The Magnitude of Our Responsibility
THE CONSTITUTION IS A LIVING THING
By WALLACE L. WARE, Former President of the California Railroad Commission
Delivered at the 23rd Annual Convention of the American Legion, Department of California, August 12, 1941
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 702-705.
TODAY the world is rocked by a titanic battle, a battle between the American principle and the principle of dictatorship; it is the struggle of free enterprise against total concentration of political and economic power.
It was Voltaire who said: "If we did not have a God, we would have to create one." With equal certainty the true American says today: "If we did not have Americanism, we would have to create Americanism."
In the flight of centuries the principles for which America stands will prove to be the guiding principles for all mankind. These are the principles of representative government,freedom of speech, of the press, and of assembly; freedom of worship; the right to acquire and accumulate and control private property, and the right to live in a land where the sovereign power reposes in the people who govern and are governed. Boiled down to its essence, America is the land of free enterprise.
No generation in history has been challenged with the magnitude of the responsibility which is involved in the preservation of these principles. History will soon record one of two epochal events: First, those of us who live in these United States today will arise to this grave and challenging responsibility by achieving the preservation of these principles; or, secondly, those of us who live in these United States today will be remembered in history as having gone down with the wreckage of the last great popular government upon the earth.
Neither mystery nor miracle surround our American institutions. The American government has grown from American hearts, it is a government that has grown from the mental energy and the heart throbs of a liberty loving people. America has heralded to all mankind our institution of representative government wherein sovereignty shall repose in every person and in equal share. America has heralded to all mankind a government that fosters and is fostered by free enterprise.
Hence we see how simple yet how real have been the motivating causes and principles which have created our America. First, love of freedom and equality; secondly, willingness to make the supreme sacrifice to gratify this love; thirdly, ability to exercise and control the functions of government through a common effort. Men and women of America, these same very simple and very real precepts are the foundation of the natural law which now governs and will always govern the preservation of Americanism.
Every existing thing throughout the Universe lives in obedience to immutable, omnipotent natural law, everything from the smallest atom to the starry tenants of the infinite heavens, everything from the Redwood tree to the most powerful government.
Behold the Redwood tree!
"He was centuries old in Abraham's day.
"His life was half lived when the Star of Bethlehem led the Wise Men to the Infant Savior
Yet he stands here in our California still, speaking to all who have ears to hear."
This oldest living thing has survived the centuries with grandeur in obedience to the laws of nature and responsive to the sustaining influence of ideal moisture, soil and sunshine. Remove one of these prime factors and the greatest living giant of all times, the giant that has survived floods and laughed at fires, will die.
Government is no hiatus in the universal law of life and action. Its preservation is as much dependent upon the elements of sustenance as is the Redwood tree. Our Constitution is a living thing. Its very sap and lifeblood actually depend upon the mental efforts and actually flow from the throbbing hearts of the American people. Deprive our Constitution of that love of freedom and equality which the American people breathed into it and our Constitution will vanish. Take from our government the sacrifice and effort necessary to sustain it and our government will perish. Take from our people the energy and the ability necessary to perpetuate free enterprise and our people will sink to the serfdom of national socialism. There are two kinds of government: One is our kind, the American kind, where every person is free and equal and where the sovereign power remains in the hearts and souls of every citizen in equal share. This is the government of freedom and equality. This is the government of free enterprise.
The other kind is totalitarianism, in one instance labeled communism, in a second instance known as nazism and in a third instance designated fascism. In all of these governments, the absolute and supreme power is in the hands of a dictator and the people are his serfs and servants. Under a totalitarian system every human being is a slave to government, there is no freedom excepting that granted by the dictator. There is no equality, for all are at the mercy of his whims.
Today the destiny of mankind is going through a crisis. The American plan of free enterprise and equality will be saved or lost for mankind.
Oh, sovereign men and women of America, these are the days when the preservation of this American plan of free enterprise and equality demands that you prove yourselves worthy of enjoying free enterprise and equality. There are three tests: Do you genuinely love your personal freedom and equality? Are you willing to make any sacrifice to preserve your personal freedom and equality? Do you possess the hearts and the minds that can and will preserve your personal freedom and equality? These tests demand action, immediate action, continuous action, action that will demonstrate to the world that the sovereign people of America can and will govern and protect themselves, under this flag and under our representative and constitutional form of government.
