Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

November 18, 1938

Q. Mr. President, I want to apply for a White House job.


Q. I want to be Coordinator of White House Press Conferences. You have one at a quarter to eleven and Mrs. Roosevelt has one at eleven.

THE PRESIDENT: The trouble was the Canadian, Prime Minister came in. What are you going to do about that?

Q. Haven't you any influence with Mrs. Roosevelt to get her to postpone hers? (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: Ask the Canadian Prime Minister.

Q. To ask Mrs. Roosevelt to have hers at a different time?


I am appointing a temporary board which will—I don't know what a really good name is, but the name is the least important—which will be an advisory board, a temporary advisory board, on certain fiscal and monetary subjects. Their duties—first, I will tell you who they are: The Secretary of the Treasury, Chairman, and the members will be the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Director of the Budget, and the Chairman of the Advisory Committee of the National Resources Committee. Each member can name an alternate from his agency to serve with him in his place and in his absence.

The duties of this board will consist of canvassing, systematically, the broader problems of fiscal and monetary policies in relation to national production and the national income. In other words, they will study the whole range of a great many problems that relate to fiscal and monetary policies in respect to sound and orderly recovery, and conditions essential to avoiding the peaks and valleys of booms and depressions.

It is just another step in tying in all the different agencies of the Government, so that they will view any given broad problem as a whole, instead of merely in its component parts. They will report from time to time informally. Probably this is as much as you will hear about it for some time.

Q. Mr. President, have you any comment or any thoughts on the summons home of the German Ambassador?

THE PRESIDENT: Has he been summoned home?

Q. Yes, sir.

Q. An official dispatch said that he had been summoned home to report in detail on the queer attitude of the United States toward domestic questions of Germany. (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: I don't think any comment is necessary. . . .

Q. On Tuesday, Mr. President, you intimated that you did not propose, or would not consider, lowering the immigration barriers for the benefit of German refugees. Since that time a good deal has been said in print that you might do so after all. Have you changed your mind?

THE PRESIDENT. No. There is one other factor that was brought up, that is a brand new one, which I did not hear about until yesterday. There are in this country at the present time quite a large number—I think you had better check these figures through the Secretary of Labor but I am inclined to think that they run as high as twelve to fifteen thousand-refugees from, principally, Germany and Austria—what was Austria—who are in this country on what are called "Visitors' Permits," I think that is the word.

In other words, they are here, not on a quota, but as visitors with proper passports from their own governments. The situation apparently has arisen that, because of a recent decree, those visitors' passports will be canceled as of the thirtieth of December, this year.

Now, as a matter of practical fact, a great many of these people—who are not all Jews by any means, since other religions are included in very large numbers among them-if they were to get back to Germany before the thirtieth of December, a great many of them believe that their treatment on reaching home might be a very serious problem. In other words, it is a question of concentration camps, et cetera and so on. They are not here under a quota so we have a very definite problem as to what to do. I don't know, from the point of view of humanity, that we have a right to put them on a ship and send them back to Germany under the present conditions. We can legally—the Secretary of Labor can, legally—give six months extensions so that they can stay in this country under the six months extension provision. As I understand it, the law does not say how many six months extensions there can be—it does not limit the number. So what I told the Secretary of Labor yesterday was that it would be a cruel and inhuman thing to compel them to leave here in time to get back to Germany by the thirtieth of December. I have suggested to Miss Perkins that they be given six months extensions. Under those extensions they cannot, as I understand it, apply for American citizenship. They are only visitors. Therefore, there being no adequate law on the subject, we shall simply present the facts to the Congress. If the Congress takes no action, these unfortunate people will be allowed to stay in this country.

Q. Will you repeat that, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT: They will be allowed to stay in this country under the six months extension law, because I cannot, in any decent humanity, throw them out.

Q. Do you understand that you may at the end of the first six months, extend for another period of six months?


Q. And on and on?

THE PRESIDENT: I think so, but I am not clear about it. Anyway, we are going to present the situation to the Congress when it meets. I have no doubt that the Congress will not compel . us to send these twelve or fifteen thousand people back to Germany, any more than the Congress compelled us to send a large number of the refugees of the old Russian regime back to Russia after Russia was taken over.

Q. Are they permitted to work over here?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, as visitors, a good many of them, for example, are teaching in the universities and colleges.

Q. Will more visitors be admitted?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, there won't be very many more because they are not being given passports.

Q. In presenting this to the Congress, will the situation cover any possible change in the quota laws?

THE PRESIDENT: I think not.

