The Battle of America
GIVE OUR COUNTRY BACK TO US
By WENDELL L. WILLKIE, Republican Presidential Candidate
Delivered at Coffeyville, Kansas, September 16, 1940
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, pp. 759-762
I AM here today to open a campaign. It is a political campaign. It belongs to our American traditions. In very few places in the world is it possible for a man to do what I am doing here. In very few places is it possible for a freely chosen candidate to appear before a free people, for the purpose of giving free political expression to views contrary to those of the government in power.
I want humbly to thank God that we can still do that in the United States of America.
The very reason I am here is to assure that your sons and mine, when they grow up, will be able to do this same thing.
And because this act of political freedom can be duplicated in so few places, we dare not accept it lightly or take it for granted. In a larger sense the campaign of 1940 is not just a political campaign. In my acceptance speech at Elwood I called it a crusade. The more I see of world events, the more do I think of this campaign in that light.
As I speak, a great city on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean is in flames. Bombs have damaged some of the most beautiful structures in the world—the milestones of civilization. Gas and water mains are ripped open, houses are blown to pieces, women and children lie dead, and others flee for protection to stuffy shelters below the ground.
I wonder if we realize what is burning over there. We say it is a city, the capital of the British Empire, a place named London. But it is much more than that. A philosophy is in flames, a way of life is in peril. We can almost see this with our eyes.
And I wonder what stands between us and that calamity except a smooth radio voice offering us the gold brick without sacrifice. We are all just as much concerned with the Battle of Britain as Mr. Roosevelt. But we must be more concerned right now with the Battle of America. That battle comes first.
The Battle of Britain is very vivid in our minds. We see democracy burning in London. But it seems far away. Over here democracy seems to be safe. We want fearfully and anxiously to prepare ourselves against any possible military attack. But it doesn't seem to us that we have to worry about our democracy or our institutions of liberty and law.
But I am here today to tell you that this is a delusion. I want to tell you that although our cities are not in flames, American democracy is in danger. It is in danger from without and from within. And it is in danger from without because it is in danger from within. This is our Battle of America.
I am here to declare that the fundamental issue of this campaign is the preservation of democracy itself.
I know there are many present who will say: "Democracy is not an issue between the two major parties in the United States. Mr. Roosevelt is also a defender of democracy. He has said so many times."
Yes, it is true: Franklin Delano Roosevelt has stepped forth upon the stage of history in the ambitious role of defender of democracy. The scenery on that stage has been exactly suited to his requirements. Shifting from disaster to disaster, it has provided him with magnificent opportunities to make speeches. These speeches divert Mr. Roosevelt's audience. They divert its attention from exactly what he wants to hide—the fundamental, I will say the tragic, weakness of his own part in the play.
In the first place, while listening to Mr. Roosevelt's oratory about democracy, it is all too easy to forget that one of the biggest factors in the present crisis in world affairs was the failure of the United States, under his Administration, to recover from the depression of 1932.
That world-wide depression provides the background for the current war. The democracies were struggling to liberate themselves from its grip. Many, including Britain, almost succeeded in doing so, and even pushed their recovery above the levels of 1929. Prosperity in America and trade with America were just what those countries needed to become really strong. Our recovery would have acted on them like a tonic.
But Mr. Roosevelt was heedless of his responsibility. He launched a political attack against our enterprises; he kept our economic system in turmoil; he made our depression permanent. Instead of leading the way to a new world, this Administration helped to drag the old world back into chaos. It materially assisted Hitler in his aggressive plans.
In the second place, Mr. Roosevelt's oratory, as the defender of democracy, conceals the fact that by his own meddling in international politics, he encouraged the European conflagration. For instance, he torpedoed the London Economic Conference in 1933 at the very time when the democracies were ready to come together on a strong, united economic policy. And he was the godfather of that unhappy conference at Munich—the conference from which the word "appeasement" was born—the conference from which Hitler went forth to destroy the European democracies.
