The Rise of Franklin Roosevelt

INAUGURATION DAY: A NEW BEGINNING

March 4, 1933, dawned gray and rainy. Roosevelt rode in an open car along with outgoing president Hoover, facing the public, as he made his way to the U.S. Capitol. Hoover’s mood was somber, still personally angry over his defeat in the general election the previous November; he refused to crack a smile at all during the ride among the crowd, despite Roosevelt’s urging to the contrary. At the ceremony, Roosevelt rose with the aid of leg braces equipped under his specially tailored trousers and placed his hand on a Dutch family Bible as he took his solemn oath. At that very moment, the rain stopped and the sun began to shine directly on the platform, and those present would later claim that it was as though God himself was shining down on Roosevelt and the American people in that moment (Figure).

A photograph shows Franklin Roosevelt speaking at his inauguration at the U.S. Capitol, surrounded by supporters.
Roosevelt’s inauguration was truly a day of new beginnings for the country. The sun breaking through the clouds as he was being sworn in became a metaphor for the hope that people felt at his presidency.

Bathed in the sunlight, Roosevelt delivered one of the most famous and oft-quoted inaugural addresses in history. He encouraged Americans to work with him to find solutions to the nation’s problems and not to be paralyzed by fear into inaction. Borrowing a wartime analogy provided by Moley, who served as his speechwriter at the time, Roosevelt called upon all Americans to assemble and fight an essential battle against the forces of economic depression. He famously stated, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Upon hearing his inaugural address, one observer in the crowd later commented, “Any man who can talk like that in times like these is worth every ounce of support a true American has.” To borrow the popular song title of the day, “happy days were here again.” Foregoing the traditional inaugural parties, the new president immediately returned to the White House to begin his work to save the nation.

Visit the American Presidency Project to listen to Roosevelt’s first inaugural speech and identify ways he conveyed optimism and a spirit of community to his listeners.