Something to Tie To
"LET US NOT ABANDON OUR IDEALS OR OUR HONOR"
By PEIRSON M. HALL, Judge of the United States District Court
Delivered at the Businessmen's Dinner of the Eagle Rock Post No. 276, American Legion,Los Angeles, Cal., December 5, 1944
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 213-217.
MOST of you who are here tonight, recall November 11th, 1918, the day of the last Armistice. There was a tremendous release of tension. We had won the war to make the world safe for Democracy. Now we could go about the business of getting our boys home and return to the life we had lived before. That was not a long war for us. While the mobilization which occurred then was not as intense as it is now, nevertheless, there pervaded a vivid and powerful sense of unity in the country. The source of that unity was the resolve to win the war and conviction that it was the war which would end all wars. To this end, Woodrow Wilson, one of the most profound intellects, with one of the greatest visions which has ever marched across the stage of the world, returned to the United States with his League of Nations. But somehow or another the matter seemed not to catch on. Even though leaders in all parties of all political faiths, and of all walks of life supported it. The country in the meantime had lost that something, which tied them together; the great emotional thrust which the war provided was gone. The will of the people had become dulled and had begun to restrict our vision. The idea which took hold was that, after all, it was a realistic world, and why bother with ideals, or national honor; why bother with Europe and her quarrels. It was none of our affair. Let us return to normalcy. And under that slogan, Harding was elected president. The people returned to what they thought was normalcy, but in the meantime, changes had occurred and normalcy was not normalcy. True there was a great increase in Business, building, manufacturing, development of new products, building of millions of dollars in roads, all of the things that go to show a material gain. This continued rather steadily for nine years. But during that period, and almost from the day the armistice was signed, people of America began to lose something. It became the fashion and the style to ridicule ideals, not only ideals in Government, but ideals in private individual life. Honor and loyalty were traps which the munitions makersused to make suckers of us. Scavengers began to dig up scandal about the great men of our past: if the facts were not there, they made them, and who cared. Floods of material heaped ridicule on all of our old faiths and precepts. Skepticism not only supplanted faith, but closed the door to inquiry. Churches began to lose attendance. The idea that the Communists proposed, that religion was the opium of the people, began to take hold here, and was repeated oft and vigorously. Realism was the word. We must be realists. Do what you have to in order to "get by." But be sure to "get yours" while the getting is good. After all, Democracy, so the scornful ones said, was merely another scheme for enslaving people. College professors and teachers took up the cry. When the collapse came in 1929, in our then material gains, the public spirit got worse. More and more people began to abandon not only their belief that there were ideals worth living and sacrificing for in peace as well as war, but to heap ridicule upon all of the instruments and agencies which had made this a great nation of free people. Unemployment set in. Farmers could not sell their crops. Industries went broke by the thousands. We were producing too much. We must curtail. And though there were millions of people in this country, who could well use the food, food was burned, pigs were killed, cattle was destroyed, fruit and oranges were deliberately permitted to rot, wheat was plowed under. We must be realistic about this thing. There was just too much of everything, which flooded the markets and drove the prices down, and when the prices were down the realists said that wages could not be paid and that more unemployment would result, etc. You know the familiar talk, I need not repeat it here.
All of this time a bewilderment was possessing America—a confusion of ideas. Epics, Utopians, Townsend Plans and others are not to be condemned, because they were the efforts not only of people who were hungry physically, but people who hungered for something to tie to. Their fundamental philosophies of life had been shaken. Truths which they believed, were dulled and destroyed by ridicule and scorn. One began to wonder if a man of honor had ever really lived. Colleges and schools even left off the teaching of American history. I think the figure was reduced to probably 10% of the colleges in the United States which required the teaching of American history. Everywhere people were floundering.
Efforts of little groups here and there to pull themselves up by their own boot straps were derided and mocked. The tendency which had begun some years before developed with astonishing rapidity. That tendency was to shrink from individual effort and blame just the Government, Local, State and National. The more we blamed the Government, the more we had to depend upon the Government to regulate our lives. As a result innumerable laws have found their way upon the statute books of the State and the Nation, which neither solve the difficulties nor are capable of enforcement.
The truth is that during that period from the Armistice in 1918 until you might almost say December 7th, 1941, the ridicule of idealism, the derision of honor, mockery of religion, the scoffing at our own historical traditions, created such a skepticism and doubt that people were afraid to be self-confident; they actually lost faith in themselves. They had lost something to tie to.
The realists had overlooked one thing, that is, the reality of the human spirit—the truth that when the individual human spirit is aroused it receives from some infinite source, which is as real as the table around which we gather, a strength and power and wisdom which no one has ever been able to define.
