Franklin D. Roosevelt
State of the Union Address
January 4, 1939
Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Senate and the Congress:
In Reporting on the state of the nation, I have felt it necessary on
previous occasions to advise the Congress of disturbance abroad and of
the need of putting our own house in order in the face of storm signals
from across the seas. As this Seventy-sixth Congress opens there is need
for further warning.
A war which threatened to envelop the world in flames has been averted;
but it has become increasingly clear that world peace is not assured.
All about us rage undeclared warsmilitary and economic. All about us
grow more deadly armamentsmilitary and economic. All about us are threats
of new aggression military and economic.
Storms from abroad directly challenge three institutions indispensable
to Americans, now as always. The first is religion. It is the source of
the other twodemocracy and international good faith.
Religion, by teaching man his relationship to God, gives the individual
a sense of his own dignity and teaches him to respect himself by respecting
Democracy, the practice of self-government, is a covenant among free
men to respect the rights and liberties of their fellows.
International good faith, a sister of democracy, springs from the will
of civilized nations of men to respect the rights and liberties of other
nations of men.
In a modern civilization, all threereligion, democracy and international
good faith- complement and support each other.
Where freedom of religion has been attacked, the attack has come from
sources opposed to democracy. Where democracy has been overthrown, the
spirit of free worship has disappeared. And where religion and democracy
have vanished, good faith and reason in international affairs have given
way to strident ambition and brute force.
An ordering of society which relegates religion, democracy and good
faith among nations to the background can find no place within it for the
ideals of the Prince of Peace. The United States rejects such an ordering,
and retains its ancient faith.
There comes a time in the affairs of men when they must prepare to defend,
not their homes alone, but the tenets of faith and humanity on which their
churches, their governments and their very civilization are founded. The
defense of religion, of democracy and of good faith among nations is all
the same fight. To save one we must now make up our minds to save all.
We know what might happen to us of the United States if the new philosophies
of force were to encompass the other continents and invade our own. We,
no more than other nations, can afford to be surrounded by the enemies
of our faith and our humanity. Fortunate it is, therefore, that in this
Western Hemisphere we have, under a common ideal of democratic government,
a rich diversity of resources and of peoples functioning together in mutual
respect and peace.
That Hemisphere, that peace, and that ideal we propose to do our share
in protecting against storms from any quarter. Our people and our resources
are pledged to secure that protection. From that determination no American
This by no means implies that the American Republics disassociate themselves
from the nations of other continents. It does not mean the Americas against
the rest of the world. We as one of the Republics reiterate our willingness
to help the cause of world peace. We stand on our historic offer to take
counsel with all other nations of the world to the end that aggression
among them be terminated, that the race of armaments cease and that commerce
But the world has grown so small and weapons of attack so swift that
no nation can be safe in its will to peace so long as any other powerful
nation refuses to settle its grievances at the council table.
For if any government bristling with implements of war insists on policies
of force, weapons of defense give the only safety.
In our foreign relations we have learned from the past what not to do.
From new wars we have learned what we must do.
We have learned that effective timing of defense, and the distant points
from which attacks may be launched are completely different from what they
were twenty years ago.
We have learned that survival cannot be guaranteed by arming after the
attack beginsfor there is new range and speed to offense.
We have learned that long before any overt. military act, aggression
begins with preliminaries of propaganda, subsidized penetration, the loosening
of ties of good will, the stirring of prejudice and the incitement to disunion.
We have learned that God-fearing democracies of the world which observe
the sanctity of treaties and good faith in their dealings with other nations
cannot safely be indifferent to international lawlessness anywhere. They
cannot forever let pass, without effective protest, acts of aggression
against sister nations-acts which automatically undermine all of us.
Obviously they must proceed along practical, peaceful lines. But the
mere fact that we rightly decline to intervene with arms to prevent acts
of aggression does not mean that we must act as if there were no aggression
at all. Words may be futile, but war is not the only means of commanding
a decent respect for the opinions of mankind. There are many methods short
of war, but stronger and more effective than mere words, of bringing home
to aggressor governments the aggregate sentiments of our own people.
