Resolved: That the Power of the Federal Government Should Be Increased







Delivered over the Radio, November 22, 1940, from St. Louis and New York over NBC network, arranged for by Mr. Harold G. Ingram, Director, University of Kansas Extension Division

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol VII, pp. 169-173

By MAURY MAVERICK, Mayor of San Antonio, Texas Former Congressman from Texas.

FELLOW Americans, this debate, carried on by radio, itself proves the necessity for federal or national power. Here I am in St. Louis, to which city I flew from San Antonio by airplane. The other debaters are more than a thousand miles away. Our voices travel by wave length and not by state lines, and go instantaneously to every part of our vast American continent. All this is hooked up with modern, streamlined, scientific life. Hence the necessity for national regulation, which requires national power.

The title of this speech, concerning the increase of the federal power, is somewhat academic. In truth, the federal government is no weak government; if the people want more power, it can be done either through their own representatives in Congress, or through amendments to the Constitution.

Indeed, the question is not merely increase of power; it is a practical question, and one of its proper exercise.

We all agree on one thing; we want free democratic government, where as I said in one of my books, men can pray, and think, and talk as they please, and "eat regular"—where business can prosper, and labor can have a fair standard of living.

My objective is not to win a debate, but to help find a way for us all to live in peace and prosperity, with a well-ordered government.

Let me make two points: First, we all agree the national government should have what power it needs for national defense. Second, we should build a nation, one and indivisible—and the question of power is not so much whether it shall be more or less, but whether or not that power shall be fairly exercised and properly coordinated.

Let us examine first the necessity for national power . . . the answer is even simpler than we can imagine: We must have it because we have a nation. Now let us view this power first historically, then from a practical viewpoint of today.

Historically, the very purpose of our Constitution was to create one nation, one economic and business unit, with the conflict of states eliminated. Indeed, the very call of the constitutional convention said it was for the "commercial interests" and to erect a "firm national government"—get that—a firm-national-government. And when the Constitution was written, it was for the common defense and the general welfare.

Under the old Constitution, known as the Articles of Confederation, the government had but little power and was always broke; the states were nearly at war and always in trouble with each other, because each state considered itself an independent political and economic unit. Indeed,the new Constitution attempted to make the United States of America a single economic unit, and that's why today we are at peace with each other, that's the reason we are stronger; and our strength is the reason for our being at peace with the world.

From the practical viewpoint, sufficient federal power is essential. When we were an agricultural people, where each locality manufactured its own products, it was not so necessary. But, today, bound by radio, plane and rapid transit of all kinds; with standardized machinery; with all of the hundreds of complexities of modern life, plus industrialization, and congestion of living,—why, we simply have to have national power in order to exist!

Let me take conservation of natural resources for one instance, although there are hundreds and hundreds of examples:

In the conserving of our soil, rain, wind, rivers, floods, we know that they don't run according to state line, nor obey state officers. They follow the law of gravity, of seasons, and of nature. Our forests, our mineral resources are affected the same way.

Thus, we must have national power.

Modern, industrial forces, nature, and modern day humanity themselves, cannot be coped with by states and localities in their separate capacities. So I submit that localities and states in matters that concern the general welfare cannot exist without the unifying force of the national power, and that states and localities have more power when bolstered and protected by the national government.

Now further about localities and states: Our federal Constitution sets up in Article VI a requirement that all officials, local, state and national, take an oath to support the Constitution of the United States, the intention being to make a single national government. We have gotten off the track on that; the reason was that the courts built up an idea of dual, or double, or split, sovereignty, or government, which weakened both the national and state governments. Of course, you know, and I know, that government can't be split two or more ways. Government can and should be de-centralized, but there should only be one government.

When we Americans get this firmly in our minds; when we, as citizens, think in terms of the nation with personal, and de-centralized responsibility; many federal duties can be assumed by localities, which will strengthen and make more democratic our federal government, and save billions of dollars in expense. In effect, it will mean more power but it will be the people's power—that is democracy, and that's what we all want.

As Mayor of San Antonio, I owe a duty to the people of America. Why? Because, should my city fail to have good government and proper services—it might cause epidemics of disease, crime and poverty elsewhere.

