Indispensable Principles


By RAYMOND MOLEY, Contributing Editor of Newsweek

Delivered before The Associated Willkie Clubs of Stamford, Stamford, Connecticut, October 1, 1940

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 30-32.

I TAKE as my text tonight a statement of the President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt. In it he quotes a predecessor, Woodrow Wilson. Speaking in 1932 Mr. Roosevelt said: "A great man left a watchword that we can well repeat: 'There is no indispensable man But there are indispensable principles."

Let us talk about those principles tonight. For the moment, let us forget all about the personalities in this political campaign. Let us find, if we can, what are the principles that men live by here in the United States.

What, for that matter, is the meaning of principle itself? Reduce the question to the case of an individual. A man learns that there are some things that he cannot eat without distress; that there are some games he cannot play; that there are ways of doing his work better; that there are ways of conducting his relations with other people. Out of the accumulation of individual experience he creates rules for himself. As time goes on, those rules become principles of living. He finds that by observing them he saves himself untold trouble. He doesn't have to argue out thousands of individual decisions with himself. He depends upon his principles. Ultimately he lives not only with but by them.

A nation is not a man. Yet a nation, too, finds that there are some things that are good for it and others that are not. By the process of trial and error it, too, creates principles which it does not have to rediscover every day. These principles are as practical and as essential to its life as are the principles by which an individual lives.

The men and women who came to this continent and set the patterns of our civilization were, for the most part, heirs of a great tradition. Into their national life there flowed the river of principles which, over the centuries, they had learned that they could not live without用rinciples that went back to Runnymede, back beyond, to the dawn of collective human life. And when, in the process of setting up a permanent government, the American people adopted a Constitution, they did not create new principles: they seized upon some of these principles by which they had lived and put them down in writing. The Constitution was not a substitute for the principles of those people. It was not an all-inclusive catalogue. It was a skeleton framework on the basis of which a stable government was to be established.

The artful Third Termers now try to justify themselves on the ground that they are not challenging something that is written in the Constitution. Therefore, they say, their scheme is legitimate. Let us put the knife of reason into that flatulent assumption.

A thousand years of Anglo-American history stand behind us when we assert that liberty has lived by what is unwritten just as surely as by what is written.

The British Cabinet is a tradition. The power of thePrime Minister is a tradition. But these are traditions that rule an empire.

The body of the Common Law was not specifically taken over by the Constitution. But violate it if you dare.

The Monroe Doctrine grew and attained its validity as a tradition. But we will spend our blood and treasure to preserve it.

The independence of the Supreme Court, we were correctly told three years ago, is a tradition. But those who told us that learned, to their sorrow, that this tradition had the strength of eternity in its foundations.

I wonder if these same enemies of tradition stopped to think, when they met in Chicago two months ago, that the very convention that put the President in nomination was a tradition. Our party system itself is outside the Constitution. But we are governed through parties.

These comments that'll have made are truisms. I state them here not because I believe you do not know them. I know you do. But things that we took for granted for centuries are vanishing before our eyes. The greater the emergency, the more appalling the crisis. The greater our need to revert to the primary principles by and through and with which we have lived as a nation.

It is worth noting that when Jefferson saw the Constitution he specifically objected to the fact that it did not prohibit the perpetuation of the Executive. Some of those who advocate a third term tell us, triumphantly, that Alexander Hamilton was the vigorous opponent of the kind of constitutional prohibition Jefferson wanted. That's true. But it's also true that Hamilton expressed himself, with all the passion of which he was capable, as favoring a life-term for the President. His opposition to a limitation on presidential reelection was part and parcel of his belief that the President should be reelected for life.

Is this, too, part of the Third Termers' argument? If they accept the conclusion they must also accept the premise. Do they dare to argue that the Hamiltonian beliefs about life-time presidential tenure were accepted as a principle by the makers of the Constitution, and by the generations of Americans who have lived under the Constitution? They do not. They cannot. They know what every American school child knows. They know that when Washington contemplated retirement at the end of four years, he incorporated a statement of the principle of limited tenure in the draft of his proposed farewell address. They know that Jefferson again and again expressed himself on the principle and actually lived by it. He renounced a third term. And so too did a long procession of his successors.

Whatever else may be obscure, it is plain that the great dead have instructed us on this point of presidential tenure. Perhaps it would be gratuitous to add that we do not judge the great dead. The great dead judge us.

But the whole argument for a principle is by no means historical. If it can be defended only by quotation, it has ceased to have validity. When the proposal is made to set it aside, we have an obligation to ask whether the principle is still dictated by facts which we are quite as well able to judge as were the fathers of our country. It is not what the fathers said: It is what we, the sons and daughters, can see.

