Study Guide

First Fireside Chat Quotes

By Franklin Delano Roosevelt

  • Duty

    I know that when you understand what we in Washington have been about, I shall continue to have your cooperation as fully as I have had your sympathy and your help during the past week. (6)

    In asking for the public's cooperation, FDR is appealing to our sense of responsibility. He creates a sense of "we're in this together" by combining cooperation, sympathy, and help all in the same statement. Notice his phrasing at the beginning—he's being honest and transparent, describing what's going on at the government level. When he speaks in such a way, responsibility feels less like a command, and more like a duty the people are happy to fulfill.

    Because of undermined confidence on the part of the public, there was a general rush by a large portion of our population to turn bank deposits into currency or gold—a rush so great that the soundest banks couldn't get enough currency to meet the demand. (13)

    FDR references the infamous bank runs. This statement isn't exactly accusatory, but it's certainly a warning. By talking about the population in general, and describing the undesirable behavior (rushing the banks), he's sending a message of duty—it is Americans' duty to not panic, and to not rush the banks. Keep in mind that FDR is about to reopen the banks, and he knows the past may repeat itself.

    Let me make it clear to you that the banks will take care of all needs, except, of course, the hysterical demands of hoarders. (45)

    Hoarders in the Great Depression weren't people that kept hundreds of old CVS bags; they were people who kept cash in their houses instead of the bank out of fear that the banks would lose their money.

    And to be honest, they weren't that far off.

    However, FDR has a very valid point that hoarding harms the economy. By calling out those who had or were thinking about hoarding their money, FDR instills a sense of duty and responsibility to the nation.

    I can assure you, my friends, that it is safer to keep your money in a reopened bank than it is to keep it under the mattress. (48)

    Roosevelt builds on his central point that keeping money out of the banks is bad for the country. Remember, money in a bank can be loaned out to others in order to buy a house, a car, or to go to school—the money is used to generate more money in the economy. By not trusting the system and keeping your money "under the mattress," the economy stops moving forward. More than anything, during the Great Depression money needed to be out and about, being used and invested.

    The success of our whole national program depends, of course, on the cooperation of the public—on its intelligent support and its use of a reliable system. (49)

    Roosevelt is smart to use words such as "intelligent" and "reliable", because by complimenting the public he's encouraging the responsible behavior he wants to see. By emphasizing that the system is reliable, and calling Americans intelligent, he's implying that anyone who's smart would trust a working system.

  • Fear

    This bank holiday, while resulting in many cases in great inconvenience, is affording us the opportunity to supply the currency necessary to meet the situation. (23)

    By acknowledging the "inconvenience" of the banks being closed, Roosevelt not only connects with the common person, but also empathizes with their fear. Remember, banks were the only way to get cash in the 1930s, so if a bank was closed and you were out of cash, you literally couldn't buy groceries.

    No one pictures the President of the United States wandering into a bank to withdraw grocery money, so it must have been quite reassuring for Americans to hear their leader say that he understands their desperation (let's face it, "inconvenience" is a pretty light term here). By doing so, he eases their fear that the banks are closed for good.

    The new currency is being sent out […] It is sound currency because it is backed by actual, good assets. (27)

    A major fear after the banks were closed was that once they restocked their cash, the money would be worth less than it was before. To expand on FDR's "Economics 101," when people demanded their money during the first bank runs, the banks had to sell assets or call in loans in order to meet that demand.

    This is not the way it's supposed to work, so they had to take a loss on the real value of the money. People knew this, as they might have deposited say $1,000 originally, then only got $500 back. There was a very real fear that the same thing would happen after FDR's bank holiday. This quote is meant to help people realize that fear is unfounded.

    Your government does not intend that the history of the past few years shall be repeated. We do not want and will not have another epidemic of bank failures. (31)

    "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," right?

    FDR's addressing the people's fear of another crash (and another depression) simply by being aware of the past. Even his word choice of "epidemic" deals with fear—disease and the spread of it are usually scary things. FDR is reassuring the people that he's in control…and that things are stabilizing.

    Please let me make it clear to you that if your bank does not open the first day you are by no means justified in believing that it will not open. (38)

    Besides the fear of money losing its value, there was the very real fear that banks would simply not be open again. Imagine putting your hard-earned (and now hard to earn) money in the bank for safe-keeping, and then a week later seeing that that bank is permanently closed.

    You'd probably panic.

    FDR's simple, clear words are meant to reassure people that yes, the banks will open, even if there's a few days of lag time.

    It needs no prophet to tell you that when the people find that they can get their money […] the phantom of fear will soon be laid. (46)

    Check out the great choice of words here with "phantom of fear." A phantom is a ghost, (spooky!) but is also something that can't touch you or be touched. It's ephemeral.

    President Roosevelt is talking to his people in the same way that a father might reassure a child who's scared of monsters under the bed. Once people realize their money exists and is safe, then they'll stop heeding the fear that everything is gone.

  • Perseverance

    It is necessary that the reopening of banks be extended over a period in order to permit the banks to make applications for the necessary loans, to obtain currency needed to meet their requirements, and to enable the Government to make common sense checkups. (37)

    The banks had been closed for several days, and people were more than antsy to go withdraw cash. FDR tries to encourage Americans to persevere and remain patient, with the end goal of not having the same bank runs and panics that the country had just experienced.

    Note the word choice of "common sense"—by using this phrase, Roosevelt is sending the message that these checks need to happen, and that the slow openings of banks is justified.

