Franklin D. Roosevelt photo

Press Conference

November 26, 1940

THE PRESIDENT: I don't think I have anything; I asked Steve[Mr. Early] and he said he had nothing.

Q. Mr. President, will you tell us about your conference with the War and Navy defense officials?

THE PRESIDENT: Nothing much to tell you about it; we had a good chat—no news. . . .

Q. Did you discuss the general labor situation with the defense men?

THE PRESIDENT: Only in general—nothing specific.

Q. Can you give us some comment on your conference with Dr. Prebisch yesterday on the financial mission?

THE PRESIDENT: I just said, "How do you do?" That's all.

Q. Did he say anything? (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: He was awfully glad to see me; and I reciprocated.

Q. [Mr. Godwin] Mr. President, these young gentlemen want to know something about Mr. Dies, the Vultee strike, Communists, the unions, sabotage, the defense program, et cetera, and so on; may I ask whether you care to say anything about those matters which have been in the public prints yesterday and today? Mr. Dies has telegraphed you—

THE PRESIDENT: [interposing] I saw that.

Q. Is that all, sir? (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: No, as a matter of fact, I am probably going to have a talk with Martin Dies as soon as he gets back here, and of course there will be a conversation—a round table-with the Department of Justice and the Department of State to try to iron out certain things in regard to procedural matters. It is, of course, perfectly clear that the House Committee has every right in the world to make any kind of investigation, but the House Committee cannot conduct the administrative functions of Government under the Constitution. Somewhere in there lies a line of demarcation where cooperation is undoubtedly needed. I think we shall get it, all right.

Q. May I ask you another question, sir?


Q. Are you satisfied with the reports the F.B.I. has made-satisfied with their work?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, yes. You see, there is one thing I have got to say that is off the record, just for guidance, you might say. There is an awful lot of stuff, I think—an awful lot of stuff that comes in from time to time about Communist activities or about the belief that certain individuals might sabotage something the Government is doing, information which is not sufficient in a court of law to warrant a conviction, but where there might be a danger. There is always a very, very close line where you have people who are suspected, as to what you can do about it; whether you should keep them on under surveillance or discharge them right away—that is in those cases where you can't get a conviction under existing law.

Every case has to be determined on its merits. Let me give you an illustration: It was suggested in talking this whole subject over—not by the Dies Committee but by some entirely outside source. Just what is a Communist? Well, there are probably some people in this room that have signed Communist nominating petitions—I should not be a bit surprised. Does that make you a Communist?

All right, suppose Mr. Bill Jones, in the back of the room, is caught having signed a Communist nominating petition. We have him up on the carpet. We say, "You are a Communist." He says, "Not a bit, but it is my belief that under the law they have a right to their place on the ballot; therefore, in furtherance of my belief in free elections, I signed their petition. I didn't vote for the Communist candidate, but I signed to have him put on the ballot."

You can't convict a man for Communism, for having done a thing of that kind. Every case has to be determined on its merits. And it is perfectly absurd to say that there are 300,000 dangerous people in this country. I dare say some would give me their names and give me the facts on which I would have to separate them from Government service or defense industries.

No, it is a question of orderly administration. I will give you another example: There have been a number of cases, as you know, where people are not only suspected of subversive activities but where we have probably got an open-and-shut case on them. All right. Now, it may be advisable not to arrest them but to leave them right there, because by watching them we may get information from watching them as to connections with other people. It is a matter for discussion; it is a matter for law-enforcing agents of the Government. Of course if we try all these cases out loud, we automatically do a great deal of harm to proper law enforcement. In some cases it is a good thing to try out loud, but not in all.

Q. Mr. President, is there any law or interpretation of law whereby you can keep Communists out of defense industries?


Q. Is there such a law?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, yes, on the grounds that their retention in the Navy yard or arsenal might be dangerous.

Q. I am talking about those having Government contracts.

THE PRESIDENT: There is no law on that, but you carry it into effect by another process. Take a case: What is a near-by plant?— that Martin factory in Baltimore that we looked at, you know. Suppose the Government Inspector for the Army and Navy planes should pick out four or five people, whether they are Communists or not, whom he suspected very seriously of something subversive, some kind of a plot, and had a pretty good case; he could go to Glenn Martin and say, "Now, listen; you ought not to keep those fellows-you ought not to keep them any longer—because I am the Government Inspector and it is my job to see that this contract is carried through without an explosion." Glenn Martin does his inspecting, and if he checks up with our inspection, the fellows are discharged.

Q. But suppose he is merely a member of the Communist Party and they have no case on him?

THE PRESIDENT: It would depend on the individual case. He might be a perfectly innocent little fellow that you would never suspect of hurting a fly.

Q. Mr. President, I should think probably the main thing in all this controversy and discussion is keeping the factories open.

THE PRESIDENT: That is right—open and undamaged.

Q. Mr. President, were all these remarks off the record?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, all are off the record. I think, frankly, it is not a thing that is very much in controversy; I can't see that there is very much controversy about this problem.

Q. Mr. President, may I repeat one question that I asked last week?


Q. You say the objective is to keep the factories open and undamaged. There has been talk on the Hill the last three or four days about the need of some additional legislation, some law to prevent strikes in defense industries. Can you say whether as a result of your subsequent discussions there is need of new machinery?

THE PRESIDENT: It is under daily study at the present time. As of today, I should say we are asking Congress for no additional legislation—as of today.

Q. Sir, the remark you made about keeping factories open and undamaged—is that off the record?

THE PRESIDENT: You can use that.

