Our Responsibilities As Citizens


By HOWARD W. JACKSON, Mayor of Baltimore, Md.

Delivered at the Jackson Day Banquet, Baltimore, Maryland, January 9, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 264-265.

SINCE we last met to honor Andrew Jackson, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans and the founder of the Democratic Party, as we know it, our thinking and our way of life have undergone radical changes. Undoubtedly, before we meet again in 1944 (if conditions are such that we can), we shall have seen even greater changes whether the military issues of this global war are settled or not. As the United Nations bring the fight closer to the enemy we naturally turn our thoughts to the firing line and away from issues on the home front . . . although I believe Democrats like Andrew Jackson would have the good of the party in mind though the skies were falling. When Jackson was dying and the cause of the Democratic Party seemed hopeless in a certain section of the country, a friend came to Jackson and asked what he should do . . . whether he should run for office or let the election go to the Republicans by default. "Stand," said the old no-compromise fighter. "If there are only two Democrats in the country, let one run for the Legislature and the other vote for him!"

I believe there is no one within the sound of my voice who would not prefer to concentrate on the immediate job of winning the war. And rightly so! If there are those whose efforts and activities are still directed toward their own selfish interests, let somebody wake them from their sleep! Let someone tell them that unless they get behind the war effort with everything they have . . . there will no longer be any interests left for them! Winning the war is the most important job in our lives right now . . . the most important until we face the task of winning the Peace. Before we were attacked at Pearl Harbor we were a divided people. Since then we have united in singleness of purpose and unless we manage to keep that singleness of purpose after the last shot is fired, we will again see diversity of opinion and new bitternesses arise on the plans and policies which we must evolve to reshape a shattered world, and which may result in the errors of Versailles and may prevent the making of a lasting peace.

At this moment all our thoughts and energies ought to be given over to crushing the totalitarian threat. Hitler has said there are only two ways of life . . . the totalitarian and the Democratic. He has said that one or the other will have to break! Our job now is to show the totalitarian world that Democracy has no intention of breaking! Our job is to prove that not only is Democracy going to win . . . but that it deserves to win! We, here in America, are so situated geographically, that it is difficult for us to realize what modern warfare actually means. You and I have never been bombed out of our homes; we have never seen our women and children lying mangled and dead at our feet; we have never seen our peaceful roads clogged with weeping, starving refugees! We have never seen our skies canopied with any but friendly planes and God forbid that we shall ever see it! Because of our present security from the horrors of war, many of us have not the imagination to picture the tragedy that follows in the wake of war fought on home soil. If we could, somehow, bring home to the indifferent that realization we would see a far more efficient job on every side.

But as stark and ugly as the picture of modern warfare is, we must realize that actual physical combat is not the whole picture. This is not only a war of guns and planes and ships and tanks. It is much more complex than that. This time we must not only prove our superiority on the sea, under the sea, on the land and in the air, but we must prove our superiority socially, economically and spiritually. That is why, as much as we would like to devote all our thoughts to the battlefronts, we cannot turn away from the social, economic and spiritual problems at home. We cannot relax for a moment . . . for the simple reason that our fighting success stems from the competent handling of these problems on the home front. And, most assuredly, does our winning or losing the Peace depend on our method of handling these problems now and in the immediate future. The force of our contribution at the Peace conference table will be determined by our economic, social and spiritual strength.

When we do sit at that Conference table shall we find hate there? Shall we find prejudice? Shall we find greed on the part of any nation? Shall we have the understanding and shall we be prepared mentally and spiritually to cope with the problems presented? We were not prepared when war came. We were not prepared materially, mentally or spiritually. Since the issuance of the government's White Paper we have been more startled than ever to learn of the extent of our unpreparedness. At the Battle of New Orleans on January 8th, 1815, Andrew Jackson had his defense lines ready long in advance. He did not know when the enemy would strike . . . but he was ready. One of his men tells the story. "Not during these days did the General take a regular meal. Food was brought to him in the field. When his Aide would beg him to rest he would say . . . "No, sir! There's no knowing when or where those rascals will attack! They shall not find me unprepared!"

Old Hickory had a motley band of soldiers at New Orleans . . . of every station and nationality . . . negroes, Creoles, Indians, New Orleans volunteers, United States Regulars and Kentucky and Tennessee riflemen. He fought against seasoned and well-equipped soldiers, but Jackson and his men were prepared mentally to fight . . . they had the will to fight against odds and win!