    I know that many people are worrying about State banks that are not members of the Federal Reserve System. There is no occasion for that worry. (40)

    Reassurance and confidence. Remember, the Federal Reserve Banks (in twelve major cities) were opening first, followed by small banks over the next few days. Roosevelt doesn't want people to panic that their non-Fed bank would never open, so he's being clear and straightforward about the process. The more calm people feel, the easier it is to persevere and wait another day or two.

    It has been wonderful to catch the note of confidence from all over the country. (66)

    Whether Roosevelt actually heard average Americans expressing this confidence or not, by referencing it he is thanking the country for persevering and staying patient. He's implying that things are getting better, and he's attributing the success to the "hang tough" attitude of Americans. Again, it's much easier to persevere through hard times if you feel confident that life is about to get better.

    You people must have faith; you must not be stampeded by rumors or guesses. Let us unite in banishing fear. (70)

    Having faith means believing that something will work. Roosevelt needs his citizens to stay strong and believe that the banks will be open for business and stay open for business. Interesting word choice here with "stampede," as though he's suggesting that not persevering or losing our patience could result in being crushed.

    It is your problem, my friends, your problem no less than it is mine. (73)

    FDR connecting with his audience, sharing the weight of suffering. How can the president ask his people to persevere if he himself doesn't have to? Adding this line to the speech is smart for many reasons, but we think the primary reason is that it helps him win the empathy and trust of the people.

  • Patriotism

    The second step, last Thursday, was the legislation promptly and patriotically passed by the Congress confirming my proclamation and broadening my powers […]. (19)

    Do you see the hidden danger in this line? Roosevelt is admitting that he has given himself more power as a president. Knowing what we know from history, this is a dangerous game.

    You may have learned about powerful leaders in world history, changing their country's rules in increase their power and become absolute dictators. (Side note: FDR is not remembered as a despotic dictator, but he did have his critics who said he wielded his power in ways other presidents never had.) Roosevelt's reference to Congress' patriotism is his way of convincing the American people that it's all good…and that his increase in power is meant to help, not harm.

    And I want to tell our citizens in every part of the Nation that the national Congress—Republicans and Democrats alike—showed by this action a devotion to public welfare and a realization of the emergency and the necessity for speed that it is difficult to match in all our history. (21)

    When Republicans and Democrats work together it's called being bipartisan (today it's simply called "rare"—zing!). By notifying the public of Congress' bipartisan agreements, he's saying that we're all in this together with a common goal and purpose. The average American might think, "Well, if Congress is working together and behind this, I guess I should be too." Patriotism shines in this quote through the political party reference, and the reference to history.

    The success of our whole national program depends, of course, on the cooperation of the public—on its intelligent support and its use of a reliable system. (49)

    If you want your people to be patriotic, it's probably wise to compliment them. By calling Americans "intelligent" and reminding them that the government's system is "reliable," FDR is increasing the patriotic feelings of the public. He is unifying everyone under the umbrella of America's "national program," and by saying that success depends on the people, he is giving them power and choice. He's guiding them towards the choice he wants, of course, but such encouragement is part of crafty speech writing.

    I hope you can see, my friends, from this essential recital of what your Government is doing that there is nothing complex, nothing radical in the process. (57)

    Transparency is the name of the game here. Roosevelt is saying that he's not up to anything shady, and he's not trying to trick the American people. He's not trying to change the entire system (that'd be the "radical" part). He is saying that people need to be patriotic by believing that their government has their best interests in mind.

    I can never be sufficiently grateful to the people for the loyal support that they have given me in their acceptance of the judgment that has dictated our course, even though all our processes may not have seemed clear to them. (67)

    A great way to encourage loyalty and patriotism is to thank people for it. What's funny here is that whether or not Roosevelt actually has the support of his people, by thanking them for it everyone will assume that the nation does support him, so they'll go along with it.

  • Compassion

    My friends. (1)

    True, this line is about as short as it gets. But what does it accomplish? Roosevelt could have started his chat any number of ways (a common one today is "my fellow Americans"), but by choosing these words he immediately sets the tone of compassion and understanding. By saying "my friends" Roosevelt puts himself on more equal footing with the common man, and links himself to the public through more than just being their president.

    I want to tell you what has been done in the last few days, and why it was done, and what the next steps are going to be. (3)

    Transparency shows that Roosevelt trusts his people enough to fill them in on the details. He's being compassionate by saying they deserve to know what's going on. By opening up to his people, FDR builds trust and continues the sense of friendship.

    I can assure you, my friends, that it is safer to keep your money in a reopened bank than it is to keep it under the mattress. (48)

    By referencing ye olde mattress trick, Roosevelt shows the people that he knows what they're going through. This is actually a super-powerful move. Think about it—Roosevelt almost certainly wasn't hiding money under his mattress, nor had he ever had to in his life.

    By simply referring to this practice, he makes a connection with the average citizen and probably made them smile inside, as if to say, "Hey, I guess other people are doing that too…" Of course, he also throws in another "my friends" which never hurts.

    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 themselves. (68)

    Notice the "more important than gold" part here. The problem is money, right? The economic situation is horrible, right? Shouldn't gold be the single most important thing at this point in time?

    Yet Roosevelt says that it's the people and their confidence that are more important than anything else. Suggesting that his people are more important than money, during a time of severe economic depression, is about as compassionate as it gets.

    It is your problem, my friends, your problem no less than it is mine. Together we cannot fail. (73)

    FDR's famous last line comes up often, and for good reason. In one fell swoop he connects himself to the common man, shares in the struggle, and gives hope for the future.