Indeed, we ought not to get up on the radio or in thepublic and howl at each other, calling each other names and talking about the government being destroyed because it has enough power to operate and to be effective. Let us not shudder over centralized power, but build a true representative democracy in which the people of America have power.

We should think of our government as being composed of states, counties, school districts, water and irrigation districts, cities and villages, all of them being unifying institutions, coordinated together in a single sovereignty of The United States of America, with every American owing his duty to the Constitution.

Right here let me offer two points; we want effective government, and representative government.

For effectiveness, we want it strong enough to protect life, liberty, and property.

For representativeness, well, we have it! We have our local officials,—and our representatives in Congress who represent localities, and are responsible to the people back home.

To break the effective and representative capacity of our government would simply be to destroy our government and our democracy, and far from our strength leading to dictatorship, it will save us from it. Democracy is the symbol of fair play—and for the industrialist, manufacturer or businessman to want his government weak because labor has lately gotten some rights is to lead our government to destruction and get the heads of business cut off where the commercial interests have no rights, as in Germany and in German dominated countries.

Friends, if we are to stave off disintegration, we must maintain our country as one economic unit. Certainly when an emergency requires it, or if simple standardization requires it, the nation should be empowered to act and not be required to wait on forty-eight states to get together for one uniform law, because that might be forever.

Fellow Americans, let us dedicate ourselves to the preservation of democracy. In a world of trouble and war, let us stay out of trouble and war if we can, and the way to do it is to coordinate our government with all its subdivisions, each person and each official doing his duty under the Constitution of our great nation. Let us pray and work for a land of peace, where a businessman can make a profit, and where labor can get a square deal, and where, if necessary, we will fight our enemies and not each other.

By FRANK M. DIXON Governor of Alabama

Those of us selected to present the negative in this debate, desire in the beginning to make plain that we are not speaking against increase of the federal powers in time of genuine emergency, when the nation's existence itself hangs in the balance. Such a position would clearly be untenable. Self-preservation remains the supreme law, and it is only through concentration of power and the consequent subordination of certain individual rights that the military force essential to wage war is achieved. All else rightly becomes secondary to military success. All necessary sacrifice of personal dignity, of the rights of minorities, of the checks on arbitrary bureaucratic power, becomes a virtue. Such freedom as we retain becomes a privilege, not a right, until the national emergency passes and men again can become sentient human beings.

This statement of the necessities in an emergency goesa long way to prove our contention. A nation engaged in war is the negation of democracy. It builds toward a complete centralization, in the knowledge that the processes of democracy, processes in which reason takes the place of brute force, are not as efficient in the achievement of quick results; that although experience has amply proven the superiority of free men to slaves, men must temporarily willingly become slaves to remain free.

But under other circumstances, wherein lies the danger in increased centralization of power in our federal government? To my mind it lies, more than anywhere else, in the progressive removal from each citizen, of a portion of the privileges of that citizenship, the exercise of which preserves in him the love of liberty by which those privileges were first secured. It must be remembered that the power sought to be concentrated must come from somewhere.

So long as John Citizen has a voice in the election of his municipal and county officials, his voice can be heard in their councils. So long as he has a voice in the election of his state officials, his voice will still be heard and his rights remembered. Remove from those city and country and state officials a major part of their functions, remove from them a major part of their power of decision in matters affecting John Citizen, place that function, that power of decision, in the hands of a Washington bureaucrat, hundreds and thousands of miles removed in space and further removed in accountability to him, and what have you done? First, you have taken power from each individual in the nation; and, second, when you take that power, when you have removed his authority over his servant and set a master over him, you have gone a long way to destroy, in his own eyes, the value of citizenship itself. You have put him in a position of a suppliant asking the favor of a far-away ruler, instead of a citizen insisting on a present, defensible personal right.

No matter what the form of a government, there are in fact only two kinds of government possible. Under one system, the state is everything and the individual is an incident. Under that system, the individual is a subject, rather than a citizen. Under that system, the individual has no rights, though they may be termed such; he has only privileges. Under that system, the state is the reservoir of all rights, all privileges, all powers. But this system our forefathers rejected.

They declared that all just government derives its powers from the consent of the governed. They affirmed the dignity and the sanctity of the individual. They recognized in him the sovereignty of government. They declared him to be the reservoir of governmental powers, not the government the reservoir of individual rights and powers. They regard him as the principal, the state as the agent. They elected a man made state, not a state made man. And they declared the purpose of government to be the protection of individual rights, not the dispensing of individual privileges.