Q. Will there be any possibility of these people Changing their status, so that when there is an opening under the quota law they can remain as prospective citizens?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't think they can; I think they have to go back to the place of origin in order to come in under the quota. I think that is the law. They cannot be here; and then come in under a later quota under the present law. They would have to go back. It is a very difficult problem . . . .

Q. Were you going to have something to say about this cherry tree uprising today? (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: I am afraid that I would have to say something about newspapers if I said that. I don't mean all newspapers, I mean a few newspapers.

Q. Can't you say it? There is a press waiting to flash this news to the world down here. (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know whether I should be polite as to what was done by Washington newspapers or not, especially two newspapers in Washington. I suppose it is one of the most interesting cases—luckily they are rare—of a flimflam game being started by the owner of a paper. It is a complete deception of the public and all you have to do is to read—I shall give them back to Steve, Steve dug them up for me—the clippings from some of the Washington newspapers in the course of the last few weeks. The statement in one paper, "Six hundred trees must give way to the Memorial." Another one, "Many of six hundred trees involved in Memorial may be lost." That is tuning it down a bit.

"328 cherry trees at shrine doomed by secret move." "Public arises at finding new monument dooms 328 cherry trees in Basin. This ten million dollar project. . . . "And so it goes.

It is the worst case of flim-flamming that this dear old capital of ours has been subjected to for a long time.

Now, of course, the facts are very simple. For a long time, dating back to when I was in the Navy Department, I thought it was a sort of funny thing that one of our three greatest Presidents had no memorial in the National Capital—practically no memorial of any kind. In the Wilson Administration there were a good many attempts made to get a memorial to Thomas Jefferson. Every time that a memorial was suggested, it was a strange thing that while quite a lot of people backed some memorial—they would not admit they did not like a memorial to Thomas Jefferson-they did not like the particular one suggested. So the thing failed.

When the Democratic Administration came back in 1933, we all decided we ought to have a memorial for Thomas Jefferson. As you know, of course, the thing hung fire in Congress, and there were a lot of reports and so on and so forth. Finally it came down to a question of site; and there were four different sites proposed for a straight memorial. Out of the four, finally, by action of the Legislature, this particular site was picked. It is too late to change that site. There is going to be a memorial to Thomas Jefferson in accordance with the action of Congress on that site.

Then, number two, there was the question of the type of memorial which divides itself in two parts: First, should it be utilitarian? Well, that was all discussed. Should it be a stadium or a municipal hall or a race track?—somebody suggested a race track (laughter) and it was decided again, after complete discussion lasting about four or five years, that it should be a non-utilitarian memorial. So that was all gone into.

That decision having been taken, it became a question of what kind of non-utilitarian memorial it should be. There were two or three plans suggested. The first cost too much; and of course there was no unanimity of opinion in regard to the design—there never is. But the constituted legal authorities decided on a design; and that design is about to be carried out at a cost of somewhere around three million dollars.

Then, all of a sudden, a newspaper campaign! We have seen them before, we know what they are, the public does. They thought it would be good advertising to talk about the cherry trees. Well, I don't suppose there is anybody in the world who loves trees quite as much as I do, but I recognize that a cherry tree does not live forever. It is what is called a short-lived tree; and there are forty or fifty cherry trees that die, or fall down, or get flooded out, or have to be replaced. It is a short-lived tree and we ought to have, in addition to the 1,700 trees we have today, I think another thousand cherry trees. There are lots of places to put another thousand trees. Let us plant 2,700 trees instead of 1,700.

Actually, according to the records, this particular operation will result in a net loss of eighty-eight of the present cherry trees; and of course that net loss will be made up, not only those eighty-eight, as I hope, but 912 others.

So you see what a flim-flam game this has been.

A Jefferson Memorial, so far as hotel keepers are concerned-well, I am just a hick from Dutchess County, a Democratic hick, and when I go back to Dutchess County I think it would be quite a magnet to me to come back to Washington, as a tourist, to see this new Jefferson Memorial, with another thousand cherry trees down around that Basin.

Q. They are Japanese cherry trees. Can you get them?

THE PRESIDENT: Why, sure. We are putting in forty or fifty every year.

Q. [Mr. Durno] What year will you be coming back, Mr. President? (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: Well, let us see. Let us put it this way: Early and often. (Laughter)

Q. of course this is serious to some of us newspaper men. Women are going down there to chain themselves to these trees —

THE PRESIDENT: [interposing] The action has been taken by Congress; and if anybody wants to chain herself to the tree and the tree is in the way, we will move the tree and the lady and the chains, and transplant them to some other place. (Laughter)

Q. How much of this can be used that you have said about the cherry trees and the Memorial?

THE PRESIDENT: You can use it all, as long as you do not quote me. . . .

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Excerpts from the Press Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Simple Search of Our Archives