Study Guide

First Fireside Chat Themes

By Franklin Delano Roosevelt

  • Duty

    FDR knew the country's economy was in really bad shape—that was kind of an open secret—so perhaps the most important aspect of his "First Fireside Chat" was to remind Americans of their duty to help the situation.

    In this case, duty was more synonymous with "being responsible than, say, "fighting for your country." Roosevelt wanted people to understand the logical, rational effects of their actions…and he really wanted them to stop keeping their cash under their beds.

    Questions About Duty

    1. What types of words or phrases does it take to be able to reach out to millions of people at different levels of education, and convince everyone to behave the same way?
    2. Were any Americans skeptical of Roosevelt's message about duty, thinking that this was all some government ploy? How could FDR have convinced them otherwise?
    3. Did acting responsibly really help the country exit the Great Depression?

    Chew on This

    In appealing to Americans' sense of duty, President Roosevelt made the Great Depression about individual behavior.

    Roosevelt's "First Fireside Chat" attempted to convince Americans that it was their responsibility to pull the country out of the Great Depression.

  • Fear

    Ah, the f-word: possibly the most powerful force during the Great Depression.

    Fear didn't discriminate—you were afraid if you were poor (that you'd never get out of poverty), and you were afraid if you were rich (that you'd lose your money). A major reason for FDR's speech was to calm the feelings of fear in the country, and he did this through intelligent word choice and his ability to connect to the average American citizen.

    Questions About Fear

    1. Is it really possible for one man to convince a fearful nation that everything is going to be okay?
    2. What did it take for Americans to trust their president and lose their fear during the Great Depression?
    3. How might fear have influenced and affected the behaviors of everyday Americans during the Great Depression?

    Chew on This

    Fear was the most powerful motivator of the Great Depression, causing people to panic and make bank runs, hoard their money, and even steal from their neighbors.

    A single influential leader can make the fear of the people disappear through confidence, a sense of connection, and empathy.

  • Perseverance

    There are several moments in FDR's speech where he encourages the public to be patient and push through. Roosevelt knows the Depression was, well, depressing for most Americans, so it makes sense that a good part of his chat is encouraging a "hang in there" attitude.

    Especially important for Roosevelt was urging patience—the banks had been closed, were about to open, and he fully expected people to rush out and withdraw money. By not opening every bank at once, the government could check on the situation and monitor as needed, but he was worried people might get upset that their personal bank had not yet opened.

    Questions About Perseverance

    1. What words does FDR use to encourage perseverance and patience?
    2. What types of words or phrases might you use as president to encourage your nation to push through a hard time?
    3. What guarantee does Roosevelt have that his nation will heed his message and act accordingly?

    Chew on This

    Urging the public to persevere and stay patient through the bank holiday was of utmost importance in "First Fireside Chat" due to the fact that banks would be opening slowly…and due to the fact that nation had a tendency to panic.

    In encouraging a "push through this" attitude, FDR connected with his people and provided the confidence needed to weather the storm.

  • Patriotism

    Got to hand it to FDR: that guy knew how to choose a word.

    Another word for patriotism is loyalty, but "loyalty" might imply passivity, while "patriotism" implies active admiration. Franklin Roosevelt does well by bringing up patriotic elements often in his "First Fireside Chat." He doesn't tell them to be patriotic; instead he applauds their understanding of the government.

    Questions About Patriotism

    1. How does Roosevelt use word choice and phrasing to get Americans to believe in his message and himself as a leader?
    2. Do the numerous discussions on patriotism in "First Fireside Chat" feel forced or natural? Why?
    3. How does Roosevelt use patriotism to further the ultimate goal of economic progress and exiting the Great Depression?
    4. Why might people accept and believe FDR's message of patriotism, and why might they be skeptical of it?

    Chew on This

    In order to gain the support and trust of the people, Roosevelt describes powerful government actions as patriotic. He's being manipulative.

    Patriotism is at the heart of "First Fireside Chat," as Roosevelt appeals to America's sense of unity and purpose early and often.

  • Compassion

    Sometimes it's necessary for a leader to act like a caring parent, and treat his subjects like his children. Especially when the proverbial kitty litter is hitting the proverbial fan.

    Roosevelt smartly weaves compassion into his "First Fireside Chat," both for a calming effect and to earn the trust of America. The key point in using compassion in this speech is to relate to the common man, to understand his problems and to build a sense of caring and wellbeing.

    During the Great Depression, many people felt (rightfully) sorry for themselves, and perhaps a figurative pat on the shoulder was what they needed to feel understood.

    Questions About Compassion

    1. How does FDR project compassion in his speech?
    2. How can an individual such as the President of the United States seem genuinely compassionate, when he wasn't experiencing the same financial troubles as the nation?
    3. Did Americans in the 1930s take FDR's compassion as genuine, or as forced?
    4. Compassion doesn't put food on the table or money in the bank, so what is the overall effect of this tactic in "First Fireside Chat?"

    Chew on This

    Through coming across as genuine and compassionate, President Roosevelt won the trust of his people and renewed a sense of hope in the nation.

    Roosevelt's attempts at compassion in "First Fireside Chat" were easy to see through and clearly political in nature.