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Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 20th Visit to Georgia


Twentieth Visit

November 17 - December 10, 1930

Before coming to Warm Springs in the fall after the gubernatorial election, Roosevelt was already thinking about how to address various problems caused by the Depression. One of these was the problem of taxes—and he looked to his “second home” of Georgia and one of its rising political figures for inspiration. Writing to the governor of Florida in October he said:

“I am enclosing a letter from Mr. Whitman of the Georgian in Atlanta. I have talked with him about tax problems and I am wondering if it would be possible for you, while I am at Warm Springs, to run down with your wife and spend a couple of days with us. If you could come, I am sure that I could get Governor-elect Russell of Georgia to meet with us. Georgia’s tax problem is a serious one, and young Russell is a fine fellow and has a great opportunity to start a new and sound system. ...” Source: Elliott Roosevelt (ed.), F.D.R.: His Personal Letters 1928-1945, (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1950), p. 150.

Roosevelt and Richard B. Russell, Jr. would have a long relationship. Russell was elected to the United States Senate in 1932, when Roosevelt was elected President. Russell supported Roosevelt’s New Deal policies early in his career, but his enthusiasm for them waned as the years went on. Still, his relationship with Roosevelt was never as volatile as those with fellow Georgia Senator Walter George and future Georgia governor Eugene Talmadge; these conflicts will be covered later.

When Roosevelt did return to Warm Springs his mind was still very much on the economy. Writing to a friend he expressed hope of showing frugality in government immediately:

“Will you send me inauguration plans as soon as possible showing the minimum amount we can run the inauguration for and the net saving over the amount spent last year? I want to give out a story on this from down here. I do hope you and Helen will be with us soon. We are looking forward to it greatly, and the pool, the golf course and the riding are all working one hundred percent—also the opportunity for a real rest.” Source: Elliott Roosevelt (ed.), F.D.R.: His Personal Letters 1928-1945, (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1950), p. 153.

With so many pressing items it was hard for Roosevelt to get a “real rest,” though he tried his best:

“...I am getting some exercise and at least a partial holiday. . . .” Source: Elliott Roosevelt (ed.), F.D.R.: His Personal Letters 1928-1945, (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1950), p. 159.

But economic problems were at the forefront. Writing to one of his sons, he discussed a proposal to fly food into beleaguered New York City:

“I have thought about that plan of flying provisions from upstate farms to New York City, but I am convinced it is not practicable because of the great weight of things like apples or other fruits and vegetables. Five hundred pounds or even a thousand pounds of any raw food stuffs would be a mere drop in the bucket in the food supply of New York City and the cost of getting it there would be approximately five hundred times as much as if it came in a freight car or even in a motor truck. Also, the State has no possible fund for paying any of the expense. . . .” Source: Elliott Roosevelt (ed.), F.D.R.: His Personal Letters 1928-1945, (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1950), p. 158.

As the preceding and following letter illustrate, Roosevelt (as much as he might wish it) could not escape the responsibilities of government during the economic crisis. Soon after returning to New York he wrote a friend:

“I am just back from Warm Springs, where I tried somewhat in vain to get a little holiday. . . .” Source: Elliott Roosevelt (ed.), F.D.R.: His Personal Letters 1928-1945, (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1950), p. 164.

Roosevelt did not visit Warm Springs in the spring of 1931, being very busy coping with matters in New York. Plus, he was educating himself privately on national concerns, and keeping a close eye on the Democratic National Committee - its members and their varying statements on policy matters. Though he had not yet publicly announced his candidacy for President, plenty of people were encouraging him to run—especially in the South. “Roosevelt for President” clubs sprang up throughout the South in 1931 (including one in Meriwether County); he did little to discourage their enthusiasm, just watched them surreptitiously to make sure they were not tied too closely to official state organizations or were not using his name and popularity to promote local factionalism. Some journalists continually nagged him on if and when he would declare his candidacy. In frustration Roosevelt wrote to the chief political correspondent for the New York Times:

“Once upon a time an unfortunate individual was elected Governor of the State and found there was Much To Do running the State without dipping into National Problems. One day he foolishly did discuss a National Problem because he thought it had something to do with the Progress and Prosperity of his own State. Thereupon, an All-Wise Press hopped all over him and said that he was obviously seeking national honors. Having learned his lesson he stayed within the State. A little later a great international problem arose and the Press and the President of his country made an excellent suggestion. The Governor, however, having learned his lesson, said nothing. Thereupon, an All-Wise Press chided the said Governor for not commenting on National and International Affairs.” Source: Elliott Roosevelt (ed.), F.D.R.: His Personal Letters 1928-1945, (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1950), p. 204-5.

As talk of Roosevelt’s potential run for President gained strength, the question arose as to his physical capabilities. These questions were put to rest when a writer for Liberty magazine followed Roosevelt around for several days in Albany, observing him at work. In addition, three doctors examined Roosevelt and offered their opinions to the writer. The article appeared in the July 25, 1931 issue. All three doctors found Roosevelt to be be perfectly capable of doing his job. In conclusion he wrote:

“Once upon a time an unfortunate individual was elected Governor of the State and found there was Much To Do running the State without dipping into National Problems. One day he foolishly did discuss a National Problem because he thought it had something to do with the Progress and Prosperity of his own State. Thereupon, an All-Wise Press hopped all over him and said that he was obviously seeking national honors. Having learned his lesson he stayed within the State. A little later a great international problem arose and the Press and the President of his country made an excellent suggestion. The Governor, however, having learned his lesson, said nothing. Thereupon, an All-Wise Press chided the said Governor for not commenting on National and International Affairs.” Source: Theo Lippman, Jr., The Squire of Warm Springs: F.D.R. in Georgia 1924-1945, (Playboy Press, Chicago, 1977), p. 68.

A small touch of the absurd amongst the seriousness of the Depression managed to catch Roosevelt’s eye, and he could not refrain from adding his comments. In early 1931 a controversy erupted in the South about the proper way to eat cornpone and potlikker. Huey Long, the flamboyant Louisiana politician, asserted cornpone should be dunked in potlikker, the editors of the Atlanta Constitution insisted it should be crumbled! From Hyde Park Roosevelt wrote, tongue-in-cheek:

“Editor,
Potlikker and Cornpone Department,
Atlanta Constitution,
Atlanta, Ga.

Because I am at least an adopted Georgian I am deeply stirred by this great controversy. Even the provincial press of the North is rushing to dictionaries and cook books and shortly the whole South may expect an avalanche of Northern travelers demanding potlikker and cornpone as soon as they reach your hospitable clime.

In order to avoid serious differences I suggest referring the whole subject to the platform committee of the next Democratic National Convention. I doubt the wisdom of seeking to have the National Committee pass on this great question when they meet shortly in Washington.

In the meantime I am hoping the New York State Legislature will soon adjourn in order that I may return to Georgia for my own potlikker and cornpone. I must admit that I crumble mine. Franklin D. Roosevelt” Source: Elliott Roosevelt (ed.), F.D.R.: His Personal Letters 1928-1945, (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1950), p. 176-7.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 20th Visit to Georgia View large image

FDR with George Foster Peabody (upper left) and Four Other Men at Warm Springs , 1930
Source: Franklin D. Roosevelt Library