The Senate's Share in Formulation of Foreign Policy


By HON. WARREN R. AUSTIN, Senator of Vermont

Address delivered at the Annual Forum of the Foreign Policy Association, New York City, October 3, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 91-94.

LADIES and gentlemen, for the first time in history the whole world is engaged in total war. For the first time the opposing ideas of freedom and slavery have divided all of the peoples of the earth. These unprecedented conditions impose responsibilities upon us Americans, as members of the United Nations, demanding adventure and courageous exploration of new fields of international relations.

We must remember that in all we do the purpose of the sacrifice of all the people of all the nations similarly engaged is a positive, affirmative, constructive purpose, namely, to insure complete deliverance from slavery, and the building of the foundations of a new world, in which law and order and righteousness shall be maintained. For a time this will have to be done by supreme force, supplied by the great treaty powers of the United Nations. But let us not lose sight of other ultimate objectives, which include the development of spiritual sanctions for good behavior of nations as well as of men.

The entire population of the United States has enlisted in this war. Every resource of material and spiritual strength is committed first to equipping, arming, feeding, sustaining, encouraging, and inspiring our sons at the front. We must keep their cartridge belts filled. We must inspire their faith by our unselfish contribution to complete defeat of the enemy. We will not allow even a mere diffused infection of appeasement to enter into the formulation of our policy. We are determined to strengthen their arm by meriting faith in us that we will carry on as they do toward victory. We will assure our fighting men that as a people, not merely as a Government, we will educate ourselves to meet our vis-a-vis at the peace table with an intelligent, carefully thought out, and well-formulated plan. We will assure our sons and their posterity that, so long as human frailty shall not destroy the great gift to mankind for which they have offered themselves as a living sacrifice, such men as Hitler and his lackeys shall not plunge the world into bloody war, and shall not ever again endanger the institutions of justice and the ideals of liberty.

We envision our task in the light of the knowledge that both our armies and our ideas must triumph. In the present state of human progress our ideas cannot prevail without the success of our armies. We will not make the negative cause of our sacrifice paramount, although we recognize that this is a war for deliverance. Unless we do prevail we can contemplate the sectional extermination, enslavement, and debasement of the human race.

Now, how can the plans to defeat fulfillment of this purpose and attain our affirmative aims be laid with full participation by all the people? You are at work. Literally thousands of other voluntary organizations of Americans are similarly tackling the problem. The mails are full of literature expressing various views. The press, radio, telephone, telegraph, are all employed in the business of making our foreign policy.

One implement of importance is the Senate of the United States. About its function, particularly, you asked me to speak.

There is not a minority in our population which has not a right to equal hearing from the Senate floor. If you could see the correspondence between Senators and their constituents, and realize the intimate relations between them, and the candor with which they treat each other in relation to all kinds of questions, you would realize that the people of the United States feel free to command their Senators. The commands may not be obeyed, but they are given consideration in the formulation of the policy of the Senate. You realize that the judgment of the Senate is grounded upon many facts and considerations, of which some may not be available to constituents.

The rule of action is contained in a famous declaration by Edmund Burke, upon his election to Parliament in 1774. Addressing his constituents, he said in part:

"Your representative owes you not his industry only but his judgment, and he betrays instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion. Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. * * *"

And after further elaborating upon this close relationship, he said:

"But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living."

The Senator's duty to his constituents is to inform, guide, and lead in understanding and interpretation of facts and policies in the light of his special knowledge, and scientific application to public affairs. Correspondingly, well-informed public opinion is generally expressed by action of the Senate.

I review certain elementary facts about the Senate which are known to all of you to emphasize, at this time, the responsibility of the Senate to the people, and the corresponding duty of the people to the Senate. In these days the correlative duties and responsibilities are exceeding great.

The Senate represents the States.

Large States and small States have equal representation.

Amendment of the Constitution is the method prescribed for every other change of its provisions, but cannot alter that equality in numbers. Ratification by three-fourths of the States will not suffice. The basis of representation in the Senate shall not be altered except by the consent of every State.

The sovereign power of treating with foreign nations was, at the time of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia,vested in the separate State. When the executive was created, the State relinquished power of this kind to an officer elected by the people at large. Therefore, in order to preserve the authority of the individual States, the States declined to make the grant unlimited, and reserved to themselves just as much power of treating with foreign nations as they granted. The power reserved was equal to the power granted. This reserved power was not a mere veto. It included advising as well as consenting. Six-year terms and staggered elections were also intended to maintain the supremacy of State influence.

The duration of office of Senators is a practical development cumulating the knowledge and experience called for in performance of the treaty-making power. The Senate never passes out of existence. It can be in session at any time. Such constitutional arrangements guarantee the perpetuity and stability of the Senate. They give the Senate a distinctive character and power adapted well to the high duty of participating in the making of covenants with other nations.

It was the theory of the framers that the Senators in their organized being were to be the only constitutional advisers of the President.

The Cabinet is a statutory being, but the Senate is a direct creature of the Constitution.

The President has the right to consult the Senate as a body, and the Senate has the right to advise the President respecting the making of treaties.

Theoretically, the President deals with the Senate as an institution having jurisdiction and exercising authority correctively with him. In practice, such intimate collaboration has never been realized. Instead of that intended method, informal consultations with individual Senators, or more formal White House meetings of leaders and of the Committee on Foreign Relations, have been adopted. Sometimes the President consults Senators through the Secretary of State, and the Committee on Foreign Relations.

This right has rarely been exercised prior to negotiation of a treaty. If it had been done prior to the negotiation of the Treaty of Versailles that treaty might have been more generally understood by the people and more wisely conceived.

Commonly, however, the only opportunity for advice by the Senate is afforded after negotiation.

Details of negotiation of a definitive treaty can be worked out only by the Executive. No attempt to usurp that function should be made by the Senate. The right of the people to be guarded from surprise by new details introduced through recognition of interests outside of this country can be exercised by the Senate by means of amendment and reservation after the convention has been submitted for ratification. The Senate is not bound to take it or reject it as submitted.

However, major aims of the war and of the peace ought to be publicly discussed before the end of the war and the beginning of negotiations.

During the period of the First World War, the President was reelected largely on the platform "He kept us out of war." Two other slogans of that period further tended to center in the Chief Executive the function of making foreign policy, namely: "Too proud to fight," and "Peace without victory." Such conferences as occurred between the President and the Senate were limited in number, and were notable for their lack of candor. There was only the appearance of consultation, and no real advising. Various members of both Houses of Congress, and of both parties, were summoned to the White House for conversations about such details of foreign policy as the arming of merchantmen, and early peace proposals of German origin at times when their advantage in hostilities would have made a peace based on the status quo ante bellum quite satisfactory to them.

In January of 1918, the year when the real work of formulating a foreign policy to be crystallized into a peace treaty occurred, the President addressed Congress, eloquently promoting his fundamental theory of "peace without victory," and setting forth his 14 points. This speech did not arouse a reaction by the Senate or the people of the United States to discussion of peace terms which were ever included in the definitive treaty, although some of the 14 points, particularly the last one, relating to an association of nations, played a considerable part in negotiations begun later. Thetime was inauspicious, because Germany was then crushing Russia, and American troops were not then arriving in large numbers on European soil. The turn of the tide, which occurred in the middle of 1918, had not begun. Here is a lesson regarding our attitude. It was a fundamental error to start with the premise of peace without victory. This error led to the acceptance of an armistice on November 11, 1918, which events have shown amounted merely to a cessation of hostilities for 2 decades. This great document known as the Treaty of Versailles, which was the outgrowth of the haste to make peace, utterly failed to attain the high objectives of the 14 points.

In the making of that treaty, a greater secrecy than usual prevailed. Prior to the debate in the Senate on the question of ratification, the great mass of the people did not understand the treaty. The war was over. They were weary. The constructive, difficult task of building up a world organization did not arouse their interest. Their attitude was—let us have peace.

The unprecedented act of the President in personally attending and conducting the negotiations facilitated his exclusive control of the information which it was essential to impart to the Senate in time for reasonable consideration to enable the Senate to intelligently advise the President in the negotiations. It is true that during negotiations the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate and the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House were invited to dine with the President, and there was held a conversation relating to the Constitution of the League of Nations.

The public generally was informed by the press in the spring of that year of the terms of the League of Nations, and on August 19 the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate met at the White House and interrogated the President regarding a plan of treaty which had already been given definite form.

A sequel to both of these meetings was the transmission to the people of the United States of the information gathered, accompanied by the views of the various Senators. Another method of giving advice was a declaration, signed by 39 Members of the Senate, that they would not advise concerning, nor consent to, the Constitution for a League of Nations in the form then proposed and pending before the Peace Conference for its consideration.

