CONCENTRATION OF POWER IS DANGEROUS
By FRANK M. DIXON, Governor of Alabama
Delivered before The Southern Society of New York, and broadcast over WABC, December 11, 1942
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 236-240.
MORE than twenty-five years ago the men of your generation and mine went to war for the purpose of making the world safe for democracy. In the hearts of all of us there was no other thought. This nation wanted neither imperialistic power nor new territories. We realized, or thought we realized, that on the face of the earth of that day there was no room for the existence, side by side, of the dictatorships and the democracies. The democracies were under attack, and the survival of all that they stood for was precious to us. It was without regret and without thought of personal loss that we entered willingly into the sacrifice.
At that time most of the world was with us. Against Germany and her allies were arrayed all the manpower and all the material wealth of the earth. In men they were hopelessly outnumbered. In materiel, in raw materials which go to make the tools of fighting men, they were hopelessly outdistanced. With the blockade they were made to live upon their fat, at a time when they started lean. And yet against all the wealth and all the manpower of the world they endured four years of war.
We won. The diplomats and the statesmen headed to Versailles where they were to clinch the fruits of the victory, where they were to drive the final nails which would make indestructible the structure of democracy. The world was again safe for those of us who believed in the rights of men.
Since that day, a quarter of a century ago, democracy has steadily disappeared from the face of the earth. There was no era of peace. Wars continued, local in nature, everywhere. The misery and the bitterness of the disappointed people broke out in sporadic violence. The natures of governments changed. There came a realization of the fact that democracies, in time of stress, were weak, and throughout the face of the earth the average helpless man and woman began to believe that safety and security lay in surrendering the rights inherent in the democratic principle and in leaning on some strong man. Basically this happened because of weariness; yet in it also was a fatalism, caused by the confusion in the souls and the minds of the mass of people on earth. Steadily the democratic principle lost strength; nation after nation turned to the rule of some man on horseback. Steadily there was a weakening ofthe forces of those believing in freedom as opposed to regimentation.
Munich was not the beginning but the end of an era. Munich was when the ultimate realization came that if democracy were to survive it must meet force with force, must chain the wolves.
Our situation today is far different from that in 1917 and 1918. Then, as we have seen, all of the might of human society was on our side. Today Germany has in harness the greatest army the world has ever seen. It dominates all of Europe and has forced into slavery the people of all the great nations who live there. It has taken to itself the fertile plains of Rumania and Hungary, the great factories and arsenals of Czechoslovakia and of France. It has acquired the raw materials all over that continent, and it has acquired slave labor to man its mines and factories. There are forty million people on the British Isles. There are eighty millions within Germany itself, and these eighty millions control the lives of one hundred sixty millions more.
On the other side of us lies Japan. In the beginning we and our English allies dominated the wealth and the resources of that part of the world as well. From it we secured the rubber on which our national economy is based. From there we secured twenty-five or more minerals or other products vital to our existence. Today all that great area of the world's surface, with its incomparable natural resources, is lost to us. When Japan seized the rubber supply of the earth, Japan dealt the severest blow to our economy that could have been dealt, and she well knew it.
There are, then, as of today the British Empire, consisting mainly of England, Canada and Australia, the United States, China, Russia, the small nations to the south of us, arrayed against the world dictators: those that I have named representing the rights of free men, the right to an orderly decent life, the right to freedom of religion, and all those other rights more precious than life itself, fighting for their very survival against that rule which means slavery for us all. In numbers the ability of each side to produce fighting men is about equal. In natural resources, the supply of those raw materials which are absolutely essential to win this war, if anything the odds are against us. Given time to consolidate their gains, to develop the oil fields, the mines and the plantations which they have seized, the dictatornations can, with their slave labor, produce the tools of war in an amount equal to that which we can do. We are powerful beyond any question; we in the United States are the most powerful single nation on the face of the earth, yet, as things stand today, however much we might want peace we cannot have it, with the raw materials in the hands of our enemies. From the day peace was declared, there would be a steady increase in power on their part, a steady decrease in power on ours until finally at the end of a few more years we would be helpless against their attack. We can't stop and we cannot fail to win. The consequences are too grave for our people. The loss of liberties, the loss of our standard of living, the reduction of that standard to the level of the peasant will be an inevitable result. Democracy is in grave danger, and we all thank God the outlook is better today. We will win because we must win.
