An Act of Faith -The 75th Anniversary of the FDR Library and Museum

By Paul M. Sparrow, Director

June 30th, 1941 dawned a magnificent summer day in Hyde Park. A ferocious thunderstorm the day before had broken a torrid heat wave and left the air clear and fresh. The roses were in full bloom and FDR’s beloved birds sang in the treetops. A large crowd gathered on the lawn in front of the new museum, as family and friends mixed with reporters and the general public.

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President Roosevelt, wearing a bright white suit, was helped to his feet and grasped the podium. Sitting next to him was his wife Eleanor, and members of his family. The Library Trustees stood behind him as he spoke. Elected to an unprecedented third term, FDR was a man whose actions in the coming years would determine the fate of millions of people the world over. His belief in the strength of the nation and in the ability of its citizens to protect and preserve democracy into the future were eloquently expressed.

This latest addition to the archives of America is dedicated at a moment when government of the people by themselves is everywhere attacked.  It is therefore, proof – if proof is needed – that our confidence in the future of democracy has not been diminished in this nation and will not diminish.

As the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum celebrates its 75th Anniversary it is more important to look to the future than to the past. My predecessors did an outstanding job of renovating this beautiful old building, updating the exhibits and preparing this great institution for the next 75 years.  More than 13 million visitors have walked through the galleries, laughed at the giant Sphinx head, marveled at the ship models and been surprised by the painful steel leg braces FDR wore as he led America through the Great Depression and the Allies to victory in World War II.

Franklin D Roosevelt Presidential Library, Location: Hyde Park NY, Architect: EYP Architecture & Engineering

Franklin D Roosevelt Presidential Library, Location: Hyde Park NY, Architect: EYP
Architecture & Engineering

I walk by FDR’s private study every morning and try to imagine how FDR would lead the library today. He built his museum next to his home in Hyde Park because he loved the Hudson Valley. I think he would want to engage with his community, as he did throughout his life. He would want to use the latest technology, as he did so effectively with radio. And he would want to reach as many people as possible, helping them to learn from the past to make a better future.

So the FDR Library and Museum’s goal for the future is to enhance and expand our connection to the community. We also want people to share their memories of the Roosevelts with us. To do that we are launching a new effort called “Tell Us Your Roosevelt Story. http://www.fdrlibrary.org/myrooseveltstory.html

On July 2, during our Family Fun Festival, we will have a video crew interviewing people about their family’s connection to the Roosevelts. We will also be encouraging people to share their stores with us on our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/fdrlibrary , or on Twitter using #myrooseveltstory, or email us at myrooseveltstory@nara.gov . Over time we hope to create a “People’s Archive” that preserves those memories for future generations. Franklin and Eleanor touched the lives of millions of Americans, so we know there are family heirlooms hidden away in old steamer trunks in the attic or in boxes in the basement. We encourage everyone to find their family’s story and share it with us.

visit-us-main-image httpwww.archives.govmuseumvisitAs a part of the National Archives, the FDR Library and Museum has a mission to strengthen our nation’s democracy by providing access to government records, and to use new technologies to engage the public in a conversation about the American experience.  The issues the Roosevelts championed will be as relevant tomorrow as they were 80 years ago: environmental protection, income equality, fair labor practices, a strong military, human rights, the United Nations and an informed electorate.

To fulfill our mission we will continue our digitization efforts and make as much material available online as possible. We need support to be able to do that. One example is our partnership with AT&T. Last year they funded our Master Speech File project putting the drafts of all of FDR’s speeches online.

laptop4This year AT&T is helping the FDR Library transfer old film of his Top-Ten speeches to state–of-the-art digital formats (4K Ultra HD) with enhanced imagery and audio. We will share these new resources with teachers and on social media so we can reach a new generation. We hope they use the lessons of the past to help them shape their future.  But with federal budgets tight and getting tighter we need corporate sponsors and individual donors to help us.

If Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were alive today they would want this museum to reach out to people all over the world and engage them about the issues they care most about. In his dedication of the library FDR made his faith in the American people clear:

“It seems to me that the dedication of a library is in itself an act of faith. To bring together the records of the past and to house them in buildings where they will be preserved for the use of men and women in the future, a Nation must believe in three things. It must believe in the past. It must believe in the future. It must, above all, believe in the capacity of its own people so to learn from the past that they can gain in judgment in creating their own future.” June 30, 1941

You can learn more about the history of the FDR Library and Museum here: https://fdrlibrary.org/library-history

I believe strongly that the past must never govern the future, I also believe that we must have the past in mind to help us shape the future.
-Eleanor Roosevelt Sept. 3, 1946 Address to the NY Democratic State Convention

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The Roosevelts and the House of Orange

By Paul Sparrow, Library Director

The relationship between the Roosevelt family and the Dutch royal family, known as the House of Orange, is both charming and historically significant. New York and the Hudson River Valley were both originally settled by Dutch pioneers. And the Netherlands was the first country to recognize the United States. In the mid-20th century the diplomatic connections between the two countries became personal. The roots of that special bond can be traced to a farming community on the Dutch coast.

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Anna Eleanor Roosevelt and Tony Roosevelt

On April 20, 2016 a Roosevelt Information Center opened in the tiny village of Oud-Vossemeer in the province of Zeeland in the Netherlands. Princess Beatrix presided over the activities and cut the ribbon to mark the official opening. Anna Eleanor Roosevelt and her cousin Tony Roosevelt, the grandchildren of FDR, also attended the event, giving a personal family touch to the day.

There is no question that the Roosevelts descended from Claes Martensen van Rosenvelt, a Dutch farmer who arrived in New Amsterdam around 1650 (later renamed New York.) Where Claes Martensen came from is not known, although many have tried to discover his ancestral home.

Inside the new visitor center is an old 16th century map of the area around Oud Vosssemeer It shows a parcel of land between Oud-Vossemeer and Poortvliet called “’t Rosevelt.” This may be the original home site of the family.

The Roosevelts themselves seem to have accepted this version of history. Oud-Vossemeer was visited by a nephew of President Theodore Roosevelt during his quest for information about the family history. Eleanor Roosevelt visited the village in 1950. Film of her visit is available for viewing at the Information Center on iPads that contain a wide variety of images and information about the connections between the Roosevelts and Zeeland.

