Franklin D. Roosevelt

Address at Little Rock, Arkansas.

June 10, 1936

Governor Futrell, my friends of Arkansas:

For me this has been a glorious day and this is a splendid climax. While, as some of you know, I have been in the State of Arkansas before this, my visits hitherto have been too much like those of a bird of passage; and this is the first chance that I have had to see the State at closer range, and especially to enjoy the generosity, the kindness and the courtesy of true Arkansas hospitality.

I have seen your parks; I have seen the beauties of your mountains and rivers. Arkansas can claim every warrant for the name "wonder State." It is doubly a privilege to meet you face to face and to join with you in the celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the admission of this great State into the Union.

It is possible that some of our citizens who live in the original thirteen States along the Atlantic seaboard may have the natural idea that white men first became acquainted with their part of the country, and that the territory lying west of the Mississippi is all very new. I am certain that it is not generally realized back there in the East that Hernando De Soto, the tireless Spanish explorer, set foot in what is now Arkansas, as early as the year 1541, more than half a century before the founding of Jamestown and New Amsterdam and Plymouth; or that the French explorers, Marquette and Joliet, coming southward from Canada, saw this country when the civilization of the Atlantic seaboard was still in its infancy. Nor have they sufficiently been told that the first settlement under the flag of France was made under the direction of De Tonti at Arkansas Post as far back as 1686.

First under the flag of France, the young settlement, as we know, passed to the flag of Spain, to be recovered by Napoleon for France in 1800, and finally brought under our own American flag by the Louisiana Purchase three years later.

That Louisiana Purchase has always had a special significance for me. I am interested in it for family reasons because Robert R. Livingston, our Minister to France, negotiated the purchase by direction of President Thomas Jefferson-and I must admit that Livingston, who was of Scotch descent, drove a very shrewd bargain.

I am also interested because President Jefferson, seeing the complexities which the Emperor Napoleon faced in a coalition of hostile European powers, had the courage, the backbone, to act for the benefit of the United States without the full and unanimous approval of every member of the legal profession. Indeed, he was told by some of his closest advisers and friends that the Constitution of the United States contained no clause specifically authorizing him to purchase or acquire additional territory; and he was told that because specific authority did not exist under that great Charter of Government, none could be exercised. Jefferson replied that there were certain inherent qualities of sovereignty which could not be separated from the Federal Government, if such a Federal Government was permanently to endure; and furthermore, he told them that if he delayed, the Emperor of the French might change his mind and the great territory west of the Mississippi River would be lost forever to American expansion. He and Robert R. Livingston and James Madison put the treaty through; and the next Congress appropriated the money to pay for it; and, my friends, nobody carried the case to the Supreme Court. As a result, Louisiana and Arkansas and Missouri and Iowa and Minnesota and Kansas and Montana and North Dakota and South Dakota and the larger portions of Wyoming and Colorado and Nebraska and Oklahoma fly the Stars and Stripes today.

The hardy pioneers whom we commemorate, who peopled Arkansas and laid the foundations for statehood here and throughout the vast new domain west of the Alleghenies, brought about a veritable renaissance of the principle of free government upon which this Republic was founded.

I have not the time nor is it necessary to follow the fascinating story in detail down to the admission of Arkansas into the Union only a few days less than one hundred years ago. That year of attainment of statehood by Arkansas is an important one in American history, not so much because it was marked by a Presidential election, but because 1836 was the last full year of the Presidency of Andrew Jackson.

It is not without the greatest historical significance that Arkansas was received into the Union in 1836. Jackson's great work for the country was approaching completion. He was in the full tide of his remarkable powers and in the exercise of an extraordinary influence upon the minds and opinions of the mass of his countrymen.

When Arkansas became a State we must remember that our national Government was not quite fifty years old. Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, had been dead only four years. Only six years had passed since Webster had delivered his reply to Hayne. Men who had followed Washington through the Revolution were to be found in every community, and the manners and mode of the pioneer period were the order of American life. Andrew Jackson, the contemporary and counselor of the Arkansas pioneers of 1836, made his home across the Mississippi in the neighboring State of Tennessee, and was known to the Arkansans of that day as a fellow frontiersman who had carried into the Presidency those neighborly instincts of the frontier which made possible the first truly democratic Administration in our history.

