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Delivered 8 June 1968 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York:
Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, Mr. President:
On behalf of Mrs. Kennedy, her children, the parents and sisters of Robert Kennedy, I want to express what we feel to those who mourn with us today in this Cathedral and around the world.
We loved him as a brother, and as a father, and as a son. From his parents, and from his older brothers and sisters — Joe and Kathleen and Jack — he received an inspiration which he passed on to all of us. He gave us strength in time of trouble, wisdom in time of uncertainty, and sharing in time of happiness. He will always be by our side.
Love is not an easy feeling to put into words. Nor is loyalty, or trust, or joy. But he was all of these. He loved life completely and he lived it intensely.
A few years back, Robert Kennedy wrote some words about his own father which expresses [sic] the way we in his family felt about him. He said of what his father meant to him, and I quote: “What it really all adds up to is love — not love as it is described with such facility in popular magazines, but the kind of love that is affection and respect, order and encouragement, and support. Our awareness of this was an incalculable source of strength, and because real love is something unselfish and involves sacrifice and giving, we could not help but profit from it.” And he continued, “Beneath it all, he has tried to engender a social conscience. There were wrongs which needed attention. There were people who were poor and needed help. And we have a responsibility to them and to this country. Through no virtues and accomplishments of our own, we have been fortunate enough to be born in the United States under the most comfortable conditions. We, therefore, have a responsibility to others who are less well off.”
That is what Robert Kennedy was given. What he leaves to us is what he said, what he did, and what he stood for. A speech he made to the young people of South Africa on their Day of Affirmation in 1966 sums it up the best, and I would like to read it now:
“There is discrimination in this world and slavery and slaughter and starvation. Governments repress their people; millions are trapped in poverty while the nation grows rich and wealth is lavished on armaments everywhere. These are differing evils, but they are the common works of man. They reflect the imperfection of human justice, the inadequacy of human compassion, our lack of sensibility towards the suffering of our fellows. But we can perhaps remember — even if only for a time — that those who live with us are our brothers; that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek — as we do — nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.
Surely, this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men. And surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again. The answer is to rely on youth — not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease. The cruelties and obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to the obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans. They cannot be moved by those who cling to a present that is already dying, who prefer the illusion of security to the excitement and danger that come with even the most peaceful progress.
It is a revolutionary world we live in, and this generation at home and around the world has had thrust upon it a greater burden of responsibility than any generation that has ever lived. Some believe there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills. Yet many of the world’s great movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man. A young monk began the Protestant reformation; a young general extended an empire from Macedonia to the borders of the earth; a young woman reclaimed the territory of France; and it was a young Italian explorer who discovered the New World, and the 32 year-old Thomas Jefferson who [pro]claimed that “all men are created equal.”
These men moved the world, and so can we all. Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. *It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped.* Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change. And I believe that in this generation those with the courage to enter the moral conflict will find themselves with companions in every corner of the globe.
For the fortunate among us, there is the temptation to follow the easy and familiar paths of personal ambition and financial success so grandly spread before those who enjoy the privilege of education. But that is not the road history has marked out for us. Like it or not, we live in times of danger and uncertainty. But they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history. All of us will ultimately be judged, and as the years pass we will surely judge ourselves on the effort we have contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which our ideals and goals have shaped that event.
*The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of new ideas and bold projects. Rather it will belong to those who can blend vision, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the ideals and great enterprises of American Society.* Our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle, that will determine our destiny. There is pride in that, even arrogance, but there is also experience and truth. In any event, it is the only way we can live.”
That is the way he lived. That is what he leaves us.
My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.
Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world.
As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him:
“Some men see things as they are and say why.
I dream things that never were and say why not.”
Delivered 9 May 1961, National Association of Broadcasters, Washington, DC:
Governor Collins, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. Governor Collins you’re much too kind, as all of you have been to me the last few days. It’s been a great pleasure and an honor for me to meet so many of you. And I want to thank you for this opportunity to meet with you today.
As you know, this is my first public address since I took over my new job. When the New Frontiersmen rode into town, I locked myself in my office to do my homework and get my feet wet. But apparently I haven’t managed yet to stay out of hot water. I seem to have detected a very nervous apprehension about what I might say or do when I emerged from that locked office for this, my maiden station break.
So first let me begin by dispelling a rumor. I was not picked for this job because I regard myself as the fastest draw on the New Frontier. Second, let me start a rumor. Like you, I have carefully read President Kennedy’s messages about the regulatory agencies, conflict of interest, and the dangers of ex parte contacts. And, of course, we at the Federal Communications Commission will do our part. Indeed, I may even suggest that we change the name of the FCC to The Seven Untouchables.
It may also come as a surprise to some of you, but I want you to know that you have my admiration and my respect. Yours is a most honorable profession. Anyone who is in the broadcasting business has a tough row to hoe. You earn your bread by using public property. When you work in broadcasting you volunteer for public service, public pressure, and public regulation. You must compete with other attractions and other investments, and the only way you can do it is to prove to us every three years that you should have been in business in the first place.
I can think of easier ways to make a living.
But I cannot think of more satisfying ways.
I admire your courage — but that doesn’t mean that I would make life any easier for you. Your license lets you use the public’s airwaves as trustees for 180 million Americans. The public is your beneficiary. If you want to stay on as trustees, you must deliver a decent return to the public — not only to your stockholders. So, as a representative of the public, your health and your product are among my chief concerns.
Now as to your health, let’s talk only of television today. 1960 gross broadcast revenues of the television industry were over 1,268,000,000 dollars. Profit before taxes was 243,900,000 dollars, an average return on revenue of 19.2 per cent. Compare these with 1959, when gross broadcast revenues were 1,163,900,000 dollars, and profit before taxes was 222,300,000, an average return on revenue of 19.1 per cent. So the percentage increase of total revenues from ’59 to ’60 was 9 per cent, and the percentage increase of profit was 9.7 per cent. This, despite a recession throughout the country. For your investors, the price has indeed been right.
So I have confidence in your health, but not in your product. It is with this and much more in mind that I come before you today.
One editorialist in the trade press wrote that “the FCC of the New Frontier is going to be one of the toughest FCC’s in the history of broadcast regulation.” If he meant that we intend to enforce the law in the public interest, let me make it perfectly clear that he is right: We do. If he meant that we intend to muzzle or censor broadcasting, he is dead wrong. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of you had expected me to come here today and say to you in effect, “Clean up your own house or the government will do it for you.” Well, in a limited sense, you would be right because I’ve just said it.
But I want to say to you as earnestly as I can that it is not in that spirit that I come before you today, nor is it in that spirit that I intend to serve the FCC. I am in Washington to help broadcasting, not to harm it; to strengthen it, not weaken it; to reward it, not to punish it; to encourage it, not threaten it; and to stimulate it, not censor it. Above all, I am here to uphold and protect the public interest.
Now what do we mean by “the public interest?” Some say the public interest is merely what interests the public. I disagree. And so does your distinguished president, Governor Collins. In a recent speech — and of course as I also told you yesterday — In a recent speech he said,
Broadcasting to serve the public interest, must have a soul and a conscience, a burning desire to excel, as well as to sell; the urge to build the character, citizenship, and intellectual stature of people, as well as to expand the gross national product. …By no means do I imply that broadcasters disregard the public interest. …But a much better job can be done, and should be done.
I could not agree more with Governor Collins. And I would add that in today’s world, with chaos in Laos and the Congo aflame, with Communist tyranny on our Caribbean doorstep, relentless pressures on our Atlantic alliance, with social and economic problems at home of the gravest nature, yes, and with the technological knowledge that makes it possible, as our President has said, not only to destroy our world but to destroy poverty around the world — in a time of peril and opportunity, the old complacent, unbalanced fare of action-adventure and situation comedies is simply not good enough.