I ask you again: Do you genuinely love your personal freedom and equality? If you don't it is a very short and easy step to the crushing humiliation and serfdom suffered by those under dictatorial tyranny.
I ask you again: Are you willing to make any sacrifice to preserve your personal freedom and equality? If you are not, prepare yourselves for the castor oil, the bayonets, the purging and the concentration camps of a Mussolini, of a Hitler, or a Stalin. These tyrants have given all mankind the frightful warning. They have demonstrated that death is the cure for those who are unwilling to make whatever sacrifice is demanded. These tyrants have found that it is cheaper and far easier to bury than to support human beings who refuse to be regimented to their cause. God only knows the millions upon millions of human beings who have paid with their lives during this era of totalitarianism, who have paid with their lives because of their failure to make the full measure of sacrifice demanded by their dictator.
I ask you again: Do you possess the hearts and the minds that can and will preserve your personal freedom and equality? Our founding fathers possessed such hearts and minds. Then why can't you and I? Unless we do, we will know the bondage and the suffering of dictatorship and instead of enjoying our personal freedom and equality, we will be doomed to the utter humiliation and serfdom upon which dictatorial government flaunts its tyrannical existence.
Most of my life was happily lived among the vineclad hills of imperial Sonoma, hills smoothed in a foliage of matchless and colorful patterns and aglow with the fruits of salubrious vintage. Well do I remember during the late nineties the devastating scourge of billions of plant lice known as phylloxera—lice that were almost microscopic, lice that feasted upon the sweet, succulent sap that flowed through the cambium layer within the roots and bark of these historic vineyards. Then with the awful speed and certainty that we have beheld in recent months the wrecking and ravishing of 12 European countries, we saw the verdant hills of Sonoma transformed as if by hellish magic into death and desolation.
But we had a saintly man, a genius in our home town named Luther Burbank; and he observed growing along the banks of Santa Rosa Creek in rugged vigor a wild grape of nature that survived and flourished because it was endowed by nature with a sap that was strong and bitter, a sap that resisted the gluttonous and ravenous appetites of these devouring lice.
Then with that capacity for infinite pains that made him the genius that he was, he grafted the fruit bearing buds of countless choice varieties of wine grapes to these wild, rugged, resistant roots—by joining and binding together the cambium layers of the two—and the same God of nature that endowed the wild root with sap that these lice could not live upon flushed the fruit-bearing vine with the samevigorous and enduring sap and again Sonoma was aglow with her vine clad hills.
What we American people need today and what we must get if we are to preserve our birthright of freedom and equality, is an infusion of the same sap, the same vigorous and enduring red blood corpuscles that coursed through the arteries of our forefathers. It's that kind of sap and blood our flag, our Constitution, and our America are crying out for today. It's the only kind of blood that will protect and preserve our Constitution, and our America. It's the only kind of blood that will supply the arteries of the sovereign American people with a virulent resistance against the world wide scourge of the lice of communism, nazism, fascism and totalitarianism,—the scourge that has regimented and dominated the political and economic powers of Russia, of Germany, of Italy.
Among my childhood recollections are the memories of Rip Van Winkle, the bibulous Dutch settler immortalized in the Sketch Book of Washington Irving. As the story goes, he was put under a spell and slept for twenty years beneath the falling leaves of the Catskill Mountains. When he awakened and returned to his home he found that his wife was dead, and he himself was forgotten and forsaken. He slept while the world moved on. He slept too long.
Twenty-three years ago our flag and our United States emerged from a world war; emerged from a world war into which was poured $41,000,000,000.00 of the wealth of the sovereign people of America; emerged from a world war which took the lives of 120,000 of the young manhood of America. Then as a nation we went to sleep.
