Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference in Hyde Park, New York

July 22, 1939

Q. Good morning, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Glad to see you. Dick [Mr. Harkness], good morning. Gosh, for some of you it is a new experience up here. By the way, I was delighted to hear about the eight and a half pounds.

Q. [Mr. Reynolds, of the United Press] That is right; going to run for President in 1976.

Mr. Hassett: He was nine pounds yesterday.

Q. And it will be ten tomorrow. (Laughter)

Q. [Mr. Trohan] That comes from an old father, Mr. Hassett.

THE PRESIDENT: I do not believe I have a single thing. I had a good night's sleep and I am still sleepy.

Q. [Mr. Durno] Mr. President, the isolation group in the Senate is predicting very freely that you are going to carry the neutrality issue to the country in your forthcoming Western swing. Can you comment on that?

THE PRESIDENT: On the neutrality issue?

Q. The arms embargo.

THE PRESIDENT: Isn't that closed until January?

Q. Well—

THE PRESIDENT: [interposing] By action of the Senate? I think that is the best way of handling it. There is no, and there cannot be any, immediate issue before the country because certain groups in the Senate just precluded any action until January, making it perfectly clear, of course- and they have accepted it—that the responsibility rests wholly on them.

Of course, one of the important things to bring out on that—what was it? Tuesday night— is the fact that they were willing to accept the responsibility. And, as Steve [Mr. Early]told you yesterday, about all we can do between now and January is to pray that there won't be another crisis, and pray awfully hard.

Q. [Mr. Harkness] After the session on Tuesday, various participants, various Senators, gave their version of the meeting, what they had said to you, and more, what you had said to them.

THE PRESIDENT: It is like the old story of the Congressman that went in to see Mr. Hoover, I think it was, and was actually in Mr. Hoover's office by a stop-watch for a minute and a half and then went out into the lobby and took ten minutes to tell the Press what he had told President Hoover. I have always loved the story. You remember that?

Q. [Mr. O'Donnell] Yes, and I remember the Congressman too.

THE PRESIDENT: Go ahead, I did not mean to interrupt.

Q. [Mr. Harkness] That is a fitting story, and that is the way I meant it. But there was only one side of that conference came out, and I wondered if you had anything to say about the conference itself.

THE PRESIDENT: Except this, that any stories that there was any—I do not know—what is the term for it?

Q. I used "clashes," "verbal clashes."

THE PRESIDENT: "Clashes"— right. I think it was John [Mr. O'Donnell] who said it was bitter. Did you ever see me bitter, John?

Q. [Mr. O'Donnell] No, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: There weren't any clashes. That part is entirely made up out of whole cloth. There was only one disagreement between two people in the conference, and that was due to the fact—this has been printed—that Senator Borah did intimate rather clearly and definitely that his information, his private information, from Europe was better than the information received by the United States Government from Europe. The Secretary of State asked him if he intended that as a suggestion that the State Department information was not as good as his own private information. He finally said that he had meant to infer that. It was all in very parliamentary language.

Q. [Mr. Harkness] Did Vice President Garner step into that situation?

THE PRESIDENT: No, he did not.

Q. [Mr. Harkness] Did the Vice President use this line, "Captain, we may as well be candid; you haven't got the votes"?

THE PRESIDENT: When it became perfectly clear from a statement by the Republican Leader that the Republicans would vote en masse for postponement until January, and then Senator Barkley said there would probably be sufficient Democrats to go along with them to prevent a vote being taken if Congress stayed in session, nobody had to say anything more. That was obvious.

The thing came down to that simple fact, that the Republicans as a whole were going to work against the taking of a vote until January, one hundred per cent of them, and that about a third of the Democrats were going to do the same thing. That does not even raise the question of whether there was a minority or a majority because, under the Senate rules, any sizable group can prevent action. And the statement, of course, as written, did show the acceptance of responsibility by the Republicans, and by Barkley in the sense that Barkley knew he could not get a vote, but only in that sense.

Q. [Mr. Harkness] Senator McNary did definitely accept?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, yes. The responsibility? Oh, yes.

