Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

February 07, 1941

Q. Mr. President, may I bring up a matter that is of great interest to the members of the [press] conference? I —

THE PRESIDENT: Fingerprinting? Is it fingerprinting? (Laughter)

Q. Fingerprinting, exactly, plus "mugging."

THE PRESIDENT: Do they take you side and front, both? (Laughter)

Q. But the point is, we have all been "mugged" and all been fingerprinted in the last three days- very successfully, I hope -and —

THE PRESIDENT: I hope so! (Laughter)

Q. And we trust, sir, that that will be enough for the entire executive end of the Government, that we will not have to do this in the Navy, Army, and State Department and elsewhere—that the same card, the same identification, will be satisfactory to them that is satisfactory to the White House.

THE PRESIDENT: I think that is a very reasonable suggestion; and if Steve [Early] will take that up right away, we will try to get it done; that is a grand idea.

VOICES: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! (Applause)

THE PRESIDENT: What happens if you get your face lifted in between? (Laughter)

Q. In between what?

Q. That introduces a brand new question, sir! (Laughter)

Q. Mr. President, is there any special reason you could give us for the naming of the cruisers for the islands and territories of the United States, including the Philippines? Some comment has been caused by that.

THE PRESIDENT: No, except that we are getting so many ships now it is awfully hard to find names; that's the size of it. You know we have certain rules—I don't know whether it is a law— to name battleships after States and cruisers after cities and territories.

Q. Mr. President, Colonel [Robert] McCormick said before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday that the geographical and strategical position of the United States is such that any talk of foreign invasion was ridiculous-

THE PRESIDENT: I want to ask you one question back: Did he speak as an expert? (Laughter)

Q. Mr. President, it might be interesting to everybody if you agreed to tell us some of the reasons and the characteristics in the appointment of Mr. [John G.] Winant as Ambassador; that is an interesting appointment, an interesting man.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think I could only say something for background, Earl [Godwin]; I think it is a great mistake to make a lead in any story that he was a Republican; he was appointed because he was an American. I think there is a nice distinction there. He was not appointed because he was a Republican. . . . I could say that same thing if he were a Democrat- he was appointed because he was an American of very wide experience, experience in an executive office in one of the States, experience afterwards in social security, and afterwards internationally in the International Labor Office in Geneva. In other words, he had an extremely good background as an American, regardless of what party he belonged to. I realize that this is Washington and people do have to talk about Republicans and Democrats; but in a crisis like this I don't think it is a very good line to take. An Ambassador represents Republicans and Democrats and people who are not enrolled in any party; he represents all Americans. In other words, he had a lot of experience that fitted him for the job.

Q. I had this in mind- didn't have any idea about politics, but here is a changing situation—social structure here and abroad, and here was a man who seems to be out in front on some of that stuff; and I wondered if that had anything to do with it.

THE PRESIDENT: I don't think so. He is broader than Washington, D. C. That's an awful thing to say, but you know what I mean. He does represent this country pretty well with certain changing situations which most of us have come to recognize the existence of, which can be worked into the constitutional and democratic form of government that we happen to live under, without the necessity of revolution or dictatorship. I think he represents that, shall I say, fact that is going on in our midst and in a great many other places in the world—he represents that fact pretty well.

Q. Mr. President, do you contemplate the appointment of a Minister to Great Britain?


Q. Mr. President, could you tell us whether there is any possibility of an interdepartmental committee being established to handle economic defense problems?

THE PRESIDENT: What do you mean by economic defense? Everything is economic defense.

Q. I mean such things as what we will ship to Britain, particularly coordinating the export control system with the Treasury power.

THE PRESIDENT: I couldn't say yes, and I couldn't say no, because there are a great many things in process. I should doubt very much if it would take that form. In other words, we are perfecting machinery on foreign trade and on domestic trade all the time, and undoubtedly there will be various new forms of organization that will be necessary, because of changing conditions or because the times are ripe to do it. I don't think there will be anything exactly the way you suggest; I know what you are talking about. I doubt it. . . .

Q. Mr. President, when is your engagement with Mr. Willkie?

THE PRESIDENT: I haven't any.

