Roosevelt’s Inauguration 3/4/33
Courtesy of CSpan.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Inauguration Day. (It was the last before the 20th Amendment moved it to January 21st.) It is hard for us to see though the old film clips but here are some additional notes from H.W. Brand’s biography of Franklin Roosevelt, titled “Traitor To His Class”….

In 1933, the pervading bitterness was similar to that experienced by today’s Republicans. They had talked themselves into believing Herbert Hoover was a shoo in. Instead it was a rout for Roosevelt. Hoover was not a social person to begin with, and his awkwardness continued though out the inauguration….

It was customary at that time, to have the outgoing president host a dinner for the incoming President. Hoover refused, and instead, settled on an awkward afternoon tea… When Mr. Roosevelt tried to mitigate the awkwardness and offer Hoover an early exit, Hoover aggravated the discomfort. “Mr. President” said Roosevelt. “as you know it is rather difficult for me to move in a hurry. It takes me a little while to get up and I know how busy you must be. So please don’t wait for me.” Hoover stood up and affixed Roosevelt with a glare. “Mr. Roosevelt. After you have been President for a while, you will learn that the President of the United States waits for no one…” and stormed off, leaving his wife to say the goodbyes..

Roosevelt began what later becoming tradition, of spending the morning at a private service, this time at St. John’s Episcopal Church. At 11 o’clock the car swung by the Mayflower Hotel and picked up both Franklin and Eleanor, then swung by the White House to pick up Hoover. Hoover surveyed the White House grounds then climbed in and scarcely looked at the Roosevelts…

As the open car pulled down Pennsylvania Avenue, Franklin politely acted like the cheers were for the actual president at that moment, the outgoing one, and declined to acknowledge them… But within blocks the fiction became unattainable and he began acknowledging the crowd by tipping his silk hat and smiling and the anger radiated by Hoover, intensified stronger.

In the Capitol he watched the swearing in of the Senators, and the Vice President John Nance Garner and watched what would be the last adjournment of a Lame Duck Congress. At one o’clock all moved outdoors and in front of a crowd of 100,000, began the ceremonies. Roosevelt was uncharacteristically serious. Many of his staff were surprised by his somber character…

As you can see in the beginning of the clip above, upon taking the oath of office Franklin took the unusual step of repeating back the entire part read from the Constitution, before saying “I do.”

This is a day of national consecration and I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our nation impels.”

Hoover was standing next to Roosevelt and his dour expression became a grimace as he anticipated another attack upon his administration… But Roosevelt proceeded with words of encouragement and hope.

“This great nation will endure as it has endured, and will revive and prosper. Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.– nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror, which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

This line did not resonate as it does now, as the famous line we now know from our study of history. At the time, it was patiently false. Americans did have a lot to fear. Banks were closed. There was massive unemployment. Hunger was widespread, and a financial system could barely get up onto its knees.. If you notice in the clip above, to the line… there is no applause.

More noticed and featured in the following day’s headlines, were these lines assailing “unscrupulous money changers” of Wall Street as those responsible for America’s plight. “Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply”.. “Primarily this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankinds’ goods have failed through their own stubbornness and incompetence.” Waxing eloquently, “the money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may not restore that temple to the ancient truths…”

Other applause lines: “our greatest primary task is to put people to work.” This would be accomplished in part by the “direct recruiting of the government itself; treating the task as we would the emergency of war.”

“We must frankly recognize the overabundance of population in our industrial centers and, by engaging on a national scale in a redistribution , endeavor to provide a better use of the land for those best fitted for the land.”

He calls for “definite efforts to raise the values of agriculture products” for insistence that the “federal, state, and local governments act forthwith on the demand that their cost be drastically reduced”, and he spoke for an “adequate but sound currency”… He set the agenda with this: “The international trade regulations though vastly important, are, in point of time and necessity, secondary to the establishment of a sound national economy.”

If you didn’t get the gist of it, Roosevelt’s words were purposefully vague. They were crafted to inspire confidence that action was forthcoming, without belying that on one yet knew what action or actions would begin to take place. “We must act, and we must act quickly.”

“I shall not evade the clear course of duty that will then confront me. I shall ask the Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crises– broad executive power to wage a war against the emergency as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.

No president, not even Lincoln, had spoken boldly of the power he would require. The American people were demanding much, and they deserved all that government could accomplish for them.

“They asked for discipline and direction under leadership. They have made me the present instrument of their wishes. In the spirit of their gift….. I take it.

He had an amazing 100 days.

There is a huge irony that on this same date, 80 years later, we are facing our first full day of sequestration; the exact opposite of what Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran against, won against, and fought against the entire length of his presidency. And his policies would still be in effect today. if it weren’t for the Republicans and the presidency of George W. Bush.

Roosevelt’s Inauguration 3/4/33

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