For those who were our foes twenty-three years ago these intervening years have meant only an armistice during which time these foes have raised another generation of warriors; an armistice during which time airplanes, submarines, mechanized trucks and tanks and cannons and explosives were developed and created in power and numbers never dreamed of by those who rested upon their laurels, laurels that to them seemed like victory. During the first ten years as a nation we shot the rapids amidst a scenery that resembled national wealth and complacency, but along a downward, precipitous course which none the less spelled false security. During the next ten years we as a nation muddled around in the dark, marshy fens and bogs of economic distress. During the last three years we have wallowed in a chimerical boom brought about by frenzied preparing.
During these same twenty-three years, throughout Russia, Germany and Italy, three monstrous plans of governmental revolution and world conquest have hatched from the fetid brains and murderous hearts of Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini. Each is the plan of totalitarianism—a totalitarianism under absolute dictatorship, a totalitarianism dominated by the principle that might is right and that the conquest of all humanity is the goal; where all the people, the conquerors and the conquered alike, play the part of sheep led to slaughter by the bell goat; where the people are actually nothing more than pawns and chattels in the tyrannical hands of a dictator; and where the supreme power starts from one all powerful person and falls from his. lips and finger tips with the bursting effect of a billion, burning bombs.
During these hectic days I find myself frequently thinking in terms of a parable. I see a vast valley lush with clover blossoms and blue grass and crystal streams and tenanted with the world's fattest lambs—lambs of every known variety, and many of them adorned with a golden fleece.
Sam is their shepherd, he is kind and gentle and good to all his sheep, and he tries to herd them so they are continually knee-deep in clover.
Sam loves gold and he is the richest shepherd in all theworld. Twice a year he shears his flock and when it comes to gold he has, hoarded in his hiding places, almost all of it.
All of Sam's neighbors are shepherds. Most of them are poor, their ranges are overstocked, feed in their valleys is short, water is scarce, and their bald faced hills are dry.
The world's worst wolf named Adolf has been running rampant throughout the country raising havoc with the neighboring flocks, and lurking at his heels is a half starved jackal, named Joe, and bringing up the rear in the continual ravages against these peaceful, harmless sheep is a sick and hungry coyote, yes, you guessed it, his name is Benito.
But of the three, the wolf kills two sheep to the jackal's one and the coyote lives on the scraps. Sam has spent many sleepless nights listening to their bloodthirsty howls, and by day, as he mends his fence lines against their possible raids, he has caught glimpses of them lurking away from ever recurring scenes of frightful carnage.
Suddenly the wolf turns upon the jackal, amidst the barking of the coyote, a horrible battle to the death is enacted before Sam's very eyes. In consternation Sam soliloquizes: "For once in my life, I hope the jackal wins. But I am convinced it is time for me to carry a rifle."
Returning from the parable, throughout the land the American Legion stands neutral. The American Legion doesn't care who takes Adolf first. But the American Legion has no greater love for Joe or Benito. Each is a deadly foe to the American principles of free enterprise and equality which we love.
Tonight, my comrades, my fellow Americans, we face the fulfillment of two vital tasks.
First, this war must be won for the principles of human freedom and equality, nazism must be crushed.
Secondly, after winning this war, the American mind and heart must be purged and forever kept clean of every foul influence of dictatorship, be it nazism, communism or fascism.
The first objective is immediate. The second is eternal.
To the fulfillment of both, we stand united to this pledge:
"WE ARE AMERICANS!
THE GOLDEN RULE IS OUR RULE!
In humility and with gratitude
To Almighty God
We acknowledge our undying debt
To the Founding Fathers
Who left us a priceless heritage
Which NOW is OUR responsibility
With steadfast loyalty
We will uphold the CONSTITUTIONOf the United States.
We will treasure our birthright
Of American ideals:
We will place moral integrity
Above worldly possessions.
PROBLEMS OF INTEREST TO OUR COUNTRY
SHALL BE OF INTEREST TO US!
We will count our right of suffrage
To be a sacred trust,
And we will diligently strive
To prove worthy of that trust.
We will give our full support
To upright public servants
But those with unclean hands,
We will firmly oppose.
Each obligation that comes to us
As true Americans,
We will discharge with honor!
OUR HEARTS ARE IN AMERICA
AND AMERICA IS IN OUR HEARTS!
WE ARE AMERICANS!"