Americans responded to FDR’s radio talks with an unprecedented tide of mail. A Fireside Chat could generate some 450,000 letters, cards and telegrams. FDR’s predecessor in the White House, Herbert Hoover, had received an average of 800 letters a day; FDR got more than 8,000. Many of the envelopes were addressed to FDR as “personal.” Some included messages and drawings on the outside of the envelope. -Stephen Smith
(Read also: the letters to Eleanor Roosevelt.)
OCTOBER 24, 1933
Dear Mr. President,
Last Sunday evening six of our friends came in for dinner and contract [a bridge game]. The men were not so much depressed as thoroughly frightened – their wives were wonderful – pretending to make light of the situation with such remarks as “You know, John, always worries about the things that never happen,” etc. but in my dressing room after dinner they spoke differently – i.e. “I wonder if the President means to make a Soviet Russia of this country,” “Why the new tie-up?” “I don’t pretend to follow politics, I hope things ar’n’t a tenth as bad as John imagines” –
At ten o’clock all playing ceased, while each and everyone strained forward to catch the least inflection of your magnetic, inspiring voice. As you finished, the effect was a combustion of gaiety – taut nerves let loose. The men fairly jumped up and down like happy children, the women were inwardly thanking God, and one dear soul let loose the flood gates of tears of relief.
Mr. President, I’m sure that scene was duplicated in thousands of homes the length and breadth of the land, and I can’t help writing you to thank you. You said you couldn’t perform miracles – but you have…
With the assurance of my highest regard,
(Mrs. H. Howard Harper) Marguerite Harper
OCTOBER 1, 1934
Dear Mr. President,
Everybody who has any sense and was able to get to a radio heard your speech last night. I desire to add my firm approval to every utterance which came from your lips.
Surely under the guidance of your great constructive genius the country is gaining. It is well that you take us into your confidence and tell us Mr. President; your address reveals what we had not heard. There is such a welter of publicity about the alphabetized programmes that much wisdom is lost in confusion, but when you speak everybody understands.
You know what your government is doing. You know how to explain it. You know where you are heading and you are on your way.
God bless and keep you strong for the battle Mr. President is the sincere wish of a red-hot, jet-black Democrat.
Melvin J. Chisum
(Field Secretary of the National Negro Press Association)
OCTOBER 1, 1934
My dear President:
Your speech last night should go down in history, along with many of your previous acts, as a display of mental incompetency. A small time politician could really have done better. However, the poor people of our glorious country are governed by their emotions and prejudices and you know it, so we can expect you to continue the way you have been going. But as “Eddie” Leonard used to say “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”
Hugh F. Colliton Jr.
OCTOBER 2, 1934
Dear Mr. President:
Sunday evening I spent with a friend in the country, a man who runs a small chicken ranch. About six thirty o’clock, as we sat there talking, neighbors who had no radios began to drop in to listen to your talk, which came to us at seven o’clock.
As your voice began to come to us, the room became very quiet. If you could have seen the faces of those folks, hanging on your every word: their expressions when your talk was finished, you would have new strength to go ahead. During the following Monday, friends called at the studio to pass the time of day. All sorts of people; a newspaper representative, a writer of action stories, a house-to-house solicitor, the postman, express man, and grocery man. The first word of all was, “Did you hear Roosevelt’s talk?”
In the evening, the Richfield Newsflashes told us the bankers were not satisfied, you had not made the promises they had hoped for; that business was dissatisfied; that the Socialists were distrustful.
Looks like nobody was satisfied but old John Public.
But the ordinary people with whom I came in contact showed new faith and courage after listening to your words. To them, your talk promised one thing, you would not turn back, and they were satisfied with that. That in fact, was all they wished to know. They are willing to follow as long as you face forward.
C.H. Van Scoy
APRIL 30, 1935
Your latest piece of glorified propaganda – miscalled fireside chats – was disheartening sickening. I must confess, I am ashamed that I once had some faith in you and your New Deal.
Prosperity? How you mock us. There can never be any true prosperity under your administration. Nothing but a vast destruction of wealth and hope – a degrading and demoralizing of our national character.
