A More Perfect Union
LIBERAL DEMOCRACY HAS NOT FAILED
By PAUL SHIPMAN ANDREWS, Dean, College of Law, Syracuse University
Delivered at the Annual Dinner of the Pennsylvania State Bar Association, June 20, 1940, Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, pp. 659-663.
MR. TOASTMASTER, Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen: Two of the pleasantest things in the world, a friend of mine once said, are deserved praise and undeserved praise. Those that know say that the former is a delightful experience. For that portion of the latter which has been so generously accorded me tonight, I am grateful.
What I shall say tonight will not be partisan. I shall not deal with issues of the campaign, with bills before Congress, with the headlines. I shall speak, if I may, on issues which seem to me to underlie them all. Speaking, moreover, as I am, to lawyers, to the Bar Association of a great state, I know that I speak in a high presence. Since the very beginning of this country, its leadership has been furnished in great portion by the bar; we lawyers have been one-eighth of one per cent, perhaps, of the population. But we have furnished four or five-sevenths of the membership of state and national legislatures. No group in our economy has had so much to do with molding the institutions of government and of business under which we live. Perhaps you will think that I shall speak too gravely, for an occasion such as this. If so, I hope you will forgive me, for the times are grave. I may even preach to you. Perhaps, indeed, if you will look between the lines of what I say, you will think that part of it may have something to do with principles that have been slowly spreading for 1900 years and more from a little land in Asia Minor, called Judea. For it is as true today as it was then that to those who give it, shall be given unto them; that without brotherhood and trust, neither a family, nor a nation nor a world can forever hold together; that a house divided against itself cannot stand; that without vision the people perish.
Until yesterday or the day before, for over 300 years, the center of human interest was in politics, in forms of government, in the establishment of liberty and the dignity of the individual. The inquiry and the restlessness of man dealt with that individual, with his growth to a position as the central focus of philosophy, with his liberty to live his own life, to follow his own thoughts, to express them without fear, to shape his own destiny. The center of gravity of human interest lay in the means for achieving liberty under law. To that fact was due the release of the energy, the productiveness, the genius which determines the conditions of our daily lives. It fertilized the soil from which have sprung the achievements in architecture, in painting, in sculpture, in poetry and philosophy, in political thought and institutions, in law, in inventions and material welfare which touch us at every moment of our lives. The force of this movement welded petty, quarreling states into nations. The revolutions in America and in France, the proclamations ofindependence in Latin-American countries, the great revolutionary movement of 1848 in Europe—in these, men struck off the bonds of despotism by class and by government, the bonds of a dictated way of life.
Against the regimentation of men's lives, the tide of liberalism for three centuries and more has been running strong. Until after 1918, the victory seemed almost won, and that victory of liberalism, that vindication of the dignity of the individual human soul, with its release of human life, of human energy, bringing in its train ever more of the things which make life worth living, approaching ever more nearly to the hope and the faith which were given utterance 1900 years ago in Judea, seemed to be marching towards a transformation of the world.
Perhaps the greatest contribution to the liberal movement of the days of which I speak was made by the American Constitution. Men little realize today what a miracle it was that the thirteen separate, proud, jealous, quarreling, hostile nation-states could ever have been brought together into a single government. Even while they were bound together by the ties of war against a common enemy, their jealousies crippled them. In 1777, out of some 400,000 men of military age, only about 35,000 could be scraped together for Washington's armies. In 1781, a year of bitterest need, the Continental Congress asked $5,000,000 from the states, for the purposes of the central government. At the end of that year, $422,000 had been collected. When the war was over, the states fell apart. In 1785, there was commercial war between the states. Connecticut laid tariffs against Massachusetts; Pennsylvania against Delaware; New York under Governor Clinton adopted a policy of greedy monopoly and sectional hate. In 1787 it passed a navigation act against New Jersey and laid protective tariffs against New Jersey and Connecticut. In 1784 the government of Pennsylvania not only refused to help the unwelcome Connecticut settlers in the Wyoming Valley, their homes devastated by flood and ice, but sent militia who drove the men out of their houses at the point of bayonet, men, women and children perishing of exposure. The other Connecticut settlers in Pennsylvania took up arms. In 1786 and 1787 Shay's Rebellion flamed out in Massachusetts. Every statesman in Europe was sure that the United States were disintegrating fast, and would fall easy prey to the strongest European nation which would step in to restore order. John Adams, Ambassador to England, asked in Amsterdam for a loan of $300,000 on the credit of the United States and was refused. Inflation had destroyed the value of American money until by 1786 all trade and commerce had well nigh stopped. Half of the states were jealously asserting conflicting claims to western territory. The Continental Congress was impotent at home and scorned and ignored by foreign nations.
