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Eleanor Roosevelt Speeches

Speech at the New York State Democratic Convention

September 9, 1946


Speech by ER as Temporary Chairman, she discusses success of Democrats in NY and responsibility of party in postwar era.

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[Applause and whistling]

Catherine, delegates of the convention, honored guests, first I would like to thank you all for the honor which you have conferred on me, making me Temporary Chairman today. It is a long time since I have taken part in a New York state convention or even a national convention. I am glad to be with you today because the entire state has pioneered before. And in this year of 1946, when the war has been over a little more than a year, we must face pioneering again.


The war has ended, but there is no peace and good will established yet in the world. We are seeing day by day that the problems of peace are as complex as the problems of war and require from us qualities of heart and mind which we have only evinced in times of past during the stress of war. We meet here as members of one of the two great national political parties. We believe in this state that the Democratic Party is the party which offers the country an opportunity for growth and progress towards the normal aspirations of man: better living and working conditions, good will and better understanding in the family of nations, and a sense of fulfillment in that pursuit of happiness which can only come to the party in our country which gives spiritual as well as economic and political leadership. In the past [applause] in the past several years we have had this sense of satisfaction nationally. You will pardon me if for a few minutes I look back because while I believe strongly that the past must never govern the future, I also believe that we must have the past in mind to help us shape the future. On the national scene in 1933, we inherited twelve years of Republican government in Washington. The Democrats can be proud of the record of the following years, first [applause] first we had to pull the country out of a devastating domestic situation. We managed to do this by giving the people back confidence in themselves and in their ability to win through to success. Nothing to fear but fear itself was our slogan. [Applause] And we got rid of fear. As we did this, we also prepared ourselves to meet one of the greatest crises in our history, which came with the attack on Pearl Harbor [cough]. This preparation was done in spite of the constant opposition of Republicans in Congress and of Republican leadership in the nation. You will remember that the present governor of New York State, at one time, stated that it was ludicrous to imagine that we could reach certain stated goals of production. The Democrats trusted our people and our people made good.


In this state, in 1942, after Democratic governors served the people of the state for twenty-two years without a break and Governor Smith's record of social and progressive legislation and administration had been followed by Governor Roosevelt and Governor Lehman, we turned over to the present governor, not only a government in good running order but many plans and programs which made possible the best things which have been done under Republican rule in this state. None of the policies which were initiated by the previous Democratic governors from Governor Smith through to Governor Lehman have been changed. The pioneering done for the Democrats in the state in social legislation, which was later carried through on a broader front in Washington, is wholly responsible for the laws which have given the people of the state a sense of stability and protection. Now the Republicans claim as their main achievement the accumulation of a cash surplus in the state. They neglect however to point out that some of this surplus has been inherited from the Democratic administration and that the hoarding of this surplus were a great hardship on cities, forcing them to impose excise taxes and to neglect many governmental functions of value to the people. Just let us take one department of the state government extremely important to the working people of our state. The Labor Department has been reorganized ostensibly to make it less expensive to run and more efficient. In the past, the Labor Department's primary interest was to see that labor's interests were safeguarded, but subtly that has changed and today the interests of the employer are paramount in the administration of the Department of Labor. This is shown in the fact that they have decided not to police industrial establishments. Take for instance the enforcement of the minimum wage law. In prior years, this law was the most effective instrument that our state had devised to improve sub-standards of living in sweated industries and occupations. A minimum wage order when promulgated meant something because a thorough enforcement job was done by the Labor Department. The first thing the current administration did, in connection with the minimum wage law, was to change the method of enforcement. The Labor Department now employs the system of spot checking. The outstanding virtue of this method is that it saves time and money. Its weakness of course is that it affords opportunity for many violations to go undetected.


In the case of Veteran's Affairs, which is of such vital importance, much has been made of the state division of Veteran's Affairs set up for the government. This group could have been of great assistance, if it had consisted of really well qualified people, deeply interested in helping the veterans. Cooperating with the federal government, it could have prevented, for instance, the buying by veterans of houses at inflated prices which we are now told will not stand up a few years from now. Their position as counselors and advisors might have been made a vital help in preventing the exploitation of veterans in the job training program. What is happening to veterans, points to one important fact, which all of us should recognize, namely that the best plans in the world have to be carried out by individuals. If the individuals are good, the plans are well carried out. If they are poor, the plans will go awry and the value of state groups cooperating with the national administration is that they can check on the way the people are carrying out the spirit of the law. And they can make recommendations which will be listened to at headquarters, where an individual GI is powerful. The Governor's Division of Veteran's Affairs could have done much in making the education and the whole employment scene for veterans a better picture, instead of which it has simply not functioned. And therefore, the maximum good from the national program is not being achieved. And the veterans who gave so much for their country are the victims of poor administration in spite of all the promises which were made to them and which most of us want to see carried out. In the field of housing the present governor of the state talks of the difficulties he is under in carrying through the housing program because of the priorities demanded by the national housing program. He did not have foresight enough to appropriate during the last two years the money which might have started these programs well on their way. Nor had he arranged for close cooperation between the national and state programs so that no difficulties could arise between them. He has been silent and failed to support the bipartisan Wagner-Ellender-Taft Housing Bill. [ER coughs, audience applause 11:39-11:44] In the field--In the field of education we, the richest state in the Union, have no state university. And ranked twenty-third in giving educational opportunities to all our children, we are behind every state west of the Mississippi in percentage of youth going to college. New York state stands forty-eight among the states in [audio break 12:19-12:21] in money spent for education above the high school level. And this is probably a greater hardship to the youth in rural areas than in the cities, since some cities provide universities with free tuition for their citizens.


