AUGUST 24, 1943
HYDE PARK, Monday—Not long ago, more or less rhetorically, I asked the question of my readers, "Are We Ready For Democracy?" It has amused me to find how seriously that rather unimportant remark was taken and how little the people who took it up understood what was really meant.
To be a citizen in a republic, which has a representative form of government, is what we ordinarily mean when we talk of democracy. Exercising this citizenship is a very much more difficult accomplishment than the average person envisages when he or she comes of age. To be sure, we teach children in school today much more than we used to about the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship under our form of government. Teaching is one thing, but really to grasp the full meaning of the value of citizenship and, therefore, of its responsibilities, is quite another.
Most of us think that if we don't actually get into trouble with the law, if we vote on Election Day, if we support ourselves, then we are what is known as "decent citizens." But that is a pretty meagre description of something really the highest privilege to which any man can aspire. To be self-governing, to be the person who decides what powers shall be granted to his government, how he will be represented and by whom—that is a fine thing—when we add to that the responsibility of citizenship. What our community, state and nation shall stand for the in the world—that is being a part of something really magnificent.
The conception of citizenship in a country such as ours is so large that the vision frightens some of us at times. We know that our best efforts will never be enough. We know that this citizenship requires a constant discipline of ourselves, an examination of our every action and of our every thought to make sure of its honesty of purpose. We know that it means we cannot be mean, small or selfish, because on us depends the attitude of our nation, and our nation has the potentialities of greatness and power.
It can have a tremendous influence for good or evil, and that depends on me and 130,000,000, more or less, other citizens. You and I as individuals must have a vision to play our part well. That is why I asked whether we were ready for democracy. I was not belittling democracy. I was envisioning its greatness and its power. I was not casting doubt upon the ability of our people, but I hoped to spur them on to greater vision of the responsibility which our citizenship puts upon us in this period of history.
I hope that I and every citizen of the United States shall ask ourselves every day: "Am I doing all I can according to my lights to be worthy of my citizenship in the United States of America?"