Study Guide

First Fireside Chat Main Idea

By Franklin Delano Roosevelt

  • Main Idea

    Go on the radio, calm down a nation ready to riot, explain the problem, and give a solution.

    Piece of cake, right? Sure: if you're FDR.

    Franklin Roosevelt accomplishes more in this fourteen-minute speech than most people accomplish over a lifetime (insane accomplishments were kind of his thing). Oh yeah: and he gains the trust and approval of the American people in the process.

    Yeah. We'd hate ol' Delano for being an overachiever…except for the fact that he saved America's bacon on a couple of occasions and managed to be an all-around sweetie pie.

    Oh yeah: and an awesome orator.

    His radio speech explains in clear, simple terms how the American banking system works and how it will be fixed. He reassures the public that their money will return. He lays out a plan to get money flowing back into the economy through the banks. And he throws in a whole heap of confidence and soothing phrases to boot.

    Fourteen minutes well spent, sir.

    Questions About Main Idea

    1. Is it really possible to calm an entire nation with a single fourteen-minute radio speech? If so, how?
    2. What is the connection between the banking system and all of the other financial problems of the Great Depression?
    3. What specific tactics does FDR employ as he tries to win over the American people in this confidence-boosting speech?
    4. Using this speech as an example, how does FDR compare to other American leaders at different times of crisis in U.S. history?

    Chew on This

    In "First Fireside Chat," President Franklin Delano Roosevelt calmed and reassured a nation through the use of radio by employing clear, simple language and reinforcing a sense of community.

    FDR's "First Fireside Chat" helped lead America out of the Great Depression by calming the public, educating them on the American banking system, and reassuring them that their money would return.

  • Brief Summary

    The Set-Up

    President Roosevelt knew he was taking on a huge task in leading the nation during the Great Depression, and he had to get the public on his side—but quick.

    The speech "First Fireside Chat," given just a few days after he took office, was his way of introducing himself to America, building camaraderie, and laying out his plan to get the country fixed.

    The Text

    Think of "First Fireside Chat" as less of a speech, and more of a, well, chat. By the side of a fire.

    In a world with no television, President Roosevelt was coming as close as he could to the American people by talking through the radio on a Sunday night. Radios were a common household item by 1933—even though many people were poor and struggling—and they were often kept in the living room.

    Therefore FDR's speech had all the right pieces in place for sending a personal, calming message. You've got the family together in the living room, perhaps a fire is going, it's the end of a family-oriented weekend day, and your president is giving you a little chit-chat.

    You might not think that Econ 101 constitutes a "little chat," but at the time people were hungry for news and knowledge about what was happening to their country (and more importantly to their money). Also, dude had a very calming voice.

    FDR spends most of this fourteen-minute speech discussing banks—how they work, why he proposed a bank holiday (translation: shutting the banks down), his plan to get them up and running again, and why the people should trust him and the government.

    Roosevelt uses a lot of key words to assure the American people that he's in this fight with 'em, and that he and the government are doing everything they can to right the situation. He focuses on calming and reassuring the public, which was an essential first step to restoring order.

    TL;DR

    Keep calm and keep your money in the bank, y'all.

      
  • Questions

    1. Was FDR patronizing Americans by using simple terms to describe the banking industry?
    2. As President of the United States, Roosevelt certainly wasn't struggling as much as the typical American—did people see through his attempts to connect with the common man?
    3. Without FDR's series of Fireside Chats, would Americans have gotten back on their feet as quickly? What was the true impact of his speeches?
    4. Knowing that many people still hide cash in their homes today, how can we compare people's faith in the banking system during the Great Depression to their faith in it today? Have we fully moved past the fear from that time period?
    5. How would the Fireside Chat have been different if it had been broadcast on television?

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