This speech was made by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to a Joint Session of Congress at 12:30 p.m. on Monday, December 8, 1941, in Washington, D.C. The sound recording was made available by the National Archives of the United States. Nicknamed the "Date of Infamy Speech," it is one of the most famous political speeches of the 20th century.
On the afternoon of December 7, 1941, a meeting between President Roosevelt and his chief adviser, Harry Hopkins, was interrupted by a telephone call from Secretary of War Henry Stimson. Stimson told Roosevelt and Hopkins that the Empire of Japan had attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbor Naval Base, Hawaii.
Roosevelt immediately met with members of his cabinet and close advisers. Secretary of State Cordell Hull encouraged the president to make a speech outlining the aggressive nature of Imperial Japan and the deteriorating state of U.S.-Japanese diplomatic relations. Influenced by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's insistence on placing individual conflicts in a larger historical context, Hull urged Roosevelt to cite threats to world freedoms made by Japan.
Roosevelt weighed Hull's advice, but decided against it. Instead, at about 5 p.m., Roosevelt dictated a short (about 10-minute), emotional appeal to the people of the United States, as well as Congress. (His secretary, Grace Tully, typed the draft.) He did not have a speechwriter; Roosevelt had composed the entire speech in his head within hours of Stimson telling him the news about Pearl Harbor.
Before delivering the speech to a Joint Session of Congress, Roosevelt revised the draft—mostly updating military information and editing for clarity, tone, and content.
Sections of particular interest to educators are italicized.
- Introduction: Announcer introduces President Roosevelt, who is met with great applause (start-1:45 min.)
- Date Which Will Live in Infamy: Roosevelt addresses the Pearl Harbor attack (1:45-4:40 min.)
- Additional Attacks: Roosevelt details Japan's "surprise offensive" throughout the Pacific (4:40-5:30 min.)
- Appeal to the public: Roosevelt speaks for the American people, who he says will "win through to absolute victory" (5:30-8:30 min.)
- Appeal to Congress: Roosevelt asks Congress to declare war (8:30-9:25 min.)
- National Anthem: band plays "The Star-Spangled Banner" (9:25-11:04 min.)
Strategies for Discussing "President Franklin Roosevelt's 'Day of Infamy' Speech"
A series of possible discussion topics about the immediate and historical impacts of the speech is provided in the following tab, "Questions."
Strategies for Using Audio Sources
- Prepare students for listening: Whose voices will they be hearing? What is the date of the recording? What technology was used to make this recording?
- Have students listen to the type of material recorded: Is this a political speech? An interview? A conversation or discussion? A court case? A religious or spiritual ceremony? A piece of entertainment?
- Have students listen to the language in the recording: What language(s) are heard in the recording? What does this indicate about the speaker? What does it indicate about the audience?
- Discuss the recording after listening to one or more sections: What was important about this recording? Why has it been preserved?
Strategies for Using Primary Sources
One of the most familiar ways to introduce students to primary sources is the method using the acronym APPARTS.
Author: Who created this resource? What is their point of view?
Place and Time: When was this resource produced? How might that influence its meaning?
Prior Knowledge: What social, cultural, or historical information would help students understand the context of this resource?
Audience: Who was the intended audience for this resource? Who is its audience today?
Reason: Why was this resource produced?
The Main Idea: What message was this resource trying to convey? How has it succeeded or failed?
Significance: What message does this resource offer today?
Why did President Roosevelt deliver this speech to Congress? Why didn't he, as President of the United States, declare war on Japan?
Both houses of Congress passed the declaration. In the Senate, it passed 82-0. In the House of Representatives, it passed 388-1. Jeannette Rankin (R-Montana) was the only representative to vote against it. Why do you think she took such an unpopular position?
The Senate voted 82-0 to support the declaration of war against Japan. As of July 2012, there are 100 members of the Senate. Why were there not 100 votes on December 8, 1941?
The United States declared war on the Empire of Japan on December 8, 1941. Did this action authorize the United States to go to war with Japan's allies, Germany and Italy?
The most famous line in Roosevelt's speech was originally "a date which will live in world history." Why do you think the president changed the last two words?
Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry Congress Noun
legislative branch of the government, responsible for making laws. The U.S. Congress has two bodies, the House of Representatives and the Senate.
group of ships, usually organized for military purposes.
Franklin Roosevelt Noun
(1882-1945) 32nd president of the United States.
very bad reputation.
Pearl Harbor attack Noun
(1941) air assault by Japanese on American forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, which led to American entry into World War II.
art and science of public policy.
World War II Noun
(1939-1945) armed conflict between the Allies (represented by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union) and the Axis (represented by Germany, Italy, and Japan.)