Your industry possesses the most powerful voice in America. It has an inescapable duty to make that voice ring with intelligence and with leadership. In a few years, this exciting industry has grown from a novelty to an instrument of overwhelming impact on the American people. It should be making ready for the kind of leadership that newspapers and magazines assumed years ago, to make our people aware of their world.
Ours has been called the jet age, the atomic age, the space age. It is also, I submit, the television age. And just as history will decide whether the leaders of today’s world employed the atom to destroy the world or rebuild it for mankind’s benefit, so will history decide whether today’s broadcasters employed their powerful voice to enrich the people or to debase them.
If I seem today to address myself chiefly to the problems of television, I don’t want any of you radio broadcasters to think that we’ve gone to sleep at your switch. We haven’t. We still listen. But in recent years most of the controversies and cross-currents in broadcast programming have swirled around television. And so my subject today is the television industry and the public interest.
Like everybody, I wear more than one hat. I am the chairman of the FCC. But I am also a television viewer and the husband and father of other television viewers. I have seen a great many television programs that seemed to me eminently worthwhile and I am not talking about the much bemoaned good old days of “Playhouse 90” and “Studio One.”
I’m talking about this past season. Some were wonderfully entertaining, such as “The Fabulous Fifties,” “The Fred Astaire Show,” and “The Bing Crosby Special”; some were dramatic and moving, such as Conrad’s “Victory” and “Twilight Zone”; some were marvelously informative, such as “The Nation’s Future,” “CBS Reports,” “The Valiant Years.” I could list many more — programs that I am sure everyone here felt enriched his own life and that of his family. When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better.
But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.
You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.
Is there one person in this room who claims that broadcasting can’t do better? Well a glance at next season’s proposed programming can give us little heart. Of 73 and 1/2 hours of prime evening time, the networks have tentatively scheduled 59 hours of categories of action-adventure, situation comedy, variety, quiz, and movies. Is there one network president in this room who claims he can’t do better? Well, is there at least one network president who believes that the other networks can do better? Gentlemen, your trust accounting with your beneficiaries is long overdue. Never have so few owed so much to so many.
Why is so much of television so bad? I’ve heard many answers: demands of your advertisers; competition for ever higher ratings; the need always to attract a mass audience; the high cost of television programs; the insatiable appetite for programming material. These are some of the reasons. Unquestionably, these are tough problems not susceptible to easy answers. But I am not convinced that you have tried hard enough to solve them.
I do not accept the idea that the present over-all programming is aimed accurately at the public taste. The ratings tell us only that some people have their television sets turned on and of that number, so many are tuned to one channel and so many to another. They don’t tell us what the public might watch if they were offered half-a-dozen additional choices. A rating, at best, is an indication of how many people saw what you gave them. Unfortunately, it does not reveal the depth of the penetration, or the intensity of reaction, and it never reveals what the acceptance would have been if what you gave them had been better — if all the forces of art and creativity and daring and imagination had been unleashed. I believe in the people’s good sense and good taste, and I am not convinced that the people’s taste is as low as some of you assume.
My concern with the rating services is not with their accuracy. Perhaps they are accurate. I really don’t know. What, then, is wrong with the ratings? It’s not been their accuracy — it’s been their use.
Certainly, I hope you will agree that ratings should have little influence where children are concerned. The best estimates indicate that during the hours of 5 to 6 P.M. sixty per cent of your audience is composed of children under twelve. And most young children today, believe it or not, spend as much time watching television as they do in the schoolroom. I repeat — let that sink in, ladies and gentlemen — most young children today spend as much time watching television as they do in the schoolroom. It used to be said that there were three great influences on a child: home, school, and church. Today, there is a fourth great influence, and you ladies and gentlemen in this room control it.
If parents, teachers, and ministers conducted their responsibilities by following the ratings, children would have a steady diet of ice cream, school holidays, and no Sunday school. What about your responsibilities? Is there no room on television to teach, to inform, to uplift, to stretch, to enlarge the capacities of our children? Is there no room for programs deepening their understanding of children in other lands? Is there no room for a children’s news show explaining something to them about the world at their level of understanding? Is there no room for reading the great literature of the past, for teaching them the great traditions of freedom? There are some fine children’s shows, but they are drowned out in the massive doses of cartoons, violence, and more violence. Must these be your trademarks? Search your consciences and see if you cannot offer more to your young beneficiaries whose future you guide so many hours each and every day.
Now what about adult programming and ratings? You know, newspaper publishers take popularity ratings too. And the answers are pretty clear: It is almost always the comics, followed by advice to the lovelorn columns. But, ladies and gentlemen, the news is still on the front page of all newspapers; the editorials are not replaced by more comics; and the newspapers have not become one long collection of advice to the lovelorn. Yet newspapers do not even need a license from the government to be in business; they do not use public property. But in television, where your responsibilities as public trustees are so plain, the moment that the ratings indicate that westerns are popular there are new imitations of westerns on the air faster than the old coaxial cable could take us from Hollywood to New York. Broadcasting cannot continue to live by the numbers. Ratings ought to be the slave of the broadcaster, not his master. And you and I both know — You and I both know that the rating services themselves would agree.
Let me make clear that what I am talking about is balance. I believe that the public interest is made up of many interests. There are many people in this great country and you must serve all of us. You will get no argument from me if you say that, given a choice between a western and a symphony, more people will watch the western. I like westerns too, but a steady diet for the whole country is obviously not in the public interest. We all know that people would more often prefer to be entertained than stimulated or informed. But your obligations are not satisfied if you look only to popularity as a test of what to broadcast. You are not only in show business; you are free to communicate ideas as well as relaxation.
And as Governor Collins said to you yesterday when he encouraged you to editorialize — as you know the FCC has now encouraged editorializing for years. We want you to do this; we want you to editorialize, take positions. We only ask that you do it in a fair and a responsible manner. Those stations that have editorialized have demonstrated to you that the FCC will always encourage a fair and responsible clash of opinion.
You must provide a wider range of choices, more diversity, more alternatives. It is not enough to cater to the nation’s whims; you must also serve the nation’s needs. And I would add this: that if some of you persist in a relentless search for the highest rating and the lowest common denominator, you may very well lose your audience. Because, to paraphrase a great American who was recently my law partner, the people are wise, wiser than some of the broadcasters — and politicians — think.
As you may have gathered, I would like to see television improved. But how is this to be brought about? By voluntary action by the broadcasters themselves? By direct government intervention? Or how?
Let me address myself now to my role not as a viewer but as chairman of the FCC. I could not if I would, chart for you this afternoon in detail all of the actions I contemplate. Instead, I want to make clear some of the fundamental principles which guide me.
First: the people own the air. And they own it as much in prime evening time as they do at six o’clock Sunday morning. For every hour that the people give you — you owe them something. And I intend to see that your debt is paid with service.
Second: I think it would be foolish and wasteful for us to continue any worn-out wrangle over the problems of payola, rigged quiz shows, and other mistakes of the past. There are laws on the books which we will enforce. But there is no chip on my shoulder. We live together in perilous, uncertain times; we face together staggering problems; and we must not waste much time now by rehashing the clichés of past controversy. To quarrel over the past is to lose the future.
Third: I believe in the free enterprise system. I want to — I want to see broadcasting improved, and I want you to do the job. I am proud to champion your cause. It is not rare for American businessmen to serve a public trust. Yours is a special trust because it is imposed by law.
Fourth: I will do all I can to help educational television. There are still not enough educational stations, and major centers of the country still lack usable educational channels. If there were a limited number of printing presses in this country, you may be sure that a fair proportion of them would be put to educational use. Educational television has an enormous contribution to make to the future, and I intend to give it a hand along the way. If there is not a nation-wide educational television system in this country, it will not be the fault of the FCC.
Fifth: I am unalterably opposed to governmental censorship. There will be no suppression of programming which does not meet with bureaucratic tastes. Censorship strikes at the tap root of our free society.
