Press Releases, vol. XIV, p. 11

Address Delivered by President Roosevelt Before the Congress,
January 3, 1936


We are about to enter upon another year of the responsibility which the electorate of the United States has placed in our hands. Having come so far, it is fitting that we should pause to survey the ground which we have covered and the path which lies ahead.

On the 4th day of March 1933, on the occasion of taking the oath of office as President of the United States, I addressed the people of our country. Need I recall either the scene or the national circumstances attending the occasion? The crisis of that moment was almost exclusively a national one. In recognition of that fact, so obvious to the millions in the streets and in the homes of America, I devoted by far the greater part of that address to what I called, and the Nation called, critical days within our own borders.

You will remember that on that 4th of March 1933, the world picture was an image of substantial peace. International consultation and wide-spread hope for the bettering of relations between the nations gave to all of us a reasonable expectation that the barriers to mutual confidence, to increased trade, and to the peaceful settlement of disputes could be progressively removed. In fact, my only reference to the field of world policy in that address was in these words: "I would dedicate this Nation to the policy of the good neighbor--the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others--the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a world of neighbors."

In the years that have followed, that sentiment has remained the dedication of this Nation. Among the nations of the great Western Hemisphere the policy of the "good neighbor" has happily prevailed. At no time in the 4 1/2 centuries of modern civilization in the Americas has there existed--in any year, any decade, or any generation in all that time--a greater spirit of mutual understanding, of common helpfulness, and of devotion to the ideals of self-government than exists today in the 21 American republics and their neighbor, the Dominion of Canada. This policy of the "good neighbor" among the Americas is no longer a hope--no longer an objective remaining to be accomplished--it is a fact, active, present, pertinent, and effective.


In this achievement, every American nation takes an understanding part. There is neither war, nor rumor of war, nor desire for war. The inhabitants of this vast area, 250 million strong, spreading more than 8,000 miles from the Arctic to the Antarctic, believe in, and propose to follow, the policy of the "good neighbor". They wish with all their heart that the rest of the world might do likewise.

The rest of the world--ah! there is the rub.

Were I today to deliver an inaugural address to the people of the United States, I could not limit my comments on world affairs to one paragraph. With much regret I should be compelled to devote the greater part to world affairs. Since the summer of that same year of 1933, the temper and the purposes of the rulers of many of the great populations in Europe and in Asia have not pointed the way either to peace or to good will among men. Not only have peace and good will among men grown more remote in those areas of the earth during this period, but a point has been reached where the people of the Americas must take cognizance of growing ill will, of marked trends toward aggression, of increasing armaments, of shortened tempers--a situation which has in it many of the elements that lead to the tragedy of general war.

On those other continents many nations, principally the smaller ones, if left to themselves, would be content with their boundaries and willing to solve within themselves and in cooperation with their neighbors their individual problems, both economic and social. The rulers of those nations, deep in their hearts, follow these peaceful and reasonable aspirations of their peoples. These rulers must remain ever vigilant against the possibility today or tomorrow of invasion or attack by the rulers of other peoples who fail to subscribe to the principles of bettering the human race by peaceful means.

Within those other nations--those which today must bear the primary, definite responsibility for jeopardizing world peace--what hope lies? To say the least, there are grounds for pessimism. It is idle for us or for others to preach that the masses of the people who constitute those nations which are dominated by the twin spirits of autocracy and aggression, are out of sympathy with their rulers, that they are allowed no opportunity to express themselves, that they would change things if they could.

That unfortunately, is not so clear. It might be true that the masses of the people in those nations would change the policies of their governments if they could be allowed full freedom and full access to the processes of democratic government as we understand


them. But they do not have that access: lacking it, they follow blindly and fervently the lead of those who seek autocratic power.

Nations seeking expansion, seeking the rectification of injustices springing from former wars, or seeking outlets for trade, for population, or even for their own peaceful contributions to the progress of civilization, fail to demonstrate that patience necessary to attain reasonable and legitimate objectives by peaceful negotiation or by an appeal to the finer instincts of world justice. They have therefore impatiently reverted to the old belief in the law of the sword, or to the fantastic conception that they, and they alone, are chosen to fulfill a mission and that all the others among the billion and a half of human beings must and shall learn from and be subject to them

I recognize that these words which I have chosen with deliberation will not prove popular in any nation that chooses to fit this shoe to its foot. Such sentiments, however, will find sympathy and understanding in those nations where the people themselves are honestly desirous of peace but must constantly aline themselves on one side or the other in the kaleidoscopic jockeying for position characteristic of European and Asiatic relations today. For the peace-loving nations, and there are many of them, find that their very identity depends on their moving and moving again on the chessboard of international politics.

I suggested in the spring of 1933 that 85 or 90 percent of all the people in the world were content with the territorial limits of their respective nations and were willing further to reduce their armed forces if every other nation in the world would agree to do likewise.

That is equally true today, and it is even more true today that world peace and world good will are blocked by only 10 or 15 percent of the world's population. That is why efforts to reduce armies have thus far not only failed but have been met by vastly increased armaments on land and in the air. That is why even efforts to continue the existing limits on naval armaments into the years to come show such little current success.

But the policy of the United States has been clear and consistent. We have sought with earnestness in every possible way to limit world armaments and to attain the peaceful solution of disputes among all nations.

We have sought by every legitimate means to exert our moral influence against repression, discrimination, intolerance, and autocracy and in favor of freedom of expression, equality before the law, religious tolerance, and popular rule.


In the field of commerce we have undertaken to encourage a more reasonable interchange of the world's goods. In the field of international finance we have, so far as we are concerned, put an end to "dollar diplomacy", money grabbing, and speculation for the benefit of the powerful and rich, at the expense of the small and the poor.

As a consistent part of a clear policy, the United States is following a twofold neutrality toward any and all nations which engage in wars not of immediate concern to the Americas: First, we decline to encourage the prosecution of war by permitting belligerents to obtain arms, ammunition, or implements of war from the United States; second, we seek to discourage the use by belligerent nations of any and all American products calculated to facilitate the prosecution of a war in quantities over and above our normal exports to them in time of peace.26

I trust that these objectives, thus clearly and unequivocally stated, will be carried forward by cooperation between this Congress and the President.

I realize that I have emphasized to you the gravity of the situation which confronts the people of the world. This emphasis is justified because of its importance to civilization and therefore to the United States. Peace is jeopardized by the few and not by the Peace is threatened by those who seek selfish power. The world has witnessed similar eras--as in the days when petty kings and feudal barons were changing the map of Europe every fortnight, or when great emperors and great kings were engaged in a mad scramble for colonial empire.

We hope that we are not again at the threshold of such an era. But if face it we must, then the United States and the rest of the Americas can play but one role: through a well-ordered to do naught to encourage the contest; through adequate defense, to save ourselves from embroilment and attack; and through example and all legitimate encouragement and assistance, to persuade other nations to return to the ways of peace and good will.


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26. In line with the policy enunciated in this sentence a "neutrality" bill containing such a provision was introduced in Congress in January 1936 proposal was supported by Secretary Hull in testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. (Neutrality, Hearings before the Committee Foreign Relations, United States Senate, 74th Cong., 2d sess., 19 January to February 5, 1936.)

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation