Franklin D. Roosevelt

Address to the Young Democratic Club, Baltimore, Md.

April 13, 1936

President Fenneman, President Wickham, and you, my friends, young and old, of Baltimore and Maryland and lots of other places:

You who fill this great armory tonight represent a cross-section of millions of young people who have come to maturity since 1929. You are the symbol of young men and women living in every State of the Union, affiliated with every political party and belonging to every so-called stratum of society.

The world in which the millions of you have come of age is not the set old world of your fathers. Some of yesterday's certainties have vanished; many of yesterday's certainties are questioned. Why have some vanished? Why have many been questioned? Because the facts and needs of civilization have changed more greatly in this generation than in the century that preceded us.

I need not press that point with you. You are measuring the present state of the world out of your own experiences. You have felt the rough hand of the depression. You have walked the streets looking for jobs that never turned up. Out of that have come physical hardship, and, more serious, the scars of disillusionment.

The temper of our youth has become more restless, more critical, more challenging. Flaming youth has become a flaming question. And youth comes to us wanting to know what we propose to do about a society that hurts so many of them.

There is much to justify the inquiring attitude of youth. You have a right to ask these questions—practical questions. No man who seeks to evade or to avoid deserves your confidence.

Many older people seem to take unmerited pride in the mere 'fact that they are adults. When youth comes crashing in on them with enthusiasms and ideals, they put on their most patronizing smiles, and pat the young man or the young woman on the shoulder, and in a worldly wise sort of way send them out with what they call their blessing. But—as every young person knows-that is not a blessing; it is a cold shower. What they have really said to you is this: "You're young. Enjoy your enthusiasms and your ideals while you can. For when you grow up and get out in the world you will know better." And the tragedy is that so many young people do just that: they do grow up and, growing up, they grow away from their enthusiasms and from their ideals. That is one reason why the world into which they go gets better so slowly.

Your objective, I take it, in the widest sense is this: an opportunity to make an honest living; a reasonable chance to improve your condition in life as you grow older; a practical assurance against want and suffering in your old age; and with it all the right to participate in the finer things of life—good health, clean amusement, and your share in the satisfactions of the arts, the sciences and religion.

Faced with that objective, it is clear that many of the old answers are not the right answers. No answer, new or old, is fit for your thought unless it is framed in terms of what you face and what you desire, unless it carries some definite prospect of a practical down-to-earth solution of your problems.

During the next few months you are going to read and hear and I think you are going to be thoroughly bored by many so-called answers. There are two or three or four new panaceas in every day's papers. Here is one that I picked out at random from three on the same page of one newspaper. The eminent author suggests a four-point cure for all our ills. I hope you will be as thrilled and excited by them as I was. Here they are:

1. Establish a monetary unit with a definite gold content, subject to change only by the Congress of the United States.

2. Restore convertibility of money into gold coin and restore private ownership of gold.

3. I hope you understand what this means, I do not: Accept responsibility as the world's greatest creditor Nation. Isn't that pretty?

4. And finally, put Federal finances in order.

I ask you what do panacea planks like these offer to you as a way out of the problems that you have been facing today and will get up to face tomorrow morning? Is there opportunity, is there work today, is there assurance for tomorrow, is this the practical, definite answer for which you are looking? Most important of all, in these panaceas, is there even a recognition in that type of panacea of the fact that the youth of America has any problems at all?

No, my friends, you have a right to expect something better than that. You have a right to expect that those in authority will do everything within their power to help restore conditions that make employment and opportunity possible; more than that, you have the right to expect that you will be protected, in so far as humanly possible, from the physical and mental and spiritual ravages of economic and social maladjustment.

Some counselors say, "Confidence and normal prosperity will restore everything—will give us all jobs." They generally mean by that the confidence and prosperity of seven and eight years ago. But, my friends, 1928 and the first seven or eight months of 1929 were no millennium. You and I know the simple fact that while production in our Nation was increasing and profits were increasing in 1928 and 1929, unemployment simultaneously was growing at an astounding rate. Return to the 1928 and 1929 kind of prosperity is no sufficient answer for us. The best that the captains of industry and the captains of the country could do for you before the depression was not good enough then and it is not good enough today.

And you and I know now, that while the total production of America is about back to the high point before the depression, only a little over 80 percent as many human beings are engaged in turning out that production. It does not matter very greatly what the cause of this is. It may be a greater efficiency; it may be the development of new machinery; it may be a variety of other Causes as well. We cannot legislate against a greater efficiency nor can we legislate against the use of new tools. Nor would we if we could. But the fact remains. And that fact requires an answer.

Some people tell you that even with a completely restored prosperity there will be a vast permanent army of unemployed. I do not accept that. No man who is sensitive to human values dares to accept it. That is why we are not content merely to restore what is sometimes called prosperity. We propose to attack the problem from every conceivable angle.

We readily admit that a greater purchasing power, far more widely distributed, will mean the consumption of more goods-industrial products and farm products. We know that the production of more goods will mean more employment. Most business men, the great majority of them, believe with us that a greater purchasing power on the part of more people will help; they know that their own businesses will be helped thereby.

To work in unity toward that end constitutes one form of attack, an important one; but there are others which we must not overlook.

Our working population in almost every part of the country increases every year. It increases both because of population increase and because more and more women are working for wages. That is as it should be. But when we face your problems, these increases raise the question as to whether it is not possible and right to limit the active working ages at both ends.

We in your Government are seeking to extend the school age of America, to extend it in every State in the Union, and to make it easier for boys and girls to stay in school. Work out for your selves what would happen if all the boys and all the girls of fourteen and fifteen and sixteen and seventeen, who are now working in industry, found it possible to stay in school until they were at least eighteen years old. How many jobs would that give to the young people of the Nation who have graduated from high school and from college? And, by no means the less important, how much better equipped would be these youngsters who are now at work if they could stay in school to the completion of their education?