The hope of welding a nation of the thirteen quarreling colonies was vanishing. How should the people of those colonies surrender to a central government a large part of the local independence which they held so dear. Surely to ask them to give up that which their sons, their brothers, had died to win; to ask them to forget their quarrels and bitterness, was to ask too much.
But just before disintegration became irretrievable, in 1787, there came to pass one of the strange events of history. For out of chaos and conflict and disruption, there emerged a faith and a vision which became incarnate in the document which is called the Constitution of the United States.
The people of the colonies did give up their quarrels, their selfishnesses. They gave up what they valued, in order to form "a more perfect union". They gave up the right to coin money, to declare war, to regulate commerce, things that touched their local pride and their livelihood. They gave; and behold, again the old, old words came true. For it was repaid to them full measure, pressed down, and running over. In return for their sacrifice, to them and to their children there was given—America.
The years rolled by, four score of them and four. A second time the nation was called on for sacrifice. North and South, once again, Americans showed that devotion to a cause outweighed with them their comforts and their homes. A second time, they gave up what they held dear; peace, and their sons and brothers. A great leader emerged who spoke not of a faith in force, but of government of the people, by the people and for the people, of firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right. And the nation was preserved; and a second time was given to those who had given up, full measure pressed down and running over—to them and to their sons and daughters was given a greater America. A second time, not change alone, but resurrection.
But it is not only in our own beloved land that struggle has been the price of liberty. In every age, the spirit of liberalism has emerged only by overcoming its enemies. When the Netherlands threw off the Spanish yoke, when the little ships of England scattered the mighty Spanish Armada, and later when England stood alone against a Continent in arms under Napoleon; when France rose bitterly against an ancient despotism that was sucking its life blood; when Gustavus Adolphus saved his Swedish people from the Russian bear and signed the peace of Stolpowa in 1617; the price of liberty was struggle. But freedom is a jealous mistress. She is a goddess, and has wings. If her altars are untended, if men forget the devotion which is her due, she will not long remain. Only when her servants are ready to fight for her, if need be, will she be content. In the decadent days of the later Roman Empire, the spirit which had forged it was allowed to fall asleep, and men took it for granted that Rome would always be. The danger was remote. By the measure of distance in those days, the barbarian enemy was many weeks of travel distant from the ancient mighty city. But the barbarians came, and Rome fell. Her citizens had been complacent and indolent. They had been unwilling to believe in the danger till it was upon them, and then it was too late. They were unworthy of the blessings which their forefathers had won. They had forgotten that the Goddess of Freedom, who is also the Goddess of Peace, must not only be won by struggle, but must be kept by struggle.
The enemies of liberty are always waiting, sometimes insidious, sometimes brazen, and threatening and well-armed. In all history, I think, no nation has ever remained the land of the free after it ceased to be the home of the brave.
One feels that the measure of the value of the worthwhile things of life is what it costs in effort to obtain them. There is no higher goal for us mortals here on earth than the liberal way of life. It is not cheap. It does not come just for the wishing. It is worth dying for. It is worth living for. If men are to be free, they must make the choice of freemen. If each civilization, as it emerged throughout the world's history, has been ruled by pacifists, its first green shoots that appeared above the mold would have been stamped back into the dirt from which they sprang by the enemies alert to destroy them.
This liberal way of life has done much for the progress of the world. Even since it was made incarnate in the American Constitution, consider its contributions to the world's advance, in comparison to those of despotism. A modern historian points out, as perhaps the outstanding feature of the last 150 years, the enormous energy generated by people living in the freedom of democratic rule. The British Empire, after losing the American Colonies, has grown to embrace a quarter of the globe and a quarter of the population of the Earth. The United States had increased from three million to one hundred and thirty million people, has subdued its Continental dominions, has become one of the most powerful nations in history.
Democracies have made for peace, not only within them selves, but among other nations. They do not seek war There have been no wars between the British Empire France, the Scandinavian countries, or the United States for more than 100 years. The credit rates on government loans and the solvency of the great nations, moreover, were in close ratio to the degree of their democracy; and stability of government has followed democratic rule.
But efficiency—do we lose that if we choose the way of democracy and liberalism? Certainly in the totalitarian dictatorships, the best of them, such as Germany and Italy, the sacrifice of liberty never brought as good living conditions to the average than as man enjoyed in the democracies.
In America, in the British Dominions and in England, in the Scandinavian countries, human welfare was on a higher plane, not only spiritually but materially, than under the totalitarian collectivist governments. Moreover, the same historian to whom I referred points out that invariably the dictatorships depend for their existence on maintaining in peace the conditions and to a great extent the abnormal psychology of war, and asks:
"Is a state really efficient which can maintain itself only by enforcing in peace all those rigors and losses of liberty which we have hitherto regarded as dangerous and unhappy incidents to a state of war? What may be efficient in war may be totally inefficient in peace, and what is efficient in the management of slaves may be wanton waste and destruction in the management of a free society."
And after all, it was not the dictator Napoleon who won at Waterloo; not the allied despotisms who were victorious in 1/92 against the armies of the new-born French Republic at Valmy; not the Russian autocracy which triumphed over France and Britain and their Turkish allies in the Crimea in 1855; nor did the Armistice of 1918 suggest that democracies are inefficient in war. And, please God, it will not be the dictatorships which will finally emerge from the tragedy of this their war as masters of the world.
The scientists, the thinkers, the artists, the men of ideas, all those men of free minds who ask for truth and will not prostitute it to the ends of propaganda are fleeing for refuge to the democracies. In the name of efficiency and of a planned economy, the despotisms are driving out their students and philosophers, their men of arts and letters and science, and crushing for generations yet unborn their hope of spiritual achievement.
Be of good cheer, ladies and gentlemen, liberal democracy has not failed. In the measure in which we honor and cherish it, it is the hope of the world.
If we honor and cherish—yes, and guard it. For darkness is setting in throughout the nations of the earth. In other lands, fear and danger are in the saddle. In the hands of but a few countries does the last defense of freedom rest. Everywhere else men are regimented for peace and war. Nowhere else is a man the lord of his home, his farm, his speech, his thought, his life. Dictators command a vast part of what once was civilization. Let me quote you from a profoundly stirring book, "The Good Society," by Walter Lippmann. He says, in his introduction:
"Everywhere the movements which bid for men's allegiance are hostile to the movements in which men struggled to be free. The programs of reform are everywhere at odds with the liberal tradition. Men are asked to choose between security and liberty. * * * To regularize their work they must be regimented. To obtain greater equality they must have less freedom. To have national solidarity they must oppress the dissenters. * * * To realize the promise of science they must destroy free inquiry. To promote the truth they must not let it be examined."
