An extremely famous quote in American history is the phrase delivered by Franklin D. Roosevelt during his first presidential inaugural address in 1933. His “nothing to fear quote” sounds so timeless; have you ever wondered if he was the first to use it? He certainly hasn’t been the last.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. – Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States
Often times politicians, statesmen and famous people on the public stage quote passages from the Bible or other famous works of literature. Yes, there are many famous president quotes that come to mind. FDR was no exception, but was his “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” quote inspired from the Bible?
There is a Bible passage, found in the book of Proverbs, that could be construed to be very close to President Roosevelt’s fear quote . I don’t think it is remotely close enough to conclude that FDR used it for his speech though.
“Be not afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked, when it cometh.” – Proverbs 3:25 KJV
“Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked.” – Proverbs 3:25 NIV
There are a couple of other notables in history who have used the fear of fear idea in their writings:
“The thing I fear most is fear”. – Michel de Montaigne, French Essayist / Writer, 1580
“Nothing is terrible except fear itself”. – Francis Bacon, English Author and Stateman, from his book De Augmentis Scientiarum, 1623
“The only thing i am afraid of is fear”. – The Duke of Wellington, 1831
“Nothing is so much to be feared as fear”. – Henry David Thoreau, 1851
Now while the idea of cleverly using fear as a verb and fear as a noun in the same sentence is well established, we can’t be sure to say the Franklin D. Roosevelt borrowed from the Bible or others when he put “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” into his inaugural speech. It may be that he was familiar with some of these quotes, being a student of the Bible and of history himself, but it’s just too common an idea to pinpoint the source. Perhaps he just took something that was common, and used it during an uncommon time to inspire our country to lift itself up. While others may have said it before him, history proves that FDR is the clear owner of today’s quote.
Here is the video of President Franklin D. Roosevelt making his famous inaugural speech in 1933.