Image courtesy of Library of Congress
In what would be his last appearance before the Congress, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed a Joint Session from the well of the House.
On this date, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made his last appearance before a Joint Session
of Congress to report on the Yalta Conference. In February 1945, the “Big Three”—President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Great Britain, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin—met in Yalta, Crimea in the Soviet Union, to discuss the postwar organization of Europe and the final planning stages for an international association to monitor economic and social issues around the globe. Upon his return to the United States, Roosevelt spoke before the House and Senate to discuss the results of the meeting and to build support for his vision of an international peace-keeping body. Before the Joint Session began, Benjamin C. West
, the future superintendent of the House Press Gallery, recalled literally running into the President as he exited an elevator on the second floor of the Capitol. “And I was slightly stunned, and I’m sure the President was too, to be honest. I think it was a shared emotion here,” West remarked. “And I remember him saying, ‘Are you all right, young man?’ I said, ‘Yes sir, I think so.’ And he extended his hand, and I shook his hand.” Uncharacteristically pushed into the chamber in a wheelchair, Roosevelt apologized to Members for addressing Congress in a seated position. The President explained that it was easier to forgo wearing heavy braces and walk up a makeshift ramp to the rostrum—especially after his arduous journey. However, Roosevelt emphasized he felt “refreshed and inspired” and downplayed rumors of his poor health. In a red cushioned chair placed behind a wooden table in front of the dais (on the same level as the Members), the President adopted a casual, conversational style in his “personal report” on the conference. But he made clear that Congress would soon have to make a “great decision” with dire consequences. “There can be no middle ground here,” Roosevelt warned. “We shall have to take the responsibility for world collaboration, or we shall have to bear the responsibility for another world conflict.” President Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, in Warm Springs, Georgia, before the end of World War II, and the formation of the United Nations.