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Princess Beatrix, Tony Roosevelt, Anna Roosevelt, and the chair of the board of directors of the Ambachtsheerlijkheid Mr. Heyse

The strong personal ties between the Dutch royal family and the Roosevelts started during the darkest days of World War II. As the German army swept across Europe in 1939, FDR sent a personal note to Queen Wilhelmina offering sanctuary to her and her family.

“I am thinking much of you and the House of Orange in these critical days, and it occurs to me that in the event of the invasion of Holland you may care to have the Crown Princess and the children come to the United States temporarily to be completely safe against airplane raids. It would give Mrs. Roosevelt and me very great happiness to care for them over here as if they were members of our own family and they could come to us either in Washington or at our country place at Hyde Park.”

In May 1940 the German army invaded the Netherlands. Its soldiers fought bravely, but were no match for the Nazi war machine. On May 17th, during the Battle of Zeeland, the city of Middelburg was subjected to a ferocious attack by Germany bombers. More than 600 buildings were destroyed. Queen Wilhelmina escaped to London and set up the Dutch government in exile.

The Queen’s daughter Princess Juliana and her family came to North America, splitting their time between Canada and the United States. Princess Juliana and her children visited Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, and they became close friends. FDR especially adored her daughters, Beatrix, (known as Trixie) Irene, and Margriet.

In the summer of 1942, Princess Julianna moved to Lee, Massachusetts where she and her young children lived for several months. The estate was close enough for the Roosevelts to drive there from Hyde Park for lunch or tea. The Royals also regularly visited Hyde Park.

Picnic for Princess Juliana of the Netherlands at Val-kill, Hyde Park, New York, October 9, 1943. L-R: Secret Service, Secret Service, Princess Irene, Princess Beatrix, Princess Juliana, Mrs. J.R. Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt in background with unidentified man, FDR, children's nurse, Grace Tully, Ethel Roosevelt (Mrs. FDR, Jr.). Photo by Margaret Suckley.

Picnic for Princess Juliana of the Netherlands at Val-kill, Hyde Park, New York, October 9, 1943. L-R: Secret Service, Secret Service, Princess Irene, Princess Beatrix, Princess Juliana, Mrs. J.R. Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt in background with unidentified man, FDR, children’s nurse, Grace Tully, Ethel Roosevelt (Mrs. FDR, Jr.). Photo by Margaret Suckley.

During one visit the young princesses were having trouble swimming in the pool at Val-Kill. Always helpful, FDR gave Trixie and Irene a set of water-wings to help them swim.

Trixie and Irene sent a thank-you letter to the President for his gift, for the Roosevelts’ hospitality, and their love for FDR’s dog, Fala. This letter is on display at the Roosevelt Information Center in Oud-Vossemeer.

During a radio broadcast in Nov. 1941, Eleanor described a recent visit with the royal family.

“We had a happy time with the Princess and her tiny daughters, Princess Beatrix and Princess

Irene… I became very fond of them…I’m particularly impressed with Princess Juliana’s simplicity

and with the personal care and attention she pays to them. I think we Americans sometimes feel that a mother who is at the same time a Crown Princess does not have the time to devote to her children that an average American mother gives. In this case this is not so.”

In January 1944 Eleanor and Princess Juliana attended a dinner in Washington, D.C. with the Royal Family of Norway. She wrote in her column that “It is always a great pleasure for me to be with this young princess who is so deeply interested in the good of her country.”

Eleanor Roosevelt and the Royal Family of Norway with Princess Juliana of the Netherlands and Thomas Watson, January 10, 1944

Eleanor Roosevelt and the Royal Family of Norway with Princess Juliana of the Netherlands and Thomas Watson, January 10, 1944

Princess Juliana and her family returned to the Netherlands at the end of the war and she became Queen Juliana in 1948. Eleanor visited her in 1948 and 1950 and they often exchanged letters and telegrams commenting on the events of the world. Princess Beatrix also developed a deep friendship with Eleanor, and visited her at Val-Kill. She was an overnight guest there in September 1959, the day before Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev came to visit.

In her autobiography Eleanor wrote “I have a very special feeling about Queen Juliana because… she came a number of times to stay with us at Hyde Park with her husband and children. Franklin was godfather to their third daughter…. As queen, Juliana has worked vigorously to help develop understanding among Europeans…. The pages of history will record that she was a woman who loved her fellow human beings.”

After reigning for 32 years, Queen Juliana stepped down and Beatrix became the Queen in April 1980. Princess Juliana was awarded the first International Four Freedoms Award in 1982 by the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute. The Institute also founded the Roosevelt Study Center in Middelburg, Zeeland.

Queen Beatrix abdicated in 2013 and her son Willem-Alexander is now the King. Her attendance at the opening of the Roosevelt Information Center reflects her deep affection for Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and all that they stood for.

Anna Roosevelt, Princess Beatrix, Oud-Vossemeer Mayor Mrs. Van der Velde

Anna Roosevelt, Princess Beatrix, Oud-Vossemeer Mayor Mrs. Van der Velde

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The Four Freedom Awards

Paul Sparrow, FDR Library Director

addressOn January 6, 1941 President Franklin Roosevelt delivered his State of the Union address. He had just been elected to an unprecedented third term in office, and he decided to use this speech to articulate his vision for the future in the face of a global war between totalitarianism and democracy. He outlined four freedoms that were critical to a peaceful world: Freedom of Speech and Expression, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear.

As a part of the FDR Centennial Celebration, on the 100th anniversary of his birth, January 30, 1982, the International Four Freedom Awards were created to recognize and honor those individuals who personified the freedoms that Pres. Roosevelt articulated so eloquently.

The awards are bestowed by the Roosevelt Institute in New York, and the Roosevelt Foundation in Middelburg, Netherlands. The awards ceremony alternates between the two countries. This year the awards recognize a range of people who reflect the complex world we live in today.

Angela_Merkel_2015_(cropped)Dr. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, has been selected to receive the International Four Freedoms Award in 2016. She was chosen because of her remarkable leadership across a range of crisis including the financial collapse, the Russian takeover of Crimea and the Ukrainian peace talks, and the great immigrant migration currently roiling Europe. It is her moral leadership in the face of the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim movement that most reflects the work of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Chancellor Merkel is committed to protecting those fleeing the brutal wars in the Middle East and Africa, despite fierce political opposition.

Previous winners of the Four Freedoms Award include Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, General Kofi Annan and Harry Truman.

