When President Franklin D. Roosevelt won an unprecedented fourth term in the 1944 elections, America was neck-deep in World War II. And while victory was in sight, he insisted that his inauguration the following January be handled with a minimum of pomp and circumstance.
FDR began his fourth term with a simple swearing-in ceremony and a brief speech from the South Portico of the White House to a small crowd.This was followed by a modest luncheon for top officials and their families (the total attendance was less than a thousand) where, as one reporter noted, the menu reflected "wartime austerity: cold chicken salad, rolls without butter, unfrosted pound cake, and coffee."
"He [Roosevelt] did not want an elaborate ceremony," says historian Donald Ritchie. "There was no parade, no balls or anything like that. They really didn't want a celebration because of the circumstances."
On January 20, 1945, Roosevelt delivered the inaugural address reprinted below. Today, as Republicans prepare to celebrate George W. Bush's reelection with a $40 million inauguration, in the midst of a hellish guerrilla war in Iraq and in the immediate aftermath of a great natural disaster, perhaps they should ask themselves: What would FDR do?
Mr. Chief Justice, Mr. Vice President, my friends, you will understand and, I believe, agree with my wish that the form of this inauguration be simple and its words brief.
We Americans of today, together with our allies, are passing through a period of supreme test. It is a test of our courage -- of our resolve -- of our wisdom -- our essential democracy.
In the days and in the years that are to come we shall work for a just and honorable peace, a durable peace, as today we work and fight for total victory in war. We can and we will achieve such a peace.
We shall strive for perfection. We shall not achieve it immediately -- but we still shall strive. We may make mistakes -- but they must never be mistakes which result from faintness of heart or abandonment of moral principle.
I remember that my old schoolmaster, Dr. Peabody, said, in days that seemed to us then to be secure and untroubled, "Things in life will not always run smoothly. Sometimes we will be rising toward the heights -- then all will seem to reverse itself and start downward. The great fact to remember is that the trend of civilization itself is forever upward; that a line drawn through the middle of the peaks and the valleys of the centuries always has an upward trend.
Our Constitution of 1787 was not a perfect instrument; it is not perfect yet. But it provided a firm base upon which all manner of men, of all races and colors and creeds, could build our solid structure of democracy.
And so today, in this year of war, 1945, we have learned lessons -- at a fearful cost -- and we shall profit by them. We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations far away. We have learned that we must live as men, not as ostriches, nor as dogs in the manger.
We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community. We have learned the simple truth, as Emerson said, that "The only way to have a friend is to be one." We can gain no lasting peace if we approach it with suspicion and mistrust or with fear. We can gain it only if we proceed with the understanding, the confidence, and the courage which flow from conviction.
The Almighty God has blessed our land in many ways. So we pray to Him now for the vision to see our way clearly -- to see the way that leads to a better life for ourselves and for all our fellow men -- to the achievement of His will to peace on earth. •