Sixth: I did not come to Washington to idly observe the squandering of the public’s airwaves. The squandering of our airwaves is no less important than the lavish waste of any precious natural resource. I intend to take the job of chairman of the FCC very seriously. I happen to believe in the gravity of my own particular sector of the New Frontier. There will be times perhaps when you will consider that I take myself or my job too seriously. Frankly, I don’t care if you do. For I am convinced that either one takes this job seriously — or one can be seriously taken.
Now how will these principles be applied? Clearly at the heart of the FCC’s authority lies its power to license, to renew or fail to renew, or to revoke a license. As you know, when your license comes up for renewal, your performance is compared with your promises. I understand that many people feel that in the past licenses were often renewed pro forma. I say to you now: renewal will not be pro forma in the future. There is nothing permanent or sacred about a broadcast license.
But simply matching promises and performance is not enough. I intend to do more. I intend to find out whether the people care. I intend to find out whether the community which each broadcaster serves believes he has been serving the public interest. When a renewal is set down for a hearing, I intend, whenever possible, to hold a well-advertised public hearing, right in the community you have promised to serve. I want the people who own the air and the homes that television enters to tell you and the FCC what’s been going on. I want the people — if they’re truly interested in the service you give them — to make notes, document cases, tell us the facts. And for those few of you who really believe that the public interest is merely what interests the public, I hope that these hearings will arouse no little interest.
The FCC has a fine reserve of monitors — almost 180 million Americans gathered around 56 million sets. If you want those monitors to be your friends at court, it’s up to you.
Now some of you may say, “Yes, but I still do not know where the line is between a grant of a renewal and the hearing you just spoke of.” My answer is: Why should you want to know how close you can come to the edge of the cliff? What the Commission asks of you is to make a conscientious, good-faith effort to serve the public interest. Everyone of you serves a community in which the people would benefit by educational, and religious, instructive and other public service programming. Every one of you serves an area which has local needs — as to local elections, controversial issues, local news, local talent. Make a serious, genuine effort to put on that programming. And when you do, you will not be playing brinkmanship with the public interest.
Now what I’ve been saying applies to the broadcast stations. Now a station break for the networks — and will last even longer than 40 seconds: You networks know your importance in this great industry. Today, more than one half of all hours of television station programming comes from the networks; in prime time, this rises to more than three fourths of the available hours.
You know that the FCC has been studying network operations for some time. I intend to press this to a speedy conclusion with useful results. I can tell you right now, however, that I am deeply concerned with concentration of power in the hands of the networks. As a result, too many local stations have foregone any efforts at local programming, with little use of live talent and local service. Too many local stations operate with one hand on the network switch and the other on a projector loaded with old movies. We want the individual stations to be free to meet their legal responsibilities to serve their communities.
I join Governor Collins in his views so well expressed to the advertisers who use the public air. And I urge the networks to join him and undertake a very special mission on behalf of this industry. You can tell your advertisers, “This is the high quality we are going to serve — take it or other people will. If you think you can find a better place to move automobiles, cigarettes, and soap, then go ahead and try.” Tell your sponsors to be less concerned with costs per thousand and more concerned with understanding per millions. And remind your stockholders that an investment in broadcasting is buying a share in public responsibility. The networks can start this industry on the road to freedom from the dictatorship of numbers.
But there is more to the problem than network influences on stations or advertiser influences on networks. I know the problems networks face in trying to clear some of their best programs — the informational programs that exemplify public service. They are your finest hours, whether sustaining or commercial, whether regularly scheduled or special. These are the signs that broadcasting knows the way to leadership. They make the public’s trust in you a wise choice.
They should be seen. As you know, we are readying for use new forms by which broadcast stations will report their programming to the Commission. You probably also know that special attention will be paid in these forms to reports of public service programming. I believe that stations taking network service should also be required to report the extent of the local clearance of network public service programs, and when they fail to clear them, they should explain why. If it is to put on some outstanding local program, this is one reason. But if it is simply to run an old movie, that’s an entirely different matter. And the Commission should consider such clearance reports carefully when making up its mind about the licensee’s over-all programming.
We intend to move — and as you know, and as I want to say publicly, the FCC was rapidly moving in other new areas before the new Administration arrived in Washington. And I want to pay my public respects to my very able predecessor, Fred Ford, and to my colleagues on the Commission, each of whom has welcomed me to the FCC with warmth and cooperation.
We have approved an experiment with pay TV, and in New York we are testing the potential of UHF broadcasting. Either or both of these may revolutionize television. Only a foolish prophet would venture to guess the direction they will take, and their effect. But we intend that they shall be explored fully, for they are part of broadcasting’s New Frontier. The questions surrounding pay TV are largely economic. The questions surrounding UHF are largely technological. We are going to give the infant — the infant pay TV a chance to prove whether it can offer a useful service; we are going to protect it from those who would strangle it in its crib.
As for UHF, I’m sure you know about our test in the canyons of New York City. We will take every possible positive step to break through the allocations barrier into UHF. We will put this sleeping giant to use and in the years ahead we may have twice as many channels operating in cities where now there are only two or three. We may have a half dozen networks instead of three.
I have told you that I believe in the free enterprise system. I believe that most of television’s problems stem from lack of competition. This is the importance of UHF to me: with more channels on the air, we will be able to provide every community with enough stations to offer service to all parts of the public. Programs with a mass market appeal required by mass product advertisers certainly will still be available. But other stations will recognize the need to appeal to more limited markets and to special tastes. In this way, we can all have a much wider range of programs. Television should thrive on this competition, and the country should benefit from alternative sources of service to the public. And, Governor Collins, I hope the NAB will benefit from many new members.
Another and perhaps the most important frontier: Television will rapidly join the parade into space. International television will be with us soon. No one knows how long it will be until a broadcast from a studio in New York will be viewed in India as well as in Indiana, will be seen in the Congo as it is seen in Chicago. But as surely as we are meeting here today, that day will come; and once again our world will shrink.
What will the people of other countries think of us when they see our western bad men and good men punching each other in the jaw in between the shooting? What will the Latin American or African child learn of America from this great communications industry? We cannot permit television in its present form to be our voice overseas.
There is your challenge to leadership. You must reexamine some fundamentals of your industry. You must open your minds and open your hearts to the limitless horizons of tomorrow. I can suggest some words that should serve to guide you:
Television and all who participate in it are jointly accountable to the American public for respect for the special needs of children, for community responsibility, for the advancement of education and culture, for the acceptability of the program materials chosen, for decency and decorum in production, and for propriety in advertising. This responsibility cannot be discharged by any given group of programs, but can be discharged only through the highest standards of respect for the American home, applied to every moment of every program presented by television.
Program materials should enlarge the horizons of the viewer, provide him with wholesome entertainment, afford helpful stimulation, and remind him of the responsibilities which the citizen has towards his society.
Now those are not my words. They are yours. They are taken literally, verbatim, from your own Television Code. They reflect the leadership and aspirations of your own great industry. I urge you to respect them as I do. And I urge you to respect the intelligent and farsighted leadership of Governor LeRoy Collins, and to make this meeting a creative act. I urge you at this meeting and, after you leave, back home, at your stations and your networks, to strive ceaselessly to improve your product and to better serve your viewers, the American people.
I hope that we at the FCC will not allow ourselves to become so bogged down in the mountain of papers, hearings, memoranda, orders, and the daily routine that we close our eyes to this wider view of the public interest. And I hope that you broadcasters will not permit yourselves to become so absorbed in the daily chase for ratings, sales, and profits that you lose this wider view. Now more than ever before in broadcasting’s history the times demand the best of all of us.
We need imagination in programming, not sterility; creativity, not imitation; experimentation, not conformity; excellence, not mediocrity. Television is filled with creative, imaginative people. You must strive to set them free.
Television in its young life has had many hours of greatness — its “Victory at Sea,” its Army-McCarthy hearings, its “Peter Pan,” its “Kraft Theaters,” its “See It Now,” its “Project 20,” the World Series, its political conventions and campaigns, and the Great Debates. And it’s had its endless hours of mediocrity and its moments of public disgrace. There are estimates today that the average viewer spends about 200 minutes daily with television, while the average reader spends 38 minutes with magazines, 40 minutes with newspapers. Television has grown faster than a teenager, and now it is time to grow up.