256_300_3_91_8_img_7686_bea_ppThe Freedom of Speech Award is being given to Mazen Darwish, the director of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, and the founder of syriaview.net, he had been an outspoken champion for independent reporting in the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. His efforts to promote human rights, and to report on torture, arbitrary arrests and human rights violations by the Syrian regime shows true courage.

The award for Freedom of Religion is being presented to three members of the clergy from the Central African Republic. Dieudonné Nzapalainga, Omar Kobine Layama and Nicolas Guérékoyame-Gbangou have worked tireless in the cause of peace and reconciliation in a country that has been wracked with civil war and violence. They champion an an interfaith dialogue that brings together those who might otherwise find themselves on the opposite of the conflict. They have created an organization, the Interfaith Peace Platform, that brings together Muslims, Catholics and Protestants in a quest for peace.

Dieudonné_Nzapalainga,_Nicolas_Guérékoyame_Gbangou_et_Omar_Kobine_LayamaDr. Denis Mukwege was selected to receive the Freedom from Want Award for his efforts to help survivors of the horrific sexual violence taking place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He was the founder of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, a center for the treatment of both the physical and psychological wounds of weaponized rape. It also provides legal and counseling services to help the victims reenter a society that shuns victims of abuse. Dr. Mukwege also fights to bring those responsible for these crimes to justice, despite the extreme danger those efforts put him in personally.

Denis_Mukwege_par_Claude_Truong-Ngoc_novembre_2014In a world filled with angst about terrorism, climate change and poverty, this year’s Freedom from Fear Award will go to an organization rather than an individual. Human Rights Watch truly fights for the ideals expressed by Eleanor Roosevelt in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Their efforts around the globe document abuses and bring those atrocities to the attention of the world. They shine a bright spotlight on human rights violations, gender discrimination, torture, corruption and the grossly immoral use of children as soldiers and sexual slaves.

Human Rights WatchThis year’s winners stand on the shoulders of a generation of great leaders who have been honored with the Four Freedom Awards. They include Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Malala Yousafzai, Daw Aung Sam Suu Kyi, Bill Moyers, Mike Wallace, Rep. John Lewis and the first winner in 1982, Princess Juliana of the Netherlands. The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum is proud to be associated with this important Award that promotes the legacy of FDR’s vision for a peaceful world.

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The Roosevelts’ Art: Personal Stories

By Paul Sparrow, Director

Art is the window to man’s soul. Without it, he would never be able to see beyond his immediate world; nor could the world see the man within. – Lady Bird Johnson

“The Roosevelts’ Art: Personal Stories” is a special exhibit running from April 1 until April 30th in the William vanden Heuvel Gallery at the FDR Library. It will feature 22 rarely seen works from the Roosevelt’s personal collection and invite visitors to examine their lives through the lens of art.

The colorful scene of a bridge over a Venetian canal by Charles Stuart Forbes is not remarkable. Certainly not a masterpiece. But when you learn that it was a wedding gift from the artist, and that Franklin and Eleanor visited Venice on their honeymoon it becomes more interesting. When you see the photograph that Franklin took of Eleanor on the last day of their honeymoon that echoes the painting you ask yourself, what does that mean?

 

After FDR died, Eleanor took the painting from Springwood, the family home that was soon to be a National Park, for what she described as “sentimental reasons.” It hung in the living room of her apartment in New York for the rest of her life. The artist, Charles Forbes was a cousin of Franklin’s mother Sara. They had a total of five of his works, all showing bridges or water scenes. So what does that watercolor tell us about the Roosevelts? The beauty of art is that everyone can draw their own meaning, but it certainly provides evidence of an enduring affection between Eleanor and Franklin that survived the many challenges to their relationship.

Some of the pieces in the exhibit are deeply personal. A delicate painting of Eleanor by Otto Schmidt, commissioned by her son Elliott and given to FDR as a birthday present in 1933, hung in the Oval Study until FDR’s death in 1945. When Eleanor first saw it she started crying, demurring that “she wasn’t that pretty.” This was Franklin Roosevelt’s favorite portrait of her.

Use Restriction: Restricted – Possibly. Otto Schmidt, 1933.

Use Restriction: Restricted – Possibly. Otto Schmidt, 1933.

FDR’s lifelong interest in maritime art is well known. “Surrender of the German Fleet” is a work by Bernard Finegan Gribble that FDR commissioned while he was Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1919. A large version of it originally hung in his office at the Navy Department and is now on display at the Naval Academy. He had a smaller version made for his personal collection, and in 1933 it was prominently displayed in the family residence at the White House. It is clearly visible in a portrait of the Roosevelt family painted in 1934 by John C. Johansen.

There are very few paintings that show multiple members of the Roosevelt family. It took months to schedule a time for the whole family to come together to sit for the artist. When the day finally arrived, only two of the five children were able to make it.

FDR, Eleanor, their daughter Anna and son Elliott are pictured in the Oval Study at the White House.

This painting was exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery in 1936. The other painting visible on the wall now hangs in FDR’s office at the Library.

One of Franklin Roosevelt’s abiding passions was the Hudson River Valley, and he collected books, drawings, prints and paintings of his beloved Dutchess County throughout his life.

Use Restriction: Restricted – Possibly. Mitchell Jamieson, 1940.

Use Restriction: Restricted – Possibly. Mitchell Jamieson, 1940.

The painting “View of Top Cottage” by Mitchell Jamieson captures a quiet idyll in the woods. Unseen is its role as an escape from the stresses of global war. It is just one of 27 watercolors of landscapes in and around Hyde Park commissioned for FDR by Treasury Secretary, and close friend, Henry Morgenthau. A simple watercolor of a small stone cottage gains in significance when it is revealed that FDR designed the building himself and that it was one of the first fully wheelchair accessible homes ever built. It becomes even more interesting when you learn he entertained the King and Queen of England on the front porch, and planned to live there when he left office.

Two paintings reflect the remarkable friendship between Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. The two first met as world leaders in August of 1940 at a secret meeting held aboard warships in the North Atlantic. The result was one of the most seminal documents of the 20th Century, the Atlantic Charter. A photographer captured an image of the two men sitting on the deck of the HMS Prince of Wales.

Use Restriction: Restricted – Possibly. Raymond Perry Rodgers Neilson, 1942.

