The Living Spirit of American Democracy


By WENDELL L. WILLKIE, Presidential Candidate of the Republican Party

Delivered before the Federation of Republican Women's Clubs, Detroit, Mich., October 1, 1940

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 8-10

I WANT you to understand despite your overwhelmingly generous welcome I have no notion that I am the indispensable man. I welcome the opportunity to address, under your auspices, the women of America. I welcome the opportunity because I have a job for the women of America to do.

It is a specific job and a vitally important one. As I have said many times this campaign is a crusade to preserve American democracy. It is a crusade that cannot be fought and won without the help of every woman in America.

I mean all of you, wives, mothers, teachers, workers in business, industry, nurses and social workers, women in the professions and in the arts, housemakers and homekeepers.

Every one of you is vital to the cause which Senator McNary and myself are fighting for. Every one of you has the same stake in this survival of our democracy. If you fail to do the job democracy may perish from this earth.

First let us look elsewhere to find out what happens to the women of a country when democracy fails. Today there are 50,000,000 women in Greater Germany. These women are not free to go about as they please, nor to do what seems good to them.

There is a woman dictator in charge of all German women who has absolute authority over them. Under this woman there is a vast organization of women wardens and women spies. These wardens can enter a house without warning to examine everything on the stove or even in the garbage can.

German women have lost the right to determine the most intimate things of their private lives. They do not choose their own work. They do what the State orders. They have been relegated to the kitchen and they are regarded as breeders of soldiers, not for defense but for aggression. Decency and self-respect have been taken from their lives.

The Meaning of Democracy Their children are taken from them when they are infants of 6 or 7, poured into the State machine and turned out as regimented fanatics, born and raised to be cogs in a war machine.

I would not talk about that situation if it had no bearing on the cause that brings us together.

I describe it because it is now, tonight, the life that almost all the women on the Continent of Europe are leading, whereas here tonight you are still in possession of something far different from that.

Democracy has given you the fullest, the freest lives of any women in history. It has given you the vote. It has given you opportunities without limit for education, for emancipation. It has made you the chief promoters and patrons of the

culture of our civilization. It has given you the highest material standard of life that the world has ever known.

Democracy has given and given to you. Now the time comes for you to give to democracy. Democracy needs you today. Thank God, it does not need to ask for the lives of your sons, your husbands or your brothers in war, and pray God that day may never come.

But it does need every other effort you can make. It does need you to do this specific job that I am going to ask you to do.

In order to do this job you must be sure that you know what democracy is. You must know what you mean by the word.

Most Americans, and all of us are pretty much alike, are careless about that word. Most of us have the notion that democracy is government machinery, a Congress, an Executive, a Supreme Court, commission, authorities. Well, those are all part of democratic government. They are the machinery by which the people govern themselves, but that machinery is not democracy.

Force Contrasted to Law You can understand that when you think about the German Reichstag. The German Reichstag is the Congress of Germany and is used to perform essentially the same functions as our Congress. But when it comes together now it does not vote the way the people want but the way Hitler wants. Its life is just a series of "must" votes. It has no will of its own.

And our American Congress would have been like that if the people had submitted to the purge.

The Reichstag is an example of democratic machinery that has lost democracy.

There are two ways of democracy functioning and ruling men. One is by force and the other is by law. Hitler is governing all of Europe by force. Our government, democracy, is a government by law.

What makes it possible for men to govern themselves by law?

A law is just a piece of paper with some words on it Some laws, some of our most important laws are not even written down.

Nevertheless, laws are the most powerful instrument that society has ever invented. In the history of mankind they have proved themselves to be more powerful than armies or navies or any kind of war machinery.

Laws derive this great, strange power from one source, from the faith that one man or one woman has in other People. I have a great faith that you will obey the lawsand you have a great faith that I will obey the laws. That faith makes our democracy strong. That faith binds us together.

If that faith should weaken, if I should lose faith in you, or you in me, our system of laws would be weakened. Our democracy would begin to break down.

Conscience as the Keystone

What gives us this faith in each other?

Essentially it is that each of us knows that the other has a conscience. The conscience of a democratic people is a great and a very noble achievement. We have groped for it through centuries of darkness, through generations of oppression.

You know far better than any one else now conscience has been developed and trained.

We got our conscience as children from our mothers in our homes and from our teachers in our schools. At home and at school, under the guidance of the women who shape all lives, we learned the simple lessons, the lessons of truth and honesty, of sharing and of giving, of self respect and of self control.

We learned obedience to the law and how to live among our fellow men.

It is for this reason, because they teach us the difference between good and evil, because they teach us to obey the law, that women are the guardians of democracy.

I say it earnestly to you: the fate of democracy is in your hands.

Within the past twenty years the whole world has been swept by a wave of cynicism and of doubt. Europe today is dominated by the colossal cynicism of Adolf Hitler. He is a man who does not hesitate to accomplish his ends by breaking his solemn promises, by murdering his associates, by converting the youth of Germany into highly trained gangsters and by laying waste the peaceful lands that lie across his path.

It was this cynicism that weakened the European democracies. The people lost faith in themselves and in their representatives. The men who had the responsibilities of government lost faith in the people. Under such circumstances the collapse of those democracies was inevitable.

When the test came to those democracies they were weakened and unprepared. They could not even produce the guns, the tanks and the airplanes that they needed.

