Franklin D. Roosevelt

Address to the Conference on the Mobilization for Human Needs.

September 28, 1934

I am happy that for the second time the Conference on the Mobilization for Human Needs comes here to the White House. In doing this you are emphasizing with me the national character of our common task. I like to feel that I share the responsibility with all of you who are here representing every part of the country.

Your work in the past has been of such outstanding success that I am confident that this year you will achieve an all-time record.

Last year, when I had the privilege of speaking to you, I emphasized the simple fact that the responsibility of the individual and of the family for the well-being of their neighbors must never cease. If we go back in our own history to those earliest days of the white man in America, with those first winters of suffering in Jamestown and at Plymouth, we know it has been the American habit from that time on continuously to render aid to those who need it. Through the centuries, as the first struggling villages developed into communities and cities and counties and States, destitution and want of every description have been cared for, in the first instance by community help, and in the last instance as well.

With the enormous growth of population we have had, with the complexities of the past generation, community efforts have now been supplemented by the formation of great national organizations. These organizations are designed to coordinate and stimulate local groups which are striving not only to take care of those in need but also to stimulate better conditions of health, of child welfare, of mental hygiene, of recreation, and to attain all those many other splendid objectives which are part and parcel of our national life today.

The mere reading of the names of the organizations that are working solidly behind this great task is enough to make this country realize the unity of purpose, the solidarity, behind what we are doing. It is right, I think, for us to emphasize that the American family must be the unit which engages our greatest interest and concern. With this we must stress once more the task of each community to assist in maintaining and building up that family unit.

No thinking or experienced person insists today that the responsibility of the community shall be eliminated by passing this great and humane task on to any central body at the seat of Federal Government. You and I know that it has been with reluctance and only because we have realized the imperative need for additional help that the Federal Government has been compelled to undertake the task of supplementing the more normal methods which have been in use during all the preceding generations.

I repeat what I told you last year because it is something that is a fundamental of our present-day civilization: that the primary responsibility for community needs rests upon the community itself. That if every effort has been used by any given community and has proven insufficient, then it is the duty of the State to supplement, with the resources of the State, the additional needs up to the limit of the power of the State. And that, finally, and only finally, it is only when both of these efforts, taken together, have proven insufficient that the Federal Government has any duty to add its resources to the common cause.

It is inevitable, of course, that in carrying on relief—whether in the form of work relief or home relief—in an area that includes every State, every county and every city in the Union, local inefficiency is bound to exist in some instances. It is very definitely your task, and mine, to see to it that during the coming winter there shall be increased vigilance in every locality, vigilance against the giving of relief or of aid of any kind except to those who definitely and clearly need it and are entitled to it.

In this great emergency system we are establishing, with each passing month, a greater degree of efficiency, and we are eliminating many of the evils which of necessity attended our first efforts' of over a year ago. The trained workers who belong to the many organizations represented in this conference have an opportunity and a duty to see to it, first of all, that destitution is relieved and, secondly, that no family and no individual shall receive public assistance if that individual or that family does not deserve it.

Your work and the work of local, State and Federal agencies are so closely associated that your success is very vital to the success of Government itself. I am confident that the people of this country, in each and every community, will understand the true importance of cooperating in this great mobilization for human needs.

I always like to emphasize the word "privilege" rather than the word "duty"; for it is clearly the privilege of the individual American to bear his personal share in a work which must be kept personal in so far as it is possible to make it so. It is that personal appeal, that personal service, which has carried us through all these trying years. A unity of effort for a little while longer will, I am confident, bring national success to our nationally unified efforts to bring Old Man Depression to the point where we can finally master and destroy him.

The church groups and the social groups organized on private lines, whether they act separately or jointly through Community Chests, or in any other way, are an essential part of the structure of our life. The American people believe in you, believe in the work you are doing. The American people support your fine objectives. That support will attend again this year the excellent enterprise you are launching today.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address to the Conference on the Mobilization for Human Needs. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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