“Wonder state” Arkansas Centennial Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin

Today, the Arkansas Centennial Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers the speech President Roosevelt made in Little Rock, Arkansas 79 years ago.

This speech not only recognized the celebrations in Arkansas, but the president also put forth his plans to address the nation’s economic problems.

The speech made in Arkansas was broadcast to the rest of America via radio.

For today, though, this excerpt of his speech remembers more of the centennial celebration than the economic advisement:


For me this has been a glorious day and this is a splendid climax. While, as some of you know, I have been in the State of Arkansas before this, my visits hitherto have been too much like those of a bird of passage; and this is the first chance that I have had to see the State at closer range, and especially to enjoy the generosity, the kindness and the courtesy of true Arkansas hospitality.

I have seen your parks; I have seen the beauties of your mountains and rivers. Arkansas can claim every warrant for the name “wonder State.” It is doubly a privilege to meet you face to face and to join with you in the celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the admission of this great State into the Union.

It is possible that some of our citizens who live in the original thirteen States along the Atlantic seaboard may have the natural idea that white men first became acquainted with their part of the country, and that the territory lying west of the Mississippi is all very new. I am certain that it is not generally realized back there in the East that Hernando De Soto, the tireless Spanish explorer, set foot in what is now Arkansas, as early as the year 1541, more than half a century before the founding of Jamestown and New Amsterdam and Plymouth; or that the French explorers, Marquette and Joliet, coming southward from Canada, saw this country when the civilization of the Atlantic seaboard was still in its infancy. Nor have they sufficiently been told that the first settlement under the flag of France was made under the direction of De Tonti at Arkansas Post as far back as 1686.

First under the flag of France, the young settlement, as we know, passed to the flag of Spain, to be recovered by Napoleon for France in 1800, and finally brought under our own American flag by the Louisiana Purchase three years later.

That Louisiana Purchase has always had a special significance for me. I am interested in it for family reasons because Robert R. Livingston, our Minister to France, negotiated the purchase by direction of President Thomas Jefferson-and I must admit that Livingston, who was of Scotch descent, drove a very shrewd bargain.

I am also interested because President Jefferson, seeing the complexities which the Emperor Napoleon faced in a coalition of hostile European powers, had the courage, the backbone, to act for the benefit of the United States without the full and unanimous approval of every member of the legal profession. Indeed, he was told by some of his closest advisers and friends that the Constitution of the United States contained no clause specifically authorizing him to purchase or acquire additional territory; and he was told that because specific authority did not exist under that great Charter of Government, none could be exercised. Jefferson replied that there were certain inherent qualities of sovereignty which could not be separated from the Federal Government, if such a Federal Government was permanently to endure; and furthermore, he told them that if he delayed, the Emperor of the French might change his mind and the great territory west of the Mississippi River would be lost forever to American expansion. He and Robert R. Livingston and James Madison put the treaty through; and the next Congress appropriated the money to pay for it; and, my friends, nobody carried the case to the Supreme Court. As a result, Louisiana and Arkansas and Missouri and Iowa and Minnesota and Kansas and Montana and North Dakota and South Dakota and the larger portions of Wyoming and Colorado and Nebraska and Oklahoma fly the Stars and Stripes today.

The hardy pioneers whom we commemorate, who peopled Arkansas and laid the foundations for statehood here and throughout the vast new domain west of the Alleghenies, brought about a veritable renaissance of the principle of free government upon which this Republic was founded.

I have not the time nor is it necessary to follow the fascinating story in detail down to the admission of Arkansas into the Union only a few days less than one hundred years ago. That year of attainment of statehood by Arkansas is an important one in American history, not so much because it was marked by a Presidential election, but because 1836 was the last full year of the Presidency of Andrew Jackson.

It is not without the greatest historical significance that Arkansas was received into the Union in 1836. Jackson’s great work for the country was approaching completion. He was in the full tide of his remarkable powers and in the exercise of an extraordinary influence upon the minds and opinions of the mass of his countrymen.

When Arkansas became a State we must remember that our national Government was not quite fifty years old. Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, had been dead only four years. Only six years had passed since Webster had delivered his reply to Hayne. Men who had followed Washington through the Revolution were to be found in every community, and the manners and mode of the pioneer period were the order of American life. Andrew Jackson, the contemporary and counselor of the Arkansas pioneers of 1836, made his home across the Mississippi in the neighboring State of Tennessee, and was known to the Arkansans of that day as a fellow frontiersman who had carried into the Presidency those neighborly instincts of the frontier which made possible the first truly democratic Administration in our history.

The older I grow and the more I read history, the more I reflect upon the influence of the men and events of one generation upon the life and thought of the generations that follow. A hundred years have passed since Arkansas attained statehood in that last year of Jackson’s Presidency, but throughout this century our American political life has flowed with the vigor of a living stream because the sturdy hand of Andrew Jackson deflected its course from the stagnant marshes of a seaboard oligarchy into the channels of pure American democracy.

Arkansas has given many distinguished men to the Nation; but, my friends, I want to tell you very simply and from the heart, that in the meeting of our difficult problems of today, no man deserves greater credit for loyal devotion to a great cause of humanity than my old friend and associate, Senator Joseph T. Robinson.

May I, in closing, repeat that historical maxim: “What is past is prologue.” Its meaning is not obscure. Out of the story of mankind’s long struggle to govern itself, we should learn lessons which will guide us in solving the problems which beset us today.

The frontier, as we have been recalling it in this rapid survey of the planting of new States, has forever passed; but it has left a permanent imprint upon our political life and upon our social outlook. The Western Frontier from Jackson’s time and the admission of Arkansas a hundred years ago, down to the admission of the last States within recent memory, produced a constant renaissance of the principles of free government. The liberal tendencies of those, whom for nearly a century we have called our Western statesmen, have been sometimes too little understood in the older, more conservative East. It was the frontier and its spirit of self-reliance which ever kept alive the principles of democracy and countered the opposing tendency to set up a social caste, based upon wealth, or education, or family, or financial power.

We still find inspiration for the work before us, in the old spirit which meant achievement through self-reliance; a willingness to lend a hand to the fellow down in his luck through no fault of his own. Upon those principles our democracy was reborn a century ago; upon those principles alone will it endure today and in the days to come.


The Arkansas Centennial Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with an image of President Roosevelt receiving one of the coins in 1937.

Arkansas Centennial Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin