By Paul M. Sparrow, Director, FDR Library.
Franklin D. Roosevelt is the only person who will ever have FOUR presidential inaugurations (thanks to the 22nd Amendment.) And each and every one of his inaugurations was historic in its own way. Every president from Washington to Roosevelt had been inaugurated in March. Why? Because the U.S. Constitution originally stipulated that the Federal Government would start on March 4th each year. FDR’s first inauguration in 1933 was the last inauguration held in March. The inauguration date was changed with the passage of the 20th Amendment, which moved the date up to January 20th. During his first inauguration President Roosevelt delivered one of the most famous lines in American history – “The only thing we have to fear, is, fear itself.” But that line does not appear until the 7th draft of the speech. You can find all of the drafts of the speech here.
FDR’s second inauguration in 1937 was historic because it was the first one held on January 20th (again, thanks to the 20th Amendment.) FDR’s 1936 victory was the largest landslide in American history, winning 523 electoral votes which equaled 98.49%! His inauguration was also the first time the vice president was inaugurated at the same time as the president. His second inaugural address is best known for his description of the victims of the brutal economic conditions of the Great Depression. “I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.”
Roosevelt’s third inauguration in 1941 was historic because no one had ever been elected to a third term before, so it was the first, and will be the only, third inauguration. War had broken out in Europe when Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939. London had been reduced to rubble by the German Blitz. Despite FDR’s best efforts the American people were still strongly isolationist. But FDR knew that America would eventually join the global conflict. His speech challenged Americans to live up to their ideals. “In the face of great perils never before encountered, our strong purpose is to protect and to perpetuate the integrity of democracy. For this we muster the spirit of America, and the faith of America. We do not retreat. We are not content to stand still. As Americans, we go forward, in the service of our country, by the will of God.”
Franklin Roosevelt’s fourth inauguration is historic for a number of reasons. No other person has or ever will be elected to a fourth term. The ceremony was held on the South Portico of the White House for the first time, allegedly because of the austerity created by the war. But FDR was a sick man and his declining health may have contributed to the change of location. FDR’s fourth inaugural address was perhaps the shortest ever given, just a little over five minutes long. But FDR’s spirit is clear. ”Our Constitution of 1787 was not a perfect instrument; it is not perfect yet. But it provided a firm base upon which all manner of men, of all races and colors and creeds, could build our solid structure of democracy. And so today, in this year of war, 1945, we have learned lessons, at a fearful cost, and we shall profit by them.”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt died 89 days later on April 12th, in Warm Springs, Georgia while recovering from his 14,000 mile trip to Yalta for the conference with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. His legacy lives on in America’s great accomplishments: Social Security, Minimum Wage, environmental protection, American military supremacy, the United Nations and expanded human rights for all. You can learn more about the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt by visiting the FDR Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, or by exploring the web site. www.fdrlibrary.org