Friday, December 07, 2007

"A date which will live in infamy"

Today is the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  The following day, on December 8, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his declaration of war to a joint session of congress.

This speech is one of the most famous of the 20th century.  FDR made a deliberate decision to deliver a brief, uncomplicated appeal and decided against a thorough recitation of Japanese perfidies, as his Secretary of State urged.

After delivery, normal procedure was for him, or a staffer, to take the speech back to the White House for filing.  On that day, the speech was left behind and presumed lost.

That speech was composed by FDR himself, first in his head, then dictated to a secretary and then revised from typed copy.  It was truly a product of the man himself.

In March 1984, an archivist located his reading copy among the Records of the U.S. Senate.  It turned out that when FDR left his copy behind, it was picked up by a Senate clerk who took charge of it, endorsed it "Dec 8, 1941, Read in joint session," and filed it.

Delivered at a pivotal moment in history, it is clear, unambiguous, elegant, forceful and appropriate.  You can see from the scans below that he revised right up to the last draft.  The famous line "a day that will live in infamy" was revised by him by hand from the original " ... live in history."


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