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Hidden footage: FDR's Second Bill of Rights

Michael Moore found it (@tip the great Avedon).

Of course, right now you have the right lie supine while vampire squids feast on your face. So there's that. Back to the Guardian:

President Franklin D Roosevelt was ailing. Too ill to make his 1944 state of the nation address to Congress, he instead broadcast it by radio. But at one point he called in the cameras, and set out his vision of a new America he knew he would not live to see.

Roosevelt proposed a second bill of rights to guarantee every American a job with a living wage, a decent home, medical care, protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness and unemployment, and, perhaps most dangerously for big business, freedom from unfair monopolies. He said that "true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence".

The film was quickly locked away.

"The next week on the newsreels – and we've gone back and researched this – they didn't run that," said Moore. "They talked about other parts of his speech, the war. Nothing about this. The footage became lost. When we called the Roosevelt presidential library and asked them about it they said it wasn't filmed. His own family told us it wasn't filmed." Moore's team scoured the country without luck until they were given a tip about a collector connected to the university of South Carolina.

The university didn't have anything archived under FDR's speeches that fitted, but there were a couple of boxes from that week in 1944.

"We pop it in. It was all there. We had tears in our eyes watching it. For 65 years not a single American saw that speech, not one. I decided right then that we're going to fulfil Roosevelt's wishes that the American people see him saying this. Of all the things in the film, probably I feel most privileged that I get to share this. I get to give him his stage." It's a powerful moment not only because it offers an alternative view of American values rarely spoken of today – almost all of which would be condemned as rampant socialism – but also an interesting reference point with which to compare the more restrained ambitions of the Obama administration.

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Jeff W's picture
Submitted by Jeff W on

and it's great to hear FDR's sonorous delivery.

This site lists the rights in FDR's Second Bill of Rights:

The following is a list of the rights FDR spoke of in his speech:

  • The right to a useful and renumerative 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 business man, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination from 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 economc fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.

Maybe the Full Court Press should have as part of its programmatics "enact FDR's Second Bill of Rights"?

But the story makes reference to the speech being filmed and that YouTube video isn't it. Is it this one instead? (I haven't seen Michael Moore's movie yet so I don't know what footage it shows.)

JG's picture
Submitted by JG on

Based on how it looks, my guess is that that clip is from a pirated version of Michael Moore's film.

Here's a higher quality (but shorter) version that was aired on Bill Moyers Journal last Fall.

It's interesting to read about the history of legislation around that time, and how little things have changed in 65 years:


Beginning in 1939, the annual reports of the Social Security Board had begun to include lengthy discussions of health issues and summaries of the National Health Program. In 1942 the Board expressed support for a unified and comprehensive social insurance system, including health benefits.


President Roosevelt evidently felt the time was not yet appropriate for a Presidential endorsement, but he was amenable to Senator Wagner's introducing a bill for broad improvements and additions to the Social Security Act, including health insurance measures. Accordingly, the Social Security Board drafted a bill which was introduced on June 3,1943, by Senator Wagner and Senator James Murray of Montana (S. 1161)and Representative John Dingell of Michigan (H.R. 2861) (2) As its drafters and sponsors had expected, the Wagner-Murray-Dingell bill signaled the beginning of the political debate that would come to a climax in the postwar years.

In the ensuing months, the battle lines began to form. Organized labor, the National Farmers Union, and several other organizations declared their support; the AMA-linked "National Physicians' Committee for the Extension of Medical Service" began organizing against it. (The AMA opened a Washington office in September 1944 "to keep in close contact with political developments on the national scene.") The physicians were joined by a revitalized Insurance Economics Society of America (one of the organizations that had been in the forefront of the opposition to Government health insurance in the early 1900's), the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers' Association, and other groups.

Without official Presidential support (and pressure), and with the war still far from being won, the first Wagner-Murray-Dingell bill died in committee. There were times during the war years when the President indicated interest in advancing health proposals. But each time he postponed a commitment. Then, during the election campaign of 1944, he began to move toward an endorsement. He urged an "Economic Bill of Rights" for the American people, including "the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health" and "the right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment." Following his reelection (and with the end of the war in sight), Mr. Roosevelt began setting the stage for personal sponsorship of the proposal. In his budget message of January 1945, he called for an "extended social security, including medical care." And in his 1945 state of the Union message, he promised : "I shall communicate further with the Congress on these subjects at a later date."

Presumably, Mr. Roosevelt intended to press ahead with the health insurance issue as soon as the war was over; a special Presidential message on health matters had been drafted by the Social Security Board several months earlier and merely awaited the President's pleasure. But the President would never deliver the message; he died in April 1945.


When the revised Wagner-Murray-Dingell bill was first introduced, its supporters felt the time was propitious for passage. America had just won a great war. The United Nations was being born in a mood of optimism about the postwar world. The incumbent President had committed himself to press the health insurance issue vigorously. In addition, wartime public opinion polls had indicated broad public support for Government health insurance. A 1942 poll by Fortune magazine had found no fewer than 74 percent of the respondents in favor, and in the following year a nationwide Gallup poll recorded 59 percent in favor.