Cynicism Here Is Assailed

We, too, in America have become afflicted with cynicism.

I have observed a great tendency on the part of some people to sneer at the homely virtues that made our American life so abundant and so forceful. I have observed a tendency to dismiss the moral and spiritual standards of our American traditions. Some of our young people are inclined to tell us that those standards, in their own words, are the bunk.

You should be tense with anxiety about our youth. If they are cynical, if they are losing their faith, our democracy is in the gravest of dangers. We can already see the beginnings of this. Thousands of our youth who have lost faith in other people have formed Communist groups and have received encouragement from very high places. In every country whose democracy has begun from within a dictatorship, gangs of bewildered, disgruntled, disinherited youths have been the dictator's earliest and most vicious adherents. They contemplate a different kind of society, a society without liberty, because they have lost faith in the ability of men and women to use their liberty for each other's good.

That is the problem that faces the women of America. That is the job I am calling on them to do.

You must begin today. You must rekindle the faith of our

young people, their faith in other people. They can learn it no place except from you.

I know that you cannot do this job alone. You must have help and I am going to give you that help.

I want to put this question to you. I put it to you for your own judgment. Has the faith of one man in another been fostered and developed by the present Administration in Washington? Has this Administration encouraged the faith that we must have to make democracy work? Has it shown any faith in us, in us, the people; in our ability to struggle and to make better lives for ourselves?

I say it has not.

Says "Cynics" Rule Country

For almost eight years a little group of cynics, called the New Dealers, has been in control of this country, cynics whom we did not elect and who have no faith in us.

These men say to themselves: "We are the intelligentsia; we know what is good for the people. We know how to govern better than the people know how to govern. Let us therefore," so these cynics say, "coin some smart phrases, some pungent words like 'economic royalists' and 'the forgotten man.' These trick words will arouse the emotions of the people and attract their votes, and if only we can keep their votes we, the intelligentsia, can govern as we see fit."

It is because they do not trust us that those men have constantly sought more power for themselves and for the Chief Executive. It is because they do not trust us that almost every problem, every problem, is declared to be an emergency, and the excuse for the concentration of more and more power in a central authority, dominated by the Chief Executive, who is advised by them.

Seven years ago when this administration came into power our people were hungry and they were confused. They gave to the administration a confidence and a support which no administration in the history of this country has ever before enjoyed.

But today, instead of courage and hope, the New Deal preaches the doctrine of cowardice, confusion and despair. It has lost faith in the people. It is governing by fear. It depends upon the corrupt political machines of Boss Kelly, Hague, Pendergast and Flynn, that thoroughly silver, and I mean silver, advisedly, statesman of the Bronx.

It plays on the fears of the insecure by demanding the most of the unemployed. It pushes us ever closer and closerwar.

Pledges a Housecleaning

When Senator McNary and I are elected the first thing

I shall do to help you in the task that lies ahead of you will be to clean house of those boys from government. I will clean out the cynics and the unbelievers, the nuts and the bunk artists.

My administration will be composed of people who believe in the American people. Don't misunderstand me. There has been a lot of talk about the change of an administration in an emergency. The closer Mr. Roosevelt gets us to war, the more the New Dealers say that we ought not to change horses in the middle of the stream.

Well, what I want to know is how we got in the middle of the stream.

And I am quite sure that the man who got us in the middle of the stream is not the man to get us out of it.

But changing an Administration does not mean changing the whole government. I will clean out the cynics. I will reduce the bureaucracy, but the backbone, the working force of our government, will remain just the same as it is. The Army will be there even though Mr. Roosevelt goes, and likewise the Navy in spite of him.

All of the Civil Service, and may I say I believe completelyin the Civil Service, while no Administration in the history of this country has violated that principle as much as this one, but all of the Civil Service employees who do the real work of government will remain.

I anticipate also retaining most of those men who are giving their services to the national defense program. Many competent and patriotic men are giving their time to that most urgent and vital task. I shall need their services and you shall need them.

I shall put them to better work by organizing them, by having confidence in them and by giving them some authority to act upon. I have confidence in that group of men and, incidentally, they have confidence in me.

Together we will get this industrial machine of ours going full blast for defense, for jobs, for prosperity. That will be the first task of the Republican administration in helping you. It will be the task of driving the cynics out.

Promises Jobs for Youth

My second step will be this. We will make jobs for the young men and women that are being trained in the ways of democracy. We cannot blame, we cannot blame our young people for losing faith in us when we, ourselves, have deprived them of the opportunity to earn a decent living and take a real share in our economic system.

That is the fault of the New Deal which has stunted the growth of American enterprise and has failed to make jobs.

We can and we will make jobs for our young people. I believe in America. I want you to believe in America. And I want you to teach our children to believe in America.

I want you to teach the simple beautiful principle in which our nation is grounded.

Gather your family together on our great national holidays. Read to your children the sacred words of the Declaration of Independence or the Gettysburg Address. They are the living creed of our American faith.

Teach them that way now. Teach them with the love for freedom and human dignity that is in all your hearts.

Consecrate yourself to the salvation of the nation to devoted, faithful service. Fill every American home and every American schoolroom with the living spirit of American democracy, with belief in ourselves, with belief in one another, with belief in our country and its future.

Say with your children and think and mean it while you say it and live every word of this declaration of American

I pledge allegiance to my flag
And to the republic for which it stands,
One nation, indivisible,
With liberty and justice for all.