Yes, we must guard our liberal democracy; but only if we are worthy of it, I think, shall we keep it safe. Rome had her armies still at the end, but Romans no longer were willing to give up their selfishnesses for the sake of a common loyalty to Rome, and Rome was rotten at the core when the barbarians came. Whenever the different groups which make up the economy of any land come to have no higher loyalty than that of their own group interest, that nation is easy prey for the first aggressor. In America, the test of loyalty has come. For many years, and through many administrations, we have had the so-called "pressure" group, men or businesses banded together to obtain of government by political pressure, advantages for their own benefit, quite irrespective of benefit or detriment to the nation as a whole. Even in ordinary times, the endless vicious circle by which one group extorts its special advantage, and then another group and then another, until finally the first group must go back to ask for more, is bad enough. It is costly to the nation, not only economically, but in the self-respect and integrity of its legislatures, in prostituting the process of government in large part into a series of bargains paid for in votes. But in times like these it is far more serious. It transforms the attitude of men towards their government from loyalty and sacrifice, to selfishness and greed. In different forms, at different periods of the world's history, it has been a symptom of disruption and decay in the national life. Just as in 1787, when the thirteen colonies were called upon to give up their sectional greeds and hate, in order to form "a more perfect union", so today, when the nation is facing a need for unity, deeper than any since its formation, the call comes once more for sacrifice. If we give, it shall be given unto us, but if now once more when we are called upon to give, we do not answer the call, it is quite possible that we shall not be found worthy to hold the things we value most. But if that call for sacrifice comes to us, clear, strong and courageous, I think that all Americans, high and low, will with their whole heart lay their sacrifice on the altar of their country.
But still there is something more. For 19 centuries, it has been true that to those who give it shall be given, that without a sense of brotherhood a nation and a world cannot hold together, that a house divided against itself cannot stand, that without vision the people perish. Consider, if you will, what it would have meant to the world we are living in, if a presence at the council table of Versailles had breathed those words and the spirit out of which they sprang into the mindsof the Allied statesmen. Consider what it would have meant —though I know that perhaps it is too much to ask—if with the fate of the world in their hands, those men could have been inspired with the faith they professed. Perhaps it could have happened, if only the men who did the fighting could have settled the terms of peace.
Last summer I spent a month in France and five weeks in England. We landed at Boulogne, and drove through Montreal and Abbeville for lunch at Amiens, and then to Paris. There we met at dinner, and elsewhere, a number of exceedingly well-informed people, some of them close to the government. One of them, interestingly enough, was a citizen both of France and of the United States. He was the ranking member of the family directly descended from General Lafayette. We drove to the south of France and back to Normandy to visit a war-time friend of mine; we drove again to Rouen and Amiens and then to Peronne, Cambrai, Valenciennes and Ghent and Rotterdam, The Hague and Amsterdam. We speak French, and we talked to endless people on the street, in the shops, in the hotels, in garages, everywhere. We found there, and later in England, a thing which surprised me very much. We found everywhere, uniformly, a broad and generous good-will toward the German people; not, of course, toward Hitler, and his international cut-throats and gangsters, but toward the people of Germany. Everyone said to us, that the Treaty of Versailles was vindictive and should be torn to pieces; that Germany ought to get back her colonies; that the German people were brave and gallant people, and were entitled to the same prosperity as the rest of the world. The only trouble was, how to deal with a government devoid of faith and honor under a man like Hitler. I could not understand it, until it was borne in upon me that the generation which was setting the opinion for France and England, was the generation which actually fought the last war, and it was impossible to get the soldiers to hate each other. I think that is always true in war when soldiers fight each other bravely and hard, but with decency. It was Justice Holmes himself who said of the Civil War in which, as you know, he himself was a soldier and officer:
"The soldiers who were doing their best to kill one another felt less of personal hostility and animosity than some who were not imperilled by their mutual endeavors. I have heard more than one of those who have been gallant and distinguished officers on the Confederate side say that they had no such feeling. I know that I and those whom I knew best did not. * * * The experience of battle soon taught its lesson even to those who came into the field more bitterly disposed. You could not stand up day after day in those indecisive combats where overwhelming victory was impossible because neither side would run as they ought when they were beaten, without getting something of the same brotherhood for the enemy that the north pole of a magnet has for the south—each working in an opposite sense to the other, but each unable to get along without the other."
So, if the soldiers and not the so-called statesmen, had been the ones to negotiate the peace at Versailles, it might have been more like Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox. You all know how that surrender made the two opposing armies sharers in a brotherhood of arms.