Why not be perfectly frank with your people just once, and admit that you are engaged in a subtle and gigantic effort to ruin the investing classes, big and little. Why not come out in the open, and declare your unalterable and all too evident purpose to usher in government ownership of all important businesses and a Socialist state.
For the hypocrisy of the New Deal is revolting.
Raymond E. Click
APRIL 14, 1938
We heard your radio address and have concluded that we’re all out of step but Jim.
I travel the state of Georgia continuously and if your ideas of recovery are right all of us down here are crazy.
Did it ever enter your head that the country ran before your time and will after your gone? Try dipping your head in a pail of water three times and just bring it out twice. Then the country will really recover.
JUNE 25, 1938
Dear Mr. Roosevelt,
Last night’s Fireside Talk may not rank among the greatest of your fireside reports to the nation, but it in had its content and confident delivery a quality of high courage and moral earnestness that should earn for it permanent place among your many notable utterances as the Chief Executive of our country.
I preferred to hear it not at home but at a downtown lunchroom frequented by railroad and other workers. Slot machines and pin games suspended for a greater part of your talk; heads nodded in agreement as important points went home; bronzed men smiled and nodded to one another as you…defined the liberal.
“That’s telling them. I knew he’d do it,” said an elderly man to the group leaning over the counter.
“And right from the shoulder,” someone responded. “He’s not letting them get away with anything.”
And that seemed the consensus of this crowd…
It’s a proud thing to be living in an America attaining it s true destiny under the ablest administration since Washington’s.
With the deepest respect and admiration
E. E. McLeish
SEPTEMBER 3, 1939
Dear President Roosevelt:
Ever since I heard you speak over the radio a couple Sundays ago I have been wanting to write you a few lines of appreciation for the very friendly and sincere speech. It made me wish that I might pick up my telephone and talk to you. You DO seem like a friend to each of us and oh I do hope that you will keep us out of War!
I will be 35 years old next month and I have a fine son who is 15 years of age and I’d die if he had to go to War. I also have three other sons and a daughter. My hubby was in the last War. He is only 41 now and I wrote you once before telling you that I’d rather shoot him myself than let him go to War and I mean it. I’ve brought my sons up to hate War and all it does and they do not want to fight and kill other mother’s sons. My hubby won’t allow the boys to play with guns, etc. like some of the other boys around here. We believe that if all parents would teach their children the horrors of War instead of making them believe it is wonderful and heroic that there wouldn’t be so many youths raring to go to War. My boys aren’t sissies either, but my hubby and I believe that THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA SHOULD NOT FIGHT UNLESS THE ENEMY COMES OVER HERE AND ATTACKS US!
I hope that you will see this letter and thanks again for the grand talk of two Sundays ago. We are for you 100% in this family. In fact, all of our friends are for you.
Mrs. J. A. Ringis
MAY 26, 1940
Dear Mr. President.
Thanks for your Speech or Chat tonight – it was very EMPTY – a flop.
I was bitterly disappointed.
You seem to be weakening – FAST.
One would appreciate a little more of the Winston Churchill spirit against the rank rottenness of Hitlerism – the major cause of World chaos today…
Yours Very Truly
Harry C. Armin
DECEMBER 29, 1940
Dear Mr. Roosevelt:
I am only twelve years old and I am in the seventh grade. The reason I am writing this letter is because we have to write one in school and send it to someone so I am sending mine to you.
Our gang listened to your fireside chat tonight and we really enjoyed it…
We don’t want war, if we did go to war then the boys in our gang would have to go in about six years but if you think we should, Mr. Roosevelt we are ready.
You’re right when you say that we’ll give all we can spare to England but the only thing that’s wrong is that the Nazis will bomb our ships carrying the supplies and I think that we should send them by submarine.
I hope that I haven’t taken up too much of your time and you must hurry and write to me. Please do, nobody has ever received a personal letter from you and I surely will be thrilled to get one from you.
