Monday, January 11, 2016

A Second Bill of Rights

Last week I posted a blog article about President Roosevelt’s famous “four freedoms” speech, which was his State of the Union address delivered 75 years ago.

Three years later, on January 11, 1944, FDR gave his 11th (!) State of the Union talk. He had just recently come back from an overseas trip during which he had conferred with British Prime Minister Churchill in Cairo and then had attended the “Big Three” summit with Stalin in Tehran.

In addition to being exhausted, he had also caught influenza from which he was still recovering. So the President chose to send his 1/11/44 “State of the Union” message to Congress in writing and to read the message to the American people from the comfort of the White House.
That talk was another of FDR’s “fireside chats” to the whole nation. It was a highly significant talk, for in it he set forth what he called a second Bill of Rights. (Hear part of it here.)

The Second World War would not be over for another 19 months, but FDR was looking past the end of the war, which he confidently thought the Allies would win.

In that momentous “chat,” he asserted that a “basic essential to peace—permanent peace—is a decent standard of living for all individual men and women and children in all nations. Freedom from fear is eternally linked with freedom from want.”

The President clearly was reinforcing two of the freedoms he had emphasized in his State of the Union message three years before.

He went on to aver that “true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. . . . People who are hungry, people who are out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”

So President Roosevelt proposed “a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all.” He explained that those rights include . . .

** The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries, or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

** The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

** The right of farmers to raise and sell their products at a return which will give them and their families a decent living;

** The right of every business man, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

** The right of every family to a decent home;

** The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

** The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, and sickness, and accident and unemployment;

** And finally, the right to a good education.

Immediately following this listing, the President went on to assert, “All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.”

There was some progress in the U.S. toward realizing these goals in the first 20 years following the end of the war.

But in the 1960s it began to be increasingly realized that some, especially African-Americans, were not being treated fairly and their economic rights were not being realized sufficiently.

The struggle goes on as even today, for example, many of our political leaders oppose increasing the minimum wage and have voted to repeal “Obamacare” without proposing any way to provide adequate medical care to many “fellow citizens.”


  1. FDR was the greatest. My family recognized as much. My younger brother was named Franklin Delano Kiker.

    1. Wow, that is showing a lot of respect for the President.

      My father was not a supporter of Roosevelt. He turned 21 in 1936 and he voted for Landon--or against Roosevelt​--that year. At that time at least, my father was a one issue voter: he was against Roosevelt because Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the first year of Roosevelt's presidency.

    2. Leroy, my father was also a staunch prohibitionist. He was also a dirt farmer in the midst of the dust bowl and depression. Economic needs outweighed social needs. Local option remained in effect, and our county was teetotally dry until early 2000s. Daddy also appreciated the REA. Before REA we had kerosene lamps. I can remember doing my homework by their dim light. Once a storm knocked out our electricity. Daddy said, "Time to get out the Republican lights." (kerosene lamps)

    3. Thanks for sharing this, Charles.

      Your father was older, and wiser, than mine was in 1936. By being a one issue voter then my father probably voted against his own best interests in that 1936 election -- as many people do today.

  2. Donald Wideman, a local Thinking Friend, send these comments by email:

    "I am grateful that I lived in the time when FDR was our president! And, I am also grateful for his wife Eleanor who was constantly reminding him of the needs of the people.

    "He gave hope to a nation, weary of war and worn out by the Great Depression. And, those people caught the vision and with the help of a caring government rose out of poverty and despair to build the strongest nation in the world and to share the blessings of our prosperity with others.

    "How I wish for visionary leaders now!"

    1. I think President Obama has tried to be a visionary leader. At least it seems to me that he has had a good vision of what the country should be and do. The problem, of course, has been trying to lead an recalcitrant Congress.

  3. Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson also makes important comments:

    "A challenging blog, Leroy. I think we can see ways in which Obama has tried to recover what FDR envisioned. It’s distressing for the nation that he has had to face unrelenting opposition from Republicans. The latter want to roll back and obliterate the very things President Roosevelt spoke about in this address."

  4. Another local Thinking Friend shared these comments:

    "Whether they are to be established as rights, I cannot say, but certainly every one deserves them. Another example of FDR's humanity, and why he remains to be one of my heroes and a continuing inspiration. I might have heard that speech when I was 12, for he was respected by my family. I definitely remember listening in as a child when my mother was listening to him."

  5. All four of the comments posted above (other than my responses) are by men 80 or over. And at this writing the only comment received by someone younger than I is the following by a Thinking Friend in Georgia:

    "'Freedom from fear is eternally linked with freedom from want.'

    "An endearing politically-attuned platitude--and, I admit, mostly true. However, the difficulty (in this fallen world) lies in the 'freedom from want' portion. A difficult thing for people who get something for little or nothing on their part is to distinguish between need and want, I think. Wants can expand far quicker than the ability to provide them. Some can never be free from this 'freedom from want.'"

  6. Roosevelt probably was thinking about "want" as the desire for the basic necessities of life. A dictionary definition of want is "grave and extreme poverty that deprives one of the necessities of life." That is the kind of want FDR was talking about, I feel sure.

    But I think there is a point well taken in the above comment--and I alluded to the same sort of thing in my 1/5 blog article: "Freedom from want is needed by so many people around the world—and in this country, partly because people keep wanting more and more."

  7. In her book “The New Jim Crow”, Michelle Alexander proposes that it will take a massive, organized popular movement to challenge and change the interlocking socio-economic/political/ideological systems that have produced the phenomenon of mass incarceration and the perpetuation of a “racial under-caste” in America. Surely she was thinking of something like the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, which did produce definite (though limited) change.

    We haven’t seen many “mass movements” since then. The “environmentalist” movement has been a “voice in the wilderness”, emerging into consciousness now and again. We saw the Occupy Wall Street movement gain some traction and then slip away. I suppose that the Tea Party might qualify as a movement, and that current presidential campaigns have movemental aspirations as well. Personally, I have been hoping that the Black Lives Matter movement might become more “massive” than it is right now.

    A huge challenge for movements is having a clear enough vision to compel people to think, rethink, and act in new ways. Seeing FDR’s “Second Bill of Rights”, I can’t help but think that he was onto something powerful – comprehensive, practical and aspirational. And I wonder: what would it take to initiate and build a movement around a vision such as this? How could those of us who care begin to “change the narrative” of current political and social discourse to focus on values such as these?