FDR's Pearl Harbor Speech Didn't Originally Include the Most Famous Line, 'A Date Which Will Live in Infamy'

On December 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare a state of war on Japan.

One of the most famous speeches of the 20th century, Roosevelt dictated it to his secretary, Grace Tully, hours after he learned of the attack, according to the National Archives. Lasting about six minutes, the short speech has carried a lasting impact 78 years later, and many people can still quote one of its opening lines. Although Roosevelt had speechwriters, the National Archives reported the speech was largely the president's own words.

After addressing the vice president and congressional members, Roosevelt acknowledged the Japanese attack on the naval base in Hawaii, calling December 7th, 1941, a "date which will live in infamy." However, that famous and memorable line wasn't in the original draft of the speech.

When he dictated the speech to Tully, the line read, "a date which will live in world history," according to the National Archives. Roosevelt swapped "world history" for "infamy," while editing the first draft of the speech by hand.

Just before asking Congress to declare a state of war, Roosevelt planned to say: "There is no mincing the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger." Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt's aide, inserted the sentence that came after the president's: "With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph—so help us God."

fdr pearl harbor speech
President Franklin D. Roosevelt is pictured during the dramatic moments before the joint session of Congress on December 8th, 1941, as he asked Congress to declare a state of war against Japan for its "unprovoked and dastardly attack." Bettman/Getty

On December 7, 1941, Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor, destroying the USS Arizona and capsizing the USS Oklahoma. It resulted in the death of more than 2,300 Americans and became the tipping point for America to join World War II.

One of the most significant moments in America's history, the anniversary is acknowledged annually, this year taking place on Tuesday. It's common for "a date which will live in infamy" to appear in social media posts memorializing the lives that were lost.

A full transcript of Roosevelt's speech the day after the attack can be read below:

"Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives:

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.

Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our secretary of state a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island.

And this morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

As Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph—so help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire."

FDR's Pearl Harbor Speech Didn't Originally Include the Most Famous Line, 'A Date Which Will Live in Infamy' | U.S.