Now what of the home front? Let me agree that any discussion of democracy at home might seem a waste of time in this national emergency, since unless we win the war abroad all that we cherish is certainly lost. But there are some of us to whom it seems that certain forces at work within this country itself must be carefully watched lest we lose at home that for which we are shedding our blood abroad.
A discussion of the relationship between the states and thefederal government of the centralization of power in Washington and all that it means, of the habit of our people to look to Washington for all the things which governments can do may seem academic. I hope to be able to convince you that this is important.
You are all familiar with the bases of popular power and with the divisions of power at the inauguration of this Republic The nation was founded on the principle that all power belonged to its people. Those people, in order that there might be an orderly government, relinquished a certain portion of their rights to the state governments. In order that there might be a coherent foreign policy, the ability to defend itself from abroad, and a sensible relation between the states, the people of that day relinquished a portion of their rights to the federal government. But to themselves, in their sovereign capacity as maker or breaker of governments, they retain the great body of power and in accordance with this power they continued their daily lives. Realizing the selfish nature of government and the dangers caused by the ambitions of men, they carefully restricted the powers of these governments, both the state and the federal.
As time went on, as was natural in view of the changing society, the federal government began to claim for itself further and greater powers. This increase in power had to come from somewhere: it came in part from those powers which had theretofore been granted to the states, but in major part from those powers which theretofore had been retained by the people. It was a perfectly natural development. Men are ambitious and men always seek power. Men can easily convince themselves that the good of the nation demands that increase in power for themselves. And the increase was made more easily because, in the nature of things, with the increasing complexity of the national life, a greater measure of federal control became an absolutelyessential thing.
The mechanics of the process are interesting. There had been a gradual drift since earliest days, but in the distress and confusion of the early Thirties there was created out of the ambitions of men, a new engine of acceleration, dynamic in its possibilities and results. Prior to WPA the policy of the federal government toward the states and the; people of the states had followed the "grant-in-aid" pattern, a pattern similar to that under which the Extension Servicewas set up, a pattern under which money was advanced, put in the hands of state agencies to spend, under rules prepared by the federal government. The administration, however, and the handling of local situations, was left in the hands of the established governmental organization within the states. Since the passage of the Morrill Act in 1862 and until approximately 1932 this was the rule.
Under WPA a new system was inaugurated. For the purpose, I think, of obtaining final political control, of striking down the local governments and of bringing home to the people of the states the thought that their allegiance must be to the Washington bureaucracy rather than to their own elected officials, the system was set up of short-circuiting the state governments, advancing federal funds directly to cities and to individuals through federal bureaus established within the states but under the control of Washington. It is this policy which has been followed since that date through WPA, PWA, FSA, and all the multitudinous federal bureaus of the alphabetical days. It is that policy which has made the federal bureaus wax fat while the federal treasury waxed lean.
Let me assert again that this is perfectly normal. Men are ambitious and they have always been ambitious. They always will be ambitious. It is perfectly normal for the federal bureaucrat to conceive of himself as being an invaluable servant of the people, and it is perfectly normal forhim to calculate that the more power he secures for himself the greater service he can render. Again, from his point of view, security of tenure is better to be obtained where his master is in Washington, far removed from the demands and wishes and pressure of opinion back home. It is only human nature. But again it is only right for us to think of where this leads.
Democracy is not a thing of Washington. Democracy is a thing of the crossroads. It is at the crossroads that the people of this nation live. It is at the crossroads that their children are born, that they go to church on Sunday, that the schools are placed, that the average American citizen lives his life and is finally taken to his fathers. It is at the crossroads that the life of America takes place—not in Washington. All of those things that touch him most closely happen at the crossroads. The exercise of democracy is there. Let his local officials become overly ambitious and interfere with his rights, he knows it immediately and he acts. Let any local dictator seek to establish himself, he knows it immediately, and the methods and the means to strike that man down are in his hands. The base of democracy is there, there it will endure or die. There it is strong, tenacious of life, resistant to degeneration or decay. There it lives, resurgent, determined, strong.
The typical bureaucrat and the heads of the various pressure groups which have become so powerful in our American life know this. They know it and they fear it. They know that if the world is to be changed from that American life which has made this nation great and to be molded in accordance with the pattern of some crackpot reformer, it must be done away from the crossroads. It is for that reason that the typical bureaucrat and the typical head of the typical pressure group seek to concentrate all power in Washington, where they have to contend with one congress and not with forty-eight state legislatures, where the means of working their own end are far more easily reached.
We have seen an interesting phenomenon since Pearl Harbor, and even before. Every Washington bureau, with only slight reorientation of the work it was doing before, has proclaimed itself essential to the war effort and worked day and night for its own expansion. Every single pressure group that I know of, instead of folding its tent and stealingsilently away to render real service to its country, has increased its Washington staff, claiming its efforts are essential to the winning of the war, and fought strenuously for those things for which it has long been fighting, claiming that now its efforts are essential in the national emergency. Every fanatic social reformer, instead of being forced to devote his attention to the war effort, has remained in Washington, greatly increasing his clamor, insisting that his individual crackpot reform is essential to the winning of the war. And the net effect of all those misguided efforts has been the creation of illimitable confusion and the diversion of the energies of many of us to efforts to retain our American democracy at a time of dire national peril.
There are all manners of thought in Washington, as you know. There are those who sincerely believe that the American competitive economy is a flat failure, which should immediately be replaced by socialistic government control. There are those who believe that the future welfare of the nation demands a government owned and dominated by organized labor. There are those who sincerely believe that organized labor has no right to exist. There are those who would go back to the old system of free enterprise without needed restraints, the abuses of which beyond any question brought on the needed social reforms of the New Deal. There are those who sincerely believe that all manner of ideologies should instantly be enacted into law. And the efforts of these groups, concentrated in Washington today have, in my opinion, fed more that confusion which is essentially part of a democracy going to war than any other single factor. It was the national impatience with this type of confusion which, in my opinion, caused the overwhelming defeat of the democratic candidates in the last election. It is this type of confusion which, if not dealt with, as long ago it should have been dealt with, is likely to cause the defeat of the next democratic candidate for President of the United States. The people of this nation want this type of thing stopped until the life of the nation is made secure.
As an illustration, until recently there was before the Congress a bill to abolish the poll tax in those eight states which still retain it. Never in the history of this country until then had there been any question but that the qualification of voters was a matter of state concern, and yet in time of war, when the very life of this nation is at stake, there was an insistence on the passage of this type of legislation changing our constitutional form of government, slapping in the face the people of eight sovereign states of this Union, interfering in their domestic affairs, holding them up to the enemies of our country as if they were representatives of a democracy which was no democracy, and this under the pretense that it is essential to the war effort. Such childish casuistry, such patent insincerity, in the face of a national emergency, was extremely unfortunate. An effort such as this to capture federal control of elections in this emergency was untimely; it diverted the strength and energy of those of us who do not want to lose democracy at home while we win it abroad; it threw doubt on the sincerity of those who advanced it; it should never have been. As an effort to change the social structure of the South it was foredoomed to failure.
Another illustration of tragically mistaken efforts is in the attempt now going on, under the pretense of winning the war, to force, by yet another federal action an organic change in the relationship between the two races in the South.
