FDR and Fear Itself
The First Inaugural Address
Presidential Studies - Rhetoric
5.5 x 8.5, 184 pp.
Pub Date: 06/20/2002
Library of Presidential Rhetoric
Price:        $19.95

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FDR and Fear Itself

The First Inaugural Address

By Davis W. Houck

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." These are some of the most famous, the most quoted, and the best remembered words in American political history. They seem to be a natural expression of American democratic will, yet these words from Franklin Roosevelt's first inaugural address had an actual author who struggled with how best to express that thought—and it wasn’t the new president. In this innovative book on the crafting of this crucial speech, Davis W. Houck leads the reader from its negative, mechanical, and Hooverian first draft through its final revision, its delivery, and the responses of those who were inspired by it during those troubled times.

Houck’s analysis, dramatic and at points riveting, focuses on three themes: how the speech came to be written; an explication of the text itself; and its reception. Drawing on the writings and memories of several people who were present in the crowd at the inauguration, Houck shows how powerfully the new president’s speech affected those who were there or who heard it on the radio. Some were so moved by Roosevelt’s delivery that they would have been willing to make him a dictator, and many believed such inspired words could have come only from a divine source.

Houck then flashes back to the final year of the 1932 presidential campaign to show how Raymond Moley, the principal architect of the address, came to be trusted by Roosevelt to craft this important speech. Houck traces the relationships of Moley with Roosevelt and Roosevelt’s influential confidante, Louis Howe, who was responsible for important changes in the speech’s later drafts, including the famous aphorism.

Although the book focuses primarily on the speech and its drafting, Houck also offers telling glimpses of Roosevelt's complex relationship with his wife, who dreaded her new duties as First Lady, and his deep, personal dislike of Herbert Hoover, all while conveying a strong sense of the urgency of the times. The text of this compelling address is provided in its entirety so that students and others may experience for themselves the full power of the rhetoric.

Davis W. Houck, an assistant professor of communication at Florida State University, has written several works on presidential rhetoric, including Rhetoric as Currency: Hoover, Roosevelt, and the Great Depression, also published by Texas A&M University Press. He holds a Ph.D. from Penn State University.

What Readers Are Saying:

“In FDR and Fear Itself, Davis W. Houck presents the most searching analysis and the most detailed historical investigation of FDR’s first inaugural address that has ever been published. To this considerable accomplishment Houck adds a fascinating and imaginative reconstruction of the composition and the reception of the address as seen through the eyes of speechwriter Raymond Moley, rendered in novelistic detail. A grand performance-psychologically compelling, frankly controversial, zestfully attentive to historical detail.”--Thomas W. Benson, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Rhetoric, Penn State University

“. . . a delight to read. The use of narrative, the clarity of the language, and the author’s ability to maintain suspense at appropriate places make the work accessible to a general audience as well as to rhetorical specialists.” --David Zarefsky, Northwestern University

“FDR’s first inaugural address was delivered to a ready public by a charismatic leader in a time of national need. It concisely and eloquently laid down the course the administration would take, and provided inspiration and relief to an anxious American people. It is truly one of the most significant speeches in American history, and this account tells the real story behind its composition and authorship.” --Jeffrey F. Moley, MD, Professor of Surgery, Chief, Endocrine and Oncologic Su

“A judicious study of F.D.R.’s First Inaugural Address and the evolution of the text. The analysis is set in a penetrating and smoothly written narrative of life in the Roosevelt camp between election and inauguration. Houck touches on the personal lives of the principal draftsmen as well as the Roosevelt family. The book concludes with a description of the policy and programs which followed the Address. The work is based on a thorough search of the original sources, especially the papers of the chief draftsman, Raymond Moley. Reliable scholarship and a very good read.” --Alfred B. Rollins, Jr., President Emeritus, Old Dominion University, Professo

“With shrewd insight and impressive detective work, Davis W. Houck has produced a vivid, minute-by-minute, behind-the-scenes account of the creation of one of the most momentous presidential addresses in American history. Anyone interested in Franklin D. Roosevelt and his circle will find it fascinating.” --Geoffrey C. Ward

“Houck’s book is a vivid and readable recounting of the circumstances that led to the inaugural address as well as a study of how and why the speech was put together. Houck’s style is lively and his focus dramatic in narrative; this is no turgid history, as the subject might suggest.” --Columbia State

“Houck’s book is a vivid and readable of the circumstances that led to the inaugural address as well as a study of how and why the speech was put together.” --Houston Chronicle

“Highly readable, written in a creative style that makes the historical figures seem like characters in a novel. But that doesn’t mean it’s a lightweight account: Houck based his work on a range of primary historical sources, including papers from Roosevelt’s presidential library and newspapers from the 1930s. The result is a book that will appeal to students of political rhetoric and general history readers alike.” --nationaljournal.com

“In an almost novelistic approach that balances between mystery writer and historical detective, Houck goes far beyond a rhetorical explication of Roosevelt’s evolving speech from a pessimistic diatribe of blame calling to a triumphant affirmation of unsinkable optimism. He describes in highly descriptive narrative how Moley juggled terminology and metaphors, themes and images, delivery and tone to strike the right chord with the president’s confidence-shattered public. . . . As for FDR’s first public speech as president, his inaugural address proved to be a rhetorical tour de force whose words continue to resonate with modern audiences. Houck’s detailed explication of it stand as a worthy first offering in Texas A&M University Press’s new Library of Presidential Rhetoric.” --Florida State University Office of Rese

“As Houck Illustrates the tremendous suspense and anxiety surrounding the final alterations and eventual delivery of the speech, he successfully infuses those same feelings into the reader. Houck’s book is an important step toward setting the record straight for contemporary scholars. It simply provides students of argumentation, rhetoric, and American Studies the opportunity to solve a bit of his mystery.” --Argumentation and Advocacy


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