Q. [Mr. Harkness] Is there anything at all you can tell us about the Department of State information which was at issue between Secretary Hull and Senator Borah?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I should say that from every capital in Europe, without exception, there come reports of evidence of preparing for an eventuality that they believe to be fairly close, for the very simple reason that the preparations are moving at a very fast rate, of course emphasizing always that there is not any allegation of probability, but rather a statement of definite possibility. There is all the difference in the world between those two words; and the members of the Senate who have decided to defer action, until January have been gambling that the possibility won't eventuate. Therefore, there is nothing further to discuss. The country understands it.

Does that cover it, Dick [Harkness]?

Q. [Mr. Harkness] Yes, sir. I covered that and, after the conference, we checked different Senators and wanted to know about some of the statements.

THE PRESIDENT: It was an extremely friendly meeting absolutely, all the way through.

Q. [Mr. Belair] You mentioned that we won't have another crisis before January. Won't it take something more than perhaps a crisis to provoke a special session?


Q. [Mr. O'Donnell] More than a crisis? In other words, an armed conflict?

THE PRESIDENT: In other words, more than mere threat. For the last three or four years there have been recurring threats. So far they have not eventuated in actual war. Another threat may come without eventuating in actual war. But the United States is not in a position to help in a situation of that kind under the present law—under the embargo—and the members of the Senate, the other night, were fully apprised of that. That was perfectly clearly stated; and several of them accepted the thought that there would be no special session until and unless a world war had actually broken out. In other words, they accepted the responsibility of saying to the Executive Branch of the Government: "There is nothing further you can do to avert war." . . .

Q. [Mr. Durno] Can you tell us about your conference yesterday with Mr. Norris and Mr. Jewel of the Railway—

THE PRESIDENT: [interposing] Well, I told them the action I had taken. I did not put anything down in writing on it, but I told Congressman Lea to tell the Rules Committee that I hoped they would give them a rule on two grounds: the first —mind you, this does not relate to details of a bill but it does relate to principles—the first is that away back a year ago we thought that something ought to be done to improve the railroad situation and I recommended that action be taken by this Congress. They have been there six and a half months and nothing has been done. I hope, this being apparently the only vehicle for getting it out onto the floor, that they will get a rule and report this bill out.

Q. [Mr. Durno] Which bill is that?

THE PRESIDENT: That is the Lea Bill.

And then the second thought—and it is absolutely in line with what I have been talking about so long-was that of trying to get all forms of transportation coordinated so that we won't have wholly separate agencies running general transportation policies.

It was in line with that, that I told Bill Hassett to dig up the speech I made in Salt Lake City. He can show it to you. There is no use my reading the whole thing again. It was the speech back in 1932 in which I said, "The individual railroads should be regarded as parts of a national transportation system. This does not mean all should be under one management. . . . Let it be noted, for instance, that our postal service uses every variety of transport: rail, automobile, steamship, and airplane; but it controls few of these vehicles. We might well approach the railroad problems from a similar point of view, survey all of our national transportation needs, determine the most efficient, the most economical means of distribution, and substitute a national policy for a national lack of planning, and encourage that growth and expansion which are most healthful to the general welfare."

And then, at the end, ". . . Avoid financial excesses; adjust plant to traffic; protect the workers; coordinate all carrier service . . . and, above all, serve the public, serve them reasonably, serve them swiftly, and serve them well."

Well, it is just along the same general idea that we are working.

Q. This consolidation would be done under your reorganization powers, would it?

THE PRESIDENT: No; it has to be done by straight legislation.

Q. Something along the lines of Emergency Transportation Act?

THE PRESIDENT: No. There are two or three different forms in which the thing can be actually put into practice. The form does not count nearly so much as getting it done. They have been working on it now for six and a half months, and nothing has happened.

On the neutrality thing, I have here forty-five newspaper editorials—this is our regular stuff from the files—that are quite interesting as showing how widespread is the general approval by the Press, regardless of party, for having something done to make the United States neutral and to help to avert war. It is a most amazing series of editorials. Here is the old Boston Herald, for instance; the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Portland Oregonian, the Los Angeles Times, and so forth and so on. Bill [Mr. Hassett] can show them to you if you want to see any of them. It is a very interesting cross-section of editorial opinion.

