How FDR’s ‘Fireside Chats’ Helped Calm a Nation in Crisis

When Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated on March 4, 1933, the United States was entering the fourth year of the Great Depression, the worst economic slowdown in the history of the country.

The stock market had fallen 75% from 1929 levels, and one in four workers was unemployed. In the weeks before Roosevelt took office, things had gotten worse. Some 4,000 banks had to close, which cost millions of people their savings. As depositors panicked and rushed to withdraw their money from the remaining banks, the crisis threatened to bring down the entire financial system of the country

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” said Roosevelt famous on this cold and cloudy inauguration day. But stirring words would not be enough, and Roosevelt knew it: “This nation requires action, and action now.”

Two days later, it declared a “public holiday” across the country, temporarily shutting down the entire banking system in the country. Called for a special session, Congress passed the Emergency Banking Law on March 9. The bill gave the federal government the power to investigate the finances of each bank. Those who were deemed sufficiently healthy and stable would reopen on March 13.

The first “fireside conversation”

But on March 12, 1933, the day before the banks reopened, it was not certain that these emergency measures had done enough to allay public fears. That evening, at 10 p.m. EST, Roosevelt addressed the nation by radio, directly from the White House diplomatic reception hall. (Yes, he was actually sitting next to a fireplace.)

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