Franklin D. Roosevelt

Address at the Jackson Day Dinner, Washington, D.C.

January 08, 1938

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Farley, Ladies and Gentlemen:When speaking before a party gathering in these modern days, I am happy to realize that the audience is not confined to active members of my own party, and that there is less of unthinking partisanship in this country today than at any time since the Administration of George Washington.

In the last campaign, in 1936, a very charming lady wrote me a letter. She said: "I believe in you and in what you are trying to do for the Nation, I do wish I could vote for you—but you see my parents were Republicans and I was brought up as a Republican and so I have to vote for your opponent."

My reply to her ran as follows: "My father and grandfather were Democrats and I was born and brought up as a Democrat, but in 1904, when I cast my first vote for a President, I voted for the Republican candidate, Theodore Roosevelt, because I thought he was a better Democrat than the Democratic candidate."

I have told that story many times, and if I had to do it over again I would not alter that vote.

Conditions and parties change, as we know, with every generation. Nevertheless, I cannot help but feel pride in the fact that the Democratic Party, as it exists today, is a national party representing the essential unity of our country. As we move forward under our present momentum, it is not only necessary but it is right that the Party should slough off any remains of sectionalism and class consciousness. Party progress Cannot stop just because some public officials and private or local groups fail to move along with the times. Their places will be amply filled by the arriving generation. That is on the principle that "Nature abhors a vacuum."

In these recent years the average American seldom thinks of Jefferson and Jackson as Democrats or of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt as Republicans; he labels each one of them according to his attitude toward the fundamental problems that confronted him as President, when he was active in the affairs of government.

These men stand out because of the constructive battles they waged, not merely battles against things temporarily evil but battles for things permanently good-battles for the basic morals of democracy, which rest on respect for the right of self-government and faith in majority rule.

They knew, with the wisdom of experience, that the majority often makes mistakes. But they believed passionately that rule by a small minority class unfailingly makes worse mistakes-for rule by class takes counsel from itself and fails to heed the problems and, therefore, the good of all kinds and conditions of men. In the long run the instincts of the common man, willing to live and let live, work out the best and safest balance for the common good. And that is what I mean by the battle to restore and maintain the moral integrity of democracy.

At heart some of the small minority on the other side seek and use power to make themselves masters instead of servants of mankind. At heart they oppose our American form of government.

That is the cause of the great struggle that we are engaged in today—a struggle for the maintenance of the integrity of the morals of democracy. And we are in the process of winning it.

Let me talk history. President Washington, feeling his way through the organizing years of the infant Republic, questioned whether government would not be most safely conducted by the minority of education and of wealth.

But Jefferson saw that this control, if long exercised by a minority, would be destructive of a sound, representative, democratic system. He preached the extension of the franchise and government more responsive to the public will.

Against Jefferson were almost all the newspapers and magazines of the day. And so, to disseminate his policies in every hamlet and town his associates resorted to printing simple leaflets and pamphlets.

We know that the handful of printers and editors who helped them were harried and arrested under the sedition law with the full approval of the great papers and magazines of that time. That, my friends, was the first effort, with the cooperation of the owners of the press, to curb the essential freedom of the press. It failed just as any similar effort would fail today.

Time went by. Men were not eternally vigilant and once more the control of national affairs was maneuvered into the hands of a group of citizens small in number. The government's face was turned toward the handful of citizens of the seaboard—that small group that owned the Bank of the United States and the great merchant and shipping companies. The government's back was turned on the tens of thousands of pioneers who were settling the mountain regions and spreading over into the new country that lay westward to the Mississippi.

Jackson took up the battle of these pioneers of the West and South, and the battle of the inarticulate poor of the great cities. For that, like Jefferson, he was called a rabble rouser.

He had to fight the same evil Jefferson fought-the control of government by a small minority instead of by a popular opinion duly heeded by the Congress, the Courts and the President.

The Bank of the United States was the purse and sword of the opposition, and with it were aligned all those who, like the early Federalists in Jefferson's time, were at heart in favor of control by the few.

With it were aligned all the nationally known press of the day, with the exception of three newspapers. The Bank sought to array all the money in the country against him.

No one who reads the history of that period can allege that either Jefferson or Jackson attacked all of the bankers, all of the merchants or all of those of wealth. Nor can anyone say that even a majority of these elements of the population were opposed to either one of them.

The fight was won—as all such fights are won in the long run—because Jackson was fighting on the side of the people, whose instincts did not fail him. He was fighting for the integrity of the morals of democracy.

Another generation went by. Lincoln emerged—and was scorned for his uncouthness, his simplicity, his homely stories and his solicitude for the little man. He faced opposition far behind his battle lines from those who thought first and last of their own selfish aims—gold speculators in Wall Street who cheered defeats of their own armies because thereby the price of their gold would rise; army contractors who founded fortunes at the expense of the boys at the front—a minority unwilling to support their people and their government unless the government would leave them free to pursue their private gains.

Lincoln, too, fought for the morals of democracy- and had he lived the south would have been allowed to rehabilitate itself on the basis of those morals instead of being "reconstructed" by martial law and carpetbaggers.

There followed, as we remember, after 1865, and lasting for many years, an uninspired commercialized era in our national life, lighted briefly by the stubborn integrity of Grover Cleveland.

Then came Theodore Roosevelt and resurgence of the morals of democracy. He, too, preached majority rule to end the autocracy of the same old type of opposition. He pleaded for decency -strenuous decency—in public as well as in private life. He laughed at those who called him unprintable names, and challenged again the small minority that claimed vested rights to power.