Q. I had some figures the other day—I forget who the authority was—which showed, or alleged to show, that eighty per cent of the commodities bought from us by the Allies during the World War were commodities which would not fall under the present embargo in the event of war. I wonder how accurate that is?

THE PRESIDENT: If you count wheat and cotton and things like that, I suppose it is true. I think you will find that certain foodstuffs and raw cotton entered into that eighty per cent, very largely.

Let me- leave this off the record—give you a little background on it that will bring it out. It is rather interesting. We are concerned, rightly, to a certain extent with the prosperity picture, the business picture, the economic picture, and the failure of the Senate to take action, deferring everything until January, is, without any question, going to slow up the wheels of industry in this country. On your eighty per cent figure, a very large portion of that was agricultural products, wheat and so on. You will remember that while we were in the war we laid off bacon, and meat, and tried to eat more fish so that we could ship the meats to the other side.

Well, that is agriculture, but on the other side of the picture you must remember that of all the manufactured articles that go over, the percentage that are wholly off the embargo list is much smaller. Most of them are for munitions of various kinds. Now, of course that brings up a very interesting question. You know that a very simple form of munitions is the little brass shell that goes into a 3-inch gun. That is for the piece the French call the 75's, and that is probably as destructive a weapon as there is. Now, the little 3-inch shell that goes into it is made of brass. How is it made? The principal and far most difficult process is turning out the brass pipe, because that is all it is, just plain common or garden variety of brass pipe like that that goes into the plumbing of a hotel or big house. I suppose ninety per cent of the labor is in that brass pipe.

Now, there is nothing to prevent that brass pipe from being shipped anywhere in the world. It is just brass pipe. Once it gets to a belligerent you do three things. There are three things.

One is a little saw that cuts it off into lengths. A girl, one girl can run that, the pipe having arrived in 300-foot lengths. It slides down from the table and gets to a certain point and gets chopped off.

Number two, it goes into a press—I have forgotten what they call it, a reamer, or something like that—and that takes one end of the brass pipe and curls it over. That is the kind of machine that a girl can run.

Then it goes to another machine—they are one after the other in a row— and that squeezes the ends of that brass pipe together into a form with a little percussion 'hole in the end. Then the thing is done. There is your shell. All it needs to have put into it is the powder and the shell itself, but the brass casing is three operations, all of which do not represent more than five per cent of the actual cost of that cartridge.

Now, you cannot send that to a belligerent, but you can send the brass pipe, which is ninety or ninety-five per cent of the operation. Well, how do you draw a line between the destructive weapon and the brass pipe? I do not know. How do you draw the line between the raw cotton and the nitrates on the one side, and the T.N.T. on the other? You take cotton and put it into a vat and you put the wet cotton into the T.N.T., into the nitrate, and you put in a few other small chemical ingredients, mix them all around, heat them to a certain point, then put them into another vat and take it out and dry it and you have high explosive. It is made out of cotton and nitrate. They are not themselves in the nature of implements of war. How does the human mind draw a fine line?

Q. [Mr. Belair] Do you mean that business is suffering because—

THE PRESIDENT: [interposing] I had a businessman—I will tell you his name if you won't use it, we will have to have that understanding because otherwise I cannot give you his name. . . . He said, "You know this is going to slow up the finest little economic boom that ever happened. Nobody can make commitments. They do not know how the bill will come out. That affects us here as well as on the other side."

Q. It means on the brass pipe, or everything?

THE PRESIDENT: On anything; the taking of orders. It makes war more probable. People do not like to give orders for anything, even back home.

Q. [Mr. Harkness] May we use that incident, sir, about the effect on business, without the name?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. A newspaper really needs a new press but they can get along with the present press for another year. Now, it takes some time to get a press built. You cannot just buy one off the counter. You say, "By gosh, if there is a war, I do not know; I do not know whether we would be justified because nobody knows the effect of a war on a newspaper business." Isn't that right? So you say, "Let us wait until January."

Now, it is a few little things like that that make up people's minds as to whether they are going to buy something, order something, or not.

Q. I have got enough to write, haven't you gentlemen?

Q. Yes. . . .

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

Filed Under



New York

Simple Search of Our Archives