What you gentlemen broadcast through the people’s air affects the people’s taste, their knowledge, their opinions, their understanding of themselves and of their world — and their future.
Just think for a moment of the impact of broadcasting in the past few days. Yesterday was one of the great days of my life. Last week the President asked me to ride over with him when he came to speak here at the NAB. And when I went to the White House he said, “Do you think it would be a good idea to take Commander Shepard?” And, of course, I said it would be magnificent. And I was privileged to ride here yesterday in a car with the President and the Vice President, Commander and Mrs. Shepard. This was an unexpected, unscheduled stop. And Commander Shepard said to me, “Where are we going?” “What is this group?” And I said, “This is the National Association of Broadcasters at its annual convention.”
This is the group, this is the industry that made it possible for millions of Americans to share with you that great moment in history; that his gallant flight was witnessed by millions of anxious Americans who saw in it an intimacy which they could achieve through no other medium, in no other way. It was one of your finest hours. The depth of broadcasting’s contribution to public understanding of that event cannot be measured. And it thrilled me — as a representative of the government that deals with this industry — to say to Commander Shepard the group that he was about to see.
I say to you ladies and gentlemen — I remind you what the President said in his stirring inaugural. He said: Ask not what America can do for you; ask what you can do for America.”¹ I say to you ladies and gentlemen: Ask not what broadcasting can do for you; ask what you can do for broadcasting. And ask what broadcasting can do for America.
I urge you, I urge you to put the people’s airwaves to the service of the people and the cause of freedom. You must help prepare a generation for great decisions. You must help a great nation fulfill its future.
Do this! I pledge you our help.
Delivered 1916 Atlantic City, New Jersey:
I have taken for my subject, “The Crisis,” because I believe that a crisis has come in our movement which, if recognized and the opportunity seized with vigor, enthusiasm and will, means the final victory of our great cause in the very near future. I am aware that some suffragists do not share this belief; they see no signs nor symptoms today which were not present yesterday; no manifestations in the year 1916 which differ significantly from those in the year 1910. To them, the movement has been a steady, normal growth from the beginning and must so continue until the end. I can only defend my claim with the plea that it is better to imagine a crisis where none exists than to fail to recognize one when it comes; for a crisis is a culmination of events which calls for new considerations and new decisions. A failure to answer the call may mean an opportunity lost, a possible victory postponed.
The object of the life of an organized movement is to secure its aim. Necessarily, it must obey the law of evolution and pass through the stages of agitation and education and finally through the stage of realization. As one has put it: “A new idea floats in the air over the heads of the people and for a long, indefinite period evades their understanding but, by and by, when through familiarity, human vision grows clearer, it is caught out of the clouds and crystalized into law.” Such a period comes to every movement and is its crisis. In my judgment, that crucial moment, bidding us to renewed consecration and redoubled activity has come to our cause. I believe our victory hangs within our grasp, inviting us to pluck it out of the clouds and establish it among the good things of the world.
If this be true, the time is past when we should say: “Men and women of America, look upon that wonderful idea up there; see, one day it will come down.” Instead, the time has come to shout aloud in every city, village and hamlet, and in tones so clear and jubilant that they will reverberate from every mountain peak and echo from shore to shore: “The woman’s Hour has struck.” Suppose suffragists as a whole do not believe a crisis has come and do not extend their hands to grasp the victory, what will happen? Why, we shall all continue to work and our cause will continue to hang, waiting for those who possess a clearer vision and more daring enterprise. On the other hand, suppose we reach out with united earnestness and determination to grasp our victory while it still hangs a bit too high? Has any harm been done? None!
Therefore, fellow suffragists, I invite your attention to the signs which point to a crisis and your consideration of plans for turning the crisis into victory.
FIRST: We are passing through a world crisis. All thinkers of every land tell us so; and that nothing after the great war will be as it was before. Those who profess to know, claim that 100 millions of dollars are being spent on the war every day and that 2 years of war have cost 50 billions of dollars or 10 times more than the total expense of the American Civil War. Our own country has sent 35 millions of dollars abroad for relief expenses.
Were there no other effects to come from the world’s war, the transfer of such unthinkably vast sums of money from the usual avenues to those wholly abnormal would give so severe a jolt to organized society that it would vibrate around the world and bring untold changes in its wake.
But three and a half millions of lives have been lost. The number becomes the more impressive when it is remembered that the entire population of the American Colonies was little more than three and one-half millions. These losses have been the lives of men within the age of economic production. They have been taken abruptly from the normal business of the world and every human activity from that of the humblest, unskilled labor to art, science and literature has been weakened by their loss. Millions of other men will go to their homes, blind, crippled and incapacitated to do the work they once performed. The stability of human institutions has never before suffered so tremendous a shock. Great men are trying to think out the consequences but one and all proclaim that no imagination can find color or form bold enough to paint the picture of the world after the war. British and Russian, German and Austrian, French and Italian agree that it will lead to social and political revolution throughout the entire world. Whatever comes, they further agree that the war presages a total change in the status of women.
A simple-minded man in West Virginia, when addressed upon the subject of woman suffrage in that State, replied, “We’ve been so used to keepin’ our women down, ‘twould seem queer not to.” He expressed what greater men feel but do not say. Had the wife of that man spoken in the same clear-thinking fashion, she would have said, “We women have been so used to being kept down that it would seem strange to get up. Nature intended women for door-mats.” Had she so expressed herself, these two would have put the entire anti-suffrage argument in a nut-shell.
In Europe, from the Polar Circle to the Aegean Sea, women have risen as though to answer that argument. Everywhere they have taken the places made vacant by men and in so doing, they have grown in self-respect and in the esteem of their respective nations. In every land, the people have reverted to the primitive division of labor and while the men have gone to war, women have cultivated the fields in order that the army and nation may be fed. No army can succeed and no nation can endure without food; those who supply it are a war power and a peace power.
Women by the thousands have knocked at the doors of munition factories and, in the name of patriotism, have begged for the right to serve their country there. Their services were accepted with hesitation but the experiment once made, won reluctant but universal praise. An official statement recently issued in Great Britain announced that 660,000 women were engaged in making munitions in that country alone. In a recent convention of munition workers, composed of men and women, a resolution was unanimously passed informing the government that they would forego vacations and holidays until the authorities announced that their munition supplies were sufficient for the needs of the war and Great Britain pronounced the act the highest patriotism. Lord Derby addressed such a meeting and said, “When the history of the war is written, I wonder to whom the greatest credit will be given; to the men who went to fight or to the women who are working in a way that many people hardly believed that it was possible for them to work.” Lord Sydenham added his tribute. Said he, “It might fairly be claimed that women have helped to save thousands of lives and to change the entire aspect of the war. Wherever intelligence, care and close attention have been needed, women have distinguished themselves.” A writer in the London Times of July 18, 1916, said: “But, for women, the armies could not have held the field for a month; the national call to arms could not have been made or sustained; the country would have perished of inanition and disorganization. If, indeed, it be true that the people have been one, it is because the genius of women has been lavishly applied to the task of reinforcing and complementing the genius of men. The qualities of steady industry, adaptability, good judgement and concentration of mind which men do not readily associate with women have been conspicuous features.”
On fields of battle, in regular and improvised hospitals, women have given tender and skilled care to the wounded and are credited with the restoration of life to many, heroism and self-sacrifice have been frankly acknowledged by all the governments; but their endurance, their skill, the practicality of their service, seem for the first time, to have been recognized by governments as “war power”. So, thinking in war terms, great men have suddenly discovered that women are “war assets”. Indeed, Europe is realizing, as it never did before, that women are holding together the civilization for which men are fighting. A great search-light has been thrown upon the business of nation-building and it has been demonstrated in every European land that it is a partnership with equal, but different responsibilities resting upon the two partners.
