Franklin D. Roosevelt

Address at Covington, Kentucky.

July 08, 1938

Senator Barkley, Governor Chandler, my friends of Kentucky:

I am glad to be back in Kentucky.

Some Republicans have suggested that I have come to Kentucky on a political mission. But I assure you the only reason is that I cannot get to Oklahoma without crossing Kentucky.

Every time that I have come into this State in the past few years, I have not been able to forget a certain trip which I made across a large part of Kentucky in the early autumn of 1932-six years ago, though it seems a whole lot longer. And on that occasion, though I had been traveling in many states, what I saw in Kentucky stirred me more deeply than I had ever been stirred in my life—except perhaps in the days during the World War when I saw the misery and the suffering on the fields of France.

On my visit to Kentucky in 1932 my train moved slowly from Covington to Louisville and thence in a southeasterly direction, through villages and farming sections and mining districts. As we stopped at small stations the crowds congregated. Hunger, stark hunger, stared out at me from the faces of men and women and little children. There was scarcely a new dress or a new suit of clothes in the crowd. It was a chill day, very different from this day, and for the actual want of clothes people stood there shivering.

They were looking up at two men. One of them was a candidate for the Presidency, going about the country telling people that the national situation was grave—so deeply serious that the time for promises had come to an end and the time for action was at hand.

The other man on that train platform was a Senator from Kentucky—a man of experience in the affairs of his State and of his Nation—a man who had fought valiantly as a member of the then Democratic minority in Washington, voting against doing nothing, voting in favor of action to meet the growing needs of the Nation.

On that day's trip, I know that Senator Barkley and I were thinking little in terms of partisan politics. We were thinking in terms of American needs—not just Kentucky's needs but the deep-seated wants that had come into the lives of the people of every state, the lives of millions of people scattered throughout the Nation. Yes, tears were in our eyes that day. We were affected not alone by misery but by the fortitude we saw, because we realized that these people still had faith—faith in the institutions of the United States—faith in the Government of the United States—faith that their Government would, before it was too late, come through.

On that trip, too, between stops, your Senator and I talked of many things. We talked of economic conditions and social conditions-of the thousands of things that had to be done, in the East, and in the Middle West, and in the border states, and in the South and in the Far West, if America as a Nation was to carry on.

I shall never forget that day because I saw things with my own eyes that made me think more deeply about the fundamentals of life than I had ever thought before, and because I had an opportunity that day to talk of those things with a great American who had been on the "firing line" for years, and had striven to avert the disaster, and was willing and able to give practical advice for the cure of it.

I shall not recount the progress of the intervening years. You know the story of them as well as I do. I wish that I could follow that same railroad route today. I wish that I could look into the faces of the same men and women and children that I saw then. And if I could, I know very well that the facts of today would give the lie to those who seek to overthrow this Administration by telling you, as they have been telling you for six months or more, that conditions in the United States today can be compared with the conditions of 1932. You and I have the intelligence and the first-hand knowledge to laugh at that kind of political ballyhoo.

I shall not go into the story of those six years. You know today that your bank deposits are safe; that the problem of unemployment is far less serious; that more wheels of industry are turning; that the farmers are better off in a hundred ways; and most important of all, that our people are not half-clothed or half-starving.

But I do want to speak to you briefly of one part of the broad policy of your Government during these six years—only a part, mind you, but an essential part of a very big whole.

In that winter of 1932-1933, because of inaction on the part of the Federal Government, thousands of communities everywhere and many of the states of the Nation were facing bankruptcy. And as Governor of New York for four years, because I could get no assistance from Washington, I had been compelled, with the approval of my State Legislature—which, by the way, was Republican in both its branches—to care for the human needs of tens of thousands of the citizens of that State. Because I could get no assistance from Washington, I was compelled to create state deficits—to put the State Treasury into the "red." Why? In order to feed the destitute; to give work to the unemployed; to care for the thousands of people who had become dependent on the State for food and shelter. And, when I left Albany, the deficit of the State of New York was nearly a hundred million dollars.

If I were to go back there under similar circumstances, I would do the same thing I did then for the sake of human lives.

That was the experience of most states. They could get no help from the National Government to meet national problems. They were in debt and their borrowing capacity was close to an end. That was also the experience of hundreds of cities and counties. Taxes were not being paid to them, and if they had had to liquidate they would have been insolvent.

Your Federal Government—the one that started on March 4, 1933—recognized this situation and promptly sought to restore the credit and the finances of the states, the cities and the counties. We put a national shoulder under national problems. We undertook a great program of work—work relief paid for by the Federal Government, thus helping every community to do a thousand necessary jobs which individual communities could not afford to do by themselves—public works on a matching basis, thus enabling states and cities and school districts and counties to build bridges and buildings and roads and flood control works which they could not afford to do alone; work which took the support of men, women and children off the backs of local communities.

In the six years that have intervened, many of our states, because of that help from the National Government, are now back in the "black" again—my own State of New York, and your own State of Kentucky among them. And I am heartily glad of it. Your Governor, my Governor, and a good many other Governors of other states are able to go before their people and announce proudly that they have balanced their budgets. More power to their arms!

