Roosevelt’s 1944 Second Bill of Rights – a good starting point today

FDRAs WWII was trending towards an end, President Roosevelt proposed a Second Bill of Rights, a bill of economic rights, in his January 11, 1944 State of the Union address. Here is that section of the speech excerpted:

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth- is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill housed, and insecure.
This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our Nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

Here is Roosevelt reading this section:

With the addition of a right to live in a sustainable environment, an end to white supremacist policies and practices, and an end to the American empire, this could be a contemporary call to arms.

The whole State of the Union speech, perhaps a 10 minute read, is worth visiting.

1 Comment

  1. I received the following from a reader via email:


    The Cato Institute released an updated 2014 study (original study in 1955) showing that welfare benefits pay more than a minimum wage job in 33 states and the District of Columbia.

    Even worse, welfare pays more than $15 per hour in 13 states. According to the study, welfare benefits have increased faster than minimum wage. It’s now more profitable to sit at home and watch TV than it is to earn an honest day’s pay.

    Hawaii is the biggest offender, where welfare recipients earn $29.13 per hour, or a $60,590 yearly salary, all for doing nothing.

    Here is the list of the states where the pre-tax equivalent “salary” that welfare recipients receive is higher than having a job:

    1. Hawaii: $60,590

    2. District of Columbia $50,820

    3. Massachusetts: $50,540

    4. Connecticut $44,370

    5. New York: $43,700

    6. New Jersey: $43,450

    7. Rhode Island: $43,330

    8. Vermont: $42,350

    9. New Hampshire: $39,750

    10. Maryland $38,160

    11. California: $37,160

    12. Oregon: $34,300

    13. Wyoming: $32,620

    14. Nevada $29,820

    15. Minnesota: $29,350

    16. Delaware: $29,220

    17. Washington $28,840

    18. North Dakota: $28,830

    19. Pennsylvania: $28,670

    20. New Mexico: $27,900

    21. Montana: $26,930

    22. South Dakota: $26,610

    23. Kansas: $26,490

    24. Michigan: $26,430

    25. Alaska: $26,400

    26. Ohio: $26,200

    27. North Carolina: $25,760

    28. West Virginia: $24,900

    29. Alabama: $23,310

    30. Indiana: $22,900

    31. Missouri: $22,800

    32. Oklahoma: $22,480

    33. Louisiana: $22,250

    34 South Carolina $21,910

    As a point of reference the average Middle Class annual > income today is $50,000, down from $54,000 at the beginning of the Great Recession. Hawaii, DC, and Massachusetts pay more in welfare than the > average > working folks earn there. Is it any wonder that they stay home rather than look for a job. Time for a drastic change…

    America is virtually bankrupt. Note that California is $18.50 an hour. Are we Nuts or what? How do we un-do this type of stupidity … This is crazy! Salary of retired United States Presidents $180,000 FOR LIFE, Salary of House/Senate…$174,000 FOR LIFE This is beyond stupid!!!!!!! Salary of Speaker of the House …$223,500 FOR LIFE! Salary of Majority/Minority Leader $193,400 FOR LIFE!

    Average Salary of a teacher … $40,065 Average Salary of Soldier DEPLOYED IN AFGHANISTAN…$38,000. Nancy Pelosi will retire as a Congress Person at $174,000 Dollars a year for LIFE. She has retired as SPEAKER at $223,500 a year. PLUS she will receive an additional $193,400 a year as Minority Leader, the fact that she has become rich while in office. That’s $803,700 Dollars a year for LIFE including FREE medical which is not available to us. the taxpayers. She is just one of the hundreds of Senators and Congress that float in and out every year! I think we found where the cuts should be made!

    Thanks for your note.

    This Cato Institute study is actually quite well known. Its approach would be like scrubbing through the Federal tax code and adding up every loophole available to corporations. Then, you assume that every corporation is actually using every loophole to demonstrate that the Federal government is subsidizing virtually every corporation in existence.

    The real data in both cases is somewhat different.

    Here are a couple of references: Two are from liberal think tanks in Washington, the other two are from Forbes, the business magazine and BusinessInsider.

    I agree with your comments about government officials enriching themselves while in office, not to mention after they leave office and feast on lobbying.

    BTW – Not to be too catty but I want to correct my analogy with corporate tax loopholes. Unlike your average person, corporations, especially medium and large ones, have armies of tax lawyers and accountants who doubtless do a very effective job of maximizing their access to loopholes, right offs, subsidies, and on and on.

    Mark Orton, AmericanDelusions

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