It is not, however, in direct war work alone that the latent possibilities of women have been made manifest. In all the belligerent lands, women have found their way to high posts of administration where no women would have been trusted two years ago and the testimony is overwhelming that they have filled their posts with entire satisfaction to the authorities. They have dared to stand in pulpits (once too sacred to be touched by the unholy feet of a woman) and there, without protest, have appealed to the Father of All in behalf of their stricken lands. They have come out of the kitchen where there was too little to cook and have found a way to live by driving cabs, motors and streetcars. Many a woman has turned her hungry children over to a neighbor and has gone forth to find food for both mothers and both families of children and has found it in strange places and occupations. Many a drawing-room has been closed and the maid who swept and dusted it is now cleaning streets that the health of the city may be conserved. Many a woman who never before slept in a bed of her own making, or ate food not prepared by paid labor, is now sole mistress of parlor and kitchen.
In all the warring countries, women are postmen [sic], porters, railway conductors, ticket, switch and signal men. Conspicuous advertisements invite women to attend agricultural, milking and motor-car schools. They are employed as police in Great Britain and women detectives have recently been taken on the government staff. In Berlin, there are over 3,000 women streetcar conductors and 3,500 women are employed on the general railways. In every city and country, women are doing work for which they would have been considered incompetent two years ago.
The war will soon end and the armies will return to their native lands. To many a family, the men will never come back. The husband who returns to many a wife, will eat no bread the rest of his life save of her earning.
What then, will happen after the war? Will the widows left with families to support cheerfully leave their well-paid posts for those commanding lower wages? Not without protest! Will the wives who now must support crippled husbands give up their skilled work and take up the occupations which were open to them before the war? Will they resignedly say: “The woman who has a healthy husband who can earn for her, has a right to tea and raisin cake, but the woman who earns for herself and a husband who has given his all to his country, must be content with butterless bread?” Not without protest! On the contrary, the economic axiom, denied and evaded for centuries, will be blazoned on every factory, counting house and shop: “Equal pay for equal work”; and common justice will slowly, but surely enforce that law. The European woman has risen. She may not realize it yet, but the woman “door-mat” in every land has unconsciously become a “door-jamb”! She will have become accustomed to her new dignity by the time the men come home. She will wonder how she ever could have been content lying across the threshold now that she discovers the upright jamb gives so much broader and more normal a vision of things. The men returning may find the new order a bit queer but everything else will be strangely unfamiliar too, and they will soon grow accustomed to all the changes together. The “jamb” will never descend into a “door-mat” again.
The male and female anti-suffragists of all lands will puff and blow at the economic change which will come to the women of Europe. They will declare it to be contrary to Nature and to God’s plan and that somebody ought to do something about it. Suffragists will accept the change as the inevitable outcome of an unprecedented world’s cataclysm over which no human agency had any control and will trust in God to adjust the altered circumstances to the eternal evolution of human society. They will remember that in the long run, all things work together for good, for progress and for human weal.
The economic change is bound to bring political liberty. From every land, there comes the expressed belief that the war will be followed by a mighty, oncoming wave of democracy for it is now well known that the conflict has been one of governments, of kings and Czars, Kaisers and Emperors; not of peoples. The nations involved have nearly all declared that they are fighting to make an end of wars. New and higher ideals of governments and of the rights of the people under them, have grown enormously during the past two years. Another tide of political liberty, similar to that of 1848, but of a thousandfold greater momentum, is rising from battlefield and hospital, from camp and munitions factory, from home and church which, great men of many lands, tell us, is destined to sweep over the world. On the continent, the women say, “It is certain that the vote will come to men and women after the war, perhaps not immediately but soon. In Great Britain, which was the storm centre of the suffrage movement for some years before the war, hundreds of bitter, active opponents have confessed their conversion on account of the war services of women. Already, three great provinces of Canada, Manitoba, Alberta, and Saskatchawan [sic], have given universal suffrage to their women in sheer generous appreciation of their war work. Even Mr. Asquith, world renouned [sic] for his immovable opposition to the Parliamentary suffrage for British women, has given evidence of a change of view.2 Some months ago, he announced his amazement at the utterly unexpected skill, strength and resource developed by the women and his gratitude for their loyalty and devotion. Later, in reply to Mrs. Henry Fawcett, who asked if woman suffrage would be included in a proposed election bill, he said that when the war should end, such a measure would be considered without prejudice carried over from events prior to the war.3 A public statement issued by Mr. Asquith in August, was couched in such terms as to be interpreted by many as a pledge to include women in the next election bill.
In Great Britain, a sordid appeal which may prove the last straw to break the opposition to woman suffrage, has been added to the enthusiastic appreciation of woman’s patriotism and practical service and to the sudden comprehension that motherhood is a national asset which must be protected at any price. A new voters’ list is contemplated. A parliamentary election should be held in September but the voters are scattered far and wide. The whole nation is agitated over the questions involved in making a new register. At the same time, there is a constant anxiety over war funds, as is prudent in a nation spending 50 millions of dollars per day. It has been proposed that a large poll tax be assessed upon the voters of the new lists, whereupon a secondary proposal of great force has been offered and that is, that twice as much money would find its way into the public coffers were women added to the voters’ list. What nation, with compliments fresh spoken concerning women’s patriotism and efficiency, could resist such an appeal?
So it happens that above the roar of cannon, the scream of shrapnel and the whirr of aeroplanes, one who listens may hear the cracking of the fetters which have long bound the European woman to outworn conventions. It has been a frightful price to pay but the fact remains that a womanhood, well started on the way to final emancipation, is destined to step forth from the war. It will be a bewildered, troubled and grief-stricken womanhood with knotty problems of life to solve, but it will be freer to deal with them than women have ever been before.
“The Woman’s Hour has struck.” It has struck for the women of Europe and for those of all the world. The significance of the changed status of European women has not been lost upon the men and women of our land; our own people are not so unlearned in history, nor so lacking in National pride that they will allow the Republic to lag long behind the Empire, presided over by the descendant of George the Third. If they possess the patriotism and the sense of nationality which should be the inheritance of an American, they will not wait until the war is ended but will boldly lead in the inevitable march of democracy, our own American specialty. Sisters, let me repeat, the Woman’s Hour has struck!
SECOND: As the most adamantine rock gives way under the constant dripping of water, so the opposition to woman suffrage in our own country has slowly disintegrated before the increasing strength of our movement. Turn backward the pages of our history! Behold, brave Abbie Kelley rotten-egged because she, a woman, essayed to speak in public.4 Behold the Polish Ernestine Rose startled that women of free America drew aside their skirts when she proposed that they should control their own property.5 Recall the saintly Lucretia Mott and the legal-minded Elizabeth Cady Stanton, turned out of the [W]orld’s Temperance convention in London and conspiring together to free their sex from the world’s stupid oppressions.6 Remember the gentle, sweet-voiced Lucy Stone, egged because she publicly claimed that women had brains capable of education.7 Think upon Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, snubbed and boycotted by other women because she proposed to study medicine.8 Behold Dr. Antoinette Brown Blackwell, standing in sweet serenity before an Assembly of howling clergymen, angry that she, a woman dared to attend a Temperance Convention as a delegate.9 Revere the intrepid Susan B. Anthony mobbed from Buffalo to Albany because she demanded fair play for women. These are they who builded with others the foundation of political liberty for American women.
Those who came after only laid the stones in place. Yet, what a wearisome task even that has been! Think of the wonderful woman who has wandered from village to village, from city to city, for a generation compelling men and women to listen and to reflect by her matchless eloquence. Where in all the world’s history has any movement among men produced so invincible an advocate as our own Dr. Anna Howard Shaw? Those whom she has led to the light are Legion. Think, too, of the consecration, the self-denial, the never-failing constancy of that other noble soul set in a frail but unflinching body, — the heroine we know as Alice Stone Blackwell! A woman who never forgets, who detects the slightest flaw in the weapons of her adversary, who knows the most vulnerable spot in his armor, presides over the Woman’s Journal and, like a lamp in a lighthouse, the rays of her intelligence, farsightedness and clear-thinking have enlightened the world concerning our cause. The names of hundreds of other brave souls spring to memory when we pause to review the long struggle.
