Liberty, Law and the War


By JOSEPH E. DAVIES, Special Assistant to the Secretary of State

Delivered at the Banquet of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Wisconsin, in connection with ceremonies dedicating the University's New Law Library, May 5, 1940

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, pp. 511-512.

IT is a great pleasure to be here for the dedication of the Law Library at my old Alma Mater, the University of Wisconsin, and to speak to you tonight on "Liberty, Law and the War."

Civilization, in its development from the cave man to the present day, has contributed to mankind no more priceless benefits than Liberty under Law—the only kind of freedom that remains secure rather than destroys itself through its own excesses. Law under our system is Ordered Liberty. It is Liberty under Law which assures us freedom to worship God as conscience dictates, security in our lives and in our homes, freedom to think, speak, write or act in a conscious effort to mold conditions of life under which we and our children wish to live. Blest is that government or people which has this citadel of freedom, for tyranny begins where law ends.

During my stay in Europe I saw the stark tragedy of men and women who have been denied these protections. Liberty under Law takes on a very vital significance when you see men tried and condemned to die because of the lack of these privileges. Concentration camps, secret police, forced emigration of peoples, mass starvation, economic, industrial, financial and journalistic slavery, where the State is master of men and men exist only for the State, and those small groups that control the State—these among other things are conditions which make the liberties which we enjoy the envy of millions of people in the world.

World Forces and their Effect on Us All peoples have the right to determine their own political and national ideology and policy. That is their own business, respectively, and none of our affair. But it is our vital duty to see, know and understand the forces which are at work in the world and to guard jealously our own beliefs and our own institutions, that the kind of life which we think is worth living shall be preserved.

The fact is that the world has reached a most critical stage in the crisis which confronts a threatened civilization. It is a fact that in many parts of this earth absolutist political creeds, ready to crush all opposition without pity or remorse, are doing battle against our concepts of law and liberty. Our constitutional system under which individual rights are guaranteed is the mother of our economic, social and political life. We citizens of the United States cannot conceive of living in a society in which rights of the individual, which are the essence of our ideas of religion and life itself, can be systematically denied in the name of a State or a Party or a Race. It shocks our sense of justice and right that the moral unity of international society should be shattered by wars—declared and undeclared—in which both primitive and progressive peaceful nations, who desire only to be left alone, should be subjected to force, intrigue, sabotage and invasion.

We, here, are innocent bystanders in what may be the greatest war ever waged. All about us there exist now and are developing further, tremendous upheavals in religious, social and political concepts. It is intelligent and wise that we should assess these facts and the impact which theseforces might have upon our life—upon the well-being of our farmers, businessmen, manufacturers, wage-earners, our churches, and possibly even upon the form of government which we cherish.

Effect of War Conditions

It would be manifestly improper for me to discuss political or military aspects of, or to take sides in, this military conflict. Our Government is maintaining a strict neutrality. It is entirely proper, however, that we should study and discuss some of the possible effects which are threatening or may threaten our country. Due to Providence, we are secure from any possibility of armed invasion. We can and will protect ourselves and will maintain the security and freedom of this hemisphere against outside intervention. Under the leadership of the President, the Government of the United States is taking far-reaching naval and military precautions to guarantee that security. Protection from the indirect consequences of this war on world economy and upon our own life, however, is more difficult.

Fiscal Repercussions

Even though the war were to be settled tomorrow, forces already exist which will have far-reaching effects upon us. I need not recall that the artificial skyrocketing of farm prices and farm values in 1914 and thereafter left disastrous results here, from which we still suffer today. The business boom which may be created here by this war will have its accompanying disastrous reaction unless we exercise the highest quality of wisdom.

A prolongation of the war, on the other hand, will inevitably create even more devastating forces in the world. Each year, entirely apart from the human life and values being destroyed, the belligerent nations are spending for non-productive purposes—for destructive purposes—an amount of goods and effort costing more than the total gold supply of the world. Whether this war, therefore, results in an "all out victory" for either side, with a peace imposed by the will of the conqueror, or whether it results in a stalemate, the effect upon the daily lives of our people will be enormous. It will be a new world in which we will live and elements that may be beyond our control will influence the life and the political thought of our children and their children.

