January 6, 1941
TO THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES:
I address you, the Members of the Seventy-Seventh Congress, at a
moment unprecedented in the history of the Union. I use the
word "unprecedented," because at no previous time has American
security been as seriously threatened from without as it is
It is true that prior to 1914 the United States often had been
disturbed by events in other Continents. We had even engaged in
two wars with European nations and in a number of undeclared
wars in the West Indies, in the Mediterranean and in the Pacific
for the maintenance of American rights and for the principles of
peaceful commerce. In no case, however, had a serious threat
been raised against our national safety or our independence.
What I seek to convey is the historic truth that the United
States as a nation has at all times maintained opposition to any
attempt to lock us behind an ancient Chinese wall while the
procession of civilization went past. Today, thinking of our
children and their children, we oppose enforced isolation for
ourselves or for any part of the Americas.
Even when the World War broke our in 1914, it seemed to contain
only small threat of danger to our own American future. But, as
time went on, the American people began to visualize what the
downfall of democratic nations might mean to our own democracy.
We need not over-emphasize imperfections in the Peace of
Versailles. We need not harp on failure of the democracies to
deal with problems of world deconstruction. We should remember
that the Peace of 1919 was far less unjust than the kind of
"pacification" which began even before Munich, and which is
being carried on under the new order of tyranny that seeks to
spread over every continent today. The American people have
unalterably set their faces against that tyranny.
Every realist knows that the democratic way of life is at this
moment being directly assailed in every part of the world -
assailed either by arms, or by secret spreading of poisonous
propaganda by those who seek to destroy unity and promote
discord in nations still at peace. During sixteen months this
assault has blotted out the whole pattern of democratic life in
an appalling number of independent nations, great and small.
The assailants are still on the march, threatening other
nations, great and small.
Therefore, as your president, performing my constitutional duty
to "give to the Congress information of the state of the Union,"
I find it necessary to report that the future and safety of our
country and of our democracy are overwhelmingly involved in
events far beyond our borders.
Armed defense of democratic existence is now being gallantly
waged on four continents. If that defense fails, all the
population and all the resources of Europe, Asia, Africa, and
Australasia will be dominated by the conquerors. The total of
those populations and their resources greatly exceeds the sum
total of the population and resources of the whole of the
Western Hemisphere - many times over.
In times like these it is immature - and incidentally unture -
for anybody to brag that an unprepared America, single-handed,
and with one hand tied behind its back, can hold off the whole
No realistic American can expect from a dictator's peace
international generosity, or return of true independence, or
world disarmament, or freedom of expression, or freedom of
religion - or even good business. Such a peace would bring no
security for us or for our neighbors. "Those, who would give up
essential liberty to purchase the little temporary safety,
deserve neither liberty nor safety." As a nation we may take
pride in the fact that we are soft-hearted; but we cannot afford
to be soft-hearted. We must always be wary of those who with
sounding brass and the tinkling cymbal preach the "ism" of
appeasement. We must especially beware of that small group of
selfish men who would clip the wings of the American eagle in
order to feather their own nests.
I have recently pointed out how quickly the tempo of modern
warfare could bring into our very midst the physical attack
which we must expect if the dictator nations win this war.
There is much loose talk of our immunity from immediate and
direct invasion from across the seas. Obviously, as long as the
British Navy retains its power, no such danger exists. Even if
there were no British Navy, it is not probable that any enemy
would be stupid enough to attack by landing troops in the United
States from across thousands of miles of ocean, until it had
acquired strategic bases from which to operate. But we learn
much from the lessons of the past years in Europe - particularly
the lesson of Norway, whose essential seaports were captured by
treachery and surprise built up over a series of years. The
first phase of the invasion of this Hemisphere would not be the
landing of regular troops. The necessary strategic points would
be occupied by secret agents and their dupes - great numbers of
them are already here, and in Latin America.
As long as the aggressor nations maintain the offensive, they -
not we - will choose the time and the place and the method of
their attack. That is why the future of all American Republics
is today in serious danger. That is why this Annual Message to
the Congress is unique in our history. That is why every member
of the Executive Branch of the government and every member of
Congress face great responsibility - and great accountability.
The need of the moment is that our actions and our policy should
be devoted primarily - almost exclusively - to meeting the
foreign peril. For all our domestic problems are now a part of
the great emergency. Just as our national policy in internal
affairs has been based upon a decent respect for the rights and
dignity of all our fellowmen within our gates, so our national
policy in foreign affairs has been based on a decent respect for
the rights and dignity of all nations, large and small. And
the justice of morality must and will win in the end.
Our national policy is this.
First, by an impressive expression of the public will and without
regard to partisanship, we are committed to all-inclusive
Second, by an impressive expression of the public will and
without regard to partisanship, we are committed to full support
of all those resolute peoples, everywhere, who are resisting
aggression and are thereby keeping war away from our Hemisphere.
