Study Guide

FDR's First Inaugural Address Main Idea

By Raymond Moley/Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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  • Main Idea

    You See Me I Be Work, Work, Work, Work, Work

    To paraphrase the famous Britishism, the primary message of FDR's inaugural address is keep calm and get to work.

    While not downplaying the severity of the country's current predicament, he emphasizes that this bump in the road doesn't mean the end of the world. The financial failures of the present can't hold a candle to the dilemmas that faced the Founding Fathers.

    And most importantly, FDR proves he is a man of action by outlining his plan of attack. He admits that circumstances dictate the international community takes a backseat to more pressing domestic issues, saying, "I favor as a practical policy the putting of first things first."

    The first things for FDR? To get people back to work and pull the bank industry back from the edge of complete collapse.

    Questions About Main Idea

    1. The idea of framing the plan to fix the economy in the same light as a war effort is a deliberate choice by speechwriter Raymond Moley. How many references in the address can you find that use warlike language?
    2. Like most political speeches over the past 2,000 years, Roosevelt's inaugural address is littered with biblical references; people love their fire and brimstone. What purpose do they serve in the speech?
    3. FDR blames banks and their greed for the economic collapse, but he also blames the American people and their greedy society. Why does FDR blame the entire system? Is it an effective approach?

    Chew on This

    President Roosevelt's New Deal legislation completely blew up the idea of what government could be by showing people the lifelines that government could provide; programs like Social Security have their roots in these policies and have grown to be respected and depended upon by millions of Americans.

    Despite the success of the public works programs that are the trademarks of the New Deal, the most effective thing Roosevelt did was get Americans to buy into his ideas.

  • Brief Summary

    The Set-Up

    Inauguration speeches are a tradition as American as a game of baseball (and unfortunately just as long).

    But with the country still reeling from the stock market crash, the American public looked to the incoming president for help, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered an address that invigorated the people by promising them the United States would persevere.

    Get it, FDR.

    The Text

    FDR's inauguration was a much-heralded event for citizens across the country after years of suffering. Following the financial collapse, banks collapsed, taking families' entire life savings with them and sending the unemployment rate sky high.

    So when Roosevelt called for swift and decisive action, the people were ecstatic. His plans to mobilize the full might of the U.S. government to put people back to work were the decisive actions citizens were clamoring for; his message that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" (5) were just the words America needed to hear.

    FDR successfully soothed the panicky masses with reassurances of American exceptionalism while outlining the steps the country needed to take to right itself from ruin.

    That's why, to this day, his first inauguration speech remains as stirring and patriotic as ever.


    America is still awesome, banks are big bullies, and Congress can't stop FDR.

  • Questions

    1. Like every American leader since 1776, Franklin Delano Roosevelt could not help but compare the plight of Great Depression Americans to that of the Founding Fathers. Is this a fair comparison? Why or why not?
    2. FDR's first inaugural address calls for bold action on an unprecedented scale: restart the entire banking industry, expand the number of employees on the government's payroll by embarking on enormous infrastructure projects, and pivot the nation's foreign relations policies. What would the response be in Congress today to such a crisis? How would it differ?
    3. Before the days of internet forums, people had to express their joys or frustrations by other means. Believe it or not, this meant actually writing letters. On the heels of his inaugural address, President Roosevelt received a great deal of letters. Tens of thousands, in fact. If you were compelled to write such a letter to the president, what might it say?
    4. Included at the end of Roosevelt's address is a promise/threat of enormous proportions. If Congress continued to do what they had spent the previous three years doing (which was nothing), the president would petition them for executive wartime powers. This would be an unprecedented and frankly alarming development. While past presidents had been given special powers before, most notably Lincoln, it had never occurred during times of peace. Imagine such powers had been asked for and received. How would the world be different? Do you think the country would have remained much the same as it is today?
    5. Many people dream of one day becoming president…though they probably hope the country is in better shape than it was in 1932. But pretend this is your inaugural ceremony. What are your plans? Do you agree with FDR's strategies? Why or why not?

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