We’ve just passed the 74th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the catastrophe that finally got the US involved in World War II after a period of isolationism. It was also the occasion of what FDR Library director Paul Sparrow terms “the most important speech of the 20th century, because it is an extraordinary example of true leadership, vision and clarity.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s address to Congress on December 8, 2021 seeking a declaration of war against the Axis powers was drafted by dictation to an assistant only three hours after FDR learned of the attack, and edited by the president several times over the course of that day and the next.
The word for which the speech is mainly remembered today, “infamy,” started out as the much less arresting “history.” We know this because FDR was a meticulous record-keeper, and the typewritten copy of the speech’s first draft, with all of the president’s handwritten edits, has been preserved in the collections of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, along with the rest of his Master Speech Files.
Until recently, researchers had to go to Hyde Park in person to view these priceless historical documents on microfilm, or else purchase specific reproductions from archivists upon request. Now, for the first time, the FDR Library is making all of FDR’s Master Speech Files available online: a scanned-and-digitized collection containing more than 46,000 pages of drafts, reading copies and transcripts, plus a linked interface connecting many of the documents to 315 audio recordings of the same speeches. In addition to the Pearl Harbor Speech, this collection includes the famous Fireside Chats, all four Inaugural Addresses, the Four Freedoms Speech, the D-Day Prayer and hundreds of other addresses to Congress, extemporaneous remarks, campaign speeches and policy addresses.
The Master Speech Files were digitized with support from AT&T, Marist College, the Roosevelt Institute and an army of archivists and interns. The content is freely available through Franklin, the Library’s online digital repository, at www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu, and soon through the National Archives Catalogue as well. The FDR Library’s online blog has also recently been relocated, to https://fdr.blogs.archives.gov.
The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum is located at 4079 Albany Post Road (Route 9) in Hyde Park. For more information about the Library or its programs, call (800) 337-8474 or visit www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu.