Franklin D. Roosevelt

Radio Address to the New York "Herald Tribune" Forum

October 24, 1940

Mrs. Reid, Members of the New York Herald Tribune Forum:

In closing this Forum on the subject, "Saving Democracy," I can think of no better text than the final words of the speech which Abraham Lincoln gave in Cooper Institute in New York City on February 27, 1860.

Lincoln was then speaking to an audience to whom he was a stranger. Represented in the audience, said the New York Tribune of that day, was the "intellect and moral culture" of the city. Lincoln warned them against the fear-mongers and the calamity howlers—the "appeasers" of that troubled time, appeasers who were numerous and influential. He said:

Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government, nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it.

We do well to repeat Lincoln's declaration of faith today. It gives the right answer—the American answer—to the foreign propagandists who seek to divide us with their strategy of terror.

The repeaters of these slanders to our democracy, whether conscious disorganizers or unwitting dupes, seem to believe that if they tell us often enough that democracy is outworn and that we are decadent, we shall begin to believe it ourselves, and we shall immediately, obediently proceed to decay.

They have a strange misconception of our national character.

They believe, for one thing, that we Americans must be "hybrid, mongrel and undynamic"—so we are called by the enemies of democracy—because so many races have been fused together in our national community.

They believe we have no common tradition.

They believe that we are disunited and defenseless because we believe in free inquiries and free debate—because we argue with each other—because we engage in political campaigns-because we recognize the sacred right of the minority to disagree with the majority, and to express that disagreement, even loudly.

They believe that we are no match for a dictatorship in which uniformity is compulsory, in which each lives in terror of his neighbor and, worse still, in terror of himself, because the dominant atmosphere is that of the concentration camp.

Despising democracy and not knowing our strength, those who have destroyed other free peoples deem the United States an "effete, degenerate democracy."

At first we dismissed this contempt with our traditional spirit of good humor. We are now replying to it in characteristically American terms. We are preparing for the defense of the American continents, and of the oceans that are the highways of those two continents. And we are doing so in a mood of determination, but unafraid and resolute in our will to peace.

We are aware that the dictators are quick to take advantage of the weakness of others.

As to the humorless theory—that we are "hybrid and undynamic—mongrel and corrupt," and that, therefore, we can have no common tradition—let them look at most gatherings of Americans and study the common purpose that animates those gatherings. Let them look at any church sociable in any small town—at any fraternal convention, or meeting of doctors or mine workers—at any cheering section of any football game; let them look with especial attention at the crowds which will gather in and around every polling place on November fifth. Let them observe the unconquerable vitality of democracy. It is the very mingling of races dedicated to common ideals which creates and recreates our vitality.

In every representative American meeting there will be men and women and children with names like Jackson and Lincoln and Isaac and Schultz and O'Brien and Stuyvesant and Olson and Kovacs and Satori and Jones and Smith. These varied Americans with varied backgrounds are all immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. All of them are inheritors of the same stalwart tradition—a tradition of unusual enterprise, of adventurousness, of courage "to pull up stakes and git moving." That has been the great, compelling force in our history. Our continent, our hemisphere, has been populated by people who wanted a life better than the life they had previously known. They were willing to undergo all conceivable perils, all conceivable hardships, to achieve the better life. They were animated just as we are animated by this compelling force today. It is what makes us Americans.

The bold and the adventurous men, of many racial origins, were united in their determination to build a system which guaranteed freedom—for themselves and for all future generations. They built a system in which Government and people are one—a nation which is a partnership- and can continue as a partnership.

That is our strength today.

The strength of every dictatorship depends upon the power of the one, almighty dictator—supported by a small, highly organized minority who call themselves the "elite."

We depend upon the power and allegiance of the one hundred and thirty million members of our national community from whom our Government's authority is derived and to whom our Government is forever responsible.

We gain in strength through progress- social, intellectual and scientific. The more we perfect means of human communication between all parts of our community, the more united we become. Just as I, as elected head of your Government, am privileged to talk to you over the radio, you talk to me. That is partnership. And it means that when, together, we make a decision, we act upon that decision as partners, and not in the inhuman manner of a capricious master toward his slaves.

The constant free flow of communication among us-enabling the free interchange of ideas—forms the very blood stream of our nation. It keeps the mind and the body of our democracy eternally vital, eternally young.

We see, across the waters, that system undergoing a fearful test. Never before has a whole, free people been put to such a test. Never before have the citizens of a democracy—men and women and little children—displayed such courage, such unity, such strength of purpose, under appalling attack. Their homes and their schools, their churches and their national shrines, are being destroyed. But there is one mighty structure more enduring than marble, more precious than all that man has built, and that is the structure of the democratic faith.

We have confidence in the ability of the democratic system which gives men dignity, to give them strength. And so we say with Lincoln: "Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it."

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Radio Address to the New York "Herald Tribune" Forum Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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