F.D.R. Proposes a Second Bill of Rights: A Decent Job, Education & Health Care Will Keep Us Free from Despotism (1944)

It’s dif­fi­cult to appraise the com­pli­cat­ed lega­cy of Franklin D. Roo­sevelt. His New Deal poli­cies are cred­it­ed for lift­ing mil­lions out of des­ti­tu­tion, and they cre­at­ed oppor­tu­ni­ties for strug­gling artists and writ­ers, many of whom went on to become some of the country’s most cel­e­brat­ed. But Roo­sevelt also com­pro­mised with racist south­ern sen­a­tors like Mississippi’s Theodore Bil­bo, and under­wrote hous­ing seg­re­ga­tion, job and pay dis­crim­i­na­tion, and exclu­sions in his eco­nom­ic recov­ery aimed most square­ly at African-Amer­i­cans. He is laud­ed as a wartime leader in the fight against Nazism. But he built con­cen­tra­tion camps on U.S. soil when he interned over 100,000 Japan­ese Amer­i­cans after Pearl Har­bor. His com­mit­ment to iso­la­tion­ism before the war and his “moral failure—or indif­fer­ence” to the plight of Euro­pean Jews, thou­sands of whom were denied entry to the U.S., has come under jus­ti­fi­able scruti­ny from his­to­ri­ans.

Both blame and praise are well war­rant­ed, and not his alone to bear. Yet, for all his seri­ous laps­es and wartime crimes, FDR con­sis­tent­ly had an astute and ide­al­is­tic eco­nom­ic vision for the coun­try. In his 1944 State of the Union address, he denounced war prof­i­teers and “self­ish and par­ti­san inter­ests,” say­ing, “if ever there was a time to sub­or­di­nate indi­vid­ual or group self­ish­ness to the nation­al good, that time is now.”

He went on to enu­mer­ate a series of pro­pos­als “to main­tain a fair and sta­ble econ­o­my at home” while the war still raged abroad. These include tax­ing “all unrea­son­able prof­its, both indi­vid­ual and cor­po­rate” and enact­ing reg­u­la­tions on food prices. The speech is most extra­or­di­nary, how­ev­er, for the turn it takes at the end, when the pres­i­dent pro­pos­es and clear­ly artic­u­lates a “sec­ond Bill of Rights,” argu­ing that the first one had “proved inad­e­quate to assure us equal­i­ty in the pur­suit of hap­pi­ness.”

Roo­sevelt did not take the val­ue of equal­i­ty for grant­ed or mere­ly invoke it as a slo­gan. Though its role in his ear­ly poli­cies was sore­ly lack­ing, he showed in 1941 that he could be moved on civ­il rights issues when, in response to a march on Wash­ing­ton planned by Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Ran­dolph, and oth­er activists, he deseg­re­gat­ed fed­er­al hir­ing and the mil­i­tary. In his 1944 speech, Roo­sevelt strong­ly sug­gests that eco­nom­ic inequal­i­ty is a pre­cur­sor to Fas­cism, and he offers a pro­gres­sive polit­i­cal the­o­ry as a hedge against Sovi­et Com­mu­nism.

“We have come to a clear real­iza­tion,” he says, “of the fact that true indi­vid­ual free­dom can­not exist with­out eco­nom­ic secu­ri­ty. ‘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.” In the footage at the top of the post, you can see Roo­sevelt him­self read his new Bill of Rights. Read the tran­script your­self just below:

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.

Roo­sevelt died in office before the war end­ed. His suc­ces­sor tried to car­ry for­ward his eco­nom­ic and civ­il rights ini­tia­tives with the “Fair Deal,” but con­gress blocked near­ly all of Tru­man’s pro­posed leg­is­la­tion. We might imag­ine an alter­nate his­to­ry in which Roo­sevelt lived and found a way through force of will to enact his “sec­ond Bill of Rights,” hon­or­ing his promise to every “sta­tion, race” and “creed.” Yet in any case, his fourth term was near­ly at an end, and he would hard­ly have been elect­ed to a fifth.

