At the inauguration, Roosevelt would say: "Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself".
In 1933, the nation was in the grips of the Great Depression. The stock market was down 89% from 1929, and a quarter of the people were unemployed. Of those who did have jobs, another 25% took wage cuts or were working part time. And back then, most homes had but one...
In 1933, the nation was in the grips of the Great Depression. The stock market was down 89% from 1929, and a quarter of the people were unemployed. Of those who did have jobs, another 25% took wage cuts or were working part time. And back then, most homes had but one wage-earner. The gross national product had fallen by almost 50%. Lives were devastated, there were many suicides, head of families lost their self-respect, children were hungry everywhere, many teens had to leave school and lost their opportunities for education, massive numbers of people were homeless and living in shantytowns. It was a landscape of despair.
President Hoover had not done much to alleviate this suffering, so in the 1932 presidential election, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Governor of New York, had swept into office. Now the awesome responsibility of salvaging a nation wracked by poverty and self-doubt would be on his shoulders. People awaited his March 4, 1933 inauguration with both expectancy and trepidation. What could one man, President or not, possibly do in this desperate situation?
At the end of January 1933, Roosevelt was engaged in selecting his cabinet and making arrangements for his inauguration. Invitations to state governors were high on his priority list. Typed letter signed, on his personal letterhead, New York, January 26, 1933, to “His Excellency, Wilbur L. Cross, Governor of Connecticut, Hartford, Connecticut.” “My dear Governor: It will give Mrs. Roosevelt and me great pleasure if you can attend the Inaugural ceremonies on March 4th. It is my thought that we should all cooperate toward every possible saving in government expenditures and that therefore no State should send any of its National Guard or Naval Militia to take part in the Inaugural parade.
“I understand from Rear Admiral Grayson, the Chairman of the Inaugural Committee in Washington, that an automobile will be provided in the parade for each Governor and one or two members of his Personal Staff and that each car will carry the State Flag. I shall be happy, of course, if any of the citizens of your State will come to the Inauguration and will march in the parade, if they care to do so. The arrangements for this should be taken up with Rear Admiral Cary T. Grayson, who lives in Washington. I hope that after the Inaugural ceremonies at the Capitol you will come immediately to the White House to an informal luncheon. The parade starts immediately thereafter.” The letter is stamped as received Feb. 6, 1933.
Governor Cross treasured this letter, and it remained in his personal effects and with his family until very recently when we obtained it from a direct descendant.
The inauguration of 1933 turned out to be the most important in American history, with only Lincoln’s first inauguration being comparable. But whereas Lincoln’s inaugural address simply confirmed Southern fears, and events took their own course, Roosevelt’s speech shot like an electric bolt through the country and changed the chemistry. It injected hope in the American people, encouraged them right then and there, and began to banish the clouds of despair.
He said, “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.” His line about “fear itself” is, of course, famous and one of the greatest statements in any American inaugural address. And Governor Cross was there to hear it.
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