What Next for America in Government?


By GEORGE D. AIKEN, U. S. Senator from Vermont

Delivered at National Town Hall Conference, Hotel Astor, N. Y., May 9, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 501-503

IF I pretended to know for a certainty what is next for America in government, I could very properly be accused of being either very foolish or very conceited. As a matter of fact, in referring to the future the two words "if" and "unless" must be resorted to very frequently. Americans, however, are noted for their love of taking chances and so, I am going to take a chance in mentioning some things which I believe lie ahead of us in government.

I readily admit that any prophecies which I dare make are undoubtedly colored by my hopes and my fears. I am not going to talk to you about the war tonight as such because the problems of America and the changes that are taking place in America are not predicated on war itself and do not depend upon America's entry into or staying out of war.

Our most acute problems have already existed for many years. Defense programs, foreign entanglements, even conflict itself can neither deny or solve them. A great national emergency can obscure them for a time, can postpone the judgment day as regards them, but in so doing it also intensifies and magnifies them.

For example, scant consideration is being given today to the fact that this year the United States Government, in spite of the tremendous increase in revenue will fall short of paying current expenses of government, exclusive of defense costs, by over two billion dollars. When we fail by this amount to meet the ordinary costs of government when national income is high we must recognize that we have a problem of such major importance as to rank even with foreign involvement.

This is only one of the matters which lie ahead for the American Government to cope with. The old saying is that we can be sure of only death and taxes. Indications are that we may soon expect enormously increased amounts of both.

With the increased speed of travel, with easier methods of communication, with modern improvements in transportation facilities, we are called upon constantly to make readjustments in our economic life and our living habits.

States are as near together today as counties were a generation ago. Nations are as close to one another as states were at that time. This situation has necessitated constant changes in government as well as economic matters.

It has become more and more impracticable and impossible for states to regulate and control vital factors of our economic system. A general trend toward centralization of government has been the inevitable result.

Rivers do not recognize state lines. Most communication and transportation systems have become wholly national rather than matters of partial state concern. A great problem has arisen through failure or inability of the states themselves to control and regulate the practices of great corporations whose business extends into all the states of the Union as well as all over the world.

Consequently, each year sees more and more of these things coming very properly and necessarily under Federal rather than state jurisdiction. Therein is raised the question as to how far can we go without effacing local self-government. How can we meet the needs of changing times and still preserve the feeling of authority and initiative which patriotic citizens should possess?

Can this modern temp of business and government be controlled and well ordered by the practices which have served us well for over a century and a half? These questions present to America a constant challenge.

On the eighth of March, when the Congress of the United States passed the Lend-Lease bill granting to the President the right to make secret alliances with any nation on earth without informing the Congress, when it gave to him almostunlimited control over all the resources and to a large measure all human activity in our country, we took a long step away from our wanted government of law toward an unwanted government of men.

Many thought this was an unwise thing to do, that in the long run would defeat the purpose for which such legislation was intended. I felt and I still feel that the effect of this so-called emergency legislation will be as far reaching on the domestic life of America as it will be upon the geography of the nations.

Under the guise of a national emergency and under the enormous power granted by the Lend-Lease bill we may expect the administration of the United States to complete phases of its program which never would be sanctioned by a complacent populace in a time of serenity.

We are not going to return to the old days and the old ways of private industry. Unfortunately we are going to have a new group of profiteers and war millionaires in spite of all efforts to control profiteering by taxation. But before this emergency is over, we will, through our government, through our emergency dictatorship, if you please, take from the hands of the few the control of great natural resourceswhich properly belong to all the people of the nation. If you wish me to talk still plainer, I will say that before Mr. Roosevelt is deprived of his national emergency powers, the American Government will have become one of modified, how modified I cannot say, State Socialism. It will, however, still be called Democracy. I don't know whether that is his intention or not because he does not confide in me. But, unless I am guessing wrong, the Federal Government will own or control far more closely than heretofore the electric power, the transportation systems and the financial institutions of America. Greater Federal control will be exercised over industry through Federal licensing or chartering of great corporations.

Greater Federal control will be exercised over our rivers and other waters and over the land of the nation, the oil, the minerals, the coal and the forests. If this program goes too far, it would not be modified State Socialism, but Totalitarianism with a capital T.

As an example as to how the President will use the National Defense Emergency to attain his purposes, I call your attention to the St. Lawrence Waterway. Some twenty years, ago utility interests proposed to spend one billion three hundred million dollars in the development of this waterway, wing all navigation facilities to the United States and Canada in return for the right to develop electric energy. The offer of these interests was not accepted, and since that time utilities in general have conducted a systematic and effective sabotage campaign to prove that the St. Lawrence development is impracticable, although they would pay most any price to secure the right of private development for themselves. Every President since Woodrow Wilson has advocated this development and yet the utility interests have been powerful enough to prevent it.