At the very least, we can and should avoid any action, or any
lack of action, which will encourage, assist or build up an aggressor.
We have learned that when we deliberately try to legislate neutrality,
our neutrality laws may operate unevenly and unfairlymay actually give
aid to an aggressor and deny it to the victim. The instinct of self-preservation
should warn us that we ought not to let that happen any more.
And we have learned something elsethe old, old lesson that probability
of attack is mightily decreased by the assurance of an ever ready defense.
Since 1931, nearly eight years ago, world events of thunderous import have
moved with lightning speed. During these eight years many of our people
clung to the hope that the innate decency of mankind would protect the
unprepared who showed their innate trust in mankind. Today we are all wiserand
Under modern conditions what we mean by "adequate defense"a policy
subscribed to by all of usmust be divided into three elements. First,
we must have armed forces and defenses strong enough to ward off sudden
attack against strategic positions and key facilities essential to ensure
sustained resistance and ultimate victory. Secondly, we must have the organization
and location of those key facilities so that they may be immediately utilized
and rapidly expanded to meet all needs without danger of serious interruption
by enemy attack.
In the course of a few days I shall send you a special message making
recommendations for those two essentials of defense against danger which
we cannot safely assume will not come.
If these first two essentials are reasonably provided for, we must be
able confidently to invoke the third element, the underlying strength of
citizenshipthe self-confidence, the ability, the imagination and the devotion
that give the staying power to see things through.
A strong and united nation may be destroyed if it is unprepared against
sudden attack. But even a nation well armed and well organized from a strictly
military standpoint may, after a period of time, meet defeat if it is unnerved
by self-distrust, endangered by class prejudice, by dissension between
capital and labor, by false economy and by other unsolved social problems
In meeting the troubles of the world we must meet them as one peoplewith
a unity born of the fact that for generations those who have come to our
shores, representing many kindreds and tongues, have been welded by common
opportunity into a united patriotism. If another form of government can
present a united front in its attack on a democracy, the attack must and
will be met by a united democracy. Such a democracy can and must exist
in the United States.
A dictatorship may command the full strength of a regimented nation.
But the united strength of a democratic nation can be mustered only when
its people, educated by modern standards to know what is going on and where
they are going, have conviction that they are receiving as large a share
of opportunity for development, as large a share of material success and
of human dignity, as they have a right to receive.
Our nation's program of social and economic reform is therefore a part
of defense, as basic as armaments themselves.
Against the background of events in Europe, in Africa and in Asia during
these recent years, the pattern of what we have accomplished since 1933
appears in even clearer focus.
For the first time we have moved upon deep-seated problems affecting
our national strength and have forged national instruments adequate to
Consider what the seemingly piecemeal struggles of these six years add
up to in terms of realistic national preparedness.
We are conserving and developing natural resources-land, water power,
We are trying to provide necessary food, shelter and medical care for
the health of our population.
We are putting agricultureour system of food and fibre supplyon a
We are strengthening the weakest spot in our system of industrial supply-
its long smouldering labor difficulties.
We have cleaned up our credit system so that depositor and investor
alike may more readily and willingly make their capital available for peace
We are giving to our youth new opportunities for work and education.
We have sustained the morale of all the population by the dignified
recognition of our obligations to the aged, the helpless and the needy.
Above all, we have made the American people conscious of their interrelationship
and their interdependence. They sense a common destiny and a common need
of each other. Differences of occupation, geography, race and religion
no longer obscure the nation's fundamental unity in thought and in action.
We have our difficulties, truebut we are a wiser and a tougher nation
than we were in 1929, or in 1932.
Never have there been six years of such far-flung internal preparedness
in our history. And this has been done without any dictator's power to
command, without conscription of labor or confiscation of capital, without
concentration camps and without a scratch on freedom of speech, freedom
of the press or the rest of the Bill of Rights.
We see things now that we could not see along the way. The tools of
government which we had in 1933 are outmoded. We have had to forge new
tools for a new role of government operating in a democracya role of new
responsibility for new needs and increased responsibility for old needs,
Some of these tools had to be roughly shaped and still need some machining
down. Many of those who fought bitterly against the forging of these new
tools welcome their use today. The American people, as a whole, have accepted
them. The Nation looks to the Congress to improve the new machinery which
we have permanently installed, provided that in the process the social
usefulness of the machinery is not destroyed or impaired.
All of us agree that we should simplify and improve laws if experience
and operation clearly demonstrate the need. For instance, all of us want
better provision for our older people under our social security legislation.
For the medically needy we must provide better care.
Most of us agree that for the sake of employer and employee alike we
must find ways to end factional labor strife and employer-employee disputes.
Most of us recognize that none of these tools can be put to maximum
effectiveness unless the executive processes of government are revampedreorganized,
if you willinto more effective combination. And even after such reorganization
it will take time to develop administrative personnel and experience in
order to use our new tools with a minimum of mistakes. The Congress, of
course, needs no further information on this.
With this exception of legislation to provide greater government efficiency,
and with the exception of legislation to ameliorate our railroad and other
transportation problems, the past three Congresses have met in part or
in whole the pressing needs of the new order of things.
We have now passed the period of internal conflict in the launching
of our program of social reform. Our full energies may now be released
to invigorate the processes of recovery in order to preserve our reforms,
and to give every man and woman who wants to work a real job at a living
But time is of paramount importance. The deadline of danger from within
and from without is not within our control. The hour-glass may be in the
hands of other nations. Our own hour-glass tells us that we are off on
a race to make democracy work, so that we may be efficient in peace and
therefore secure in national defense.
This time element forces us to still greater efforts to attain the full
employment of our labor and our capital.
The first duty of our statesmanship is to bring capital and man-power
Dictatorships do this by main force. By using main force they apparently
succeed at itfor the moment. However we abhor their methods, we are compelled
to admit that they have obtained substantial utilization of all their material
and human resources. Like it or not, they have solved, for a time at least,
the problem of idle men and idle capital. Can we compete with them by boldly
seeking methods of putting idle men and idle capital together and, at the
same time, remain within our American way of life, within the Bill of Rights,
and within the bounds of what is, from our point of view, civilization
We suffer from a great unemployment of capital. Many people have the
idea that as a nation we are overburdened with debt and are spending more
than we can afford. That is not so. Despite our Federal Government expenditures
the entire debt of our national economic system, public and private together,
is no larger today than it was in 1929, and the interest thereon is far
less than it was in 1929.
The object is to put capitalprivate as well as publicto work.
We want to get enough capital and labor at work to give us a total turnover
of business, a total national income, of at least eighty billion dollars
a year. At that figure we shall have a substantial reduction of unemployment;
and the Federal Revenues will be sufficient to balance the current level
of cash expenditures on the basis of the existing tax structure. That figure
can be attained, working within the framework of our traditional profit
The factors in attaining and maintaining that amount of national income
are many and complicated.
They include more widespread understanding among business men of many
changes which world conditions and technological improvements have brought
to our economy over the last twenty yearschanges in the interrelationship
of price and volume and employment, for example- changes of the kind in
which business men are now educating themselves through excellent opportunities
like the so-called "monopoly investigation.
They include a perfecting of our farm program to protect farmers' income
and consumers' purchasing power from alternate risks of crop gluts and
They include wholehearted acceptance of new standards of honesty in
our financial markets.
They include reconcilement of enormous, antagonistic interestssome
of them long in litigationin the railroad and general transportation field.
They include the working out of new techniquesprivate, state and federalto
protect the public interest in and to develop wider markets for electric
They include a revamping of the tax relationships between federal, state
and local units of government, and consideration of relatively small tax
increases to adjust inequalities without interfering with the aggregate
income of the American people.
They include the perfecting of labor organization and a universal ungrudging
attitude by employers toward the labor movement, until there is a minimum
of interruption of production and employment because of disputes, and acceptance
by labor of the truth that the welfare of labor itself depends on increased
balanced out-put of goods.
To be immediately practical, while proceeding with a steady evolution
in the solving of these and like problems, we must wisely use instrumentalities,
like Federal investment, which are immediately available to us.
Here, as elsewhere, time is the deciding factor in our choice of remedies.
