The Meaning of Progress


My Friends and Neighbors:

I am happy to be in Georgia. I am proud of Georgia. Happy today especially because of this moving reception which my friends, the Senators and all of the Representatives in the Congress from this State, have tendered me, and to which you, the good people of this State, have responded with such warmth and hospitality. Happy because I meet again so many old friends and neighbors. Proud because I see signs on every hand that the overwhelming majority of the people of this State are keeping pace with the millions of others throughout the nation who believe in progress, are willing to work for progress and are going to get progress. Proud because I see clear signs of a revival of material prosperity in country and in city, and especially because I sense a swelling prosperity of the spirit that spells a greater help and a deeper happiness for our fellow men.

Eleven years ago I came to live at Warm Springs for the first time. That was a period of great so-called prosperity. But I would not go back to the conditions of 1924, and I do not believe that you people would want to go back to those conditions either.

Of that year and of the five years that followed, I have a clear recollection which you can verify for yourselves. In that orgy of «prosperity” a wild speculation was building speculative profits for the speculators and preparing the way for you, the public, to be left «holding the bag.” In that orgy of «prosperity,” banks, individually and by chains, were closing their doors at the expense of the depositors. In that orgy of «prosperity” the farmers of the South had become involuntary speculators themselves, never certain when they planted their cotton whether it would bring twenty-five cents or fifteen cents or a nickel. In that orgy of «prosperity” the poorest vied with the richest in throwing their earnings and their savings into a cauldron of land and stock speculation. In that orgy of «prosperity” slum conditions went unheeded, better education was neglected, usurious interest charges mounted, child labor continued, starvation wages were too often the rule instead of the exception. Yes, in those days Mammon ruled America. That is why we are not going back to them.

Those are the years for us to remember in the future — those fool’s paradise years before the crash came. Too much do we harp on the years that followed, when from 1929 to 1933 this whole nation slipped spirally downward — ever downward — to the inevitable point when the mechanics of civilization came to a dead stop on March 3, 1933.

You and I need not rehearse the four years of disaster and gloom. We know that simple fact that at the end of this four years America acted before it was too late. America turned about, and by a supreme, well-nigh unanimous national effort, started on the upward path again.

You and I have reason to remember the past two and a half years that have gone by so quickly, reason to remember the fine spirit of the average American citizen which made my task vastly lighter. Memory is short, but yours is not too short to recollect those great meetings of the representatives of the farmers, regionally and in Washington, in the spring and summer of 1933, when they agreed overwhelmingly that unfairly low prices for farm crops could never be raised to, and maintained at, a reasonable level until and unless the government of the United States acted to help them reduce the tremendous carryovers and surpluses which threatened us and the whole world.

You and I can well remember the overwhelming demand that the national government come to the rescue of the home owners and farm owners of the nation who were losing the roofs over their heads through inflated valuations and exorbitant rates of interest.

You and I still recollect the need for and the successful attainment of a banking policy which not only opened the closed banks but guaranteed the deposits of the depositors of the nation.

You and I have not forgotten the enthusiastic support that succeeded in ending the labor of children in mills and factories, in seeing a fairer wage level for those on starvation pay, and in giving to the workers hope for the right collectively to bargain with their employers. That success, I am glad to say, in large part still persists.

You and I will not forget the long struggle to put an end to the indiscriminate distribution of «fly-by-night” securities and to provide fair regulation of the stock exchanges and of the great interstate public utility companies of our country.

You and I — yes, every individual and every family in the land — are being brought close to that supreme achievement of this great Congress, the Social Security law which, in days to come, will provide the aged against distressing want, will set up a national system of insurance for the employed, and will expand well-merited care to sick and crippled children.

You and I are enlisted today in a great crusade in every part of the land to cooperate with Nature and not to fight her, to cooperate to stop destructive floods, to prevent dust storms, to prevent the washing away of our precious soils, to grow trees, to give thousands of farm families a chance to live, and to seek to provide more and better food for the city dwellers of the nation.

In this connection it is, I think, of interest to point out that national surveys which have been conducted in the past year or two prove that the average of the citizenship of the United States lives today on what the doctors would call a third-class diet. If the country lived on a second-class diet instead of a third-class diet, do you know what that would mean? It would mean we would need to put many more acres than we use today back into the production of foodstuffs for domestic consumption. If the nation lived — as I wish it did — on a first-class diet, we would have to put more acres than we have ever cultivated into the production of an additional supply of things for Americans to eat.

That raises a question:

Why — to speak in broad terms in following up this particular illustration — why are we living on a third-class diet? Well, the best answer I know is this: The masses of American people have not the purchasing power to eat more and better food.