Seventy-four years ago Monday, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt prepared an emotional speech as Hawaii’s naval base at Pearl Harbor was in ruins following a massive air assault by Japan. More than 2,400 Americans were killed— victims, Roosevelt said, on “a date which will live in infamy.”
The speech was delivered Dec. 8, 1941, one day after the Pearl Harbor attack drew the United States into World War II. It is arguably one of the most famous things a president has ever said, up there with the “four score and seven years ago” in Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Ronald Reagan imploring Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall!” in Berlin.
The “infamy” line almost didn’t appear in Roosevelt’s initial draft of the speech, however. It was edited in by the president after he dictated a first version to assistant Grace Tully three hours after the attack, according to a piece published Monday by Paul Sparrow, the director of the FDR Library. The speech looked like this with edits:
Comparing them more closely, here’s the first version’s opening lines:
“Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in world history, the United States of America was simultaneously and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”
And here’s the improved version:
“Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”
The changes of that opening sentence are in bold. The speech — now widely known as the “Infamy Speech” or the “Day of Infamy Speech” — was delivered to a joint address to Congress that led to a declaration of war against Japan.
As the National Archives noted, Roosevelt’s copy of the speech went missing for 43 years afterward. Instead of bringing it back to the White House to be filed, he evidently left it behind on Capitol Hill. It was filed by a Senate clerk and discovered by an archivist in 1984 with other Senate records in the National Archives, the organization reported. It remains on file there today.