The question of race relationship, with us, is one of great delicacy, requiring for its peaceful solution the best brains of both groups. Following the scandals, the frauds and the brutality of Reconstruction, the Southern white man, as was proper, worked out his solution. He recognized, and has generally abided by his belief, that the Negro could be educated, could be trained, could be made a valuable member of the body politic. He recognized that his manifest inability to exercise the ballot, fresh from slavery, did not mean that ultimately he could not be instructed as to its proper use. He considered, and in this view he was joined by the sensible leaders of the Negro race, that the first essential was an improvement primarily economic, educational, not the granting of a franchise to a people totally unprepared and unfit for its use. The ruin of the state and its people during Reconstruction as the result of the venal vote of former slaves painted clearly the picture to be followed.
During the years the wisdom of his course has been proven. Admit that inequities occur. In the main, the Negro race has, in a few generations, made more progress than any race on earth in a comparable period of years. The level of education, of health, of morality, of decency, of economic security, has risen to remarkable degree. And it might surprise some of our Northern friends to realize that, as the responsible members of the race have qualified themselves as responsible citizens, to them in good measure has the franchise been extended. There are thousands of negroes who vote in Alabama today.
The social structure of the South has been built, and can endure, only on the principle of segregation. Please understand that the application of this system does not mean unfairness. Segregation implies separation of the races, not mistreatment of anyone. Under segregation properly applied the Jim Crow laws exist, yes. But the sections set aside for negroes should be as clean, as comfortable, as decent as those for whites. No discrimination should exist, and those practicing it deserve the condemnation of whites and black alike. But segregation itself is a ruling, basic principle, without which there can be no orderly society below the Mason-Dixon line.
You see, our problem is different from the problem in any other section of the world. Our Negro population approaches forty percent of the total. This percentage means the balance of power. In many Alabama counties there are four and five to one. Either white men control them, or there will be a repetition of the venality of reconstruction, the ruin of the South. Either there is segregation, or no white man can live there unless he is willing to abandon all of that personal and racial pride which has made the Anglo-Saxon great. The situation is delicate, difficult, fraught with danger for the Southern people, fraught with danger for a nation facing a struggle for its existence. It should never be disturbed until peace permits us to examine our local affairs.
An illustration of stupid tampering with the delicate question is in the operation of the United States Employment Service and the Fair Employment Practice Committee. You are familiar with the methods by which the control of the Employment Service was taken from the various states. Suffice it to say that after that control was wrested from the states, a policy was adopted and promulgated under which the employer has no right to select his employees on any consideration of the race to which they belong, and has no right to reject employees, whatever conditions may exist, by reason of their race. Supplementing this policy of the Employment Service, there was adopted an Executive Order, No. 8802, providing among other things, that there should be no discrimination by reason of race in any defense work, and to make effective this Executive Order, there was created the Fair Employment Practice Committee, charged with putting on trial industries which were considered guilty of violations of this order.
The announced policy of the Employment Service and the actions of the Fair Employment Practice Committee indicate that, however fervently the claim may be made that the purpose was not to interfere with the social structure of the South, in practical effect the abolition of segregation was exactly the result sought to be achieved by the majority of the committee. You can imagine what consternation this policy created in the minds and the hearts of our people.
It is the desire of the responsible leadership of both races that the people of the South be left alone to work out their destiny. We know that, as Mark Etheridge, the one man on the Fair Employment Practice Committee who understands the problems in the South, at the hearing in Birmingham said:
"The Southern Negro cannot afford to drive from his side, in his march to a greater fulfillment of his rights, the Southern white men of good will who have been his chief asset and his chief aid. He must recognize that there is no power in the world—not even in all the mechanized armies of the earth, Allied and Axis—which could now force the Southern white people to the abandonment of the principle of social segregation. It is a cruel disillusionment, bearing the terms of strife and perhaps tragedy, for their leaders in the North to tell them that they can expect it, or that they can exact as the price of their participation in the war. They would do better to learn and to tell plain truths to their people and to stimulate them into giving the evidence of self-discipline and the example of willingness to sacrifice which will shame the demagogic and challenge the admiration of decent white people." We know that outside interference is creating a very undesirable situation for both white and black alike in the Southern States. We know that the activities of this Committee are helping to cause discontent and danger.
