He said they were forgotten, and he used that phrase to convince Americans to pass his progressive programs, whereby he taxed the people who made money to give it to those who had little money to feed themselves and their families.
Thus, the most common reference to "The Forgotten Man" today usually refers to the meaning as FDR eluded to in that 1932 speech.
However, the original use of that phrase was by a Yale professor named William Graham Sumner (1840-1910) and his meaning was completely different from that used by FDR.
Graham's definition was in reference to the average working class American like you and me. We are the real forgotten men and women. We are forgotten because of our politicians and their progressive movement; they are so concerned about creating entitlement programs for taking care of the poor and the needy that they have forgotten about us -- the one's flipping the bill.
Sure the rich can be taxed to a certain extent, but the top 5% of income earners already account for 86% of all revenue from taxes. So in order to pay for all the government programs, the middle class must also be taxed.
Graham, in an 1883 speech, described the forgotten man this way: You have four men: A, B, C and X. A and B get together and decide something has to be done to help out X, who is poor and has no job. So to help X, A and B pass a law whereby A, B and C will be taxed so the money can be used to help out X.
A and B can afford to give the charity. But C is just your common man trying to make a living. And when the government taxes him, he is unable to get by, or barely able to get by. Because he is forced to help out X, he has to make cut backs other places. In essence, he is the true Forgotten Man.
Graham describes the Forgotten Man as such:
It is when we come to the proposed measures of relief for the evils which have caught public attention that we reach the real subject which deserves our attention. As soon as A observes something which seems to him to be wrong, from which X is suffering, A talks it over with B, and A and B then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help X. Their law always proposes to determine what C shall do for X or, in the better case, what A, B and C shall do for X. As for A and B, who get a law to make themselves do for X what they are willing to do for him, we have nothing to say except that they might better have done it without any law, 'but what I want to do is to look up C. I want to show you what manner of man he is. I call him the Forgotten Man. Perhaps the appellation is not strictly correct. He is the man who never is thought of. He is the victim of the reformer, social speculator and philanthropist, and I hope to show you before I get through that he deserves your notice both for his character and for the many burdens which are laid upon him.I just think this is such an interesting concept. Basically, the concept is that lawmakers get together and decide to help the poor by taking from the common man, and they "overlook" the class of Americans that make the country possible -- the forgotten man.
Now who is the Forgotten Man? He is the simple, honest laborer, ready to earn his living by productive work. We pass him by because he is independent, self-supporting, and asks no favors. He does not appeal to the emotions or excite the sentiments. He only wants to make a contract and fulfill it, with respect on both sides and favor on neither side. He must get his living out of the capital of the country. The larger the capital is, the better living he can get. Every particle of capital which is wasted on the vicious, the idle, and the shiftless is so much taken from the capital available to reward the independent and productive laborer. But we stand with our backs to the independent and productive laborer all the time.
While history tells a story where FDR ended the Great Depression by helping out FDR's Forgotten Man, Shlaes tells the true story about how FDR overlooked the true Forgotten Man, who was overtaxed and burdened by regulations.
Jon McNaughton, who created the painting displayed, depicts a U.S. where, in order to pass the programs needed to help man X, or FDR's Forgotten Man, Obama ignored the Constitution. This is why in his painting he has Obama standing over a copy of the U.S. Constitution, with most of our Presidents observing this with confused expressions on their faces as though saying, "What are you doing with OUR country?"
Donald J. Trump ran for president by tapping into the frustrations of Sumner's Forgotten Man. In his acceptance speech in the early hours of November 9, 2016, he said, "The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer"
- Sumner, William Graham, "The Forgotten Man And Other Essays," 1867, New Haven, Yale University Press
- Shlaes, Amity, "The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression,"
- Shlaes, Amity, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KGlBHyVeYUThe Forgotten Man," You Tube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KGlBHyVeYU