How Much International Government Do We Want?



Delivered before the Society of Colonial Wars in the State of New Jersey, Princeton, N. J., May 5, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 495-499.

THE SOCIETY OF COLONIAL WARS is composed of men whose sturdy ancestors laid the foundations of our beloved Republic. To qualify as a member one must trace lineal descent from a person who served in the Colonial Military or Naval Forces or who held civil office in the Colonies. I do not know what claims were made by your distinguished president, Dale Dilworth, when he was admitted, but actually he can trace descent directly from Daniel Boone. I know, because I am one of his lucky duck? shooting pals in that vast domain over which he administers colonial government in Salem County.

"Dead Eye Dale", they call him down our way.

Your purposes, as expressed in your charter, are to "perpetuate those national characteristics by which alone the unity and liberty of our country have been secured and by which alone they can be maintained and preserved." What are those national characteristics by which alone unity and liberty can be preserved? What shall be the retain of those American traits to the world of tomorrow?

Let me put the question another way:

We seem to be generally agreed that our future fate is inextricably entwined with our relations to the rest of the world. We have established a national government which has worked. It has been broadly copied. It proceeds upon the principle of "liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable." Under it we have achieved a national prosperity which has enhanced human happiness beyond the dreams of our Colonial ancestors. But we are paying too high a price for the preservation of the peace of the world. If we do not find a solution of that problem too, we will at least bankrupt posterity—whatever else may happen.

How much then of international cooperation, organization or government do we want? What is there fn our Colonial experience which may throw light upon that problem?

This topic is peculiarly appropriate for consideration by this Society, whose constitution prohibits the discussion of any "party political question of the day"; because it transcends in importance the fleeting success or failure of any party.

Colonial Experiments in International Relations

First, may I suggest a word of caution against the lure of analogies? Some of our political prophets see in this history of the creation of our American federal system a precise parallel with what is to happen in the Family of Nations. There are lessons of vast value in that history, but they are serviceable lessons only if we appreciate, too, the points of divergence from international problems of the present.

Jealousies and Disputes

The American Colonies—like the nations today—had no particular interest in unity as a sentimental abstraction. They would have preferred individually to be let alone.

We shudder occasionally now at rumblings of discord among statesmen of Russia, Great Britain, China and the United States; but listen to the boys of old: Edward Rutledge of South Carolina, in a letter to John Jay dated June 29, 17761 said this of the Yankees of New England: "The force of their arms I hold exceeding cheap, but I confess I dread their over-ruling influence in Council. I dread their low cunning and those principles which men without character and without fortune in general possess, which are so captivating to the lower class of mankind."

No, there was no love lost between the South and New England during the Colonial period; and it was a quite mutual feeling, as appears from John Adams' letter of June 3, 1776 to Patrick Henry, in which he refers to theVirginians as2

"the dons, the bashaws, the grandees, the patricians, the sachems, the nabobs, call them by what name you please."

Many disputes and dissensions had long existed among the Colonies. New Jersey and New York, for example, had a boundary dispute which extended for 100 years. You will remember that the Duke of York's original grant included both New York and New Jersey. He sold the fairest portion of his farm in June, 1665 to Lord Berkley of Stratton and Sir George Carteret. The boundary was, by the deed, to extend from the "Northernmost branch" of the Delaware River "which is in 41 deg. 40 min. of Latitude and crosseth thence in a straight line to Hudson's River in 41 deg. of Latitude". That description was a bit vague. On July 25, 1719 commissioners appointed by the two colonies certified a point in the Delaware River from which the line was to run. New Jersey was willing to accept the decision but New York was not.

New Jersey, becoming a little annoyed by a 30 year delay, passed an Act on February 18, 1748 declaring that the boundary should be in accordance with what had been decided in 1719 if New York agreed to that; otherwise it should be whatever New Jersey might determine. New York protested and induced the Crown of England to intervene. Actually the Crown had previously approved the Act of New York under which the Commission in 1719 had fixed the point, but the Crown found a way around that and declared the New Jersey Act of 1748 to be invalid. New York asked to have the dispute referred to the Crown. The Lord Justices recommended the appointment of another Commission, whose expenses were to be borne equally by the two colonies. New Jersey offered to agree to that, too. New York delayed but finally, in 1767 a new Commission was selected and on October 7, 1769—104 years after the date of the deed—a final decision was rendered.

No, our Colonial unity and eventually our federal government were not born of any gushing affection among the Colonists. They were born of the necessities of maintaining a united front—first a military front and eventually stable government—against common foes.

