President Franklin D. Roosevelt made a total of 31 Fireside Chats from the initial days of his first administration to the dark days of World War II. He used these opportunities to explain his hopes and ideas for the country, while inviting the citizenry to “tell me your troubles.” The first broadcast set the pattern for the content and tone of the rest: FDR patiently and calmly explained the complexities of the nation’s banking crisis in a way that was understandable and accessible to the masses. Listeners responded. High school students and state Supreme Court justices told FDR that his empathetic style and reassuring message helped them regain their confidence in the banking system and in government itself. The five letter writers included in this selection listened to this first Fireside Chat with friends and family in their living rooms and offices. Their letters also vividly convey the power of the new medium of radio to reach listeners and actively engage them in politics.
March 14, 1933
My dear Mr. President:
Several neighbors (Republican and Democrat) happened to be spending Sunday evening with Mrs. Cregg and myself when it was announced the radio that you were to talk on the banking situation in the United States at ten o’clock.
There was silence for a moment and then the discussion began. There seemed to be a wide divergence of opinion as to whether or not you were going to make good and whether or not you had the confidence of the people. They were unanimous, however, in agreeing that your Inaugural Address was a masterpiece, and that your message to Congress shot straight from the shoulder. Yet some were frantic and expressed the hope that your message would be such as to allow them to withdraw their life savings from some of the local banks. When your radio talk began everyone seemed to become hypnotized, because there wasn’t a word spoken by anyone until you had finished and as if one voice were speaking all spoke in unison “We are saved.” The frantic individuals of a few moments before declared that they would leave their money in the banks and that they were not afraid of the future. This episode convinces me more than ever that you have the confidence of the people, that you are the man of the hour, and that with the united support of all its people, you are going to rehabilitate this great nation.
May God bless you.
Frank J. Cregg (Justice of the New York Supreme Court)
First National Bank Bldg
March 15, 1933
Dear Mr. President:
You cannot hear yourself talk over the radio, so you must accept the testimony of others. You have a marvelous radio voice, distinct and clear. It almost seemed the other night, sitting in my easy chair in the library, that you were across the room from me. A great many of my friends have said the same thing. I suppose hundreds have told you this, but I thought you would like to know how perfectly your message reached us. As for the mes¬sage itself, it was clear, forcible and direct — a wonderful thing for the Pres¬ident of the United States to talk to the people as you talked to them.
With regards, I am,
James A. Green
March 12, 1933
I would like to tell you that I enjoyed the speech which you have just finished giving. I have regained faith in the banks due to your earnest beliefs. I had decided that, as soon as the banks in Minneapolis reopened, I would withdraw my money. When you said that people’s money would be safer in banks than under their mattresses I decided I’d leave my money just where it is.
Although I’m only a high school student I take a great interest in the country’s problems. I firmly believe that the country is on the upward grade and I believe that if people will remain calm and composed that the government will pull the United States out of this terrible depression.
If you could possibly find a moment’s time during your busy days would you please write a note back to me and acknowledge my letter?
God be with you and bless you," dear President.
Very respectfully yours,
March 13, 1933
I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your splendid explanation of the Bank situation on last evening’s broadcast over the National hookup. Out here on the Coast, we doubly appreciated this extra effort on your part to enlighten us, when our hearts are heavy and saddened by Friday’s Quake, and our nerves still “on edge” by the continual tremors which we are still having; quite a severe one this morning at 5:00.
The broadcast brought you so close to us, and you spoke in such clear concise terms, our confidence in the Bank Holiday was greatly strengthened although I am sure the whole country is standing solidly back of you Mr. President in every move you make, and we all fully appreciate the fact that at last, we have another Great President in the saddle at Washington who will gradually, but surely, steer our Country out of the mess the last Administration got us into.
