheson was notorious among New Dealers for his quip about the function of the “hunch” in judicial decision-making, and he reminisced that as a young lad he had been “picked” from the classical gardens of a University, where I had been trained to regard the law as a system of rules and precedents, of categories and concepts, and the judge had been spoken of as an administrator, austere, remote, “his intellect a cold logic engine,” who, in that rarefied atmosphere in which he lived coldly and logically determined the relation of the facts of a particular case to some of these established precedents.43 When defenders of legal realism called for greater responsiveness to the needs of workers and the general public, their critics responded that civilization progressed only when individuals were “left alone” in a laissez-faire economy that allowed for the survival of the fittest. What pragmatists considered to be semantic quibbles over the meaning of abstract terms were considered by conservatives to be logical



defenses of the eternal principles of “justice” and “liberty” as enshrined in the Constitution. Such were the rhetorical tensions facing Roosevelt and Congress as they considered how to reorganize the judiciary. The exigencies of the Depression provided Roosevelt, Democrats, and legal realists with the material justification to invoke “necessity” as an ideological touchstone for public policy and behavior. Simultaneously, the Supreme Court enshrined and expressed the powerful commitment to “liberty” that Americans were taught was part of their birthright, the very essence of their community. This was the ideological environment facing FDR in the wake of his landslide victory at the polls in 1936 as he pondered how to solve his problems with the Supreme Court. And this was the symbolic context of those who sought to stop FDR from “reorganizing” the judiciary in the name of New Deal progressivism.

The Rhetorical Development of the Court-Packing Plan



For most of the nineteenth century and in the first two decades of the twentieth century, the Supreme Court generally deferred to the legislative branches and rarely overturned reform legislation or overruled the will of legislatures.44 This jurisprudential tendency changed in the 1920s, when, Laurence Tribe maintains, the Supreme Court validated and upheld the rights of Americans to be “overworked, underpaid, or unemployed.”45 Through a series of rulings, the Court “shackled almost every effort at social reform and virtually destroyed the movement for social legislation.”46 In this period, the Court “could be counted on to save the businessmen from the folly of legislators, [who were] egged on by demagogues expounding human rights at the expense of property rights.”47 Ernest Sutherland Bates reveals that while the Court nullified only twenty-five laws from 1790 to 1900, nineteen legislative reform efforts were declared unconstitutional by the Court from 1920 to 1930.48 The American community was not oblivious to the obstructionism of the Supreme Court. During his first term, Roosevelt received millions of letters from all across the country imploring him to do something about the Court’s recalcitrance. FDR clearly indicated to the American public that he intended to initiate some type of court reform, but he was extremely vague about the means of judicial reform. Blending together the secular and the sacred, Roosevelt promised in his first inaugural address (4 March 1933) that he would restore the “temple of our civilization” by chasing away the “money changers.”49 Terrifying conservatives and business leaders with his talk of “redistribution” of wealth and a “better use of the land,” the president indicated that, “if necessary,” he would use “all the war powers of the Executive to wage war against the emergency.”50 Several months later, in a speech before the 1933 Conference on Mobilization for Human Needs, Roosevelt claimed that “if the State has done everything it reasonably should do, then obviously the Federal government must step in, because, while it isn’t written in the Constitution, nevertheless, it is the inherent duty of the Federal Government to keep its citizens from starvation.”51 Supreme Court decisions in 1935 and 1936 invalidating key provisions of the New Deal prompted FDR to attack the Court publicly throughout 1935 and during the 1936 campaign.52 Public pressure for court reform had been growing. On 27 May 1935—forever known as “Black Monday” for New Deal supporters—the Supreme Court invalidated three key parts of Roosevelt’s reform measures.53 These included one of the centerpieces of the New Deal, the National Industrial Recovery Act. By 1936, many of the members of the Roosevelt administration thought that the Supreme Court would eventually rule that most of the major parts of the New