The New England Confederation

Need for unity was recognized long before it was achieved. The New England Confederation, formed in 1643, called for the creation of a "perpetual league of friendship and amity, for offence and defence, mutual advice and succor . . . and for their own mutual safety and welfare".2a There were four colonies and 39 towns in that Confederation with a total population of about 24,000. Even in 1643 they were creating "perpetual" leagues!

There were other interesting phrases ok the Articles of the New England Confederation. At one pace the parties are referred to as the "United Colonies". Any wars in which the parties jointly engaged were to be just" wars whether offensive or defensive. If they were "just" ones the parties were to contribute soldiers, provisions and money in proportion to their male population and were to divide the spoils of war in the same manner. Commissioners of the Confederation were to determine whether they were "just" wars. If the Commissioners found that fault lay on one of the parties—even though the party had been invaded— then the other confederates were not to be saddled with the expense of an "unjust war".

The New England Colonies also agreed in the Confederation of 1643 that since the "justest war may be of dangerous consequences" none of them would "at any time hereafter begin, undertake or engage themselves, or this Confederation, or any part thereof, in any way whatsoever (sudden exigents with the necessary consequences thereof excepted . . . ) without the consent and agreement of the eight Commissioners, or at least six of them . . .

Control over domestic affairs was carefully reserved by the contracting parties. There was to be no "intermedling" by the Confederacy "with the Government of any of the Jurisdictions".

Penn's Proposal

Several other proposals for union of the Colonies followed the New England Confederation of 1643. William Penn in 1697 suggested a plan for union of all of the Colonies, t was to adjust differences among them, to decide quotas for common defence, and to provide methods for dealing with defaulting debtors who fled across Colonial borders.

The Quakers were interested in those defaulting debtors. You may remember the man who was asked what the Quakers believed in, and who replied "They believe in 6 per cent irredeemable ground rents"!

As a Quaker I can tell that story.

Penn's plan, anyway, did not get beyond the blue-print stage.

The Albany Plan

In 1754 an inter-colon ial conference was held at Albany, New York, composed of delegates from seven of the Colonies. It was called to consider measures of defense and security against the forces of France and methods of dealing with the Indian Tribes. Sentiment for forming a permanent union was strong at this conference. Benjamin Franklin was asked to prepare a draft plan. He did so and the delegates approved it on July 11, 1754.

The Albany plan, like the Articles of the New England Confederation, carefully protected the sovereign rights of the separate colonies. It was stated that the military and civil establishments in each colony were to remain "in their present state, the general Constitution notwithstanding".

The plan, though signed by the delegates at Albany in 1754, failed of ratification by the Colonies themselves, and was not approved by the British Crown.

The Declaration of Resolves

In 1774 the first Continental Congress was assembled to consider the growing tension with Great Britain. On October 14, 1774 the new Congress drafted a Declaration of Resolves in which it asserted certain rights and grievances. By April of the following year hostilities at Concord and Lexington had begun and although there was no formal agreement of union of the Colonies there was actually a functioning central organization for the conduct of their joint military operations.

Benjamin Franklin's Second Plan

Still another paper plan of union of the Colonies, also drafted by Benjamin Franklin, was submitted to the Continental Congress on July 21, 1775, nearly a year before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Even though hostilities had begun the plan did not contemplate eventual independence. It looked forward to reconciliation and a union under the Crown.

The second Franklin plan became the football of disagreements between the small colonies and the large colonies and it, too, failed of adoption.

The Declaration of Independence

On July 4, 1776 the Declaration of Independence from the Crown was adopted.

James Monroe in analyzing the legal effect of the Declaration of Independence emphasizes the fact that sovereignty passed from the British Crown directly to the people, and that it passed not to the people of all of the colonies in the aggregate, but to the people of each of the thirteen distinct communities.3

The ideas were not new in concept, but the Continental Congress was the first parliament, legislature, or congress of modern times which proclaimed those doctrines, and the United States was the first country which ever put them into effect in the form in which they were stated.

The Articles of Confederation

During the last half of 1776 and until November 1777 Congress was debating periodically the subject of a document which would express formally the association of the colonies which by that time was actually functioning. Those debates were subordinated to the major problem of winning the war. November 15, 1777 the Articles of Confederation were proved by the Congress and were circulated to the States. Nearly 4 years passed before their approval by the 13 states was completed.

