The fireside chats were a series of extremely informal talks given by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt during his presidency, which ran from 1933 to 1945. These speeches served two real purposes of roughly equal importance; to soothe the country and build up its self confidence during the troubled times of the Great Depression and World War II, and to convince the country that his policies (the New Deal and his decisions regarding the war) were going to make the country better.
These talks were delivered by radio to the nation, usually late in the evening, in a very informal fashion. Rather than delivering a straightforward speech, Roosevelt took advantage of his strong natural charisma and speaking ability and instead delivered what sounds more like a one-sided conversation, where he is actually discussing the issues rather than pontificating about them. In a nation full of economic fear and later military fear, this type of attitude towards addressing the nation came as a welcome surprise, especially in the wake of the often-aloof previous president, Herbert Hoover.
His first fireside chat, delivered on March 12, 1933, was perhaps his most important one. The nation had been on a strong economic downhill slide for the past three years, and even though Roosevelt was a solid candidate, he had largely been elected due to a negative backlash against Hoover. He sat down that evening and delivered a speech that simultaneously soothed the nation's worries and cemented his seat of leadership in the nation; it was probably the most successful and important speech in the history of the United States with the possible exception of the Gettysburg Address.
Roosevelt, mostly due to the rousing success of the first and the realization that it was an extremely effective way to communicate with the nation, went on to deliver twenty nine more of these speeches, thirty in all. One of the most notable ones is his speech on December 9, 1941, two days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He delivered a fireside chat on that evening that may be his most stirring; his voice quivered with fear of the battle ahead, but his words spoke of a determination to keep the world free from tyranny. It was magnificently done, and helped to set America slightly more at ease and brought about a focus upon the tyrants across the seas as enemies of our nation.
FDR is widely remembered as one of the great presidents in the history of the United States, and the fireside chats were a big part of it. They helped to build a bond between president and countryman that had previously been nonexistent; the recent widespread use of radio made this possible. His natural charisma and speaking skills; the sound of his reassuring voice going out over the radio; it added up to something indescribable in words. It was this bond that built faith in the American people and enabled FDR to be re-elected three more times, serving the longest tenure as president of anyone, ever.
The legacy of his chats is in the wide visibility of our presidents in the modern day. It is these fireside chats that have resulted in presidents since addressing the nation from the Oval Office in times of trial and decision. They not only directly helped bring the United States through moments of fear, but their legacy helped the country through many later moments of fear as well.