Eleanor Roosevelt

Remarks at the 1956 DNC - Aug. 13, 1956

Eleanor Roosevelt
August 13, 1956— Chicago, Illinois
1956 Democratic National Convention
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Mr. Chairman, delegates to the Convention, ladies and gentlemen who are visitors:

Twice before I have spoken to a National Democratic Convention; once I came when you had nominated my husband to be your standard bearer and spoke with a message from him, and once I came at the invitation of President Truman to speak to you about the United Nations and what it meant to all of us .

Tonight I come at the invitation of the National Chairman of the Democratic Party to speak to you as a fellow Democrat.

(Applause.)

I cannot talk to you about my choice as your standard bearer, but I do want to talk to you about our Party and our duty. You here have a heavier responsibility than even I have, because you are delegates. You are going back into your communities all over the country, and you will tell your friends, your neighbors what you believe a democratic victory should mean. I do not believe that victory in itself is enough. I want victory, and I believe we will have it in November --

(Applause.)

-- but I want even more, that each and every one of you, as you go back into your communities, take the message of what you want that victory to mean. We must be a united Party.

(Applause.)

It is true we have differences, but everywhere in our country we know that today our differences must somehow be resolved, because we stand before the world on trial, really, to show what democracy means, and that is a heavy responsibility, because the world today is deciding between democracy and Communism, and one means freedom and one means slavery.

(Applause.)

You have seen a film tonight, which I think must have moved you, as it moved me, to pride in our record, to a recognition of what our Party has meant to our country and to the world.

Great leaders we have had, but we could not have had great leaders unless they had had a great people to follow. You cannot be a great leader unless the people are great. That is what I want to remind every one of you tonight. You must be a great people with great objectives.

I remember very well the first crisis that we met in '32, and I remember that we won out, because the people were ready to carry their share of the burden, and follow and carry through the words, "All you have to fear, the only thing you have to fear, is fear itself".

(Applause.)

You must have the action of the people or your leadership will not be true leadership.

Now the world looks at us again, and what we do at home is going to be watched in the world. I have been around the world a number of times of late, and I know that much of the good will that was a reservoir for us in the world came from the fact that here at home we had decided that government had a real responsibility to make the pursuit of happiness an objective of government, and caring for the individual was a responsibility of government. That meant that we try to help all of our people to a better life, and it meant to the peoples of the world hope for the same kind of thing to happen to them as well.

Now they look to us again for the meaning of democracy, and we must think of that very seriously. There are new problems. They must be met in new ways. We have heard a great deal, and we were fired with enthusiasm by the tradition of our Party. Thus, the new problems we face cannot be met by traditions only, but they must be met by imagination. They must be met by understanding and the feel of the people, and not only the people at home, but the people of the world. And it is a foolish thing to say that you pledge yourself to live up to the traditions of the New Deal and the Fair Deal -- of course, you are proud of those traditions; of course, you are proud to have the advice of the elders in our Party, but our Party is young and vigorous. Our Party may be the oldest Democratic Party, but our Party, our Party must live as a young Party, and it must have young leadership. It must have young people, and they must be allowed to lead. They must not lean on their tradition. They must be proud of it. They must take into account the advice of the alders, but they must have the courage to look ahead, to face new problems with new solutions, and in so doing, we will not only meet our own difficulties at home and find ways to solve them, but we will also meet some of the difficulties that in that great speech that you heard from Governor Clement, are those pointed out as being the issues between ourselves as the Democratic Party, and the Republican Party.

We have great issues. I believe that it is absolutely imperative that the Democratic Party come back to power, but they must come back with the right leader. They must come back with your considered and careful choice, and you must feel a very great individual responsibility when you choose your leader, when you have chosen your leaders, then to back them, then to go in and work.

It isn't just fight. It is work, and some of it is dull work, but you must be ready to go in and work because that is the way that parties win victories at election time.

The things that are done by each one of you and through you by each person in your community, in your community, that is what will win for you a victory on Election Day, and I personally hope --

(Applause.)

-- and I personally hope that you will remember the things which have been said tonight, even those which we prayed in the invocation for guidance and inspiration and courage. It will take all those things for us to remember the objectives for which we want a victory, for us to resolve difficult questions which will be hard for many of us to face.

It will take understanding and sympathy to think of the problems of the world and to realize that today the world has narrowed, and that we feel very quickly the sufferings of other areas of the world, and they add to our sufferings.

We might just have a vision, and I would like to give you the idea: You will remember that my husband said in one of his speeches that our job was not finished, because we still had a third of our people who were ill-housed, ill-clothed, ill-fed. Twenty percent today is the figure they give us.

We have lessened that group in our country that are ill­ housed, ill-clothed, ill-fed, but we still have a job to do.

Could we have the vision of doing away in this great country with poverty? It would be a marvelous achievement, and I think it might be done if you and I, each of us, as individuals, would really pledge ourselves and our Party to think imaginatively of what can be done at home, what can make us not only the nation that has some of the richest people in the world, but the nation where there are no people that have to live at a substandard level. That would be one of the very best arguments against Communism, that we could possibly have.

(Applause.)

And if we do it at home, it will spread through the world, and we will have again that surge of hope from the other peoples, that surge which brought us before good will and trust and confidence; and which will do it again, but it requires from every one of you the imagination and willingness to make a great leader and to do the work to put your leaders across in November.

(Applause.)