Q. Mr. President, did the British Ambassador present any specific requests for additional help?

THE PRESIDENT: I am sorry, I shall have to disappoint quite a number of papers; nothing was mentioned in that regard at all, not one single thing—ships or sealing wax or anything else. (Laughter)

Q. Mr. President, as I understand it, we may use what you said about getting Mr. Dies around the table?

THE PRESIDENT: You can use that; in fact, I hope Mr. Dies will come up here this coming Friday because, as you know, I might leave sometime next week and go away. I don't know.

Q. Any decision on where—

THE PRESIDENT: [interposing] No decision when or where.

Q. You said Justice and State Department would come in around the table.


Q. Does that mean the activities of consular agents might be discussed?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't think so.

Q. Could you answer one more question about aviation? As you undoubtedly noticed, there has been talk about minimizing production—if not stopping production—of commercial aircraft. Some of the companies think that would be contrary to public interest, that it would prevent the normal development if all emphasis were given to military production.

THE PRESIDENT: I think a very, very fair answer to that is this: We want to keep commercial aviation going on its present basis; in other words, as far as we can tell, the construction of new commercial ships should proceed at the—what shall I say?—1940 level; but as between increasing production of commercial ships over that amount and thereby taking that away from the military program, the military program ought to come first; I don't want to have to put on priorities. I think it is a matter that the producers of these big commercial ships will see we do not need to have to put on priorities, and that they ought to go along as they are going, and turn all increased facilities over to the military needs of the country.

Q. Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: That does not mean cutting down at all; it means they must not increase. . . .

Q. Can you say when you will see Mr. Carmody on the public roads defense picture? I understand he has prepared something.

THE PRESIDENT: I haven't seen it. I can give you a story on that now which might as well seep in. It will save me some trouble if it seeps into a lot of Congressmen and Senators between now and January-save a lot of time down here. The general policy in this coming budget is going to be to cut down to the bone on non-military public works, because we believe that in the course of the spring and summer the defense program is going to use the greatest number of people who are out of work and who want work and are able to work; in other words, cutting down on the total number of employable needy unemployed. Also, from the financial point of view, we are spending an awful lot of money, and we ought to concentrate as much of that as possible on defense rather than on non-military public works.

Now, on those non-military public works, we are going to spend a very small amount of money on perfecting the project from the planning point of view; in other words, we expect to have a jacket- a folder- for such of these projects as everybody has approved, including the Congress. We expect to have them in such shape, with all the preliminary engineering work done, that we can put the folder up on a shelf; then when this great employment on defense comes to an end—as we hope it will some day—as fast as people are thrown out of work in munitions factories, we shall be able to take these projects that are all planned and engineered, all ready to shoot, off the shelf, and put the people who have been working on defense things back on these useful public works which have been deferred—thereby taking up the slack of jobs and preventing a serious depression.

That is going to be the general policy; and that means we are going to put in for just as little highway money as we possibly can—only enough actually to carry out the obligations that were incurred by this previous Congress and the Congress of last year. This year's and last year's Congress cut down on new rivers and harbors work that are not connected with defense.

Now, of course you do have to remember this, that if the Congressmen from a portion of Chesapeake Bay wanted such and such a creek deepened from four feet to six feet, so that the oyster boats could get in and out more handily, we probably would have all kinds of briefs up here to prove it was a matter vital to national defense. Almost everything in the way of public works, some people try to tie in with national defense. Now, I am trying to lay down a very strict rule that national defense means actually national defense, primarily munitions, and not things like highways.

Q. And oysters?

THE PRESIDENT: And oysters.

Q. Mr. President, would that call for modification of the policy you stated about a year ago of not putting more public works on the shelf until some were taken off?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I am going to just fill up that shelf, with nothing being taken off of it at the present time; for instance, I expect to save money on the thing you are interested in, Pete [Mr. Brandt]—the purchase of public lands, park lands and forest lands, things of that kind. This is not the time to spend money on that kind of projects—parks, roads, national forest trails, highways—except for fire prevention; that is a different thing.

Q. What I had in mind was that there would be nothing in this policy to prevent authorizations by Congress for future-

THE PRESIDENT: [interposing] Oh, no—no objection at all.

Q. It sounds like the P.W.A. is on the way out, or at least very much diminished.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes and no; we are increasing the percentage of defense work that is being done by W.P.A. Of course nobody has ever been willing to admit this: We have, let us say, a million, nine hundred thousand people on W.P.A.; why hasn't it gone down? The reason is that we have three-fourths of a million people—maybe a million—who are on the waiting list of W.P.A. In other words, we have got to absorb gradually as many people as we can out of the 1,900,000, and also as many as possible of the 750,000 who are on the waiting list. You can't get certain editors to admit any such a problem exists. They very carefully overlook it. It is not telling the truth if you refer to one side of that, without referring to the waiting list too.

Q. I have seen some figures about one-half of W.P.A. workers on national defense; do I understand it is your idea to increase that on W.P.A.?

THE PRESIDENT: This is a thing I would not have you say—it is for illustration: Suppose we have two and three-fourths million people on W.P.A. or waiting for it; and suppose we reduce that in the course of the winter and spring until you have only a million and a half all told; out of that million and a half, instead of having the three or four hundred thousand that are now working on defense things, we might have six or seven hundred thousand working on defense projects—an increased percentage.

Q. Mr. President, does the ban on the highways include the so-called defense highway proposition, like the parking shoulders?

THE PRESIDENT: Parking shoulders?

Q. Yes, widening out on the edge, supposedly to let the civilians park as the military goes by.

THE PRESIDENT: You don't mean necking places? (Prolonged laughter)

MR. GODWIN: Time to go, I think! (More laughter)

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Press Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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