Franklin D. Roosevelt

Address for Liberty Fleet Day.

September 26, 1941

THIS is a memorable day in the history of American shipbuilding- a memorable day in the emergency defense of the Nation. Today, from dawn to dark, fourteen ships are being launched—on the Atlantic, on the Pacific, and on the Gulf, and among them is the first Liberty ship, the Patrick Henry.

While we are proud of what we are doing, this is certainly no time to be content. We must build more cargo ships and still more cargo ships- and we must speed the program until we achieve a launching each day, then two ships a day, fulfilling the building program undertaken by the Maritime Commission.

Our shipbuilding program—not only that of the Maritime Commission, but of the Navy- is one of our answers to the aggressors who would strike at our liberty.

I am speaking today not only to the shipworkers in the building yards on our coasts, on our Great Lakes, and on our rivers—not only to the thousands who are present at today's launchings—but also to the men and women throughout the country who live far from salt water or shipbuilding.

I emphasize to all of you the simple, historic fact that throughout the period of our American life, going way back into Colonial days, commerce on the high seas and freedom of the seas has been a major reason for our prosperity and the building up of our country.

To give you one simple example: It is a matter of history that a large part of the capital which in the middle of the past century went into the building of railways and spread like a network into the new undeveloped areas across the Mississippi River, across the Plains and up into the Northwest, was money which had been made by American traders whose ships had sailed the seas to the Baltic, to the Mediterranean, to Africa and South America, and to Singapore and China itself.

Through all the years after the American Revolution your Government reiterated and maintained the right of American ships to voyage hither and yon without hindrance from those who sought to keep them off the seas or drive them off the seas. As a Nation we have realized that our export trade and our import trade had a definitely good effect on the life of families, not only on our coasts but on the farms and in the cities a hundred or a thousand miles from salt water.

Since 1936, when the Congress enacted the present Merchant Marine Law, we have been rehabilitating a Merchant Marine which had fallen to a low level. Today we are continuing that program at accelerated speed.

The shipworkers of America are doing a great job. They have made a commendable record for efficiency and speed. With every new ship, they are striking a telling blow at the menace to our Nation and the liberty of the free peoples of the world. They struck fourteen such blows today. They have caught the true spirit with which all this Nation must be imbued if Hitler and other aggressors of his ilk are to be prevented from crushing us.

We Americans as a whole cannot listen to those few Americans who preach the gospel of fear- who say in effect that they are still in favor of freedom of the seas but who would have the United States tie up our vessels in our ports. That attitude is neither truthful nor honest.

We propose that these ships sail the seas as they are intended to. We propose, to the best of our ability, to protect them from torpedo, from shell, or from bomb.

The Patrick Henry, as one of the Liberty ships launched today, renews that great patriot's stirring demand:

"Give me liberty or give me death."

There shall be no death for America, for democracy, for freedom! There must be liberty, world-wide and eternal. That is our prayer—our pledge to all mankind.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address for Liberty Fleet Day. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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