May I suggest that whenever it is possible, you speak from 1 to 5 minutes outstanding on any outstanding Governmental move at the beginning of a week day Coast to Coast program such as the Tuesday’s Lucky Strike, Rudy Vallee or the Chicago Mert & Marge program, when the whole country is tuned in their program. I do not mean your talk to be a part of any program, but to get the radio time when most of the public are at home already tuned in., and I believe this will insure a greater audience. I find so many of my acquaintances missed you last evening because they were either on the way home from the Sunday’s outing, or leaving for a place of amusement , or church. You see, you arrived here at 7:00, our time.
Mr. President, you have an unusually fine radio voice, and undoubtedly your campaign radio speeches is what piled up your tremendous majority of votes. Your voice radiates so much human sympathy and tenderness, and Oh, how the public does love that, on the radio especially. I realize it takes time to prepare radio talks; that is why I suggest short ones, but it is surely the best way to get things over to the public the way you want it done, and not the way the Press decides on. So many people are not taking any newspapers now, and yet they are a voting power and if kept in ignorance of National affairs, might be a menace or hinderance to Government functioning at times.
Please pardon my presumption, but I see by this mornings Los Angeles Times, that you have been eating most of your meals on a tray in your office the past week. In the name of “All that Holy”, please, Oh please give your body the rest and care it needs. As you well know, there’s a limit to human indurance. We all need you so very much, and no one can take your place at this time. It would be a terrible calamity if you should break under the heavy strain, so do TAKE the required rest you should have, even if you have to keep Kings or Queens waiting outside your door.
Why not have an easy reclining chair with a head rest in your office and receive your interviewers in an easy resting position? Your strength will hold out much better. I know — have tried it and it works. One can think quicker and better when the head is resting on a pillow and the spine is relieved of all strain and weight.
You may have heard of this beautiful little town of 3500 inhabitants, 30 miles north of Los Angeles nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Range, since Herbert Hoover, Jr. purchased a lovely estate here about a year ago, and his Mother (Mrs. Herbert Hoover) is now visiting him. Sierra Madre has always been a solid Republican town, and we poor Democrats got almost suffocated during the Campaign last fall, but I notice with great pleasure that most of the old hardheaded Republicans are now freely admitting that we have a Great Captain at the helm in Washington.
Dear Mr. President, I realize you are a far too busy man to read a single line of this humble message, but I do sincerely hope one of your Secretaries will convey our deep appreciation of your broadcast last evening and tell you about the suggestion of the week day programs and the easy reclining chair, or else tell Mrs. Roosevelt, so she can re-lay the suggestions at a convenient time.
Gratefully yours, for your supreme efforts and quick action in our Court; try’s behalf,
Sierra Madre, California
MARCH 13, 1933
I listened gratifiedly to your radio address anent the banking situation this evening. From this humble quarter is reflected your own confidence of the future stability of the banking system. However, Mr. President, I beg to ask, “Then what?”
But a brief period ago it was an admitted fact that banks were busting with money. As you reminded us in our radio address tonight, banks must reinvest their depositors’ money in sound securities. What banker, having the interests of depositors at heart, would venture to gamble these deposits on any business enterprise today?
Can ambitious and able merchants borrow capital at the bank on which to operate? If not, wherefore? Because the merchants’ ambitions are unmoral? Because the merchants’ representations are naught but a nefarious scheme to swindle? Or, is it because no business venture today could propser under existing conditions?
In a brief note, Mr. President, I can only write in generalities, but permit me to express this much; having stabilized the banks, and established the soundness of America’s financial “structure,” you have made an impression| in your Herculean tasks by comparison as the vacancy created in a huge granary by the removal of one grain by the toiling ant.
You must be well aware of what yet lies before you. Let us be warned then, not to indulge in previous exultation, lest we relax our efforts ere we have attained the ultimate consummation of our aims.
I presumed to address you thus, Mr. President, because I am imbued with the idea that you would welcome expressions of this character from humble citizens.
Eugene V. Krell
St. Louis, Mo.
Source: President’s Personal File (PPF) 200, Public Reaction Letters. Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York. We would like to acknowledge the work of Lawrence W. Levine and Cornelia R. Levine in The People and the President: America’s Conversation with FDR (Beacon Press, 2002) in highlighting the significant of these citizens' letters to FDR