Now, this picture is this. Competent lawyers believe that the President has authority to go ahead with this development under the Lease-Lend bill, though he may have to go to Congress for the money.

America has become involved in the affairs of all nations to an extent which may result in our needing every resource which we possess to be used in a national defense or war program that may last over many, many years.

It is not safe to assume that this war will be over in two years time. Therefore, we must plan for a long time struggle.

If you will look at a map showing the location of the great national defense plants recently authorized, you willsee that the Great Lakes Basin is thickly studded with them. There is barely enough electric power to supply those already in operation there. More will be needed. The St. Lawrence can furnish it. If you will assume, and it need not be a wide assumption, that the shipyards of the Great Lakes will be called upon to construct ships that cannot reach the sea unless the Seaway is constructed, then you will realize that public opinion now in opposition will change to a demand that this St. Lawrence development be put through with all speed.

I give you this as an illustration. It is only one. In fact, the President has laid before Congress a six year plan for natural resources developments. Other countries have had five year plans, ten year plans. Ours, just to be different, is a six year plan.

The desire of the President for Federal ownership or control of all natural resources, which has been so apparent during his years of office, seems to be well on the way toward fulfillment as a result of the emergency powers granted him last March under the Lend-Lease bill.

He will retain these emergency powers so long as he remains in office, for by July 1, 1943, when his statutory authority expires, these emergency powers will have become so geared into our political machinery that to remove them might mean the wrecking of the machine.

What else may we next expect in government?

We are not making many real friends among the nations of the earth. We are making only lukewarm allies of some nations that might be our friends. The time is not far distant when we are going to need friends. We are attempting to secure the friendship of many nations by the liberal use of cash. Or we are doing our part to starve the small nations of Europe who have been accustomed to look upon America as their friend and benefactor. We will be fortunate if we emerge from this entanglement with a single do or die friend among the nations of the globe.

As a result of this unfortunate international situation, America will from necessity become a great military nation—perhaps the greatest the world has ever known.

We are not going to send our boys back home at the end of a year's training. We are not going to stop until we have created an army of several million men, which will never be demobilized while the present Administration is in power.

Of course, we face danger. But being a military nation—feared and hated by the rest of the world is not an enviable position. It does not bode well for either international or internal welfare.

It carries with it a possibility of fascism. While I don't believe you or I will see America a fascist nation, yet fascism is undoubtedly a greater menace to our government than is communism or any other ism.

Big business today has become a bed fellow of big government. Big business, big government, big armies, working together have made more than one European nation what it is today. But if big business has any idea that it is going to take over the controls of the present administration in America, it will be disillusioned.

I think that big business and the present administration are enjoying a truce and not a treaty.

Let us watch out that America does not become a military nation in the sense that other countries have become military nations. Neither military or political might must ever again be used to suppress the rights of those groups that have made our nation great.

Labor in America is highly organized, and all efforts being made to deprive labor of this fundamental right must be defeated. Friendly relations between labor and employer cannot be enforced through legislation. Agriculture is lesswell organized but nevertheless is a powerful factor. Organization of groups does not fit in with totalitarian control of government, even during emergencies.

Agriculture has incurred the hostility of some of the highest officials of government. An order has just been issued that no employee of the Department of Agriculture shall engage in any activity tending to recruit the membership of a farm organization or hold office in any farm organization unless that group is Federally authorized. Even the Grange, which is largely a social farm order comes under this ban.

Farm organizations must not be strong, if government is to control agriculture.

A well organized program to restrict or destroy the benefits of labor organization seems to be well under way.

The innumerable injustices committed in the application of the Wage and Hour Law and other legislation of recent years give enemies of labor a potent weapon with which to work. Labor itself is not entirely blameless.

Is the picture I am painting too pessimistic? Am I drawing too close a parallel between what is happening in America and what has happened to other nations?

I don't want to leave you thinking that I believe America is on the road to total ruin. We face no danger that cannot be overcome. What those who believe in totalitarian government attempt and what they permanently accomplish are different matters.

We have dark days ahead. Some of the darkest pages of American history are being written today. But on the farms of America, in the homes of America, in the industries of America are over one hundred million people who love their country, who love liberty, who are retaining their reason during these hysterical times.

Two years from now these people will send their representatives to Congress. Four years from now they will be in control of their government. The New Deal as now constituted will have had its little day. It will have been the instrument for performing much good, which good will live on, properly applied, after its evils have been erased.

It's no time now to lose courage, to consider disaster as wholly inevitable. We will start in again on the long uphill task of building internal security for America. We will again concentrate on producing wealth—not destroying it. We will strive to establish national integrity in the world and make friends once more among the nations.