FEBRUARY 24, 1942
My Dear President: –
I listened to your Radio Speech on Monday night with a great deal of interest. You mentioned again your idea of the so called Four Freedoms for the whole World. This is all very well in theory and sounds very nice over the Radio, but it will never work out practically which we will learn sooner or later to our sorrow.
I feel that it is not up to us to try to force our ideas and ideals on the Whole World. The Whole World may not appreciate them or want them, and anyway it is not our job to impose our ideas on others any more than we would permit Hitler to impose his ideas on us.
Very truly yours,
Frank A. Harden
New York, N. Y.
APRIL 29, 1942
Dear Sir. Pres Roosevelt
You would have liked to have seen us fellows lying around the barrack in the dark (it was after “lights out”) listening to your voice coming from a little radio. We heard every syllable and though we didn’t always understand (about the $25,000 a year incomes, etc.) we did like the way you said everything. It made us feel that, there, away up on top was a fellow who knew and cared. You made the whole setup simpler and made us glad from the heart because it’s the complexity that’s so hard to take. We liked those stories of war experiences and got a laugh when you told of the radio man on that bomber being killed first. You see we are radio men (students) and are aware of what usually happens to us. It’s a favorite joke.
Its time for school now, but sir believe me we are doing and shall continue to do all that we can to keep alive the “American Way” which you so greatly help us to perceive more clearly.
Pvt. Robert J. Metzger for the boys barracks 723
Scott Field, Ill.
APRIL 28, 1942
And I use this salutation respectfully, warmly. For any man who could come so close to people of the U.S. as you did tonight, certainly knows them well enough to be called by his first name.
This is from a 26 1/2 year old chemical engineer who would almost rather die than write a letter…
Frank, tonight you made me proud of being an American and you made me want to write, made the urge to do so irresistible…
Frank, there is one thrill, one sublime thrill that you will never know, or, rather, experience. And that is the thrill that comes to a person – who, having been brought up in a poor family, experienced and felt keenly many of the injustices in our system – when he hears one of our leaders, – – who has every justifiable right and reason, judging from his background, to be perfectly unaware of these inequalities – dedicate himself and rededicate the nation to the sublime principles of true democracy.
You see, Frank, there were times when my heard was heavy and filled with doubts times such as the miserable shooting on the bonus army, or times, when as a relief investigator I visited hundreds of downtrodden and almost hopeless families, or events such as the Republic Steel massacre in Chicago, – and I wondered whether democracy would ever rise above such low levels.
Tonight, you reaffirmed my faith and reawakened in me, that which I thought was no longer there, namely, a feeling a being one of a large, united family, and a hope that this family, – Christian and Jew, White, Yellow and Black – could and would live and work harmoniously together until victory is won – and forever after. – Tonight you gave me that thrill. And for that I am deeply grateful….
Thank you fervently.
Joseph J. Hitov
New York, N.Y.
OCTOBER 13, 1942
Most Honorable Sir:
I listened last night to your so-called “homey” fireside chat and I could hardly believe my ears at the statements that you made in the talk.
When you talk so glibly of drafting our eighteen and nineteen year old boys, it is absolute proof that you are war-mad. We now have in this country, whether you know it or not, several hundred thousand men who are unable to get into the armed forces and are waiting assignments to duty because you have managed the mobilization of our armed forces so miserably that we are unable either to train or get them to the point where they are needed…I suggest that you reread several times the script of your speech and I believe that on mature reflection you will realize that it is the poorest speech that was ever made by any man…
Yours very truly,
Earl E. Wright
Santa Ana, California
DECEMBER 24, 1943
Dear Mr. President –
You have just finished speaking over the radio. Until you spoke I had been dreading Christmas Eve a little. My husband Captain Allen Schauffler is with A.W.G. attached to the British Eighth Army in Italy, and my young son is in the Amphibious Command. But I want you to know that what you have just said so simply and honestly, has made everything seem right – and I’m not dreading Christmas any longer. As you spoke it seemed as if Allen were sitting here beside me listening with me, as we have listened to you to-gether so many times.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
Helen Powell Schauffler
New Rochelle, N.Y.