The Keystone of American Constitutional System


By FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, President of the United States and Democratic Nominee for Reelection

Broadcast from White House, October 5, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 11-13

I AM speaking to you tonight from the White House. I am speaking particularly on behalf of those Americans who, regardless of party, very much hope, that there will be recorded a large registration and a large vote this fall. I know, and many of you do, from personal experience how effective precinct workers of all parties throughout the nation can be in assuring a large vote.

We are holding a national election despite all the prophecies of some politicians and a few newspapers who have stated, time and again in the past, that it was my horrid and sinister purpose to abolish all elections and deprive the American people of the right to vote. These same people, caring more for human riches than human rights, try to build up bogies of dictatorship in this republic, although they know that free election will always protect our nation against any such possibility.

Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves, and the only way they could do that is by not voting at all.

The continuing health and vigor of our democratic system depends upon the public spirit and devotion of its citizens which find expression in the ballot box.

Every man and every woman in this nation, regardless of party, who have the right to register and to vote, and the opportunity to register and to vote, have also the sacred obligation to register and to vote. For the free and secret ballot is the real keystone of our American constitutional system.

The American Government has survived and prospered for more than a century and a half, and it is now at the highest peak of its vitality. This is primarily because when the American people want a change of Government, even when they merely want "new faces," they can raise the old electioneering battle cry of "throw the rascals out."

"Defects in Voting Laws"

It is true that there are many undemocratic defects in voting laws in the various States, almost forty-eight different kinds of defects, and some of these produce injustices which, prevent a full and free expression of public opinion.

The right to vote must be open to our citizens irrespective of race, color or creed, without tax or artificial restriction of any kind. The sooner we get to that basis of political equality, the better it will be for the country as a whole.

Candidates in every part of the United States are now engaged in running for office.

All of us who are doing it are actuated by a normal desire to win. But speaking personally, I should be very sorry to be elected President of the United States on a small turnout of voters. And by the same token, if I were to be defeated I should be much happier to be defeated in a large outpouring of voters. Then there could not be any question of doubt in anybody's mind as to which way the masses of the American? people wanted this election to go.

The full and free exercise of our sacred right and duty to vote is more important in the long run than the personal hopes or ambitions of any candidate for any office in the land.

The Administration which must cope with the difficult problems of winning the war and of peace and reconstruction should be chosen by a clear majority of all the people, and not a part of the people.

In the election of 1920, one of the most fateful elections in our history as it proved, only 49 per cent of the potential voters actually voted.

Thus, more than one-half of American voters failed to do their basic duty as citizens.

We can be gratified that in recent years the percentage of potential voters in national elections who actually voted has been steadily going up, but it's a slow process.

In 1940 it was 62 1/2 per cent. And that still is not nearly good enough.

This year, for many millions of our young men in the armed forces and the merchant marine and similar services, it will be difficult in many cases, and impossible in some cases, to register and vote.

Hits "Small Vote" Politicians

I think the people will be able to fix the responsibility for this state of affairs, for they know that during this past year there were politicians and others who quite openly worked to restrict the use of the ballot in this election, hoping selfishly for a small vote.

It is therefore all the more important that we here at home must not be slackers on Registration Day or on Election Day.

I want to make a special appeal to the women of the nation to exercise their right to vote. Women have taken an active part in this war in many ways—in uniform, in plants, shipyards, offices, stores, hospitals, on farms and on railroads and on buses—they have become more than ever a very integral part of our national effort.

I know how difficult it is, especially for the many millions of women now employed, to get away to register and vote. Many of them have to manage their households as well as their jobs. And a grateful nation remembers that.

But all women whether employed directly in war jobs or not, women of all parties and those not enrolled in any party, this year have a double obligation to express by their votes what I know to be their keen interest in the affairs of Government, their obligation to themselves as citizens and their obligation to their fighting husbands and sons, and brothers and sweethearts.

It may sound to you repetitious on my part but it is my plain duty to reiterate to you that this war for the preservation of our civilization is not won yet.

In the war our forces and those of our allies are steadily, relentlessly carrying the attack to the enemy.

The Allied armies under General Eisenhower have waged during the past four months one of the most brilliant campaigns in military history, a campaign that has carried us from the beaches of Normandy in southern France into the frontiers of Germany itself.

In the Pacific, our naval task forces and our Army forces have advanced to attack the Japanese, more than five thousand miles west of Pearl Harbor.

But German and Japanese resistance remains as determined and as fanatical as ever.

The guns of Hitler's Gestapo are silencing those German officers who have sense to know that every day that the fighting continues means that much more ruin and destruction for their beaten country. We shall have to fight our way across the Rhine. We may have to fight every inch of the way to Berlin.

Goals After Shooting Stops

But we Americans and our British and Russian and French and Polish allies—in fact all the massed forces of the United Nations—we will not stop short of our final goal.

Nor will all of our goals have been achieved when the shooting stops. We must be able to present to our returning heroes an America that is stronger and more prosperous and more deeply devoted to the ways of democracy than ever before.

"The land of opportunity"—that's what our forefathers called this country. By God's grace it must always be the land of opportunity for the individual citizen, ever broader opportunity.

