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President Franklin D. Roosevelt Redefines Liberty

President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave this speech in Philadelphia at the Democratic National Convention in 1936, at which he was nominated for a second term. In it, he explained why New Deal reforms and spending programs were necessary. Roosevelt likened the 1930s struggle with monopolists and big business “tyrants” to the Patriots’ efforts to establish political freedom in the 1770s.

…Liberty requires opportunity to make a living - a living decent according to the standard of the time, a living which gives man not only enough to live by, but something to live for. 

For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people's property, other people's money, other people's labor - other people's lives. For too many of us life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness.

Against economic tyranny such as this, the American citizen could appeal only to the organized power of government. The collapse of 1929 showed up the despotism for what it was. The election of 1932 was the people's mandate to end it. Under that mandate it is being ended. 

The royalists of the economic order have conceded that political freedom was the business of the government, but they have maintained that economic slavery was nobody's business. They granted that the government could protect the citizen in his right to vote, but they denied that the government could do anything to protect the citizen in his right to work and his right to live. 

Today we stand committed to the proposition that freedom is no half-and-half affair. If the average citizen is guaranteed equal opportunity in the polling place, he must have equal opportunity in the market place. 

These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power. In vain they seek to hide behind the flag and the Constitution. In their blindness they forget what the flag and the Constitution stand for. Now, as always, they stand for democracy, not tyranny; for freedom, not subjection; and against a dictatorship by mob rule and the over-privileged alike. 

The brave and clear platform adopted by this convention, to which I heartily subscribe, sets forth that government in a modern civilization has certain inescapable obligations to its citizens, among which are protection of the family and the home, the establishment of a democracy of opportunity, and aid to those overtaken by disaster.

Source | Franklin D. Roosevelt, “A Rendezvous with Destiny (Speech before the 1936 Democratic National Convention),” 27 June 1936, text and audio available from the Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, http://millercenter.org/scripps/archive/speeches/detail/3305.
Creator | Franklin D. Roosevelt
Item Type | Speech
Cite This document | Franklin D. Roosevelt, “President Franklin D. Roosevelt Redefines Liberty,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed August 11, 2020, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1511.

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