Daniel Webster said 110 years ago "God grants liberty only to those who love it, and are always ready to guard and defend it." But what was the state of our public mind in 1939?
Upon the advent of Germany's invasion in Poland and the declaration of war upon Germany by England and by France, Germany indicated her intentions that there should not be freedom of the seas, but that she would sink all ships by submarine which should attempt to give relief, whether arms, munitions, food, medical supplies or what not to those whom she considered her enemies. In answer to that, this nation, the richest and most powerful nation on the face of the earth, backed down before that threat, and with public approval—I confess I was one who approved, launched our famed "Neutrality Law" with its "Cash and Carry" provisions, which in effect said, we surrender freedom of the seas, our right and our liberty to choose with whom we shall deal; but if you come to our shores with your boats, and undertake the risk to yourselves, we will sell you what you want. That was no doubt the part of wisdom at the time. But the point I make is that we had lost our spirit and our concepts of honor, or we would never have found ourselves in a condition where it was the better part of wisdom to so tamely surrender our national honor as a sovereign nation, even before our neutral rights were violated.
In fact, it took the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor to make us. realize that individual spirit and will and determination and honor and sacrifice are the most important parts of any realistic philosophy.
No one is a. greater realist than the man who is about to face death and knows it. Let the so-called realists explain to us why such a large percentage of men in the Armed Forces who have never been religious, in seeking something to tie to, have sought religion.
I am not advocating that religion is the only answer, but it does demonstrate that man cannot live by bread alone. Nor can he live by force alone.
Now, in this war, the thing which ties us together and sustains our unity, is the earnest individual resolve, that come what may, we shall win the war. I, like you, read with a great deal of interest, stories that come from the fighting men in our forces that are scattered over the entire face of the earth, as to what they want when the war is aver. They want then to come back to normalcy. They want to come back to the world they knew before they left. Will they come, back with the same disgust for war as you did in 1919 and 1920? Will they come back, many of them with the same profound conviction that what happens in Abyssinia, Ethiopia, or the Burmese jungle, on distant islands or the frozen tundra cannot affect our lives. The millions of people now engaged in industry who are looking forward to the time when they may quit their jobs without being unpatriotic are looking forward to what? The same lives they knew. But they will not find them.
Let us project ourselves for a moment, if we can, into that era of the future. I don't know when it will occur. When it does come it will bring with it a release from that deep and unifying power which ties us together now in the common cause of war.
Then will come the really trying period.
The world will not be the same world as before at all. Millions of young men in every land will have died. The countries will have "lost their seed" as Churchill said. Families will be separated and destroyed. Businesses andtitles will be impossible to straighten out. The searing results of brutality and inhuman treatment, will everywhere be present and will, I am afraid, produce a deep-seated desire for revenge and a burning and rebellious hate in the minds of most of the world's people. Europe, with three hundred million people will, at its best, be a seething turmoil. Look at each of the liberated countries: not one, but what is not only fighting the common enemy at the front, but is also fighting an actual or incipient revolution from within. Many nations will turn, as it was just announced in Yugo-Slavia, to Socialism; nationalization of all industries and farms. Heaven alone knows the problems that Germany itself will present. It is possible that Communism may dominate China. It may dominate India, it may dominate the Balkans and in fact it may dominate all of Europe. Then what effect will that have upon us. Then again, doubt and skepticism will find fertile seeds in America. It will be argued that in order to stand among the world and compete with a world of nations, many of which will be totalitarian in ownership of property and control of people's lives and working and living habits, we must become like them. Some voice will be raised, I hope, that nationalization of all property in Central Europe, is just an exchange of one group of owners for another group of owners, because they have never known liberty. Others frill assert, I hope that our demonstration in this war of the productive capacity of a free people will prove our ability as a nation to meet the competition of any group of people, under any totalitarian system. But in any event the impact of all these things upon the consciousness of America, which will then be without the unifying cause of war, is bound to create confusion, doubt, and skepticism. Then, if ever, we must indeed search our souls for something to tie to. Then there will be war upon the things that make freedom possible.
No matter what economic or governmental change there comes about in the world, it is still going to be a world that is populated by human beings. And we are going to be pretty much the same human being that we have always been.
Someone once said that the purpose of recording history was to teach wisdom; to let the newer generation have the benefit of the older generations mistakes and to receive inspiration from the solutions of their troubles.
So let us look at history. Instead of other histories, let us look at our own and see if we cannot find in it, that, something to tie to. I believe we can.