The hands of many suffrage master-masons have long been stilled; the names of many who laid the stones have been forgotten. That does not matter. The main thing is that the edifice of woman’s liberty nears completion. It is strong, indestructible. All honor to the thousands who have helped in the building.
The four Corner-stones of the foundations were laid long years ago. We read upon the first: “We demand for women education, for not a high school or college is open to her”; upon the second, “We demand for women religious liberty for in few churches is she permitted to pray or speak”; upon the third, “We demand for women the right to own property and an opportunity to earn an honest living. Only six, poorly-paid occupations are open to her, and if she is married, the wages she earns are not hers”; upon the fourth, “We demand political freedom and its symbol, the vote.”
The stones in the foundation have long been overgrown with the moss and mould of time, and some there are who never knew they were laid. Of late, four cap-stones at the top have been set to match those in the base, and we read upon the first: “The number of women who are graduated from high schools, colleges and universities is legion”; upon the second, “The Christian Endeavor, that mighty, undenominational church militant, asks the vote for the women and the Methodist Episcopal Church, and many another, joins that appeal”; upon the third, “Billions of dollars worth of property are earned [and] owned by women; more than 8 millions of women are wage-earners. Every occupation is open to them”; upon the fourth: “Women vote in 12 States; they share in the determination of 91 electoral votes.”
After the cap-stones and cornice comes the roof. Across the empty spaces, the rooftree has been flung and fastened well in place. It is not made of stone but of two planks, — planks in the platform of the two majority parties, and these are well supported by planks in the platforms of all minority parties.
And we who are the builders of 1916, do we see a crisis? Standing upon these planks which are stretched across the top-most peak of this edifice of woman’s liberty, what shall we do? Over our heads, up there in the clouds, but tantalizing [sic] near, hangs the roof of our edifice, — the vote. What is our duty? Shall we spend time in admiring the capstones and cornice? Shall we lament the tragedies which accompanied the laying of the cornerstones? or, shall we, like the builders of old, chant, “Ho! all hands, all hands, heave to! All hands, heave to!” and while we chant, grasp the overhanging roof and with a long pull, a strong pull and a pull together, fix it in place forevermore?
Is the crisis real or imaginary? If it be real, it calls for action, bold, immediate and decisive.
Let us then take measure of our strength. Our cause has won the endorsement of all political parties. Every candidate for the presidency is a suffragist. It has won the endorsement of most churches; it has won the hearty approval of all great organizations of women. It was won the support of all reform movements; it has won the progressives of every variety. The majority of the press in most States is with us. Great men in every political party, church and movement are with us. The names of the greatest men and women of art, science, literature and philosophy, reform, religion and politics are on our lists. We have not won the reactionaries of any party, church or society, and we never will. From the beginning of things, there have been Antis. The Antis drove Moses out of Egypt; they crucified Christ who said, “Love thy neighbor as thyself” [Matt. 19:19, 22:39]; they have persecuted Jews in all parts of the world; they poisoned Socrates, the great philosopher; they cruelly persecuted Copernicus and Galileo, the first great scientists; they burned Giordano Bruno at the stake because he believed the world was round; they burned Savonarola who warred upon church corruption; they burned Eufame McIlyane [sic] because she used an anaesthetic; they burned Joan d’Arc for a heretic; they have sent great men and women to Siberia to eat their hearts out in isolation; they burned in effigy William Lloyd Garrison; they egged Abbie Kelley and Lucy Stone and mobbed Susan B. Anthony. Yet, in proportion to the enlightenment of their respective ages, these Antis were persons of intelligence and honest purpose. They were merely deaf to the call of Progress and were enraged because the world insisted upon moving on. Antis male and female there still are and will be to the end of time. Give to them a prayer of forgiveness for they know not what they do; and prepare for the forward march.
We have not won the ignorant and illiterate and we never can. They are too undeveloped mentally to understand that the institutions of today are not those of yesterday nor will be those of tomorrow.
We have not won the forces of evil and we never will. Evil has ever been timorous and suspicious of all change. It is an instinctive act of self-preservation which makes it fear and consequently oppose votes for women. As the Hon. Champ Clark said the other day: “Some good and intelligent people are opposed to woman suffrage; but all the ignorant and evil-minded are against it.”
These three forces are the enemies of our cause.
Before the vote is won, there must and will be a gigantic final conflict between the forces of progress, righteousness and democracy and the forces of ignorance, evil and reaction. That struggle may be postponed, but it cannot be evaded or avoided. There is no question as to which side will be the victor.
Shall we play the coward, then, and leave the hard knocks for our daughters, or shall we throw ourselves into the fray, bare our own shoulders to the blows, and thus bequeath to them a politically liberated womanhood? We have taken note of our gains and of our resources! and they are all we could wish. Before the final struggle, we must take cognizance of our weaknesses. Are we prepared to grasp the victory? Alas, no! our movement is like a great Niagara with a vast volume of water tumbling over its ledge but turning no wheel. Our organized machinery is set for the propagandistic stage and not for the seizure of victory. Our supporters are spreading the argument for our cause; they feel no sense of responsibility for the realization of our hopes. Our movement lacks cohesion, organization, unity and consequent momentum.
Behind us, in front of us, everywhere about us are suffragists, — millions of them, but inactive and silent. They have been “agitated and educated” and are with us in belief. There are thousands of women who have at one time or another been members of our organization but they have dropped out because, to them the movement seemed negative and pointless. Many have taken up other work whose results were more immediate. Philanthropy, charity, work for corrective laws of various kinds, temperance, relief for working women and numberless similar public services have called them. Others have turned to the pleasanter avenues of clubwork, art or literature.
There are thousands of other women who have never learned of the earlier struggles of our movement. They found doors of opportunity open to them on every side. They found well-paid posts awaiting the qualified woman and they have availed themselves of all these blessings; almost without exception they believe in the vote but they feel neither gratitude to those who opened the doors through which they have entered to economic liberty nor any sense of obligation to open other doors for those who come after.
There are still others who, timorously looking over their shoulders to see if any listeners be near, will tell us they hope we will win and win soon but they are too frightened of Mother Grundy to help. There are others too occupied with the small things of life to help. They say they could find time to vote but not to work for the vote. There are men, too, millions of them, waiting to be called. These men and women are our reserves. They are largely unorganized and untrained soldiers with little responsibility toward our movement. Yet these reserves must be mobilized. The final struggle needs their numbers and the momentum those numbers will bring. Were never another convert made, there are suffragists enough in this country, if combined, to make so irresistible a driving force that victory might be seized at once.
How can it be done? By a simple change of mental attitude. If we are to seize the victory, that change must take place in this hall, here and now!
The old belief, which has sustained suffragists in many an hour of discouragement, “woman suffrage is bound to come,” must give way to the new, “The Woman’s Hour has struck.” The long drawn out struggle, the cruel hostility which, for years was arrayed against our cause, have accustomed suffragists to the idea of indefinite postponement but eventual victory. The slogan of a movements sets its pace. The old one counseled patience; it said, there is plenty of time; it pardoned sloth and half-hearted effort. It set the pace of an educational campaign. The “Woman’s Hour has struck” sets the pace of a crusade which will have its way. It says: “Awake, arise, my sisters, let your hearts be filled with joy, — the time of victory is here. Onward March.”
