Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

May 30, 1944

Q. Mr. President, when you were in the Navy Department as Assistant Secretary, I was not a newspaperman, but if my mind serves me right, at that time you supported President Wilson on the League of Nations. I wonder if you could say anything as to what you think about that now?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think I was quite right in supporting it at the time.

Q. How do you feel about it now?

THE PRESIDENT: About a new League of Nations?

Q. Yes, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know that we are working toward a unity of the United Nations toward the prevention, if we can humanly help it, of another World War. Of course, it was a new experience for us in those days—brand new. It was going to be a war to end wars, and it was to be done through this altruistic unity of all the Nations, of which we were going to be part. We hoped that there would never be any more wars.

Well, you are older than you were then. Probably, in those days, you would have been in favor of the theory of ending all wars. Today, we are a little older; we have gone through some pretty rough times together. And perhaps we are not saying that we can devise a method of ending all wars for all time. Some of us- I don't think I include myself in this are a little more cynical than we were then. Some of us—and I don't think I include myself—are a little more foolish minded domestically than we were when we were twenty-five years younger.

And so we have an objective today, and that is to join with the other Nations of the world not in such a way that some other Nation would decide whether we were to build a new dam on the Conestoga Creek, but for general world peace in setting up some machinery of talking things over with other Nations, without taking away the independence of the United States in any shape, manner, or form, or destroying—what's the other word?—the integrity of the United States in any shape, manner, or form; with the objective of working so closely that if some Nation in the world started to run amuck, or some combination of Nations started to run amuck, and seeks to grab territory or invade its neighbors, that there would be a unanimity of opinion that the time to stop them was before they got started; that is, all the other Nations who weren't in with them.

And, in a sense, the League of Nations had that very, very great purpose. It got dreadfully involved in American politics, instead of being regarded as a nonpartisan subject.

And that is why, in this particular year, the Secretary of State and I have been working very closely together, and we have been working in conferences with the duly constituted Constitutional machinery of Government, which in this case happens to be the Senators on the Foreign Relations Committee—four from each party. And, so far, the conversations with them have been conducted on the very high level of nonpartisanship. So far, they have worked very well.

And as the Secretary of State told you, I think, we have been talking with Britain and Russia about this plan which was evolved over here which, as I said, is a first draft. It will be modified, of course, before you get to a final draft. I also have talked, for instance, with the Generalissimo in Cairo along exactly the same line. And that is where the thing stands today.

But let me emphasize that both the Secretary of State and I-- and, I think, the Senators-- have been trying to look at this thing in a spirit of nonpartisanship, thinking about a hundred and thirty-five million Americans, and thinking about a great many small Nations, as well as the bigger Nations, who at this stage are directly involved.

After we get through talking— what I call the first draft--we will talk, of course, with all the other Nations of the world.

Well now, that is as closely as you can describe what is happening at the present time. I can't tell you what necktie each of the people will be wearing on a given date, although I notice that tendency in the only afternoon paper I have seen, to begin asking questions of that kind.

Q. What you mean then, if I interpret what you said correctly, is that you are not following the pattern of the former League of Nations, but you are seeking for a new pattern as applied to latter-day questions?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you can't follow the old pattern, because obviously conditions are entirely different from those days in 1919—entirely different. We are proceeding with a good deal more experience than we had then on a 1944 pattern at least what we think is a 1944 pattern—rather than a 1919 pattern . . .

Q. Mr. President, do you want this foreign policy matter eliminated from the 1944 campaign? Is that what you have in mind, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you see, the trouble is that I don't control all the newspapers of the United States, so it doesn't make much difference whether I would like it or not. (Laughter) Is that a fair answer?

Q. I had in mind the Republican Party, Mr. President. (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I see you are getting into politics again, and the whole basis of this thing, so far, has been going along on an amazingly effective nonpartisan basis, and I don't want you or anybody else to go and gum the works intentionally.

Q. Mr. President, has there been any change in our relations with Spain? Or is there any comment that you could make upon it?

THE PRESIDENT: NO. I should say essentially none, but I don't think that I would try to make an international episode of it, because it might hurt the war. And I don't think there's anything that I could contribute, except the fact that we are working along—might almost say from day to day.

I don't think that any of us are satisfied with what the Government of Spain has been doing. Certainly, as long as we have been in the war, they have been sending an awful lot of stuff to Germany, and now the total of the stuff has been cut down very, very materially. But, in my judgment—not enough yet.

Q. Mr. President, the Senate Banking and Currency Committee has approved several amendments to the O.P.A. extension act, which evidently are designed to raise the prices of some basic commodities and also textiles. Do you have any comment on that?

THE PRESIDENT: What were the articles?

Q. Congress would set up an escalator clause requiring the O.P.A. to raise the price of textiles as the price of raw cotton goes up.

THE PRESIDENT: NO. I haven't seen it. I can't comment on it, except it does carry me back to the days in 1933 or 1934, when I went down to the General Oglethorpe celebration in Savannah.

