Franklin D. Roosevelt

Advice to the Young Democratic Clubs of America.

April 09, 1939

My young friends:

It is to my great regret that I cannot be with you in this celebration in memory of the first President who demonstrated to the world that democracy was workable. On you now depends the future of the Democratic party. More important even than that, on you depends the future of our country.

Party organization is the vehicle by which the mobilized sentiment of the United States gets anywhere. If the chauffeurs of the organization are wise in picking the course, the going is good and the destination aimed at is reached. If, on the other hand, they are witless, the organization will find itself on a rocky road and the probabilities of flat tires and other breakdowns are so great that the will of the people gets nowhere.

This means distress to the party, of course, and likewise distress to the nation. For in the present political and economic situation the alternative in the event of a failure for our party to keep straight ahead, is for the country to find itself travelling in the direction exactly opposite to that it has in mind.

Incidentally, the progress of our political car is not helped by the clamor of the back-seat drivers who point out the apparent smoothness of the detours of compromise and subterfuge, and complain of the speed of our going.

The Democratic party of itself cannot elect a President. The Republican party is in the same fix. This is fortunate for all of us, for it means that no party can continue in power unless its policies are such as to add to its basic strength the ten or more millions of votes that are cast for ideas and ideals, rather than because of the emblem at the top of the ticket.

In the campaign we are now approaching there is just one agency potent enough to defeat the Democratic party, and that is the Democratic party itself. It can commit suicide by abandonment of the policies that brought it to power. There is no use fooling ourselves. If we are to have a reactionary regime—or if that term is too horrific—call it a conservative regime, you may depend on it that it will be the other fellow's regime.

We shall forfeit the multitude of Republican liberals who voted with us in '32 and '36 if we shift our ground. Even those men and women with little or no affiliation with either party and who went with us because we voiced their principles, will quit us in disgust if we throw them down now.

We can also destroy our chances by fratricide. No victories are won by shooting at each other. There never was, and never will be, a political party whose policies absolutely fit the views of all its members. Where men are at variance with the course their party is taking, it seems to me there are only two honorable courses—to join a party that more accurately mirrors their ideas, or to subordinate their prejudices and remain loyal.

I do not mean by this, of course, that they are not quite within their rights when they seek to change the program. It would be a poor sort of politician or statesman who did not fight for his sincere principles, but that is a different thing from allying oneself with his party's enemies and getting in a stab wherever and whenever he can do so safely.

I have pointed out the ways in which our party can destroy itself; now may I suggest how victory, which is quite within our reach, can be won next year?

Instead of suicide or fratricide, what is the matter with our own side? Whenever the party was Democratic it won. Whenever it offered the country an ersatz Republicanism, the people spurned the imitation and sent our party to stand in a corner until it had learned its lesson. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes from ten to twenty years to accomplish the requisite reeducation.

Suppose, for a change—and you know I am frequently accused of being devoted to change—we learn our lesson this time without being sent to the corner to meditate?

This country of ours is democratic with a small "d." It is never, and never will be Democratic with a big "D," except when the two words mean the same thing.

With the highest hopes and expectations that the Young Democrats will continue with their youthful enthusiasm, and yet retain their old faith as enunciated by Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson,

Very sincerely yours,

Young Democratic Clubs of America,

Shoreham Hotel,

Washington, D.C.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Advice to the Young Democratic Clubs of America. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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