Franklin D. Roosevelt

Address at the Thomas Jefferson Dinner, New York City.

April 25, 1936

Governor and Mrs. Lehman, President McMahon, Judge Collins, and you who celebrate once more the birthday of Thomas Jefferson:

It is a very deep pleasure to be welcomed this way, to be welcomed back to my home State of New York.

Our State has loyally supported those progressive policies of government, in the making of which so many of you who are here tonight have taken an honorable and successful part. New York State has a long record of almost a generation of liberal government, each succeeding Administration of State affairs building for the future upon the best which the past has given us.

I want to take this occasion, this auspicious occasion, to compliment the State on its great good fortune in the loyal, competent and unselfish service of its present Governor, Herbert Lehman.

He has continued to extend and strengthen the humane laws for which this State has been noted. History repeats itself. He has met the same type of opposition today which some of us as youngsters—and Bob Wagner was one of them—met in the State Legislature twenty-five years ago. The people of this State and the people of every State meet with obstacles. For example, it has come to me all the way to Washington that the present Assembly of this State declines to meet the obvious requirements of the State Constitution to provide the sum necessary to meet the debt requirements of the State during the coming fiscal year, and that this same Assembly is opposed to providing relief for those in need. But, my friends, twenty-five years ago and ten years ago and five years ago we won, and Herbert Lehman is going to win again.

As a New Yorker, I am confident, and I think you are too, that a vast majority of our citizens, this autumn as in the past, will invite Governor Lehman to serve at least two years more as our Chief.

A century ago this country was regarded as an economic unity. But as time went on, things happened. The country, bit by bit, was cut up into segments. We heard, more and more, about the problems of particular localities, the problems of particular groups. More and more people put on blinders; they could see 'only their own individual interests or the single community in which their business happened to be located.

It is only in these comparatively recent days that we have been turning back to the broader vision of the Founding Fathers.

The cities of the Nation, and the countrysides near them, have come to realize each other's existence. The same idea now is spreading on a truly national scale.

That is why, while I may be breaking another precedent-and they say in Washington that my day is not complete without smashing at least one precedent—I can come here to the City of New York and talk with you about the cotton problem of Georgia, the corn and hog problem of Iowa, the wheat problem of the Dakotas, the dust storms of the West, the destructive tornadoes in the South, and the floods in the Northeast. In the same way I would not hesitate to discuss the slum clearance problems or any other problems of the big cities of the East with any farmer audience in Georgia or Iowa or the Dakotas or anywhere else, because we are becoming nation-minded.

The strong arm of the Nation is needed not in immediate relief alone. We all grant that. It is needed also in taking measures of prevention before natural disasters occur. It is needed equally in taking measures to prevent economic disasters which are not natural, but are made by man.

During these past three years I am quite convinced that the Hester Street and Park Avenue of this city have both come to understand that they belong in the same economic pattern and indeed to the same Nation as the cotton, corn and hog belts, and the flood areas and the dust bowls. Not so long ago it was the farm against the city and the city against the farm. But from now on, if both are to prosper, it must be and shall be the farm with the city and the city with the farm.

Some economists are still trying to find out what it was that hit us back in 1929. I am not a professional economist but I think I know. What hit us was a decade of debauch, of group selfishness-the sole objective expressed in the thought—"every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost." And the result was that about 98 percent of the American population turned out to be "the hindmost."

Let me illustrate what happened by taking the case of the garment workers in the City of New York. They make about 40 percent of all the clothes of the Nation worn outside of New York City. Their work and wages in this city were dependent on the sales they made all over the country. The garment workers' depression here did not begin in 1929. It began back in 1921, when the depression began on the farms of the Nation. But back in the twenties, people in power still thought of prosperity chiefly in industrial or financial terms. They overlooked the farm depression; and because it went unrelieved, the troubles that started among the farmers in 1921 finally and inevitably reached the garment workers on Eighth Avenue.

Nebraska's corn and Eighth Avenue's clothing are not different problems; they are the same national problem. Before the war a Nebraska farmer could take a two-hundred-pound hog to market and buy a suit of clothes made in the City of New York. But in 1932, in order to get that same suit of clothes, he had to take two and a half hogs to market. Back in the twenties a cotton farmer had to raise seven pounds of cotton to buy one pair of New York-made overalls. By 1932, however, he had to raise four-teen pounds of cotton to get those New York overalls.

