Franklin D. Roosevelt photo

Excerpts from the Press Conference in Hyde Park, New York

August 08, 1939

THE PRESIDENT: Who else is here? I am trying to see what paper Tommy [Mr. Qualters, the President's bodyguard] represents. (Laughter)

I have only 145 bills left to act on, and they have not yet come to me. In other words, last night the last thing I did was to finish going through all the bills that I have. All that have come to me have been either signed or vetoed except about ten that were sent back for further information, and I still have 145 to come. Have we a pouch coming tonight?

Mr. HASSETT: Probably tomorrow morning.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. So that by tomorrow morning I shall probably get a good batch of the 145. I am not working on the bills today. I am trying to catch up with what you see on my desk. Did you ever see such a mess? (Laughter)

Sidney Hillman is coming to lunch. And after lunch, Jimmy Moffett is bringing the Shaikh [pronounced shake] or Shaikh [pronounced sheek] or Shaikh [pronounced shike], whichever way you want to pronounce it, Mohammed of Bahrein. Of course you all know where that is. That is, just to say, "How do you do?" Do any of you know Bahrein?

Q. I hope not. How do you spell it?

MRS. ROOSEVELT: I am dying to know where it is.

THE PRESIDENT: Such absolutely crass ignorance I have never seen.

MRS. ROOSEVELT: IS it Arabia or northern Africa?

MR. HASSETT: You are doing very well, Mrs. Roosevelt.,

THE PRESIDENT: You are getting hot.

MRS. ROOESVELT: Tell me where it is.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, it is an island in the Arabian Gulf, that is to say between Arabia and Persia. It is ruled by an independent Sheek, Shike or Shake (laughter) and it is a very excellent oil country.

Q. How long, Mr. President, have you known of this? (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: I have always known it. I have always known it because, you see, I collect stamps.

MRS. ROOSEVELT: I regret to say that we have never been able to stump him on a question of geography. It is the most horrible thing. (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know where Muscat is. Heavens, I had the Sultan of Muscat as an official guest of the Government a year ago. Well, it is a little north of Muscat, just on the mainland of Arabia, but it is an island off the coast.

Q. That is the fellow that gave you the golden—

THE PRESIDENT: [interposing] Yes, the golden scimitar, or something like that. Anyway, it is an exceedingly effective weapon if properly used.

He [the Shaikh] is just coming up to say, "How do," that is all.

Outside of that I have absolutely no appointments except on Thursday—well, you don't want to break that story yet. It is just the annual report of the National Infantile Paralysis Foundation. You had better wait for that until tomorrow.

Q. You still have not told us how to spell the name of this—

MR. HASSETT: [interposing] I have got this [indicating telegram] here. You can have it. You have it greatly abbreviated. You might read it now that you have it.

Q. I don't know—Shaikh here is spelled S-h-a-i-k-h.

Q. This is spelled S-h-a-k-a-i-h.

THE PRESIDENT: I would avoid your own way. There are great differences between the "a" and the "e." You had better stick to what Bill [Hassett] says. You would insult him otherwise.

Q. [Mr. Harkness] Mr. President, you stated yesterday that while Congress had refused to go along with one of the methods of the Supreme Court liberalization program, you had gained all of the objectives?

THE PRESIDENT: That is right. In other words, I note in stories that the other six objectives have been largely slurred over. Now the other six objectives, of course, were of interest to everybody in this country. They were of interest, first of all, in the expediting of cases. The delay in bringing cases to trial of two years and three years was always to the disadvantage of the poor litigant, whether he was plaintiff or whether he was defendant. In other words, he could not afford to wait, and the rich litigant could afford to wait two or three or four years, as very often happened. Therefore, the speeding up of the calendars has made a great deal of difference in affording adequate and proper justice in all of the jurisdictions of the Federal Courts. I do not think that that, from the point of view of justice, should be slurred over as an accomplishment.

Now, of course, that has been greatly aided by two of the seven things that went through. The first was the retirement privileges, which have enabled older judges, who could not work as fast as younger judges, to retire. The next was the appointment of additional judges in those judicial districts where there were not enough judges to handle the number of cases. The bill for that has not come to me yet; but I will undoubtedly sign it when it does, making a total of thirty new judges.

And then connected with that a little bit, but more on the constitutional end, two of the other bills are of very great importance. In the past, two private litigants could, in a private suit between themselves, raise a constitutional question which would be determined without any chance for the Government to appear in the case to defend the law that had been passed by the Congress. That situation has been taken care of by permitting the Government to intervene. The Government is now entitled to have notice of the constitutional questions raised served on it right away.