Those Articles of Confederation, as you know, provided only for a loose diplomatic league of separate states. The states had varying numbers of representatives in Congress, but they voted only as states and each state had preciseM the same vote. The responsibility for settling disputes between the states was placed in Congress instead of in a Supreme Court. And there was no power within the Confederation itself to raise any money. That was left to contributions to be made by the several state governments.

Union of Sovereign States under the Constitution

Financial and other difficulties came perilously near to wrecking the confederation. Fortunately no actual break-up occurred during the immediate post-war years.

When the Constitutional Convention met in 1787 it was nip and tuck whether a completely new constitutional document would be constructed or whether the delegates would try merely to patch up the old Articles of Confederation. New Jersey,, we must admit, favored the latter course. Fortunately the prevailing view was otherwise, and we emerged with that extraordinary produce described by Mr. Gladstone as the "most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man". It is now the oldest written Constitution in operation, and has been the model for most of the written Constitutions of the world.

Present Problems of International Government

From this rough survey of Colonial experiments I hasten to pass on to the international situation in which we have the thrill of living in our generation.

Outside of Germany I have rarely had the misfortune to meet anyone who, in general, was not in favor of peace. The Germans have a different philosophy. They like war. They think it a high and ennobling experience.

Most of us do not. We want to get rid of it or at least to get it under control. We do not expect to see the day when there will be no violence, no crime, or no litigation. We have not achieved that even in New Jersey. But we do try to keep them under control through law and officers of the law chosen by the community.

Yes, we want peace. But I have sometimes wondered whether peace, like Christianity, has not suffered a little from having had too many missionaries. There are as many peace plans in this country today as there are dinner jackets. One feels a little awkward if he doesn't have one.

Perhaps we should be grateful, however, both for the Christian missionaries and also for the multitude of aspirants for the tasks of statesmanship which lie ahead.

Why Did the League of Nations Fail to Keep the Peace?

Well, if the nations must cooperate, why did not the scheme of the League of Nations fill the bill?

Many replies have been given to that question. I am going to suggest a few which seem to me to be exposed by our Colonial experience. But before doing that it is important to get rid of one or two deeply rooted misconceptions of the facts of history:

In the first place, the American Delegation at Paris in 1919 was not obliged to overcome opposition to the general idea of a League of Nations.

I realize that I am speaking in the University town which is associated with that great American President who led our delegation at the Versailles Conference. His place in history is secure. I was proud to serve under him at that Conference in a very minor position. But it is of tremendous importance that we know the facts. The picture which some historians have drawn of Wilson forcing a League of Nations upon recalcitrant and unwilling delegations from other parts of the world, has no factual basis. Not only was there no serious opposition, but there were many delegations who sought to create a much closer and more effective union of the nations, with teeth in it and force behind it.

In the second place, neither our Senate nor our people have ever renounced the principle of world organization. To place the blame for the inadequacy of the Covenant upon fear that public opinion at home would not support a more promising constitutional structure, is equally unfair. One of the reasons, at least, why the League failed of ultimate popular support here was because it did not follow the American plan of government. It contained pitfalls which our own colonial experience had long ago disclosed.

The New York Herald Tribune on March 1, 1919, criticized the Covenant—not because it went too far, but on the ground that the structure which it proposed would be too weak to do the job. There are people in our country who attribute the present war to our failure to join the League of Nations. Some of our Allies are convinced that future collaboration of the United States in international affairs is dependent upon the outcome of our next national election.

Such views reflect neither facts nor the temper of the American people. They are dangerous to the objectives which we all seek. Even the imperfect document which the Versailles Conference produced would probably have been accepted here if the question of ratification had not become involved in personal feuds. When the Treaty was laid before the United States Senate on July 10, 1919 there were 75 to 80 out of 96 members who would probably have voted for ratification if the sharp alternative of acceptance or rejection had been presented. Ratification with mild reservations was defeated by votes—not of the enemies—but the friends of the treaty. They thought that by voting against slight changes they could force the precise text without compromise. Even after that first defeat, the Senate at once voted by more than two to one (63-30) to reconsider the matter.

Similarly, although the United States has never ratified the Statute of the Permanent Court of International Justice, the Senate in 1926 under a Republican President voted 78 to 17 in favor of it with minor modifications, and in 1935 under a Democratic President it again voted in favor of it by 52 to 36.

Let us not waste time in trying to fix blame on personalities for what is over the dam. We must, however—if we are to do better this time—be specific in considering how the League plan can be improved.

I do not agree with those who say that the plan was all right and that all it lacked was support from the United States. I think the plan would have fallen with or without our support.

American Ambitions

What then are the prevailing ambitions of the American people in international affairs? What kind of organs of world government do we think would be appropriate and sufficient?