The position of the Southern people has always been a difficult one. Throughout the generations of Republican rule following the War Between the States they achieved the only practical way of life, practical because, although not perfect, it nevertheless worked. Through force of circumstances Democratic in party, they have always been the solid foundation stone on which our National Democratic party rested.
Today their position is anomalous in the extreme. It is their own party which is dynamiting their social structure, which is arousing bitterness and recrimination, which is attempting to force crackpot reforms on them in a time of national crisis. It is their own party administration which sought to knife them with federal control of elections, with the Fair Employment Practice Committee, with the policy of the Employment Service.
How long will they put up with this? I do not know. Suggestions are rife as to the formation of a Southern Democratic party, the election of unpledged representatives to the electoral college. Ways and means are being discussed daily to break our chains. We will find some way, and find it regardless of the effect on national elections, if this senseless attack keeps up. For the Federal Government, in Democratic hands, is now tampering with the one thing we cannot permit, will not permit, whatever the price to ourselves. The motto of the Democratic party in Alabama stands on every ballot. Our fathers put it there and we mean to keep it.
Unfortunately, it fell to my lot to be forced to protest the conduct of the federal bureaucracy as regards the Southern people. Representatives of the War Production Board told me that they wanted osnaburg made in our prison mills for the Army. We were of course glad to comply, but I advised their representatives that the so-called "discrimination clause" would have to be left out of any
contract, since under the pretense of enforcing that clause the Fair Employment Practice Committee could descend upon the state and put us on trial as to why more of our state employees were not Negro. To my amazement when the contract was presented for my signature the same clause appeared—why, I do not know. I thereupon rejected it, a thing not easy to do, and in my letter of rejection plainly stated why.
That decision was difficult to reach. It meant subjecting myself to vilification and abuse, which instantly followed. I am glad to be able to tell you, however, that the intelligent people of my state were and are overwhelmingly behind me in the stand I took, and plainly told me so. I am also glad to say that our mills are at work on war work without this provision, without selling the birthright of our people.
These illustrations of the stupidity of bureaucracy and pressure groups at work in wartime could be multiplied infinitely. I give them because they came, among others, in my own experience. It is my belief, as I have said, that the American people were fed up with these efforts to enforce crackpot reforms in the guise of and under cover of the war effort, and said so emphatically not so long ago.
But these are results, not causes. They are indicative of what we may look for unless the trend toward centralization, after the war is reversed: unless we at least turn our faces in the direction of first principles. How can it be done?
We know that there are about thirty federal agencies now at work planning the future of the United States and of the world. We know, from some of the things which have already come, that a large proportion of them are either crackpots or typical bureaucrats playing with the dangerous weapons of federal control. We know that very few of them will surrender power if they can avoid it, will restore to the people those rights surrendered during wartime. You have seen a so-called emergency endure for ten years until it merged into the actual emergency of war. You know that there are in the Washington of today many people in high places who have been willing to gamble with the very life and death of the nation to foster their pet ideas of economic or social control, who have regarded this bitter, costly struggle as a golden opportunity for themselves and the group they represent. What to do?
Patently the world will be a different place. We cannot abandon the great and essential reforms of the New Deal, return to unbridled competitive license, release the controls on accumulated and accumulating wealth, abandon the weak and the helpless, achieve that great measure of personal freedom which, after all, brought with it the inevitable evils and the inevitable measures of control.
Our course is not easy. It must be between the unworkable Scylla of unrestrained personal and economic freedom and the Charybdis of regimentation and slavery to which centralization of power in Washington inevitably leads. We must not win freedom in the world to lose it at home.