Deal program were unconstitutional. In spite of the age of some of the justices, none had indicated any intention of retiring in the near future, and this same Court would later be ruling on the constitutionality of the Social Security Act, the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act), and minimum wage and hour legislation.54 Perhaps the case that received the most public attention during this period was Morehead v. New York ex rel. Tipaldo, decided on 1 June 1936.55 This case involved a popular New York minimum wage law for men and women. In a five-to-four decision, the Supreme Court determined that this was an unconstitutional exercise of police power. Newsweek reported that during the Morehead Court session, the nine justices rose, shook hands with friends in the audience, and then filed out of the courtroom so that they could begin their summer vacation.56 The clear implication was that millions of American laborers were adversely affected by a decision made by conservative judges who callously rushed through the case. In a 6 December 1937, introduction to his papers, Roosevelt claimed that: The rights of economically powerful individuals and corporations to pursue activities free from Government restraint, were being continually extended and glorified [for nearly half a century]. And gradually there was created an increased area of “no-man’s land,” where neither the Congress nor the State Legislatures could constitutionally legislate to promote the security of the average man and woman. . . . History in the days to come may well refer to those eighteen months of 1935 and 1936 as the time of the “Nullification Decrees” . . . whereby the Court declared a whole series of Congressional enactments to be of no effect, even though the Congress had based them on powers given to the Federal Government and on the crying necessity of helping the people of the Nation in a great crisis.57 Roosevelt defined America in a state of emergency that required drastic measures on the part of a unified government. With a growing base of voter support that included the urban poor, low-income farmers, and recent immigrants, the president gained the confidence that he needed to face a powerful Supreme Court.58 Franklin Roosevelt, of course, was not the first president to attempt a manipulation of the Supreme Court’s size or political inclinations through changes in the appointment of justices. During Reconstruction, Radical Republicans decreased the numbers of justices on the Supreme Court so that President Andrew Johnson could not interfere with post–Civil War initiatives. For years prior to Roosevelt’s February 1937 announcement, Americans in a variety of communities had been advocating hundreds of different schemes for court reform—ranging from recall voting to restricting the type of cases that could be heard in federal courts. Politicians who lived in the 1930s understood the potential costs that might come from the advocacy of the wrong type of court reform. Despite the efforts of the legal realists, there was no denying the mythic power of the public’s reverence for the Constitution and the Supreme Court.59 Roosevelt’s 1936 election success created the confident belief that now was the time to iconoclastically smash some of these idols that stood in the way of progress and reform. Many commentators have argued that the 1936 victory made Roosevelt overconfident, but in hindsight the president had valid reasons for believing that he had a “mandate” from the American public to perform serious judicial reorganization. He won the 1936 election with 60.4 percent of the popular vote and a 523–8 vote in the Electoral College.60 He also had thousands of letters from ordinary citizens who supported his “holy war” against the “money changers.”61 Part of the reason for Roosevelt’s political successes came from the fact that many Democrats and Republicans viewed the president’s policies as simply an extension of the moderate, progressive policies that had circulated for several decades. At the same time, moderate Republicans





who were not part of the Republican Old Guard found it difficult to create competitive progressive alternatives to the New Deal, and several Republican insurgents—including James Couzens, Peter Norbeck, Henrik Shipstead, Robert La Follette Jr., and George Norris—found themselves supporting the Democratic ticket.62 What worried many of Roosevelt’s supporters was the absence of any detailed, public discussion of a plan for judicial reform during the 1936 campaign. Most Americans seemed to be in favor of amending the Constitution in some way, but the president had a variety of reasons for eschewing that course of action. In the early years of Roosevelt’s presidency, the administration delayed having cases go to the Supreme Court that involved the constitutionality of New Deal measures.63 The Court’s vacillation on such issues as the extent of the commerce clause, the delegation powers of the executive branch, and the limits of federalism in coping with economic problems also complicated matters for the Roosevelt administration.64 By December 1936, Roosevelt was still considering a number of options in his campaign to gain public support for court reform. Many commentators feigned shock at the announcement of FDR’s 1937 plan, though such a reaction was itself a rhetorical strategy to underline the apparent deception that he used in his justifications for the reorganization plan. Court-packing publicly circulated for quite some time before February 1937. For example, at the end of 1936, George Creel wrote an essay entitled “Roosevelt’s Plans and Purposes,” in which he indicated that if the constitutional amendment route was unsuccessful “Congress can enlarge the Supreme Court, increasing the number of justices from nine to twelve or fifteen.”65 Opponents also claimed that the president haphazardly put together the reorganization plan following the recommendations of Attorney General Homer Cummings. Roosevelt replied that he spent months and perhaps years reviewing the various judiciary reform options available to him.66 Moreover, Cummings’s papers suggest that judicial reform proposals were disseminated through the Justice Department for at least a year prior to FDR’s 1937 proposal to Congress. In a letter to the president dated 29 January 1936, Cummings recommends against a constitutional amendment, which, he maintained, presented “enormous difficulties.” Cummings suggests an amendment (if “we are forced to that point”) that would require the retirement of all federal judges “who have reached or who hereafter reach the age of seventy years.” Such a proposal, the attorney general argued, would “merely insure the exercise of the power of the Court by judges less likely to be horrified by new ideas.”67 This proposal, while modified, is at the heart of FDR’s reorganization plan. The president constantly communicated with a number of advisers. One of his favorites was Harvard law professor Felix Frankfurter. Roosevelt and Frankfurter discussed the constitutionality of several different proposals in the early months of 1937.68 In many ways, Frankfurter encouraged Roosevelt in his belief that the country had given him a mandate to engage in court reform because of the Supreme Court’s pattern of obstruction.69 Just one day before Roosevelt’s reorganization proclamation, Frankfurter claimed that the Supreme Court had created a “momentum of a long series of decisions not defensible in the realm or reason nor justified by settled principles of Constitutional interpretation.” He also argued that “means had to be found to save the Constitution from the Court, and the Court from itself.”70 The day after he revealed his proposal to Congress, Roosevelt explained to Frankfurter that he had arrived at his decision by a “process of elimination.” Worried that the amendment process had been fought bitterly by the “conservative element through the past four years,” he had decided that the odds were fifty–fifty that he could get full congressional agreement on the type of language that would

be required to “cover all of the social and economic legislation” that the country needed.71 To buttress his claims, Roosevelt made the following revealing remarks: If I were in private practice and without a conscience, I would gladly undertake for a drawing account of fifteen or twenty million dollars (easy enough to raise) to guarantee that an amendment would not be ratified prior to the 1940 elections. In other words, I think I could withhold ratification in thirteen states and I think you will agree with my judgment on this. It is my honest belief that the Nation cannot wait until 1941 or 1942 to obtain effective social and economic national legislation to bring it abreast of the times, avoid serious labor troubles, maintain farm prices, raise the purchasing power of the “one-third of the population that is ill-housed, ill-clad and ill-nourished.” . . . You will realize that in this process I eliminated the suggestions of compulsory retirement, seven-to-two decisions, etc., as being, in all probability, unconstitutional per se.72

FDR’S JUDICIAL REORGANIZATION PLAN When President Roosevelt finally delivered his judicial reorganization plan to Congress on 5 February 1937, he did not justify his proposal by emphasizing the Court’s invalidation of key New Deal legislation. Perhaps this would have smacked of “political” rather than “legal” change. Instead, his message to Congress tried to highlight the age and infirmities of the sitting justices. This choice emphasized a different meaning of “necessity” than might have emerged from a more political assault on the rulings of the Court. FDR highlighted the difficult work of the Court and the “need” for youth in efficiently and expeditiously progressing through the overloaded docket. The president consistently noted the “need” for more judges at all levels of the federal judiciary. The Supreme Court, he maintained, was “laboring under a heavy burden,” resulting in the “necessity of relieving present congestion” through an enlarged Court.73 Roosevelt opined that modern complexities call