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First Fireside Chat (Franklin Roosevelt Speech)

Free essayWhat is a main method to gain the popularity in any society? Without doubts, these are the perfect rhetorical skills. Especially, it becomes clear in terms of politicians and presidents. A main reason for it is the great power of words, which can calm down, inspire, and even give hope. Socrates mentioned, “Speak so I can see you”. In the case of authority, his phrase can be modified in such a way as, “Speak so I believe you”. The greatest example of it is the U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, who, in time of the greatest economic collapse, used his speech as one of the main methods to overcome problems. He, with his First Fireside Chat, the first part of the thirty evening radio addresses, delivered on March 12, 1993, helped many American citizens to understand what was going on and what their role was in it. “It is your problem, my friends, your problem no less than it is mine. Together we cannot fail.” Some people may seem that there is nothing special in this phrase as many politicians try to establish contacts with citizens with the help of an influence on emotions.

Background of the Speaker

Speech is an integral part of a speaker. That is why it is necessary to analyze the personality to understand the peculiarities of his words. Franklin Roosevelt was the 32nd President of America. His presidency coincided with the most difficult period in the American history, i.e. the profound Great Depression and the consequences of the World War II. Nevertheless, during this difficult time, he showed himself as a strong leader, who could lead the nation to success. Firstly, the reasons for this strength could be found in his health. As the President suffered from poliomyelitis, known as polio in 1921, he hardened the important moral traits to stand against this weakness. Braden described it in such a way, “Although Roosevelt may have appeared physically weak, but his leadership was anything but weak.” Secondly, much of his power to organize the nation and the policy within the country was due to his profound experience in the sphere of management. On the one hand, it was caused by his kinship. The former President Theodore Roosevelt was his cousin. It gave him an opportunity, from the childhood, to gain the appropriate knowledge for ruling. On the other hand, Roosevelt’s leadership skills were based on his own career achievements. He graduated from Columbia University with a law degree and became the governor of New York before being elected for presidency. It helped him not only to learn the basic rules of authority but also develop a personal efficient style in it. What was this personal style? Roosevelt learned that the best way to organize the society was a close interaction with it with the help of speeches. As his disease could make people tease him during open public speeches, he chose radio as the most appropriate tool to appeal directly to the voters. By it, Roosevelt’s idea to broadcast a series of radio addresses, known as Fireside Chats, can be explained.

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Historical Context on Event

Nevertheless, not only Roosevelt’s health state and previous experience contributed to an initiation of the series of Fireside Chats. The main reason for them was historical conditions, particularly the Great Depression. For example, at the beginning of Roosevelt’s term, only two out of three industrial workers could find jobs. Due to it, poverty was a common thing for the U.S. society, and many citizens barely made ends meet. In general, 24.9 % of citizens suffered from unemployment in 1933. Moreover, the crisis had a great impact not only on ordinary people but also on the representatives of a business class. Despite the low rates of interest, investing was in a stage of the prolonged recession. In general, capitalism as a viable economic system remained questionable. That is why, there was a great necessity to inspire citizens and return their desire to work in order to overcome the economic crisis. If to regard First Fireside Chat more precisely, the major reason for this speech was a crisis in a banking system, i.e. a radical loss of depositors’ confidence in the nation’s banks’ ability to convert savings into currency. The main task of President Roosevelt was to assure American citizens in the stability of the banking system and reliability of the U.S. authority at all.

