. . . or click on the link here for Audio Player – President Roosevelt Address to Congress – March 4, 1939 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection
For those of you who may have forgotten, today is the birthday of the founding of Congress. And 76 years ago this day, President Roosevelt addressed Congress in observance of its 150th birthday:
President Roosevelt: “That Constitution was based on the theory of representative government, two of the three branches of its government being chosen by the people, directly in the case of the House of Representatives, by elected Legislatures in the case of the Senate, and by elected electors in the case of the President and the Vice President. It is true that in many States the franchise was greatly limited, yet the cardinal principle of free choice by the body politic prevailed. I emphasize the words “free choice” because until a very few years ago this fundamental, or perhaps, in more modern language, I should call it this ideology of democracy, was in the ascendant throughout the world, and nation after nation was broadening its practice of what the American Constitution had established here so firmly and so well.
The safety of the system of representative government is in the last analysis based on two essentials: first, that at frequent periods the voters must choose a new Congress and a new President; and second, that this choice must be made freely, that is to say without any undue force against, or influence over, the voter in the expression of his personal and sincere opinion.
That, after all, is the greatest difference between what we know as democracy, and those other forms of government which, though they seem new to us, are essentially old—for they revert to those systems of concentrated self-perpetuating power against which the representatives of the democratic system were successfully striving many centuries ago.
Today, with many other democracies, the United States will give no encouragement to the belief that our processes are outworn, or that we will approvingly watch the return of forms of government which for two thousand years have proved their tyranny and their instability alike.
With the direct control of the free choosing of public servants by a free electorate, our Constitution has proved that our type of government cannot long remain in the hands of any who seek personal aggrandizement for selfish ends, whether they act as individuals, as classes, or as groups.
It is therefore in the spirit of our system that our elections are positive in their mandate, rather than passive in their acquiescence. Many other nations envy us the enthusiasm, the attacks, the wild over-statements, the falsehood gaily intermingled with the truth that mark our general elections. Yes, they envy us because all of these things are promptly followed by acquiescence in the result and a return to calmer waters as soon as the ballots are counted.
We celebrate today the completion of the building of the constitutional house. But one essential was lacking—for the house had to be made habitable. And even in the period of the building, those who put stone upon stone, those who voted to accept it from the hands of the builders knew that life within the house needed other things for its inhabitants. Without those things, indeed, they could never be secure in their tenure, happy in their toil or in their rest.”
Here is that complete address, as it was given on March 4, 1939.
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