The day after the Armistice, November 12, 1918, with another American officer and a French officer, I went over the lines and across no-man's land and into a village where the German troops were billetted. We heard excellent music from a military band; turning a corner, we saw three or four hundred German soldiers listening to the concert. When they caught sight of us, there was a shout; they all camerunning towards us at top speed. The three of us had the same thought—what a joke it would be on us to be killed or captured the day after the Armistice! But our former enemies were as friendly as possible and enormously interested in us. Knowing enough German to get on, we had a most delightful conversation with the men who would have shot us on sight twenty-four hours before.
And the evening before, I had witnessed something which I shall never forget. Consider a long, flat-topped table land, 450 feet above a stretch of wide, level fields and farms. From that table land, there ran out, projecting over the flat country below, a promontory, on the tip of which was built the picturesque little village of Hattenchatel. On the very end of the promontory was a tiny church with a cloister, through whose broken arches one could look out up and down the lines—the front line and no-man's land were in that flat farm land just below. I reached there at twilight on the Armistice night. The sun was setting; the evening light was reflected in the little winding stream below; on opposite sides of which ran jagged lines of trenches. Some of the German observation balloons were still up behind the enemy lines. From the cloisters of that little church, six hours after the firing had stopped, I witnessed what was the most amazing show of fireworks in the world's history. You see, the infantry had in their advance trenches, hundreds and hundreds of signal flares of half a dozen different types. One, which burst in five red stars, was perhaps the signal for a barrage. Another, with five white stars, might be a signal that artillery was firing short, etc. And the boys had come out of the trenches, American boys and German boys, and they were sending up these flares as fast as they could load them into the pistols and fire them. For twenty miles each way, you could see the boys playing Fourth of July 1 It took one by the throat; it made one realize as one never had before the futility and silliness of war.
Suppose, then, that that spirit had presided at the council table of Versailles. And later on, suppose that out of that spirit there had grown a moral indignation against war, a sense of international righteousness. Suppose that when Mussolini attacked Abyssinia or when Hitler marched into the Rhineland or into Austria, the free democracies of the world had registered their sense of outrage and had united to forbid the use of force as an instrument of policy, while at the same time, agreeing to negotiate the wrong of any nation feeling itself aggrieved.
! The point I am making is this; that in this modern, streamlined, close-knit, complicated world of ours, it may not perhaps be enough to guard one's own liberty, to clean one's own house, even generously to provide money and relief for the victims of aggression. Perhaps in this world of ours today with its blessings of material miracles in transportation and communication and all the rest, a wider vision is required of us, if we are to guard even our own liberty; a deeper sense of obligation. One wonders what the good Samaritan would have done, if he had come upon the man who fell among thieves while the thieves were still attacking him. If he had stood aside until the thieves had completed their foul work, and the victim was crushed, would that have been enough to protect him in his turn from the thieves? Would it have been noble pacifism, or blind cowardice? One wonders if international selfishness, like personal selfishness, is in the end even intelligent—if isolationism, personal or national, ever ends in any other result except to leave him who practices it completely isolated.
War is a terrible and tragic thing. A war commenced for pride and power, a war waged on civilians, is a bestial thing. Only in grave need and for the defense of what it holds most dear should any nation take the sword. But there are things worse than war. I hope that this country stillbelieves that there are things worse than war. Life, long or short, is to be used, not to be left to rust. Listen again to that great soldier, great lawyer, great gentleman, Justice Holmes:
"I think that, as life is action and passion, it is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived. * * * To fight out a war, you must believe something and want something with all your might. So must one do to carry anything else to an end worth reaching. * * * One may fall,—at the beginning of the charge or at the top of the earthwork; but in no other way can he reach the reward of victory. * * * But, nevertheless, the generation that carried on the war has been set apart by its experience. Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing. While we are permitted to scorn nothing but indifference, and do not pretend to undervalue the worldly rewards of ambition, we have seen with our own eyes, beyond and above the golf fields, the snowy heights of honor, and it is for us to bear the report to those who come after us. But, above all, we have learned that whether a man has accepted from Fortune her spade and will look downward and dig, or from Aspiration her axe and cord, and will scale the ice, the one and only success which it is his to command, is to bring to his work a mighty heart."
