Franklin D. Roosevelt
State of the Union Address
January 4, 1935
Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Senate and of the House of
The Constitution wisely provides that the Chief Executive shall report
to the Congress on the state of the Union, for through you, the chosen
legislative representatives, our citizens everywhere may fairly judge the
progress of our governing. I am confident that today, in the light of the
events of the past two years, you do not consider it merely a trite phrase
when I tell you that I am truly glad to greet you and that I look forward
to common counsel, to useful cooperation, and to genuine friendships between
We have undertaken a new order of things; yet we progress to it under
the framework and in the spirit and intent of the American Constitution.
We have proceeded throughout the Nation a measurable distance on the road
toward this new order. Materially, I can report to you substantial benefits
to our agricultural population, increased industrial activity, and profits
to our merchants. Of equal moment, there is evident a restoration of that
spirit of confidence and faith which marks the American character. Let
him, who, for speculative profit or partisan purpose, without just warrant
would seek to disturb or dispel this assurance, take heed before he assumes
responsibility for any act which slows our onward steps.
Throughout the world, change is the order of the day. In every Nation
economic problems, long in the making, have brought crises of many kinds
for which the masters of old practice and theory were unprepared. In most
Nations social justice, no longer a distant ideal, has become a definite
goal, and ancient Governments are beginning to heed the call.
Thus, the American people do not stand alone in the world in their desire
for change. We seek it through tested liberal traditions, through processes
which retain all of the deep essentials of that republican form of representative
government first given to a troubled world by the United States.
As the various parts in the program begun in the Extraordinary Session
of the 73rd Congress shape themselves in practical administration, the
unity of our program reveals itself to the Nation. The outlines of the
new economic order, rising from the disintegration of the old, are apparent.
We test what we have done as our measures take root in the living texture
of life. We see where we have built wisely and where we can do still better.
The attempt to make a distinction between recovery and reform is a narrowly
conceived effort to substitute the appearance of reality for reality itself.
When a man is convalescing from illness, wisdom dictates not only cure
of the symptoms, but also removal of their cause.
It is important to recognize that while we seek to outlaw specific abuses,
the American objective of today has an infinitely deeper, finer and more
lasting purpose than mere repression. Thinking people in almost every
country of the world have come to realize certain fundamental difficulties
with which civilization must reckon. Rapid changesthe machine age, the
advent of universal and rapid communication and many other new factorshave
brought new problems. Succeeding generations have attempted to keep pace
by reforming in piecemeal fashion this or that attendant abuse. As a result,
evils overlap and reform becomes confused and frustrated. We lose sight,
from time to time, of our ultimate human objectives.
Let us, for a moment, strip from our simple purpose the confusion that
results from a multiplicity of detail and from millions of written and
We find our population suffering from old inequalities, little changed
by vast sporadic remedies. In spite of our efforts and in spite of our
talk, we have not weeded out the over privileged and we have not effectively
lifted up the underprivileged. Both of these manifestations of injustice
have retarded happiness. No wise man has any intention of destroying what
is known as the profit motive; because by the profit motive we mean the
right by work to earn a decent livelihood for ourselves and for our families.
We have, however, a clear mandate from the people, that Americans must
forswear that conception of the acquisition of wealth which, through excessive
profits, creates undue private power over private affairs and, to our misfortune,
over public affairs as well. In building toward this end we do not destroy
ambition, nor do we seek to divide our wealth into equal shares on stated
occasions. We continue to recognize the greater ability of some to earn
more than others. But we do assert that the ambition of the individual
to obtain for him and his a proper security, a reasonable leisure, and
a decent living throughout life, is an ambition to be preferred to the
appetite for great wealth and great power.
I recall to your attention my message to the Congress last June in which
I said: "among our objectives I place the security of the men, women and
children of the Nation first." That remains our first and continuing task;
and in a very real sense every major legislative enactment of this Congress
should be a component part of it.
In defining immediate factors which enter into our quest, I have spoken
to the Congress and the people of three great divisions:
1. The security of a livelihood through the better use of the national
resources of the land in which we live.
2. The security against the major hazards and vicissitudes of life.
3. The security of decent homes.
I am now ready to submit to the Congress a broad program designed ultimately
to establish all three of these factors of security a program which because
of many lost years will take many future years to fulfill.
A study of our national resources, more comprehensive than any previously
made, shows the vast amount of necessary and practicable work which needs
to be done for the development and preservation of our natural wealth for
the enjoyment and advantage of our people in generations to come. The sound
use of land and water is far more comprehensive than the mere planting
of trees, building of dams, distributing of electricity or retirement of
sub-marginal land. It recognizes that stranded populations, either in the
country or the city, cannot have security under the conditions that now
To this end we are ready to begin to meet this problemthe intelligent
care of population throughout our Nation, in accordance with an intelligent
distribution of the means of livelihood for that population. A definite
program for putting people to work, of which I shall speak in a moment,
is a component part of this greater program of security of livelihood through
the better use of our national resources.
Closely related to the broad problem of livelihood is that of security
against the major hazards of life. Here also, a comprehensive survey of
what has been attempted or accomplished in many Nations and in many States
proves to me that the time has come for action by the national Government.
I shall send to you, in a few days, definite recommendations based on these
studies. These recommendations will cover the broad subjects of unemployment
insurance and old age insurance, of benefits for children, form others,
for the handicapped, for maternity care and for other aspects of
dependency and illness where a beginning can now be made.
The third factorbetter homes for our peoplehas also been the subject
of experimentation and study. Here, too, the first practical steps can
be made through the proposals which I shall suggest in relation to giving
work to the unemployed.
Whatever we plan and whatever we do should be in the light of these
three clear objectives of security. We cannot afford to lose valuable time
in haphazard public policies which cannot find a place in the broad outlines
of these major purposes. In that spirit I come to an immediate issue made
for us by hard and inescapable circumstancethe task of putting people
to work. In the spring of 1933 the issue of destitution seemed to stand
apart; today, in the light of our experience and our new national policy,
we find we can put people to work in ways which conform to, initiate and
carry forward the broad principles of that policy.
The first objectives of emergency legislation of 1933 were to relieve
destitution, to make it possible for industry to operate in a more rational
and orderly fashion, and to put behind industrial recovery the impulse
of large expenditures in Government undertakings. The purpose of the National
Industrial Recovery Act to provide work for more people succeeded in a
substantial manner within the first few months of its life, and the Act
has continued to maintain employment gains and greatly improved working
conditions in industry.
The program of public works provided for in the Recovery Act launched
the Federal Government into a task for which there was little time to make
preparation and little American experience to follow. Great employment
has been given and is being given by these works.
More than two billions of dollars have also been expended in direct
relief to the destitute. Local agencies of necessity determined the recipients
of this form of relief. With inevitable exceptions the funds were spent
by them with reasonable efficiency and as a result actual want of food
and clothing in the great majority of cases has been overcome.
But the stark fact before us is that great numbers still remain unemployed.
A large proportion of these unemployed and their dependents have been
forced on the relief rolls. The burden on the Federal Government has grown
with great rapidity. We have here a human as well as an economic problem.
When humane considerations are concerned, Americans give them precedence.
The lessons of history, confirmed by the evidence immediately before me,
show conclusively that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual
and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fibre.
To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer
of the human spirit. It is inimical to the dictates of sound policy. It
is in violation of the traditions of America. Work must be found for able-bodied
but destitute workers.
The Federal Government must and shall quit this business of relief.
I am not willing that the vitality of our people be further sapped by
the giving of cash, of market baskets, of a few hours of weekly work cutting
grass, raking leaves or picking up .papers in the public parks. We must
preserve not only the bodies of the unemployed from destitution but also
their self-respect, their self-reliance and courage and determination.
This decision brings me to the problem of what the Government should do
with approximately five million unemployed now on the relief rolls.
About one million and a half of these belong to the group which in the
past was dependent upon local welfare efforts. Most of them are unable
for one reason or another to maintain themselves independentlyfor the
most part, through no fault of their own. Such people, in the days before
the great depression, were cared for by local effortsby States, by counties,
by towns, by cities, by churches and by private welfare agencies. It is
my thought that in the future they must be cared for as they were before.
I stand ready through my own personal efforts, and through the public influence
of the office that I hold, to help these local agencies to get the means
necessary to assume this burden.
The security legislation which I shall propose to the Congress will,
I am confident, be of assistance to local effort in the care of this type
of cases. Local responsibility can and will be resumed, for, after all,
common sense tells us that the wealth necessary for this task existed and
still exists in the local community, and the dictates of sound administration
require that this responsibility be in the first instance a local one.
There are, however, an additional three and one half million employable
people who are on relief. With them the problem is different and the responsibility
is different. This group was the victim of a nation-wide depression caused
by conditions which were not local but national. The Federal Government
is the only governmental agency with sufficient power and credit to meet
this situation. We have assumed this task and we shall not shrink from
it in the future. It is a duty dictated by every intelligent consideration
of national policy to ask you to make it possible for the United States
to give employment to all of these three and one half million employable
people now on relief, pending their absorption in a rising tide of private
It is my thought that with the exception of certain of the normal public
building operations of the Government, all emergency public works shall
be united in a single new arid greatly enlarged plan.
With the establishment of this new system we can supersede the Federal
Emergency Relief Administration with a coordinated authority which will
be charged with the orderly liquidation of our present relief activities
and the substitution of a national chart for the giving of work.
This new program of emergency public employment should be governed by
a number of practical principles.
(1) All work undertaken should be useful- not just for a day, or a year,
but useful in the sense that it affords permanent improvement in living
conditions or that it creates future new wealth for the Nation.
(2) Compensation on emergency public projects should be in the form
of security payments which should be larger than the amount now received
as a relief dole, but at the same time not so large as to encourage the
rejection of opportunities for private employment or the leaving of private
employment to engage in Government work.
(3) Projects should be undertaken on which a large percentage of direct
labor can be used.
(4) Preference should be given to those projects which will be self-liquidating
in the sense that there is a reasonable expectation that the Government
will get its money back at some future time.
