The Fireside Chats:
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who took office in early 1933, would become the only president in American history elected to four consecutive terms. He would lead his nation through two of the greatest crises in its history—the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II (1939-45)—and would exponentially expand the federal government’s role through his New Deal reform program and its legacy.
From March 1933 to June 1944, Roosevelt addressed the American people in some 30 speeches broadcast via radio, speaking on various topics from banking to unemployment to fighting fascism in Europe. Millions of people found comfort and renewed confidence in these speeches, known as the “fireside chats.” During the 1930s, well before the advent of television, some 90 per cent of American households owned a radio. He saw the potential of mass media to communicate directly and intimately with the public.
In his first inaugural address, Roosevelt sought to impart a new sense of confidence to the struggling nation, declaring that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” During its first several months, famously labelled “The Hundred Days,” Roosevelt’s administration presented a broad array of measures to Congress to jumpstart America’s economic recovery–these would become the building blocks of his revolutionary New Deal.
Roosevelt was not sitting beside a fireplace when he delivered the speeches but behind a microphone-covered desk in the White House. Reporter Harry Butcher of CBS coined the term “fireside chat” in a press release before one of Roosevelt’s speeches on May 7, 1933. The name stuck, as it perfectly evoked the comforting intent behind Roosevelt’s words and their informal, conversational tone.
The script for every Fireside Chats was very carefully written. Though he worked with speechwriters, Roosevelt took an active role in creating the chats, dictating early drafts, and reading aloud revisions until he had almost memorised the text. He was fond of ad-libbing, explaining why official versions of his speeches often vary from the actual recorded version.
Roosevelt took care to use the simplest possible language, concrete examples and analogies in the fireside chats to be clearly understood by the largest number of Americans. He began many nighttime chats with the greeting “My friends”. He referred to himself as “I” and the American people as “you” as if addressing his listeners directly and personally.
In many speeches, Roosevelt invoked memories of the Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln or other inspirational figures from America’s past. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played after each chat ended, underlining that patriotic message. Finally, the president appealed to God or Providence at the end of almost every speech, urging the American people to face the difficult tasks ahead with patience, understanding and faith.
United States of America’s National Anthem (Links to an external site.)
United States of America’s National Anthem
You can find transcripts of the fireside chats here. Focus on the first four fireside chats that date to 1933. http://docs.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/firesi90.html (Links to an external site.)
It is April 1933, and you, a speechwriter working for FDR in the Whitehouse. The Hundred Days is almost over, and you need to help write a speech summarising the early achievements of the New Deal that will happen next. Your goal is to develop a rough draft that FDR can edit and turn into the final draft.
A version of this speech was written and was broadcast on 7 May 1933. This speech was intended as an introduction to the New Deal. You should read this speech and write a rough draft on one topic. This will be one section of the whole speech. You can choose to focus on the economic problems or the New Deal Reforms. You should not focus on the international part of the speech.
Specifically, your assignment should be one page and cover the following points:
Contain the simple language typical of Fireside Chats (10 points)
Contain a message about the economic crisis or New Deal designed to make ordinary Americans feel comforted and reassured (20 points)
Contain relevant historical details about the economic crisis or New Deal (20 points)
Bonus points are available for convincing historical forgeries. You can make your draft look like it was written on White House stationery or record it so FDR can hear what it sounds like.