Q. You said you were going to see him. I think he is expected at the Capital.

THE PRESIDENT: I see almost everybody that comes back; I would be delighted to see him as soon as he comes down here. . . .

Q. There has been speculation as to where the new Baltimore highway will be built, whether most of it would run through land already belonging to the Government. Can you tell us about that?

THE PRESIDENT: Between New York and Washington?

Q. No, the section between Baltimore and Washington.

THE PRESIDENT: I hadn't heard anything about that. I will give you a story on this, because it is just being started now.

As you know, one of the things that we have been thinking about is what happens in this country when we begin to slow down, reduce our defense employment. You remember in 1918, on the eleventh of November, we didn't stop all the employment on defense work. The policy at that time was to make no new contracts after the Armistice, and the policy was also to hold up production where contracts had been given but the production itself had not started; but the policy was to continue to completion almost everything that had been actually ordered and was in production.

The result was that during the following year, '19, and even the first half of '20, employment in the United States on defense work decreased rather gradually. It wasn't cutting everybody off on any one given date or in a month; and the aftermath, the economic aftermath of the war in 1920 was fairly serious but not as bad as it might have been.

At the end of the present fighting, which has to come some day, there will be a slowing-up on defense work, and we have been trying to guard against what would happen at that time to the people who are employed on defense work; so we are starting this reservoir of projects which will be, insofar as possible, ready to shoot, to take up some of the slack, doing it gradually, but we would like to have them in such shape that we know where we are going; and that is why, as a general proposition you may see at this session certain authorization bills for various things going through Congress, which means that Congress very appropriately will decide on the type of work that is to be done when that time comes.

That is an authorization, which does not mean an appropriation, which is an entirely different matter; but it means that the project has been duly authorized and will be put on the shelf, ready to take out when the end comes; all then being needed is an appropriation from Congress.

One of those, you might say, divisions of things on the shelf will be highways; and Mr. Commissioner MacDonald is coming in to see me today at 12:15 to talk about this whole subject of certain through national highways, which we talked about for a great many years- I think it goes back to the spring of 1933—and in that discussion we will talk about, first of all, the needs of the country, both military and civil, in times of peace, for these highways.

And we will talk about the principle of excess condemnation that we have talked about many times before, by which the—what do they call it?—the added increment that accrues to real estate along a new road that is put through virgin territory-that added increment which is a mere matter of chance whether you happen to own the farm next to it or five miles away—if you are five miles away, you are out of luck, and if you are right on the new highway, you may suddenly find the value of your farm increased from $5,000 to $20,000.

It seems to be constitutional- it has been done in several States—for the Government to buy more land than it needs for the 100-foot or 200-foot right of way and then, over a period of years, sell this land, after having paid for it the reasonable going price of the land at the time, and the Government gets the benefit of the increase in valuation on that land, and in that way pays back either a large part or the whole of the capital cost of the highway.

It has been done in a great many places, and we are talking about that today. That ties in, of course, with your question about this Baltimore road which is merely a local proposition. It might not be anywhere near Fort Meade—it might be ten miles away—I don't know. It is a matter for study; but of course there probably would be some provision for a national highway, for example, on the Atlantic coast; whether it would be right along Chesapeake Bay, close to the shore line of the Bay, or whether it would be twenty miles back or fifty miles back, I don't know.

Q. What other projects might fall into that category—hospitals, airports, housing?

THE PRESIDENT: Possibly; any kind of public works, but of course especially trying to build public works in which there would be some kind of a return of capital to the Government.

Q. Mr. President, might it not prove necessary to build some of these highways at the present time in the interests of national defense rather than taking up the economic slack at the end of the emergency? They are complaining about the transportation problem between Washington, New York, and Boston—inadequate highway.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, does the Transportation Division of the Advisory Council admit that?

Q. I think almost everybody who uses the road admits it, sir! (Laughter)

Q. People get lost in Philadelphia, sir!

THE PRESIDENT: I know it! (Laughter) But all you have to do is show your fingerprint and you're all right! (Laughter)

Q. Thank you, Mr. President!

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

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