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FDR's Brother's Keeper Speech
About North Georgia

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Happening about this time:
April 5-6, 1936 Tornadoes strike Gainesville, Georgia.

March 11-12, 1938 Germany annexes Austria (Anschluss).


Franklin Delano Roosevelt
President of The United States of America
Gainesville, Georgia
March 23, 1938
Audience estimated at 50,000. Bold text relates to Discussion Points.


Mr. Chairman, Governor Rivers, Mayor Brown, and I can come closer than any President since Wilson to saying, My Fellow Georgians: (Applause)

Although I have lived for a long time in Middle Georgia, I take pride in the fact that the blood of North Georgia runs in the veins of my children. (Applause)

Twice I tried to come to Gainesville and twice I was prevented by one of the infirmities that might attack any of us.

The third try brings me here and brings me here for the first time since that day in 1936 when, for a few minutes, my train stopped at the station and I saw the havoc of the great tornado.

This celebration, the outward and visible commemoration of the rebirth of Gainesville, is more than a symbol of the fine courage which has made it possible for this city to come back after it had been in great part destroyed.

These ceremonies touch the interest and life of the whole Nation because they typify citizenship, citizenship which is latent in the American character that has too often remained quiescent and too seldom expresses itself. You were not content to clear away the debris that I, myself, saw that day, a couple of days after the disaster. You were not content with rebuilding along the lines of the old community. You were not content with throwing yourselves on the help that could be given to you by the State and by the Federal Government.

On the contrary, you determined in the process of rebuilding to eliminate old conditions of which you were not proud; to rebuild a better city; to replace congested areas with parks; to move human beings from slums to suburbs. For this you, the good people of Gainesville, deserve all possible praise.

It is true that in the planned work of rebuilding you received Federal assistance.

Yesterday, Chairman Jesse Jones of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation told me that his corporation has invested nearly a million dollars in Gainesville after the disaster with the objective of helping to rebuild the city and that in all these years he knows of no similar sum that has been used to better advantage. (Applause) The Public Works Administration in Washington aided in projects for schools, for an almshouse, for this courthouse, for water works and for a jail -- I don't believe you need a big jail here -- and the Works Progress Administration assisted not only in cleaning up the wreck and taking care of destitute families but also in repairing sewers and sidewalks, street lighting, pavements and parks and schools. But all of this would have been wholly insufficient if you had not provided far greater help from your own ranks, help in the form of money, help in the form of work, and most important of all, help in the form of unselfish cooperation.

In the task there has been an essential unanimity, a unanimity in the gift of personal interest and personal service. Few among your citizens have held back. You had needs -- great needs. They were met in accordance with the democratic principle that those needs should be filled in proportion to the ability of each individual to help.

Every great disaster brings something good out of it and this disaster in 1936 has brought out good, great good, in Gainesville. I am glad that my friend, your Congressman, used that word "soul." This work needs every soul. I spoke of great disasters doing some good. A great many years ago I heard of a disaster in Georgia that brought great good in many other parts of the Nation.

Way back about a hundred years ago the City of Macon built like the older cities in the state, with narrow streets, was visited by a great fire and practically two-thirds of the city was wiped out, the fire spreading from block to block. On the day of the fire, there were two young men from Savannah in Macon. The two young men had decided to join the Mormons on their great trip from the banks of the Mississippi out to the Far West. They helped in clearing away the wreck from the fire, intending to move on the next day. But, there was so much to do that they stayed for a month or two, rebuilding Macon. And when the city fathers came to rebuild the City of Macon, they decided that in order to avoid a recurrence of the fire they would lay out the city with very wide streets, streets so wide that a conflagration could not jump from one block to another. That is one reason why so many of the streets of Macon, Georgia, today are of such a magnificent width.

The two young men left and rode on to the Mississippi, joined Brigham Young and the rest of the Latter Day Saints and finally came across into that Great Basin of Great Salt Lake. The Mormon leaders decided that that was the place they wanted for their homes and they undertook to lay out a city, a city according to the normal lines of the period, with narrow streets, with blocks and houses huddled in close to each other. The building materials being mostly of wood there was, of course, a hazard of fire. These two boys, who had come from Savannah, went to Brigham Young and said "You must not do that; you must lay out the streets two hundred feet wide of else your city will burn up. As a result of what they told him of what they had learned in Macon, the streets of Salt Lake City today are the widest streets of any in the United States. They had learned a lesson from the disaster in Georgia.

I wish that all who hear my voice could see this great Civic Center, with its beautiful courthouse that faces me as I speak. It has a national significance and I want to give you a few illustrations of where and how the application of this principle established here applied to national problems would help greatly to solve our national needs.

Today, national progress and national prosperity are being held back chiefly because of selfishness on the part of a few. If Gainesville had been faced with that type of minority selfishness your city would not stand rebuilt as it is today.

The type of selfishness that I am referring to is definitely not to be applied to the overwhelming majority of the American public.

Most people, if they know both sides of a question and are asked to support the public good, will step forward and lay aside selfishness. But we must admit that there are some people who honestly believe in a wholly different theory of government than the one our Constitution provides.

You know their reasoning. They say that in the competition of life for the good things of life "some people are successful because they have better brains or are more efficient; the wise, the swift and the strong are able to outstrip their fellowmen." And they say that that is nature itself and you cannot do anything about it and it is just too bad if some, the minority of people, get left behind.