Use Restriction: Restricted – Possibly. Raymond Perry Rodgers Neilson, 1942.

Thomas Watson, the CEO of IBM and a friend and powerful supporter of the President, commissioned Raymond Rogers Neilson to create an oil painting to immortalize what he described as “the most important world event that has ever taken place between the leaders of two great nations.” Watson gave it to the President in 1942, and later sent a copy to Churchill.

In 1943 they met again in Morocco for a wartime strategy meeting at a critical turning point in the war. After completing the Casablanca Conference the two drove across the desert to Marrakesh, and passed by the gate to the famous Bab El Khemis market. The French impressionist painter Marius Hubert-Robert painted the gate and gave it to FDR as a token of his admiration and respect.

Use Restriction: Restricted – Possibly. Marius Hubert-Robert, 1943.

Use Restriction: Restricted – Possibly. Marius Hubert-Robert, 1943.

The short excursion to Marrakesh had special meaning for both men. It represented a moment of escape, and possibly a view to a more peaceful future. The two of them enjoyed the glory of a stunning sunset from the tower at the Majorelle Gardens, captured in a famous photograph.

51-115 121What do these paintings reveal about Franklin Roosevelt? They are tokens of the deep bonds that Franklin forged with his closest friends. Bonds that in this case helped the Allies save the world from Fascism.

“The Roosevelts’ Art: Personal Stories” asks a simple question: Can art truly tell us something about a person we already know so much about? One of the missions of the National Archives and the Presidential Libraries is to “Make Access Happen.”

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Museum and Library holds more than 10,000 pieces of art in its collection, covering a wide range of time periods and styles. Most of it is kept in secure storerooms, rarely if ever exhibited for the public to see. The pieces personally collected by Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt are indeed windows into their lives. “The Roosevelts’ Art: Personal Stories” strives to provide a new perspective on perhaps the most important political couple in American history. The pieces were selected not for their value, but for the stories they tell.

This exhibit offers a rare and brief opportunity to explore the personal collection of the Roosevelts and get a glimpse into their complex and remarkable lives. Three new pieces by their great-granddaughter Laura Roosevelt will also be on display.

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The President on Broadway: FDR, George M. Cohan, and “I’d Rather Be Right”

by William A. Harris, FDR Library Deputy Director

Billy Rose Theater Collection, Photograph File, New York Public Library

Billy Rose Theater Collection, Photograph File, New York Public Library

Lambasting the President through low comedy or high satire shocks no one these days, especially during an election year. With the exception of editorial cartoons, before the 1960s, that wasn’t always the case. Motion pictures and the legitimate theater traditionally offered reverent presentations of the Presidents. FDR received this treatment in the Tony-award winning play, Sunrise at Campobello, which premiered thirteen years after his death. Incumbent Presidents were rarely portrayed at all.

Like running for a third or fourth term, FDR proves the exception. One almost forgotten show, I’d Rather Be Right, takes on Roosevelt, the incumbent President, using comedy and satire. The 1937 production also has the distinction of being the first Broadway musical, perhaps the first Broadway show ever, to feature the sitting President as the main character. As for reverence, forget about it. Almost everything was up for grabs, a daring approach at the time.

By any measure, 1937 was a tough one for FDR, from the so-called “Roosevelt recession” to accusations of court-packing. Commentators wondered if the President had lost his broad-based support and deft political touch. The climate was ripe for taking swipes on stage, and the President’s larger-than-life personality and often controversial policies offered plenty of material. Why let the editorial pages have all the fun, producer Sam Harris figured, when FDR enjoyed the limelight.

Writers Moss Hart and Pulitzer Prize winner George S. Kaufman eagerly embraced the project, and Harris teamed them with successful songwriters Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart whose numbers had graced several smash hits. Broadway buzzed as critics and theatre goers alike braced for knives honed to cut apart Roosevelt and the New Deal. The show was sure to be entertaining, but when legendary song-and-dance-man George M. Cohan signed on to play FDR, it promised to be the hit of the season.

Cohan, Broadway Program

Music Division, The New York Public Library. “The Yankee Doodle boy” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1904.

The epitome of scrappy, American patriotism, Cohan had endeared himself to the public with songs such as A Grand Old Flag and Give My Regards to Broadway over a forty-year career. It was a brilliant piece of casting, somewhat blunting criticism about the musical’s controversial content and undoubtedly ensuring a healthy box office. Neither Cohan, nor Kaufman were Roosevelt fans. Kaufman, however, appreciated the satirical possibilities, and all politics aside, Cohan recognized a star turn.

Known among the theater set for his arrogance as much as his patriotism, Cohan proved difficult from the start. Upon first hearing the score at his Fifth Avenue apartment, he walked out. He considered Rodgers and Hart “upstarts” and their material subpar. Rodgers remembered the experience as “at all times disagreeable.” But with the aggravations came financial rewards. Cohan’s name on the marquee resulted in $247,000 in advance ticket sales, second only to the blockbuster Show Boat at the time.

George M. Cohan as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Photo by Vandamm Studio, © New York Public Library

George M. Cohan as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Photo by Vandamm Studio, © New York Public Library

The show went into previews before a packed house at the Colonial Theater in Boston on October 11, 1937. The reviews were positive, if not enthusiastic. “The spoofing is more good natured than biting,” noted a critic. The plot is as flimsy as a tar paper shack. A young couple can’t marry. Why? The economy, of course. But along comes a dapper FDR. He’s convivial and oh so helpful, enlisting his cabinet to balance the budget for the sake of young love. That’s Presidential leadership!

George M. Cohan with the Supreme Court, Photo by Vandamm Studio, © New York Public Library

George M. Cohan with the Supreme Court, Photo by Vandamm Studio, © New York Public Library

The fantasy presents a parade of the day’s leading political personalities. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau sings a solo about bonds and Supreme Court justices pop out of bushes to warn the President against new laws. Postmaster General James Farley suggests selling off Baltimore. Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins proposes taxing post offices. In the end, the budget can’t be balanced, but FDR generously offers to stay in office for ten more years to get the job done! A third term is essential.

Few escape the ribbing, even the President’s mother, whose butler is the 1936 Republican nominee Alf Landon. Eleanor Roosevelt, though, is noticeably absent. Unsurprisingly, FDR’s paralysis also goes unmentioned. In fact, Cohan’s showstopper, Off the Record, has the President cavorting before the audience in a patriotic fervor. In the end, everything turns out to be a dream, and Cohan’s FDR gives an inspirational closing speech about the future of America—not exactly a cutting edge conclusion.

