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ACP Convention 1938: FDR Press Conference

    Franklin D. Roosevelt: Press Conference with Members of the Associated Church Press in Washington, D.C., April 20, 1938

    DR. JOHN VAN SCHAICK: [after introducing the individual members] Well, the first man that has something burning in his soul to ask the President should speak up or forever hold his peace. (Laughter)

    Q. I would like to ask, if you feel at liberty to answer, if there is truth in what Paul Anderson and Irving Brant and even Colonel McCormick have indicated, that from here on it is going to be a fight for the New Deal, that you are definitely lined up with the Progressives and that it is going to be a fight?

    THE PRESIDENT: I would not say from here on because it has been going on all of my lifetime. It has been going on with a good deal of vigor for the past five years and I think it will continue as long as I live and as long as most of us live. I think it is a matter of principle.

    Q. The reason I ask the question is that Colonel McCormick has indicated that we have won two victories- we have killed the Court Bill and the Reorganization Bill and it is a question of repealing some of the other Acts, such as the TVA Act. (Laughter)

    THE PRESIDENT: I guess so. (Laughter) But they are not going to do it, so that is all right. (Laughter)

    Of course, on the Reorganization Bill—As you know, the Reorganization Bill was originally suggested by President Benjamin Harrison, and every President ever since, because we have a machinery here, administrative machinery, that is awfully old-fashioned, that sort of grew up like Topsy. What we want to do is to put it on the same kind of an efficient basis that we would run an industrial plant, or a private charity, or even the financial end of a church. We want to make it efficient.

    One of the suggestions that the three people who drew up the original bill, Louis Brownlow and Professor Merriam and Luther Gulick, made was that certain functions that are in the wrong place at the present time should be put in a better place.

    For example, the Office of Education, which has certain specific powers given it by the Congress and certain specific sums of money given to it each year by the Congress, is today in the department which happens to have as its main functions the building of irrigation ditches, the running of national parks, and taking care of Indians. Now, why the Federal Office of Education should have been put into that department, I don’t know; I guess it just got stuck there, put in there because there was no other place to put it. So, in their proposal, they proposed setting up a new department of the Government that would handle what might be called the humanities, the problem of relief, the problem of public health, handle the Office of Education, handle the art projects of the Government, handle the cultural end of Government and the health and educational ends of Government. But, all of a sudden, there broke out—I don’t know who started it, but I do know who carried it on; and one was the gentleman from near Detroit who talks on the air. He claimed that this was an attack on the educational system of the Nation, whereupon, immediately, the Members of the Congress, the House and the Senate, were flooded with telegrams that this bill would give the President of the United States a chance to grab all the church schools of the Nation, the Protestant church schools and the Parochial schools, although I don’t know what the President of the United States was going to do with them when he did grab them. (Laughter)

    Of course, they entirely overlooked the fact that it does not make much difference whether it is in the Interior Department or the Welfare Department or the Navy Department, for that matter. All he can do is to carry out the laws that have been on the statute books for a great many years, and do it inside of a definite sum of money that has been given to carry it out. I have nothing to say about it.

    That is just an illustration of the kind of false information that this country is up against all the time, engendered by political motives. I hope it is engendered by that and not by hard feeling.

    DR. VAN SCHAICK: Well, you have a group of people here that are a little out of that. The Church Press is a little more independent. There were two or three matters that came up in our meetings. One was that we felt, as Protestants, a very keen desire not to have public money come to us, as Protestants, .and we thought the same thing ought to apply in any democratic country to any church school. We say that with a good deal of feeling. But that was merely one of the subjects. The other was neutrality. We hope that you have been thinking of the way our neutrality laws have been operating, have been working out. For example, in Spain, they have worked out against the Loyalists.

    THE PRESIDENT: They have not, as a matter of fact, in that particular case; but the neutrality law—I am talking off the record—but the neutrality law at the present time is so rigid that, acting on it in accordance with its rigidity, may mean a complete lack of neutrality. . . .

    In the case of Spain, that is a thing that is very, very little understood. If I were, tomorrow, or if I had last month or the month before declared that war was not going on in Spain—mind you, I have to find the fact one way or the other—what would have happened? It would have meant that the Franco forces, which are in control of the ocean, completely in control, would have been able to get direct shipments of munitions from this country, right into the revolutionary camp because they have complete control of the seas. By the same token, if last week or the month before I had said that there isn’t any war in Spain—I have to find that fact—the Barcelona government could not have gotten anything from this country direct because it would have been captured by the Franco people who control the ocean. That would not have been neutrality; I would have been playing into the hands of Franco.

    As the situation is today, undoubtedly there are bombs and munitions of various kinds going from here via Germany or Holland or Belgium or even England, going out from here to there and being reshipped, without our knowledge, but of course we have a pretty good guess that they are going from there to Franco. It is a long, rather arduous route around. At the same time, there is also a good deal of American munitions going to France, consigned to France, and we know pretty well that it is going from France into the Barcelona government.

    So, actually, as a matter of fact, we are maintaining neutrality in the highest sense, which is not to help one fellow more than the other.

    Does that explain something new? It is a new point of view from what most people are getting.

    Q. If the embargo on arms to Spain was lifted, it would not help the Loyalists, in your judgment?

    THE PRESIDENT: No, it would not; it would help Franco because the Loyalists could not get them except through France.

    Q. There is a concerted movement, we have been led to believe, to try to have you lift the embargo?

    THE PRESIDENT: I know it. It is by the people who sympathize with the Government of Spain and of course they have never thought the thing through.

    Q. We are a little keen to have the Civil Liberties Union get a little more money to find out some more facts.

    THE PRESIDENT: I am a hundred per cent with you. I think it ought to be a continuing proposition of the Civil Liberties Union presenting cases year in and year out, not only the type of case that has been investigated so well but a lot of other things. As you know, there are subversive forces in this country. I suppose the easiest term to apply is to call them the Fascist element in the United States, who are able to get very large sums of money quickly into their possession and sweep the country off its feet with some kind of a great publicity move before the country has an opportunity to think about it one way or the other. The people get this tremendous mass of stuff thrown at them, one way or the other, through newspapers and by letters, and it sweeps them off their feet. They can either rush a thing through or block something which, in their mature judgment, they would not be for at all. That is where it affects the civil liberties of the country. I think Beebe is doing a fine piece of work on that.

    Q. [Dr. Van Schaick] I saw him this morning. It is very fine of you to say so.

    THE PRESIDENT: Any other thought?

    Q. I would like to ask you, how great is the danger of Fascism in this country? We hear about Fascism-baiting in the United States.

    THE PRESIDENT: I think there is danger because every time you have the breaking down or failure of some process we have been accustomed to for a long time, the tendency is for that process, because of the breakdown, to get into the hands of a very small group. I am not going to repeat anything about sixty or eighty families, but (laughter) you come down to where—the Vice President himself has kept harping on it all the time—any large movement does ultimately have to be financed or taken care of through New York City, whether we like it or not. I will give you an example:

    One of our southern states that I spend a lot of time in, has a very large power company, the Georgia Power Company. There are a lot of people in Georgia that want to own and run Georgia power, but it is owned by Commonwealth and Southern in New York. They need some money. Georgia has plenty of money with which to extend electric light lines to the rural communities, and the officers of Georgia Power Company themselves want it Georgia owned or Georgia run. But they have to go to New York for the money. If it were not for that, we would not have any utility problem, and all of them would be owned in the districts which they serve, and they would get rid of this financial control.

    You take the new lumber companies that want to start on this wonderful process of making print paper out of yellow pine. One reason for the low wages of the workers in the pulp mills of Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina is that practically all profits go north, they do not stay south. If the profits stayed south, the whole scale of living would go up.

    I am greatly in favor of decentralization and yet the tendency is, every time we have trouble in private industry, to concentrate it all the more in New York. Now that is, ultimately, fascism.

    Q. Mr. President, we are very much interested in the amount of territory that will be taken in by this expanded Navy or the enlarged Naval program. How far would you extend a defense program, say, with an enlarged Navy?

    THE PRESIDENT: I would have to get you to give me two definitions first.

    Q. I am for it. (Laughter)

    THE PRESIDENT: What would you do at the present moment-I am not talking about 1945—in the case of an attack on the Philippines by some nation? The American flag is flying there. What would you do if they were attacked?

    Q. As long as we had them and they were attacked, I would protect them.

    THE PRESIDENT: Then that shows you the limit of the American Navy in the Pacific. That is No. 1, so that answered that end. If the flag was flying there we would protect them, even though we want to get out just as soon as we possibly can. As long as the flag is flying we cannot let another nation walk in there and say, “Get out tomorrow.”

