Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Acceptance speech for Democratic
nomination for President, June 27, 1936
"That very word freedom, in itself
and of necessity, suggests freedom from some restraining power.
In 1776 we sought freedom from the tyranny of a political autocracy-from
the eighteenth-century royalists who held special privileges from
the crown. It was to perpetuate their privilege that they governed
without the consent of the governed; that they denied the right
of free assembly and free speech; that they restricted the worship
of God; that they put the average man's property and the average
man's life in pawn to the mercenaries of dynastic power; that
they regimented the people.
"And so it was to win freedom from
the tyranny of political autocracy that the American Revolution
was fought. That victory gave the business of governing into the
hands of the average man, who won the right with his neighbors
to make and order his own destiny through his own government.
Political tyranny was wiped out at Philadelphia on July 4, 1776.
"Since that struggle, however, man's
inventive genius released new forces in our land which reordered
the lives of our people. The age of machinery, of railroads; of
steam and electricity; the telegraph and the radio; mass production,
mass distribution-all of these combined to bring forward a new
civilization and with it a new problem for those who sought to
"For out of this modern civilization
economic royalists carved new dynasties. New kingdoms were built
upon concentration of control over material things. Through new
uses of corporations, banks and securities, new machinery of industry
and agriculture, of labor and capital-all undreamed of by the
Fathers-the whole structure of modern life was impressed into
this royal service.
"There was no place among this royalty
for our many thousands of small-businessmen and merchants who
sought to make a worthy use of the American system of initiative
and profit. They were no more free than the worker or the farmer.
Even honest and progressive-minded men of wealth, aware of their
obligation to their generation, could never know just where they
fitted into this dynastic scheme of things.
"It was natural and perhaps human
that the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting
for power, reached out for control over government itself. They
created a new despotism and wrapped it in the robes of legal sanction.
In its service new mercenaries sought to regiment the people,
their labor, and their property. And as a result the average man
once more confronts the problem that faced the Minute Man.
"The hours men and women worked,
the wages they received, the conditions of their labor-these had
passed beyond the control of the people, and were imposed by this
new industrial dictatorship. The savings of the average family,
the capital of the small-businessmen, the investments set aside
for old age-other people's money-these were tools which the new
economic royalty used to dig itself in.
"Those who tilled the soil no longer
reaped the rewards which were their right. The small measure of
their gains was decreed by men in distant cities.
"Throughout the nation, opportunity
was limited by monopoly. Individual initiative was crushed in
the cogs of a great machine. The field open for free business
was more and more restricted. Private enterprise, indeed, became
too private. It became privileged enterprise, not free enterprise.
"An old English judge once said:
'Necessitous men are not free men.' Liberty requires opportunity
to make a living-a living decent according to the standard of
the time, a living which gives man not only enough to live by,
but something to live for.
"For too many of us the political
equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic
inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands
an almost complete control over other people's property, other
people's money, other people's labor-other people's lives. For
too many of us life was no longer free; liberty no longer real;
men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness.
"Against economic tyranny such as
this, the American citizen could appeal only to the organized
power of government. The collapse of 1929
showed up the despotism for what it was.
The election of 1932 was the people's mandate to end it. Under
that mandate it is being ended.
"The royalists of the economic order
have conceded that political freedom was the business of the government,
but they have maintained that economic slavery was nobody's business.
They granted that the government could protect the citizen in
his right to vote, but they denied that the government could do
anything to protect the citizen in his right to work and his right
"Today we stand committed to the
proposition that freedom is no halfand-half affair. If the average
citizen is guaranteed equal opportunity in the polling place,
he must have equal opportunity in the market place.
"These economic royalists complain
that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. VVhat they
really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. Our
allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of
this kind of power. In vain they seek to hide behind the flag
and the Constitution. In their blindness they forget what the
flag and the Constitution stand for. Now, as always, they stand
for democracy, not tyranny; for freedom, not subjection; and against
a dictatorship by mob rule and the overprivileged alike.
"The brave and clear platform adopted
by this convention, to which I heartily subscribe, sets forth
that government in a modern civilization has certain inescapable
obligations to its citizens, among which are protection of the
family and the home, the establishment of a democracy of opportunity,
and aid to those overtaken by disaster.
"But the resolute enemy within our
gates is ever ready to beat down our words unless in greater courage
we will fight for them.
"For more than three years we have
fought for them. This convention, in every word and deed, has
pledged that the fight will go on.
"The defeats and victories of these
years have given to us as a people a new understanding of our
government and of ourselves. Never since the early days of the
New England town meeting have the affairs of government been so
widely discussed and so clearly appreciated. It has been brought
home to us that the only effective guide for the safety of this
most worldly of worlds, the greatest guide of all, is moral principle.
"We do not see faith, hope, and charity
as unattainable ideals, but we use them as stout supports of a
nation fighting the fight for freedom in a modern civilization.
"Faith-in the soundness of democracy
in the midst of dictatorships.
"Hope-renewed because we know so
well the progress we have made.
"Charity-in the true spirit of that
grand old word. For charity literally translated from the original
means love, the love that understands, that does not merely share
the wealth of the giver, but in true sympathy and wisdom helps
men to help themselves.
"We seek not merely to make government
a mechanical implement, but to give it the vibrant personal character
that is the very embodiment of human charity.
"We are poor indeed if this nation
cannot afford to lift from every recess of American life the dread
fear of the unemployed that they are not needed in the world.
We cannot afford to accumulate a deficit in the books of human
"In the place of the palace of privilege
we seek to build a temple out of faith and hope and charity.
"It is a sobering thing, my friends,
to be a servant of this great cause. We try in our daily work
to remember that the cause belongs not to us, but to the people.
The standard is not in the hands of you and me alone. It is carried
by America. We seek daily to profit from experience, to learn
to do better as our task proceeds.
"Governments can err, presidents
do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that Divine
justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the
warm-hearted on different scales.
"Better the occasional faults of
a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent
omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.
"There is a mysterious cycle in human
events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations
much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous
"In this world of ours in other lands,
there are some people, who, in times past, have lived and fought
for freedom, and seem to have grown too weary to carry on the
fight. They have sold their heritage of freedom for the illusion
of a living. They have yielded their democracy.
"I believe in my heart that only
our success can stir their ancient hope. They begin to know that
here in America we are waging a great and successful war. It is
not alone a war against want and destitution and economic demoralization.
It is more than that; it is a war for the survival of democracy.
We are fighting to save a great and precious
form of government for ourselves and for the world.
"I accept the commission you have
tendered me. I join with you. I am enlisted for the duration of