If you believe with me that a crisis has come to our movement, — if you believe that the time for final action is now, if you catch the rosy tints of the coming day, what does it mean to you? Does it not give you a thrill of exaltation; does the blood not course more quickly through your veins; does it not bring a new sense of freedom, of joy and of determination? Is it not true that you who wanted a little time ago to lay down the work because you were weary with long service, now, under the compelling influence of a changed mental attitude, are ready to go on until the vote is won. The change is one of spirit! Aye, and the spiritual effect upon you will come to others. Let me borrow an expression from Hon. John Finlay: What our great movement needs now is a “mobilization of spirit”, — the jubilant, glad spirit of victory. Then let us sound a bugle call here and now to the women of the Nation: “The Woman’s Hour has struck.” Let the bugle sound from the suffrage headquarters of every State at the inauguration of a State campaign. Let the call go forth again and, again and yet again. Let it be repeated in every article written, in every speech made, in every conversation held. Let the bugle blow again and yet again. The Political emancipation of our sex call[s] you, women of, America, arise! Are you content that others shall pay the price of your liberty? Women in schools and counting house, in shops and on the farm, women in the home with babes at their breasts and women engaged in public careers will hear. The veins of American women are not filled with milk and water. They are neither cowards nor slackers. They will come. They only await the bugle call to learn that the final battle is on.
Delivered 9 July 1917, New York:
Gentlemen of the Jury:
As in the case of my co-defendant, Alexander Berkman, this is also the first time in my life I have ever addressed a jury. I once had occasion to speak to three judges.
On the day after our arrest it was give out by the U. S. Marshal and the District Attorney’s office that the “big fish” of the No-Conscription activities had been caught, and that there would be no more trouble-makers and disturbers to interfere with the highly democratic effort of the Government to conscript its young manhood for the European slaughter. What a pity that the faithful servants of the Government, personified in the U. S. Marsha land the District Attorney, should have used such a weak and flimsy net for their big catch. The moment the anglers pulled their heavily laden net ashore, it broke, and all the labor was so much wasted energy.
The methods employed by Marshal McCarthy and his hosts of heroic warriors were sensational enough to satisfy the famous circus men, Barnum & Baily. A dozen or more heroes dashing up two flights of stairs, prepared to stake their lives for their country, only to discover the two dangerous disturbers and trouble-makers Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman, in their separate offices, quietly at work at their desks, wielding not a sword, nor a gun or a bomb, but merely their pens! Verily, it required courage to catch such big fish.
To be sure, tow officers equipped with a warrant would have sufficed to carry out the business of arresting the defendants Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman. Even the police know that neither of them is in the habit of running away or hiding under the bed. But the farce-comedy had to be properly staged if the Marshal and the District Attorney were to earn immortality. Hence the sensational arrest ; hence, also, the raid upon the offices of THE BLAST, MOTHER EARTH and the No-Conscription League.
In their zeal to save the country from the trouble-makers, the Marshal and his helpers did not even consider it necessary to produce a search warrant. After all, what matters a mere scrap of paper when one is called upon to raid the offices of Anarchists! Of what consequence is the sanctity of property, the right of privacy, to officials in their dealings with Anarchists! In our day of military training for battle, and Anarchist office is an appropriate camping ground. Would the gentlemen who came with Marshal McCarthy have dared to go into the offices of Morgan, of Rockefeller, or of any of those men without a search warrant? They never showed us the search warrant, although we asked them for it. Nevertheless, they turned our office into a battlefield, so that when they were through with it, it looked like invaded Belgium, with the only difference that the invaders were not Prussian barbarians but good American patriots bent on making New York safe for democracy.
The stage having been appropriately set for the three-act comedy, and the first act successfully played by carrying off the villains in a madly dashing automobile—which broke every traffic regulation and barely escaped crushing every one in its way–the second act proved even more ludicrous. Fifty thousand dollars bail was demanded, and real estate refused when offered by a man whose property is rated at three hundred thousand dollars, and that after the District Attorney had considered and, in fact, promised to accept the property for one of the defendants, Alexander Berkman, thus breaking every right guaranteed even to the most heinous criminal.
Finally the third act, played by the Government in this court during the last week. The pity of it is that the prosecution knows so little of dramatic construction, else it would have equipped itself with better dramatic material to sustain the continuity of the play. As it was, the third act fell flat, utterly, and presents the question, Why such a tempest in a teapot?
Gentlemen of the jury, my comrade and co-defendant having carefully and thoroughly gone into the evidence presented by the prosecution, and having demonstrated its entire failure to prove the charge of conspiracy or any overt acts to carry out that conspiracy, I shall not impose upon your patience by going over the same ground, except to emphasize a few points. To charge people with having conspired to do something which they have been engaged in doing most of their lives, namely their campaign against war, militarism and conscription as contrary to the best interests of humanity, is an insult to human intelligence.
And how was that charge proven? By the fact that MOTHER EARTH and THE BLAST were printed by the same printer and bound in the same bindery. By the further evidence that the same expressman had delivered to two publications ! An by the still more illuminating fact that on June 2nd MOTHER EARTH and THE BLAST were given to a reporter at his request, if your please, and gratis.
Gentlemen of the jury, you saw the reporter who testified to this overt act. Did any one of you receive the impression that the man was of conscriptable age, and if not in what possible way is the giving of MOTHER EARTH to a report for news purposes proof demonstrating the overt act?
It was brought out by our witnesses that the MOTHER EARTH magazine has been published for twelve years ; that it was never held up, and that it has always gone through the U. S. mail as second-class mail matter. It was further proven that the magazine appeared each month about the first or second, and that it was sold or given away at the office to whoever wanted a copy. Where, then, is the overt act?
Just as the prosecution has utterly failed to prove the charge of conspiracy, so has it also failed to prove the overt act by the flimsy testimony that MOTHER EARTH was given to a reporter. The same holds good regarding THE BLAST.
Gentlemen of the jury, the District Attorney must have learned from the reporters the gist of the numerous interviews which they had with us. Why did he not examine them as to whether or not we had counseled young men not to register? That would have been a more direct way of getting at the facts. In the case of the reporter from the New York Times, there can be no doubt that the man would have been only too happy to accommodate the District Attorney with the required information. A man who disregards every principle of decency and ethics of his profession as a newspaper man, by turning material given him as news over to the District Attorney, would have been glad to oblige a friend. Why did Mr. Content neglect such a golden opportunity? Was it no because the reporter of the Times, like all the other reporters, must have told the District Attorney that the two defendants stated, on each and every occasion, they would not tell people not to register?
Perhaps the Times reporter refused to go to the extent of perjuring himself. Patrolmen and detectives are not so timid in such matters. Hence Mr. Randolph and Mr. Cadell, to rescue the situation. Imagine employing tenth-rate stenographers to report the very important speeches of dangerous trouble-makers! What lack of forethought and efficiency on the part of the District Attorney! But even these two members of the police department failed to prove by their notes that we advised people not to register. But since they had to produce something incriminating against Anarchists, they conveniently resorted to the old standby, always credited to us, “We believe in violence and we will use violence.”
Assuming, gentlemen of the jury, that his sentence was really used at the meeting of May 18th, it would still fail to prove the indictment which charges conspiracy and overt acts to carry out the conspiracy. And that is all we are charges with. Not violence, not Anarchism. I will go further and say, that had the indictment been for the advocacy of violence, you gentlemen of the jury, would still have to render a verdict of “Not Guilty,” since the mere belief in a thing or even the announcement that you would carry out that belief, can not possibly constitute a crime.
However, I wish to say emphatically that no such expression as “We believe in violence and we will use violence” was uttered at the meeting of May 18th, or at any other meeting. I could not have employed such a phrase, as there was no occasion for it. If for no other reason, it is because I want my lectures and speeches to be coherent and logical. The sentence credited to me is neither.
I have read to you my position toward political violence from a lengthy essay called “The Psychology of Political Violence.”
But to make that a position clearer and simpler, I wish to say that I am a social student. It is my mission in life to ascertain the cause of our social evils and of our social difficulties. As a student of social wrongs it is my aim to diagnose a wrong. To simply condemn the man who has committed an act of political violence, in order to save my skin, would be as unpardonable as it would be on the part of the physician, who is called to diagnose a case, to condemn the patient because the patient has tuberculosis, caner, or some other disease. The honest, earnest, sincere physician does not only prescribe medicine, he tries to find out the cause of the disease. And if the patient is at all capable as to means, the doctor will say to him, “Get out of this putrid air, get out of the factory, get out of the place where your lungs are being infected.” He will not merely give him medicine. He will tell him the cause of the disease. And that is precisely my position in regard to acts of violence. That is what I have said on every platform. I have attempted to explain the cause and the reason for acts of political violence.