Rhetorical Analysis of the Speech

Roosevelt’s speech is a rather complex notion, in which an influence on emotions, minds, and ethic values are interrelated and interconnected. The main reason for it was the great desire of citizens not only to be calmed down and reassured but also to get to know what was going on and what their role was in all this mess. Firstly, even from the title of Roosevelt’s speech, it becomes clear that it is rather pathetic one. A word combination “Fireside Chat” indicates that the President tended to treat all citizens as a small group sitting around a fireside, listening to the stories of a favorite uncle. It can also be proved by his tone and rhythm of speech. Roosevelt spoke quietly, even soothingly. There was not any note of concern despite all the worries of the Great Depression. The only characteristics that could be noticed from his voice were the confidence and optimism. In addition, a pathetic kind of persuasion can be noticed in many features inside the text itself. The first tool used for it is a direct contact with the audience with the help of such personal and possessive pronouns such as you, your, we, and our as well as some phrases as “my friends”, “the people of the United States”, “our citizens in every part of the Nation,” and so on. Even from the first sentence, it is possible to notice the great intimacy between a speaker (the U.S. citizens) and listeners (President Roosevelt). “I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking ­ to talk with the comparatively few who understand the mechanics of banking, but more particularly with the overwhelming majority of you who use banks for the making of deposits and the drawing of checks”. The second one is the use of the first personal singular and plural personal pronouns (I, we), possessive pronouns (mine, my, our), and object ones (us) to show that the economic crisis is not only a problem of citizens but also of the President and the whole authority. “Let us unite in banishing fear.” The third tool is a direct emotional appeal to the audience with the help of emotionally colored words, imagery, lexical, and syntactical expressive means as well as stylistic devices. For example, many epithets are used to describe both negative aspects of a situation and positive ways of its solution, negative: “hysterical demands,” “unwise loans”; and positive: “intelligent support,” “sound banks,” “loyal support.” They help the audience to realize what is the current state of things and in what way it should be changed to bring a positive outcome for the society. The irony in the form of comparison also helps Roosevelt to achieve this goal of two, i.e. a pronged description. It can be noticed in such a sentence, “I can assure you, my friends, that it is safer to keep your money in a reopened bank than it is to keep it under the mattress.” Moreover, a special attention should also be paid to the syntactic devices, such as emphatic constructions, repetition and climax, used in this speech, to put an emphasis on the most important aspects and make citizens take them into consideration. An example of it can be noticed in this sentence,

I do not promise you that every bank will be reopened or that individual losses will not be suffered, but there will be no losses that possibly could be avoided? and there would have been more and greater losses had we continued to drift.

In general, all these pathetic methods of persuasion help Roosevelt to reveal for citizens some basic negative sides of the problem and assure them that everything can be changed in a positive way in a soon future. Nevertheless, a pathetic description does not give an answer on the question how to achieve it. That is why Roosevelt applies Ethos to achieve this goal. With the help of this, he indicates that the prosperity of the nation depends on the efforts of every citizen. He presents the problem of the economic crisis not only as the field of law, economy, or authority but as an issue that concerns everyone. “We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system, and it is up to you to support and make it work.” However, there is something that makes this speech differ from others. Roosevelt treats citizens not only as little children for whom the support and reassurance are enough in difficult situations but also as equal with the subjects, who have the right to know all details. The method of Logos helps to achieve this objective. It reveals for ordinary citizens the situation around the banking system as well as peculiarities of the authority work. It can be proved by such two sentences,

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Because of undermined confidence on the part of the public, there was a general rush by a large portion of our population to turn bank deposits into currency or gold­ a rush so great that the soundest banks couldn’t get enough currency to meet the demand. The new law allows the twelve Federal Reserve Banks to issue additional currency on good assets and thus the banks that reopen will be able to meet every legitimate call.

From these examples, it is possible to notice that the tools of Logos, employed in this speech, are a logical syntactic structure and a logical sequence of utterances. Moreover, there are many lexical expressive means, which also help to achieve the goal of Logos. The first ones are the terms dealing with a banking system such as deposits, drawing of checks, deposit vault, credit, mortgages, and so on. The second ones are non-term law, a political and economic vocabulary such as proclamation, financial and economic fabric, legislation, the national Congress, Republicans, Democrats, currency, Government, State authorities, and so on. All of them help Roosevelt not only to describe the banking crisis as an actual social and economic problem, but give everyone an opportunity to understand the mechanisms and peculiarities of it. For example,

First of all, let me state the simple fact that when you deposit money in a bank, the bank does not put the money into a safe deposit vault. It invests your money in many different forms of credit­ in bonds, in commercial paper, in mortgages and in many other kinds of loans.


To sum up, Franklin Roosevelt, the 32nd President of America, whose presidency coincided with the most difficult period in the American history, i.e. the profound Great Depression, showed himself as a strong leader. With the help of his effective speeches, he did not only help the nation to gain the faith in the future prosperity but also to understand that the fate of country depended not only on the authority but on efforts of ordinary people as well. The great example of it is First Fireside Chat, a first part of thirty evening radio addresses, dealing with the crisis in the banking system. It has a profound influence on the society. The main reason for it is a non-traditional method used by Roosevelt, who refers to people not thinking that they are ignorant but treating them as equal individuals with politicians. In other words, he applies not only to Pathos and Ethos but also to Logos to reveal the complex banking mechanisms in an easy way and show that everyone has the power to influence it.

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