Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference in Hyde Park, New York

July 05, 1940

Q. Off the record, last January-I think it was January-you spoke about certain long-range peace objectives you had. Have we given up hope on that?

THE PRESIDENT: I would not say we have given up hope. Nobody can tell what will happen. Those peace objectives are still as sound today, from the point of view of democracies, as they were then.

Q. I have read everything you have said on foreign affairs, speeches to the Congress and formal statements. I have also read what Secretary of State Hull has said, speaking of those peace objectives the other day, and putting the two together, I think I find four objectives there. The first would be to prevent aggression—

THE PRESIDENT [interposing]: Let me put it this way for you, and then let me know if there is anything else. There is no question—this is really an amplification of what I said yesterday afternoon when we read the Declaration of Independence: Today the world is facing a very definite upheaval because certain new systems of Government have arisen to such an extent that they already control and are seeking to enlarge their control over a very large portion of the world's population. It is a system of Government which denies certain fundamentals that Americans were the first to seek and establish. In other words, going back several hundred years, they thought that some form of representative Government was advisable in order to check tyranny by individuals, kings or barons or whatever it might be- conquerors—and to assure certain individual rights.

In 1776 we began to establish this new form of representative Government, which was based on three—they call them checks and balances but probably that is a pretty weak term—three fundamental branches is a better term: an Executive, a Legislature and a Judiciary.

Well, I call it almost an American invention because, while it had been talked about philosophically by various writers before 1776, we were the first people to put it into effect. Other countries followed. They established a triple control of Government. Sometimes they retained or added a king who, however, was more a symbol of unity than a person wielding real power. That was called the parliamentary system; but, essentially, under the parliamentary system you have the three branches.

You had the Executive, which was the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. You had the Parliament of freely chosen legislators. And you had the Court. Today those have been threatened all over the world. A great many have been ended by conquest, and the conquerors have set up a new form of Government which is based essentially on the elimination of two of the safeguards of representative democracy.

It is called by various names; probably the easiest name, as a symbol, is the corporate state. The corporate state—we think of Italy but it applies equally to Germany and Russia—is extremely efficient. It has abolished two of the three safeguards of democracy, the Legislature and the Courts. It puts the supreme power into a group, in some cases a very small group, in some cases very large, which exercises administrative functions, and there are no legislative functions and there are no court functions. It is efficient. And I am sorry to say there are a large number of Americans—not proportionate to the population but still a large number of Americans-who are willing to consider, because of its efficiency, the corporate state.

The efficiency of our system of Government is not as great as that of the corporate state, because there are delays and compromises which are inherent in any democracy. The Executive, properly, cannot pass laws; these have to be worked out in conjunction with the Legislature, called the Congress. And in working them out, it takes a long time for them to pass, sometimes, at the least, several months and, at the most, a good many years.

And then, after that has been done and your legislation, through the process of compromise, has been passed, you still have another place to go—and that is the courts. The best example is the income tax law which was passed in the Cleveland Administration, by agreement between the Legislature and the Executive, and was held unconstitutional by the courts. Then, after a long period of years, I think twelve or fifteen years, under our process of constitutional amendment, an income tax law was passed based on the amendment. There was your lag of between fifteen and twenty years.

In the State of New York the Workmen's Compensation Law was passed under the Hughes' Administration. It was declared unconstitutional. Some four or five years later, under the Dix Administration, a constitutional amendment was passed and we got a Workmen's Compensation Act.

That represents the lag, the time lag, in a democracy. It is not based on inefficiency of executive departments because one of the—I won't mention any name—because one of the best known industrialists in the country who has been in Washington five or six weeks said to me the other day, "The thing that amazes me is the fact that the departments of the Government, from what I have seen of them, are as efficient as any large corporation. That seems to me an amazing thing."

The delay is because of the compromise necessary in working things out constitutionally among the three different agencies. There are a lot of people in this country who object to that time lag and, unthinkingly, play into the hands of the people who advocate the corporate state. In so doing they are, in effect, saying to this country, "We are perfectly willing to give up certain essentials in order to become efficient."

Now, I come down to your questions. The first is—you might say there are certain freedoms. The first I would call "freedom of information," which is terribly important. It is a much better phrase than "freedom of the press," because there are all kinds of information so that the inhabitants of a country can get news of what is going on in every part of the country and in every part of the world without censorship and through many forms of communication. That, I think, is one of the objectives of peace, because you will never have a completely stable world without freedom of knowledge, freedom of information.

The second, of course, is freedom of religion which, under democracies, has always—not always but almost all the time -been fairly well maintained. It is not maintained in those nations which have adopted other systems of Government. You have to take it as it comes, and that, in my mind, is an essential of permanent peace.

Then, a third freedom is the freedom to express one's self as long as you don't advocate the overthrow of Government. That is a different thing. In other words, the kind of expression that we certainly have in this country, and that they have in most democracies. That, I think, is an essential of peace-I mean permanent peace.

Fourth, freedom from fear, so that people won't be afraid of being bombed from the air or attacked, one way or the other, by some other nation. And, of course, we have maintained all along that freedom from fear must be based on a removal of the weapons that cause fear—in other words, disarmament. And that is an essential of peace.

And so the question really comes down to whether we are going to continue to seek those freedoms or whether we are going to give up, at the behest of certain elements, those freedoms in our system of Government, or encourage by lack of opposition—I don't mean armed opposition—those nations which have removed those four freedoms in the interest of a greater efficiency of Government- a "temporary efficiency," I might say.

Does that cover it pretty well?

Q. [MR. HARKNESS] Well, I had a fifth in mind which you might describe as "freedom from want"— free trade, opening up trade?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, that is true. I had that in mind but forgot it. Freedom from want—in other words, the removal of certain barriers between nations, cultural in the first place and commercial in the second place. That is the fifth, very definitely.

Q. I hadn't got to freedom of expression.

THE PRESIDENT: There are a great many people actually in this country who are so "hipped" on the efficiency of the new type of Government that, as I say, they are willing to compromise, willing to keep their mouths shut; they are willing by silence to give the impression of acquiescence.

Q. Does that group of people centralize in any particular group in the country?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, no; I am just talking philosophically, not politically.

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

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