- Historic Sites
The Sage Of Topeka
April 1970 | Volume 21, Issue 3
To give him his due, I think it must be said that he saw 1930 coming. But he never did anything about it- or if he did it was too little and too late. When the banking crisis came in Detroit, Hoover threw in forty or sixty million dollars. If he’d thrown in forty million three weeks earlier, or if he’d thrown in one hundred million when he threw in forty or sixty, it would have done some good. I’m not objecting to what he did—but to what he didn’t.
Hoover came here to see me for lunch one day during my campaign. He was sore because I wouldn’t make a defense of his administration. When the newspapermen heard Hoover was here, they wanted him to come out to a dinner they had previously arranged and spend some time with them. Hoover agreed. That night Roosevelt was speaking at Pittsburgh. Most of the reporters were for Roosevelt, though most of them were my friends.
We were listening to Roosevelt’s speech on the radio, and every time Roosevelt said “Hoover,” the crowd booed. I was afraid to look at Hoover. Somebody told me afterward his face was frozen. Finally I said, “Mr. Hoover, I expect you’d better leave for the train.” Of course we were way ahead of time.
Landon would like the record to show that he was not an isolationist, either in the campaign itself or afterward.
You’ll find a page in my Indianapolis foreign policy speech in October ’36 in which I said that the Neutrality Acts were the way to war. They’d make the aggressor think that the American people would not fight no matter what happens. And that was not true. Who was it who had signed the Neutrality Act? Mr. Roosevelt.
So then President Roosevelt called a special session of Congress to repeal the Neutrality Act. He started to use our destroyers. He expanded the Lend Lease Act far beyond the intent of the Congress. All this fuss over Johnson and the expansion of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution —that was nothing compared with what Roosevelt did.
As I said in November ’36, there wasn’t anyone more isolationist in the country than Franklin Roosevelt. When he finally decided to ask Congress to repeal the Neutrality Act, he wanted me to back the move. I’d had a talk with Cordell Hull, and I called his attention to my Indianapolis speech. I said all the President can expect when he changes his position is silence from the opposition.
Roosevelt wasn’t showing any leadership. I’d have supported him if he’d taken the leadership. But he wanted me to take the leadership and advocate repeal of the Neutrality Act. You don’t mobilize support by saying, “Go over the top, boys!” You say, “Come on, boys, follow me!”
I can show you a speech I made in Chicago—in ’39, I guess—in which I said it was to our interest, to America’s interest, to challenge Hitler and Mussolini. Did Roosevelt support that? No. If he was waiting for support, there it was.
The record established by his opponent in the years after 1936 did not endear the President to Mr. Landon.
Roosevelt had plenty of time—he didn’t need to sneak into a European war. I’d urged him repeatedly to go to the American people with his policy. I said in speeches that no one could be sure of what his policy was. Do we have to have a President sneak us into war?
When Frank Knox was offered a position in Roosevelt’s cabinet [as Secretary of the Navy], Knox said he’d be in the position of a traitor if he didn’t get me to be in the cabinet as well. But I was firm against the idea of going into the cabinet, since I wanted to preserve the validity of the two-party system. My own point of view was that we could have national unity in a much simpler and more acceptable way than by having me in the cabinet: all the President had to do was to take himself out of the third-term race.
The President deliberately put on an act when Frank Knox brought up the third term. He said, “Frank, I couldn’t run again.” And he held out his shaking hands to show the condition he was in.
If they hadn’t passed that Constitutional amendment, I’d have been opposed to Eisenhower having a third term. Two things have been pretty plain in history. When you cut off circulation from the bottom to the top and assure the continuity of one person in office, you lay the foundations for the destruction of the republic.
In the declining years of the leader he always is weakened physically and mentally. One of the greatest crimes perpetrated in the country was Roosevelt campaigning in 1944 as a healthy man. He wasn’t healthy, was he? Eook at Yalta.
Truman himself said that President Roosevelt had become his own Secretary of State. You know, when a Secretary of State has had a formal conversation, he dictates a memo for the file. Roosevelt had all kinds of conversations with Stalin and Churchill and others, and all Truman could find were scraps of paper.
I said this country was in danger of becoming fascist if it re-elected Roosevelt in ’36. Fascism, of course, was too strong a word. You didn’t have the internment camps, the terrible brutality of fascism or communism. But the personal form of government that Roosevelt aimed at comes closer to being fascist than anything I can think of.
I don’t question personal ambitions unless they infringe—as I think Roosevelt’s did—on the principle of maintaining democratic processes. I wasn’t vindictive about his victory. I knew he was going to win from right early, so there wasn’t any disillusionment either.