My fellow countrymen, I deny that Franklin Roosevelt—whatever his intentions—is the defender of democracy.
First, I charge that his influence has weakened, rather than strengthened, democracy throughout the world.
And secondly, I charge that here in America he has strained our democratic institutions to the breaking point. I warn you—and I say this in dead earnest. If, because of some fine speeches about humanity, you return this Administration to office, you will be serving under an American totalitarian government before the long third term is finished.
Let me make myself clear. I say nothing about the personal motives of Mr. Roosevelt. He is a man educated and reared in American traditions. He may not want dictatorship. But in his hands our traditions are not safe. He has lost his grip on our American principles. He gives lip service to them but he does not know how to preserve them.
He has put our democratic system in danger of its life. The issue we have to decide in this campaign is whetherthe political rights that I am exercising today, shall endure;or whether we shall leave in the hands of the President ofthe United States, now seeking office, the power to destroy our system.
That is the substance of the charge I bring. That goal— the preservation of democracy—will be the goal of my campaign.
In seeking that goal I shall not confine myself to the traditional arguments between Democrats and Republicans.
I am not setting forth primarily to debate tax policies or spending policies. I shall discuss those problems, draw the issues, and recommend changes or improvements. But those are not the issues that raise this campaign to the level of a crusade.
I repeat that the thing that is burning in London today is philosophy. Let me fix this fact in your hearts. There is no economic theory than can save democracy. There is no technical remedy. There is no nostrum. All the relief money in the world will not help the unemployed to become hopeful and self-reliant citizens. If we are to save democracy we must save the roots of democracy. We must save the philosophy.
Believe me, that is my purpose. I shall go up and down this land preaching the doctrine of freedom, the doctrine of equality, the doctrine of democracy.
This doctrine, and this alone, opens the way to a new world.
We were all children once, and as children we learned certain things. Our mothers taught us to be honest, to be polite, to be pleasant and kind with other people. Our fathers taught us to be brave; they taught us that we must look out for ourselves, that we must make our way—our own way—in the world, and that we must prepare for the responsibilities of our own parenthood.
We learned also many things at school. We learned the history of our country. Twenty-seven years ago I taught American history here in the Coffeyville High School. In teaching some of you about our country I learned much more than I taught. I learned that democracy is not what we call the government. Democracy is the people.
At school we learned other things. We got our first lessons in how to get along with others. We learned gratitude. We learned how to play fair, and we tasted the excitement of competition within the rules of the game. We learned the meaning of companionship as well as the meaning of self-reliance.
And also in Sunday School and church we learned many things. We learned there the value of giving to each other. We learned that when men hate each other something precious is destroyed in the lives of those who hate as well as in other Jives. We acquired a sense of responsibility to God, whom we could not visualize, but in whom we believed.
All these lessons were our preparation for democracy. I take time out to remind you of them, while London is burning, because without them democracy cannot survive and cannot be defended. When I stand for democracy I stand for those lessons of our childhood.
There is a simple reason for this. Several centuries ago men began to think of themselves in a new way—a way that they learned from Christianity. They said that each individual should be equal before the law, as before God. They said that each should be free. And they set up certain safeguards to equality and freedom which we in America call the civil liberties. Millions of men have suffered to win those liberties, and have died to protect them. Among these heroes were my ancestors, and yours.
Out of this new way of life grew a political system vitalto our existence. Someday soon I shall want to talk about that political system and to show how the New Deal is in the course of destroying it.
Also out of the new way of life there grew up an economic system more abundantly productive than any ever devised. The industrial majesty of the United States resulted directly from the operation of this system of private enterprise. The New Deal has almost destroyed it—and I shall want to talk about that, too.
But today, at the opening of this campaign, let us dedicate ourselves to those fundamental values we learned at school, without which democracy cannot exist. Let us recognize that democracy is not something that just anybody can have. The gangster who makes a career of theft and murder is an enemy of democracy. If we were a nation of gangsters we should have to find another, more primitive form of government. Democracy is the highest form, and the hardest to keep. To have it and to hold it we must understand, and believe and insist upon, the homely virtues that we learned when we were boys and girls.
