My Turn: Bill Bucher Jr.: FDR’s last undelivered message to the American people

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 26, 2024

By Bill Bucher Jr.

APRIL 12, 1945 — At his favorite retreat in Warm Springs, Georgia, some 79 years ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt prepared a message to be delivered by radio the next evening to banquets and meetings throughout the country commemorating the birthday of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence. The address was never delivered, as he died unexpectedly later that day of a cerebral hemorrhage. The thoughts expressed in his message are appropriate for Memorial Day, and especially Memorial Day of 2024, as our nation wrestles with the role that we should play in conflicts all over the globe.

“Americans are gathered together this evening in communities all over the country to pay tribute to the living memory of Thomas Jefferson — one of the greatest of all democrats; and I want to make it clear that I am spelling that word ‘democrats’ with a small ‘d.’

I wish I had the power, just for this evening, to be present at all of these gatherings.

In this historic year, more than ever before, we do well to consider the character of Thomas Jefferson as an American citizen of the world.

As minister to France, then as our first secretary of state, and as our third president, Jefferson was instrumental in the establishment of the United States as a vital factor in international affairs.

It was he who first sent our Navy into far distant waters to defend our rights. And the promulgation of the Monroe Doctrine was the logical development of Jefferson’s far-seeing foreign policy.

Today this nation, which Jefferson helped so greatly to build, is playing a tremendous part in the battle for the rights of man all over the world….

In Jefferson’s time our Navy consisted of only a handful of frigates headed by the gallant U.S.S. Constitution — Old Ironsides — but that tiny Navy taught nations across the Atlantic that piracy in the Mediterranean — acts of aggression against the peaceful commerce and the enslavement of their crews was one of those things which, among neighbors, simply was not done.

Today, we have learned in the agony of war that great power involves great responsibility. Today we can no more escape the consequences of German and Japanese aggression than could we avoid the consequences of attacks by the Barbary corsairs a century and a half before.

We, as Americans, do not choose to deny our responsibility.

Nor do we intend to abandon our determination that, within the lives of our children and our children’s children, there will not be a third world war.

We seek peace — enduring peace. More than an end to war, we want an end to the beginnings of all wars — yes, an end to this brutal, inhuman, and thoroughly impractical method of settling the differences between governments…

Today we are faced with the preeminent fact that, if civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships — the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together and work together, in the same world, at peace…

Today, as we move against the terrible scourge of war — as we go forward toward the greatest contribution that any generation of human beings can make in this world — the contribution of lasting peace, I ask you to keep up your faith. I measure the sound, solid achievement that can be made at this time by the straight-edge of your own confidence and your resolve. And to you, and to all Americans who dedicate themselves with us to the making of an abiding peace, I say:

The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.”