Franklin D. Roosevelt

Address at Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

July 09, 1938

Senator Thomas, Governor Marland, Mr. Mayor, friends of Oklahoma:

I am glad at last, after many years of wishing and trying, to come to Oklahoma City.

Your great State will always have a certain distinction in my memory, because it is the only part of the forty-eight states which bore a different name when, as a small boy, I started to study Geography. I am fortunate in being old enough to be able to remember it as Indian Territory and to remember also the enormous interest in every part of the country when the prospective settlers lined up at the borders and, at the sound of a bugle, rushed forward to establish new homes and new communities in this delightful part of the earth.

Since those days you good people have gone far. A splendid future lies before you, and you can rest assured that your National Government knows very definitely that you are on the map.

During the past ten or fifteen years, when I was Governor of New York, and even before that, I have specialized on the subject of natural resources. Therefore, I am particularly glad that Oklahoma is natural-resources conscious, and I am glad that it appreciates so well that natural resources are national resources and that in their conserving and development, all of us, far and near, have to make our plans from the national point of view.

Slowly but surely we are developing a national policy, for example, in regard to the oil resources of the Nation, and your Governor has given great assistance toward that end.

Probably the most important long-range problem is something that affects all of us, whether we live in the city or the country—the use of land and water. I was sorry this morning that I could not have stopped to view the Grand River Dam Project. It was due to the persistent effort of my old friend, Senator Thomas, and Senator Lee, that that particular project is definitely under way, and I might say the same thing about other projects on other watersheds of this State.

I think the Grand River project is a good illustration of the national aspect of water control, because it is a vital link in the still larger problem of the whole valley of the Arkansas—a planning task that starts far west in the Rocky Mountains, west of the Royal Gorge, and runs on down through Colorado and Kansas and Oklahoma and Arkansas to the Mississippi River itself and thence to the sea. The day will come, I hope, when every drop of water that flows into that great watershed, through all those states, will be controlled for the benefit of mankind, controlled for the growing of forests, for the prevention of soil erosion, for the irrigation of land, for the development of water power, for the ending of floods and for the improvement of navigation.

A vision like that, my friends, will be of direct benefit to millions of our people, not only to the people of the territory through which that river flows but indirectly to the people on the Pacific Coast, on the Atlantic Seaboard, and in the deep South. The price, the dollars and cents, we pay for a great development of that kind, will return to the pocketbooks of the State manyfold. The same thing applies to the Red River and to the tributaries that flow into the other streams.

In the same way, the Federal Government is using the fact, the unfortunate fact, of unemployment and the necessity for giving help to many of our people, in order to assist communities in the erection of much-needed public improvements. This is true, as you know, of the work of many agencies of the Federal Government, especially the Public Works Administration and the Works Progress Administration.

Senator Thomas has been of enormous help to me and to the Administration in keeping me advised as to the needs of your State, and as to how we, in Washington, could help meet them. I am told by him that the Works Progress program in Oklahoma is leaving permanent monuments all over the State, monuments that will last to the time of our great grandchildren; and that in the matter of new and improved schoolhouses in cooperation with WPA, this State has made a greater record than any other state in the Union.

I have to think along national lines and, in the last analysis, you do too. It is essential, of course, that if the national policies of the National Administration are to be carried forward there must be a general agreement on those policies among those who are responsible for the legislation which makes them possible.

Two weeks ago, in speaking over a national hookup, I referred to that fact—to the fact that the Nation is living today, and has been since March 4, 1933, under a government which is essentially liberal and nationally thinking in its outlook-a government which is progressively bettering our economic and social conditions.

I explained why, if the people want that kind of government to continue, they should choose officials to represent that point of view—and why, on the other hand, if the people want to go back to the school of thought of the unfortunate twenties of this century, they should choose people with a conservative outlook.

And I suggested also that it is always a good thing to look beneath the surface of things, to look into men's hearts. Do they really mean what they say—or are they the kind that profess great devotion to the cause of bettering the lot of their fellow countrymen, and, when the time for action comes, find all kinds of reasons why they cannot support the action proposed. I have referred to people of that kind as "Yes, but"— people.

Of course, some are not even "Yes, but"—people, for I note that one of the candidates for a place on the Democratic State ticket in Oklahoma this year is nationally known as a Republican.

In the same way we find others who seek office, sincerely or otherwise, on perfectly impossible pledges and platforms-people with panaceas for reforming the world overnight-people who are not practical in an age that must be and can be both practical and progressive. Theodore Roosevelt was perhaps a bit rough in his language when he referred to such people as "the lunatic fringe." Of course, strictly speaking, they are not lunatics, but in many cases a little push would shove them over the line.

During these past six years the people of this Nation have definitely said "yes"—with no "but" about it—to the old Biblical question, "Am I my brother's keeper?" In these six years I sense a growing devotion to the teachings of the Scriptures, to the quickening of religion, to a greater willingness on the part of the individual to help his neighbor and to live less unto and for himself alone.

It is in that spirit, my friends, that your National Government seeks to carry on its task. It is in that spirit that, in the consideration of every new problem, our first question is this: "What makes for the greatest good of the greatest number?"

America needs a government of constant progress along liberal lines. America requires that this progress be sane and that this progress be honest. America calls for government with a soul.

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

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