Franklin D. Roosevelt photo

Radio Address on Constitution Day, Washington, D.C.

September 17, 1938

Governor Lehman, my fellow citizens of the State of New York:

It is with deep personal disappointment that I find the affairs of the world such that I cannot be with my neighbors in Poughkeepsie today.

That my great-great-grandfather, Isaac Roosevelt, sat in the little old Court House here one hundred and fifty years ago and cast his vote with the slim majority in favor of ratification of the Federal Constitution is a family tradition of which I am proud.

There are two words in the English language which in the heat of political controversy are often forgotten or abused—the words "faith" and "confidence." It is well for us to remember that a very large minority of the inhabitants of the original Thirteen States opposed the adoption of the Constitution. They had witnessed the complete failure of government under the Articles of Confederation-yet they were opposed to a real union because they believed those leaders who viewed with alarm any effort to think and act in national terms instead of state and local terms.

And, believe me, the viewers with alarm, the patrons of ghosts and hobgoblins in those days had little to learn from the professional fear-mongers of 1938.

I wish that all of you might read the dusty newspapers and pamphlets and handbills of a hundred and fifty years ago. Feelings ran high. Vituperation and invective were the rule. The State of New York would cease to exist and its people would be squeezed to death between the cold-blooded Yankees of New England on the one side and the passionate aristocracy of the South on the other—if you believed one type of publicity. The people of the State of New York would be ruined by interstate tariffs and as a weak independent nation would be reconquered by George the Third, if you read the publicity of the other party.

Washington, Adams, Hamilton and Clinton were labeled traitors and dictators.

In the midst of these diatribes this Constitutional Convention in Poughkeepsie was faced with the problem of saying "yes" or "no." Then, as now, there were men and women afraid of the future—distrustful of their own ability to meet changed conditions; shortsighted in their dog-in-the-manger conception of local and national needs. They were afraid of democracy; afraid of the trend toward unity; afraid of Thirteen States becoming one Nation.

As the weeks went on and an insufficient number of states had approved the Constitution to put it into effect, its opponents at this Convention, realizing more and more that the very existence of that paper organization known as the United States of America was at stake and that public opinion was swinging against them, narrowed their opposition to the fact that the Constitution contained no Bill of Rights.

They held a slim majority against ratification, but at that moment a small group of delegates, in which I am glad to say Dutchess County was well represented, came forward with an appeal to the "faith and the confidence" of the Convention. They agreed that a permanent Constitution for the United States should contain a Bill of Rights—and they proposed ratification by the State of New York "in full faith and confidence" that a Bill of Rights would be promptly submitted to the several States by the first Congress to meet under the Constitution.

You and I know today that it was this proposal which won final adherence to the Constitution by a small margin; and more than that—that this proposal of "full faith and confidence" was in fact carried out by the Congress of the United States when it assembled.

I do not know that it is necessary to elaborate on this parable, or text. It is perhaps sufficient for me to say that when in almost every generation between 1788 and 1938 the American people have been faced with similar decisions, they have in the long run expressed their "full faith and confidence" in the integrity and safety of the national concept.

It required great patience between 1783 and 1788 to bring home the realization that thirteen separate colonies, become thirteen separate states, could not survive as thirteen separate nationalities. Leadership toward the thought of a united Nation had to be patient, and it was. Perseverance of leadership combined with patience has always won.

Once the Constitution was ratified it presented the outline of a form of government. To become a workable instrument of government its words needed men in every succeeding generation to administer it, as great as the men who wrote it.

And the greatest of them have been the men who have sought to make the Constitution workable in the face of the new problems and conditions that have faced the American Nation from year to year.

Yes, the greatest of them have not been those who have said-"It will not work; it cannot be done; it must be changed"—but rather those who have applied to the Constitution of the United States the spirit of "full faith and confidence" which has come down to us today from the Convention which met here in the summer of 1788.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Radio Address on Constitution Day, Washington, D.C. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/209160

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