FDR’s Fireside Chats
Roosevelt worked hard to gain the trust of the common man, and the new technology of the radio proved to be one of his most effective tools. Beginning within days of his inauguration and continuing intermittently throughout his twelve years in office, FDR reached out to the American people through “Fireside Chats,” speeches that he delivered over the airwaves on topics of vital national importance. FDR’s Secretary of Labor and the first female cabinet member, Francis Perkins, described the president’s manner during these talk shows.His head would nod and his hands would move in simple, natural, and comfortable gestures. His face would smile and light up as though he were actually sitting on the front porch or in the parlor with them.
Click to EnlargeRoosevelt later admitted that he often pretended to converse face-to-face with people when he spoke into the microphone. As president, he delivered 27 of these speeches, usually lasting 30 minutes or less and scheduled between 9:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. on Sunday nights.
Given the desperate nature of the times, millions of Americans gathered around their fireplaces and listened intently to what the president had to say. Over time, many people developed a personal identification with him and would credit him with positive changes in their lives as the economy slowly improved—”He gave me a job” or “He saved my home.” Below are the last few paragraphs from FDR’s first fireside chat on March 12, 1933, eight days after his inauguration. He addressed the American people on the poor state of the banking industry, explaining what had been done to stabilize the financial network and why. More importantly, though, he was trying to reassure them and restore confidence in the nation’s economic systems. An estimated 60 million Americans listened to the speech. Read the short excerpt, and proceed to the exercise.
FDR’s first “Fireside Chat,” March 12, 1933
We had a bad banking situation. Some of our bankers had shown themselves either incompetent or dishonest in their handling of the people’s funds. They had used the money entrusted to them in speculations and unwise loans. This was of course not true in the vast majority of our banks but it was true in enough of them to shock the people for a time into a sense of insecurity and to put them into a frame of mind where they did not differentiate, but seemed to assume that the acts of a comparative few had tainted them all. It was the Government’s job to straighten out this situation and do it as quickly as possible — and the job is being performed.
Click to EnlargeI do not promise you that every bank will be reopened or that individual losses will not be suffered, but there will be no losses that possibly could be avoided; and there would have been more and greater losses had we continued to drift. I can even promise you salvation for some at least of the sorely pressed banks. We shall be engaged not merely in reopening sound banks but in the creation of sound banks through reorganization. It has been wonderful to me to catch the note of confidence from all over the country. I can never be sufficiently grateful to the people for the loyal support they have given me in their acceptance of the judgment that has dictated our course, even though all of our processes may not have seemed clear to them.
After all there is an element in the readjustment of our financial system more important than currency, more important than gold, and that is the confidence of the people. Confidence and courage are the essentials of success in carrying out our plan. You people must have faith; you must not be stampeded by rumors or guesses. Let us unite in banishing fear. We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system; it is up to you to support and make it work.
It is your problem no less than it is mine. Together we cannot fail.
- As in his inaugural address, FDR relies on simple, easily understood language to emphasize the importance of overcoming fear and restoring confidence. Why is that so important, and what role does confidence play in the larger economy?