Franklin D. Roosevelt

Jackson Day Dinner Address, Washington, D.C.

January 08, 1936

Mr. Chairman, my friends:

On our dinner cards tonight is a medallion portrait of a man who gave a memorable toast, "The Federal Union, it must be preserved."

This meeting tonight, in the City of Washington, is one of many hundreds being held throughout our forty-eight States and territorial possessions and even on board ships at sea, in honor of the memory of a great General, a great President, Andrew Jackson. To all of you I extend my most sincere and heartfelt greetings.

I am happy to stand here tonight and declare to you that the real issue before the United States is the right of the average man and woman to lead a finer, a better and a happier life. And that was the same issue, more than a hundred years ago, that confronted Andrew Jackson.

I speak tonight to this Democratic meeting, to these Democratic meetings throughout the Nation, in the same language as if I were addressing a Republican gathering, a Progressive gathering, an Independent gathering, a Farmer-Labor gathering, a gathering of business men or a gathering of workers or farmers. There is nothing that I say here tonight that does not apply to every citizen in the country no matter what his or her political affiliations may be.

It is true that we Americans have found party organizations to be useful, and indeed necessary, in the crystallization of opinion and in the demarcation of issues. It is true that I have received many honors at the hands of one of our great parties. It is nevertheless true that in the grave questions that confront the United States at this hour, I, as President of the United States, must and will consider our common problems first, foremost and preeminently from the American point of view.

To most of us, Andrew Jackson appropriately has become the symbol of certain great ideals. I like best to think of him as a man whom the average American deeply and fundamentally understood. To the masses of his countrymen, his purposes and his character were an open book. They loved him well because they understood him well—his passion for justice, his championship of the cause of the exploited and the downtrodden, his ardent: and flaming patriotism.

Jackson sought social justice; Jackson fought for human rights in his many battles to protect the people against autocratic or oligarchic aggression.

If at times his passionate devotion to this cause of the average citizen lent an amazing zeal to his thoughts, to his speech and to his actions, the people loved him for it the more. They realized the intensity of the attacks made by his enemies, by those who, thrust from power and position, pursued him with relentless hatred. The beneficiaries of the abuses to which he put an end pursued him with all the violence that political passions can generate. But the people of his day were not deceived. They loved him for the enemies he had made.

Backed not only by his party but by thousands who had belonged to other parties or belonged to no party at all, Andrew Jackson was compelled to fight every inch of the way for the ideals and the policies of the Democratic Republic which was his ideal. An overwhelming proportion of the material power of the Nation was arrayed against him. The great media for the dissemination of information and the molding of public opinion fought him. Haughty and sterile intellectualism opposed him. Musty reaction disapproved him. Hollow and outworn traditionalism shook a trembling finger at him. It seemed sometimes that all were against him—all but the people of the United States.

Because history so often repeats itself, let me analyze further. Andrew Jackson stands out in the century and a half of our independent history not merely because he was two-fisted, not merely because he fought for the people's rights, but because, through his career, he did as much as any man in our history to increase, on the part of the voters, knowledge of public problems and an interest in their solution. Following the fundamentals of Jefferson, he adhered to the broad philosophy that decisions made by the average of the voters would be more greatly enduring for, and helpful to, the Nation than decisions made by small segments of the electorate representing small or special classes endowed with great advantages of social or economic power.

He, like Jefferson, faced with the grave difficulty of disseminating facts to the electorate, to the voters as a whole, was compelled to combat epithets, generalities, misrepresentation and the suppression of facts by the process of asking his supporters, and indeed all citizens, to constitute themselves informal committees for the purpose of obtaining the facts and of spreading them abroad among their friends, their associates and their fellow workers.

I am aware that some wise-cracking columnist will probably say that good old Jackson no doubt realized that every red-blooded American citizen considered himself a committee of one anyway. Nevertheless, Jackson got his ideas and his ideals across not through any luxurious propaganda, but because the man on the street and the man on the farm believed in his ideas, believed in his ideals and his honesty, went out and dug up the facts and spread them abroad throughout the land.

History repeats—and I am becoming dimly conscious of the fact that this year we are to have a national election. Sometimes at the close of a day I say to myself that the last national election must have been held a dozen years ago—so much water has run under the bridge, so many great events in our history have occurred since then. And yet but thirty-four months, less than three years, have gone by since March, 1933.

History repeats—in those crowded months, as in the days of Jackson, two great achievements stand forth—the rebirth of the interest and understanding of a great citizenry in the problems of the Nation, and an established Government which by positive action has proved its devotion to the recovery and well-being of that citizenry.

Whatever may be the platform, whoever may be the nominee of the Democratic Party—and I am told by the Chairman that a Convention is to be held to decide these momentous questions—the basic issue, my friends, will be inevitably the retention of popular Government—an issue fraught once more with the difficult problem of disseminating facts and yet more facts, in the face of an opposition bent on hiding and distorting facts.

And that, my friends, is why organization, not party organization alone—important as that is—but organization among all those, regardless of party, who believe in retaining progress and ideals, is so essential.

That is why, in addition to organization, I make this specific recommendation—that each and every one of you who are 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. To do this you need no parchment certificate, to do this you need no title. To do this you need only your own conviction, your own intelligence and your own belief in the highest duty of the American citizen.

To act as such a committee of one you will need only your own appointment, an appointment which carries with it some effort, some obligation on your part to carry out the task you have assigned to yourself. You will have to run down statements made to you by others which you may believe to be false. You will need to analyze the motives of those who make assertions to you. You will need to make an inventory in your own community, in order that you may check and recheck for yourself and thereby be in a position to answer those who have been misled or those who would mislead.

After my Annual Message to the Congress last Friday evening, I received many appreciative letters and telegrams from all over the country, and I think it will interest you to know that within a few hours I received more of these than at any time since the critical days of the spring of 1933. I have carefully read those letters and telegrams and I found two facts that I think are worthy of repeating to you tonight. The first is that out of the many, many hundreds, a very large number were sent to me by families who evidently heard my Message while grouped together in the family home. "My wife and I want you to know how much we appreciate," and so forth—or "The Jones family, gathered tonight with our friends, sends you this message of confidence." In other words, as greatly as and perhaps even more greatly than on any other occasion since I have been in the White House, I have the definite feeling that what I have said about the great problems that face us as a Nation has received a responsive, an appreciative and an understanding answer in the homes of America. This means a lot tome.

The other interesting fact about these letters and telegrams is the very great number of them that come from business men, from storekeepers, from bankers and from manufacturers. The gist of their messages to me is that they are grateful, that they appreciate my statement that it is but a minority of business and finance that would "gang up" against the people's liberties. I reiterate that assertion tonight. By far the greater part of the business men, industrialists, and other employers of the Nation seek no special advantage; they seek only an equal opportunity to share in the common benefits, the common responsibilities and the common obligations of their Government.

I am naturally grateful for this support and for the understanding on their part that the Government of the United States seeks to give them a square deal and a better deal—seeks to protect them, yes, to save them from being plowed under by the small minority of business men and financiers, against whom you and I will continue to wage war.

We can be thankful that men and women in all walks of life realize more and more that Government is still a living force in their lives. They understand that the value of their Government depends on the interest which they display in it and the knowledge they have of its policies.

A Government can be no better than the public opinion which sustains it.

I know that you will not be surprised by lack of comment on my part tonight on the recent decision of the Supreme Court. I cannot and will not render offhand judgment without studying, with the utmost care, two of the most momentous opinions, the majority opinion and the minority opinion, that have ever been rendered, in any case before the Supreme Court of the United States. The ultimate results of the language of these opinions will profoundly affect the lives of Americans for many years to come. It is enough to say that the attainment of justice and the continuance of prosperity for American agriculture remain an immediate and constant objective of my Administration.

Just as Jackson roused the people to their fundamental duties as citizens, so must the leadership of this era do its utmost to encourage and sustain widespread interest in public affairs. There was something of eternal youth in the spirit of Andrew Jackson. The destiny of youth became the destiny of America.

Tasks immediately before us are as arduous as the conquest of the frontiers a century ago. The Nation is still young, still growing, still conscious of its high destiny. Enthusiasm and the intelligence of the youth of the land are necessary to the fulfillment of that destiny.

As I understand the temper of the people, particularly the temper of youth, no party of reaction, no candidates of reaction can fulfill the hope and the faith of that everlasting spirit. It is the sacred duty of us who are vested with the responsibility of leadership to justify the expectations of the young men and women of the United States.

We are at peace with the world; but the fight goes on. Our frontiers of today are economic, not geographic. Our enemies of today are the forces of privilege and greed within our own borders.

May a double portion of Old Hickory's heroic spirit be upon us tonight. May we be inspired by the power and the glory and the justice of his rugged and fearless life.

The people of America know the heart and know the purpose of their Government.

They and we will not retreat.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jackson Day Dinner Address, Washington, D.C. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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