First Inaugural Address of Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his first inaugural address on March 4, 1933, the first president to be sworn in since passage of the 20th Amendment, which mandated Inauguration Day to be held on January 20th. After his landslide victory, Roosevelt's address, with the Great Depression still griping the country, was heard by tens of millions of Americans by radio. One of the most remembered and paraphrased quotes from any presidential inauguration address is in this one: "The only thing we have to fear itself..."

Inaugural Speech of Franklin Delano Roosevelt
                  Given in Washington, D.C.
                       March 4th, 1933

President Hoover, Mr. Chief Justice, my friends:

  This is a day of national consecration, and 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 pre-eminently 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 

Primarily, this is because the rulers of the exchange of 
mankind's goods have failed through their own 
stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted 
their failures 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 

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 conditions.  
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 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 

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.

Recognition of the falsity of material wealth as the 
standard of success goes hand in hand with the 
abandonment of the false belief that public office and 
high political position are to be values only by the 
standards of pride of place and personal profit, and 
there must be an end to a conduct in banking and 
in business which too often has given to a sacred 
trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing.

Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives 
only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of 
obligations, on faithful protection, on unselfish 
performance.  Without them it cannot live.

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 

It can be accompanied 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 
national resources.

Hand in hand with this, we must frankly recognize the 
over-balance 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 a 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.

These are the lines of attack.  I shall presently urge upon 
a new Congress in special session detailed measures for their 
fulfillment, and I shall seek the immediate assistance of the 
several States.

Through this program of action we address ourselves to 
putting our own national house in order and making income 
balance outgo.

Our international trade relations, though vastly important,
are, to point in time and necessity, secondary to the 
establishment of a sound national economy.

I favor as a practical policy the putting of first things 
first. I shall spare no effort to restore world trade by 
international economic readjustment, but the emergency 
at home cannot wait on that accomplishment.

The basic thought that guides these specific means of 
national recovery is not narrowly nationalistic.

It is the insistence, as a first consideration, upon the 
interdependence of the various elements in and parts 
of the United States. . .a recognition of the old and 
permanently important manifestation of the American 
spirit of the pioneer.

It is the way to recovery.  It is the immediate way.  It is 
the strongest assurance that the recovery will endure.

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 inter-
dependence 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 
possibly a leadership which aims at a larger good.

This I propose to offer, pledging that the larger 
purposes will hind 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 army 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.

But in the event that the Congress shall fail to take one of 
these 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 foe.

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 will take it.

In this dedication of a nation we humbly ask the 
blessing of God. May He protect each and every one of 
us!  May He guide me in the days to come!

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