The President kept his counsel about the show. A man of good humor and high self-regard, he probably didn’t mind the attention. When the production previewed in Baltimore in late October, the White House requested six seats for “Mrs. Roosevelt’s secretary and Col. E. W. Starling of the Secret Service.” A small item on the front page of The Washington Post notes Starling’s attendance, as well as that of Presidential advisor Bernard Baruch. Presumably they reported back to the White House.

Scant correspondence about the hoopla exists in Roosevelt’s papers. A couple of letters by loyal supporters document concern about the show’s impact on American institutions. The National Democratic Council drafted a resolution denouncing the production as a “burlesque which directly reflects on the prestige of these United States.” Presidential secretary Marvin McIntyre directed a staffer to telephone the council’s vice president. The message—leave us out of this.

The show finally opened on Broadway at the Alvin Theatre on November 2, 1937. As for the hype, writing for The New York Times, critic Brooks Atkinson observed that “I’d Rather Be Right has arrived in town. The town is still intact.” He reserved praise for Cohan. “The sensational moment…is not when the President tries to balance the budget,” Atkinson explains, “but when George M. Cohan pulls his top hat tight on his head, breaks into a skittish, waggling dance and whirls around the stage.”

A smash hit, I’d Rather Be Right ran for 290 performances. The success probably had as much to do with Cohan as the subject matter. It’s doubtful the President cared. When presenting Cohan with a Congressionally-authorized gold medal in 1940, FDR referred to him as his “double.” A news photo shows the star looking down on the President, who, all smiles, beams back confidently. Cohan may have been Mr. Broadway, a good mimic and outstanding showman, but there’s no mistaking who’s President.

I’d Rather Be Right is a relic of another era, too dated for a full-fledged revival today, many of its punchlines lost on modern audiences. In 1937, the very idea of this musical raised eyebrows. After its premier, they were quickly lowered. Even in satire, the President is a humorous, engaging figure. With his programs and policies so groundbreaking and far-reaching, his image and voice so pervasive and familiar, almost everyone could appreciate the jokes—most likely even Roosevelt.

For those familiar with FDR, his Administration, and the 1930s, the humor holds up fairly well, though it’s pretty tame stuff. The Wagner Act as a vaudeville troop and high taxes replaced by a national pick pocket aren’t bad. They were certainly good enough for record profits. As for the President himself, with his grand and engaging manner, his confidence and ebullience, he could take a joke without question and laugh all the way to a third term.

George M. Cohan as FDR with the full ensemble, Photo by Vandamm Studio, © New York Public Library.

A few “FDR” lyrics from the score:

On his beloved Hudson Valley hometown—

“When I go up to Hyde Park/
It’s not just to ride there/
It’s not that I love Hyde Park/
But I love to park and hide there.”

On Wall Street—

“I’m really quite the hero/
I only have to say, ‘My friends…’/
And stocks go down to zero.”

On his future—

“If I’m not re-elected/
I’ll never fear for hunger/
I’ll never fear for thirst/
I’ve one son with du Pont/
And another one with Hearst.”

On a third term—

“When I was courting Eleanor/
I told her Uncle Teddy/
I wouldn’t run for President/
Unless the job was steady.”

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FDR and the Supreme Court: A Lasting Legacy

By Paul M. Sparrow, Director

The current debate about the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice during a presidential campaign is a political distraction because the constitution is clear on this. But the core issue about the importance of the President’s power to select Justices is vitally important. The consequences of the selection can be tectonic, and are rarely predictable.

Supreme Court, 1939-40

Supreme Court, 1939-40

Aside from George Washington, no President selected more men to sit on the Supreme Court than Franklin Roosevelt. And back then they were all white men. During his twelve years in office he appointed eight Justices. Four of whom qualify as some of the most influential jurists to ever wear the black robes: Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, William O. Douglas, and Robert H. Jackson.

In his book “Scorpion: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR’s Great Supreme Court Justices” Noah Feldman describes them this way:

“Four more different men could hardly be imagined. Yet they had certain things in common. Each was a self-made man who came from humble beginnings on the edge of poverty. Each had driving ambition and a will to succeed. Each was, in his own way, a genius. “

Although they were all appointed by FDR, they did not always agree, and in fact their battles became legend. Feldman describes it this way:

“They began as close allies and friends…Within months, their alliance had fragmented. Friends became enemies. In competition and sometimes outright warfare, the men struggled with one another to define the Constitution and, through it, the idea of America.”

IMG_7536

William O. Douglas, Maurice Constant Collection

Two of them were among the longest serving justices. Hugo Black (#5) and William Douglas (#1) served on the court for 34 and 36 years respectively. Douglas still holds the record for the most opinions written, and for the most wives (four).

He was also essentially the first environmentalist on the court, and was on the board of the Sierra Club. Known as ‘Wild Bill” he was uncompromising and unpredictable. A staunch defender of the Bill of Rights he was anti-government surveillance and anti-Vietnam War. When Gerald Ford was a congressman he tried to have him impeached, and then got to name his replacement in 1975, John Paul Stevens.

 

Hugo Black, Maurice Constant Collection

Hugo Black, Maurice Constant Collection

Hugo Black was FDR’s first appointment and generated the most controversy. A Senator from Alabama, Black was a populist politician with little judicial experience. FDR had been battling the Supreme Court over his New Deal legislation, and the conservative Southern Justices had thwarted him time and again. But FDR perceived Black as on his team, and as a sitting Senator would be easily confirmed. He announced Black’s nomination on August 12, 1937, and he was confirmed August 17 – just five days later. No background investigation was done by the White House.

After he was approved by the Senate, it was revealed that he had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The controversy was intense and emotional. There were calls for him to be impeached. FDR wanted Black to apologize and renounce the Klan, although Black later said that FDR was aware of his Klan association.

Under intense pressure, Black gave a masterful radio speech in which he claimed that his record in the Senate showed he was not a racist. He admitted to having been a member of the Klan, but that he had resigned before coming to Washington. He survived the storm, but the controversy followed him throughout his career.