But FDR’s pro­gres­sive vision has endured. Many seek­ing to chart a course for the coun­try that tacks away from polit­i­cal extrem­ism and toward eco­nom­ic jus­tice draw direct­ly from Roosevelt’s vision of free­dom and secu­ri­ty. His new bill of rights is strik­ing for its polit­i­cal bold­ness. Its pro­pos­als may have had their clear­est artic­u­la­tion three years ear­li­er in the famous “Four Free­doms” speech. In it he says, “the basic things expect­ed by our peo­ple of their polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic sys­tems are sim­ple. They are:

Equal­i­ty of oppor­tu­ni­ty for youth and for oth­ers.

Jobs for those who can work.

Secu­ri­ty for those who need it.

The end­ing of spe­cial priv­i­lege for the few.

The preser­va­tion of civ­il lib­er­ties for all.

The enjoy­ment of the fruits of sci­en­tif­ic progress in a wider and con­stant­ly ris­ing stan­dard of liv­ing.

These are the sim­ple, the basic things that must nev­er be lost sight of in the tur­moil and unbe­liev­able com­plex­i­ty of our mod­ern world. The inner and abid­ing strength of our eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal sys­tems is depen­dent upon the degree to which they ful­fill these expec­ta­tions.

Guar­an­tee­ing jobs, if not income, for all and a “con­stant­ly ris­ing stan­dard of liv­ing” may be impos­si­ble in the face of automa­tion and envi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion. Yet, most of Roo­sevelt’s prin­ci­ples may not only be real­iz­able, but per­haps, as he argued, essen­tial to pre­vent­ing the rise of oppres­sive, author­i­tar­i­an states.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Franklin D. Roo­sevelt Says to Mon­eyed Inter­ests (EG Bankers) in 1936: “I Wel­come Their Hatred!”

Rare Footage: Home Movie of FDR’s 1941 Inau­gu­ra­tion

Strik­ing Poster Col­lec­tion from the Great Depres­sion Shows That the US Gov­ern­ment Once Sup­port­ed the Arts in Amer­i­ca


Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (27)
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  • harry waters says:

    this is what a real pres­i­dent does, acts like a Man !!!!

  • Carl Pietrantonio says:

    You write: “Yet in any case, his fourth term was near­ly at an end…”

    Um, he was Inau­gu­rat­ed for his 4th term that very year, hav­ing been re-elect­ed in 1944. His 4th term had just start­ed and you are incor­rect.

  • Ria Swift says:

    Only if you think REAL men are big, fat bul­lies. I don’t agree with you. He is a grifter and a bul­ly. The men I know and love do not act like this. Sor­ry, that you have such a dis­tort­ed view of men. Thank­ful­ly, most of us don’t.

  • Ria Swift says:

    Sor­ry, I lost my mind for a minute. Yes, I agree this is what real men should be like. I was refer­ring to our cur­rent one. YIKES. Many apolo­gies.

  • Jim Washington says:

    By 1944 Roo­sevelt could see the war would be won — so he revert­ed to the anit-busi­ness anti-Free Mar­ket guy he was through the 1930s. He put that aside in 1940 when he real­ized that he need­ed the pow­er and cre­ativ­i­ty of Amer­i­can busi­ness to win the war. The mil­i­tary pro­cure­ment sys­tem was stripped of almost all rules and an advi­so­ry coun­cil of major man­u­fac­tur­ers etc. orga­nized the war effort. By tak­ing away all the BS this coun­cil was able to pro­vide US Armed Forces (and most of the rest of the Allies) with so much equip­ment and sup­plies that both Ger­many and Japan, for all prac­ti­cal pur­pos­es, were doomed well before we for­mal­ly entered the war in Decem­ber 1941.

