After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt crafted his rousing "Day of Infamy" speech. Looking at the first draft, you can see the few annotations and edits he made to it, including some vital alterations that made all the difference.

Like his friend Winston Churchill, Roosevelt wrote many of his speeches without the aid of speechwriters. After the surprise attack by the Japanese on December 7th, 1941, he got to work on a speech that would be delivered to the American public (and the world, for that matter) over the radio the next day. War would be declared a day later on December 9th, exactly 73 years ago today.


This document, which resides at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, shows the various edits made by the President during a first pass.

Remarkably, the word "infamy" was absent from the first version. Instead, he planned to start the speech by saying it would be a "date which will live in world history." Which would have been all sorts of blah; it's rather amazing to think about the impact this single word had on the power of this speech and its subsequent historical allure.


In the opening sentence, the President also changed "simultaneously" to "suddenly," and at one point he considered putting the words "without warning" at the end of the sentence, but he later crossed them out.

Writing in Slate's history blog, The Vault, Rebecca Onion explains why FDR made the changes:

[This] substitution in the first line of the speech was telling. After a decade of isolationist sentiment, Roosevelt could not do what Woodrow Wilson did during World War I: advance a multilayered argument for American involvement, "agoniz[ing] over the violence of war," and "advanc[ing] idealistic and lofty goals to justify participation."

Instead, as [historian Emily] Rosenberg argues, FDR stressed a simple, powerful narrative, tapping into past American legends. He juxtaposed the "treachery" and deception of the attack with the "righteous might" of the people who would respond, keeping the message short and simple, and asking for immediate action.

Also, FDR made sure that the attack on Hawaii, as a U.S. territory, was front-and-center, even going so far as to describe Oahu as an "American island" in case listeners weren't up to speed on their geography. As you can see from his notes, he scratched out mention of the concurrent attack on the Philippines (a U.S. colony) to stress that this was an unprovoked attack on American soil.

He also noted that the distance from Japan to Hawaii meant that the attack must have been planned "many days ago." Accordingly, he changed the text to read, "many days or even weeks ago." But historians now know that the Japanese had considered a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor for many years.

Here's the speech as it was ultimately delivered by the President:

Read more at Slate's The Vault. And check out Prologue Magazine's excellent and detailed account of how FDR put the speech together.