President Roosevelt speaking at Arlington Cemetery, Armistice Day 1935

President Roosevelt speaking at Arlington National Cemetery, Armistice Day 1935

Today is Veterans Day and I am curious to see if anyone mentions it to me over the course of the day. Eighty years ago today Franklin Roosevelt spoke at Arlington National Cemetery. It was a tense time in international relations. Hitler was consolidating his power in Europe and Mussolini’s Army was making its way through Ethiopia. The president’s speech was restrained but hopeful nonetheless that peace could still flourish. It was an interesting moment in many ways. For one thing Armistice Day was not yet a national holiday. FDR’s New York had established November 11 as a legal holiday only the year before, joining nearly thirty other states that had done so previously. Since the Armistice itself presidents had issued proclamations asking the nation to observe the anniversary.

The American Legion had invited Roosevelt to speak a few weeks previously. FDR’s estranged cousin Ted had been one of the founders of the Legion. The Legion was also a supporter of the Bonus Army, who made it clear to President Roosevelt that they were not giving in on their demands for payment of the long-ago-promised stipend. Roosevelt tied to emphasize the positive in his Armistice Day speech, announcing a trade agreement between the United States and Canada that had just been negotiated, as if to show how international cooperation could still work if applied. He emphasized America’s need for preparedness as well, which was a not-so-subtle dig at Wilson’s response to the outbreak of fighting twenty years earlier. He would do the best he could to avoid the same fate during his own administration, through Lend-Lease and other measures, but with mixed results.

One of the most poignant things in the photograph above are the support rails that were presumably built especially for the president’s use. Because of the polio he could only stand for brief periods of time. Usually in photos where Roosevelt is standing there are men standing on either side of him to provide support. Obviously that was not possible for such a solemn occasion as this, and so the rails were there just in case. After this event Roosevelt traveled to Hyde Park for a period and then on to Warm Springs, Georgia where he would spend Thanksgiving.

(image/Library of Congress, permalink: