Franklin D. Roosevelt

Remarks at the Dedication of the Post Office at Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

October 13, 1937

Mr. Chairman, Mayor Spratt, Mr. Postmaster, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I have come today, not in an official capacity, not to make a speech, but as one of your neighbors to take part in your celebration.

Before I say anything about the history of Poughkeepsie, let me straighten out this matter of my being an architect.

I think the easiest way to put it is this: If, when this new Post Office is completed and the murals are in place and you good people of Poughkeepsie have had a chance to look at it, day after day, if, then, you like it, I will take all the credit in the world. But, if you don't like it when it is finished, why, I had nothing to do with it whatsoever.

As a matter of fact, what the Secretary of the Treasury has said to you about government architecture is well worth further study. The government every year builds a great many buildings in order to conduct government business more efficiently. The principal criterion for putting up a new building is, of course, need. The second is economy. It probably is better, in most cases, for the government to own a building than to rent a building. It saves money in the long run.

All over the United States, there are scattered the most terrible monstrosities of architecture perpetrated by the Government on the people of the United States. To be sure, many of them were built during an unfortunate period of art, but in these latter years we think that we have returned to the simpler forms, returned to practical architecture, which, at the same time, has beauty.

And during these past four or five years, partly because of the situation of unemployment in the Nation, we have been able to bring into the Government service many, many people who otherwise might have been out doing private work. To them much credit is due for the improvement of the architecture of all the Federal buildings in every county and every state of the United States.

Poughkeepsie is to be congratulated not only on its past but also on its future on this 250th anniversary of its founding. This City has a memorable history, a history that is concerned with the development of our earliest American civilization, a history that goes back to the days when the first white people came to the Hudson River on this side, in this section, and began tilling the soil, began putting up mills on the banks of the river, began organizing a county form of government.

As a community it became of sufficient importance by the time of the Revolution to become for a period the Capital of the State of New York. It had become of sufficient importance in 1788 to be the scene of the convention called to pass on the ratification of the Federal Constitution. Only two blocks from here that Convention met in the little old courthouse.

I have wished much that we knew more about that Convention a hundred and forty-nine years ago. We do know of the terrific struggle that went on between the Clintonians and the Hamiltonians; how, for many weeks, it looked as if New York State would fail to ratify the Federal Constitution. We know also that if New York had failed to ratify, this Union of ours would have been in the difficult predicament of having about half of its members, the New England States, separated from the other half of its members by the State of New York, not a member. That is why it was such a matter of importance. The deadlock, as most of you know, was over the question whether the Constitution should be ratified in the absence of a Bill of Rights. The people, even in those days, were talking about freedom of religion and freedom of the press, just as they are rightly doing it today. The Clintonian faction insisted that the Constitution should not be ratified because it had no Bill of Rights in it. The Hamiltonian faction, to which incidentally, my great, great grandfather belonged as a member of the Convention, said that it did not make much difference. It took leadership on the part of the Dutchess County delegates to suggest a compromise, the compromise that the State of New York should ratify the Federal Constitution in full faith and confidence that the Bill of Rights would be put in at the earliest possible moment. That is how we New Yorkers came to be a part of the Union and that is one reason why, at the first opportunity, a Bill of Rights was put in.

And then, after the organization of the Federal Government, years passed and this county, this part of the River, became the great granary of New York City. If you will go back in the history of Poughkeepsie to about the middle of the last century, you will find references to what you and I would call "booms." Mills were started up in different parts of the county. Organizations were being formed to build railroads into various parts of the county, and in the early 70's, a group of citizens talked about the first bridge over the Hudson River. Most of those plans were fulfilled.

Very few of us are old enough to remember those days, but most of us who are here can remember, not long ago, a couple of decades, a little more than that perhaps, one of our neighbors who had a vision. He had a vision about what we call "New Market Street." And we can remember the congestion of traffic down there at Main and Market Streets before this extension was built. In those early days Mr. James E. Sague, whom we ought to honor and do honor today, planned the opening up of Market Street Extension. The result of the opening up of this Street gave him the vision, back in those days, that at the head of the street, with a vista extending over many blocks, there should be some beautiful building, well erected and a credit to the city.

And so, though he is gone, his dream is coming true today, and at the head of New Market Street there will be what I hope you will say is an architectural gem.

Yes, I am glad to be here with my neighbors on this Two Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Founding of Poughkeepsie and on the One Hundred and Fiftieth year of the signing of the Constitution of the United States. I think always of Dutchess County and its County Seat as a very close part of my life. And, although I am temporarily resident elsewhere, I get back here, as you know, just as often as public business will let me; and I am going to keep on coming back and being your Neighbor.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Remarks at the Dedication of the Post Office at Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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