How can we bring about the essential balance? How can we who want to preserve democracy block the federal bureaucrats and the pressure groups which seek to concentrate all power in Washington, where they can remake the map of human rights at their will; how can we prevent that group now planning a regimented future for us from succeeding in their wishes and designs?
By turning back, as far as present-day society will permit us, to crossroads democracy.
One great step can be taken by returning to the former philosophy of government grants, the philosophy and system under which such money as is sent to the people of the states should be spent, not by agents of the federal government, but by and through the state agencies under the general direction of Washington. This is the system formerly followed; it would break the direct connection between the bureaucrat and the people; it would build the local official in power and prestige; it would restore the wavering strength of that local self-government which is the essence of democracy; it would restore the democratic faith; it would help to revive that crossroads democracy which made this nation great.
This system could be put into use at once, without loss of efficiency, even during wartime. For instance, in the work of the ODT and of the OPA there is the urgent necessity for enforcement. There are enforcement officers under state, county, and city control everywhere, the duties of which have decreased, while the local revenues are greatly diminishing. By grants in aid, to be expended under the control of the state authorities, these decreasing revenues could be supplemented, the local law-enforcement agencies could be strengthened, the rules and regulations enforced, the essence of democracy preserved while the work still would be done. Will this system be followed, or will a great army of federal agents be recruited to duplicate the already existing and trained agencies? I am afraid you and I already know the answer.
Are the suggestion and plan impractical? Not at all. The pattern already exists, and was departed from only for reason of party and personal political aggrandizement.
What do we face if this procedure is not followed?
The retention of democracy requires the exercise of its functions. As an athlete becomes soft and flabby where his muscles are disused, so does the spirit of democracy where it is not practiced. Give us a few more years of the political pap-sucking which has bought us and paid for us in the past, a few more years of the mess-of-pottage form of government, and we will be fair spoil for the two-penny American Hitler whom the future will surely bring, the planner who plans our democratic privileges into oblivion. Let those of us who love democracy do a little planning too.
Lest I be misunderstood, let me say a few words more. Why bring up these things in time of war? Why not let sleeping dogs lie?
God knows there is nothing I would desire more. Men of my blood fought at Kings Mountain, in the Revolution, in the War of '61 to '65. I fought in the World War, my son is in uniform today. I say that it is idiotic, senseless, without excuse to do anything save to work and pray for victory. Yet as a trustee for my people, it is necessary to speak out and to continue so to do until these extraneous matters, productive of so much discord, are dropped, until the realization is forced on Washington that all else must be subordinated to the war. Remember that I am not responsible for the attack on our election laws, for the Fair Employment Practice Committee, for the Employment Service policy. I am not starting anything—on the contrary, I am praying with all my soul that those who are starting them will leave the southern people alone, in this time of dire national peril, to do our full part in the support of our sons in uniform. Not only are we praying—we are demanding and insisting on that obviously sane and sensible course.
In time of war, democracy ceases, and rightly so. No democracy with its creaking machinery, can survive unless during wartime its people are wise enough to surrender those very rights for which they fight. The soldier must obey his orders, the civilian his. The full power of the Nation must be at the command of its Chief.
We are at war. Your sons and mine are in uniform. They may die; they may already have suffered death. They may spend years in prison camps, lingering and desolate. All that we have, all that we cherish, is at stake. The Nation has the right to demand from us a loyalty unquestioning, absolute. It has the right to demand unwavering and cheerful obedience. It will have all these things from us, this I know.
And in return we have the unquestioned right to demand that there be no trickery, no chicanery, no changes in our form of government beyond those essential to the winning of the war. We have the right to demand that the planning at Washington envisage not only the return of the forms and substance of our democracy, but that it be returned to us unsullied, full of that vigor and strength which through the years produced the greatest good for the greatest number of people in any nation on this earth.