By this support, we express our determination that the
democratic cause shall prevail; and we strengthen the defense
and security of our own nation.
Third, by an impressive expression of the public will and
without regard to partisanship, we are committed to the
proposition that principles of morality and considerations for
our own security will never permit us to acquiesce in a peace
dictated by aggressors and sponsored by appeasers. We know that
enduring peace cannot be bought at the cost of other people's
In recent national elections there was no substantial difference
between the two great parties in respect to that national
policy. No issue was fought out on this line before the
American electorate. Today, it is abundantly evident that
American citizens everywhere are demanding and supporting speedy
and complete action in recognition of obvious danger. Therefore,
the immediate need is a swift and driving increase in our
Our most useful and immediate role is to act as an arsenal for
them as well as for ourselves. They do not need man power. They
do need billions of dollars worth of the weapons of defense...
Let us say to the democracies: "we Americans are vitally
concerned in your defense of freedom. We are putting forth our
energies, our resources and our organizing powers to give you
the strength to regain and maintain a free world. We shall send
you, in ever increasing numbers, ships, planes, tanks, guns.
This is our purpose and our pledge." In fulfillment of this
purpose we will not be intimidated by the threats of dictators
that they will regard as a breach of international law and as an
act of war our aid to the democracies which dare resist their
aggression. such aid is not an act of war, even if a dictator
should unilaterally proclaim it so to be. When the dictators
are ready to make war upon us, they will not wait for an act of
war on our part. They did not wait for Norway or Belgium or the
Netherlands to commit an act of war. Their only interest is in
a new one-way international law, which lacks mutuality in its
observance, and, therefore, becomes and instrument of
The happiness of future generations of Americans may well depend
upon how effective and how immediate we can make our aid felt.
No one can tell the exact character of the emergency situations
that we may be called upon to meet. The Nation's hands must not
be tied when the Nation's life is in danger. We must prepare to
make the sacrifices that the emergency - as serious as war
itself - demands. Whatever stands in the way of speed and
efficiency in defense preparations must give way to the national
A free nation has the right to expect full cooperation from all
groups. A free nation has the right to look to the leaders of
business, of labor, and of agriculture to take the lead in
stimulating effort, not among other groups but within their own
groups. The best way of dealing with the few slackers or
trouble makers in our midst is, first, to shame them by
patriotic example, and if that fails, to use the sovereignty of
government to save government.
As men do not live by bread alone, they do not fight by
armaments alone. Those who man our defenses, and those behind
them who build our defenses, must have the stamina and courage
which come from an unshakable belief in the manner of life which
they are defending. The mighty action which we are calling for
cannot be based on a disregard of all things worth fighting for.
The Nation takes great satisfaction and much strength from the
things which have been done to make its people conscious of
their individual stake in the preservation of democratic life in
America. Those things have toughened the fibre of our people,
have renewed their faith and strengthened their devotion to the
institutions we make ready to protect. Certainly this is no
time to stop thinking about the social and economic problems
which are the root cause of the social revolution which is today
a supreme factor in the world.
There is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy
and strong democracy. The basic things expected by our people of
their political and economic systems are simple. They are:
equality of opportunity for youth and for others; jobs for those
who can work; security for those who need it; the ending of
special privilege fro the few; the preservation of civil
liberties for all; the enjoyment of the fruits of scientific
progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.
These are the simple and basic things that must never be lost
sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our
modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic
and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they
fulfill these expectations.
Many subjects connected with our social economy call for
immediate improvement. As examples: We should bring more
citizens under the coverage of old age pensions and unemployment
insurance. We should widen the opportunities for adequate
medical care. We should plan a better system by which person
deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it.
I have called for personal sacrifice. I am assured of the
willingness of almost all Americans to respond to that call...
In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look
forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression - everywhere in
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own
way - everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want - which, translated into world
terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every
nation a healthy peace time life for its inhabitants -everywhere
in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear - which, translated into world
terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point
and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a
position to commit an act of physical aggression against any
neighbor - anywhere in the world.
That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite
basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and
generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the
so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to
create with the crash of a bomb.
To that new order we oppose the greater conception - the moral
order. A good society is able to face schemes of world
domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.
Since the beginning of our American history we have been engaged
in change - in a perpetual peaceful revolution - a revolution
which goes on steadily, quietly adjusting itself to changing
conditions - without the concentration camp or the quick-lime in
the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of
free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized
This nation has place its destiny in the hands and heads and
hearts of its million of free men and women; and its faith in
freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy
of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who
struggle to gain those right or keep them. Our strength is in
our unity of purpose.
To that high concept there can be no end save victory.