The problems of the day are not easy of solution. As against the relative simplicity of the social structure, the governmental forms of the days of Jefferson, we have the complex, the intricate structure of today. With each decade, by reason often of the actual necessities of the case, there has come a steady narrowing of the field of individual liberties, a steadily rising crescendo of the "Thou Shalt Not's" of government. From the originally large field of liberties, all governments, national, state, and local, have taken great slices unto themselves until as of today comparatively little in human existence remains unfettered by regulation from above. When government can tell the farmer what to plant, the businessman what to pay his employees, the employee how long he can work; when government can control and direct all business, destroying it as it pleases, dominating all industry and all private initiative; when government can, by bureau regulations having the force of law in many fields, jail its people for violation of laws never enacted, it has already progressed far from what we used to know. Let us agree that these restraints are imposed, not for sinister purposes, but out of a genuine conviction that they will benefit the nation. Let us consider only whether they do not set in motion forces which may be a greater menace to our liberties than the evils they seek to cure. With present tendencies unchecked, there is no reason to believe that government will not ultimately come to believe that it is wise to dominate the future as well as the daily conduct of every individual in the nation from the cradle to the grave. The tragedy of it is that government is no wiser, and often less wise than the average man of the people. It is my conviction that given the facts, the average man usually will decide wisely. Unfortunately, it is less true of government.

So long as the deprivation of liberties is at the hands of local governments, of men who in their capacities as mayors or governors live at home with the people whom they serve, beyond any question in their administration of the laws they will be extremely sensitive to the opinion of their neighbors and friends. Whenever the deprivation is by the federal government, necessary though it may be, there is in the nature of things, save at election time, a disregard of those forms of enforcement provided by law for the protection of the people, an intent and a purpose to enforce arbitrarily a bureaucratic will, to achieve the results desired whatever the means, to substitute the wishes of men for the forms of law.

As the process proceeds, as the individual feels that he is less and less a citizen, with decreasing power, with lessening voice in public affairs, his interest of course becomes less. As one lone soul among many millions he is completely lost. The muscles of an athlete become soft without use. The very spark of individualism, that spark which for these few last centuries kindled the blaze of the fairest civilization the world has ever seen, fades away. And a softened, passive people lose without regret a freedom they cannot retain.

The rules of the game are not new. They are as old as the human race. Government always seeks to grow, to increase its power over its people. No bureau in the history of mankind ever voluntarily ceased to exist. No government ever voluntarily gave up one iota of its power. Government after government, starting with little power, has grown until it has swallowed all human rights. There is one safeguard and one only: the recognition that those who head any government are no more divinely wise, are ruled as much by greed for power, are possessed by as many failings, are just as human in error, as those they govern; that government itself is inherently dangerous, and that every extension of its power is bought at the price of the loss of that power by the citizen himself.

Save in dire emergency, beware the extension of power to the national government. It has gone far enough.

By PAUL BLANSHARD, Writer and Attorney Former Commissioner of Accounts, N. Y. City

Ladies and Gentlemen, you have heard my colleague, Maury Maverick, open the debate from St. Louis and describe the growth of federal power and advocate a higher sense of federal responsibility in local officials. I am to continue the argument and advocate certain specific measures to extend federal power. Mayor Maverick and I agree in the direction of our thinking, but he doesn't necessarilyagree with all the measures I shall advocate, so please don't hold him responsible for what I say.

First, let me say a general word. Don't take too seriously the high sounding phrases you hear in this debate, and especially don't imagine that people take sides on this question on the basis of pure ideas. Most men's convictions on social and political questions go back to their pocketbooks and the way they earn a living. The fight for and against increased federal power today is mostly an economic fight of classes and interests. The business men and their professional assistants generally want the federal government to have less power because they think Roosevelt is too radical and that he should be checked. The labor organizations and their sympathizers want the federal government to have more power because they think the New Deal has helped them and that it should be extended. So each side digs up the appropriate question from Jefferson to Hamilton or somebody else, and says that history backs up his point of view. If Herbert Hoover were in power today, using the federal government as a conservative engine to help private business, I am inclined to think that Mr. Prentis and his associates might be advocating more power for the federal government and I might be advocating less, because I don't agree with Herbert Hoover's methods of using federal power. So let's be realistic about it, and admit that the important thing in this debate is not the principles of the Founding Fathers or any other Fourth of July phrases, but the practical effect of increasing federal power with Roosevelt in the White House.

Your attitude on that question depends on the kind of world you want. I happen to want a world in which people will take more and more responsibility over industry through their democratic government and over natural resources. So, I think the New Deal's tendency to increase federal power is a natural and perfectly desirable thing. I know that there are some dangers in that tendency, but I think that there are many more dangers in keeping our government weak, and letting big business have its own way.

There are so many respects in which the federal government's power should be increased for efficiency's sake that it is hard to select particular measures. I should like the TVA idea to spread throughout the country to give cheaper electricity to consumers. I should like to see the government adopt the recommendation of the National Resources Board to acquire millions of acres of private forests that are now being depleted and exploited. Mayor Maverick has mentioned that general tendency. I should like to see the federal government's housing program extended, but in this debate I shall have time to discuss only two specific measures, a social welfare amendment to the Constitution, and a taxation amendment to the Constitution. I favor a Constitutional amendment giving to the federal government the power in one comprehensive provision to establish for all parts of the country minimum standards for wages and hours, rules for collective bargaining, the regulation of child labor up to eighteen, and a national health insurance program. Now we have some of these things in modified form today, but the whole pattern of our social legislation is jumbled and rather cockeyed, because our national welfare laws have to be superimposed upon the antiquated and clumsy state lines which were drawn in 1787, when it took as long to go from Georgia to Maine as it takes now to go around the world.

Why shouldn't we streamline our welfare legislation to bring it up to date? Isn't it silly for a so-called modern nation to have 48 standards of social welfare in 48 states, when we are really one nation in economic interest and national defense. Of course, we have a National Unemployment Insurance scheme, a National Labor Relations act, and a National Wage and Hour bill, but they leave many million workers unprotected, because the federal government cannot step across state lines to finish the job.

Let me illustrate by comparing Alabama and New York. I can be quite impartial in making that comparison because I have lived in New York 22 years, and I have also spent some of the happiest days of my life on my farm in Alabama. In New York we have a minimum wage for workers in interstate commerce and the forty-hour week for such workers too, so that girls in laundries in small New York towns get $12.80 a week, or more, and girls in Beauty Shops in New York City get $16.50 a week, or more. Alabama has no minimum wages for workers not engaged in interstate commerce. When I was there last year there were negro women shelling pecans for $2 and $3 a week, for 54 hours. The wages of those who work in interstate commerce have been boosted since, but the local workers still suffer. I saw wage envelopes with $4 and $5 a week in Mobile laundries last year, because there is no federal protection for the girls who iron a shirt, unless the shirt happens to be shipped across the line to Mississippi. Again, Alabama restaurant workers can be fired for joining the Union because Alabama has no state labor relations act. In fact, only five states in the Union have. New York has a good labor relations law. Also, New York has a good child labor law. Children in this state can't work in a factory or store until they are sixteen, but in Alabama, they can work in most local industries when they are fourteen.

Now, I'm not saying these things to make Alabama look bad, or worse than other states. In fact, Alabama is much better than some of the states. I have heard Governor Dixon make excellent speeches advocating more liberal laws. The fault is in the patchwork system of state welfare laws. The system permits a state with low standards, it almost makes a state with low standards, fight against the state with high standards at the expense of millions of workers who need complete protection. I think that the federal government should step into this fight as referee, and award the decision to the states with higher standards by making those standards national. We need this Constitutional amendment, not only to set a national minimum wage and maximum hour schedule for all workers, and a national right of collective bargaining for all workers, and a national rule on child labor for all workers, but we need it for the quick development of a national program of health insurance. It took us a whole generation to get decent workmen's compensation laws by state legislation, and we still have ludicrous inequalities in protection. If we wait for the states to act it will be another generation before we have a proper health program. Why not have it now? Why not have a national system that will distribute the risks of sickness by pooling those risks just as we have now a universal system of distributing the risk of fire by fire insurance.

