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Return to FDR Oglethorpe University Commencement Address, May 22, 1932

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 23rd Visit to Georgia

Twenty-third visit

April 30 - May 27, 1932

January 23, 1932 - Roosevelt formally announced he would seek the Democratic nomination for President. The primary season was for approximately six months; the convention would begin on June 27th. Roosevelt immediately became the front-runner, maintaining that status throughout the campaign.

In the midst of the campaign, Roosevelt took his annual spring vacation to Warm Springs. On May 3 ,California held its primary. Roosevelt finished second, which meant he would not have enough delegates to secure a first ballot nomination at the convention. Yet he was not overly concerned, as he wrote a friend the following day:

“… All goes well here. I am not the least bit disturbed by the California Primary result because Garner [John Nance Garner, the primary winner] will, I am sure, not join any mere ‘block movement.’ I am getting real sun and lots of sleep.” Source: Elliott Roosevelt (ed.), F.D.R.: His Personal Letters 1928-1945, (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1950), p. 277.

Roosevelt’s instincts were right; Garner did not attempt to block the nomination.

Writing to another friend, Roosevelt told of moving into a new cottage at Warm Springs:

“We are all settled in the cottage and I can’t find words to tell you how delighted I am with it. So far there is nothing I would want changed. I wish you and your wife would come down to visit us so that you would really know how nice it is. We will be glad to get the blinds as soon as they are made.” Source: Elliott Roosevelt (ed.), F.D.R.: His Personal Letters 1928-1945, (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1950), p. 278.

This cottage was the building which came to be knows as the “Little White House.” The housewarming for the new cottage was on May 1, the day after Roosevelt arrived. It may seem obvious how the “Little White House” got its name, but think again! Read the note pictured on this page!

Roosevelt usually was able to ignore questions about his health, but when as editorial appeared in the New York Sun specifically charging that he might be physically unfit for the presidency because of his frequent visits to Warm Springs, he took umbrage and personally wired the editor:

“I feel sure the Sun editorial was written in good faith and on misinformation but without a political motive. But in view of the statement, which is fortunately not at all true, that I come to Warm Springs of necessity for my health I request that you send your son or George Van Slyke here at once to witness facts at first hand. I shall be here till Tuesday afternoon and shall expect one of them by Sunday morning. I am asking this of a friend in common decency. You would do the same if I charged publicly that you had to go to the Thousand Islands for two months each summer in order to keep alive. I shall appreciate a wire from you… .” Source: Elliott Roosevelt (ed.), F.D.R.: His Personal Letters 1928-1945, (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1950), p. 279-80.

The Sun did not send anyone down, but did publish a letter from the chief physician at Warm Springs giving assurance that Roosevelt was in excellent health – excellent enough to where one of the nation’s largest insurance companies had issued a life insurance policy in Roosevelt’s name to the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation.

The previous year, Oglethorpe University president Thornwell Jacobs had invited Roosevelt to deliver the school’s commencement address and receive an honorary doctorate. Roosevelt did not accept the 1931 offer – but finally accepted to speak at the 1932 ceremony. FDR’s May 22, 1932 speech introduced the seeds of a new strategy to combat the Depression. President Hoover, along with most of the leading financiers of the day, believed government could do nothing to change the economic crisis but rather must follow a natural course. Roosevelt himself had originally thought the same thing, but as the Depression deepened his thoughts changed. Some of his ideas were radical – controlling industrial and agricultural production, distributing incomes more equally, with the government being the pro-active force. This was a very significant change in the political and economic thought of the times.

The Democratic National Convention began on June 27, 1932. Roosevelt had a huge lead – but not enough delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot. He gained a small number of delegates in both ballots two and three, then on the fourth the winner of the Texas and California primaries – U.S House of Representatives Speaker John Nance Garner – released his delegates to Roosevelt, securing the nomination. Garner was ultimately Roosevelt’s running mate.

One of the defining moments of the Great Depression occurred in July of 1932. A large contingent of World War I veterans had converged on Washington to ask Congress and President Hoover to grant them the “bonus” they had been promised in 1924 (but which was not due until 1945). With the onset of the Depression, many veterans were unemployed and wanted their “bonus” immediately. They called themselves the Bonus Expeditionary Force, but the press labeled them the Bonus Army. Their numbers grew to as many as 15,000 until Congress voted against granting their benefits early, whereupon most left Washington disappointed. But several thousand remained to protest. For such a large group of hungry people, they were remarkably civil in their protest, though their constant presence was an affront to the administration. Finally, on July 28, 1932, Hoover ordered that the protesters be removed from Washington; moving immediately to carry out the order was Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur’s assistant was Major Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower warned MacArthur not to talk to reporters over this “political” situation, but MacArthur looked on it as strictly a military operation.

Removal of the Bonus Army was carried out promptly – the Army used tear gas (which killed two children), bayonets, and ultimately bullets to scatter the ragged, hungry, unarmed men. Ironically, Maj. George S. Patton led a cavalry charge that finally routed the protestors. One of the victims of this charge had won the Distinguished Service Cross in 1918 – for saving the life of young officer George S. Patton!

News of the treatment of the Bonus Army galvanized an already angry public against President Hoover. When Roosevelt heard the news and saw the photographs, his reaction was equally emphatic:

“… All goes well here. I am not the least bit disturbed by the California Primary result because Garner [John Nance Garner, the primary winner] will, I am sure, not join any mere ‘block movement.’ I am getting real sun and lots of sleep.” Source: William Manchester, The Glory and the Dream: A Narrative History of America 1932-1972, (Little, Brown and Company, Boston), p. 18.

They were, and some of them would return to Washington the following year. Roosevelt would handle them much more humanely and successfully than did Hoover.

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Last Line of This Note Refers to "Little White House"
Source: Collection of Ed Jackson

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Oglethorpe University president Thornwell Jacobs, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Georgia Gov. Richard B. Russell, and others
Source: Oglethorpe University

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(L-R) Oglethorpe University president Thornwell Jacobs, Atlanta mayor James Key, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Georgia Gov. Richard B. Russell...
Source: Oglethorpe University

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FDR with Rosser Shelton and William L. Brady at Warm Springs, April 1932
Source: National Archives

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Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, son Elliot and wife at Warm Springs, May 1932
Source: National Archives