No man can foretell now what the outcome of this war will be. An accident might determine the result. But for the rain that fell on the fields of Waterloo the night before the battle, the history of Europe might have been different.

Even though no foreign military plane, warship, or soldier ever touches our shores, the forces which this struggle has unleashed seem sure to affect us vitally. Some of these are the new economic alignments now being forged across the seas.

The outlet for our agricultural, mineral and industrial products in foreign trade already has been clogged and the Tegular channels of peaceful intercourse between nations have been disrupted.

Hundreds of years of experience has taught mankind that the largest volume of trade is induced by having as a basis of their monetary systems a medium of exchange which is convenient, small in compass, reasonably stable in supply and universally acceptable. The best medium which civilization has found through this experience has been gold. It is the use of this system and this metal which has facilitated the growth of trade and increased its velocity many-fold over the primitive methods of barter. This system brought attendant greater prosperity, higher standards of living and better conditions of living to the peoples of the earth. That system has now been challenged as obsolete over a large part of the world by a so-called "new and scientific" system of barter and exchange where the medium is not gold, or a currency based upon gold, but which involved the highly controlled and restricted barter of commodities induced by necessity, force or fear.

Political, Economic and Industrial Effects

Our greatest foreign market and the greatest foreign market of all the Americas is Europe. Nearly forty per cent of Brazil's coffee crop alone is sold in Europe; about four-fifths of Argentina's meat and hides are sold in Europe; nearly half of our agricultural products and more than half of our non-agricultural products are sold in Europe. With Europe denuded of gold, this great market might possibly be temporarily excluded from American goods except on the terms which the buyers would impose; to wit, on a basis of exchange of commodities in such quantities and of such character as the buyer would desire. Such a situation might involve serious dependence of the Americans upon European control,or the alternative of finding other markets, which do not exist, in order to keep the standard of living of their peoples consistent with national well-being.

European markets for our manufactured goods may be lost; South American and other markets now friendly to us might be closed by preferential barter; and it is entirely possible that we might be faced with a financial and industrial crisis compared with which the 1930 depression would rank as a period of prosperity.

The liberal thought of the world cleaves to the hope that following this terrible military destruction in Europe, America will still have the strength and power to help recreate our civilization and heal a stricken world. The hope we believe will be fulfilled. To safeguard its fulfilment, however, we should think the matter through and envisage potentialities of the situation. We should not overlook the possibility that these high hopes might be thwarted by the fact that we might be relegated to the position of a minority stockholder in a going world concern in which we would have little to say.

Effect on Social and Political Conditions

These are some of the conditions which confront us and which might bring us face to face with far-reaching and serious effects upon our agricultural, our manufacture and the standard of workers' wage; with an unemployment situation on such a scale and social insecurity of such intensity that the foundation of our social and political order might be shaken. Despair knows no law. The continued existence of our individualistic system might possibly be threatened.

These things I do not say will happen. It is, nevertheless, prudent and wise, is it not, that we should appreciate and foresee the forces now existing in the world which affect us, the consequences of which we and our children might have to confront.

There is, of course, another side of the picture. We should not look through a glass too darkly. There are great strengths in our people which are inherent in Democracy. James Bryce said twenty years ago:

"No government demands so much from the citizen as Democracy and none gives so much back."

These conditions which I have suggested to you are now being met by American business and by the American Government. It is innate in the genius of our country to meet emergencies and find their solution sanely and practically, and, as our President recently said, with our feet on the ground. It is essential, however, that the facts should be seen and their possible significance understood.

Thus, in conclusion, I would stress again Liberty and Law as the foundation of our life. Our pioneer forebears left to us precious values as a heritage which we must guard jealously. Whatever the result of the world conflict, our form of government must never be translated from a government of, by and for the people to a government of, by and for a dictatorship. Our civil liberties must never be abridged to deny us the equal protection of the law, liberty to worship God freely as conscience dictates, the right to fair trial, against which no writ can ever run, and that form of life in which men are not slaves to a State but where the State is the servant of mankind, where the dignity of the human spirit shall be preserved as the most priceless attribute with which God has invested mankind. To deserve these blessings, we must be vigilant in their protection.

So, my fellow citizens, I recommend that you give these few thoughts and suggestions your consideration. This is our America.