Let us go back again in history and get a perspective on it.

We founded in this hemisphere in 1789 a government for "free and independent States"—a government "of the people, for the people and by the people" whose success, as Sir Henry Sumner Maine said,3a "has blinded men to its novelty". Government as we believe in it, should always be the servant and not the master of the people. They alone are sovereign. We want enough government—whether it be city, state, national or international—to preserve order, to achieve justice in the dealings of men, and to further the common welfare in matters of general public interest. Most of us want no more.

Have we been laggards in a willingness to apply those principles to the relations of nations?

On the contrary we have been pioneers. For a century and a half we led the world in promoting the settlement of international disputes through the creation of Arbitral Tribunals. In 1887 it was James G. Blaine, a Secretary of State of the United States, who summoned the 21 nations of North, South and Central America to form the Pan American Union. In 1897 and 1904 it was Joseph Choate and Elihu Root and James Brown Scott who led the way at the Hague Conferences toward the creation of a system of Permanent International Courts.

While the last war was still raging another great American, William Howard Taft, was active in advocating a League to Enforce Peace with sufficient power actually to accomplish its purposes.

The problems confronting some 70 sovereign nations are different both in kind and size from the problems of the American Colonies, but the American Colonies had tested various schemes and had located few booby-traps. The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 tumbled headlong into some of those traps.

First—It set up a League of diplomats only.

A diplomat is a cautious creature who was human before he became haunted with his responsibilities.

We had a league of diplomats under our Articles of Confederation of 1777 and they did not get along so well. If there is to be an international Assembly or Council are we sure that we want it to be composed only of Ambassadors and Foreign Office people? With all of the faults of democracy, might it not be desirable to introduce a few principles of representative government into such important organs?

Certainly the latter plan contains far less political dynamite than to have the delegates speak always officially on behalf of governments. If all of our Senators' statements require approval of the legislatures of their own States, our Union would long ago have been wrecked in a sea of diplomatic crises.

Proposals to have the Assembly of the League of Nations elected partially by popular vote were offered at Paris in 1919, hut the British and American delegates would have none of them.

Second—The League provided a wrong way of settling international disputes.

The League plan of settling disputes was to throw most of them—all of the really serious ones—into the lap of the Council, for diplomatic discussion. Some of the present plans—even the experts' plans—propose to do that again after this war.

The finest piece of sidestepping which our colonial forefathers did was the method which they hit upon in 1787 for dealing with disputes between the States. The old Articles of Confederation had saddled an overall Assembly with the settlement of state quarrels. The Articles had said that "The United States in Congress assembled shall ... be the last resort on appeal in all disputes . . . between two or more States . . ."

In its few turbulent years the Continental Congress experienced almost as much trouble with that scheme as did the Council of the League of Nations under the parallel clause in the Covenant (Article 15) which says that "any dispute likely to lead to a rupture' which is not submitted to arbitration is to be submitted 'to the Council'." The Continental Congress found itself involved in a delicate dispute between Pennsylvania and Connecticut, another between Massachusetts and New York, another between South Carolina and Georgia, another between New Hampshire and Vermont, another between New York and Vermont, another between Massachusetts and Vermont. Three of those disputes involved a secret treaty between New York and New Hampshire. They ended in a revolt of the "Green Mountain boys", a near civil war, and the ultimate necessity of recognizing a new state—the State of Vermont.

It was important, of course, to have a method of settling inter-colonial disputes. But Congress was not the place to dump them. Nor is the Council of the League of Nations the place for the settlement of international controversies. Such disputes should be decided on the basis of facts and law—not upon political expediency and manipulation.

With the adoption of our Constitution the function of dealing with interstate disputes was taken out of Congress and placed in the Supreme Court. Congress has had plenty to do in dealing with overall policies, but it has been relieved of embarrassing questions of the relations of State governments, which long ago would have wrecked our Union.

Third—No actual power was conferred on the Assembly and Council.

The diplomatic representatives in the League Council and Assembly could not speak even with any final authority for the governments which they represented. Any nation which liked their proposals could approve them. Any nation which did not, could go its own way. That situation is inherent where the representatives speak exclusively for governments, because each government has its own constitutional manner in which it can become bound.

But how far would we get in any other sort of government with a plan of that kind ? Suppose every law of Congress had to be approved by every state legislature in order to be effective/in that State? Or suppose as citizens of New Jersey we could decide in each instance whether or not we like a law and choose to be bound by it?