In one of the great examples of how serving on the Supreme Court can reveal a person’s true character, Black’s body of opinions and voting record reveal him to have been an “unbending advocate of judicially mandated racial equality.” (Feldman, pg 143) Although he supported the Japanese Internment, he left a lasting legacy as a strong supporter of the First Amendment and Civil Rights.

Felix Frankfurter, Maurice Constant Collection

Felix Frankfurter, Maurice Constant Collection

Felix Frankfurter’s nomination was also highly controversial, and generated such opposition that it was the first time a nominee was forced to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a process that is now required.

A strong supporter of judicial restraint, Frankfurter was enormously influential on the court. Although in his early career he was a radical and helped found the ACLU, during his term on the court he became the leader of the conservative faction, and engaged in sharp conflicts with both Black and Douglas. He described their work as “shoddy” and “demagogic.”

Robert Jackson was the Solicitor General and the Attorney General before becoming an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court. He is the only person to have held all three positions. His description of the Supreme Court remains a landmark of legal observation:

“We are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only because we are final”

Robert Jackson, Maurice Constant Collection

Robert Jackson, Maurice Constant Collection

While he was Attorney General, Jackson helped FDR draft the language for the Destroyers for Bases program that allowed the US to provide war material to Great Britain despite a ban on arm sales dictated by the Neutrality Act. From his first year on the court, Jackson and Hugo Black clashed, both personally and professionally. Jackson was one of the few Justices to disagree with the Japanese Internment and his dissent to Black’s opinion was scathing.

But here is an attempt to make an otherwise innocent act a crime merely because this prisoner is the son of parents as to whom he had no choice, and belongs to a race from which there is no way to resign. If Congress in peace-time legislation should enact such a criminal law, I should suppose this Court would refuse to enforce it.

These four men shaped American society in ways we are still living with today. Although they were all appointed by a liberal, progressive president, they all charted their own paths and helped make legal history. For any president, the appointment of a person to the Supreme Court is an enormous responsibility, and it is almost impossible to predict how that person will respond once they don the black robes and sit in judgement from the highest bench in the land. It’s the President’s job to nominate, the Senate’s job to confirm, and the Justice’s job to rule whether laws are constitutional. Period.

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Eleanor Roosevelt’s Battle to End Lynching

by Paul M. Sparrow, Director

As we celebrate Black History Month, it is a good time to explore one of Eleanor Roosevelt’s most outspoken campaigns, and one of her greatest disappointments. Throughout American history issues of race and civil rights have challenged our most precious core principal – that all people are created equal. During the first half of the 20th century, racial segregation and discrimination were the law in many states. The notorious Jim Crow laws in the South prevented African Americans from getting a decent education, from owning businesses and even from voting. Mrs. Roosevelt spoke out against all of these injustices.

The Democratic Party controlled most of the South, and many Southern Democrats held powerful senior positions in the House and Senate. Their intransigence prevented President Franklin Roosevelt from instituting wide ranging civil rights legislation. That opposition did not stop Eleanor Roosevelt, who strongly supported civil rights and was remarkably courageous in her words and actions supporting social justice for African Americans. In the 1950s her work so angered the Ku Klux Klan that they put a $25,000 bounty on her. She received death threats throughout her life because of her work.

Nothing reveals her commitment more than her efforts to outlaw lynching. The anti-lynching movement was as controversial then as the #blacklivesmatter movement is today. Between 1882 and 1968 more than 3,500 African Americans were murdered by lawless white mobs. There were 28 such murders in 1933 alone. The victims were often tortured, beaten, burned alive and hanged. Almost no one was arrested or convicted for these crimes.

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In October of 1933, on Maryland’s eastern shore, George Armwood was lynched by “a frenzied mob of 3,000 men, women and children… who overpowered 50 State Troopers.” ( NY Times) The NAACP called on President Roosevelt to condemn the act. Then in November two white men were dragged out of a San Jose jail and hanged. On Dec. 6, 1933 in a nationally broadcast radio address FDR finally spoke his mind about lynching:

This new generation, for example, is not content with preachings against that vile form of collective murder – lynch law – which has broken out in our midst anew. We know that it is murder, and a deliberate and definite disobedience of the Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” We do not excuse those in high places or in low who condone lynch law.

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Walter White. Photo: Library of Congress

In 1934, Mrs. Roosevelt joined the NAACP and started working with its leader Walter White to help pass federal anti-lynching legislation.

White had been fighting for this type of law since 1922, and helped get the Costigan-Wagner anti-lynching bill before Congress.

Eleanor Roosevelt, Walter White Correspondence

While the bill had strong support, without the President’s personal commitment it was unlikely to get to the floor for a vote. President Roosevelt desperately needed the powerful Southern Democrats in the Senate to pass his New Deal legislation and did not want to risk alienating them over the anti-lynching bill. Tensions were high and so were the stakes. White tried to get an appointment to see the President but was turned down. The President’s closest advisors opposed supporting the bill. White then turned to Mrs. Roosevelt, and she arranged for a private meeting at the White House on May 7, 1934.

Roosevelt friend and biographer Joe Lash later wrote that Mr. White arrived before the President had returned from an outing, and he sat with Eleanor Roosevelt and her mother-in-law Sara and had tea. As he describes it, FDR arrived in good cheer, having spent the afternoon on the Potomac River. But the mood soon changed. As the President explained his predicament, giving one reason after another why he couldn’t support the bill, White countered with detailed arguments. Finally, exasperated, FDR said:

Somebody’s been priming you. Was it my wife?” He looked accusingly at Mrs. Roosevelt.

He explained to White that “If I come out for the anti-lynching bill now, they will block every bill I ask Congress to pass the keep America from collapsing. I just can’t take the risk.” (Lash)

Then in October Claude Neal, an African American farm worker in Florida, was arrested for the rape and murder of Lola Cannady, a white woman. He was abducted from the jail where he was being held, and the leaders of the lynch mob notified the press that justice would be served at the Cannady farm. Hundreds of people turned out to watch the lynching. The mob was so unruly that Neal was taken to a secret location, brutally tortured, castrated and killed. His mutilated body was hung outside the county courthouse. Sheriffs buried Neal, but a large crowd gathered demanding to see the body and a riot broke out. Nearly 200 African Americans were attacked and injured during the riot. The National Guard was eventually brought in to control the mob. The lynching and subsequent riot attracted massive news coverage, and many Americans were outraged and disgusted.

