Students of history, given the gift of hindsight, can look back at the boom of the 1920s and depression of the 1930s as little more than a time-out between two brutal global conflicts. But in many ways, it seems obvious that by 1933, the world was well on its way to war.
At the same time that President Roosevelt was giving his 1933 inaugural address, Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were tightening their grip on Germany. Soon enough they would envelop Europe, and everyone would be back at war again.
The United States was engaged in a different but no less dangerous kind of struggle. Roosevelt had a couple immediate tasks on the top of his list, but number one was getting people back to work.
Raymond Moley, his longtime speechwriter, came up with the idea of framing the inaugural address as a wartime speech for good reason. It would take the full mobilization of the country's resources to survive the deep depression they were currently in, so FDR's language might as well reflect that. The warfare motif is popular and strong throughout the address, and it reinforces the importance of the battles to come.
Because warfare is unfortunately a much-too-common state of affairs, societies are well prepared to jump into action at a moment's notice. Roosevelt sought to hack into this preparedness by treating the economic turmoil as a foreign enemy, and like a general before a great battle, he used his inaugural address to motivate the public to victory.
Framing a fight against an ideal as a war to be waged is nothing new in the United States, from the war on drugs to the war on terror to Roosevelt's war on the economy. Using the language of warfare to motivate is one thing; spending manpower and resources to fix an unfixable problem is quite another.
There are many culprits to blame for the Great Depression that tanked the global economy in 1929. Some blamed politicians, some themselves. But for the broke and hungry and desperate, there was really only one target: the bankers.
FDR latched onto the populist sentiments and used his 1933 inaugural address to deliver a scathing indictment of the entire system. He used biblical language to cast judgment on the "unscrupulous money changers" (19) and a society greedy enough to favor money and power over morality.
Greed is always on people's minds when times are tough. The Great Depression hit people especially hard because of the Roaring Twenties that had preceded it. For years people had been able to live beyond their means, fueling a golden era in arts and culture. Then the crash brought many down into poverty.
There were surely those whose individual greed helped cause the economic tumult in 1929. But as Roosevelt brought up in his inaugural address, it was also the greed of the American people at large who were most to blame.
For years, our foreign policy has been built on the premise of American exceptionalism—that by our very principles and beliefs, we deserve to shape the world as we see fit. This was as true in Roosevelt's time as it is today.
The United States had kept up an unwavering influence over the Western Hemisphere since the Monroe Doctrine, and by the 1930s, this meant the forced occupation of several Central American nations, primarily to protect business interests.
In order to deal with the crisis at home, Roosevelt states in his 1933 inaugural address that he has decided to pull back troops and devote resources internally. But the incoming president paints this as an example of how chill America is. This is the new American way, at least until the country is back on its feet.
American exceptionalism means never having to say you're sorry. Roosevelt's policy as outlined in the inaugural address, while sensible ("we need all hands on deck at home!"), also serves as a means of slipping out of a decades-long entanglement with little fanfare.
American exceptionalism truly does give the United States a deserved sense of superiority: where else could a freely elected leader enact an unprecedented turnaround?
In the years after Thomas Jefferson made his killer real-estate deal and people played the Oregon Trail IRL, the United States had tons of resources at its disposal.
And while railroads crisscrossed the nation and parts of the West were industrialized, for the most part, the natural bounty of the country remained untouched. Roosevelt saw these resources as ripe for development; in his 1933 inaugural address, he stressed just how much humanity benefited from using and adapting the natural resources of the surrounding countryside. By mobilizing millions of workers to create infrastructure, he was in truth unlocking the nation's full potential.
The America that Franklin Delano Roosevelt grew up in gave the world airplanes, telephones, radio, refrigeration, and a million more scientific achievements. These wonders are only possible by harnessing the bountiful natural resources that America has at its disposal.
Even in the early 20th century, the country was just coming to fully discover the natural beauty and bounty found within its borders. FDR's presidency stood at a crossroads between investing in the future or protecting our natural past, and given all the problems facing the nation, Roosevelt looked to the future.
The atmosphere surrounding Franklin Delano Roosevelt's 1933 inaugural address was clouded by fear. The banking industry had been drained by panicked people, and state by state the system began to shut down completely. Fear swept through the streets as more people were out of work and living in Hoovervilles than ever before.
President Roosevelt saw that people were desperate and afraid of what tomorrow had in store. So right at the opening of his inaugural address, he confronts this nationwide funk head-on with the immortal words, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
People often fear uncertainty. Despite not sharing any concrete plans for his reconstruction efforts, Roosevelt won by a landslide. But he knew that this fear remained. That's why he immediately sets about during his inaugural address to establish that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." (5)
Roosevelt seems to have feared most of all that his bold ideas would be met with shrugs from the American public; his entire speech intends to shake people out of the paralyzed state pure terror can bring about.