Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference in Hyde Park, New York

August 23, 1938

Q. Can you tell us anything about your conference with Senator Pope over the weekend?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I can tell you what is actually the fact, that the chief question of discussion was a matter that involves public morality. It is rather interesting to me because a quarter of a century ago, when I first went to the Legislature of this State—Heavens, more than that, it was 28 years ago that I was elected—the burning issue in this State was whether we should adopt direct primaries or not.

A great many states had already adopted direct primaries in order to get rid of the old-fashioned form of boss-controlled conventions. So I took a great interest in the whole objective of direct primaries. The objective was a very simple one, and has been subsequently carried out in very nearly every state of the Union. It was to give the actual voters within a party, in recognition of the party system under which we live, the right to choose their candidates for public office. In every case in those days that I ever heard of, some method was devised by which the primary within one party would be limited to the members of that party.

There were always certain restrictions and definitions to carry out that purpose, for the very simple reason that a party primary, which was participated in even by a handful of people who did not belong to that party, immediately became void and of no effect—a complete destruction of the objective.

If, for example, in a contest within a party, one group within that party had 49 per cent of the vote and the other group had 51 per cent of the vote, it was entirely proper for the 51 per cent to win. That was a fair expression of opinion. If, however, 2 per cent or 3 per cent of people from another party were to enter the primary of the party to which they did not belong, the will of the party voters could be completely overcome and destroyed.

Now, that is a question of simple political morality. The interesting thing to me is the fact that the Tory press in this country has overlooked a very interesting opportunity to work for decent political morality.

We have certain examples that we all know about. The figures in the State of Idaho, for example, show that whereas in 1936 the Republican primary vote was about 42,000 and the Democratic primary vote was about 55,000, this year the Republican primary vote was only 30,000 and the Democratic primary vote was about 85,000. No matter how much you might try to hem and haw them off, these figures are complete proof positive that the direct primary system was morally and completely violated by the entrance of fifteen or twenty thousand Republicans into the Democratic primary.

There are two other illustrations. One is the letter by the Republican State Chairman of Georgia, which is now becoming famous, calling on all Republicans in the State of Georgia to enter the Democratic primary. It is being credibly reported that in Maryland also, Republicans are being begged to enter the Democratic primary.

Now, this has nothing to do with candidates. I am not mentioning the name of a single candidate. I am talking about principle.

I think it is something that ought to be of interest to all people who believe in the primary system. Of course there are still a lot of people who would like to go back to the boss ridden convention system, but I am talking about people who believe in direct primaries. I think it is of interest to them to know of the destruction of the principle that is being carried on now, without very much protest on the part of the Tory press.

Well, now, you have a good story. It is in your hands.

But you have to make it perfectly clear that this comment of mine has nothing to do with the question of candidates-individual candidates. I am talking about principles, and I would say the same thing if Republicans in any state were to enter the Democratic primary with the object and purpose of helping somebody that I considered a close friend of mine- it is exactly the same thing. . . .

Q. If a Democrat enters a Republican primary, as O'Connor has done, does that fall in the same category?

THE PRESIDENT: Certainly; Democrats ought not to enter Republican primaries. It certainly ruins the whole purpose of the primary. It is a question of A, B, C morality . . . .

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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