(5) The projects undertaken should be selected and planned so as to
compete as little as possible with private enterprises. This suggests that
if it were not for the necessity of giving useful work to the unemployed
now on relief, these projects in most instances would not now be undertaken.
(6) The planning of projects would seek to assure work during the coming
fiscal year to the individuals now on relief, or until such time as private
employment is available. In order to make adjustment to increasing private
employment, work should be planned with a view to tapering it off in proportion
to the speed with which the emergency workers are offered positions with
(7) Effort should be made to locate projects where they will serve the
greatest unemployment needs as shown by present relief rolls, and the broad
program of the National Resources Board should be freely used for guidance
in selection. Our ultimate objective being the enrichment of human lives,
the Government has the primary duty to use its emergency expenditures as
much as possible to serve those who cannot secure the advantages of private
Ever since the adjournment of the 73d Congress, the Administration has
been studying from every angle the possibility and the practicability of
new forms of employment. As a result of these studies I have arrived at
certain very definite convictions as to the amount of money that will be
necessary for the sort of public projects that I have described. I shall
submit these figures in my budget message. I assure you now they will be
within the sound credit of the Government.
The work itself will cover a wide field including clearance of slums,
which for adequate reasons cannot be undertaken by private capital; in
rural housing of several kinds, where, again, private capital is unable
to function; in rural electrification; in the reforestation of the great
watersheds of the Nation; in an intensified program to prevent soil erosion
and to reclaim blighted areas; in improving existing road systems and in
constructing national highways designed to handle modern traffic; in the
elimination of grade crossings; in the extension and enlargement of the
successful work of the Civilian Conservation Corps; in non-Federal works,
mostly self-liquidating and highly useful to local divisions of Government;
and on many other projects which the Nation needs and cannot afford to
This is the method which I propose to you in order that we may better
meet this present-day problem of unemployment. Its greatest advantage is
that it fits logically and usefully into the long-range permanent policy
of providing the three types of security which constitute as a whole an
American plan for the betterment of the future of the American people.
I shall consult with you from time to time concerning other measures
of national importance. Among the subjects that lie immediately before
us are the consolidation of Federal regulatory administration over all
forms of transportation, the renewal and clarification of the general purposes
of the National Industrial Recovery Act, the strengthening of our facilities
for the prevention, detection and treatment of crime and criminals, the
restoration of sound conditions in the public utilities field through abolition
of the evil features of holding companies, the gradual tapering off of
the emergency credit activities of Government, and improvement in our taxation
forms and methods.
We have already begun to feel the bracing effect upon our economic system
of a restored agriculture. The hundreds of millions of additional income
that farmers are receiving are finding their way into the channels of trade.
The farmers' share of the national income is slowly rising. The economic
facts justify the widespread opinion of those engaged in agriculture that
our provisions for maintaining a balanced production give at this time
the most adequate remedy for an old and vexing problem. For the present,
and especially in view of abnormal world conditions, agricultural adjustment
with certain necessary improvements in methods should continue.
It seems appropriate to call attention at this time to the fine spirit
shown during the past year by our public servants. I cannot praise too
highly the cheerful work of the Civil Service employees, and of those temporarily
working for the Government. As for those thousands in our various public
agencies spread throughout the country who, without compensation, agreed
to take over heavy responsibilities in connection with our various loan
agencies and particularly in direct relief work, I cannot say too much.
I do not think any country could show a higher average of cheerful and
even enthusiastic team-work than has been shown by these men and women.
I cannot with candor tell you that general international relationships
outside the borders of the United States are improved. On the surface of
things many old jealousies are resurrected, old passions aroused; new strivings
for armament and power, in more than one land, rear their ugly heads. I
hope that calm counsel and constructive leadership will provide the steadying
influence and the time necessary for the coming of new and more practical
forms of representative government throughout the world wherein privilege
and power will occupy a lesser place and world welfare a greater.
I believe, however, that our own peaceful and neighborly attitude toward
other Nations is coming to be understood and appreciated. The maintenance
of international peace is a matter in which we are deeply and unselfishly
concerned. Evidence of our persistent and undeniable desire to prevent
armed conflict has recently been more than once afforded.
There is no ground for apprehension that our relations with any Nation
will be otherwise than peaceful. Nor is there ground for doubt that the
people of most Nations seek relief from the threat and burden attaching
to the false theory that extravagant armament cannot be reduced and limited
by international accord.
The ledger of the past year shows many more gains than losses. Let us
not forget that, in addition to saving millions from utter destitution,
child labor has been for the moment outlawed, thousands of homes saved
to their owners and most important of all, the morale of the Nation has
been restored. Viewing the year 1934 as a whole, you and I can agree that
we have a generous measure of reasons for giving thanks.
It is not empty optimism that moves me to a strong hope in the coming
year. We can, if we will, make 1935 a genuine period of good feeling, sustained
by a sense of purposeful progress. Beyond the material recovery, I sense
a spiritual recovery as well. The people of America are turning as
never before to those permanent values that are not limited to the physical
objectives of life. There are growing signs of this on every hand. In the
face of these spiritual impulses we are sensible of the Divine Providence
to which Nations turn now, as always, for guidance and fostering care.