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Thursday, October 14, 2021

FDR on States'-Rights

One of the strongest (and most surprising) defenses of federalism came from Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1930. As Governor of New York, FDR gave a radio address on the subject that took a pro states'-rights view that is (needless to say) ironic given his actions as President. Here is a link to the speech, and here are some choice quotes:

[T]o bring about government by oligarchy masquerading as democracy, it is fundamentally essential that practically all authority and control be centralized in our National Government. The individual sovereignty of our States must first be destroyed, except in mere minor matters of legislation. We are safe from the danger of any such departure from the principles on which this country was founded just so long as the individual home rule of the states is scrupulously preserved and fought for whenever they seem in danger.

The whole success of our democracy has not been that it is a democracy wherein the will of a bare majority of the total inhabitants is imposed upon the minority, but because it has been a democracy where through a division of government into units called States the rights and interests of the minority have been respected and have always been given a voice in the control of our affairs.

Unfortunately, there is no audio available for this address, but read on.


Posted by Gerard Magliocca on October 14, 2021 at 01:14 PM | Permalink


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Posted by: juliya potter | Oct 25, 2021 1:28:46 AM

"One of the strongest (and most surprising) defenses of federalism came from Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1930."

State governor, before the New Deal, defends federalism. News at 11!

It is a tad "ironic" but especially since FDR tried to be a moderate at least to a degree, it isn't really surprising.

Posted by: Joe | Oct 18, 2021 7:21:10 PM

Lincoln was a politician too.

Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton etc. were politicians.

They had inconsistencies, at times for political reasons.

As to expansive power, FDR also supported various rights that would in various cases limit executive power. He -- like Madison etc. -- supported expanded federal power in certain respects that he thought necessary and proper given the needs of the day inside our specific constitutional system.

FDR, like other politicians, had various political philosophies that overlapped with many others of the day. His words were not singular. They reflected a wider understanding of the spirit of the day.

Posted by: Joe | Oct 14, 2021 9:04:30 PM

I agree with Paul's sentiment. Why do we care about FDR's politico-philosophical utterances on the substance of whatever they seem to contain? He makes no pretense of philosophical objectivity; he is clearly a politician, saying things that he thinks will help him politically. Trying to derive some sort of "philosophy" from his utterances may be interesting in trying to understand his particular blend of inconsistencies and self-serving, instrumental position-taking, but it doesn't help us (or is highly unlikely to help us) in finding some sort of "true" or desirable-in-the-day theory of how the complex U.S. political system should or should not be organized.

The better project (and perhaps this is the project GM has in mind) might be to try to puzzle out FDR's "philosophy", sensitive to its presumably vast gaps and flaws, as an intellectual biography of the man, where the conclusion would probably be that FDR's "thought" was both a mess and self-serving. Far less interesting would be any attempt to project into the present FDR's "wisdom".

Posted by: Jason Yackee | Oct 14, 2021 7:42:54 PM

FDR was not a political philosopher. To the extent he had a philosophy, it was that the office he currently held should have far reaching power. He also was a master at adjusting his view on a particular issue to fit what could be accomplished.

Posted by: Paul Brophy | Oct 14, 2021 6:53:16 PM

“Powers held only by the states include the issuing of licenses (like driver's licenses or marriage licenses), the creation of local governments, the ability to ratify amendments to the constitution, and regulating intrastate commerce, or commerce within state lines.”

I suppose in order to address the individual sovereignty of our States, in regard to abortion, one would have to begin by recognizing the fact that every son or daughter of a human person, being a human person, and thus not subject to commerce, because they are, in essence human persons who possess inherent human Dignity, possess equal protection under both God’s Law, and The Constitution.

The Federal Government would have to demonstrate how it is possible for human persons to conceive a son or daughter, who is not, in essence, a human person, before they could deny those sons and daughters equal protection under the Law.

“For only if the problem is seen in perspective can we see its solution in perspective.” - FDR

Posted by: Nancy | Oct 14, 2021 5:53:50 PM

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