Shortly after the White House meeting of August 19, and the declaration, and during the recess of Congress, there occurred certain cable correspondence between one of the delegates of the United States to the Peace Conference at Paris and Senator Lodge, then majority leader of the Senate as well as chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations. The delegate requested a cable through the State Department of the exact phraseology of amendments modifying the League of Nations Covenant which the Senate considered important, and expressed the desire to meet the Senate's views as closely as possible to obtain acquiescence therein of other nations anxious for recognition of their own special interests. Senator Lodge replied, in substance, that the President expressed no willingness to receive any communications from the Senate while that body was in session; that if he then wished to have amendments drafted which the Senate would consent to, the natural and necessary course would be to convene the Senate in the customary way; that he could not then speak for the Senate or consult its Members, nor could they consult with each other, nor could the President consult them while they were at their homes in the 48 States.

In Senator Lodge's book, The Senate and the League of Nations, there appears this statement:

"This cable message closed this incident and we receivedno more requests for statements as to what amendments or reservations the Senate desired or would accept."

The failure of American democracy to function properly in making the Versailles Treaty consisted primarily in the lack of foreknowledge of the people, the determination by the President to obtain unconditional ratification, and the firm adherence to amendments and reservations by the Senate.

Various resolutions aimed at either conditional ratification, unconditional-ratification, or ratification with reservations which had been adopted, failed. Final disposition of the Treaty of Versailles and the Covenant of the League of Nations occurred upon a motion to return them to the President, which was carried, and executed.

It is not my purpose to debate here the question of who was the cause of the lack of understanding and agreement between the Executive and the Senators who defeated ratification of the Treaty. The probative value of this history at the moment is the fact that the foreign policy of the United States was not acted upon concurrently by the necessary parties to it—people, President, and Senate—early enough for it to prevail in the negotiations leading up to the definitive convention. The logical meaning of rejection was isolation, an unsound position, which the American people reversed upon invasion by the enemy.

In my opinion, isolation had not been before then the foreign policy of the United States of America. On the contrary, independence though not isolation has been that policy, and the great expounders of it, Washington, Jefferson, and Hughes, have made it clear that cooperation may be necessary and ought to be entered into if it should become necessary.

Chief Justice Hughes, while Secretary of State in an address to the American Bar Association, within a few years after World War I, described this cooperation in terms that are applicable to the present moment, thus:

"it will be the cooperation of a people of liberal ideals, deeply concerned with the maintenance of peace and interested in all measures which find support in the common sense of the country as being practical and well designed to foster common interests."

It has been said that in the field of science we have achieved decades of progress since 1940.

This progress has not been made by the people who have stood on the side lines and said "The darned thing won't run."

Dr. Charles M. A. Stine, vice president and adviser on research and development of E. I. duPont deNemours & Co., in a recent address before the American Chemical Society, said: I quote:

"A sign of the swiftness of the pace with which the hurly-burly of change is sweeping the petroleum industry, is given by a printed card that now hangs behind the desk of the research director of one of America's greatest oil companies. The card reads: 'You don't have to be crazy to work here, but it surely helps!'

"May I add that a similar card could be hung with profit in every American office and shop and laboratory and farm barn. We are going to need to be 'crazy,' as judged by 1940's thinking, to make this upset world right again,"

Seriously, it is for us to respond to the challenge with the same elasticity and vision in our foreign policy if we are to implement the ideals for which our soldiers are fighting.

The important lesson of our history is that our foreign policy is an attitude of responsibility for human welfare in a world that grows more integrated with the progress of science and politics and religion.

To make that policy practical and feasible and triumphant,

all publicity available should be given the consideration of such principal aims as—

Unconditional surrender by the enemy before cessation of hostilities.

A cooling off period between surrender and negotiation of final terms.

Disarmament of the enemy and occupation of his territory by temporary policing organizations of the United Nations.

Adequate military establishment, maintained by the United Nations to enforce order and to establish a more perfect union.

Advancement from the theory of nationalism to the principle of world responsibility envisioned in the Atlantic Charter.

The purpose of this association, and of other patrioticto keep public opinion abreast of the progress of the war and the developing political guarantees of justice and ultimate tranquillity would be promoted by candid discussion of the difficulties and sacrifices and probable long period of discipline which it is practical to assume must intervene between the cessation of hostilities and the attainment of those grand objectives to which we aspire.

Deep and strong foundations of truth must be laid in the conscience of the people now. The post-war structure to be erected upon these foundations has the ultimate ideal of a world of freedom, peace, and good will.

However long the interregnum, there must be forever before our thought the ultimate ideal, as we journey forward with bleeding footsteps.

Perfection alone is invulnerable. We may constantly turn to this in evaluating our contribution, small or great.