Famous Speeches of the Great Depression

The start of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's four-term presidency coincided with the beginning of the Great Depression.
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The Great Depression caused significant global problems in the 1930s. Central among these problems were the extreme economic and political hardships suffered by countries across the globe. In response to these hardships, many public figures delivered speeches that would be remembered for years to come. The themes of these speeches relate both specifically and tangentially to the Great Depression and the havoc it caused.

1 Roosevelt's First Inaugural Address

Perhaps no speech confronts the harsh realities of the Great Depression as directly as did Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first inaugural address. Made famous by the line “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” Roosevelt’s speech was an early outline of what would later be known as his New Deal. Roosevelt delivered his speech on March 4, 1933. The speech outlined the problems created by the economic downturn before categorically listing all of the things the U.S. government, led by Roosevelt, would do to fix those problems.

2 Hitler's 'Proclamation to the German Nation'

Taking advantage of the economic problems crippling Germany, Adolf Hitler delivered his “Proclamation to the German Nation” on February 1, 1933, a mere month after being sworn in as chancellor. Similar to Roosevelt's speech, Hitler’s proclamation included a categorical listing of things the German government was going to accomplish in the next four years of his control. This speech also marked an early and public appeal on Hitler’s part for a unified German nationalism. This German nationalism would eventually transmogrify into German Nazism.

3 Huey Long Wanted to Share the Wealth

On Feb. 23, 1934, Huey Long, a former governor and then U.S. Senator from Louisiana, delivered a radical radio address in which he called for an extreme redistribution of wealth in the United States. Long advocated for expanded social services such as free higher education and assistance for the elderly and infirm, as well as a cap on personal wealth. Long attributed the Great Depression to the huge economic disparity between the working and middle classes and the super rich. Though Long’s positions made him a popular figure among the majority of poor Americans, they may have also been a key reason for his assassination in 1935.

4 Haile Selassie on International Morality

In June 1936, the then emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, addressed the League of Nations. Though the speech was an appeal to the league regarding the military aggression of Italy in Ethiopia, Selassie’s overarching message concerned topics central to the Great Depression such as international assistance and support. In his speech, Selassie appealed to the League of Nations to help Ethiopia repel the invading Italian forces and rebuild after the damage caused by the Italian invasion. Selassie’s speech became a representative example of the economically weak (Ethiopia) seeking assistance from the economically strong (the League of Nations) only to be rejected. This was an unfortunate theme of the Great Depression and its international impact.

Samuel Hamilton has been writing since 2002. His work has appeared in “The Penn,” “The Antithesis,” “New Growth Arts Review" and “Deek” magazine. Hamilton holds a Master of Arts in English education from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Master of Arts in composition from the University of Florida.