ScanPro443The murder of Claude Neal helped shift public opinion in favor of the anti-lynching laws. It also increased tensions between Walter White and the President. Mrs. Roosevelt found herself a lone voice in support of the anti-lynching act inside the White House. To show her support she attended the NAACP’s exhibition “Art Commentary On Lynching” which graphically depicted white mob violence against African Americans.

The President’s many enemies attacked Mrs. Roosevelt’s actions, and spread vicious rumors about her friendships with African Americans. Even FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover is reported to have thought she had “black blood.” ( source – https://www.gwu.edu/~erpapers/teachinger/lesson-plans/notes-er-and-civil-rights.cfm_)

During January and February of 1935 Eleanor Roosevelt continually pressured the President to publicly support the Costigan bill. But when it came up for a vote, Southern Senators threatened a long filibuster that would effectively block everything on the calendar, including the Social Security Act, which was FDR’s most cherished accomplishment. Despite a heated campaign by White, President Roosevelt remained silent on the filibuster and the anti-lynching bill died without a vote.

The defeat was a bitter blow to Walter White and the NAACP. Mrs. Roosevelt herself was despondent over it. She wrote to Mr. White and told him that:

I am so sorry about the bill. Of course all of us are going on fighting, and the only thing we can do is hope that we will have better luck next time.

But “next time” was no better. In 1937 during another Senate filibuster of another anti-lynching bill, Eleanor Roosevelt sat in the Senate Gallery for days in silent rebuke of the shameful tactic. Once again the bill died without a vote. It was not until 2005 that the US Senate apologized formally for its shocking failure to pass any anti-lynching legislation “…when action was most needed.”

In her My Day column on Dec. 12, 1945, after seeing the Broadway play “Strange Fruit” she wrote this about lynching:

“We need to understand these circumstances in the North as well as in the South. There are mental and spiritual lynchings as well as physical ones, and few of us in this nation can claim immunity from responsibility for some of the frustrations and injustices which face not only our colored people, but other groups, who for racial, religious or economic reasons, are at a disadvantage and face a constant struggle for justice and equality of opportunity.”

Eleanor Roosevelt believed that lynchings and indeed ALL injustices targeting African Americans must be stopped. She believed strongly that black lives did matter. And she fought hardest and spoke out loudest for those who could not defend themselves or who had no voice. Ultimately her efforts to pass federal legislation to prevent lynchings were unsuccessful. But she continued her campaign for civil rights until she died in 1962.

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Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, Mary McLeod Bethune and others at the opening of Midway Hall, one of two residence halls built by the Public Buildings Administration of the Federal Works Agency. Photo: NARA – 533032

Special thanks to Allida Black for her remarkable work on the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project. https://www.gwu.edu/~erpapers/

Sources:
Eleanor And Franklin – Joseph P. Lash
Eleanor Roosevelt Vol.2 – Blanche Wiesen Cook
The Eleanor Roosevelt Encyclopedia – Beasley, Shulman & Beasley

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Happy Birthday Franklin Roosevelt

By Paul M. Sparrow, Director

56-301(1)Birthdays are always a good time to take stock and look back. On this, the 134th anniversary of Franklin Roosevelt’s birth, it is important to remember what made him so special. He was born at Springwood, the family home in Hyde Park. It was a difficult birth on a cold winter’s day. The doctor advised his mother Sara not to have any more children because it might prove fatal.

Growing up, surrounded by the great beauty of the Hudson River Valley, adored by his mother, provided with every luxury and opportunity, it would have been easy for Franklin Roosevelt to glide through life as a pampered member of the New York elite. But he did not choose that path. There was something inside him that drove him to go beyond traditional expectations. To find a way to do something important. To do the right thing.

As a boy he fervently collected birds, books and stamps. He absorbed facts and details and converted them into knowledge and wisdom. He explored the vast acres around his home and developed a great love of the land.

48-22 3837(33)He learned from his stewardship of this riverfront property and as president applied those lessons to the vast expanses of America’s heartland that lay in dusty ruins, the victim of poor farming techniques and mismanagement. During his administration more than 2 billion trees were planted to stop erosion and end the dust bowl. Planting trees wasn’t just a good thing, it was the right thing. Recovery and rehabilitation were powerful themes in FDR’s life. He believed in a better future.

During his recovery from polio FDR traveled to a small polio rehabilitation clinic in rural Warm Springs, Georgia. There he was exposed to a way of life so radically different from his life at Springwood that it changed his understanding of the world.

76-70(30)While the natural hot springs provided a comforting retreat where he could share his handicap with other polio victims, the surrounding area gave glimpse to a colder world. The crushing poverty of the rural South, the muddy red clay roads, the lack of proper schools, the absence of electricity and running water: these things opened his eyes to the plight of the less fortunate.

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And he observed the needs and wants of his Southern neighbors and converted them into policies and programs that helped America recover from the depression. Why? Because it was the right thing to do.

During the last 20 years of his life he used his birthday as an opportunity to help raise funds to find a cure for polio. He created the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation and launched the Birthday Balls, a remarkably successful fundraising program. On January 30, 1934 there were more than 600 celebrations across the country that raised more than a million dollars for polio research. His own Birthday Ball that year featured a Roman theme, and photographs of his inner circle dressed in togas capture his playful, confident spirit. His efforts eventually led to the March of Dimes. In 1945 it raised $18.9 million.

47-96 1756Franklin Roosevelt’s leadership was almost always based on his absolute conviction that if you did the right thing when it mattered, you would, in the end, prevail. The funds raised by the March of Dimes did eventually help cure polio.

On January 30, 1945, his last birthday, Franklin Roosevelt was on the heavy cruiser the USS QUINCY, off the coast of Morocco, heading for the Crimea.

48-22 3659(15)He braved the Atlantic in the depths of winter to attend a Big Three Conference in Yalta with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. He was a very sick man at this point, and he knew it. He should never have embarked on such a dangerous and arduous adventure. But he believed the only way he could ensure the success of his greatest legacy, the United Nations, was through his personal lobbying of Joseph Stalin. He truly believed it was the right thing to do.

On board the QUINCY, in a brief birthday ceremony, Edward F. Laukagalis, Machinist’s Mate first class, presented President Roosevelt with a handsome brass ash tray as a gift from the entire crew. Laukagalis made the ash tray from a piece of a 5″ shell that had been fired by the QUINCY during the D-Day Invasion of Normandy. Cake was served but it was a subdued celebration.

