Franklin D. Roosevelt's Pulpit

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tags: FDR, Franklin Roosevelt



Matthew Wills has advanced degrees in library science and film studies and is lapsed in both fields. He has published in Poetry, Huffington Post, and Nature Conservancy Magazine, among other places, and blogs regularly about urban natural history at matthewwills.com.

Spot quiz: who was the most religious President of the last one hundred years, as measured by the biblical symbols, religious language, and moral injunctions used in his public addresses?

Ronald Isetti argues in Presidential Studies Quarterly that it was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which may surprise many. Isetti analyses FDR’s speeches as “political sermons and cultic orations,” dependent on “the language, stories, and symbols of the Old and New Testaments” and applying “traditional Christian morality to the political and economic problems of the 1930s.”

In his inaugural addresses, fire-side chats, and other speeches, FDR spoke directly to the American people using a language both he and they knew well. As Erin Blakemore wrote recently here, the language of the King James Version was imbued in the culture.

The 30 fireside chats over the eleven years of the Roosevelt presidency were unlike anything that had ever happened before. The first, addressing the banking crisis, took place eight days after his inauguration in March, 1933. These chats were intimate affairs, the result of radio’s remarkable ability to speak directly to listeners (movies and, later, television, might be said to be more lecture-like). And listeners talked back via letters and telegrams, flooding the White House with approval, not for the famous phrases, but for the religious allusions, stories, and references. ...




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