And the Governor of Georgia at that particular time got up and introduced me, and he made a great speech. And he says, "What we want in the South is 35-cent cotton." It had been selling in March or some time at the end of 1932, beginning of 1933, about 4 1/2 cents a pound. And it got up to about, I think, 11 cents a pound. And as you remember, that was one of the origins of the word "parity." The farmers throughout the country at that time were--through their members of the House and Senate—pleading for parity, so that they Could get what their returns were from their agricultural products up to a relatively even purchasing power with things that were made in factories.

And he went on and said, "We want 35-cent cotton." That was the price of cotton in the first World War. Well, at that particular time, parity for cotton would have been 14 cents; and after four or five years we did get it up to 14 cents, with the various other gadgets that were put onto the various bills from the Congress, and the farmer was getting approximately his 14 cents for cotton. Cotton now is, as I remember it, about 22 cents. And, of course, the price of other things that the farmer uses has gone up, but cotton is certainly at parity at the present time, and maybe slightly above, for all I know.

And when I replied to the Governor of Georgia, I started off by saying that I was "agin"—eternally and irrevocably against 35-cent cotton, which at that time would have been about three times over the parity price.

Well, it's the same old thing, anything that you grow. Well, I grow lumber. I am getting twenty-nine dollars a thousand board feet—which is pretty good. Of course, thinking personally, and selfishly, I would like to see lumber selling at seventy-nine dollars a thousand. Well, we have all got that streak in us. If you pick out cotton, you will have somebody else on your neck, and then you will get inflation. But if you do it--for one—I suppose one out of ten—you ought to do it for almost anything that grows.

Substantially, the price that asparagus and some other things bring is a pretty good price, and I know it has made the cost of buying asparagus in the White House awfully high. This is the asparagus season.

Which reminds me of a friend of mine, a foreman of one of the substantial trades, who came in last January, and said to me, "I have an awful time when I go home." He says, "My old lady is ready to hit me over the head with the dishpan."

I said, "What's the trouble?"

"The cost of living."

"Well," I said, "what, for instance?"

"Well, last night I went home, and the old lady said, 'What's this? I went out to buy some asparagus, and do you see what I got? I got five sticks. There it is. A dollar and a quarter! It's an outrage.'"

Well, I looked at him, and I said, "Since when have you been buying asparagus in January--fresh asparagus?"
"Oh," he said, "I never thought of that."

"Well," I said, "tell that to the old lady, with my compliments."

Q. (interposing) Mr. President, is that the same foreman you mentioned in a press conference some time ago who bought the strawberries in the winter? (Much laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: It happened to be a different one, but it's alright. Still makes a true story.

Q. I just wondered if it was the same man that came in then. (Laughter)

Q. Mr. President, getting back to that former question of mine about the League, do you have a program on a United Nations organization that you want to submit or that you will submit, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, yes. Oh, Heavens, Yes.

Q. You do have a program?

THE PRESIDENT: That's what Mr. Hull and I both have been talking to the Senators about.

Q. Well, you haven't submitted it to—

THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) No, because it's in the first draft stage. It may be tremendously improved before we give it out.

Q. Are there points, or do you get away from them?

THE PRESIDENT: You mean like the Fourteen Points? Oh, No. Oh, No. This is an organization. Things like points, well, are principles. This is a working organization that we are talking about; we have got that far.

Q. Would the President's clearance for this apply to the plan for the organization itself, or merely for the process of putting it up to the Big Four at this time?

THE PRESIDENT: We are putting up a first draft of the plan, with definite objectives and a method of carrying them out.

Q. Would it take in the Senate submit it to the Senate as to whether they are bound irrevocably.

THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) Now you are waxing political, if you start making people sign things when they have got only a first draft. We want them to go along with the general idea for the peace of the world. And, so far, they like the idea.

Q. In other words, then, Mr. President, you don't find any willful men, do you?

THE PRESIDENT: No, I never have. I have known some awful fools in my life, and I have been sorry for some people in my life, but I don't hate. (Laughter) And that is an interesting thing to some of you people. It's rather interesting how many people--some of them in this room, I think--have talked about how I hate this person, or hate that person, or a feud, or an awful row between so-and-so and me. It just isn't true. It's what—well, I won't characterize it. You know. I don't hate people--especially on Memorial Day. (Laughter) Some of them are dead that I "hated." (More laughter)...

Q. In your view of the thing, does this plan that Mr. Hull has fall inside the outline of the Mackinac declaration?

THE PRESIDENT: Now you are getting us into politics-- retty close to it--awfully close. I don't know. I suppose we might take an exceedingly good editorial out of the Washington Evening Star. That might enter into it. Or any other paper -that's one that happens to be in front of me. But take that, anything that bears on the subject, including even the suggestions that come from entirely outside sources, because we want to cover the whole ground—including even suggestions from what "T.R.'? would have called the "lunatic fringe." You sometimes find something pretty good in the lunatic fringe. In fact, we have got as part of our social and economic Government today a whole lot of things which in my boyhood were considered lunatic fringe, and yet they are now part of everyday life.

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

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