Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights, 1944

The Second Bill of Rights was a list of rights proposed by Franklin D. Roosevelt during his State of the Union Address on January 11, 1944. In his address Roosevelt suggested that the nation had come to recognize, and should now implement, a second “bill of rights.” Roosevelt’s argument was that the “political rights” guaranteed by the constitution and the Bill of Rights had “proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.” Roosevelt’s remedy was to declare an “economic bill of rights” which would guarantee:

* Employment, with a living wage

* Freedom from unfair competition and monopolies

* Housing

* Medical care

* Education

* Social security

Roosevelt stated that having these rights would guarantee American security, and that America’s place in the world depended upon how far these and similar rights had been carried into practice. Later in the 1970s, Czech jurist Karel Vasak would categorize these as the “second generation” rights in his theory of three generations of human rights.

The principles were eventually incorporated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (partially drafted by Roosevelt’s widow Eleanor Roosevelt), which was adopted in 1948 by the United Nations and later elaborated in the U.N.’s 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The covenant has been ratified by 161 nations as of March 2014; the United States is one of 33 countries that has not ratified the covenant.

At the time of the speech Roosevelt had just returned from a series of summits in Cairo and Tehran with Winston Churchill, Josef Stalin and Chiang Kai-shek. Exhausted and sick with a flu, he delivered his speech by radio from the White House instead of appearing at the Capitol. However, he invited newsreel cameras to film him for posterity as he delivered the last portion of the speech, laying out his second bill of rights. The clip was lost for decades, until filmmaker Michael Moore uncovered it in South Carolina in 2008 while researching his documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights, from ‘Capitalism: A Love Story’ from MMFlint on Vimeo.

Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights:

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

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.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.

To read the full text of FDR’s 1944 State of the Union Address, click here.

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