"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." These are some of the most famous, most quoted, and best remembered words in American political history. They seem to be a natural idiomatic expression of American democratic will, yet these words from Franklin Roosevelt's first inaugural address had an actual author who struggled with how best to express that thought -- and it was not the new president. In this innovative book on the crafting of FDR's crucial speech, Davis W. Houck leads the reader from its negative, mechanical, and Hooverian first draft through its final revision, its delivery, and the responses of those who were inspired by it during those troubled times.
Houck's analysis, dramatic and at points riveting, focuses on three themes: how the speech came to be written, an explication of the text itself, and its reception. Drawing on the writings and memories of several people who were present in the crowd at the inauguration, Houck shows how powerfully the new president's speech affected those who were there or who heard it on the radio. Some were so moved by Roosevelt's delivery that they would have been willing to make him a dictator, and many believed such inspired words could have come only from a divine source.
Houck then flashes back to the final year of the 1932 presidential campaign to show how Raymond Moley, the principal architect of the address, came to be trusted by Roosevelt to craft this important speech. Houck traces the relationships of Moley with Roosevelt and Roosevelt's influential confidante, Louis Howe, who was responsible for important changes in the speech's later drafts, including the famous aphorism.
Although the book focuses primarily on thespeech and its drafting, Houck also offers telling glimpses of Roosevelt's complex relationship with his wife, who dreaded her new duties as First Lady, and his deep, personal dislike of Herbert Hoover, all the while conveying a strong sense of the urgency of the times. The
DAVIS W. HOUCK, an assistant professor of communication at Florida State University, has written several works on presidential rhetoric, including Rhetoric as Currency: Hoover, Roosevelt, and the Great Depression, also published by Texas A&M University Press. He lives in Tallahassee, Florida.
"In FDR and Fear Itself, Davis W. Houck presents the most searching analysis and the most detailed historical investigation of FDR's first inaugural address that has ever been published. To this considerable accomplishment Houck adds a fascinating and imaginative reconstruction of the composition and the reception of the address as seen through the eyes of speechwriter Raymond Moley, rendered in novelistic detail. A grand performance-psychologically compelling, frankly controversial, zestfully attentive to historical detail."--Thomas W. Benson, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Rhetoric, Penn State University