We don't have to worry about our service men having the right mental attitude to win the War. Our problem is to get ourselves into the proper frame of mind at home! And the prescription for our indifference is a rebirth of spirit, a renewal of individual responsibility. If we continue to neglect our responsibilities as citizens, then we no longer deserve to live under a Democracy. Individual interest, responsibility and initiative is the very life blood of Democracy and too often in recent years we have let down our guard! Too often of late we have been indifferent to the laws and decisions made by our legislators.

Our government has become too strongly a government by men and commissions.

To wit; Without being too critical, the President recently asked for, and Governors are asking for, the right or authority to set aside all laws.

War may have saved free enterprise. Some in high placeswho formerly condemned our industrialists are now praising them for the job done on production.

Great social changes have come and will be necessary in the future, but such changes as are necessary for the economic and social security of our people can be made within the frame-work of the Constitution.

In a Democracy the burden of good or bad government rests on the people. If through neglect of their responsibilities their duties and their liberties are taken over by some other agency the fault lies with them. In a rapidly changing world there are difficult and new issues to be met at every turn. If the people themselves will not meet those issues there will always be a faction that will. If there are indications that government control is gaining unprecedented headway and is smothering the system of American free enterprise to the point of excessive control or possible extinction then the individual citizen can blame himself. The set-up for self government is here . . . it has been here since 1787! If there has been a gradual overlapping of the three branches of government as set up by the Constitution, then it is the fault of the American citizen who has failed, by lack of vigilance, to see that those lines are sharply and clearly drawn between the executive, the legislative and the judicial branches of Government.

One hundred and five years ago Andrew Jackson in his farewell speech warned the American people of a too strong Central Government. His advice is significant today. He said . . . and I quote:

"It is well-known that there have always been those amongst us who wish to enlarge the powers of the general government, and experience would seem to indicate that there is a tendency on the part of the government to over-step the boundaries marked out for it according to the Constitution. Its legitimate authority is abundantly sufficient for all the purposes for which it was created, and its powers being expressly enumerated there can be no justification for claiming anything beyond them. Every attempt to exercise power beyond the limits should be promptly and firmly opposed. For one evil example will lead to other measures still more mischievous and if the principle of constructive powers or supposed advantages, or temporary circumstances, shall ever be permitted to justify the assumption of a power not given by the Constitution, the general government will before long absorb all the powers of legislation and you will have in effect, but one consolidated government."

Ladies and gentlemen, one consolidated government means a total State. The total state is the Nazi form of government. That system means an end to individual rights and freedom! Our duty here at home is to see that the inalienable rights of the American people to govern themselves are held sacred. It is ironical that while we send millions of our finest men to battle, while we spend billions of dollars to fight a system that would take from us our Bill of Rights and all our freedoms, including the freedom of enterprise . . . there are those who would plunge us headlong into an American version of a system where the individual is subordinate to the State . . . where free enterprise is replaced by government operated or excessively controlled business and where the fundamental freedoms of the American people are strangled by bureaucracy! By freedom of enterprise we mean the right of every American in peace time to strike out for himself; to be on his own and build his economic home and business, taking risks that are necessary; and for his family and self and the community to profit by the rewards of his enterprise.

Individuals and nations cannot become strong and prosperous if thrift is discouraged. All debt must be paid out of future earnings.

By weakening the strong you do not strengthen the weak.

By tearing down big men you do not help small men.

If you destroy the rich or riches you do not help the poor.

By pulling down the man who pays wages you do not lift up the wage earner.

By inciting class hatred you do not further brotherhood.

The office boy does not become Superintendent, General Manager or eventual owner by hating his boss.

By taking the initiative from men and women you do not build their character and independence.

By doing for people what they should do for themselves you destroy their initiative and do not help them permanently.

Clear-thinking citizens who have held a finger to the wind, see which way it is blowing. Every day the ranks are swelling with those who foresee a planned end to American free enterprise and they are ready to do battle for its survival. Free enterprise is the system on which American Democracy was founded; the system that developed its natural resources and built a nation so powerful that it is the envy of the world. It is the system that has given freedom and opportunity to inventive genius, and to the individual initiative of the American people! It's the system that has unleashed individual energy and ingenuity which under another system would have been choked and killed!

Call it what you will . . . thrift system, profit system, free enterprise . . . it's the system that is winning the war for us now. American industry has done in one year what it took a one man, regimented government to do in nine years; what it took Japan twenty-five years to do and what it took heroically fighting Russia twenty years to accomplish! If we were working under the so-called "efficient" methods of dictatorship we would not be ready for years. We are ready now because independent American industrialists threw their resources behind the war effort. We are ready now because Labor, recognizing the unlimited opportunities of American free enterprise, rolled up its sleeves and pitched in. If this system has carried us through a century and a half of constant growth; if it is carrying us to Victory now, why can't it with benefit and dignity take its rightful place in a post-war world?

If we asked for free enterprise as the early Americans knew it in a comparatively simple society we should be wrong! If we asked for it as even we knew it some years ago we should still be wrong! American enterprise keeps pace with the advance of civilization! Our opponents tell us that free enterprise is outmoded in a complex world, but they fail to realize that free enterprise is the essence of progress. Because businessmen who operate under this system are free they can meet change with intelligence and speed, when it comes! Because they are free they are often ahead of many of us in foreseeing future demands.

What the American citizen asks is not an industrial mob rule under free enterprise but a system of free enterprise where the affairs of business, industry, Capital and Labor are wisely supervised by the government. Supervised but not operated and controlled! The forward looking citizen knows that some government control is not only desirable but necessary. He knows that the Constitution, itself, is a document of control.

When a tired, exhausted, hungry world lays down its arms, strength and supply must come from somewhere. Where, then, but from the nation best equipped to give it? The regimented system of Nazi Germany and Japan will have failed! Democracy and its system of free enterprise will have taken the field! The stronger system, therefore, will necessarily have to take over the rehabilitation of a ravaged, starving world.

War cannot be fought without regimentation . . . and every American worthy of the name gladly and proudly sacrifices to win that war. But he does it as a free man and not as an enslaved subject. We know that our small sacrifices of food, rubber, gas . . . that our temporary surrender of certain rights are small when we consider that this is a war of survival. We know that one more selfish mistake and we might not survive. But if we are to survive economically we must see to it that after the War is won, yes, even now, that the tax situation is handled differently. We must meet this issue with a determined citizenry which says, Taxes for War? Yes! Taxes for the legitimate operation of our government? Yes! Taxes for other than those things? NO! John Marshall said,"The power to tax is the power to destroy," and Andrew Jackson put it into a few well-chosen words . . . I quote: "Congress has no right under the Constitution to take money from the people unless it is required to execute some one of the specific powers entrusted to the government and if they raise more than is necessary for such purposes, it is an abuse of the power of taxation, unjust and oppressive."

When the war is over we shall want our rights and privileges back and I would remind you that they were returned to us in 1919.

In the meantime, we must become mentally prepared to use those rights and freedoms in building a new world . . . and in preserving what is best here at home. We shall have to be the source of supply for a poverty stricken world, but we, ourselves, must remain strong economically, socially and spiritually or we cannot give aid to those who cry out for it. They who thirst for new life must not find the American reservoir dry!

Several million of our fighting men are coming home to take off the uniforms of necessary war regimentation. They are coming back to put on civilian dress and with it they want their civilian rights . . . Our greatest service to them will be to see that those rights, including the right of free enterprise, are here for them, intact! That task will take courage. Theodore Roosevelt summed up our duties like this . . . I quote: "Let us therefore boldly face the life of strife, resolute to do our duty well and manfully; resolute to uphold righteousness by deed and by work; resolute to be both honest and brave, to serve high ideals, yet to use practical methods. Above all, let us not shrink from strife, moral or physical, within or without the Nation, provided we are certain the strife is justified; for it is only through strife, through hard and dangerous endeavor, that we shall ultimately win the goal of true national greatness."

What we are fighting for at home and abroad is what humanity has dreamed of and fought for since time began. The American Revolution brought that dream to reality in the Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution. That Constitution was put into effect by Washington, it was interpreted by Jefferson, it was practically applied by Jackson and magnificently preserved by Lincoln! In this dark hour of the nation's history, President Roosevelt, our Commander-in-Chief, has the responsibility of winning the War and of guaranteeing a continuance of our philosophy of government and a way of life that will insure the preservation and progress of this nation. In his effort to this end he is entitled to and must have our support. Our founding fathers visualized that way of life for us . . . let our vision and our efforts for posterity be no less!

A powerful Navy, Army and Air Force is defending Democracy oa foreign fronts and at our very borders. Let us, as responsible citizens, keep the vigil on the home front so that the American Way of Life shall be secure in the world of tomorrow!