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FDR’s Second Bill of Rights

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 05, 2020

In his 1944 State of the Union address, President Franklin Roosevelt encouraged Congress to turn its attention to what he called “a second Bill of Rights”, legislation that would ensure all American citizens “equality in the pursuit of happiness”. Roosevelt argued that the United States had grown large enough and economically powerful enough to support this effort.

Here’s an excerpt from his address:

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.

After WWII, many countries in Europe came to similar conclusions and enacted reforms to offer these rights to their citizens. In America, aside from the significant efforts of the Johnson administration in the 60s, we went in different direction, doubling down on inequality in the pursuit of happiness.