Biden’s ‘dagger’ speech hearkens to historic FDR speech at U.Va.

Historian Coy Barefoot said President Biden's 'dagger' reference echoed powerful imagery used by FDR

When President Joe Biden said, “I will allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of democracy,” he wasn’t the first president to call upon the powerful imagery.

“President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made his ‘dagger speech’ 72 years ago,” said historian and author Coy Barefoot.

On June 10, 1940, FDR was aboard a train from D.C. to Charlottesville to give a speech to graduates at the University of Virginia.

As the train headed south, FDR learned Italy had declared war on Britain and France, and entered World War II.

“The news had broken, just that day, as FDR was traveling to Charlottesville,” Barefoot said. “Italy’s Mussolini was in concert with Hitler’s Nazis in Germany by declaring war on France.”

The United States had remained neutral during the first two years of World War II. FDR’s remarks at the University of Virginia were nationally broadcast live on radio.

“He made very clear, to the American people, his commitment to provide aid to democratic nations that were being threatened by authoritarian, fascist movements in Europe,” Barefoot said.

As FDR traveled toward to Charlottesville, he edited the printed graduation speech he had been rehearsing.

“He handwrote into his speech, adding an entirely new line, which said: ‘On this tenth day of June, nineteen-hundred-and-forty, the hand that held the dagger has struck it, into the back of its neighbor.'”

FDR’s address at the university can be played or downloaded from the National Archives Catalog.

Barefoot said FDR’s remarks “were aimed at rousing America from its isolationist slumber and to make clear that the very idea of democracy was at stake in the world.”

During his remarks on the one-year anniversary of the invasion of the U.S. Capitol by rioters hoping to disrupt the transition of power from then-President Donald Trump, “President Biden used that same imagery to make the very same point — that it is democracy that is being threatened today, the foundational concept on which our nation is based.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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