Then, along that same line, it has always been possible in the past, by an injunction in the lower court, to tie up a whole statute for two or three or four years on a constitutional question while the issue was working its way gradually up to the Supreme Court. Now, under the new legislation, it means that the constitutional question goes from the original court right away quick to the Supreme Court of the United States, where it must be put at the top of the preferred list of cases. That also saves the poor litigant a tremendous delay and, incidentally, it is serving the Government itself and everybody else by getting a determination of constitutional questions quickly, instead of tying the question up. We have, of course, lots of illustrations. On the N.R.A. it took months, and sometimes it takes several years to get the constitutional question before the Supreme Court. Now we can get it immediately before the Supreme Court as a preferred case.

I think it is very important to stress the fact that out of the seven objectives—and they are all very, very important objectives—six were obtained by legislation, and the seventh by the opinions and decisions of the Supreme Court itself, which is not bad.

Q. [Mr. Harkness] A thousand per cent. It is a good batting average. Mr. President, then the logical second half of the question is this: That the recent Congress also disagreed with you on method, particularly regarding neutrality and domestic recovery through the —

THE PRESIDENT: [interposing] No, I would not say that, Dick. I would not say they disagreed on methods. What I would say is this: That they made a bet—not the Congress, don't, for Heaven's sake, say "The Congress," but a substantially unanimous Republican minority in both Houses, both the House and Senate, plus about twenty per cent, twenty-two per cent of the House and twenty-five per cent of the Senate, have made a bet with this country that the President was wrong. And I hope they win their bet. But, if they do not win their bet, the responsibility is one hundred per cent on a solid Republican minority plus a small minority of the Democrats. . . .

Now, you see, that is not disagreement on method; that is a disagreement both on neutrality and on cushioning the necessity of laying off a great many people this coming spring. On the neutrality end, they bet the Nation, made a large wager with the Nation, which may affect, if they lose it, about a billion and a half human beings. Now, that is pretty important. They have said, "There will be no war until sufficiently long after we come back in January so that we can take care of things after we come back," and I sincerely hope they are right. But, if they are not right and we have another serious international crisis they have tied my hands, and I have practically no power to make an American effort to prevent such a war from breaking out. Now, that is a pretty serious responsibility.

If they are wrong, of course, and if the situation should get to a crisis with a lack of power on my part to try to avert it the way I did in September of 1938 and April of 1939, why, of course, it is perfectly obvious who will be solely responsible—a solid Republican minority plus twenty to twenty-five per cent of the Democrats. And I hope they win their bet.

Then, on the other big wager they have made, they have bet the country that when the full effect is felt of taking a million human beings off the relief rolls, which is about four million people, counting their families, during the course of this year, and, at the same time, having all the P.W.A. work coming to an end this coming spring, that private industry and private business will take up that whole slack without the Government doing anything about it. And I hope they win that bet too.

But, if they do not win, and private business and private industry do not put all these people, the million people on relief and the three millions dependent on them, and probably another million people on P.W.A.- if they do not take up that slack then, in that case, again it is perfectly obvious that they have lost the bet with the Nation, and the Nation must and will hold them solely responsible.

I think that covers it pretty well.

Q. [Mr. Belair] You have pretty well anticipated a question I was going to ask in that connection. I do not think I am overstating it very much by saying that the country pretty well expects a statement from you on the House rejection of the housing bill and the lending bill. Might that not be applied —

THE PRESIDENT: [interposing] I think that covers the situation pretty well.

Q. [Mr. Belair] The same thing?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, so far as your jobs and everything else is concerned, because, after all, it affects the newspapers of the country, it affects the advertising of the country, it affects the circulation of papers. We all know that. . . .

We hope that it goes along all right but, if it does not, we know who will be responsible. It affects even radio. Right? So, just thinking from the point of view of the country, and the good of the world, too, on the international end of it, I hope that they have that right.

Q. [Mr. Harkness] This situation, sir, presents a distinct challenge to business, does it not?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, a very definite challenge; very definite. And they have a wonderful chance, because, at the present time, the shelves of the country, with respect to all kinds of goods, are not overstocked. The only things that are overstocked are certain agricultural commodities. We have, perhaps, a little excess on the total wheat and we have a rather large excess on the total of cotton, and some excess in dairy products, but, so far as business goes—industry—the shelves are not overstocked.

I have no plans for speeches, because I have no plans ahead at all at the present time until that trip commences on the first of October. I only have two speeches outlined for that-no, three—one at Great Smoky, one at the San Francisco Fair and the other at the dedication of Olympic National Park. I don't think that even through surmise and guessing can you find great political occasions in those three events. Am I right? Even persons who have been close to the Administration—(Laughter)

Q. [Mr. Belair] Pretty slim pickings.

THE PRESIDENT: I know it. Well, you have plenty of stories today. Right? . . .