Colonization first occurred in South America, and in the islands of the Caribbean. They were flourishing communities long before any of the colonies on the North American continent made themselves felt or became of great significance or consequence to Europe or the world. One is lead to wonder why, with their head start in those islands and on the shores of South America, the colonies of this continent surpassed and survived them. I make no pretense at any complete analysis, but one thing strikes me—that there was an essential difference in purpose between the colonists of South America and the Caribbean islands, and the colonists of North America, whether you consider the English colonies of Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut, Delaware, and Virginia, or the Dutch colonies of New York and New Jersey, or the French in the South. That essential difference is in the fact that those who settled on the shores of North America, even though the motive of the ones who financed them was to secure wealth and greater riches, were nevertheless imbued with a zeal to secure individual liberty and freedom and self government. While it is true that much intolerance and much injustice pervaded many of the colonies, nevertheless the essential and dominate theme was self-government.
These colonies on the North American shores were in existence almost a hundred and fifty years before the war of the Revolution. The trials and errors of government which they went through, as well as the tyrannies and oppressions by their governments at home, made them the training ground of liberty.
Individual sovereignty of each colony and mutual protection by compact made its appearance a hundred and thirty years before the Declaration of Independence, or the formation of the first Continental Congress.
In 1643 the New England Confederacy was formed by the Colonies of Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven. It remained in existence for forty years. Subsequently a Congress of Governors and Commissioners from these and other Colonies was occasionally held. These began shortly after the year 1700. The most significant one occurred in the year 1754, attended by Benjamin Franklin, who said "Those who give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." Eleven years later a congress of delegates from nine of the Colonies assembled in New York, after the imposition of the Stamp Tax, and declared their right to be free. Following this Congress, by nine years, there was created the Continental Congress at Philadelphia, having its inception in a town meeting of the people of Providence, Rhode Island, supported almost immediately in communities as widely separated as Massachusetts and Virginia. Each colony chose its own method of selecting delegates. All of the Colonies were represented except Georgia.
It may be truly said, of the Continental Congress of 1774, that this convention of representatives was spontaneously chosen by the people acting in their primary sovereign capacity without the intervention of any functionaries, either armed political parties who suppressed or "liquidated" opponents, or government agents. This Congress continued as the Congress of the Revolution, and until the adoption of the Confederation Articles in 1781. This was the Congress which authorized and declared the Declaration of Independence.
We should now pause for a moment and examine some of the highlights of the conditions which existed among the Thirteen States at the time of the calling of the Constitutional Convention. It will help us to minimize some of our own problems of this day. To do this it is necessary to see the country at the conclusion of the Revolution.
Beginning then, at the end of the Revolution, we find New York occupied by an army of 30,000. Equivalent to or in excess of the entire civil population, most of the sea-coast towns of the United States were occupied by the enemy—much in the same fashion that Japan now occupies the seacoast towns of China; the enemy had engaged in indiscriminate plundering, sacking, and burning of many of the seacoast villages and countryside from Maine to the Carolinas. Crops, animals, and food supplies had been confiscated or destroyed. The whole coastal region of South Carolina had been burned. They had fought a war not against a distant enemy—but against an invader. An invader with a large segment of public sentiment—the 5th columnists of that day—supporting and assisting him. In New York alone the British recruited an army of almost 25,000.
Only fifteen men remained to transact the business of the Continental Congress which had issued almost half a billion dollars in paper currency, and none of it was anygood. The Continental Armies had returned to their homes penniless and ragged, to be faced with debt and ridicule.
Between the time of the conclusion of the Revolution and the meeting of the first congress in March, 1789, in New York City, the situation had not improved. In fact it had got worse. Washington, reputed to be one of the richest men in the country, had to borrow 600 pounds for the journey to New York to assume the office of president. Shay's rebellion had found its genesis in the effort to prevent the courts from sitting, in order that no more judgments for debt might be rendered. There were only three banks functioning in the country, and their paper was of limited and local circulation. Each of the states was confronted with large unfunded debts. The Union, operating under the Articles of Confederation, not only had no credit, but the paper money issued was of less than no value. Credit was exchanged between New York and Philadelphia by way of London. The only coinage was the copper cent. There was no industries; no public or private financing to encourage the ambitious or the hopeful. Commerce was at a standstill. There was no mining—no massive steel or iron or aluminum, or magnesium or coal or automobile or oil or chemical industries.
The Government was without arms or munitions: and there were no factories to make them. The army had diminished to a total of 672 officers and men and there was no navy. Its last ship had been dismantled in 1783. Europe with its armies, its population and its resources stood within less travel time from New York than from New York to Richmond. London was a city thirty times the size of New York which then had a population of 30,000, about the size of Southgate. There were only six cities in the country in excess of 8,000 population—Philadelphia, the metropolis with 45,000 followed in turn by New York, Boston, Charleston, Baltimore, and Salem. Europe not only had no confidence in or enthusiasm for, the new government, but with Florida and the Mississippi Valley possessed by Spain, the countries of Europe were encouraging the depredations of hordes of Indians against the Colonies.
