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This Week in History:
January 19-25, 1937 and 1961
Roosevelt and Kennedy Rally
Humanity’s Defense Against the Oligarchy

January 2014

Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

This week we commemorate the two greatest Inaugural addresses to be given on January 20th.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1937*) insisted that science and technological power be used to raise living standards; that the U.S. Constitution gave the public a government with the power to stop the private financier oligarchs from crushing the people; that millions of poverty-wrecked families had a right to be defended by their nation.

President John F. Kennedy (1961) reminded the world that America’s Revolutionary heritage inspired us to cooperate in a struggle against the common enemies of mankind: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war – the actual threat of nuclear war with Russia. He called for a grand alliance, continuing Roosevelt’s World War II alliance of the great nations, using science to protect human life and uplift the miserable.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, 2nd Inaugural Address, January 20, 1937

[We] recognized … the need …. to make science a useful servant instead of a ruthless master of mankind. To do this we knew that we must find practical controls over blind economic forces and blindly selfish men….

[D]emocratic government has innate capacity to protect its people against disasters once considered inevitable, to solve problems once considered unsolvable …. [to] find a way to master economic epidemics just as, after centuries of fatalistic suffering, we had found a way to master epidemics of disease….

The essential democracy of our nation and the safety of our people depend not upon the absence of power, but upon lodging it with those whom the people can change or continue at stated intervals through an honest and free system of elections. The Constitution of 1787 did not make our democracy impotent.

In fact, … we have begun to bring private autocratic powers into their proper subordination to the public’s government. The legend that they were invincible—above and beyond the processes of a democracy—has been shattered. They have been challenged and beaten…. We are beginning to abandon our tolerance of the abuse of power by those who betray for profit the elementary decencies of life.

I see a great nation, … blessed with a great wealth of natural resources …. [U]nder democratic methods of government, national wealth can be translated into a spreading volume of human comforts … and the lowest standard of living can be raised far above the level of mere subsistence.

But here is the challenge to our democracy: I see millions of families trying to live on incomes so meager that the pall of family disaster hangs over them day by day.

I see millions whose daily lives in city and on farm continue under conditions labeled indecent by a so-called polite society half a century ago.

I see millions denied education, recreation, and the opportunity to better their lot and the lot of their children.

I see millions lacking the means to buy the products of farm and factory and by their poverty denying work and productiveness to many other millions.

I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished…. We are determined to make every American citizen the subject of his country’s interest and concern… The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.

John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961

….Man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God. We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution….

To those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required—not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich…. 

Now the trumpet summons us … to  … a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself. 

Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort? …. 


*FDR’s 1937 2nd term inauguration was the first to occur on January 20th. The original inaugural date was March 4th, about four months after the November election. But this duration prolonged the economic catastrophe before the activist Roosevelt could take office to combat the Great Depression, so the 20th Amendment to the Constitution was enacted to shorten that interval for the future.