Franklin D. Roosevelt

Address to the National Institute of Government of the Women's Division of the Democratic National Committee.

May 03, 1940

I think I can say to you, "My fellow workers in the Vineyard of Knowledge":

It was about two months ago that I was told there would be a meeting of women interested in or affiliated with the Democratic Party, with the objective of studying and discussing the processes and practices of our form of Government. At that time it was expected that there would be not more than a hundred of them who would come to Washington and I suggested that they come to my Executive Office yonder in order that I might shake their hands individually and have a little informal chat.

About three weeks ago my wife told me that the enthusiasm was so great that five or six hundred might come, and so we shifted the party to the East Room in the White House.

But ten days ago—when I got back from Warm Springs- this little gathering had grown into a pilgrimage, with the result that if you tried, the three or four thousand who have attended this conference could not all get into the White House at the same time, and if I were to start shaking hands with you now you would still be passing in line long after dark.

This amazing and splendid outpouring does my heart good because it proves, first of all, that there is tremendous enthusiasm for a continuation of liberal democratic Government in the United States, and also because it shows an honest wish to gain further knowledge of Government.

May I add to that the thought that I have expressed on several previous occasions- that while in the past seven years your Government has put into practical effect more constructive legislation in behalf of the average man, woman and child of the nation than in any similar time in our history, the greatest ultimate long-range gain of these seven years lies in the increased knowledge of what Government is all about, the increased discussion of broad problems and the increased recognition that the people of the United States are entitled to a Government which constantly thinks in terms of the people's needs.

In spite of some of the things that I read, I believe that we are coming, as a nation, to differentiate between fact and fiction. That in itself is a step in advance. We do not fall as easily as in older days for glittering generalities, for specious promises. We say in an election year to candidates for President and Vice President, and to "would-be" Senators and Representatives. "Quit condemning each and every act of this Administration and tell us just how you would change the laws if you were in power."

We remind them, "You say you would balance the budget you who oppose present policies— don't tell us that you would appoint some new committee or board to study and to make recommendations because the budget is an open book and every would-be candidate for office ought to know that book without having to refer it to some special committee or long and narrow board." We say to them, "If you would balance your budget, obviously you can do it in one of two ways or by a combination of both. You can levy new taxes, or you can cut appropriations. If you choose the former, what kind of taxes do you propose to levy? That is a fair question. If you propose to cut expenditures, which ones will you cut and by what amount? That is an equally fair question. Will you candidates in these critical days lop off a billion dollars from our national defense? Will you in these critical days lop off a billion dollars for the care of the needy unemployed? Will you curtail expenditures for old age pensions or unemployment insurance? Will you abolish the Securities and Exchange Commission and turn its functions over to the Stock Exchange? Will you end the Civilian Conservation Corps and the National Youth Administration? Will you destroy, by withdrawing appropriations, the soil conservation and tree-planting program of this Government?"

I think all of us recognize the horrid dilemma that questions of that kind are going to put certain types of candidates into in the coming six months.

Whoever the nominees of the two major parties are, I firmly believe that the real question, the honest question, the fundamental question on election day, is going to be this: "Do you, the voters of this country, wish to employ in the next four years for your bus line, chauffeurs who wrecked the previous bus line by driving the old buses into the ditch or by going to sleep at the wheel- or are you going to continue the policy of the present type of bus line by employing active, wideawake chauffeurs who are inspired with the thought that their duty is to be considerate to the passengers—not to run off the road, not to go to sleep at the wheel—and see to it that the passengers reach their destination in comfort and complete safety?"

Knowing many of you personally and the splendid work you have been doing, I am confident that your common sense, your enthusiasm and your deep understanding of the problems of the day will go far to keep the American people on the right road in this Year of Grace 1940.

Now, come in and visit.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address to the National Institute of Government of the Women's Division of the Democratic National Committee. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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