Only we, the people, can save our country. And we can do so only if we are worthy of our country.
We are told that those lessons of our childhood are just old-fashioned folkways, which have been superseded by new ways—the ways of the New Deal. But you know and I know that we have had no New Deal morals.
During the past eight years I have not heard enough from the New Dealers—those great "defenders" of democracy— concerning these fundamental values on which democracy rests. And I do not find the New Deal candidate campaigning on those values today.
This is extremely important to me. Democracy is rooted in the people. The chief executive of a democracy must therefore believe in the people, and in the values that the people believe in.
Further, he must have a deep faith in our sense of responsibility. He must know that each of us is eager to bear his or her responsibility. He must have faith in our willingness to carry our share of the load, and in our ability to do so.
A man who does not believe in us cannot govern us in the democratic way.
The charge I make against Franklin Roosevelt is that he has lost that confidence. Franklin Roosevelt has lost faith in the American people.
Just look at the men surrounding him. They are cynics who scoff at our simple virtues. They think that the people are too dumb to understand democracy. Their idea is that they, the intelligentsia, can govern us with catch phrases and sleight-of-hand.
These cynics sneak through back doors and pull hidden wires. A few of them form an illegitimate cabinet that gets the President's ear when few others can. We have paid billions of dollars to give food and relief to stricken men, women, and children, but the New Deal cynics use this money to manipulate votes. They terrorize whomever they dislike by "leaking" out stories that have no basis in fact. They "purge" members of Congress who try to be independent of the New Deal machine.
The cynicism of these men has spread through Washington and down into the roots of our democracy. Because it does not trust us, our government no longer feels obliged to tell us the truth.
Thus when Hitler began his attack against the Netherlands, we in this country became alarmed at the state of our defenses. The President talked to us, explaining the need for defense. Having thoroughly aroused us he then gave another talk to reassure us concerning the record of the NewDeal. And in this second talk he defended his Administration with the deceptive phrase "on hand or on order." As it turned out, most of the equipment he was talking about so confidently was merely "on order," some of it not to be delivered for two or three years.
If the President trusted us, surely he would not have misrepresented the strength of our military establishment when we were so anxious to know the truth.
He has used other subterfuges. I guess we are supposed to believe that he was drafted for a third term by the free vote of the delegates to the Democratic convention. I guess we are also supposed to believe that his appearance at carefully photographed occasions, at public parks and dams, is not political. I guess we Americans are supposed to pay our taxes cheerfully so as to finance his trips to the armament factories, confident that he is not even thinking about the campaign. I guess we are supposed to believe that Mr. Roosevelt doesn't really want to be President.
I say that all this is a travesty of democratic government. We are treated like gullible children. At a most critical hour in American history the party in power is asking for your confidence without discussing the fundamental issues. It thinks it can win your votes with hatchet men, who mouth muddle-headed words like "appeasement," and who distract your attention from the real issues by indulging in personal vituperation.
When we talk about representative government we do not mean a government that represents the worst in us. We mean a government that represents the best in us.
Never in the history of modern democracy has a government failed more flagrantly to trust the people. Never has a government shown a lower opinion of the people.
And don't you see the inevitable result? Instead of giving responsibility to you, where it belongs in a democracy, he has taken it away from you and assumed it himself.
And what does an increase in responsibility mean? Why, it means an increase in power. Because he does not trust us, this man, who claims to "defend" democracy, has concentrated the power in his own hands.
He now has power, among other things, to close all of our banks whenever he wishes; to change overnight the value of the money you and I carry in our pockets; to raise and lower the tariff; to issue several billion dollars worth of paper money on his own say-so; to close the stock exchanges. If he declared another emergency he could close all the broadcasting stations. He has declared forty emergencies in the last seven years.
