Remembering Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Second Bill of Rights

tags: FDR, New Deal



Harvey J. Kaye is the Rosenberg Professor of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bayand the author of The Fight for the Four Freedoms: What Made FDR and the Greatest Generation Truly Great to be published in April by Simon & Schuster. Follow him on Twitter @harveyjkaye.

Seventy years ago, on January 11, 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt delivered his 11th Annual Message on the State of the Union. The United States was at war. But the president spoke not only of the struggle and of what Americans had to do to hasten victory over the Axis Powers. He also spoke of what Americans needed to do to win the peace to come. Reaffirming his administration’s commitment to the vision he had articulated in his 1941 Annual Message – the vision of the Four Freedoms:  Freedom of speech, Freedom of worship, Freedom from want, Freedom from fear – Roosevelt now called for an Economic Bill of Rights for all Americans.

As President Obama contemplates his second-term legacy, and with midterm elections on the near horizon, he would do well to attend to FDR’s 1944 message. Our own challenges are not those of 1944. But in the wake of the tragedies, crises, painful obstructions and compromises of the past 15 years and in the face of continuing right-wing and corporate class war against working people, they are no less daunting – and we are no less eager to start addressing them.

By January 1944, the United States and its allies had turned the tide of war. The Normandy invasion was still months away, but Allied forces were clearly advancing both east and west. And yet Americans were anxious – anxious not only about the lives of their loved ones in uniform and how long it might take to defeat Germany and Japan, but also about what might actually follow the victory. Many worried that the end of the war effort would see the return of severe economic difficulties and high unemployment, if not a new depression.



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