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This Week in History
August 18-24, 1935

FDR & Youth:
FDR Addresses the Young Democratic Clubs of America

August 2013

Franklin D. Roosevelt

On Aug. 24, 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt was scheduled to travel to Milwaukee to address a convention of the Young Democratic Clubs of America. But he was forced to make his speech via radio, because, as he explained, "the closing days of a far-reaching and memorable Session of the Congress of the United States keep me here in Washington." That memorable session had included legislation on Social Security, increased Federal supervision of electrical utilities, and, of special relevance to the Milwaukee convention, the establishment of the National Youth Administration on June 26.

Roosevelt later described why he had launched this initiative:

"The young people of the United States who had been caught in the Depression had special problems in addition to those shared with their elders. Their needs were greater and more far-reaching than the immediate demands of food, clothing, and shelter. They were confronted with the problem of an education, a beginning in a trade or a career, and, above all, the prevention of the natural effects of long idleness and continued frustration. Theirs was a spiritual as well as a physical problem...."

"In the spring of 1935 a survey of Depression-youth was made by the Works Progress Administration. It was found that 3 million people between 16 and 25 years of age were on relief, an average of one in seven. Of those on relief in cities, less than 40% had gone beyond the eighth grade, and less than 3% had entered college. Most distressing of all, was the discovery of the large numbers of young people, who, in final desperation, had virtually become hoboes. The transient service of the WPA in a single day in May 1935, counted 54,000 young people registered at its camps and shelters. There was no way of recording the large numbers of unregistered, who had literally become tramps on the highways and on freight trains."

When the State Directors of the National Youth Administration convened in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 20, the President made it very clear what he was expecting from them:

"In previous days groups used to come down here to talk about education, child welfare, and various things like that. They had very interesting discussions and they passed very nice resolutions. Later the whole proceedings were bound up and distributed around the country. Everybody went home; and little, if anything, resulted from these efforts.

"Our procedure is different. We have asked you here to start something. We have given you $50 million. It is the first time the Federal Government has attempted a great national project of this kind. It is an experiment, but we are going to get something more than mere resolutions out of it. We are going to get action."

And the President did get action. The Works Projects Program was set up to furnish part-time employment for out-of-school youth in a wide range of fields, including clerical assistance in public offices, library work, park beautification and landscaping, soil erosion control, and minor construction. The Student Aid Program furnished part-time employment for students so that they could continue in high school or college. School and college officials selected the students and designed and supervised the projects, which included work about the school grounds and buildings, clerical assistance to the faculty, library and laboratory assistance, and educational and recreational work in the local communities.

Finally, the Guidance and Placement Program utilized Junior Employment Counselors to help youthful applicants find jobs, and a Federal Committee on Apprentice Training helped to place them in training programs. By April of 1936, there were 404,749 young people receiving student aid benefits, and 181,279 employed on projects, a total of 586,028.

Four days after Roosevelt called for action from his state directors, the President broadcast his radio address to the Young Democratic Clubs. He began with a wry comment on certain members of the press:

"You doubtless know everything that I am going to say to you, because starting as early as last Monday, certain special writers of a few papers have given you a complete outline of my remarks. I have been interested and somewhat amused by these clairvoyants who put on the front page many days ago, this speech, which, because of pressure of time, I could only think out and dictate this very morning."

Roosevelt continued, "Whatever his party affiliations may be, the President of the United States, in addressing the youth of the country—even when speaking to the younger citizens of his own party—should speak as President of the whole people. It is true that the Presidency carries with it, for the time being, the leadership of a political party as well. But the Presidency carries with it a far higher obligation than this—the duty of analyzing and setting forth national needs and ideals which transcend and cut across all lines of party affiliation. Therefore, what I am about to say to you, members of the Young Democratic Clubs, is precisely—word for word—what I would say were I addressing a convention of the youth of the Republican Party....

"The cruel suffering of the recent Depression has taught us unforgettable lessons. We have been compelled by stark necessity to unlearn the too comfortable superstition that the American soil was mystically blessed with every kind of immunity to grave economic maladjustments, and that the American spirit of individualism—all alone and unhelped by the cooperative efforts of Government—could withstand and repel every form of economic disarrangement or crisis. The severity of the recent Depression, toward which we had been heading for a whole generation, has taught us that no economic or social class in the community is so richly endowed and so independent of the general community that it can safeguard its own security, let alone assure security for the general community....

"There was a day when political sages or those who controlled them, took the attitude that anything new, or what they called 'new-fangled,' would lead to dire results, There is nothing new in those prophecies of gloom. I read these lines in a paper the other day—a little poem entitled 'Going to the Dogs':

My grandpa notes the world's worn cogs,
And says we're going to the dogs;
His granddad in his house of logs,
Swore things were going to the dogs;
His dad, among the Flemish bogs,
Vowed things were going to the dogs;
The caveman in his queer skin togs,
Said things were going to the dogs;
But this is what I wish to state—
The dogs have had an awful wait.

"I would be lacking in any sense of responsibility and lacking in elementary courage if I shared in such a hopeless attitude.

"I, for one, am willing to place my trust in the youth of America. If they demand action as well as preachments, I should be ashamed to chill their enthusiasm with the dire prophecy that to change is to destroy. I am unwilling to sneer at the vision of youth merely because vision is sometimes mistaken. But vision does not belong only to the young.

"There are millions of older people who have vision, just as there are some younger men and women who are ready to put a weary, selfish, or greedy hand upon the clock of progress and turn it back.

"We who seek to go forward must ever guard ourselves against a danger which history teaches. More than ever, we cherish the elective form of democratic government, but progress under it can easily be retarded by disagreements that relate to method and to detail rather than to the broad objectives upon which we are agreed. It is as if all of us were united in the pursuit of a common goal, but that each and every one of us were marching along a separate road of our own. If we insist on choosing different roads, most of us will not reach our common destination. The reason that the forces of reaction so often defeat the forces of progress is that the Tories of the world are agreed and united in standing still on the same old spot and, therefore, never run the danger of getting lost on divergent trails....

"Therefore, to the American youth of all parties I submit a message of confidence—Unite and Challenge! Rules are not necessarily sacred; principles are. The methods of the old order are not, as some would have you believe, above the challenge of youth."



The original article was published in the EIR Online’s Electronic Intelligence Weekly, as part of an ongoing series on history, with a special emphasis on American history. We are reprinting and updating these articles now to assist our readers in understanding of the American System of Economy.