In 1946, the first year of serious national debate on the issue, (5) proponents were unable even to obtain hearings in the Ways and Means Committee. There were hearings in the Senate Committee on Education and Labor, but these were marked by acrimonious debate. The heated controversy was probably harmful to the proponents' cause.

That same year, Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio introduced a counterproposal to the administration's bill. The so-called Taft-Smith-Ball bill (S. 2143), authorizing some $200 million in Federal matching grants to the States to subsidize private health insurance coverage for the medically indigent, was favorably received (unofficially) by the American Medical Association. However, the administration opposed it, arguing that its passage might delay an insurance-based program for the general public, that $200 million would not do the job, and that a State-operated, "means-test" program would, in effect, subsidize the insurance industry. Thus, this potential compromise solution failed to resolve the conflict. (6)


In this wait-and-see atmosphere, the publicity and lobbying efforts of each side took on added importance. And it is significant that, at this juncture, the ardor of one of the key proponents, organized labor, was diminishing. More and more, the unions were trying to win private health insurance coverage directly from the employers, through collective bargaining. While this approach was second best, from labor's point of view, itdid protide at least partial protection for employed union members.

Labor's lukewarm attitude contrasted sharply, moreover, with that of the medical profession. On the heels of President Truman's election victory, an "Armageddon" psychology set in within the AMA. In December 1948, the AMA's House of Delegates met, in an atmosphere of crisis and voted a special assessment of $25 per member to resist "the enslavement of the medical profession." A prominent public relations firm was hired and a $4.5 million fund was deployed to wage a "national education campaign" against the Wagner-Murray-Dingell bill. The campaign included publicity through the mass media, nationwide distribution of pamphlets, a vast speechmaking effort, and a drive to win and publicize specific pledges of support for the AMA's position from the press and other private organizations.

The AMA pressed several arguments against the bill. It asserted, first, that the United States already had the highest standards of medical care the world had ever known; great strides had been made in the preceding decades and, while there still were deficiencies, these were being greatly exaggerated. Second, it was claimed that National Health Insurance would lead to Federal control of medical care, which would undermine the existing system and help destroy free enterprise. Third, it was maint,nined that a universal health insurance program would be exhorbitantly costly to operate. And finally, the AMA felt it was unnecessary; private insurance was growing rapidly and was believed capable of doing the job. (The AMA coupled this last argument with an effort to encourage the spread of private coverage.)


By mid-1951 the AMA was openly claiming victory, and President Truman acknowledged as much when he omitted the proposal from his 1952 state of the Union message. Instead, he announced the establishment of a Commission on the Health Needs of the Nation to study the problem. In the presidential election that year, the Democratic candidate, Adlai E. Stevenson (who replaced the retiring President as the party's standard bearer, skirted the issue of Government health insurance. On the other hand, the winner, Dwight D. Eisenhower, voiced strong opposition to the proposal, ensuring that the new administration would not soon revive it.

In sum, the Wagner-Murray-Dingell bill was the victim of a cautious Congress, massive resistance by a prestigious and vitally affected interest group, sympathy for the AMA's position from an imposing array of nonmedical groups, a lack of wholehearted support from some of the key proponents, considerable antipathy from the press, the rapid growth of private insurance, and, finally, of a hostile political climate. (12)

Years later, President Truman wrote: "I have had some bitter disappointments as President, but the one that has troubled me most, in a personal way, has been the failure to defeat the organized opposition to a National compulsory health insurance program. But this opposition has only delayed and cannot stop the adoption of an indispensable Federal health insurance plan."

Except, of course, that the current Democratic plan has more in common with the Taft-Smith-Ball bill that was the conservative alternative to the then-Democratic Wagner-Murray-Dingell.

JG's picture
Submitted by JG on

Dingell has been at it for a long time (he holds the record for longest time served in the House), but the Dingell in this case was his father.

Jeff W's picture
Submitted by Jeff W on

for finding that higher quality clip and for that history.

The medical establishment in places like Canada and Britain greatly opposed the introduction of a national health care program (as did the AMA) though only a few years later, they would overwhelmingly support them—which only goes to show how blinded they were by their own fears and narrow interests.

History matters. FDR's Second Bill of Rights shows that a national health care program along the lines of Medicare, far from being a "far left" idea, is entirely within the mainstream of Democratic Party ideals and that, contrary to President Obama's disingenuous claim that "...for decades, the driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance company abuses and make coverage affordable for those without it," the driving force had been for a national health insurance fund, run by the federal government.

Society becomes more wholesome, more serene, and spiritually healthier, if it knows that its citizens have at the back of the consciousness the knowledge that not only themselves, but all their fellows, have access, when ill, to the best that medical skill can provide. — Aneurin "Nye" Bevan, 1942 [Minister of Health during the creation of the NHS]

caseyOR's picture
Submitted by caseyOR on

Capitalism: A Love Story I cried. I was teary-eyed at other places in the movie, but seeing FDR, who was so obviously sick by that time, and hearing his voice laying out these principles, and thinking about all the "might have beens" had FDR not died in April of 1945, had he lived to finish out that 4th term, well, it was almost too much, and I cried.