Audio excerpts of Franklin D. Roosevelt's radio addresses from the Great Depression
FDR delivers one of his famed fireside chats from the White House. (AP)
What might FDR say in a fireside chat during the financial crisis of 2008?
Seventy-five years ago, the nation was gripped by a Great Depression. President Franklin D. Roosevelt seized on the power of a new technology -- radio -- to explain the complex financial situation to frightened, helpless Americans. FDR won popular support for radical programs and executive power grabs by comforting and uplifting his listeners.
In the mid-1930s, the U.S. population of 130 million was poor, uneducated and without hope. Unemployment was 25 percent in 1933 and didn't drop to single digits until the U.S. entered the war in 1941. Only one-third of Americans were high school graduates. Millions still depended on farms for subsistence, much less a livelihood.
Imagine how far from Main Street Wall Street must have seemed then.
In our time of financial crisis, when everyone from the President to the world's richest person is telling us we're near the abyss, it's worth hearing what a previous president said when Americans actually were in the abyss.
The first thing you're struck by when listening to these recordings -- other than their sometimes-staticky quality -- is the timbre of Roosevelt's patrician voice, so unfamiliar to us. The second thing is the grandiosity of his language, which would be lost on many of today's educated Americans. Just imagine listening as a Dust Bowl farmer who could maybe only print his name.
Some of these recordings are from his famous fireside chats; others are taken from speeches. Each has at least one phrase that resonates eerily with today's crisis.
— Frank Ahrens
Second Inaugural Address
After defeating Alfred Landon, Governor of Kansas, carrying 46 of the 48 states, Roosevelt declares his unwillingness to accept the notion that one third of the nation can be regarded as superfluous in his second inaugural address, saying, "We are determined to make every American citizen the subject of his country's interest and concern." (Download Audio File )
Days before Election Day in late October of 1936, FDR blasts previous administrations for ignoring mounting problems and shunning the needs of Americans. He says he will fight for "low interest rates, better banking, for the regulation of security issues...and against the costs added by monopoly and speculation." (Download Audio File )
On October 8, 1936, the 50th birthday of the Statue of Liberty, Roosevelt praises immigrants old and new, saying that their search for peace and freedom transcends class, place of birth and all other considerations.(Download Audio File )
Love of Liberty for All
"Liberty is the air that we Americans breathe." At the Harvard tercentenary in September of 1936, Roosevelt reminds the other alums that their love of liberty and truth is a virtue shared with all their fellow citizens, including the less well educated.(Download Audio File )
Saving the Farms
During a speech on Labor Day of 1936, Roosevelt addresses the dust bowl drought and the crisis faced by American farmers, telling the nation that all Americans must help save farms. It is remarkable to hear a president speak on issues such as underground water levels and topsoil erosion.(Download Audio File )
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
Accepting the re-nomination of the Democratic Party in late June of 1936 in a speech in Philadelphia, Roosevelt cites life liberty and the pursuit of happiness as economic necessities as well as political rights. He refuses to apologize for a government that has sometimes erred on the side of charity.(Download Audio File )
The Happiness of All
On Brotherhood Day, February 23, 1936, Roosevelt addressed the National Conference of Christians and Jews. Individual happiness, he told them, was inextricably bound up in the happiness of the community. "Our well-being depends in the long run on the well-being of our neighbors." (Download Audio File )
Dangers of Individualism
Roosevelt found an awakened social consciousness in America to be perfectly compatible with the free enterprise system. On August 24, 1935 he told a meeting of young Democrats that the virtues taught to his generation, those of unbridled individualism, have proved themselves to be inadequate, telling the youth they must be responsible for the less fortunate. (Download Audio File )
Works Progress Administration
Amid rampant unemployment throughout the country, Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration. Employment was so tight, in his radio address of April 28, 1935, FDR tells older workers to retire and take Social Security, freeing up a job for someone younger -- a concept unimaginable today. He calls the recovery "a great national crusade to destroy enforced idleness, which is an enemy of human spirit generated by this depression." He said that the government would be the temporary employer of last resort and promised the WPA would be efficient and politically clean. (Download Audio File )
In June of 1933, Roosevelt enacted the National Industrial Recovery Act which authorized the president to stimulate banks and regulate the economy through the National Recovery Administration. On September 30, 1934 FDR delivered a fire-side chat in which he urged an end to hostilities between management and labor saying, "Lay aside the weapons common to industrial war." (Download Audio File )
On May 7, 1933, eight weeks after his inauguration, FDR outlines his New Deal strategy to radio listeners, describing a national industrial recovery program that would make the government the protector of workers' rights. (Download Audio File )
On March 12, 1933, Roosevelt delivers the first of his fireside chats from the White House on the banking crisis. He chides the "hysterical demands of hoarders" and assures listeners "it is safer to keep your money in a reopened bank than it is to keep it under your mattress." (Download Audio File )
First Inaugural Address
On March 4, 1933 Roosevelt gave his first inaugural address. He faced a world in which France and England were nationalizing sick industries, Germany and Italy were racing towards military dictatorships, and America was still not ready to recognize a communized Russia. At home, Americans were questioning capitalism. (Download Audio File )