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Franklin Roosevelt, Second Bill of Rights, 1944

Use this primary source text to explore key historical events.

Suggested Sequencing


President Franklin Roosevelt used calm and inspiring communication with American citizens through fireside chats and his State of the Union addresses. His communication style established firebreaks in the panic that followed in the wake of the Great Depression and harnessed the needed courage to respond to the 1941 military attack against Pearl Harbour. Three years into the war, Roosevelt chose to reassert the necessity of winning the economic war on poverty at home just as fascism had to be conquered in Europe. To accomplish this, the president wielded the political clout and trust he had developed with Americans to propose a Second Bill of Rights in his 1944 State of the Union address.

Sourcing Questions

  1. Who proposed the Second Bill of Rights to deal with the economic situation?
  2. What relationship or hardships had the American people and this president mutually overcome at that time?
  3. How did the magnitude of the economic crisis they faced influence their willingness to consider his plan?

Vocabulary Text
To the Congress:
This Nation in the past two years has become an active partner in the world’s greatest war against human slavery.
We have joined with like-minded people in order to defend ourselves in a world that has been gravely threatened with gangster rule.
But I do not think that any of us Americans can be content with mere survival. Sacrifices that we and our allies are making impose upon us all a sacred obligation to see to it that out of this war we and our children will gain something better than mere survival.
ostrich isolationism: an expression comparing an ostrich hiding its head in the sand when in danger with the isolationist foreign policy of the United States during the 1930s We are united in determination that this war shall not be followed by another interim which leads to new disaster- that we shall not repeat the tragic errors of ostrich isolationism—that we shall not repeat the excesses of the wild twenties when this Nation went for a joy ride on a roller coaster which ended in a tragic crash. . . .
It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill housed, and insecure.
This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.
As our Nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.
necessitous(adj): lacking the necessities of life; in need We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

Comprehension Questions

  1. What countries is Roosevelt alluding to?
  2. What recent events does Roosevelt want to avoid as the United States comes out of another world war?
  3. What challenge must the United States now face as the war ends?
  4. According to Roosevelt, why are political rights inadequate to guarantee the “pursuit of happiness”? To what extent is he changing or refocusing the idea of inalienable rights?

Historical Reasoning Questions

  1. Explain how Roosevelt connects his argument for economic rights to the political rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. How does his language support his argument?
  2. Do you agree with Roosevelt’s argument? Explain.

Franklin Roosevelt, 1944 State of the Union Address