You and I, in our day and generation, know how Wilson carried on his fight. If the cataclysm of the World War had not stopped his hand, neither you nor I would today be facing such a difficult task of reconstruction and reform.

On the eighth of every January we honor Andrew Jackson for his unending contribution to the vitality of our democracy. We look back on his amazing personality, we review his battles because the struggles he went through, the enemies he encountered, the defeats he suffered and the victories he won are part and parcel of the struggles, the enmities, the defeats and the victories of those who have lived in all the generations that have followed.

In our Nation today we have still the continuing menace of a comparatively small number of people who honestly believe in their superior right to influence and direct government, and who are unable to see or unwilling to admit that the practices by which they maintain their privileges are harmful to the body politic.

After Jefferson's election in 1800, an election over their violent opposition, such people came to him and said: "Let us alone—do not destroy confidence." After Jackson had won his fight against the Bank of the United States, they said the same thing. They said it to Lincoln, they said it to Theodore Roosevelt, and they said it to Wilson. Strangely enough, although they had no confidence in a people's government, they demanded that a people's government have confidence in them.

In my Message to the Congress on Monday last, I made it abundantly clear that this Administration seeks to serve the needs, and to make effective the will, of the overwhelming majority of our citizens and seeks to curb only abuses of power and privilege by small minorities. Thus we in turn are striving to uphold the integrity of the morals of our democracy.

There is an ancient strategy, recently used, whereby those who would exploit or dominate a people, seek to delude their victims into fighting their battles for them. And in these days of organized nation-wide publicity, the strategy for undermining a government move against minority abuses is to make this appear to be an attack upon the exploited majority itself. Thus during the past few months attacks on the misuse of concentrated power have been distorted into attacks upon all business big and little and upon our whole system of private profit and private enterprise. During the past few days I have been happy to note a definite improvement of understanding on the part of many who have been led to follow this false guidance.

The source and influence of such misguidance of public opinion can be easily located.

I was interested the other day to read the report of a correspondent of a London financial magazine who had recently surveyed conditions in our Middle West and other parts of the Nation. He found a point of view in other parts of the country wholly different from that of the principal financial centers such as New York and Philadelphia and Chicago. And he found this other interesting development. Wherever an enterprise is controlled locally its managers have a local independent point of view. But when the business is controlled from great financial centers, the local manager takes his cue from what his bosses are saying hundreds of miles away.

That, from an outsider, confirms our traditional democratic antagonism to concentration of control over large areas of industry beyond the needs of operating efficiency, and it strengthens our resolve to outlaw the methods by which such control is achieved and to reestablish the independence of local and regional enterprise.

Let me give you an example. As you know, I have been discussing the problem of the electric utilities with business men and lawyers and public officials during the past month or so.

I am convinced that the great majority of local or regional operating utility companies can come to an understanding with the government, Federal and state and local, and with the people of the territories which they serve. That would enable them to obtain, within their own localities or regions, all of the new capital necessary for the extension or improvement of their services.

But most of these operating companies are owned by distant holding companies—pyramided holding companies—which are finance companies and not operating companies. Very few investors in this country who invested in the operating companies have lost money. But thousands of investors have lost their money in buying holding company securities which had Blue Sky above them instead of tangible assets behind them.

That evil of utility holding company control is not going to grow in the days to come because this government has now passed laws to prevent similar occurrences in the future. But we have not yet corrected the existing evils that flow from mistakes of prior administrations. We cannot condone their continuance.

It has been estimated, I think fairly accurately, that there are outstanding some $13,000,000,000 worth of electric utility securities and that the substantial control of this total is vested in the hands of the owners of less than $600,000,000 of the total. That means that the ownership of about four per cent of the securities controls the other ninety-six per cent.

There, my friends, is the case of a ninety-six inch dog being wagged by a four-inch tail. If you work it out in feet and inches it is an amazing dog. But think of the power of that four inches.

I have recently described other things that cannot be reduced .to terms of natural history—other activities which ought not to be tolerated in our democracy—price-rigging, unfair competition directed against the little man, and monopolistic practices of many kinds. Call them evils, call them abuses, call them unfortunate facts. It makes no difference. Give to me and give to your government the credit for a definite intention to eradicate them. Give to me and give to your government the credit for believing that in so doing we are helping and not hurting the overwhelming majority of business men and industrialists throughout the United States.

We hope and believe that these evils and abuses and unfortunate actions will in greater part be eliminated by the cooperative action of that overwhelming majority.

The White House door is open—I am forgetting about that famous key just now—the White House door is open to all our citizens who come offering to help eradicate the evils that flow from that undue concentration of economic power or unfair business practices—who offer to do all that is possible by cooperative endeavor and to aid in corrective and helpful legislation where that is necessary.

We know that there will be a few—a mere handful of the total of business men and bankers and industrialists—who will fight to the last ditch to retain such autocratic control over the industry and the finances of the country as they now possess. With this handful it is going to be a fight—a cheerful fight on my part, but a fight in which there will be no compromise with evil—no letup until the inevitable day of victory.

Once more the head of the Nation is working with all his might and main to restore and to uphold the integrity of the morals of democracy—our heritage from the long line of national leadership- from Jefferson to Wilson- and preeminently from old Andrew Jackson himself.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address at the Jackson Day Dinner, Washington, D.C. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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