Franklin Roosevelt: “The Constitution of the United States … still is our Magna Charta”
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Writing to the commander of American Legion Post No. 10, in Newark, New Jersey, President Roosevelt expounds on the significance of America’s venerated frame of government in advance of a parade to celebrate Constitution Day. FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT.
Typed Letter Signed, as President, to John H. Laux. White House, August 21, 1934.
“I am advised that your Post will sponsor a Constitution Day parade at Newark, the evening of September 17, 1934, in which citizens from the State at large are expected to participate as a demonstration of their faith in the Constitution of the United States.
The Constitution of the United States, framed nearly a century and a half ago by as high intelligence as our nation has ever produced, has been during all these years and still is our Magna Charta.
I desire to extend to your Post and to the citizens of New Jersey my greetings on the occasion of their demonstration of continued faith in that immortal document.”
Raised to privilege in New York, Franklin Roosevelt was stricken with polio in 1921. His subsequent struggles made him more conscious of the concerns of average Americans. Roosevelt was elected as a reform governor of New York and served from 1929 to 1932. At the height of the Great Depression, he defeated Republican incumbent Herbert Hoover in the election of 1932, promising a “new deal” for the American people.
Though this letter marks his commitment to the Constitution, Roosevelt established precedents and stretched the powers of Congress and the Executive. He created a host of new programs and agencies to revive and regulate the economy, provide temporary work for the unemployed, and put in place a social security net for the aged and indigent. When the Supreme Court struck down two of his new agencies, Roosevelt proposed expanding the number of Justices to “pack” the court with Democrats. This, like many of his programs, failed, but he restored confidence in America’s form of government at a time when fascism and communism were on the rise in other parts of the world. With Britain and Germany at war in 1940, Roosevelt discarded the precedent set by George Washington, becoming only U.S. president to have served more than two terms, and the 22nd Amendment, ratified in 1951, ensures it will never happen again.
Observance of Constitution Day can be traced to the late 19th century. In 2004, legislation passed requiring institutions receiving federal funds to teach history of the Constitution on September 17 each year. However, it has yet to attain the symbolic importance of the 4th of July.