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Descriptive notes
Decca audio recording
1945

Thomas JeffersonFirst Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801
Abraham LincolnSecond Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865
Woodrow WilsonAddress to the Peace Conference in Paris, January 25, 1919
Franklin Delano RooseveltFirst War Address Before Congress, January 6, 1942

In the American Tradition

by Howard Fast

It might be asked, and with good reason, what connection the various records in this album have with each other, why they, of all the many thousands of American statements, should be thus chosen, grouped, and presented.

At first thought, it might seem that no more than a community of presidential office exists among the following: Jefferson's first inaugural address, Lincoln's second inaugural address, Wilson's s address to the peace conference, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt's war message. Yet underneath, there is a deep and valid bond, one that is essential to the whole growth and progress of these United States as a nation.

It should be recalled that the full fruits of the American Revolution were not realized until the people voted Thomas Jefferson into office as the first president of the nineteenth century; indeed, the great political struggle immediately preceding his election was known for years afterwards as the second American Revolution, for it was only with the triumph of Jefferson's s principles that the shape of the future American democracy began to appear. The struggle was one of might against right, of the aristocratic few against the whole people, of progress against reaction. Jefferson was the first American president to appeal to the people, forthrightly and directly, asking them to exercise their democratic right, to take hold of the ballot and use it with understanding as a weapon.

With the election of Jefferson, the pattern for a people's democracy was set, nor was that pattern ever entirely lost sight of afterwards. And into that pattern, knit by them into a single whole, fall the four splendid statements reproduced here.

Jefferson, in his inaugural, speaks to the triumphant people of the world's first great and stable democracy: a dangerous enemy has been conquered; now with restraint and dignity, the new president recapitulates the virtues and principles upon which that democracy stands. You will notice that there is nothing of the demagogue in Jefferson, just as there is nothing of the demagogue in any of these four men; they are not rabble rousers, not spellbinders; their thoughtful speech is a statement of what they represent as servants of the people. Yet you will also notice that here, in Jefferson's address. are those principles which define the democratic theory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They are in a tradition.

*   *   *

If Jefferson's election was the fruition of the revolution, then certainly Lincoln's second election marked the death throes of the counter revolution, and proclaimed to the whole world that the United States of America would endure. Lincoln faced an even greater threat to the republic than Jefferson did, and he surmounted it only at the cost of half a million American lives. That was the price we paid so that the union might endure, and that human slavery might be wiped out. The slave owners had been in revolt against the union, against democracy; they were put down at this great cost, and in Lincoln's words is all the tragedy that America endured.

This great man, for all he endured, for all he earned on his shoulders, was not without hope. Indeed, his inaugural concludes on one of the most noble statements of hope ever uttered: "With malice toward none, with charity for all... "

What Jefferson built, he is carrying forward. The union, the great hope of mankind, will go on, will flourish. will give sustenance to the future. That is the theme of Lincoln's address, just as it was, in another form, the theme of Jefferson's.

So a connection begins to emerge, the connection of men who led America through its great democratic struggles, the connection of a single developing theme of democracy in growth.

*   *   *

The aftermath of the first great world war against German imperialism is fraught with "ifs." If only this or that had not gone wrong; if only Lodge had gone to France with Wilson; if only Wilson had proceeded differently; if only a united nation had understood Wilson — yes, one could go on ad infinitum. However, out of the welter of mistakes, wrong paths, and tragic aftermaths, certain facts do emerge with great clarity.

Wilson, for all of his shortcomings, was a man of intense honesty and intense belief. His concept of the League of Nations was on a higher level, a higher moral plane than the political thinking of either France's or Great Britain's leaders. And it would be difficult for a man to phrase, for Wilson's time or for now, a more sincere, a more straightforward plea for lasting peace than is contained here.

When you listen to it, you may be sure you are listening to a document Franklin Roosevelt studied most carefully; you are listening to a great moral concept, and to a furthering of those principles laid down by Jefferson and Lincoln. It was not due to any lack in Wilson's desire, that the League failed.

Just as with the first two statements, Wilson's peace address is a document for our time as well as for the time in which it was written; if anything, it is pregnant with more meaning today, for we have paid a price such as the world never knew — forty million lives, so that German fascism might be halted in its attempt to destroy civilization.

*   *   *

In the last of these statements, the War Message of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, we have once more the words of an American leader in a time of great crisis. In a war of world liberation, such a war as men never knew before, the president of the United States speaks to his congress. For him the war has only begun; he faces the most monumental task ever presented to any American, and he faces it calmly, matter of factly, as a people's leader should. He speaks quietly, but with great emphasis; victory is many long, hard years away, yet as you hear his words, you see the shape of victory, certain, priced high, but very certain. He speaks of unity, and though you may have heard the speech when, it was given, in his own loving, well remembered voice. you will understand better now what he meant.

As you hear his address, after listening to the other records, you may come to realize that the past is, after all, not so far away, that there is a tradition and a growth, stepping surely from generation to generation; and you may realize too how fortunate we have been in the leaders we produce.

For these men, one and all, are a part of the people and a product of the people. Each, as he rose, took from those who preceded him, and each gave to those who followed and who will follow.

*   *   *

Nor should this close without a tribute being paid to Orson Welles. As a citizen and as an artist, he has concerned himself deeply with this business of democracy — and it is doubtful whether any other man in this country could read these four addresses with such understanding and purpose.

We cannot know how Jefferson spoke, what Lincoln's voice sounded like — but Mr. Welles makes us feel that we are listening to the men who wrote the words. It is not a case of surface drama; Mr. Welles goes into the meaning, and out of the meaning comes the intonation and intent of the original speaker. He has done a superb job, and I, for one, believe that he has made an important contribution to our understanding of history and the men who participated in it


Thanks to Jon Campbell for the photocopy of this pamphlet.

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