The older I grow and the more I read history, the more I reflect upon the influence of the men and events of one generation upon the life and thought of the generations that follow. A hundred years have passed since Arkansas attained statehood in that last year of Jackson's Presidency, but throughout this century our American political life has flowed with the vigor of a living stream because the sturdy hand of Andrew Jackson deflected its course from the stagnant marshes of a seaboard oligarchy into the channels of pure American democracy.

Prior to Jackson's day it may be said, without danger of exaggeration, that the leadership of the Nation was, with rare exceptions, in the hands of men who, by birth or education, belonged to a comparatively small group—and the reason is not far to seek. Universal education was not yet fully established in those days; communication difficulties prevented the dissemination of news except in the larger communities and along the main avenues of transportation; the very ballot was, in many States, limited to those who had special property qualifications.

The wave of popular acclaim that swept Andrew Jackson into his high office was the result of the recognition by the people of the United States that the era of a truer democracy in their national life was at hand. I need not describe the dismay that the election of Jackson excited- and honestly excited—in the hearts of the hitherto elect, or the widespread apprehension that it aroused among the so-called guardian groups of the Republic.

Groups such as those have never fully disappeared from American political life, but it will never be possible for any length of time for any group of the American people, either by reason of wealth or learning or inheritance or economic power, to retain any mandate, any permanent authority to arrogate to itself the political control of American public life.

This heritage, my friends, we owe to Jacksonian democracy-the American doctrine that entrusts the general welfare to no one group or class, but dedicates itself to the end that the American people shall not be thwarted in their high purpose to remain the custodians of their own destiny.

The frontier spirit that brought men into the Arkansas wilderness, and later was to carry them even further in their conquest of the West, inspired in the hearts and minds and souls of those men a new ideal of our national democracy. Perhaps it would be more exact to say that the frontier spirit caused a rebirth of the earlier ideal of free government. To that changed ideal the neighborly contacts of the frontier contributed in liberal measure. The rugged pioneers helped to fashion the new national spirit. The men who tamed the wilderness hereabouts were part of a new movement in our American life.

It was indeed a critical moment in American history when, in our early national period, the dauntless and intrepid pioneers strode across the Alleghenies to establish new commonwealths like Arkansas. In that hard life of the frontier, where the personal qualities of the men and not the inheritance of caste or of property were the measure of worth, true democratic government was given its greatest impetus.

In the early days of the Republic—those days when Arkansas became a State—our life was simple. There was little need of formal arrangements, or of Government interest, or action, to insure the social and economic well-being of the American people. In the life of the pioneer, sympathy and kindly help, ready cooperation in the accidents and emergencies of the frontier life were the spontaneous manifestation of the American spirit. Without them the conquest of a continent could never have been made.

Today that life is gone. Its simplicity has vanished and we are each and all of us, whether we like it or not, parts of a social civilization which ever tends to greater complexity. And in these later days, the imperiled well-being, the very existence of large numbers of our people, have called for measures of organized Government assistance which the more spontaneous and personal promptings of a pioneer generosity could never alone have obtained. Our country is indeed passing through a period which is urgently in need of ardent protectors of the rights of the common man. Mechanization of industry and mass production have put unparalleled power in the hands of the few. No small part of our problem today is to bring the fruits of this mechanization and mass production to the people as a whole.

The measure of the need has been the measure of the organization necessary to meet it. The human sympathy of our people would have tolerated nothing less. Common sense will tolerate nothing more.

Self-government we must and shall maintain. Let me put it thus, in a way which every man and woman can understand: Local government must continue to act with full freedom in matters which are primarily of local concern; county government must retain the functions which logically belong to the county unit; State Governments must and shall retain State sovereignty over all those activities of government which effectively and efficiently can be met by the States.