Let us get the common sense of it.

Obviously, the farmers stopped buying as many clothes and when the farm districts stopped buying, New York's garment districts soon started breadlines. That, however, was only half of the vicious circle. When the garment district's breadlines grew longer, buying power in the cities as a whole grew less. Other breadlines formed. Every man on a new breadline meant one person who ate less and wore less. Because the garment worker ate less the farmer sold less and his income went down. And so the vicious strangling circle was complete. Today we have broken that throttlehold. The American electorate proposes that it shall not be renewed.

And while I am talking of food consumption at the end of this grand dinner, here is a fact of equal interest to the city dweller and the farmer population. If all of the seven million people living in the City of New York could afford to buy the bread and meat and vegetables and milk and fish and cotton and wool that their health and decent living call for, then we in this country would need crop production from three million more acres of good crop land than we are using today to feed and clothe the City of New York. I propose to continue the fight for more food and better homes. I propose that the man who was forgotten in those olden days shall not be forgotten again.

This tie-up between cities and farms is one of the chief reasons why in 1933 we sought a national solution for a national problem. We sought simultaneously to raise the farmer's cash income and to add to the working man's pay envelope. What our success has been you can prove by the simple process of putting the financial pages of any newspaper published in 1936 alongside the financial pages of the same newspaper published in 1932. By financial pages, ! do not mean, as some of you might think, merely the stock market quotation pages, although you will agree that they, too, have at least passed panic prices. By financial pages I mean the published prices of farm products and raw materials and the many reports of industrial earnings. And, by the way, speaking of activity, speaking of progress and a greater prosperity, every time that I come back to the City of New York I keep looking, looking for that grass that was to grow in our city streets!

Some individuals are never satisfied. People complain to me about the current costs of rebuilding America, about the burden on future generations. I tell them that whereas the deficit of the Federal Government this year is about three billion dollars, the national income of the people of the United States has risen from thirty-five billion dollars in the year 1932 to sixty-five billion dollars in the year 1936. And I tell them further that the only burden we need to fear is the burden that our children would have to bear if we failed to take these measures today.

Building national income and distributing it more widely, mean not only the bettering of conditions of life, but the end of, and insurance against, individual and national deficits in the days to come.

Nationwide thinking, nationwide planning and nationwide action are the three great essentials to prevent nationwide crises for future generations to struggle through.

Other individuals are never satisfied; one of them, for example, that I read about the other day, belongs to a newly organized Brain Trust—not mine. He says that the only way to get complete recovery—and I wonder if he really admits we have had any recovery at all—is to lower prices by cheapening the costs of production.

Let us reduce that to plain English. You can cheapen the costs of industrial production by two methods. One is by the development of new machinery and new technique and by increasing employee efficiency. We do not forbid that. But do not dodge the fact that this means fewer men employed and more men unemployed. The other way to reduce the costs of industrial production is to establish longer hours for the same pay or to reduce the pay for the same number of hours. If you lengthen hours you will need fewer workers for the same output. More men out of work! If you choose lower wages for the same number of hours you cut the dollars in the pay envelope and automatically cut down the purchasing power of the worker himself.

Reduction of costs of manufacture by cutting wages or lengthening hours does not mean more purchasing power and more goods consumed. It means the exact opposite.

The history of that period from 1929 to 1933 shows that consumption of goods actually declines with a declining price level. And the reason is obvious. The reason is that in such periods the buying power of the Nation goes down faster than the prices go down.

On the other hand, if you increase buying power prices will go up, but more goods will be bought. Wages ought to, and must, go up with prices. It does not mean unsound inflation or skyrocketing prices; those should be avoided, just as we seek to avoid deflation and bankruptcy sale values. What we do seek is a greater 'purchasing power and a reasonably stable and constant price level, and we are attaining that end. It is my belief, and I think it is yours as well, that the industry and agriculture of America subscribe to that objective. Toward that end, representative Government of every form is working. The objective cannot be obtained in a month or a year—we know that. But, my friends, results, proven by facts and figures, show that we are on our way—very definitely on our way. Higher wages for workers, more income for farmers, mean more goods produced, more and better food eaten, fewer unemployed and lower taxes.

That is my economic and social philosophy, and, incidentally, that is my political philosophy as well.

I believe from the bottom of my heart that it is the philosophy of the America of 1936.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address at the Thomas Jefferson Dinner, New York City. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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