FDR's First Inaugural Address: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:02 FDR and the Great Depression
  • 2:17 FDR's First Inaugural Address
  • 4:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn about President Franklin D. Roosevelt's first inaugural address. We will examine the context in which this speech was delivered and the contents of the speech itself to learn why it is important.

FDR and the Great Depression

Imagine for a moment what it would have been like to live in the beginning of the 1930s. It was an incredibly dark time for many Americans. With the national unemployment rate reaching a staggering 25% by 1933, many Americans were fighting just to survive. Many families packed up and moved west where land was more available. Soup kitchens became a common sight as unemployed men waited in lines for free meals. Those who had been millionaires just a few years before were left with virtually nothing. This nightmare of a phenomenon was the Great Depression, which was the most severe economic depression in American history, lasting from 1929 to American involvement in World War II in 1941.

It was the Stock Market Crash that took place on October 29, 1929, a day that has come to be known as Black Tuesday, that ushered in the Great Depression. Republican President Herbert Hoover, who had been in office between 1929 and 1933, took the blame for the Depression and became reviled by many Americans. Many Americans believed he did a poor job of handling the outbreak of the Depression and that he and the government should have taken a more active role in correcting the economic downturn. As a result, Hoover lost the election of 1932 in a landslide to Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who went on to serve as president from 1933-1945. FDR, as he is commonly called, was the longest-serving president in American history, being elected to four consecutive terms. He was president through two of America's darkest moments: the Great Depression and World War II.

As a liberal and a progressive Democrat, FDR supported the government playing a strong role in economics. He believed only the government could relieve the stagnant economy and bring America out of the Great Depression. Under his administration, government power and authority greatly expanded. To combat the Great Depression, FDR launched what has been called his New Deal initiative. The New Deal is a term used to describe Roosevelt's program for economic recovery. The New Deal involved the creation of numerous government agencies, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and the Social Security Administration.

FDR's First Inaugural Address

Now that we've explored some of the context, let's look at FDR's first inaugural address and see what he actually said. His first inaugural address was given on March 4, 1933. The overriding theme of his speech was 'declaring war on the Great Depression.' In order to do this, FDR needed to significantly expand the power of the federal government. His speech, thus, can be thought of as prepping the nation for government expansion.

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