There was no money in the Federal Treasury, and if there had been any taxes, there was no machinery for collecting them. There was no judiciary, no court system, and no means of enforcing a federal law.
Almost every other new government in history, whether started as a result of a revolution or by conquest, has had the advantage of calling on professional functionaries and clerks to administer the government. But here there were none. There was probably a total of a dozen government employees, but they had not been paid and there was no money to pay them. Vermont had been treating with London for recognition as an independent state. A secession movement was gaining headway in the West. The President of Congress had sounded out Prince Henry of Prussia whether he would accept an American throne.
There was no backing of any organized public opinion; there was no method for quick dissemination of government policy; there were no press conferences, no front porch speeches, no radios, no commentators, no fireside chats.
There was no tradition, and no precedent to guide or warn them. In searching history for examples to support the arguments in favor of the Constitution, the authors of the Federalist were compelled to reach back 2,000 years to the Aachean League and Lycean Confederacy, Greek Democracies, for government structures from which to draw examples.
Most of the States had adopted their constitutions. They were jealous of their prerogatives as newly created nations. Upon inquiry, a person would not respond that he was citizen of the United States, but would reply that he was a citizen of Pennsylvania, of New York, of Massachusetts etc Threats of armed conflict were brewing, especially over the vast areas of new land which lay to the West There was no authority to carry out treaties that had been made with England and France. Generally, there was disorder, confusion, debt, despair, and lawlessness.
In this setting the convention met in Philadelphia and proposed the Constitution of the United States.
It must be kept in mind that the Constitution, as formed was a new government. Not new in the sense of establishing new rulers, but new in the sense of establishing new fundamental philosophies and in "creating new machinery and new forms whereby people could live together in freedom and in peace. I wish that it might be said that the history of mankind was the history of the search for freedom and for truth. But that is not so. Aggression, oppression, and tyranny march too boldly across too many pages of human history. But those tyrannies and aggressions furnished examples which were to be avoided by those delegated in Philadelphia to keeping a rendezvous with destiny, James Madison, although trained for the Ministry, had, as if by Divine guidance, spent his entire time for the eleven years previous to the Constitutional Convention in a deep and thorough study of the theory, form, structure, and course of the governments of previous history. He is sometimes called the architect of the Constitution. It is safe to say, that with his talents and the many others oi the convention which were comparable, that every form of government, which had been known, was examined. Communism, Fascism, Nazism, under different names, and in different dress had already run a destructive course in history. They were too primitive and tyrannical and cruel for a free people. Absolutism, whether vested in an individual under the divine rights of kings, or vested in a class, howsoever the class was chosen, and under whatsoever shibboleth the people were corrupted and enslaved, had alike proven their ultimate consequence to be tyranny and slavery, sustained finally by force.
In reading the Constitution, one is struck with the strength and simplicity of its language. Notice the absence of any legalistic or long or hard or difficult words. Any person with the most meager common school education can read and understand it. No one can read it through thoughtfully and not be inspired by its lofty cadences. For a moral uplift, I recommend that before another day goes by you seek the comfort which can be found by reading its entire text clear through, to and including the first ten amendments of the Bill of Rights.
In reading it, notice, if you will, the absence of harsh words such as sovereign, ruler, subject, and the like.
"We the people" is the ordaining clause of the constitution.
But still, the constitution of the convention did not measure up to the concepts of the Declaration of Independence, which declared these truths to be self-evident: "That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." And so when the first Congress met, even in the face of the overwhelming necessity for a Union with a central government of power, and undismayed by delay or threats Congress on the 25th day of September, 1789, four days before the close of its first session, when there was still no money in the treasury, and no scheme or means devisedfor creating any national credit, nevertheless made their choice and proposed to the various States the resolution containing 12 amendments, deliberately limiting their future powers. The last 10 of those amendments were approved by the States and have become our Bill of Rights.
In the previous 25 years there had been great and important moments and events in American history. But certainly none of that exceeded in influence upon mankind, the Act of Congress in proposing and of the States in adopting the Bill of Rights: thereby Congress and the people chose to place principle above power as a fundamental precept: If being free instead of being secure meant war—they chose to be free; they were not afraid of war.
What pulled these men through those trying periods? What were the unifying things which in spite of all their troubles produced this instrument which has been called the most wonderful document ever stricken from the hand of man? What did they have to tie to? In all humility I suggest that the thing to which they tied to was a grand and prevailing concept of the majesty of the individual human spirit.