This desperate concentration of power is always, and it must always be, the beginning of the end of democracy. Already it has choked our enterprises and deprived our unemployed of their rightful opportunities. Already it has weakened all the other democracies in the world.
But this not the end of it. The failure of Mr. Roosevelt's faith has caused him to take one further, and perhaps fatal, step. When the world was at peace he would not trust us to run our own enterprises. Now that the world is at war he will not trust us to defend ourselves.
The army, the navy, and almost all independent authorities who have studied the subject, are agreed that the speediest way to build an armament industry without hurting our democratic institutions is by delegating authority to a temporary civilian agency. At the end of the emergency this agency is disbanded and its extraordinary power is automatically dissolved.
But the President will not trust us even here. He will not permit our industrialists, who know this job, to take it on. He has set up an Advisory Defense Commission with some
eminent industrialists included in its membership, but he has deliberately refused to appoint a chairman. The Commission is therefore incapable of reaching important decisions by itself and it must consult directly with the President.
As a result, our huge defense program must flow across the desk of this one man—a man, incidentally, who has never had any experience in industry, and whose desk is already crowded with the affairs of state. Suppose one of you farmers had the same attitude toward your farm. Suppose you had a big farm and insisted on doing all the chores yourself, and all the harvesting, and in addition making all the deliveries and keeping all the accounts. You know what would happen. Well, that is just what is happening to our defense program.
I have five farms in Indiana, and I make a modest profit on them. But I don't pitch the hay myself. I trust someone else to do it.
Until we have a man in that office who trusts the American people we shall never be able to defend ourselves from threat or aggression.
I pledge you that trust and confidence.
We Americans who have grown up in the ways of liberty must realize what this means to us. The doubt in the President's heart has so weakened this country that Mr. Roosevelt is being pushed—I believe against his will—toward unconstitutional government.
He is being pushed by the foreign situation, in which he considers himself justified in violating the Constitution.
He is being pushed by the failure of his own domestic policies to relieve us of unemployment, which has been the root of dictatorship in other lands.
He is being pushed by his own incompetence to deal with American industry—an incompetence from which his only escape can be confiscation of our enfeebled enterprises.
He is being pushed by his cynical advisers, who have invented all sorts of tricks to short-circuit the democratic process.
I warn you. This is the man and these are the methods that failed to bring recovery during more than seven years when democracy was at stake in the rest of the world.
And I say that this same man, using these same methods, will fail to build a defense system now that democracy is at stake right here in the United States.
When I read of blood and destruction in Europe I am frightened to think that our only shelter is—not airplanes and tanks—but a man who in seven years of peace could not get factories producing our peacetime needs. When I reflect that, regardless of the outcome of the war, its effect will be to put us in competition with bossed and servile labor in exhausted nations elsewhere, I have no confidence in the leadership of the man who, in seven years of accumulating power, could not make one man a job.
A man who cannot save democracy in peace, cannot save it in crisis. No man can save democracy who has lost his faith in the people. Sooner or later—and I say the time is now—the people will lose faith in him.
I am here to represent that faith. I represent your power, the power of the people, to judge, to choose, and to elect in a political campaign. This power you have not yet given to Mr. Roosevelt. If you elect me as your President you will never give it away to anybody.
I shall preserve this power of yours because I believe in you.
I believe in your sense of responsibility. I believe in your desire to share the burden of making this nation effective and strong.
I call upon you, therefore, to help me fight this Battle of America. I call upon you to awaken your fellow citizens to those moral and spiritual values, without the exercise of which our democracy must inevitably contract into dictatorship. I call upon you to exact of every man in government office the same standards of courage, of honesty, of thrift, of enterprise, and of humanity, that you exact of yourselves.
And I turn to that vast, mistaken, deluded government of ours in Washington, and I say: Give our country back to us. We want it. We love it. We should like to share the burden of it amongst ourselves. We should like, if necessary, to suffer for it, so that we may pass it on intact to other generations.