In the field of health, we've made no real progress in plans which would make medical care available to all the people. No plan has been forthcoming under the Republican administration even though we have had the results of the draft to remind us of our obligation to the health of our youth people. It is true, that the governor set up a commission to study the need for a health program for the state. And in this case, special interest prevented the recommendations which logically should have been made because of the findings of the commission. The result was that after fifteen months of deliberation and an expenditure of a hundred thousand dollars of state funds the committee majority failed to present any plan at all. Cities again get on better than rural areas when there is no state program, but a coordinated program using all of our facilities would benefit us all. In the field of agriculture in which I have a special interest because it was one of my husband's greatest interests from his early days in the New York State legislature. I feel that while the farmers are undoubtedly present very much better off, it is due to conditions in the world and not to the administration of matters of interests to the farmer in the state of New York. For instance, it would benefit the small farmer in the state if a real investigation could be made in the spread in the price of milk between what the farmers receive and what the consumers pay. Certain interests have again prevented this investigation and the same old fight which I have watched for years was waged in the legislature and the interests won, both in legislature and with the government. Much praise has been meted out to the governor because this state passed a Fair Employment Practices Bill, but passing a bill which is good in itself is not of much use unless something happens under the bill. I do not think we can boast in this state that discrimination in employment is over. We do not have to pass, thank heavens, an anti-lynching bill or an anti-poll tax bill in our state. It is significant to note that in the legislature the Republican governor had some Democratic backing for his FEPC Bill. The only opposition votes were cast by Republicans. Naturally I do not think there has ever been any question of where the representatives in Congress from the state of New York stand on these questions, but we are far from able to sit back and think that because we have a fair employment practice law, we have no discrimination either in opportunities for education or in opportunities for employment. I hope that this convention will pledge itself to use this law to better advantage in the future. [00:17:17](17:17) [Applause] [00:17:25](17:25) In Washington today, the administration which has adhered to the progressive ideals of the Democratic Party, has been defeated in putting through many of the measures which represent the real spirit of the Democratic Party by a coalition of so called conservative Democrats and reactionary Republicans. That is why it seems to me extremely important that we have in the Senate of the United States men who we have known in this state and can count on to stand on domestic and foreign questions for the progressive domestic point of view. You are here to consider the nominations for the state ticket and also the nomination of a candidate for the United States Senate. And in all your nominations, I hope you will bear this thought in mind, the primaries all over the country have shown that where the victories go to Republicans they always go to conservatives. Never forget that the Republican Party is the party that looks backwards [applause]. When the Democrat--[applause] when the Democrats have taken progressive steps the Republicans as a rule in time accept what has been done, and simply state that they are not going to make changes but that they will administer better the laws which have been passed under the Democrats. Administration is a question of choosing good administrators, but it is far more important in times such as these to put in office men who have the creative spirit and can accept unknown conditions and find solutions, without always hawking back to the security of something they knew in the past which perhaps is entirely inadequate to meet the present. Whomever you choose for United States Senator this year will have great opportunities for service to the state and to the nation. And you must trust him and back him with your interest and your constant support. Both major parties in this country know quite well that they do not win in elections through the votes cast either by regular Republicans or by regular Democrats. They win because the growing independent vote of the country is with them. This vote is the deciding factor. Victory comes when the candidates and the policies of a party convince these independent voters of their wisdom and sincerity. The men whom you nominate will, I am sure, have a keen sense of responsibility to you. And I hope that every person here will have an equally keen sense of responsibility to their nominees.


I hope that a real fight will be waged in every district, not only for the state ticket but for the local candidates, candidates for the legislature of the state and the Congress. Unless the governor has a legislature with him, he can hardly be blamed if he is not able to put his program into effect. And unless a president has a Congress with a clear mandate, to put through progressive legislation, the executive in Washington is powerless. Democratic government depends for its success on the strength of its smallest unit. If democratic government is weak in its smallest unit, if the members of the local and county committees are not truly interested in good government, there is failure at the top because there is failure at the bottom. Every individual who believes in democracy must do his job as a citizen to the limit of his ability; otherwise our form of government is a failure. Similarly, every individual candidate is a link in the line, which makes the success of the state and national government possible. You must win because you know and can persuade the voters in your district of what we must do today to meet our great opportunity as leaders in the world. Reconversion must be hurried here to help reconstruction the world over. We are no longer able to think of ourselves only as a small group of people struggling for our own success. We are citizens belonging to a great political party, planning here for the future of the greatest state in the Union, whose influence is powerful today in one of the strongest nations of the world. With strength and power goes responsibility and none of us can shake it. The misery of the world cries out to us for leadership. The hunger of the world demands our sympathy and our production. The lack of opportunity staring so many people in the face, today in other nations, shames us unless we grasp our great opportunities and use them to the best advantage. That means assuring every one of our citizens through their government of the help and hope which makes individual and group achievement a certainty. We believe in free enterprise and individual initiative, but we want it to benefit all and not just a favored few. To you, the delegates of this state convention, I give a challenge. Make the people of our state conscience of their greatness. Make this, our party, an instrument which will appeal to people who want greater achievement. In that spirit, may we march to victory in November and justify our victory by our performance thereafter.

[Break: 00:26:24 - 00:26:25]



Program Participants

  • : Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
  • : Democratic Party (N.Y.)

About this document

Speech at the New York State Democratic Convention

September 9, 1946


Eleanor Roosevelt

Project Editors
  • National Endowment for the Humanities

Eleanor Roosevelt Speeches is a project and publication of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, The George Washington University, Academic Building, Post Hall, Room 312, 2100 Foxhall Road, NW, Washington, DC 20007

Transcript Editors

Transcribed and published by the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, 2019-11-27

Transcription created from holdings at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library