It is a fact that the present Administration can now get around almost every written stricture in the Constitution. The Administration has met devastating defeat only when it tried to get around strictures that are unwritten葉o get around our traditions. This is a commentary on the strength of the unwritten constitutional guarantees. But it is also a warning that if they too are to be cast aside, nothing will remain to hinder the progress of an executive machine swollen with power. Nothing can stop it. Nothing will be beyond its reach.

The eternal verity in which the third term tradition is rooted is human nature itself. What is the freedom which our written and unwritten principles protect? Is it freedom from animals, thunderstorms, the waves of the sea? No! Freedom from the wrath of God? No! These are not the freedoms for which people have struggled to organize themselves in states. Wherever the flame of human aspiration has lighted the way to a better order among men, they have bled and died to end the tyranny of some human beings over others. For there will always be a few who, by seductive methods, by promises, by flattery or by stark, vicious force, will try to subject the many to the will of the one or of the few.

There is a moving passage in a great book葉he story of Napoleon's campaign in Russia, written by one of the most loyal of Napoleon's subordinates, Caulaincourt. Caulaincourt knew Russia, had lived there as Ambassador. He knew the rigors of its climate. He warned Napoleon never to take an army far into that country. But Napoleon had drunk of the cup of power to the dregs. And so he turned on his faithful follower first with ridicule, saying that the climate of Russia was like the climate at Fontainebleau. And then suspiciously, he charged Caulaincourt with divided allegiance. Caulaincourt had spent too long a time at the Russian Court and hesitated to see his friend, the Czar, overthrown, Napoleon said. Against this arrogance the words of experience and knowledge were helpless. Napoleon took his army to Russia. He returned with a horse, a sled and a still faithful though broken-hearted Caulaincourt. His army had vanished.

Here is a tale of what happens when the virulent poison of power has been operating. The great multitudes who voted Napoleon into office, who kept him there and who increased his power by plebiscites were not madmen. They were human beings. They believed in Napoleon. They thought he was different. They thought that he would bring them peace and order and prosperity. But ambition closed the windows of his mind.

My friends, that was a little over a hundred years ago. Napoleon followed the pattern that has been re-enacted over and over again in the history of the world. I need not press the point here. You and I, all of us, have seen power operate on our contemporaries. We have seen the windows close in men's minds. We have seen kindly, friendly, tolerant human beings, because of the "guessing" of those around them, become convinced of their own infallibility. We have seen the possession of power blur over the distinction between personal triumph and the exaltation of principle.

Consider, now, the instances in which this issue of personal power has currently been involved. The first has been the attempt to lay down to Congress a list of specifications forits action. We all remember those "must" bills. So we call it by the name "must." The second we call "pack"葉he attempt of the Executive to get the immediate power to create in the Supreme Court a majority of his own choosing. The third we call "purge." It involved the power of the Executive to destroy the political careers of those legislators who would not conform to the Executive's will. The fourth, we shall call "perpetuate"葉he effort of the Executive, through a subservient party and a distracted people, to override the principle that has kept any other President from serving more than two terms.

There they are. Four words describe them"must" "pack," "purge" and "perpetuate."

Say them over slowly. Consider their inferential meanings. Are they pleasant? Do they reflect the spirit of tolerance, a respect for the rights of others? Or do they call up suggestions offensive to a free people?

They violate self-respect. They are four signs that the danger of individual power never passes. They are the four horsemen of autocracy.

And yet, they all travel under seductive banners. Congress is told that it must pass laws in the sweet name of humanity. The Court is to be packed to make sure that humane laws passed by Congress will always be found in conformity with the Constitution. Voters are asked to purge members of Congress because these members have presumably stood against the interests of liberalism. We are instructed to continue an Executive in office because he is indispensable.

These efforts follow an appallingly logical course葉he course that begins with an aspiration and ends with a person. It begins with an ideal and ends with a single will. Certain ideas are indispensable. Then compliance is indispensable. And finally the leader is indispensable.

If anyone has any illusions as to what would ultimately happen to the country should it accept the doctrine of perpetuation, he would do well to reflect on what has already happened to the political party to which the perpetuators give nominal allegiance. Recall, if you can bear the recollection, the quadrennial conclave of that party in Chicago last July. Nominally, it was a convention of that Democratic Party which pledged itself, in 1912, to a single term for the President. But the Democratic Party which made that pledge is dead. The thing that met in Chicago this summer was a chain gang moving to the practiced bawling of machine henchmen. The men and women who composed it did not think: they nodded. They did not vote their convictions. They surrendered to their appetites. They did not select a candidate. The candidate selected himself.

What would Jefferson have thought of that convention憂efferson, the patron saint of the Party, Jefferson, whose name, when mentioned by the dean of the Party, was hooted and booed? The Chicago Superintendent of Sewers had more influence over that gathering than the sacred memory of all the Presidents who had ever borne the name Democratic. It was not a convention. It was "a hissing and a desolation."

