Today, a President spoke.
Americans didn’t hear much from their Presidents for most of the country’s history. This was a result of tradition as much as anything else. As candidates, it was considered unseemly to campaign, so most Presidential hopefuls through the late 1880s didn’t even go out on the stump. This wasn’t so strange considering that so few Americans actually voted as a result of purposeful and circumstantial disenfranchisement (little over 1% of the population was allowed or able to vote in the first election of 1789, and the 19th Amendment to the Constitution giving the right to vote to women wasn’t ratified until 1920). Politics were local and personal, up to and including brokering deals to support candidates at national conventions. Once in office, there was little any President could do if he wanted to address America, and at best it would be via the printed word. The first official press conference wouldn’t happen until Woodrow Wilson convened it in 1913.
But the tide of society and technology was trending toward a more populist vision of politics and governing. Franklin Roosevelt is said to have used radio addresses to go over the heads of his conservative Republican opponents in the New York legislature when he was governor in 1929. But the radio idea came into its own on this day in 1933 when he hosted the first of what would number 30 Fireside Chats that continued into 1944. It must have been a revelation to hear a President speak, and Roosevelt did so in vernacular language (even as he discussed complex issues, like the banking and jobs aspects of the Great Depression, and then the difficulties of fighting WWII). The immediacy of the relationships he forged through this media — both positive and negative — was evidenced in the rabid opposition to his New Deal, and the first-ever images of teary-eyed citizens bemoaning a President’s death.