Franklin D. Roosevelt, Kansas City, Mo., October 13, 1936:
Government since March 4, 1933 has begun to take stock of the human resources of the Nation and it is determined to preserve them. As we take stock, we recognize that the most priceless of our human assets are the young men and women of America–the raw material out of which the United States must shape its future.
Nature’s deepest instinct is the concern in every parent’s heart for the welfare of the children. It is a law of nature which equals even the instinct for the preservation of life itself. Indeed it is part of that law, for without the preservation of youth, the race itself would perish. And so, the highest duty of any Government is to order public affairs so that opportunities for youth shall be made ever broader and firmer.
We Americans have never lost our sense of this obligation. To a greater degree than any other peoples we have sought to give each rising generation a little better chance in life than the one that preceded it. The little red schoolhouse for the education of the young, and the church for the training of their spiritual qualities, have always been the first structures to rise in every new settlement, as our ancestors pushed new frontiers through the wilderness. The school is the last expenditure upon which America should be willing to economize.
Those of us who helped build up the fantastic jazz era of the nineteen-twenties, which crashed down over our heads, must feel a peculiarly deep sense of responsibility to our boys and girls who were sunk with us in the ruins.
I need not remind the young people of this country of the black future which lay ahead of them in those days. That was the era of the wanderers–boys and girls who had grown tired of living on the vanishing savings of their parents, and who had set out on the highways in all directions to look for work which they could not find.
Those in school and those out of school could not look forward to a place in the community. The door of opportunity had been slammed in their faces. Hanging around on street corners, roaming about the country in bands vainly looking for work–there was the real danger which America faced.
When the history of the dark days out of which we are now coming is written, it will be said that the great marvel of this period was that those young people have come through, with a full faith in democracy and with a high resolve to preserve it at all costs.
Cities couldn’t help, counties couldn’t help, States couldn’t help. Even big business couldn’t help. They had all come to the end of their resources. The youth of America had apparently come pretty close to the end of the road.
The Federal Government for many years has spent a good many millions of dollars–well-spent dollars too–to conserve our forests, our crops and our livestock. We believe in that kind of conservation. You all know how much we have done in that kind of conservation. But now we have begun to spend money on much more important conservation–to save the energy, the ability and the spirit of youth. No money was ever better spent.
Nothing has made me happier on this trip than seeing at first hand that the youthful hitch-hiker has disappeared from our highways and from the box cars and freight trains. The youth of the land can once more look forward with confidence and courage just as we of the older generation did in our day.
No greater satisfaction can come to me than the realization that the youth of America understand what we have tried to do–and approve. They know that the price we have paid to save our country has been worth while.
America has lost a good many things during the depression. Some of them needed to go; I am glad that they have gone. We have lost, for example, that false sense of values that puts financial success above every other kind of achievement. We have lost a little of our cocksureness, a little of the bumptiousness which the Pharisee had when he thanked God that he was not as other people. We have lost something of that feeling that ours is an “every-man-for-himself” kind of society, in which the law of the jungle is law enough.
But many things we have saved–things worth saving. We have saved our morale. We have preserved our belief in American institutions. In this world of ours where some Nations have taken perilous detours, we have faced our problems and have met them with a democracy. Within that democracy we are determined to keep on solving them.
We have saved above all our faith in the future–a faith under which America has only begun to march. In that march America will have to be led in the days to come by the youth of today. It has been our job to clear the ground of what in too many places was a social and economic wilderness. That pioneering has only begun. It will be for you to continue it.
You will discover that in pushing forward this great program of social betterment and social security, you will be met by the same opposition, the same relentless resistance which faced the frontiersmen of the early West. You will find that your fight against selfishness and injustice, against oppression, and, above all, against war, will take you into a man-sized struggle.
I am telling you this not to discourage you, but to stimulate you. Our fight–yours and mine–is to keep our democracy safe by keeping it moving forward. In such a fight it is an unhappy place to be on the side lines. To the young people of America I say: Join with us; ours is the real struggle to continue and preserve democracy in America.