In France today, or yesterday, with a deep disgust at Nazi methods, Nazi philosophy and Nazi cruelty, we are told that there was still no hatred of the German People. In France and England there were no parades and bands and banners and cheering crowds as the men marched by to war; there was a profound resolve for the ultimate victory of the democratic way of life, a resolve too, that out of this war there should spring no second vindictive peace, but a peace such as the soldiers themselves would make.
May I tell you of something that is constantly in my mind these days. On the morning of November 11, 1918, at 5:45, my Assistant Operations Officer of our Brigade of Field Artillery waked me, and, with a queer little thrill in his voice, read me a message that had just come by wireless from the Eiffel Tower, and had been relayed by telephone from St. Mihiel out to us in our advanced command post in the line. The copy of it, which he read to me, hangs on my office wall today. It read: "Marshal Foch to the Commanders-in-Chief: Hostilities will cease on all fronts beginning with November 11th at 11 o'clock. Allied troops will not advance beyond the lines reached at that date and at that hour until further orders. (Signed) Foch."
A little later that morning in a room in a little French village house which we were using for an office, three American officers sat and considered the coming of the thing called peace, and arranged a little ceremony for 11 o'clock.
All that morning the guns were pounding away. One could hear from our headquarters the interrupted staccato of rifle fire, a loud woodpecker sound of the machine guns, the slow one-two-three-four of the field batteries, firing salvos upon the German lines, the occasional punctuation of the twelve inch naval guns firing from five miles away, over the hills toward Metz, and sometimes the burst of an arriving German shell. That morning we had the first sunlight in thirteen days; a white mist lying heavy over the ground had burned away until, when it drew near 11 o'clock, it lay only perhaps a foot deep, white and blazing like snow in the brilliant sunlight. Across the square of the little village was a field dressing station, where ambulances with the Red Cross on their roofs came to discharge their load of wounded men, under the Red Cross flag that drooped above the doorway.
Meantime, the guns were pounding still. At five minutes to 11, with a feeling of thrill of what I was doing, I telephoned back to our main headquarters in St. Mihiel that I was closing station for the rest of the war. Then the three of us went out into the square of the little village. A group of peasant people were standing there, who had lived for four and one-half years in the cellars of that shell-smashed village, always within sound of gunfire. Old men, women and children. There were no young men of military age. An old man wearing a soldier's cap of the vintage of the War of 1870 stood out in front of them, very proud of himself, the Commander. There were children there eight years old, who could not remember peace. But at five minutes of eleven, the guns were still going like an insane Fourth of July. And at four minutes of; and at three, and two and one. There was not the slightest intermission, in the mass of sound. We wondered if there could be a mistake.
And then, when my watch registered thirty seconds to eleven, something happened, which was as startling as an explosion in this room tonight. Suddenly, the guns stopped. And there was silence.
The French people threw back their heads and gasped.
Then came the ceremony we had arranged. From the highest portico of the shell-smashed house which was our headquarters, a bugler stood out and raising his bugle, very slowly and beautifully, he blew "Taps". There was a pause; the French people were crying, the women sobbing and tears running down the cheeks of the men. A pause— and then the bugler put up his bugle again, and very quickly and clear, he blew the Reveille.
Taps for the brave dead, for a comradeship of arms which never would come to us again. Reveille for the dawn of peace; for a better world—we hoped.
Once again, America looks out upon a world in arms. Once again the question is asked of us, wordlessly, soundlessly—the question that someone asked two thousand years ago: "Who is thy neighbor". Once again in peace, we pray, in war if we must, the nation is to be tested to see whether it is worthy to keep inviolate the free way of life for which our fathers struggled and endured.
To that challenge, who doubts America's reply! Men and women, they're sounding Reveille.