Franklin D. Roosevelt

Address at Gainesville, Georgia.

March 23, 1938

This celebration, the outward and visible commemoration of the rebirth of Gainesville, is more than a symbol of the fine courage which has made it possible for this city to come back after it had been, in great part, destroyed by the tornado of 1936. These ceremonies touch the interest and life of the whole Nation because they typify citizenship which is latent in the American character but which too often remains quiescent and too seldom expresses itself. You were not content to clear away the debris which I, myself, saw as I passed through Gainesville a couple of days after the disaster. You were not content with rebuilding along the lines of the old community. You were not content with throwing yourselves on the help which could be given to you by your State and by the Federal Government.

On the contrary, you determined in the process of rebuilding to eliminate old conditions of which you were not proud; to build a better city; to replace congested areas with parks; to move human beings from slums to suburbs. For this you, the citizens of Gainesville, deserve all possible praise.

It is true that in the planned work- of rebuilding you received Federal assistance.

Chairman Jesse Jones of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation tells me that they invested nearly one million dollars in Gainesville with the objective of helping to rebuild the city and that he knows of no similar sum which has been used to better advantage. The Public Works Administration aided in projects for schools, for an almshouse, for a courthouse, for water works and for a jail, and the Works Progress Administration assisted not only in cleaning up the wreck and taking care of destitute people but also in repairing sewers and sidewalks, street lighting, repaving, and parks and schools. But all of this would have been wholly insufficient if you had not provided far greater help from your own ranks in the form of money and in the form of unselfish cooperation.

In the task there has been an essential unanimity in the gift of personal interest and personal service. Few among your citizens have held back. You had needs—great needs. They were met in accordance with the democratic principle that those needs should be filled in proportion to the ability of each individual to help.

I tell you that this has a national significance and I want to give you a few illustrations of where and how the application of this principle to national problems would amply solve our national needs.

Today, national progress and national prosperity are being held back chiefly because of selfishness on the part of a few. If Gainesville had been faced with that type of minority selfishness your city would not stand rebuilt as it is today.

The type of selfishness to which I refer is definitely not to be applied to the overwhelming majority of the American public.

Most people, if they know both sides of a question and are appealed to, to support the public good, will gladly lay aside selfishness. But we must admit that there are some people who honestly believe in a wholly different theory of government than the one our Constitution provides.

You know their reasoning. They say that in the competition of life for the good things of life; "Some are successful because they have better brains or are more efficient; the wise, the swift and' the strong are able to outstrip their fellowmen. That is nature itself, and it is just too bad if some get left behind."

It is that attitude which leads such people to give little thought to the one-third of our population which I have described as being ill-fed, ill-clad and ill-housed. They say, "I am not my brother's keeper"—and they "pass by on the other side." Most of them are honest people. Most of them consider themselves excellent citizens.

But this nation will never permanently get on the road to recovery if we leave the methods and the processes of recovery to those who owned the Government of the United States from 1921 to 1933.

They are the kind of people who, in 1936, were saying, Oh, yes, we want nobody to starve"; but at the same time insisted that the balancing of the budget was more important than making appropriations for relief. And when I told them that I, too, wanted to balance the budget but that I put human lives ahead of dollars and handed them the government estimates and asked them just where they would cut the appropriations, inevitably they came back at me and said, "Mr. President, that is not my business, that is yours."

They have the same type of mind as those representatives of the people who vote against legislation to help social and economic conditions, proclaiming loudly that they are for the objectives but do not like the methods, and then fail utterly to offer a better method of their own.

I speak to you of conditions in this, my other State. The buying power of the people of Georgia and of the people of many other States is still so low today that the people of these states cannot purchase the products of industry. Therefore, industry itself is cut of[ from an outlet it otherwise would have. People cannot buy at stores unless they have cash or good credit. Stores cannot fill their shelves unless they have customers.

Mills and factories cannot sell to stores who have no customers.

I speak not only of the workers in the bottom third of our population—millions of them who cannot afford a suit of clothes. I speak also of millions of other workers who are so under-employed and so underpaid that the burden of their poverty affects the little business man and the big business man and the millionaire himself.

Georgia and the lower South may just as well face facts-simple facts presented in the lower South by the President of the United States. The purchasing power of the millions of Americans in this whole area is far too low. Most men and women who work for wages in this whole area get wages which are far too low. On the present scale of wages and therefore on the present scale of buying power, the South cannot and will not succeed in establishing successful new industries. Efficiency in operating industries goes hand-in-hand with good pay and the industries of the South cannot compete with industries in other parts of the country, the North, the Middle West and the Far West, unless the buying power of the South makes possible the highest kind of efficiency.

And let us well remember that buying power means many other kinds of better things—better schools, better health, better hospitals, better highways. These things will not come to us in the South if we oppose progress—if we believe in our hearts that the feudal system is still the best system.

When you come down to it, there is little difference between the feudal system and the Fascist system. If you believe in the one, you lean to the other.

With the overwhelming majority of the people of this State, I oppose feudalism. So do many among those who by virtue of their circumstances in life belong to the most prosperous 5 per cent of the population. Men and women in the professions, the overwhelming majority of the small storekeepers, a growing number of the bankers and business men—they are coming more and more to see that the continuation of the American system calls for the elimination of special privilege, the dissemination of the whole of the truth, and participation in prosperity by the people at the bottom of the ladder, as well as those in the middle and at the top.

One thing is certain- we are not going back to the old days. We are going forward to better days. We are calling for cooperation all along the line, and the cooperation is increasing because more and more people are coming to understand that abuses of the past which have been successfully eradicated are not going to be restored.

To those in and out of public office, who still believe in the feudal system—and believe in it honestly—the people of the United States and in every section of the United States are going to say "We are sorry, but we want people to represent us whose minds are cast in the 1938 mold and not in the 1898 mold."

To those who come forward, and they are coming in increasing numbers day by day, we say: "We, the Government of the United States, all of us in that Government, want to cooperate for the good of the whole people and the whole Nation. To you we extend the hand of welcome."

Gainesville suffered a great disaster. So did the Nation in those eight years of false prosperity followed by four years of collapse. Gainesville showed a united front for the good of its whole population, rich and poor alike. It rose to rebuild on sounder lines.

The United States is rising and is rebuilding on sounder lines. We propose to go forward and not back.

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

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