It is that attitude which leads such people to give little thought, to give anything but lip service, to the one-third of our population which I have described as being ill-fed, ill-clad, and ill-housed. The majority of them say, "I am not my brother's keeper" -- and they "pass by on the other side." Most of them are honest people. Most of them consider themselves excellent citizens.

But, my friends, this Nation will never permanently get on the road to recovery if we leave the methods and processes of recovery to those people who owned -- I say "owned" -- the Government of the United States from 1921 to 1933. (Applause)

They are the kind of people who, in 1936, the last national campaign, were saying, "Oh, yes, we want nobody to starve" but at the same time were insisting that the balancing of the budget was more important than making appropriations for relief. And when I told them that I, too wanted to balance the budget but that I put human lives ahead of dollars and handed them the book of the government estimates and asked them just where they would out the appropriations, inevitably they folded up and came back and told me, "Mr. President, that is not my business, that is yours."

Yes, they have the same type of mind as those representatives of the people who vote against legislation to help social and economic conditions, proclaiming loudly that they are for the objectives but they do not like the methods and then fail utterly to offer a better method of their own.

I speak to you of conditions in this, my other State. The buying power of the people of Georgia and of the people of many other states is still so low today that the people of these states cannot purchase the products of industry. Therefore, industry itself is cut off from an outlet that it otherwise would have. People cannot buy at stores unless they have cash or good credit. Stores cannot fill their shelves unless they have customers.

Mills and factories cannot sell to stores who have no customers.

I speak not only of the workers in the bottom third of our population -- millions of them who cannot afford to but a suit of clothes. I speak also of millions of other workers who are so under-employed or so underpaid that the burden of their poverty affects the little business man and the big business man and the millionaire himself.

Georgia and the lower South may just as well face facts -- and you Governor understands those facts -- simple facts that he has presented and that I present to you as President of the United States. The purchasing power of the millions of Americans in this whole area is far too low. Most men and women who work for wages in this whole area get wages which are far too low. On the present scale of wages and therefore on the present scale of buying power, the South cannot and will not succeed in establishing successful new industries, as we ought to. Efficiency in operating industries goes hand in hand with good pay and the industries of the South cannot compete with industries in other parts of the Nation, unless the buying power of the South makes possible the highest kind of efficiency.

And, my friend, let us well remember that buying power means many other better things -- better schools, better health and hospitals, better highways. These things will not come to us in the South if we oppose progress -- if we believe in our hearts that the feudal system in still the best system.

And, when you come down to it, there is little difference between the feudal system and the Fascist system. If you believe in the one, you lean toward the other and I am opposed to Fascism as I am opposed to Communism. (Applause)

Yes, with the overwhelming majority of the people of the State of Georgia, I oppose feudalism. So do many among those who by virtue of their circumstances in life belong no only to the lowest income group or the middle income group but belong also to the most prosperous 5% of the population. Men and women in the professions, the overwhelming majority of the small storekeepers, a growing number of the bankers and business man -- they are coming more and more to see that the continuation of the American system calls for the elimination of special privilege, the dissemination of the whole truth, and participation in prosperity by the people at the bottom of the ladder, as well as those in the middle and those at the top.

One thing is certain -- we are not going back to the old days. (Applause) We are going forward to better days. We are calling for cooperation all along the line and that cooperation is increasing because more and more people are coming to understand that abuses of the past which have been successfully eradicated are not going to be brought back.

To those in and out of public office, who still believe in the feudal system and have leanings to the Fascist system -- and believe in it honestly -- the people of the United States and in every section of the United States are going to say "We are sorry, but we want people to represent us whose minds are cast in the 1938 mold and not the 1898 mold." (Applause)

To those who come forward, -- and they are coming in increasing numbers day by day, -- we say, "We, the Government of the United States, all of us in that Government, want to cooperate for the good of the whole Nation. To you we extend the hand of Welcome."

Gainesville suffered a great disaster. So did the Nation in those eight years of false prosperity followed by four years of collapse. Gainesville showed a united front for the good of its whole population, rich and poor alike. It rose to rebuild on sounder lines.

Today, The United States is rising and rebuilding on sounder lines. We propose to go forward and not back. (Applause)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt


1938 is considered by many to be the low point of the Roosevelt presidency. His thinly-veiled attack on Republicans in this speech, where he compares them to Fascists, was followed by attacks on Democrats and the Supreme Court who "opposed his policies".
The press and many Democrats reacted very negatively to this speech.
On March_11, 1938, almost two weeks before this speech, the IRS began to consider a tax increase on all wage earners.

Related links:
FDR's Brother's Keeper speech (Discussion points)
Hall County Archives
The nights the lights went out in Georgia

Other FDR "Voices":
FDR in Gainesville, 1936 Improptu remarks from FDR's special train, Gainesville, Georgia, April_9, 1936
FDR in Toccoa, Georgia Improptu remarks from train, Toccoa, Georgia, March_23, 1938, a few hours before this address.
FDR's Congressional Address after Pearl Harbor To the Congress of the United States, and the Nation, December_8, 1941 -- formal request for declaration of war


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FDR in Gainesville, 1936
FDR in Toccoa, Georgia
FDR's Brother's Keeper speech (Discussion points)
FDR's Congressional Address after Pearl Harbor
Hall County Archives
The nights the lights went out in Georgia

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