We have fought our way out of economic crisis, we are fighting our way through the bitterest of all wars and our fighting men and women, our plain, everyday citizens, have a right to enjoy the fruits of victory.

Of course all of us who have sons on active service overseas want to have our boys come home, come home at the earliest possible moment consistent with our national safety. And they will come home and be returned to civilian life at the earliest possible moment consistent with our national safety.

The record is clear on this matter and dates back month on month. Bills to provide a national program for demobilization and post-war adjustments, and I take an example, were introduced by Senator George and Senator Murray last February, nearly a year ago.

This legislation, since May 20, 1944, has contained the following provision, and I quote: "The War and Navy Departments shall not retain persons in the armed forces for the purpose of preventing unemployment or awaiting opportunities for employment."

And that provision was approved by the War Department and by this Administration months ago.

On June 12, the Director of War Mobilization, Justice Byrnes, made a public statement in behalf of this bill. He said: "Our fighting men are entitled to first consideration in any plan of demobilization. Their orderly release at the earliest possible moment consistent with the effective prosecution of the war, has ever been the primary consideration of both the President and the joint Chiefs of Staff."

Plan for Speedy Demobilization

And on Sept. 6 the War Department issued its plan for speedy demobilization, based on the wishes of the soldiers themselves.

Well, the George Bill has been passed by the Congress, it has been signed by me, it is now the law.

That law is there for all Americans to read, and you do not need legal training to understand it.

It seems a pity, a deep pity that reckless words, based on unauthoritative sources, should be used by anyone to mislead and to weaken the morale of our men on the fighting fronts and the members of their families here at home.

When our enemies are finally defeated we all want to see an end at the earliest practicable moment to wartime restrictions, to wartime controls.

Strict provisions for the ending of these inconveniences have been written into our wartime laws. Seems to me that its largely a question of knowing the truth. Those who fear that wartime measures, like price and rent control and rationing, for example, might be continued indefinitely into peacetime ought, in common decency, to examine these laws. They will find that they're all temporary, to expire either at an early fixed date or at the end of the war, or six months after the war, or even sooner if Congress or the President so determines.

The American people do not need, and no national Administration would dare to ask them, to tolerate for a minute any indefinite continuance in peacetime of the controls essential in wartime.

The power of the will of the American people expressed through the free ballot that I've been talking about is thesurest protection against the weakening of our democracy by "regimentation" or by any alien doctrines.

It is a source of regret to all decent Americans that some political propagandists are now dragging red herrings across the trail of this national election.

For example, labor baiters, bigots and some politicians use the term "communism" loosely, and apply it to every progressive social measure and to the views of every foreign-born citizen with whom they disagree.

They forget that we in the United States are all descended from immigrants—all except the Indians—and there is no better proof of that fact than the heroic names on our casualty lists.

I have just been looking at a statement by a member of the Congress, Representative Anderson, chairman of the House Committee on Campaign Expenditures, about a document recently sent free through the mails by one Senator and twelve Representatives—all of them Republicans. They evidently thought highly of this document, for they had more than three million copies printed free by the Government Printing Office, requiring more than eighteen tons of scarce paper, and sent them through the mails all over the country at the taxpayers expense.

Now let us look at this document to see what made it so important to thirteen Republican leaders at this stage of the war when many millions of our men are fighting for freedom.

Well, this document says that the "Red specter of Communism"—I'm quoting—"is stalking our country from East to West, from North to South"—the charge being that the Roosevelt Administration is part of a gigantic plot to sell our democracy out to the Communists.

This form of fear propaganda is not new among rabble-rousers and fomenters of class hatred, who seek to destroy democracy itself. It was used by Mussolini's Black Shirts and by Hitler's Brown Shirts. It's been used before in this country by the Silver Shirts and others on the lunatic fringe. But the sound and democratic instincts of the American people rebel against its use, particularly by their own Congressmen and at the taxpayers' expense.

I have never sought and I do not welcome the support of any person or group committed to communism or fascism or any other foreign ideology which would undermine the American system of government or the American system of free competitive enterprise and private property.

Friendship Tie With Soviet

That does not in the least interfere with the firm and friendly relationship which this nation has in this war, and will, I hope, continue to have with the people of the Soviet Union. The kind of economy that suits the Russian people I take it is their own affair. The American people are glad and proud to be allied with the gallant people of Russia, not only in winning this war but in laying the foundations for the world peace that I hope will follow this war—and in keeping that peace.

We have seen our civilization in deadly peril. Successfully we have met the challenge due to the steadfastness of our Allies, to the aid that we are able to give to our Allies, and to the unprecedented outpouring of American manpower, American productivity and American ingenuity, and to the magnificent courage and enterprise to our fighting men and our military leadership.

What is now being won in battle must not be lost by lack of vision, or lack of knowledge, or lack of faith, or by division among ourselves and our Allies.

We must, and I hope we will, continue to be united with our Allies in a powerful world organization which is ready and able to keep the peace, if necessary by force.

To provide that assurance of international security is the policy, the effort and the obligation of this Administration.

We owe it to our posterity, we owe it to our heritage of freedom, we owe it to our God, to devote the rest of our lives and all of our capabilities to the building of a solid, durable structure of world peace.