I am happy and proud of how much the Federal Government has been able to help Kentucky and the other states. It would surprise many people to know how much that help has been. Take Kentucky for example:

1—In these six years, the Federal Government has allotted to Kentucky in new kinds of Federal expenditures for relief, work relief, public works, the education of youth, farm rehabilitation and crop benefits—approximately $280,000,000.

2—In these six years the Federal Government has spent in more traditional forms of Federal expenditure, such as matching funds for state highways on a fifty-fifty basis, aid to the state for the building of state institutions, flood control and river work, Federal public buildings and the maintenance of the regular agricultural services, at least another fifty million dollars.

3—In these six years Federal loans, through the R.F.C., the H.O.L.C., the Farm Credit Administration and other lending agencies—by extending the due date of obligations, by scaling the interest on obligations, giving financial institutions and borrowers alike a chance to reorganize and turn around—have averted from the taxable wealth and the taxable citizens of Kentucky the cost of bearing the liquidation of the 1929-33 depression. That, I conservatively estimate, has saved the financial resources of the State of Kentucky several hundred millions of dollars.

4—And finally, in these six years the prompt willingness of the Federal Government to take care of flood damage, to begin the prevention of soil erosion, to invest in the protection of Kentucky's natural capital and property while Kentucky had to save on those items—all that is worth incalculable millions of dollars more.

Add all that up when next you wonder why the National Government has not balanced its budget over the last six years.

If the Federal Government, your Government, had not done at least some of these things, the state governments would probably not have done them at all out of their own resources, because they could not. By assistance like this, not only in Kentucky, but in other states, state treasuries have been enabled to get out of the "red" and into the "black"—and that holds true for the credit of almost every municipality and town and school district and county throughout the Union.

It has taken courage for the Federal Government to go into the "red" to help state and local governments, to help them get out of the "red" or stay out of the "red." But, my friends, nationally it has been worth it.

Your Governor deserves due credit for getting this State on a sound financial basis. He never came to Washington and went away empty-handed. I say to him, and I say to you that I have considered him and do consider him a friend of mine, and that I think he has done a good job as the Chief Executive of his State.

At the same time, I am glad that Senator Barkley is here too. I have no hesitation in saying certain things in the presence of Alben Barkley.

I read in the papers that you are having a primary campaign in Kentucky, a primary campaign for the choice of the Democratic candidate for the United States Senate. Both candidates I know. Both are men of ability. Both are representative Kentuckians.

I want to make it definite and clear to you that I am not interfering in any shape, manner or form in the primary campaign in Kentucky. I do not live here—you do. You have the absolute right to vote for any candidate in accordance with the dictates of your conscience. No outside source ought to dragoon you.

Nevertheless, I have a clear right to tell you certain facts relating to the National Government, to national problems, facts which I believe to be true. The people of Kentucky have a vital part, a vital stake in these national facts and problems. As one of the great states of the Union, Kentucky is interested in national affairs and is therefore entitled to know every angle of national affairs.

At this stage of world and domestic issues, a serious time for the people of America, a serious time for the people of the whole world, leadership is important to the people of the United States as well as to the people of the individual states.

We in this country operate principally through what we call the party system. We so operate because we believe that party responsibility eliminates a large part of the confusion which would result from a complete lack of party leadership. That leadership, as you will readily realize, is necessary not only in the Executive Branch of the National Government but equally necessary in the two Houses of the Congress.

In the upper House, the leadership of the majority party has been entrusted by the votes of his colleagues to Senator Barkley, the senior Senator from Kentucky. I do not need to tell you of his long experience in all of our national problems. By virtue of that experience, by virtue of his ability, by virtue of his seniority, he serves on major committees, which deal with major legislation and, in addition to this, he speaks with the voice of the majority leader of the Democratic Party in the Senate of the United States.

His outlook on affairs of Government is a liberal outlook. He has taken a major part in shaping not only the legislation but the actual policies of the past six years.

I have no doubt whatsoever that Governor Chandler would make a good Senator from Kentucky—but I think that my friend, the Governor, would be the first to acknowledge that as a very junior member of the United States Senate, it would take him many, many years to match the national knowledge, the experience and the acknowledged leadership in the affairs of the Nation of that son of Kentucky, of whom the whole Nation is proud, Alben Barkley.

One word more. You have heard charges and the country has heard charges, and counter charges of the use of political influence exerted on primary voters. Charges have been bandied back and forth that employees of the Federal Government and workers on relief are being directed how to vote. And we have all heard charges that state employees, people on the state payroll and their friends are being directed how to vote. Let me assure you that it is contrary to direct and forceful orders from Washington, for any Federal Government employee to tell those under them how to vote and I trust that the same rule applies to those who work for or under the State of Kentucky.

Personally, I am not greatly disturbed by these stories because I have an old-fashioned idea, an old-fashioned faith, that the voters of Kentucky, no matter whom they employ or by whom they are employed, are going to vote their own personal convictions on Primary Day. That is as it should be.

I am glad to come to this beautiful spot today. I know about Latonia by reading the sporting pages of the papers. You live on a great river, the Ohio. And, by the way, the first steamboat that ever navigated this river was built and run by old Nicholas Roosevelt, my great grandfather's cousin. Slowly but surely, we, the new generation, are getting the old river under control, and I am equally certain that the people of America are slowly but surely getting their social and economic problems under control too. Let us keep up the good work.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address at Covington, Kentucky. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under




Simple Search of Our Archives