    Now, another thing; this is a threefold question: Suppose certain foreign governments, European governments, were to do in Mexico what they did in Spain. Suppose they would organize a revolution, a Fascist revolution in Mexico. Mexico is awfully close to us. Suppose they were to send planes and officers and guns and were to equip the revolutionists and get control of the whole of Mexico and thereupon run the Mexican Government, run the Mexican Army and build it up with hundreds of planes. Do you think that the United States could stand idly by and have this European menace right on our own borders? Of course not. You could not stand for it.

    That means we would have to have a big enough Navy to keep them from getting into Mexico. Mind you, the Mexican flag is still flying. Mind you, it is not the Spanish flag; it is not the Italian flag or the German flag. We probably all agree that we could not stand for a foreign nation doing that under the guise of a Mexican flag.

    Q. Isn’t the three thousand miles sufficient?

    THE PRESIDENT: Yes, it is a long distance across the ocean. We would not be attacked from across the ocean, however, if they came from Mexico.

    Q. Yes, but there isn’t any reason now for any European nation to come across and establish such a conflict in Mexico.

    THE PRESIDENT: They did it in Spain.

    Q. I know, but that is across the Atlantic.

    THE PRESIDENT: It is three days from Germany, and Mexico is only seven days from Germany.

    Q. Would you feel—this is a hypothetical question-would you feel at the beginning of such activity that the Monroe Doctrine would be operative so they could be checked at their inception rather than later?

    THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely, and I will give you an illustration: In 1861 we were engaged in a war between the states. Certain European nations, the French and the Austrians, combined; and they sent an army into Mexico and they sent an Emperor into Mexico. We were awfully busy. We did not do anything about the Monroe Doctrine, we had too many troubles of our own. It went on for four years and finally, at the end of the War Between the States, the Administration turned its face towards Mexico and said to France and Austria and Maximilian: “I am awfully sorry, you people have to get these French troops out of here in a hurry.” We sent Sherman’s army, or an army commanded by Sherman, down to Texas. But they had four years to get control of that country and they would be there yet if we had not done something.

    Venezuela is a good deal closer to Europe. How far is Venezuela away from the United States? It is further than Mexico. As to Cuba, we would obviously do as we did in the case of Mexico. Venezuela is South America. It is only four hundred miles; it is an hour and a half by some of these modern planes, an hour and a half further than Cuba. We ought to agree that we ought to enforce the Monroe Doctrine in Venezuela. Cleveland did.

    How about Brazil? It is half way to Europe. Brazil-Would we do it in the case of Brazil? Well, you have a principle established. Does the principle only apply near by and not to the rest of the Americas? We are trying to keep an independent continent, north and south.

    Let me tell you about Iowa: I have a Chinese friend who was in college with me. He is a merchant in Canton, but I hear from him once a year. I got a letter from him the other day. “Do you remember me telling you about my brother away in the interior, about three hundred miles southwest of Hankow? He was very prosperous, with an awfully nice home and a fine family. He had always been a pacifist. He has opposed a Chinese Army to protect the Nation of China. He said, ‘We are so big, there is nobody that would dare to trouble us.’ I have never agreed with my brother.”

    It is a Christian family. And the other day he said, “I am very sorry to tell you that my brother and his wife and four children were killed.” They lived in the Iowa of China. Those planes came over and dropped a bomb on the house where they were cooling off. They killed three hundred people in the near-by village, and two minutes later they were gone. They had wiped out one of the rural communities of the Iowa of China. He never thought it could happen, I never thought it would happen, and his brother in Canton never thought it would happen.

    We know today—it was in the papers—that in 1918, before the war ended, the Germans were building a Zeppelin with the perfectly definite objective of sending her out in the spring of 1919 by way of the Great Circle Route, over Iceland, Greenland and down to New York, to drop a cargo of bombs on New York City. We have known that from the documents we picked up afterwards.

    Q. How can we ever defend a territory going down from Maine, through the Virgin Islands, and all the territory embraced by the Monroe Doctrine and around toward the Philippine Islands and coming back to the United States?

    THE PRESIDENT: Well, of course if you have one enemy, we are all right. But suppose you have two enemies in two different places, then you have to be a bit shifty on your feet. You have to lick one of them first and then bring them around and then lick the other. That is about the only chance.

    DR. VAN SCHAICK: Thank you very much, Mr. President.