If the law is not a good one for the general public it ought not to be passed. If it is, then it should govern all.

Fourth—Such "teeth" as the League had were the wrong kind.

Perhaps we might say that the League of Nations had a set of false teeth.

Its plan of "putting teeth" into international engagements was idt everybody—law abiding people as well as outlaws— to abolish armaments.

So long as there is general public danger of outlaw action, none of the principal nations of the world has any sincere intention of disarming, so why sanctimoniously profess it? Is there any prohibition upon the maintenance of armaments in the Union of the United States of America ? Precisely to the contrary, the second amendment to the Constitution ofthe United States says that "a well regulated Militia, being a necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the o people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed".

The League Covenant did, however, set up two schemes which were designed to act as teeth. The plan of economic sanctions was un-American and did not work. Our embargo laws of recent years were as unpopular as they had been 125 years before—and they were equally ineffectual.

The scheme of military sanctions set forth in Article X of the Covenant was another booby trap which our colonial forefathers had dodged a century and a quarter earlier. On May 29, 1787 at our Constitutional Convention the State of Virginia, led by Edmund Randolph, offered a plan for the insertion of a clause in the Constitution authorizing Congress "to call forth the force of the Union against any member of the Union failing to fulfill its duty under the Articles thereof". Alexander Hamilton, though the staunchest of supporters of the Union, opposed a provision for coercing a sovereign State by force, except in the case of actual rebellion. Hamilton's argument ran thus:4

"A certain portion of military force is absolutely necessary in large communities. But . . . force . . . exerted on the states collectively . . . amounts to a war between the parties . . . the confusion will increase, and a dissolution of the Union ensue."

James Madison—probably the ablest mind in the Constitutional Convention of 1787—changed his mind while the debates progressed. He had originally drafted the Virginia plan which Randolph introduced, but he became convinced that the scheme would not work in practice. What was to be done then?

"Nothing", said Hamilton, "but to enable the national laws to operate on individuals, in the same manner as those of the States do. That is the true reasoning on the subject, Sir".5

Hamilton's and Madison's views prevailed. To this day, powerful as has grown the National Government, it still has no super-sovereign right to order the States to do its bidding. There is no power in Congress or the President or in any federal court, sheriff, or army to compel any State, as such, to obey an Act of Congress or an administrative order of the President or a judgment of any federal court.

In mentioning this I disassociate myself from those who distinguish between "good" and "bad" Germans in the present conflict. Germany and the German people—Japan and Italy, too—are rebels against the entire International Community. They are rebels against the laws of God himself. Germany is an habitual offender, and must be dealt with as such. But though force must be applied with firmness to outlaws, we should avoid exposing the teeth of any international organization repulsively to friendly nations. They should not be snarling teeth, with a constant written threat of war against our friendly neighbors for any breach of any international engagement. The question is not bedded in morals. It is bedded in practical politics.

Fifth—Finally, the League Covenant contained no "Bill of Rights".

It failed to include any statement of what sovereign rights were to remain in the separate nations and people of the world.

Not even the Articles of Confederation, nor Dr. Franklin's plans for colonial unity, nor the New England Articles of Confederation of 1643 was guilty of that omission. The Bill of Rights set forth in the first ten amendments to our Constitution are among the most cherished possessions of our people. They are the bulwarks of American liberty. And if you will examine the 65 written constitutional documents of the principal sovereign nations of the world you will hardly find one which does not contain similar safeguards. If they are important within a nation, they are doubly important in an association of nations.


You, descendants of colonial founders of this nation, have created a Society with beacon lights which you have named "unity and liberty". You whose forebears died for liberty and whose sons are fighting for it today have, perhaps, a special duty to tell the sorrowed world the secret of America's happiness.

Liberty our forefathers cradled. Union they wrought. If we hold either of those precious heritages lightly we shall dash the hopes of the down-trodden, shame ourselves, and enslave our children. They can—they must be preserved. -

1 See The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, H. P. Johnston, Vol. I, p. 67.

2 The Works of John Adams, C. F. Adams, Vol IX, p. 387.

2a  Records of the Colony or Jurisdiction of New Haven from May 1653 to the Union, Charles J. Hoadly, ed. 1858, p. 562.

3 The Writings of James Monroe, Stainslaus Murray Mahilton, 1902, Vol. 6, p. 224.

3a Popular Government, Maine, 1886, pp. 127, 128.

4 Documentary History, Vol. Ill, p. 141; Scott, p. 204.

5 Elliot, Debates in the Federal Convention, Vol. II, pp. 232, 233.