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The Promise of Change:  Inauguration Day

Inauguration Day

On Inauguration Day, Washington was cold and overcast.

At the Capitol, FDR braced himself on his son James's arm as he made his slow way to the rostrum to take the oath of office. Then, as the crowd grew quiet, he opened his inaugural address.

The new president offered hope to a desperate people: "This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive, and will prosper." Then, in bold words that reverberate in public memory, he proclaimed, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

The greatest applause came when Roosevelt said he would ask for wartime executive powers if Congress failed to act against the emergency. Eleanor found the crowd's reaction "somewhat terrifying" - a frightened public seemed prepared to do anything FDR asked.

Visit our Digital Artifact Collection to learn more about the artifacts shown above, including the Roosevelt Family Dutch Bible and the Pince-Nez Spectacles.

Inaugural Address

FDR's First Inaugural Address includes the famous line - "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." It's generally believed that Roosevelt's political adviser Louis Howe added these words to the speech. But Howe's source is a mystery. Presidential adviser Raymond Moley claimed Howe saw the line in a 1933 department store advertisement. But a 1931 newspaper article quotes U.S. Chamber of Commerce president Julius Barnes as saying, "In a condition of this kind, the thing to be feared most is fear itself." FDR speechwriter Samuel Rosenman credited Henry David Thoreau, who once wrote: "Nothing is so much to be feared as fear."
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