Final Campaign Radio Speech of the 1936 Presidential Campaign.
I have come home to my own county to vote with my fellow townsmen. My people have voted here in Dutchess County for more than a century. I cast my first vote here in 1903.
Tomorrow fifty-five million Americans are eligible to vote. I hope that all of those fifty-five millions will vote.
I like to think of these millions as individual citizens from Maine to the southern tip of California, from Key West to Puget Sound—farmers who stop their fall plowing long enough to drive into town with their wives—wage earners stopping on the way to work or the way home—business and professional men and women—town and city housewives—and that great company of youth for whom this year's first vote will be a great adventure.
Americans have had to put up with a good many things in the course of our history. But the only rule we have ever put up with is the rule of the majority. That is the only rule we ever will put up with. Spelled with a small "d" we are all democrats.
In some places in the world the tides are running against democracy. But our faith has not been unsettled. We believe in democracy because of our traditions. But we believe in it even more because of our experience.
Here in the United States we have been a long time at the business of self-government. The longer we are at it the more certain we become that we can continue to govern ourselves, that progress is on the side of majority rule, that if mistakes are to be made we prefer to make them ourselves and to do our own correcting.
When you and I stand in line tomorrow for our turn at the polls, we shall stand in a line which reaches back across the entire history of our Nation.
Washington stood in that line and Jefferson and Jackson and Lincoln. And in later days Cleveland stood there and Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. All these—in their day-waited their turn to vote. And rubbing elbows with them—their voting equals—is a long succession of American citizens whose names are not known to history but who, by their vote, helped to make history.
Every man and every woman who has voted in the past has had a hand in the making of the United States of the present. Every man and woman who votes tomorrow will have a hand in the making of the United States of the future. To refuse to vote is to say: "I am not interested in the United States of the future."
We who live in a free America know that our democracy is not perfect. But we are beginning to know also that, in self-government as in many other things, progress comes from experience. People do not become good citizens by mandate. They become good citizens by the exercise of their citizenship and by the discussions, the reading, the campaign give-and-take which help them make up their minds how to exercise that citizenship.
Not only are people voting in larger numbers this year. They also know more this year than ever before about the real issues. They are thinking for themselves. They listen to both sides. They no longer accept at face value opinions or even statements from newspapers, from political spokesmen and from so-called leaders of their communities. They insist on checking up.
I doubt if there was ever more downright political intelligence at the average American fireside than there is today.
For a century and a half we have had here free education and a free press, free public forums and a free pulpit. For more than a decade we have had a free radio. The American citizen of 1936, therefore, is a product of free institutions. His mind has been sharpened by the exercise of freedom. That is why I have no fear either of the threats of demagogues or the ambitions of dictators. Neither can get far nor long thrive among a people who have learned to think for themselves and who have the courage to act as they think.
This year they have thought things through to a point where the eternal simplicities mean more than the fuzz-buzz of technical talk. They know that the important thing is the spirit in which Government will face problems as they come up, and the values it will seek to preserve or to enhance. At bottom those are the things that count.
Still another thing heartens me. This year, not only are more people voting, not only have people thought things through more carefully; but more people in all parties have assumed the obligation of citizens to get out and work in the political process by which democracy maintains itself.
Nearly six months ago I said: "I make this specific recommendation-that each and every one who is interested in obtaining the facts and in spreading those facts abroad, each and every one of you interested in getting at the truth that lies somewhere behind the smoke-screen of charges and countercharges of a national campaign, constitute yourself a committee of one."
Hundreds of thousands have responded to that suggestion. Tonight I salute those committees of one, not only with personal gratitude but with the gratitude of a democracy that can only function if its people are willing to take honorable part in it.
And I also commend those who have worked in a similar honorable way in the opposition. They, too, have helped the public understand the issues before it, and that is a service to democracy.
I confidently look forward to their continued cooperation in the service of democracy. On Saturday night I said that "there should be no bitterness or hate where the sole thought is the welfare of the United States of America." That applies to men and women in all parties. It is true, tonight, on the eve of election. It will be true after the election.
Whoever is elected tomorrow will become the President of all the people. It will be his concern to meet the problems of all the people with an understanding mind and with no trace of partisan feeling.
Any President should welcome any American citizen or group of citizens who can offer constructive suggestions for the management of government or for the improvement of laws.
Society needs constant vigilance and the interest of individual men and women.
And when you go to the ballot box tomorrow, do not be afraid to vote as you think best for the kind of a world you want to have. There need be no strings on any of us in the polling place.
A man or woman in the polling booth is his or her own boss. There once was a time when the ballot was not secret. That is not so today. How a citizen votes is the citizen's own business. No one will fire you because you vote contrary to his wishes or instructions. No one will know how you vote. And do not let any-one intimidate you or coerce you by telling you otherwise.
In the polling booth we are all equals.
It is an experience in responsibility and humility to be permitted, as President, to know and share the hopes and the difficulties, the patience and the courage, the victories and the defeats of this great people.
Sometimes men wonder overmuch what they will receive for what they are giving in the service of a democracy—whether it is worth the cost to share in that struggle which is a part of the business of representative government. But the reward of that effort is to feel that they have been a part of great things, that they have helped to build, that they have had their share in the great battles of their generation.
However large or small our part, we can all feel with Theodore Roosevelt who said many years ago: "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumphs of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither defeat nor victory."
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Final Campaign Radio Speech of the 1936 Presidential Campaign. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/208389