James Wilson who migrated to this country in early life from Scotland, was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. He was one of the delegates at the Constitutional Convention and signed that document. He became one of the judges of the Supreme Court. At almost the first session of that court, one of the great principles at stake became involved in a series of law suits. Some comments from the opinion of Justice Wilson in that case are timely.
He said "The sovereign (under the constitution) when traced to his source, must be found in the man" * * * States and Governments were made for man; * * * "man fearfully and wonderfully made, is the workmanship of his perfect Creator: a State; useful and valuable as the contrivance is, is still the inferior contrivance of man; and from his native dignity derives all its acquired importance.
That concept recognizes essential individual human dignity.
One fundamental concept may be found in the word "Citizen."
The word "Citizen" is a word of strictly American origin. True its syllables and letters are derived from the Latin. But as used by the Romans, it meant that a person was an inhabitant of Rome. With the founding of this country, a new concept in government was established. The word "Subject" during the revolution days and later was the word almost universally used throughout the world. But that word carried the idea of servility, of lack of freedom, of personal power in a rule and it could not be used to describe free men.
In its concept the Constitution and Bill of Rights recognizes that the touch of the infinite within each individual whether citizen or not, which is called conscience, is the greatest force for justice and right, which has been discovered by mankind. In its concept it recognizes that the love of liberty which is and has been ours for more than 150 years is the greatest force in this world for courage, sacrifice, and effort, wherever and whenever liberty is threatened; in its concept, no official has any personal powers, he has only official power, that is, these that are granted to him by the law; in its concept it takes heed of the historians warning, that "In Democracy, men must love equality; they must respect the rights of their fellow men; they must labor for the public without hope of profit; they must reject every attempt to create a personal dependence; in its concept, liberty under the law is the greatest guarantee of security; in its concept the deliberate forces must prevail over the arbitrary; in its concept character is placed above cunning, and principle above power; in its concept justice cannot be sacrificed to expedition or economy; in its concept no one has any more power to make one a slave than we have to make one a king; in its concept a government which is strong enough to declare the fundamental rights of man is strong enough to preserve them even through the most rigorous vicissitudes.
Perhaps it was because Madison was trained as a minister, or perhaps not. Nevertheless, the constitution has in its framework great moral principles. Another underlying concept is that honor is the great touchstone of morality, and honorable public service in obedience to its principles, is the greatest reward to a citizen. If I could epitomize in a few words these underlying concepts, I would be led to say that they are based upon love, faith, reason, and truth. The conviction that these concepts are immutable to any system of government, which retains liberty, is strengthened not only by an examination of history, but the observation of our own current times when under new trappings, new shibboleths, new delusions, and new names, the brutal and tyrannical philosophies of history are rampant elsewhere in the world. It takes but little effort upon examination of them to see that fundamentally, they substitute hate for love, fear for faith, force for reason and ignorance for truth.
To do so it is necessary that each must conceive himself, not as a member of a class, but as an individual creature, worthy of being free, and deserving of individual liberty with these concepts.
Remember, that the man who wrote these concepts into our fundamental law had not only fought an eight-year war, but following it had gone through six years of misery, confusion, failure, debt, despair, and hardship. In conditions of almost complete disorganization they knew that there must be a government with strong powers—but above all they knew they must preserve the thing for which they had fought and suffered—The inalienable right of man as an individual.
Of all the great nations of the world, our government under these concepts, has existed longer, without radical change, than any other.
We stand today confronted with a new epoch in the world's history. Apostles of doubt and despair will appear amongst us again with derision and ridicule for our ideals and with offers of other promised lands. When these do come, then above all, will we need something to tie to. Today we fight in many lands, not for conquest, but to preserve these concepts. Let us remember that when this war ends, to "Win the peace" we must preserve the concepts here in America, just as much as we must retain an aggressor by force.
Progress there must be. Change there will be. But with these assaults which are bound to come upon our unity and our thinking and our ideals and our honor, if these concepts of individual liberty are not preserved in America, who can say the world will not again be plunged into a dark age of intolerance, ignorance, hate and slavery.
Our men at arms are demonstrating by their will to preserve these concepts by their courage and strength and spirit and honor. But liberty is preserved, not alone by man, it must be preserved in peace in our daily individual conduct. So, in the turbulent days to come, let us not again hearken to the skeptic and the doubter, and abandon our ideals or our honor; but, with an enriched self-confidence, an individual realization of the majesty of the human spirit, let us each accept it as a daily challenge, that these lofty concepts shall be preserved as a way of life among the peoples of the earth.