And, at the other end of life, in the same way, ask yourselves how many jobs would be created if the great majority of people who are now over 65—to take a figure at random— if all of them were in a position to retire in security for the balance of their days on earth. And how much greater happiness would such security give to their old age?

There is another angle of reemployment which, from the point of view of youth, is worth pursuing. I shall point it by an illustration. In a certain manufacturing industry, comparatively a small industry, the average hours of weekly work were greatly curtailed under the operation of the National Industrial Recovery Act, and curtailed, incidentally, with the complete support of the great majority of employers within the industry. When this Act came to an end— I shall not describe its decease—when it came to an end, the average hours of work in that industry were a little over 36.4 per week. Since that time the great majority of employers in this particular industry continued the old N.R.A. scale of hours. But, gradually, first a few and then a larger number of employers began lengthening the work week. The result today is that the average of employment in this industry is nearly 40 hours per week. Not a serious difference you say. And yet if you figure it out on the assumption that there were 166,000 men and women in this industry, 10 percent or 16,000 people have either lost their jobs or, by working longer hours, are actually preventing 16,000 other people from getting employment. Actually the records show that 1,400 people lost their jobs and 15,250 other people were kept from getting work. It seems reasonable, therefore, that industry can contribute in great measure to the increase of employment, if industry as a whole will undertake reasonable reductions of hours of work per week, while, at the same time, it keeps the average individual's pay envelope at least as large as it is today.

It has always seemed to me that because the practices of employment definitely affect the problems of unemployment, the Government must give, and the Government will give consideration to such subjects as the length of the working week, the stability of employment on an annual basis, and the payment of at least 'adequate minimum wages. A Government doing that is a Government that is working actively at the answers to your problem.

We do not yet know enough in a changing economic order to guarantee' any Nation permanently or completely against times of depression. We believe, however, that steps like these which we have taken and are taking will at least greatly cushion depressions-will prevent the up-curve from rushing to a violent, mad peak of false prosperity and prevent another violent, mad descent into another slough of suffering and disillusionment like the one from which for the last three and a half years we have been surely emerging.

And there is another aspect to the answer which you have a right to expect from us. What are we doing—that is your question—what are we doing about the casualties of depression? Since 1929 those casualties, in America, have run into the millions. They are a charge upon us as a people. I have recognized that fact. And, by every reasonable means, we have sought to care for those casualties—to keep them from the physical suffering of hunger; to keep them from the mental suffering of a loss of American morale.

In regard to all these problems, in regard to every problem that arises, there are counselors these days who say: "Do nothing"; other counselors who say: "Do everything." Common sense dictates an avoidance of both extremes. I say to you: "Do something"; and when you have done that something, if it works, do it some more; and if it does not work, then do something else.

Yes, you young people want action. You believe, as I believe, that the something which needs to be done, can be done. How significantly American it is to believe that.

The vigor of our history comes, largely, from the fact that, as a comparatively young Nation we have gone fearlessly ahead doing things that were never done before. We subdued a wilderness that men said could never be conquered. We established a civilization where others insisted a civilization could not survive. Between 1776 and 1789 we built a Republic, a Government for which, in the extent of its democracy, there had been no precedent —a Government which Royalists declared could not endure.

We did all these things with zest. The very air was exhilarating. We were young; we were getting things done—worthwhile things. And it is part of the spirit of America to believe that now, in our day, we can do equally well in getting things done. Once again, the very air of America is exhilarating.

I, for one, do not believe that the era of the pioneer is at an end; I only believe that the area for pioneering has changed. The period of geographical pioneering is largely finished. But, my friends, the period of social pioneering is only at its beginning. And make no mistake about it—the same qualities of heroism and faith and vision that were required to bring the forces of Nature into subjection will be required—in even greater measure—to bring under proper control the forces of modern society. There is a task which, for importance and for magnitude, calls for the best that you and I have to offer.

There cannot be too many Americans thinking about the future of America. Our country richly endowed today in body, mind and spirit, still has need of many things. But I am certain that one of its chief needs today is the releasing and the enlistment of the spirit of youth.

Do not underestimate the significance of that spirit. Yesterday Christendom celebrated Easter—the anniversary of the Resurrection of Our Lord who, at the beginning of His ministry was thirty years of age and at His death was only thirty-three. Christianity began with youth and, through the last two thousand years, the spirit of youth repeatedly has revitalized it.

Our war for independence was a young man's crusade. Age was on the side of the Tories and the Tories were on the side of the old order. At the Revolution's outbreak George Washington was forty-three, Patrick Henry thirty-eight, Thomas Jefferson whose birthday we are celebrating today was thirty-two and Alexander Hamilton was eighteen.

Our Constitution, likewise, was the creation of young minds. The average age of the men who wrote the Constitution was about forty-four. The qualities of youth are not of a sort that self-satisfied people welcome in 1936 any more than self-satisfied people welcomed them in 1776.

I have used the words "the qualities of youth." Be wise enough, be tolerant enough, you who are young in years, to remember that millions of older people have kept and propose to keep these qualities of youth. You ought to thank God tonight if, regardless of your years, you are young enough in spirit to dream dreams and see visions—dreams and visions about a greater and finer America that is to be; if you are young enough in spirit to believe that poverty can be greatly lessened; that the disgrace of involuntary unemployment can be wiped out; that class hatreds can be done away with; that peace at home and peace abroad can be maintained; and that one day a generation may possesses this land, blessed beyond anything we now know, blessed with those things—material and spiritual—that make man's life abundant. If that is the fashion of your dreaming then I say: "Hold fast to your dream. America needs it."

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address to the Young Democratic Club, Baltimore, Md. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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