Note also the way in which the attempt to override the third term tradition has been presented to the people. The issue was not put forward as such. The speeches of the favored stooges of the Administration before the convention skipped it. The platform ignored it. The President's acceptance speech skirted it. The acceptance speech of the candidate for Vice President did not mention it. The supporters of the third term are afraid of the issue. They dare not meet it.

In the President's acceptance speech there was not the slightest intimation that he was reluctant to seek office a third time because something precious in the American tradition was involved. His choice was presented as a purely personal choice. He had had other plans. He longed to return to his books and his rolling fields. After wrestling alone in the night hours with his desires for retirement he had heard a call to duty.

Were we given any reason to suppose that his conviction that no one else could carry on will ever disappear? There was no pledge that there will be no fourth term. No, indeed. A renunciation of a fourth term would have raised the issue of why there should be a third term.

There was another voice that Mr. Roosevelt should have heard in the night hours. The voice of good example. A score of republics用articularly in Latin America揺ave followed us as a model. They have tried溶ot always successfully, it is true葉o limit executive terms of office. They followed our principle. They will follow our repudiation of principle. Call the roll of presidents eager to perpetuate themselves. The disease of Presidentitis is spreading. Even little President Quezon of the Philippines is beginning to think he is indispensable.

The good neighbor is the man who sets a good example. If we fail this year we surrender every republic to autocracy. We shall have surrendered what Hitler said we could not keep. We shall have yielded without a struggle遥ielded because we were afraid. Three million were not afraid when the principle of the super-man was once destroyed here in America. Are 130 million afraid now?

The President has refused to debate the issue or any other issue, with his chief opponent. He is too busy. His Secretary of the Interior, Mr. Ickes, informs us that the occupant of the presidential office is too exalted to engage in a discussion of the principles under which that office exists. But Mr. Ickes is not so exalted. We are expected to acquiesce in the theory that, in creating the office of President, we exempted those who hold it from the obligation of democratic discussion. But the presidency is not a substitute for democracy. It is one of the many means through which democracy works. The man who holds that office must conform to the principle of public discussion.

Oh, yes, Mr. Roosevelt will have spokesmen預mong them dozens who rings the changes on the argument of experience. Well, we have seen seven years during which this Administration has apparently rejected the lessons of most experience擁ncluding its own.

In neither policies nor appointments have we seen conspicuous evidence of respect for experience. All that we know is that in its experiments this Administration will push perpetual ally beyond the frontiers of experience. If we are expected to believe that the President's knowledge of foreign affairs makes him indispensable, we have the right to ask why we were not told that defense was urgently needed until everyone who could read or listen knew that England and France were failing to match Germany's military power. Can the record of billions which could have been used for the army's, mechanization as far back as 1933傭illions which were used for "made work" relief幼an this be the test of indispensability? Or can the record of a President who did not until a few weeks ago, seek funds for a two-ocean fleet although his policies for seven years were leading to strong action in both oceans幼an this be the record of indispensability? Or can the record of a President who twice said he wished Congress to adjourn this past June be the record of omniscient indispensability?

Are we to reward such a neglect of experience with a further extension of power擁n the name of experience? There are some men whose experience has been such that we are sure we can dispense with their service.

The doctrine of the indispensable man is a concept with a sinister percentage and a dark history. It suggests the old-world belief in the super-man, the leader above question. Two thousand years ago that belief was answered with the injunction: "All ye are brethren. . . . But he that is greatest among you shall be thy servant."

That sacred word, and not Nietzsche's theory of the superman, is the basic concept of democracy. Democracy holds that executive authority shall neither be hereditary nor perpetual. If America rejects that tenet, it rejects democracy. And it rejects it at its deadly peril.

We need to be on guard against the seductive word leader." Translated into certain European languages it has a fearful connotation. What this country needs is a good, honest, industrious, competent hired man預 hired man who knows he is a hired man, a hired man who, after a few years, is not likely to think he owns the farm.

There is no crisis before this country so great as this: that we, as citizens, may lose the capacity to sit in judgment upon our own destiny. If we have a rendezvous with destiny let us, and not our hired man, keep that rendezvous.

Someone said of General Grant that he never wasted time trying to find a substitute for victory. What we need is a President who will not try to find a substitute for our necessities. Third-Termers have had a dozen theories of unemployment, but we still have unemployment. We want competent administration溶ot a new theory of leadership.

Leadership, yes: But leadership in the Constitution and its tested traditions. We cannot quit-claim our responsibility in favor of any public servant. The issue rises above party above prejudice, above personal affections, above hysteria and above fear. Save our principles and we save our liberties.

Men can live without leaders, but they cannot live without principles. Men can replace men. But men cannot replace principles.