    Some of the num­bers are amaz­ing: Here is the lead to a PBS doc­u­men­tary:
    Amer­i­can indus­try pro­vid­ed almost two-thirds of all the Allied mil­i­tary equip­ment pro­duced dur­ing the war: 297,000 air­craft, 193,000 artillery pieces, 86,000 tanks and two mil­lion army trucks.

    So even with all that evi­dence to what US indus­try can do when not micro man­aged — he revert­ed when it was obvi­ous­ly won. His speech is back demo­niz­ing War Prof­i­teers. The amount of so-called prof­i­teer­ing by US man­u­fac­tur­ers dur­ing the war was infin­i­tes­i­mal. But they replaced his indus­tri­al whip­ping boy of the Elec­tri­cal Pow­er Com­pa­nies which were his major tar­get in his first 2 terms.

  • Shaun Herndon says:

    This is essen­tial­ly Bernie Sander’s Pol­i­cy plat­form, and yet he’s labeled as being “too-far to the Left”. All that Bernie Sanders wants is human dig­ni­ty to be restored to the rest of Amer­i­can soci­ety, not just the very top %1 per­cent­age of peo­ple.
    It’s amaz­ing how far to the right the polit­i­cal spec­trum has strayed from the days after FDR & Eisen­how­er, espe­cial­ly with Rea­gan.
    After that, Democ­rats were bul­lied into pla­cat­ing extreme right wing talk­ing points and pol­i­cy…
    It was dur­ing the Clin­ton years that the Glass-stea­gle act was repealed, a mea­sure that put into place back dur­ing the FDR days, which kept Com­mer­cial bank­ing merg­ing with Invest­ment bank­ing and Insur­ance com­pa­nies; the repeal of the Glass-stea­gle act pre­cip­i­tat­ed the 2008 finan­cial col­lapse, where Gold­man Sachs, Lehman broth­ers and the rest were know­ing­ly sell­ing junk sub-prime deriv­a­tives and swap­ping them to dif­fer­ent banks to then han­dle these tox­ic assets.
    Us, the pub­lic tax­pay­ers were the ones who were to bail the banks out with lit­tle or no pros­e­cu­tion of any­one respon­si­ble dur­ing the Oba­ma years. Cou­pled with a grow­ing Mil­i­tary spend­ing bud­get ( now at %57 of the Fed­er­al bud­get ) to fund these regime change wars, we are asked “how are we sup­posed to pay for Medicare for all ?”
    It’s time that we looked back to the FDR years in the respect of what had hap­pened before the years of FDR and what events knocked down the domi­noes that led to the Great depres­sion and the mea­sures ( not all per­fect ) that the Gov­ern­ment took to keep from hap­pen­ing again.

  • Phoebe Collins says:

    The US Japan­ese intern­ment camps were not “con­cen­tra­tion camps.” Unfair and wrong, yes, but con­cen­tra­tion camps were built specif­i­cal­ly for human exter­mi­na­tion.

  • Jim Washington says:

    Yes they were con­cen­tra­tion camps. The term orig­i­nat­ed in South Africa dur­ing the Boer War — the British gath­ered the Boer (Dutch) farm­ers and moved them into camps under guard to pre­vent their mov­ing freely about the coun­try­side to attack British troops. They did the same thing in their anti-guer­ril­la cam­paign in Malaya a half cen­tu­ry lat­er. The term has noth­ing to do with exter­mi­na­tion although the Ger­mans did use the same tech­niques in gath­er­ing peo­ple to be exter­mi­nat­ed in WWII.

  • Tom De Luca says:

    The mil­i­tary was ordered inte­grat­ed by exec­u­tive order by Pres­i­dent Tru­man, not Roo­sevelt. We fought the NAZI’s in WW II with a seg­re­gat­ed mil­i­tary.