Therefore, it does not seem logical to me, at the moment we seek to
increase production and consumption, for the Federal Government to consider
a drastic curtailment of its own investments.
The whole subject of government investing and government income is one
which may be approached in two different ways.
The first calls for the elimination of enough activities of government
to bring the expenses of government immediately into balance with income
of government. This school of thought maintains that because our national
income this year is only sixty billion dollars, ours is only a sixty billion
dollar country; that government must treat it as such; and that without
the help of government, it may some day, somehow, happen to become an eighty
billion dollar country.
If the Congress decides to accept this point of view, it will logically
have to reduce the present functions or activities of government by one-third.
Not only will the Congress have to accept the responsibility for such reduction;
but the Congress will have to determine which activities are to be reduced.
Certain expenditures we cannot possibly reduce at this session, such
as the interest on the public debt. A few million dollars saved here or
there in the normal or in curtailed work of the old departments and commissions
will make no great saving in the Federal budget. Therefore, the Congress
would have to reduce drastically some of certain large items, very large
items, such as aids to agriculture and soil conservation, veterans' pensions,
flood control, highways, waterways and other public works, grants for social
and health security, Civilian Conservation Corps activities, relief for
the unemployed, or national defense itself.
The Congress alone has the power to do all this, as it is the appropriating
branch of the government.
The other approach to the question of government spending takes the
position that this Nation ought not to be and need not be only a sixty
billion dollar nation; that at this moment it has the men and the resources
sufficient to make it at least an eighty billion dollar nation. This school
of thought does not believe that it can become an eighty billion dollar
nation in the near future if government cuts its operations by one-third.
It is convinced that if we were to try it, we would invite disasterand
that we would not long remain even a sixty billion dollar nation. There
are many complicated factors with which we have to deal, but we have learned
that it is unsafe to make abrupt reductions at any time in our net expenditure
By our common sense action of resuming government activities last spring,
we have reversed a recession and started the new rising tide of prosperity
and national income which we are now just beginning to enjoy.
If government activities are fully maintained, there is a good prospect
of our becoming an eighty billion dollar country in a very short time.
With such a national income, present tax laws will yield enough each year
to balance each year's expenses.
It is my conviction that down in their hearts the American publicindustry,
agriculture, financewant this Congress to do whatever needs to be done
to raise our national income to eighty billion dollars a year.
Investing soundly must preclude spending wastefully. To guard against
opportunist appropriations, I have on several occasions addressed the Congress
on the importance of permanent long-range planning. I hope, therefore,
that following my recommendation of last year, a permanent agency will
be set up and authorized to report on the urgency and desirability of the
various types of government investment.
Investment for prosperity can be made in a democracy.
I hear some people say, "This is all so complicated. There are certain
advantages in a dictatorship. It gets rid of labor trouble, of unemployment,
of wasted motion and of having to do your own thinking."
My answer is, "Yes, but it also gets rid of some other things which
we Americans intend very definitely to keepand we still intend to do our
It will cost us taxes and the voluntary risk of capital to attain some
of the practical advantages which other forms of government have acquired.
Dictatorship, however, involves costs which the American people will
never pay: The cost of our spiritual values. The cost of the blessed right
of being able to say what we please. The cost of freedom of religion. The
cost of seeing our capital confiscated. The cost of being cast into a concentration
camp. The cost of being afraid to walk down the street with the wrong neighbor.
The cost of having our children brought up, not as free and dignified human
beings, but as pawns molded and enslaved by a machine.
If the avoidance of these costs means taxes on my income; if avoiding
these costs means taxes on my estate at death, I would bear those taxes
willingly as the price of my breathing and my children breathing the free
air of a free country, as the price of a living and not a dead world.
Events abroad have made it increasingly clear to the American people
that dangers within are less to be feared than dangers from without. If,
therefore, a solution of this problem of idle men and idle capital is the
price of preserving our liberty, no formless selfish fears can stand in
Once I prophesied that this generation of Americans had a rendezvous
with destiny. That prophecy comes true. To us much is given; more is expected.
This generation will "nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope of
earth. . . . The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just-a way which if
followed the world will forever applaud and God must forever bless."