Eleanor Roosevelt Calms the Democratic National Convention


This audio is part of the larger project The First Family of Radio: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s Historic Broadcasts. You can download the entire radio hour from our podcast feed (iTunes).

July 18, 1940

In 1940, FDR decided to seek reelection to an unprecedented third term. But he chose not to attend the Democratic National Convention in Chicago (before FDR appeared at the 1932 convention, nominees did not typically campaign openly for office). There was little doubt that FDR would be nominated, but many of the delegates were in a sour mood over how his political lieutenants were managing the convention. They also didn’t like FDR’s selection of a running mate, Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace.

ER was immensely popular with the party faithful, so she was recruited to fly in and help restore order. To her surprise, ER was asked to address the delegates. The rowdy convention grew silent as she approached the podium. It was the first time a first lady had addressed a national party convention. ER’s brief, unscripted message helped get the meeting back on track. -Stephen Smith


ER: Delegates to the convention, visitors, friends: It is a great pleasure for me to be here and to have an opportunity to say a word to you. First of all, I think I want to say a word to our national chairman, James A. Farley. For many years I have worked under Jim Farley and with Jim Farley, and I think nobody could appreciate more what he has done for the party, what he has given in work and loyalty. And I want to give him here my thanks and devotion.

And now I think that I should say to you that I cannot possibly bring you a message from the president because he will give you his own message. But as I am here, I want you to know that no one could not be conscious of the confidence which you have expressed in him. I know and you know that any man who is in an office of great responsibility today faces a heavier responsibility, perhaps, than any man has ever faced before in this country. Therefore, to be a candidate of either great political party is a very serious and solemn thing.

You cannot treat it as you would treat an ordinary nomination in an ordinary time. We people in the United States have got to realize today that we face a grave and serious situation.

Therefore, this year the candidate who is the president of the United States cannot make a campaign in the usual sense of the word. He must be on his job.

So each and every one of you who give him this responsibility, in giving it to him assume for yourselves a very grave responsibility because you will make the campaign. You will have to rise above considerations which are narrow and partisan.

You must know that this is the time when all good men and women give every bit of service and strength to their country that they have to give. This is the time when it is the United States that we fight for, the domestic policies that we have established as a party that we must believe in, that we must carry forward, and in the world we have a position of great responsibility.

We cannot tell from day to day what may come. This is no ordinary time. No time for weighing anything except what we can do best for the country as a whole, and that responsibility rests on each and every one of us as individuals.

No man who is a candidate or who is president can carry this situation alone. This is only carried by a united people who love their country and who will live for it to the fullest of their ability, with the highest ideals, with a determination that their party shall be absolutely devoted to the good of the nation as a whole and to doing what this country can to bring the world to a safer and happier condition.