Franklin D. Roosevelt

Address at Gettysburg

May 30, 1934

Governor Pinchot, Mr. Chairman, my friends:

What a glorious day this is! I rejoice in it and I rejoice in this splendid celebration of it.

On these hills of Gettysburg two brave armies of Americans once met in contest. Not far from here, in a valley likewise consecrated to American valor, a ragged Continental Army survived a bitter winter to keep alive the expiring hope of a new Nation; and near to this battlefield and that valley stands that invincible city where the Declaration of Independence was born and the Constitution of the United States was written by the fathers. Surely, all this is holy ground.

It was in Philadelphia, too, that Washington spoke his solemn, tender, wise words of farewell—a farewell not alone to his generation, but to the generation of those who laid down their lives here and to our generation and to the America of tomorrow. Perhaps if our fathers and grandfathers had truly heeded those words we should have had no family quarrel, no battle of Gettysburg, no Appomattox.

As a Virginian, President Washington had a natural pride in Virginia; but as an American, in his stately phrase, "the name of American, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discrimination."

Recognizing the strength of local and State and sectional prejudices and how strong they might grow to be, and how they might take from the national Government some of the loyalty the citizens owed to it, he made three historic tours during his Presidency. One was through New England in 1789, another through the Northern States in 1790, and still another through the Southern States in 1791. He did this, as he said—and the words sound good nearly a century and a half later—"In order to become better acquainted with their principal characters and internal circumstances, as well as to be more accessible to numbers of well-informed persons who might give him useful advices on political subjects."

But Washington did more to stimulate patriotism than merely to travel and mingle with the people. He knew that Nations grow as their commerce and manufactures and agriculture grow, and that all of these grow as the means of transportation are extended. He sought to knit the sections together by their common interest in these great enterprises; and he projected highways and canals as aids not to sectional, but to national, development.

But the Nation expanded geographically after the death of Washington far more rapidly than the Nation's means of intercommunication. The small national area of 1789 grew to the great expanse of the Nation of 1860. Even in terms of the crude transportation of that day, the first thirteen States were still within "driving distance" of each other.

With the settling and the peopling of the Continent to the shores of the Pacific, there developed the problem of self-contained territories because the Nation's expansion exceeded its development of means of transportation, as we learn from our history books. The early building of railroads did not proceed on national lines.

Contrary to belief of some of us Northerners, the South and the West were not laggard in developing this new form of transportation; but, as in the East, most of the railroads were local and sectional. It was a chartless procedure; people were not thinking in terms of national transportation or national communication. In the days before the Brothers' War not a single line of railroad was projected from the South to the North; not even one from the South reached to the national capital itself.

In those days, it was an inspired prophet of the South who said: "My brethren, if we know one another, we will love one another." The tragedy of the Nation was that the people did not know one another because they had not the necessary means of visiting one another.

Since those days, two subsequent wars, both with foreign Nations, have measurably allayed and softened the ancient passions. It has been left to us of this generation to see the healing made permanent.

We are all brothers now, brothers in a new understanding. The grain farmers of the West and in the fertile fields of Pennsylvania do not set themselves up for preference if we seek at the same time to help the cotton farmers of the South; nor do the tobacco growers complain of discrimination if, at the same time, we help the cattle men of the plains and mountains.

In our planning to lift industry to normal prosperity, the farmer upholds our efforts. And as we seek to give the farmers of the United States a long-sought equality, the city worker understands and helps. All of us, among all the States, share in whatever of good comes to the average man. We know that we all have a stake—a partnership in this Government of this, our country.

Today, we have many means of knowing each other—means that at last have sounded the doom of sectionalism. It is, I think, as I survey the picture from every angle, a simple fact that the chief hindrance to progress comes from three elements which, thank God, grow less in importance with the growth of a clearer understanding of our purposes on the part of the overwhelming majority. These groups are those who seek to stir up political animosity or to build political advantage by the distortion of facts; those who, by declining to follow the rules of the game, seek to gain an unfair advantage over those who are willing to live up to the rules of the game; and those few who, because they have never been willing to take an interest in their fellow Americans, dwell inside of their own narrow spheres and still represent the selfishness of sectionalism which has no place in our national life.

Washington and Jefferson and Jackson and Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson sought and worked for a consolidated Nation. You and I have it in our power to attain that great ideal within our lifetime. We can do this by following the peaceful methods prescribed under the broad and resilient provisions of the Constitution of the United States.

Here, here at Gettysburg, here in the presence of the spirits of those who fell on this ground, we give renewed assurance that the passions of war are moldering in the tombs of Time and the purposes of peace are flowing today in the hearts of a united people.

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

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