Let us analyze a little further: Why was a State Government set up here in Arkansas? The answer is that the colonization of this area had reached the point where individual settlements needed a uniformity of ordinances and laws. They needed a central body to govern in respect to those things which had grown beyond the scope of town government or county government.

In the same way the Federal Government itself was organized under a Constitution because in the days following the Revolution it was discovered that a mere Federation of independent States was such a loose organization, with constant conflicts among the thirteen States themselves, that a Constitution and a national organization were needed to take care of government beyond and across State lines.

The Constitution provided the best instrument ever devised for the continuation of these fundamental principles. Under its broad purposes we intend to and we can march forward, believing, as the overwhelming majority of Americans believe, that the Constitution is intended to meet and to fit the amazing physical, economic and social requirements that confront us in this modern generation.

If you have been in Washington recently, you will have seen beneath one of the symbolical figures which guard the entrance to our great new Archives Building this quotation from Shakespeare's "Tempest"—"What is past is prologue." Times change but man's basic problems remain the same. He must seek a new approach to their solution when the old approaches fail him. The roar of the airplane has replaced the rumble of the covered wagon; and the frontiers of the American continent are spanned in less time today than it took to cross a single county of Arkansas a century ago. It is idle for us now, as it was for the flatterers of King Canute, to ignore the facts of physics or the economic and social consequences of applied science.

These problems, with growing intensity, now flow past all sectional limitations. They extend over the vast breadth of our whole domain. Prices, wages, hours of labor, fair competition, conditions of employment, social security, in short the enjoyment by all men and women of their constitutional guaranties of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—these questions, reflected with the speed of light from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the Canadian Border to the Gulf of Mexico—these problems we are today commencing to solve. It is true that the new approach to these problems may not be immediately discernible; but organization to meet human suffering can never be predicated on the relaxation of human effort.

Whether it be in the crowded tenements of the great cities or on many of the farm lands of the Nation, you and I know that there dwell millions of our fellow human beings who suffer from the kind of poverty that spells undernourishment and under-privilege. If local government, if State Government, after exerting every reasonable effort, are unable to better their conditions, to raise or restore their purchasing power, then surely it would take a foolish and short-sighted man to say that it is no concern of the national Government itself.

We know that equality of individual ability has never existed and never will, but we do insist that equality of opportunity still must be sought. We know that equality of local justice is, alas, not yet an established fact; this also is a goal we must and do seek.

If we seek to know what human effort can do in the face of adversity, we shall ever find inspiration and guidance in the achievements of the American pioneers, not merely those who founded the Nation, but those who extended its boundaries from ocean to ocean, of whom the first Arkansans were the prototypes.

Arkansas has given many distinguished men to the Nation; but, my friends, I want to tell you very simply and from the heart, that in the meeting of our difficult problems of today, no man deserves greater credit for loyal devotion to a great cause of humanity than my old friend and associate, Senator Joseph T. Robinson.

May I, in closing, repeat that historical maxim: "What is past is prologue." Its meaning is not obscure. Out of the story of mankind's long struggle to govern itself, we should learn lessons which will guide us in solving the problems which beset us today.

The frontier, as we have been recalling it in this rapid survey of the planting of new States, has forever passed; but it has left a permanent imprint upon our political life and upon our social outlook. The Western Frontier from Jackson's time and the admission of Arkansas a hundred years ago, down to the admission of the last States within recent memory, produced a constant renaissance of the principles of free government. The liberal tendencies of those, whom for nearly a century we have called our Western statesmen, have been sometimes too little understood in the older, more conservative East. It was the frontier and its spirit of self-reliance which ever kept alive the principles of democracy and countered the opposing tendency to set up a social caste, based upon wealth, or education, or family, or financial power.

We still find inspiration for the work before us, in the old spirit which meant achievement through self-reliance; a willingness to lend a hand to the fellow down in his luck through no fault of his own. Upon those principles our democracy was reborn a century ago; upon those principles alone will it endure today and in the days to come.

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

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