The 2nd Bill Of Rights


Patricia Truslow, Contributor

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In his 1944 State of the Union address, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt outlined his "Second Bill of Rights," a vision to make the lives of all Americans more secure. Roosevelt believed strongly that every citizen must be guaranteed the rights to economic security and independence. "Necessitous men are not free men," he proclaimed, unless these rights exist as supplements to the original Bill of Rights.

The eight fundamental rights President Roosevelt promoted

President Roosevelt, or "FDR," suggested that America had consistently recognized certain "rights" without which a citizen's pursuit of happiness could neither be equally available nor guaranteed. He felt that his economic bill of rights would provide that equality. The Roosevelt second bill of rights consisted of:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative 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 businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by 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 economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.

Impacts of FDR's Second Bill of Rights

Roosevelt felt that his bill of rights would positively impact the security of Americans and have an impact on human rights throughout the world. Franklin Roosevelt's second bill of rights has consistently influenced social programs in America, such as those championed by President Lyndon Johnson through his Great Society reformation, as well the Affordable Healthcare Act passed under President Barack Obama's administration.

Roosevelt's bill of rights has also been used as the underlying framework for the historic Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948, as well as guidelines for improving human rights worldwide as other countries strive to equalize economic benefits for all peoples.

U.S. Laws that support FDR's Second Bill of Rights

Although President Roosevelt did not propose his bill of rights until 1944, legislation had already been passed to address some of those rights. Some of the more prominent laws that were put into place then and continue to address FDR's eight rights are:

  • The Social Security Act of 1935: This legislation provides for FDR's seventh right of protection from poverty and unemployment for the aged.
  • The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938: This act established the national minimum wage for non-supervisory and non-farm workers in support of Roosevelt's second right.
  • The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933: Commonly called "The Farm Bill," this Act addressed issues relative to farming activity in the U.S. per President Roosevelt's third right, but it also influenced matters relative to his second right. The Act was modified in 1938 and today, is the basis for many farm bills that manage agricultural production.
  • The National Housing Act of 1934: As a result of this legislation, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) which insures mortgage companies and promotes housing construction was formed to address Roosevelt's fifth right.

President Roosevelt's economic bill of rights never became part of the U.S. Constitution, but the influence of these rights continues to affect laws passed in America.

Controversy surrounding Roosevelt's Second Bill of Rights

Roosevelt's second bill of rights was designed to provide economic security so that citizens could pursue the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Even so, there were and continue to be three major controversial points:

  • Scope of the federal government: The Constitutional Bill of Rights limits the scope of governmental interference in one's personal activities, while Roosevelt's second bill of rights expanded the role of the federal government. FDR's bill of rights also gives the federal government the power to define acceptable housing, education, wealth and other entitlements.
  • Economically unfeasible: Public opinion says that while assistance to the needy should be provided by the government, unlimited entitlements unfairly transfer funds from other government programs that provide benefits for all citizens, such as infrastructure improvements.
  • Distorts personal responsibility: FDR's second bill of rights favors those who do not take responsibility for his or her standard of living by transferring that responsibility to the citizens who are more industrious and prosperous. It creates a "dependent society."

After the experience and effects of the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt's second bill of rights solidified his contention that the government should ensure economic security and equal opportunity for every citizen. Without these social protections, America would never be able to establish prominence as a world leader.