By the way, talking of illustrations of what I am saying about this rather precipitous decline this coming spring in work, which the Government has helped through existing legislation, you have a very good illustration of what I mean right here in the town of Hyde Park: The town of Hyde Park applied for grants to build these new schoolhouses to take care of the complete lack of accommodations; and they are, all three, under construction at the present time.

I think we shall have a little trip after I do get back from the cruise or at the end of October to show you these three buildings because they are the first three buildings, so far as I know, around here that have been built of field stone. They will be different from the fifteen thousand other colonial brick schoolhouses that are being built all over the United States and, for a long time to come, we shall have something that is different and classier than anybody else has.

Now, on those three schoolhouses that are being built, 45 per cent with Federal money and 55 per cent with bonds issued by the school district, there are 450 workmen at work. They will be all under roof this fall, late this fall. They will be all under roof and then, of course, once under roof, all the people working on the outdoor part of it will be discharged. There will be, during the course of the winter, a certain number of people employed, a decreasing number of people, in finishing up the interior, the plumbing and painting and flooring and things of that kind. But all three of them will be finished by late in the spring and then there won't be any of these 450 people at work on any public buildings, so far as I know, in this town. And I think the same thing applies to a certain extent to the new consolidated school in Red Hook, the new consolidated school down at Wappingers and the additions to the school in Arlington and certain other public works in the city of Poughkeepsie that have been done with W.P.A. funds.

So, you see, it is rather a practical question of human beings tied up with work, or, putting it the other way around, human beings who are not going to have this work after this coming spring. That is just a practical illustration; and you can duplicate it in every other county in the United States.

MRS. ROOSEVELT: Give them the illustration of the precipice.

THE PRESIDENT: I was saying to the Missus at breakfast this morning that we have been carrying on now, for some time, at a fairly high level with three million people, workers, on relief rolls, plus probably, counting the people who get out the material for the job, another two million on P.W.A. That is about five million people at work one way or the other, and they have dependent on them four times that number. That is a total of twenty million people who have been given work, not always steady, but some work.

MRS. ROOSEVELT: And some buying power.

THE PRESIDENT: And a great deal of buying power which affects the little grocer and every store on Main Street of Poughkeepsie, which is a good illustration—every single store on Main Street, Poughkeepsie, and the two or three small stores in Hyde Park Village. It affects all the gasoline stations.

Now, coming next spring, there will be a cut down of from three to two million on W.P.A., and on P.W.A., two million will have finished their work, so there are three million out of five million who will no longer be employed with any form of Government assistance. The theory has been, on the part of the solid Republican minority, plus twenty to twenty-five per cent of the Democrats, that business would take up the slack as they lost the work; but it is a very serious condition, because it is not a gradually declining one over a period of years, but, rather, it is a precipice.

That is what the Missus was talking about. It is a precipice and it is always hard to get down a precipice without danger to life and limb; and even then, going down, you have to slow up everything, even if you do get down safely to the bottom of the hill. The theory of the lending bill was to provide a transitional period, in other words, a graduated descent from the level of high employment down on a nice easy grade so as to let business pick up the slack as the country came down. However, they have voted in favor of the precipice method. . . .

Q. Mr. President, I understand that Lowell Thomas has sent your baseball team a challenge. Have you answered him at all?

THE PRESIDENT: I did not know they had. What does Captain Durno say?

Q. [Mr. Durno] He did send us a challenge but I don't think we can accept. You are not going to be here next Sunday, are you?

THE PRESIDENT: I am going to be gone. I am leaving Saturday morning about ten o'clock.

Q. He suggested, then, after you come back from—

THE PRESIDENT: [interposing] That is all right. Any time around Labor Day.

MRS. ROOSEVELT: Make it for that Sunday before Labor Day.

THE PRESIDENT: That would be all right. But what are we going to do about training?

Q. [Mr. Belair] We are going to Campobello and train.

THE PRESIDENT: Entrain, you mean.

MRS. ROOSEVELT: You will have to do a lot of training. I wanted you in that Virginia Reel. (Laughter)

Q. [Mr. Belair] If there was a chink in the woodwork, I would crawl right in. (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: That is all right; you started off very bravely.

MRS. ROOSEVELT: I think, on the other hand, the "nine old men" (referring to the baseball team of Lowell Thomas, so named) would have to do a lot of training too.

THE PRESIDENT: We will have to get Johnny, but I do not believe he will be back in time.

Q. Can we get any other sons?

MRS. ROOSEVELT: Franklin, Jr., ought to be here because he is supposed to be working with John Mack.

Q. [Mr. Durno] He is pretty good. We need somebody that can hit the ball.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you have got Tom Qualters here. He used to be on the Notre Dame football team. He ought to be able to do something . . . .

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 https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/209833

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