Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

September 30, 1941

THE PRESIDENT: This is rather an old story for headline artists, but it is quite interesting, I think. It relates to a ship that was sunk four or five days ago, and therefore it is hardly front-page stuff now, but it is still interesting.

You were asking about the cargo of the Pink Star. And what I want to emphasize is that the ship was bound for Iceland, and then was going to put ashore, on Iceland, part of the cargo, for the population, and for the troops in Iceland, then was going on to Great Britain.

But what I want to emphasize in some of these figures is what it means to American defense, and the fact that it has got to be replaced. The orders have got to be started on their way again. The material has got to be purchased, which may take some time, because we may have to wait our turn. And eventually the replaced cargo will go on its way, in another ship.

Most of this cargo was food, which of course, I suppose, is contraband of war, under some rules, because the maintenance of the bodies of a Nation which is fighting for its existence is rather important. You can't eat tanks, or guns, or planes, and food was the principal part of the cargo of this ship.

For instance, she carried enough cheddar cheese to feed more than three and a half million laborers for a whole week under the current British rations. This cheese on this little boat—she was a little boat—represented one year's milk production of more than 2,000 cows.

Then she carried powdered milk, the equivalent of more than 432,000 quarts.

She carried evaporated milk, a year's production of 300 cows. The equivalent of more than a million and a quarter quarts of fresh milk.

She carried concentrated orange juice, enough to supply the vitamin C requirements of 91,000 individuals for twelve days.

She carried pork products, representing approximately 8,000 hogs. And she carried lard, representing the by-product production from some 87,000 hogs.

She carried corn, representing the production of more than 600 acres. She carried tractors that could have plowed up 715 acres a day, and mechanical potato diggers that could have dug up 250 acres a day.

Then she carried a very small amount of what might be called military supplies. The metallic links for machine-gun belts, which of course is a very small matter in bulk, but every belt has to have metallic links. Enough of those little links to arm ten squadrons of fighter planes.

And she carried some small machine tools, enough to require the labor of 300 workers for four months. These tools were primarily for use in making aircraft engines.

Now all of that has to be reordered. As I said, some of it can be bought quickly off shelves, and other parts will have to be manufactured. Start all over again. And that shows one reason why we consider it rather necessary, for our own American defense, to get things of that kind over to the people who are doing the actual fighting, which is first, of course, for their own preservation, but of almost equal importance to the defense of the United States. And I say, that's a pretty stale story; but there it is. . . .

Q. Mr. President, a question along that line: You stated some time ago, sir, that your "rule of thumb" policy was fifty-fifty on shipping our defense armament abroad.


Q. Since that time Russia has been invaded, and we have a mission in Moscow that promises the greatest aid possible. Can you tell us anything about a new "rule of thumb" under present conditions?

THE PRESIDENT: No. That's still the "rule of thumb." And of course, as I said, being a "rule of thumb," it does not mean fifty-fifty on every single item. Probably average fifty-fifty, and in some cases, where there seem to be immediate and emergency needs, we are increasing the 50 percent that is going abroad on certain items, and perhaps decreasing it on others at the same time. A certain proportion of items which had been allocated to Great Britain has now been reallocated to Russia.

Q. Mr. President, at the time you gave us that fifty-fifty rule, you were talking specifically about aircraft. Does that still apply?

THE PRESIDENT: I was talking about everything.

Q. Does that still apply?

THE PRESIDENT: On some things; some not.

Q. Mr. President, you mean allocate it under the Lend-Lease Act?

THE PRESIDENT: No, no, no. . . .

Q. Mr. President, the State Department got out a letter from the Polish Ambassador today showing that the Russians are going to allow the Poles to have their own churches.

THE PRESIDENT: I have just got the mimeographed State Department letter, but I also got it from another source this morning.

Q. Would you care to make any comment on it?

THE PRESIDENT: No. It speaks for itself. As I think I suggested a week or two ago, some of you might find it useful to read Article 124 of the Constitution of Russia.

Q. What does that say, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I haven't learned it by heart sufficiently to quote—I might be of[ a little bit, but anyway: Freedom of conscience, freedom of religion. Freedom equally to use propaganda against religion, which is essentially what is the rule in this country, only we don't put it quite the same way.

For instance, you might go out tomorrow to the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue, down below the Press Club, and stand on a soapbox and preach Christianity, and nobody would stop you. And then, if it got into your head, perhaps the next day preach against religion of all kinds, and nobody would stop you. . . .

Q. Mr. President, do you think Russia will be able to hold out this winter?

THE PRESIDENT: Now, honestly—do you expect me to answer a question of that kind?

Q. I thought you might like to encourage them.

THE PRESIDENT: It's what they call a "rhetorical" question. Right?

Q. Mr. President, do you think this is an opportune time to revise the Social Security structure to increase taxes?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I took that up this morning, and they have gone back to do some more homework. And it seems probable that pretty soon I will make a recommendation to the Congress for a more generally inclusive law, to cover a great many people in this country who are not covered at the present time, in various groups outside of the strictly industrial groups, which are the only ones covered at the present time; and seeking to accomplish two things:

The first is to make the coverage as wide as possible. That means unemployment insurance and old-age pensions.

And the second is to try to work out a method by which the Federal aid will be extended more greatly to the poorer States, which, because of very, very low taxable values, very low average earning power on the part of the individual, are literally unable to comply with the matching method which is now in force.

As you know, the richer States are fully capable of supplementing the Federal Government contributions, so that the old-age people can get as high as $30 a month. Whereas, in some States, the per capita wealth, or earning power, is so low that all they can pay out of the State treasury is somewhere around $4.00 or $6.00 a month. And of course those are areas where there is the lowest per capita income, which really are most in need of a better standard of living. And we are looking for some formula, which has already been pretty well worked out, by which that can be accomplished.

In other words, we will reverse the old idea "To him that hath shall be given" and go to help the people that "hath not.". . .

Q. Mr. President, will this cost a great deal in taxes?

THE PRESIDENT: It might be, yes. Larger contributions.

Q. Mr. President, at the time of your Budget Message, the per capita income formula was-


Q.— under consideration.

THE PRESIDENT: That was the one they were working on. Well, we haven't got this thing in shape yet, even for a message, but the idea is that this would be put in as a message to this Congress, with the twofold hope that if a more widely established Social Security is passed, and relatively soon, it is going to help in two ways:

First, it is going to be a slight deterrent against inflation. Of course you all understand that. And the other reason is that when the emergency is over, and we come to the readjustment period, the more people we have under a standard Social Security system, the easier the transition is going to be.

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