Quotations from the book

Eleanor Roosevelt

The Defining Years 1933-1938

by Blanche Wiesen Cooke


If you have to compromise, be sure to compromise up.

Some people can't stand other people making a decent living.

Peace time can be as exhilarating to the daredevil as war time. There is nothing more exciting than building a new social order.

It is misery that that drives people to the point where they are willing to overthrow anything simply because life as it is is not worth living any longer.

I have never felt people should be grateful for charity. They should rightfully be resentful, and so should we, at the circumstances which make charity a necessity.

Some of us have got to learn to be a little more unselfish about sharing what we have.

[Franklin Roosevelt, 1935 State of the Union speech]

Throughout the world, change is the order of the day.... In most nations social justice, no longer a distant ideal, has become a definite goal. We seek it through tested liberal traditions.

We find our population suffering from old inequalities.... In spite of our efforts . . . we have not weeded out the overprivileged and we have not effectively lifted up the underprivileged. .

We have, however, a clear mandate from the people, that Americans must forswear . . . the acquisition of wealth which, through excessive profits, creates undue private power over private affairs and, to our misfortune, over public affairs as well....

"My first wish is to see this plague of mankind [war] banished from the earth."

Private profit is made out of the dead bodies of men. The more we see of the munitions business, of the use of chemicals, of the traffic in armaments], the more we realize that human cupidity is as universal as human heroism.... If we are to do away with the war idea, one of the first steps will be to do away with all possibility of private profit.

[On the need for a World Court]
We need a court of law to build up a body of international law.

No home is an isolated object . . . All of us buy food, and food costs vary with conditions throughout the country and the world." Trouble with sheep in Australia affected the cost of woolens in Detroit. Wars anywhere touched the lives of our own children in countless ways. But unless each family was aware and curious about world conditions, public opinion would be nothing but a reaction to propaganda.

[Breckenridge Long, ambassador to Italy, rhapsodizing about the achievements of Mussolini's new"corporate state." ]
"Italy today is the most interesting experiment in government to come above the horizon since the formulation of the Constitution 150 years ago." Mussolini "is one of the most remarkable persons . . . And they are doing a unique work in an original manner, so I am enjoying it all.

[George Padmore's Crisis editorial - used in FDR's speech 1935
Where profits are concerned there is no morality among imperialists

To National Student Federation, December 1933]
It is natural to look upon war as glamorous, as showing supreme love and sacrifice for patriotic reasons. But it is just as patriotic and just as selfsacrificing to live for one's country in a way to make it a help to the world and all the people in it....

I have always believed ignorance was a sure way to fall a victim to propaganda. I do not believe in communism, because I do believe in freedom and in our form of government, but I did not attain that loyalty through repression.

[FDR 1936]
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...." They erected a "new industrial dictatorship" which controlled the "hours men and women worked, the wages they received, the conditions of their labor...."

For too many of us the political equality we once had won was mean) ingless 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 1ife was no longer free; liberty no longer real....

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 ...

[FDR, 1936]

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....

Today we stand committed to the proposition that freedom is [indivisible]. 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. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power....

[FDR 1936]

"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 with destiny...."

[Harold Ickes, 1936, about an FDR campaign speech]

FDR presented the fundamental issue that must be decided in this, country . . . whether to have real f eedom for the mass of people, not only political but economic, or whether we are to be governed by a group of economic overlords. It is clear that the President's speech created a profound impression in the country.

[ER's message to women in politics, 1936]

You cannot take anything personally.
You cannot bear grudges.
You must finish the day's work when the day's work is done.
You cannot get discouraged too easily.
You have to take defeat over and over again and pick up and go on.
Be sure of your facts.
Argue the other side with a friend until you have found the answer to every point which might be brought up against you.
Women who are willing to be leaders must stand out and be shot at.
More and more they are going to do it, and more and more they should do it.


[B]usiness and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. hey had begun to consider the government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. And we know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

... true democracy is the effort of the people individually to carry their share of the burden of government."

The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.

We have to face the fact that there are economic causes which bring about war.

I believe that anyone who thinks must think of the next war as they would think of suicide.

How can we study history, how can we live through the things that have lived through and complacently go on allowing the same causes over and over again to put us through those same horrible experiences? I cannot believe that we are going to go on being as stupid as that. If we are, we deserve to commit suicide-and we will!

We can establish no real trust between nations until we acknowledge the power of love above all other powers ....

We must reach a point where we can recognize the rights and needs of others as well as our own rights and needs.

We will have to want peace, want it enough to pay for it, pay for it in our own behavior and in material ways. We will have to want it enough to overcome our lethargy and go out and find all those in other countries who want it as much as we do...

People of the governing classes think only of their own fortunes ... This creates a perfectly artificial but at present most effective secret bond between ourselves and Hitler. Our class interests, on both sides, cut across our national interests.

The power holding group, meaning the capitalists and manufacturers and business men, are distinctly reactionary ...

[Ambassador to Ireland John Cudahy, 1938]
[The] handling of the Jews.while shocking and revolting is from any realistic or logical approach a purely domestic matter and none of our business. It is not stretching the analogy too far to say that Germany would have just as much warrant to criticize our handling of the Negro minority if a race war between blacks and whites occurred in the United States.

If you are in the South someone tells you solemnly that all the members of the Committee of Industrial Organization (CIO) are Communists, or that the Negroes are all Communists.... In another part of the country someone tells you solemnly that the schools . . . are menaced because they are all under the influence of Jewish teachers and that the Jews, forsooth, are all Communists. And so it goes, until finally you realize that people have reached a point where anything which will save them from Communism is a godsend; and if Fascism or Nazism promises more security than our own democracy we may even turn to them.

Every time we shirk making up our minds or standing up for a cause in which we believe. we weaken our character and our ability to be fearless.

I think we need a rude awakening, to make us exert all the strength we have to face facts as they exist in our country and in the world, and to make us willing to sacrifice all that we have from the material standpoint in order that freedom and democracy may not perish from this earth.

... Are you free if you cannot vote, if you cannot be sure that the same justice will be meted out to you as to your neighbor, . . . if you are barred from certain places and from certain opportunities?

"Are you free when you can't earn enough, no matter how hard you work, to feed and clothe and house your children properly? Are you free when your employer can turn you out of a company house and deny you work because you belong to a union?"

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