Cautious Crusade: Franklin D. Roosevelt, American Public Opinion, and the War against Nazi Germany

By Steven Casey | Go to book overview

1
THE SETTING
FDR, AMERICAN PUBLIC OPINION, AND
NAZI GERMANY BEFORE PEARL HARBOR

My problem is to get the American people to
think of conceivable consequences without
scaring the American people into thinking
that they are going to be dragged into this
war.

—FDR, December 14, 1939

March 4, 1933, was a cold, gray day in Washington. As Americans contemplated a fourth year of economic depression, of bank panics, burgeoning unemployment, and plummeting incomes, Franklin D. Roosevelt took the presidential oath of office, carefully enunciating his determination to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. Then, turning to the large crowd that had assembled outside the Capitol, the new president began the task of trying to revive hope and confidence, famously assuring his audience that they had nothing to fear but fear itself before stressing his intention to act boldly and quickly. After announcing that he was calling a special session of Congress to deal with the economic situation, Roosevelt ended with a warning. If Congress refused to act, he declared, he would ask it "for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis—broad executive power to wage war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe."1

Unknown to Roosevelt at this stage, in Germany the prevailing economic chaos had just brought to power a foreign foe that would ultimately present an even greater challenge to America than the long depression, for

-3-

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