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:
There is a doctrine floating about in our literature that we are born to the inheritance of certain rights. That is another glorious dream, for it would mean that there was something in this world which we got for nothing. But what is the truth? We are born into no right whatever but what has an equivalent and corresponding duty right alongside of it. There is no such thing on this earth as something for nothing. Whatever we inherit of wealth, knowledge, or institutions from the past has been paid for by the labor and sacrifice of preceding generations; and the fact that these gains are carried on, that the race lives and that the race can, at least within some cycle, accumulate its gains, is one of the facts on which civilization rests. The law of the conservation of energy is not simply a law of physics; it is a law of the whole moral universe, and the order and truth of all things conceivable by man depends upon it. If there were any such liberty as that of doing as you have a mind to, the human race would be condemned to everlasting anarchy and wars these erratic wills crossed and clashed against each other. True liberty lies in the equilibrium of rights and duties, producing peace, order, and harmony. As I have defined it, it means that a man’s right to take power and wealth out of the social product is measured by the energy and wisdom which he has contributed to the social effort.
Now if I have set this idea before you with any distinctness and success, you see that civil liberty consists of a set of civil institutions and laws which are arranged to act as impersonally as possible. It does not consist in majority rule or in universal suffrage or in elective systems at all. These are devices which are good or better just in the degree in which they secure liberty. The institutions of civil liberty leave each man to run his career in life in his own way, only guaranteeing to him that whatever he does in the way of industry, economy, prudence, sound judgment, etc., shall redound to his own welfare and shall not be diverted to some one else’s benefit. Of course it is a necessary corollary that each man shall also bear the penalty of his own vices and his own mistakes. If I want to be free from any other man’s dictation, I must understand that I can have no other man under my control.