  • Gabriel Pinzón says:

    The ver­sion of FDR’s Sec­ond Bill of Rights sppech from this video dif­fers from both the radio ver­sion and a text ver­sion of that 1944 State of the Union speech I have fonund in some sites; in this video, FDR talked about “cer­tain eco­nom­ic truths” instead of the “these eco­nom­ic truths” ver­sion of the com­plete speech. And even the spo­ken and text ver­sions of that SOTU speech dif­fer a lit­tle: the spo­ken ver­sion skips two parts from the text ver­sion: 1: (after “…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”. 2: (after “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”.

  • Todd Iguchi says:

    Do you have first hand knowl­edge of the con­di­tions in the con­cen­tra­tion camps? Your mar­gin­al­iza­tion of what Japan­ese Amer­i­cans endured as the result of the FDR E.O. 9066 is a bit dis­con­cert­ing. E.O. 9066 was a smoke screen to take away the free­doms and prop­er­ty of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens. FDR essen­tial­ly eth­ni­cal­ly cleansed the entire West Coast of the Unit­ed States and set in motion decades of gov­ern­ment sanc­tioned eth­nic dis­crim­i­na­tion against Asian Amer­i­cans. Note my last name does­n’t make me an impar­tial observ­er to what hap­pened. I’m liv­ing the results of what FDR did.

    Look up the term “con­cen­tra­tion camp.”

  • Robert Lemmon says:

    The prob­lem with Roosevelt’s Sec­ond Bill of Rights is twofold. First off it neces­si­tates the destruc­tion of the First Bill of Rights. Sec­ond­ly it cod­i­fies a new form of Slav­ery. If you are a Doc­tor or a Nurse for exam­ple then all of your work is some­one else’s Right. That is the def­i­n­i­tion of Slav­ery.

  • Gerald Edgar says:

    The arti­cle is full of fac­tu­al errors such as FDR deseg­re­gat­ing the mil­i­tary in 1941. This was NOT done until 1948 by then Pres. Tru­man, who, unlike FDR, was a Vet­er­an (WWI).

  • Roger Plassmann says:

    God knows it’s fun­ny that with all FDR’s pro­gres­sive pro­grams, it was Adolf Hitler who saved the world from the great depres­sion .. much to the mis­for­tune of his con­sti­tu­an­cy .. heh heh.
    Also fun­ny that con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries did­n’t begin with George W. Bush: some peo­ple accused FDR of col­lu­sion with his Har­vard pok­er bud­dy Yamamo­to to scrap the out­dat­ed bat­tle­ships of the Pacif­ic Fleet .. where were the Car­ri­ers?
    What the hell, we won .. and what if a hur­ri­cane blew the dam­aged World Trade Cen­ter into oth­er build­ings caus­ing a domi­no effect? Many more than 3,000 would have died.
    Not to den­i­grate FDR, or dis­count human suf­fer­ing, or even advo­cate con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries — God knows what any­one was think­ing. Con­sid­er that the fos­sil record speaks of the com­plete dom­i­nance of the Veloci­rap­tors to the point where their abil­i­ty to kill and eat every­thing from moths to Bron­tosaurus­es man­i­fest­ed a pre-extinc­tion, inter­rupt­ed only by the mete­orite col­li­sion at the Yucatan, giv­ing rise to mam­mals.
    Mys­te­ri­ous are the ways of the Lord — his won­ders to per­form.
    ‑in praise-

  • Barbara R Saunders says:

    What is the point of a guar­an­teed job with­out income?

  • Ralph FucetolaJD says:

    FDR did not under­stand the con­cept of a “Right” — which is a free­dom of action that nev­er depends on forc­ing some­one else to pay. FDR was out­lin­ing a polit­i­cal pro­gram for the post-war peri­od, where gov­ern­ment would guar­an­tee cer­tain enti­tle­ments. We all know how that worked out.

  • Kathy Niblack says:

    I don’t under­stand how Hitler saved the world from a great depres­sion? Can some­one explain that to me?
    Thank you in advance.

  • Bryant says:

    FDR was just begin­ning his fourth term. He would have served until ‘49. If he hadn’t switched VPs there may have been a greater chance of this hap­pen­ing.

  • Scott says:

    He meant that the Great Depres­sion end­ed with the begin­ning of WWII, because of the arti­fi­cial boost it gave to eco­nom­ic activ­i­ty, espe­cial­ly man­u­fac­tur­ing. No oth­er gov­ern­ment action up to that point had much of an effect, includ­ing the New Deal. But the com­ing of war essen­tial­ly end­ed the Depres­sion very quick­ly. Hitler cer­tain­ly was­n’t try­ing to save the world of course, just Ger­many. End­ing the glob­al depres­sion was an unin­tend­ed con­se­quence.

  • Mike Sabat says:

    Very well done. Great job to the writ­ers.
    For FDR you were ahead of your time. Thank you.
    Broth­er Mike

  • Scott Larsen says:

    ‘Wartime crimes’? I see you slipped this in when it could have been addressed in anoth­er piece. Remem­ber most in the nation, from local, state, nation­al politi­cians — Repub­li­can and Demo­c­ra­t­ic — as well as the US Supreme Court backed Exec­u­tive Order 9066 of Feb, 1942 to round up and detained Japan­ese, Japan­ese-Amer­i­cans dur­ing WWII. Also, did you know Cana­da did the same thing on its west coast, a fact most Amer­i­cans are sad­ly igno­rant about. Feel it is seman­tics between whether they should be called ‘intern­ment’ or ‘con­cen­tra­tion’ camps. Both were wrong.

  • Ben says:

    The real Bill of Rights is all about things the gov­ern­ment can’t do. This is all about things you are owed, and some­one has to pay for those things, so it’s real­ly all about what the gov­ern­ment has the right to take from some to give to oth­ers. It’s a list of legal­ized thefts.

  • Jeff Blanks says:

    Con­ser­v­a­tive rhetoric has con­vinced peo­ple that the whole world was lan­guish­ing in the Great Depres­sion until WWII sud­den­ly pulled it out. This is quite sim­ply wrong–the econ­o­my took until about ’38 to get back to nor­mal, at least, but no war was required. (Or else how do you explain FDR’s land­slide re-elec­tion in ’36, with every­thing head­ed at least in the right direc­tion?) Now AIUI, the Dow did­n’t recov­er until after the war, but that’s kind of dif­fer­ent.

    As for the wartime spend­ing: On what plan­et is mak­ing war materiel to the gov­ern­men­t’s orders an exam­ple of “what US indus­try can do when not micro man­aged”? That was stim­u­lus spend­ing, pure and sim­ple, and if it works for war, it can work for tree-hug­ging hip­pie cr*p.

  • Aleck Janoulis says:

    We need a Bill of Respon­si­bil­i­ties more than addi­tion­al rights.

  • Bridget Ripberger says:

    It sad­dens that we blocked the flee­ing Jews entry to our coun­try. It was a huge mis­take. What sad­dens me even more is that we can not learn from that mis­take at our bor­ders now These peo­ple are flee­ing for their lives and have suf­fered unimag­in­able hor­rors

  • Marti Gutierrez says:

    In spite of all these dis­putes the US gov­ern­ment still has detain­ing camps (con­cen­tra­tion camps?) exist­ing today all over this coun­try. This needs to be addressed imme­di­ate­ly. These camps are large­ly near the Mex­i­can bor­der. The con­di­tions are deplorable. Peo­ple escap­ing hor­rif­ic unbear­able sit­u­a­tions in their coun­tries. Fam­i­lies, chil­dren removed from there par­ents dur­ing the detain­ing process. Not to men­tion all the crimes they are sub­ject­ed to. Peo­ple turn­ing to the land of the free only to suf­fer even more. We the peo­ple of this coun­try are allow­ing it. We are all guilty and respon­si­ble. Do we speak up?

  • Laura says:

    I don’t know what post you are refer­ring to, but FDR died in April 1945, so his term was almost at an end, even though he had just been reelect­ed.

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