The phrase Forgotten Man was made popular by FDR during the Depression but it has a very different meaning from how it was used by William Graham Sumner in 1884.  William Voegeli covered this difference well in a review of Amity Shlaes book, The Great Society, in Not So Great.  There is more detail of Sumner’s version in his own words here.

In the Sumner version A and B obliges C to help X.  ‘A’ is the political reformer, ‘B’ is the self confident social scientist, ‘C’ is the average citizen who makes his own way who is made to pay for the reform to help ‘X’, the downtrodden who has fallen through the cracks of our society. In Sumner’s view ‘C’ is the forgotten man.”

In FDR’s version ‘X’ is the forgotten man and there is no ‘C’.

This difference in the meaning of this single term defines our political differences.

Excerpts from Sumner’s Forgotten Man:

Such is the Forgotten Man. He works, he votes, generally he prays– but he always pays–yes, above all, he pays. He does not want an office; his name never gets into the newspaper except when he gets married or dies. He keeps production going on. He contributes to the strength of parties. He is flattered before election. He is strongly patriotic. He is wanted, whenever, in his little circle, there is work to be done or counsel to be given. He may grumble some occasionally to his wife and family, but he does not frequent the grocery or talk politics at the tavern. Consequently, he is forgotten. He is a commonplace man. He gives no trouble. He excites no admiration. He is not in any way a hero (like a popular orator); or a problem (like tramps and outcasts); nor notorious (like criminals); nor an object of sentiment (like the poor and weak); nor a burden (like paupers and loafers); nor an object out of which social capital may be made (like the beneficiaries of church and state charities); nor an object for charitable aid and protection (like animals treated with cruelty); nor the object of a job (like the ignorant and illiterate); nor one over whom sentimental economists and statesmen can parade their fine sentiments (like inefficient workmen and shiftless artisans). Therefore, he is forgotten. All the burdens fall on him, or on her, for it is time to remember that the Forgotten Man is not seldom a woman.

Whenever A and B put their heads together and decide what A, B and C must do for D, there is never any pressure on A and B. They consent to it and like it. There is rarely any pressure on D because he does not like it and contrives to evade it. The pressure all comes on C. Now, who is C? He is always the man who, if let alone, would make a reasonable use of his liberty without abusing it. He would not constitute any social problem at all and would not need any regulation. He is the Forgotten Man again, and as soon as he is brought from his obscurity you see that he is just that one amongst us who is what we all ought to be.


The government or the politicians who seek the power of government tend to promise benefits without paying for them.  When there is an eviction moratorium what happens to the landlord? When we forgive college debt or any other debt who makes up the shortfall?  When the minimum wage is raised where does this increase come from?  We pretend either the shortfall magically appears or worse, it comes out of the pockets of evil greedy people who deserve to be shorted.