Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

November 03, 1941

Q. Mr. President, I would like to ask a question, off the record if necessary. Lots of people who think just as you do on this war issue also think that a continuance of diplomatic relations with Germany is a form of dishonesty. Could you elaborate your thoughts for background?

THE PRESIDENT: No. Only off the record. I would have to make it completely off the record.

As you know, we have taken the position—the Secretary of State was repeating it the other day—that we are actually and truly only acting on the defense. That's all. That is literally true on all the oceans, and various other places. There are a great many other things to support that, that haven't come out.

Well, one of the dispatches this morning showed a very definite attempt on the part of Germany to establish itself, by the infiltration method, in a little place called Liberia. Well, that's a thing we can't use, because the Liberian Government realizes exactly what the purpose was—establishing an airline down there. Liberia, of course, is awfully close to South America. It's just another step. And it depends entirely on how you like to look at it. Is it an attack, or isn't it? In one sense it is an attack, because it is the first stage of the development of German control, probably down to a point directly opposite South America.

And as I say, there are constant instances of trying to spread their power all over the world which are not "shooting" down there, but it's a very definite attempt to attack the Americas. You know the point of view. And naturally we are resisting for the purpose of our own defense, and hemisphere defense.

And the question always arises here. We don't want a declared war with Germany because we are acting in defense self-defense—every action. And to break off diplomatic relations-why, that won't do any good. I really frankly don't know that it would do any good. It might be more useful to keep them the way they are.

Q. There is the thought that in that way the situation would be brought home very directly to the American people.

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I think the American people understand it pretty well. After all, in days like this, you don't do things for the sake of the record. And that is about all it would be.

Q. Why can't stuff like that Liberian incident be published, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, because it isn't the time to do it. Publishing things of this kind is a question of timing, as you will probably see in the course of the next two or three days.

Q. Mr. President, there isn't any more you could say about this New York mayoralty contest, is there? They seem to be doing some awfully harsh talking down there.

THE PRESIDENT: A lot of hard talking. I got a report yesterday that there was a story in New York that I had repudiated what I had said about the Mayor. And that story was being circulated. Of course there is absolutely nothing, not one word or vestige of truth in it. I think that is all ....

Q. Mr. President, are you going to vote? About the usual hour tomorrow morning, I mean.

THE PRESIDENT: I think so. We haven't worked it out yet. I think Mrs. Roosevelt and I will go up there about, I would say, eleven or twelve o'clock.

Q. Yes, sir. I don't assume you have anything much to say about the local election campaigns?

THE PRESIDENT: No. I can't say anything out loud about it. But for your own private information, Mr. Van Wagner [Elmer Van Wagner]- I think he has been an awfully good Supervisor of the Town. We have two people that are running for Superintendent of Highways, and they are both named Marshall, isn't that right?

Q. Yes.

THE PRESIDENT: I hope the Marshall who is in now will stay in, because I think the roads are—I drive over them a great deal—are in better shape than I have seen them for a long time.

Q. Those two Marshalls, Mr. President- regarding those two Marshalls, did you ever hear about the time Tuxedo Park voted unanimously the Socialist ticket? They got a new voting machine, and the handle of the Socialist came down over the Republican. They all voted wrong. (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: I love it. (Laughter)

Q. Mr. President, we were looking over some of the exhibits out there, while we were waiting. How is the Library [Franklin D. Roosevelt Library] getting along? Lots of people coming up?

THE PRESIDENT: Getting along. Much larger attendance than we had expected. I think the figure for the first four months was about 40,000.

Q. Is that total for the first four months?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. And of course Mr. Shipman is getting a little bit worried because there are so many more things that we are getting, that we are already faced, or will be soon, with the question of adequate space. A great many people don't realize it, but the space we have will fill up very quickly from material that is now in Washington—about six or seven million manuscripts. Of course the general public doesn't see the manuscripts.

Q. What are those, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I would say—those manuscripts I would say are not only mine, but papers that I have been associated with, started back in 1910. Nearly three years in Albany. Then after that, the Navy files through 1920. And then, of course, a great many political files, like the campaign of 1920, and the Madison Square Garden convention in 1924, and the Houston convention in 1928. And then my campaign in 1928 for Governor, and the four years of Albany papers. Then, of course, the White House files. Then all you have to do on that is to go downstairs in the White House and look at what hasn't come up yet. There is an awful lot hasn't come up, but a great many already in the stacks. Then, of course, besides that, there are a very large number of my own books, and those are in the stacks too.

And those are constantly being added to. For instance, we are getting a great many supplementary dovetailing documents and reports from different parts of the Government. Just for example, I got a telephone call yesterday from Dr. Buck, who has been the Archivist, who has been given, for permanent keeping, the old Navy Department files. They haven't got room in the Navy Building any more for them; the files go back to the French war, and Tripoli War, and the War of 1812. And as soon as Dr. Buck gets them, he is going to have them microfilmed.

Q. That's the new system?

THE PRESIDENT: That's the new system. Have them all microfilmed, and as I understand it, he will have, I think, three copies made. They will keep one in a different part of the Archives Building, and they will put another one in the Navy Department Building. And they will send one copy up here, so that if anything should ever happen to the originals, we should still have the microfilm. Of course they take up a certain amount of room.

And then—well, there are a lot of things. Remember N.R.A.? Well, those files are down in Washington. They oughtn't to come here, but the more important N.R.A. files are going to be microfilmed and the copy will be brought up here, because a lot of this dovetails in with my papers. So any student would be able to get here a pretty large portion of everything that has been connected with the Administration, and not have to run around all over the place to get something here or something there ....

Q. There's a slight argument among the boys this morning on how old is the tree in front, out there, that is chained up—the limbs?

THE PRESIDENT: I think the story has been printed, but it is rather an interesting one. I had a tree man here about twenty years ago with a similar tree, about the same age.

And he counted the rings and figured out that the tree started to grow about 1640, which is three hundred years, and then he advanced the extremely interesting theory that the tree obviously grew under field conditions. In other words, not in a forest—in those early years—because the lower limbs started out at a very low level, and branched out fifty or more feet on all sides of the tree. So it must have been an open space. It meant almost necessarily that this was a field, and if it was a field, then it was an Indian field. Therefore there was an Indian encampment, or village, right here.

Q. In other words, an accidental tree grew, so to speak?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. It had to grow up under field conditions, and the only fields in the East in those days were Indian cultivated fields. Everywhere else were woodlands ....

Q. What is that tree?

THE PRESIDENT: White oak. They are all white oaks. And I think it is rather an interesting thing. Of course, we find all kinds of arrowheads. Right on the drive we dug up a deer bone—a shin bone that had been made into a needle. And we have quite a lot of arrowheads and things like that that are dug up.

Q. Isn't it one of our oldest parts of America up here—in terms of history then?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, yes. This county did not get settled until 1690, something like that, so it couldn't have been a white man's field. It must have been an Indian's field. Of course the other side of the river was settled about 1640, over in Ulster County.

Q. Mr. President, have you decided when you are going to send a request to Congress for the vastly increased tank production, about which you talked a fortnight ago?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know.

Q. You haven't got to the point where you will use your draft then?


Q. That is just a part of the general raising of the sights?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, part of the whole thing. Yes. There isn't any time being lost, because of course they are still awarding actual contracts on some of the old money. It isn't all actually contracted for yet.

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

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