MO 2008.12.26_01It is fitting the Roosevelt spent his last birthday aboard a Naval vessel. He loved the sea, and collected models of ships of all kinds. Particularly US Navy ships. After the Yalta Conference he returned to the United States aboard the QUINCY, arriving at Norfolk, Virginia on February 27th. He died, in Warm Springs, Georgia, seven weeks later.

He wanted to be buried at his home in Hyde Park. He left detailed instructions. Springwood was his home, his heart. It shaped him, nourished him, and provided a sanctuary in times of stress. He knew that people would come to his grave to remember him, and he wanted them to come to his home. Every year on his birthday the FDR Library and the National Park Service hold a wreath laying ceremony to honor his memory. So it is a fitting time to look back and take stock. If there is one lesson we can take from his remarkable life, it is that we must always strive to do the right thing, no matter how hard it might be.

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Winter Wonderland

Paul Sparrow, Director, FDR Library

82coverFranklin Roosevelt loved winter in Hyde Park. The rolling hills and woods of the family estate at Springwood provided a wonderland of fun and adventure. One of the large bobsleds Franklin loved to ride as a teenager is currently on display in the Henry Wallace Center.

Legend has it that Franklin would invite local boys over to ride on the sled with him, with the understanding that THEY would pull it back up the hill.

48-22 3619(66)This photograph of Franklin and his dog Tip would indicate that he had a different deal with his favorite pet.

The large hill in front of the family home offered a breathtaking thrill ride, not without its risks. The bobsled has two small runners in the front that can be used to steer, and a large metal spikes in the back attached to a hand brake that could be used to slow the sled down. There are no records of broken bones. Before he was stricken with polio in 1921 Franklin was a very active and athletic person, who loved to be outdoors, sailing, exploring, collecting and having fun.

When he was a young child Franklin used a smaller sled. He is pictured here in 1887 with his niece and nephew Helen and Taddy Roosevelt. Franklin would have been just five years old.09-1930MBorn on a cold winter day, January 30, 1882, Franklin’s childhood was warm and loving. His father and mother doted on him, and he had every toy and contraption he wanted. Sledding was not the only winter activity Franklin adored. He may have loved his ice yacht “Hawk” even more than his bobsled.

47-96 244This photo from 1905 shows him sailing across the frozen Hudson River. These ice yachts could reach speeds in excess of 40 mph. Ice Yacht races were very popular along the Hudson, and Franklin was competitive if nothing else.

Bobsleds and ice yachts were not the only forms of winter transportation. The Roosevelt family had a number of sleighs for use when automobiles could not drive on the snow covered roads. This photo from 1935 shows Eleanor Roosevelt with her daughter Anna in the woods near Springwood.

64-353As winter comes once again to the Hudson River Valley, these old photographs show a side of Franklin Roosevelt we do not often see. The playful, outdoor adventurer who lived life to its fullest.

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The “Four Freedoms” speech remastered

By Paul M. Sparrow, Director

There is only one speech in American history that inspired a multitude of books and films, the establishment of its own park, a series of paintings by a world famous artist, a prestigious international award and a United Nation’s resolution on Human Rights.

That speech is Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union Address, commonly known as the “Four Freedoms” speech. In it he articulated a powerful vision for a world in which all people had freedom of speech and of religion, and freedom from want and fear. It was delivered on January 6, 1941 and it helped change the world. The words of the speech are enshrined in marble at Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island in New York, are visualized in the paintings of Norman Rockwell, inspired the international Four Freedoms Award and are the foundation for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948.

On the 50th anniversary of the speech in 1991 a ceremony was held in the U.S. Capitol featuring a remarkable bi-partisan group of leaders including Sen. Bob Dole, Rep. Richard Gephardt, Anne Roosevelt and President George H.W. Bush. President Bush said this about FDR’s Four Freedoms:

“Two hundred years ago, perhaps our greatest political philosopher, Thomas Jefferson, defined our nation’s identity when he wrote “All men are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Fifty years ago, our greatest American political pragmatist, Roosevelt, refined that thought in his Four Freedoms when he brilliantly enunciated our 20th century vision of our founding fathers’ commitment to individual liberty.”

Video – 50th Anniversary of FDR’s Four Freedoms Speech

To honor the 75th anniversary of this historic presidential address, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum joined forces with the National Archives Motion Picture Preservation Labs to create new enhanced versions of the speech in HD and Ultra-HD (4K) file formats. These new versions were transferred directly from the original 35mm film stock. Audio from the original disk recordings were then synced with the new video files to create an entirely new resource. The new HD video is now available to the public here, and the 4K video is available upon special request from the Library.

(Copyright Sherman Grinberg Film Library – http://www.shermangrinberg.com/)

It is important to fully understand the historic context of this speech. On November 5th, 1940 Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president for an unprecedented third term. It was a dark time as the world faced unprecedented danger, instability, and war. Much of Europe had fallen to the Nazis and Great Britain was barely holding its own. The Japanese Empire brutally occupied much of China and East Asia. A great number of Americans remained committed to isolationism and the belief that the United States should stay out of the war. President Roosevelt understood Britain’s desperate need for American support and attempted to convince the American people to come to the aid of their closest ally.

In his address on January 6, 1941, Franklin Roosevelt presented his reasons for American involvement, making the case for continued aid to Great Britain and greater production of war industries at home. In helping Britain, President Roosevelt stated, the United States was fighting for the universal freedoms that all people deserved.

As America entered the war these “four freedoms” – the freedom of speech, the freedom of worship, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear – symbolized America’s war aims and gave hope in the following years to a war-wearied people because they knew they were fighting for freedom.

The ideas enunciated in Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms were the foundational principles that evolved into the Atlantic Charter declared by Winston Churchill and FDR in August 1941; the United Nations Declaration of January 1, 1942; President Roosevelt’s vision for an international organization that became the United Nations after his death; and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948 through the work of Eleanor Roosevelt.

As tyrannical leaders once again resort to brutal oppression and terrorism to achieve their goals, as democracy and journalism are under attack from extremists across the globe, and as surveillance and technology threaten individual liberties and freedom of expression, FDRs bold vision for a world that embraces these four fundamental freedoms is as vital today as it was 75 years ago.


Special thanks to the New York Community Trust for their ongoing support of the Pare Lorentz Film Center.

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