The second general proposal is that we have a Constitutional amendment authorizing the federal government to collect all income and inheritance taxes. Why not? It would save the taxpayers millions of dollars in the cost of duplicating tax machinery, and it would take away thousands of useless jobs of tax collectors, tax lawyers, tax accountants, and tax manipulators. Please note that I don't advocate anything but tax collection by the federal government. I would not take away the money itself from the states. I propose that that should be distributed by the central agency to the agencies which now receive such revenue, and I would not try to federalize local property taxes at all. It is silly and wasteful to those who pay income taxes to make out two elaborate questionnaires and send in two sets of checks to state and national capitols. It is worse than silly for the various states to advertise to agedmillionaires "please come to my state where the climate is wonderful, and you can escape income taxes." Mayor LaGuardia outlined many of the abuses in the present tax system in a speech several months ago before the New York Board of Trade. Our tax system, he pointed out, is an expensive patchwork because of the lack of a central coordinating authority. Thirty-three states have income taxes and 15 have not; 32 states have corporate income taxes and 16 have not. There is a wild scramble for corporations and rich old men to live and die in states that tax them least, and we all pay the bill.

Now these two Constitutional amendments which I have advocated, are, in a sense, a counsel of perfection. We can easily extend federal power in the direction I have indicated without a Constitutional amendment. That is particularly true of the program to centralize tax collection. We could use a share system, a credit system, such as we do in inheritance taxes without passing an amendment. So these are my suggestions of immediate expansion of federal power. I think of that federal power not as something over against state power and antagonistic to it. The federal government is our government and we want to make it as effective and strong as our complicated world requires. There can be no danger in such power as long as the people keep control.

By H. W. PRENTIS, Jr. President National Association of Manufacturers

My colleague, Governor Dixon, has presented ably the thesis that the granting of additional power to any government is a risky proposition because it tends to make the citizen the servant rather than the master of the State; but that it is less dangerous to vest such authority in local governments because they are closer, and hence more responsive, to the citizens from whom all power springs.

Our federal government already has acquired greater power than we could wisely let it have. Our primary concern should be to erect safeguards against its misuse in the future. First, let me say, Mr. Blanshard, I shall not call on Washington, or Jefferson, or the Founding Fathers, I call as my witness, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who said not long ago, "We have built up new instruments of public power," said he. "In the hands of a people's government, this power is wholesome and proper. But in the hands of political puppets of an economic autocracy, such power would provide shackles for the liberties of the people." Those are President Roosevelt's words. Our contention is that power that can be used by anybody to shackle the liberties of the American people is not safe in the hands of any administration.

Let us look at these new instruments of federal power. First, there is the new interpretation of the meaning of "interstate commerce" accomplished by Supreme Court rulings, not by amending the Constitution, and the vast new area which this conception has opened for exercise of the Federal government's authority "to regulate commerce between the states." Time was when "commerce between the states" meant what our forefathers apparently meant when they adopted the Constitution, namely, the transportation of goods across state lines. Under that interpretation our railroads were placed under regulation by the federal government. Today, "interstate commerce" is interpreted to include the production of goods if any part of that production-even at some far distant date—is destined for shipment to another state, or even if any of the raw materials from whichit is manufactured were grown, mined, or fabricated in another commonwealth. Under that interpretation, even a small local clothing manufacturer who performs a simple converting operation on cloth that he never owns or controls, is held to be within the area of federal control.

So, too, are tens of thousands of other enterprises throughout the country; all of them potentially subject to the same complete federal control of their prices, wages and operating policies as has been applied to the railroads. And the exercise of increased federal power over the nation's railroads has certainly not been the conspicuous success that we should wish to see applied to all our enterprises. What the federal government needs here is not more power, but, rather, self-restraint.

Tempting the federal appetite, are still other forms of business which under no interpretation could remotely be deemed to be in commerce between the states. Are they beyond the danger zone? Perhaps today, but they need be only as long as government believes that public opinion wants them there. Congress has ample power to reach out and grab them if it so desires.

It can, for example, work wonders of federal regulation by using its taxing power to dictate policies rather than to raise revenue. It did that, until public opinion forced a reversal, in the case of the undistributed profits tax, which is designed to compel the distribution of corporate earnings without regard to the dictates of sound business judgment.

