First Inaugural Address of President Franklin D. Roosevelt

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First Inaugural Address of President Franklin D. Roosevelt


By: Franklin D. Roosevelt

Date: March 4, 1933

Source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. "Teaching with Documents: FDR's First Inaugural Address." <> (accessed June 2, 2006).

About the Author: Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) was the thirty-second president of the United States. Elected to a historic four terms, Roosevelt took office in 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression. His presidency ended with his death in April 1945, just prior to the conclusion of World War II.


During the 1920s, the United States experienced a period of great prosperity. By the end of the decade, however, the economy had begun to slow down and had become increasingly unstable. After a volatile few weeks of record-high losses, the stock market crashed on October 29, 1929. The crash marked the beginning of the decade-long Great Depression, a devastating financial crisis that affected the entire industrialized world. A number of American stock-market investors suffered massive losses, and consumer confidence plummeted. Even those who still had money purchased only necessities, a reflection of the post-crash sense of insecurity and vulnerability. Following the sudden decline in consumer spending, many stores and factories closed their doors. The economy quickly spiraled downward: tens of thousands of businesses failed, thousands of banks closed, millions of workers became unemployed, farmers lost their land, and families all over the country lost their life savings.

President Herbert Hoover (1874–1964), who had taken office in early 1929, responded slowly and inadequately to the crisis. He did enact some measures to stimulate the economy, but he was reluctant to take drastic measures and he did little to provide immediate relief for the millions who had been plunged into poverty. Resentment toward Hoover spread among the populace. When Franklin D. Roosevelt received the Democratic Party's nomination for president in 1932, he pledged dramatic policy changes—a "New Deal" for the American people. In the presidential election that November, Roosevelt beat Hoover by a substantial margin amid promises of relief for an ailing nation. In the months leading up to Roosevelt's inauguration, the financial crisis worsened. Dozens of state governors declared extended bank holidays in an attempt to prevent the total collapse of the nation's banking system. The national unemployment rate reached twenty-five percent. By the time of the inauguration on March 4, 1933, the American economy was in dire straits and the people were desperate for signs of improvement.


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. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. 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. 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 needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things. Values have shrunken to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone.

More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.

Yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply. Primarily this is because rulers of the exchange of mankind's goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.

True, they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.

The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.

Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.

Restoration calls, however, not for changes in ethics alone. This nation asks for action, and action now.

Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. It 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 the use of our natural resources.

Hand in hand with this we must frankly recognize the overbalance of population in our industrial centers and, by engaging on a national scale in a redistribution, endeavor to provide a better use of the land for those best fitted for the land. The task 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 preventing realistically the tragedy of the growing loss through foreclosure of our small homes and our farms. It can be helped by insistence that the Federal, State, and local governments act forthwith on the demand that their cost be drastically reduced. It can be helped by the unifying of relief activities which today are often scattered, uneconomical, and unequal. It can be helped by national planning for and supervision of all forms of transportation and of communications and other utilities which have 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.

Finally, in our progress toward a resumption of work we require two safeguards against a return of the evils of the old order; there must be a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments; there must be an end to speculation with other people's money, and there must be provision for an adequate but sound currency.

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—the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a world of neighbors.

If I read the temper of our people correctly, we now realize as we have never realized before our interdependence on each other; that we cannot merely take but we must give as well; that if we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline, because without such discipline no progress is made, no leadership becomes effective. We are, I know, ready and willing to submit our lives and property to such discipline, because it makes possible a leadership which aims at a larger good. This I propose to offer, pledging that the larger purpose will bind upon us all as a sacred obligation with a unity of duty hitherto evoked only in time of armed strife.

With this pledge taken, I assume unhesitatingly the leadership of this great array of our people dedicated to a disciplined attack upon our common problems.

Action in this image and to this end is feasible under the form of government which we have inherited from our ancestors. Our Constitution is so simple and practical that it is possible always to meet extraordinary needs by changes in emphasis and arrangement without loss of essential form. That is why our constitutional system has proved itself the most superbly enduring political mechanism the modern world has produced. It has met every stress of vast expansion of territory, of foreign wars, of bitter internal strife, of world relations.

It is to be hoped that the normal balance of executive and legislative authority may be 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 those two courses, and 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 force.

For the trust reposed in me I will return the courage and the devotion that befit the time. I can do no less.

We face the arduous days that lie before us in the warm courage of national unity; with the clear consciousness of seeking old and precious moral values; with the clean satisfaction that comes from the stern performance of duty by old and young alike. We aim at the assurance of a rounded and permanent national life.

We do not distrust the future of essential democracy. The people of the United States have not failed. In their need they have registered a mandate that they want direct, vigorous action. They have asked for discipline and direction under leadership. They have made me the present instrument of their wishes. In the spirit of the gift I take it.


Roosevelt's inaugural address touched on a number of the elements that would form the foundation of the New Deal. He spoke of the immediate need to reverse the banking crisis and of the critical tasks of creating jobs for the unemployed and providing assistance to farmers. He explained the strong role the government must play—particularly the executive branch—in reviving the national economy, and he urged the American people to be ready to sacrifice for the good of the country. In this speech and many others after it, Roosevelt projected confidence and strength, offering a measure of calm to a worried public.

Upon taking office, President Roosevelt acted quickly. He declared a federal banking holiday and called for a special session of the U.S. Congress to pass legislation that would avert a collapse of the banking system. Congress convened on March 9, 1933, and by that evening, Roosevelt had signed into law the Emergency Banking Act. This law began the New Deal and brought on a gradual renewal of the public's faith. Over the next few months, a period known as the Hundred Days, Roosevelt and the U.S. Congress passed a number of significant New Deal laws.

The watchwords of the New Deal were "relief, recovery, and reform." Relief measures provided immediate assistance to people suffering from dire poverty or to businesses on the brink of collapse. Laws aimed at recovery focused on fixing the damage wrought during the first few years of the Depression, and reforms attempted to strengthen the economy to prevent future depressions. While the New Deal did not reverse the course of the Depression overnight, it did result in a slow but sure economic recovery. One of the most significant changes initiated by the Roosevelt administration, exemplified by the passage of the Social Security Act of 1935, was the notion that the federal government had an obligation to provide for its neediest citizens.



Burg, David E. The Great Depression. New York: Facts on File, 1996.

Davis, Kenneth Sydney. FDR: The New Deal Years, 1933–1937. New York: Random House, 1986.

Depression America. 6 vols. Danbury, Conn.: Grolier Educational, 2001.

Kyvig, David E. Daily Life in the United States, 1920–1940. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2004.

Nardo, Don, ed. The Great Depression. San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press, 2000.

Web sites

Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. "Franklin D. Roosevelt." <> (accessed June 2, 2006).

New Deal Network. <> (accessed June 3, 2006).

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First Inaugural Address of President Franklin D. Roosevelt

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