Or, if it prefers, instead of using taxes to regulate directly, the federal government can employ them to compel the individual states to legislate according to its mandate. This is another procedure with which we have had experience. It was used to induce all 48 states to enact social security laws conforming to a federal pattern. The process is simple. Pass a law—a tax law—which fulfills its purpose only when it does not raise federal taxes. Make the taxes apply generally, and make the rates prohibitively high; but then offer to rebate 90 per cent of the revenue in any state that will pass the law that the federal government has no power to enact itself.

It begs the question to argue that such powers have been used only in a worthy cause. We are not debating how existing power has been used. The question is, whether or not there is need for more power, the answer to which must be self-evident.

Remember this: It did not require the extension of federal power to set up workmen's compensation laws for industrial accidents. New York State blazed the way in 1910. The important industrial states followed suit in about five years. Forty-six of the 48 states have had such laws now for years, and we have no federal bureaucracy to enforce them. Local and state responsibility for local and state affairs, correlated with local and state taxing power is the vital root principle of American democracy.

The only federal powers I have mentioned—regulation of interstate commerce, and the authority to levy taxes—can serve to influence a wide sector of man's activity. If more powers are needed, there are plenty in reserve. Authority to provide for the common defense offers wide latitude; the power to coin and regulate money can be used to influence fiscal policies throughout the entire nation; and if there is any truth in the adage about the calling of tunes by him who pays the piper, a federal government spending ten and more billion dollars a year has a reservoir of power which it would be difficult to drain dry. That reservoir already has been tapped by means of the Walsh-Healy Act, through which the government as a purchaser specifies certain operating policies of those who supply it with goods.

Attempts have been made to deny contracts to potential suppliers who have had the temerity to exercise their legal right of seeking judicial review of orders issued by the National Labor Relations Board.

Through the Securities and Exchange Commission, the federal government has its finger on the pulse that beats when new enterprises are created or when old ones seek to expand. The government's latent authority to investigate, by means of Congressional Committees or by income tax inspectors, does not even need to be used to constitute a potential power of vast import.

These, then, are those "new instruments of public power" which could provide shackles for the liberties of the people of which Mr. Roosevelt spoke. How far we have come to permit such power to rest in any hands.

Our forefathers recognize the tendency of the people's own representatives to assume larger powers, in order to satisfy pressure groups or to use a short-cut to some desirable end or to strengthen their own tenure of authority. That is but a common manifestation of human nature. The temptation to assume these powers lies primarily in the economic field, because if attempts were made to use them to curtail directly the civil liberties of the people—the free press, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assemblage, and the other human rights which were won by the struggles of our Anglo-Saxon forebearers—the public's punishment of such usurpers would be immediate. Similarly, if such powers were used initially to curtail the people's right of self-government, public indignation would stop the process at its outset.

But such is not the case when economic liberty is curtailed. Appealing humanitarian purposes always can be cited in justification, and yet the voluntary sacrifice of freedom in this field is as fraught with danger to the continuance of our individual liberty as it would be in the abandonment of civil rights or representative government itself.

For those three great institutions—free private enterprise, civil and religious liberties, and representative self-government—form the tripod upon which our individual freedom rests. If the leg of free private enterprise is undermined, government assumes such tremendous power over the life of the individual citizen that in its own desire to exercise that power effectively, it inevitably must suppress all dissident voices and all implements of criticism. Neither the press nor the pulpit, nor the individual can long be permitted to restrain the well-intentioned economic programs of an all-powerful state. Nor can education itself be allowed to encourage people to be analytically critical. The individual's right to speak his own mind must be curtailed, and as a final step, his access to the ballot box either must be eliminated or made purposeless, so that the government's economic plans will meet no obstacles that would impair or destroy their effectiveness.

This is the road ahead when any of our basic liberties are sacrificed. Of course, we would not sacrifice them deliberately. That is not our danger. From other countries we have learned that individual liberty almost always is extinguished by gradual consent of the people themselves, by their giving up one right after another until there has emerged a totalitarian state ruled by a dictator or a small group with authority equivalent to that of any ancient despotism.

It is no minor and incidental question that we are debating this afternoon. It reaches to the heart of our heritage of freedom. Throughout human experience, where freedom has been won and then lost, it has been lost sometimes by sudden violence, but just as often by gradual surrender.