It is organized violence on top which creates individual violence at the bottom. It is the accumulated indignation against organized wrong, organized crime, organized injustice which drives the political offender to his act. To condemn him means to be blind to the causes which make him. I can no more do it, nor have I the right to, than the physician who were to condemn the patient for his disease. You and I and all of us who remain indifferent to the crimes of poverty, of war, of human degradation, are equally responsible for the act committed by the political offender. May I therefore be permitted to say, in the words of a great teacher: “He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.” Does that mean advocating violence? You might as well accuse Jesus of advocating prostitution, because He took the part of the prostitute, Mary Magdalene.
Gentlemen of the jury, the meeting of the 18th of May was called primarily for the purpose of voicing the position of the conscientious objector and to point out the evils of conscription. Now, who and what is the conscientious objector? Is he really a shirker, a slacker, or a coward? To call him that is to be guilty of dense ignorance of the forces which impel men and women to stand out against the whole world like a glittering lone star upon a dark horizon. The conscientious objector is impelled by what President Wilson in his speech of Feb. 3, 1917, called “the righteous passion for justice upon which all war, all structure of family, State and of mankind must rest as the ultimate base of our existence or our liberty.” The righteous passion for justice which can never express itself in human slaughter—that is the force which makes the conscientious objector. Poor indeed is the country which fails to recognize the importance of that new type of humanity as the “ultimate base of our existence and liberty.” It will find itself barren of that which makes for character and quality in its people.
The meeting of May 18th was held before the Draft Bill had actually gone into effect. The President signed it late in the evening of the 18th. Whatever was said at the meeting, even if I had counseled young men not to register, that meeting cannot serve as proof of an overt act. Why, then, has the Prosecuting Attorney dwelt so much, at such length, and with such pains on that meeting, and so little on the other meetings held on the eve of registration and after? Is it not because the District Attorney knew that we had no stenographic notes of that meeting? He knew it because he was approached by Mr. Weinberger and other friends for a copy of the transcript, which request he refused. Evidently, the District Attorney felt safe to use the notes of a patrolman and a detective, knowing that they would swear to anything their superiors wanted. I never like to accuse anyone—I wouldn’t go so far as my co-defendant, Mr. Berkman, in saying that the District Attorney doctored the document ; I don’t know whether he did or not. But I do know that Patrolman Randolph and Detective Cadell doctored the notes, for the simple reason that I didn’t say those things. But though we could not produce our own stenographic notes, we have been able to prove by men and women of unimpeachable character and high intelligence that the notes of Randolph are utterly false. We have also proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and Mr. Content did not dare question our proof, that at the Hunts’ Point Palace, held on the eve or registration, I expressly stated that I cannot and will not tell people not to register. We have further proven that this was my definite stand, which was explained in my statement sent from Springfield and read at the meeting of May 23rd.
When we go through the entire testimony given on behalf of the prosecution, I insist that there is not one single point to sustain the indictment for conspiracy or to prove the overt acts we are supposed to have committed. But we were even compelled to bring a man eighty years of age to the witness stand in order to stop, if possible, and intention to drag in the question of German money. It is true, and I appreciate it, that Mr. Content said he had no knowledge of it. But, gentlemen of the jury, somebody from the District Attorney’s office or someone from the Marshal’s office must have given out the statement that a bank receipt for $2,400 was found in my office and must have told the newspapers the fake story of German money. As if we would ever touch German money, or Russian money, or American money coming from the ruling class, to advance our ideas ! But in order to forestall any suspicion, any insinuation, in order to stand clear before you, we were compelled to bring an old man here to inform you that he has been a radical all his life, that he is interested in our ideas, and that he is the man who contributed the money for radical purposes and for the work of Miss Goldman.
Gentlemen of the jury, you will be told by the Court, I am sure, that when you render a verdict you must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt; that you must not assume that we are guilty before we are proven guilty ; and that it is your duty to assume that we are innocent. And yet, as a matter of fact, the burden of proof has been laid upon us. We had to bring witnesses. If we had had time we could have brought fifty more witnesses, each corroborating the others. Some of those people have no relation with us. Some are writers, poets, contributors to the most conventional magazines. Is it likely that they would swear to something in our favor if it were not the truth? Therefore I insist, as did my co-defendant Alexander Berkman, that the prosecution has made a very poor showing in proving the conspiracy or any overt act.
Gentlemen of the jury, we have been in public life for twenty-seven years. We have been haled into court, in and out of season,–we have never denied our position. Even the police know that Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman are not shirkers. You have had occasion during this trial to convince yourselves that we do not deny. We have gladly and proudly claimed responsibility, not only for what we ourselves have said and written, but even for things written by others and with which we did not agree. Is it plausible, then, that we would go through the ordeal, trouble and expense of a lengthy trial to escape responsibility in this instance? A thousand times no ! But we refuse to be tried on a trumped-up charge, or to be convicted by perjured testimony, merely because we are Anarchists and hated by the class whom we have openly fought for many years.
Gentlemen, during our examination of talesmen, when we asked whether you would be prejudiced against us if it were proven that we propagated ideas and opinions contrary to those held by the majority, you were instructed by the Court to say, “If they are within the law.” But what the Court did not tell you is, that no new faith—not even the most humane and peaceable—has ever been considered “within the law” by those who were in power. The history of human growth is at the same time the history of every new idea heralding the approach of a brighter dawn, and the brighter dawn has always been considered illegal, outside of the law.
Gentlemen of the jury, most of you, I take it, are believers in the teachings of Jesus. Bear in mind that he was put to death by those who considered his views as being against the law. I also take it that you are proud of you Americanism. Remember that those who fought and bled for your liberties were in their time considered as being against the law, as dangerous disturbers and trouble-makers. They not only preached violence, but they carried out their ideas by throwing tea into the Boston harbor. They said that “Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.” They wrote a dangerous document called the Declaration of Independence. A document which continues to be dangerous to this day, and for the circulation of which a young man was sentenced to ninety days prison in a New Your Court, only the other day. They were the Anarchists of their time—they were never within the law.
Your Government is allied with the French Republic. Need I call you attention to the historic fact that the great upheaval in France was brought about by extra-legal means? The Dantes, the Robespieres, the Marats, the Herberts, aye even the man who is responsible for the most stirring revolutionary music, the Marseillaise (which unfortunately has deteriorated into a war tune) even Camille Desmoulins, were never within the law. But for those great pioneers and rebels, France would have continued under the yoke of the idle Louis XVI., to whom the sport of shooting jack rabbits was more important than the destiny of the people of France.
Ah, gentlemen, on the very day when we were being tried for conspiracy and overt acts, your city officials and representatives welcomed with music and festivities the Russian Commission. Are you aware of the fact that nearly all of the members of that Commission have only recently been released from exile? The ideas they propagated were never within the law. For nearly a hundred years, from 1825 to 1917, the Tree of Liberty in Russia was watered by the blood of her martyrs. No greater heroism, no nobler lives had ever been dedicated to humanity. Not one of them worked within the law. I could continue to enumerate almost endlessly the hosts of men and women in every land and in every period whose ideas and ideals redeemed the world because they were not within the law.
Never can a new idea move within the law. It matters not whether that idea pertains to political and social changes or to any other domain of human thought and expression—to science, literature, music ; in fact, everything that makes for freedom and joy and beauty must refuse to move within the law. How can it be otherwise? The law is stationary, fixed, mechanical, “a chariot wheel” which grinds all alike without regard to time, place and condition, without ever taking into account cause and effect, without ever going into the complexity of the human soul.
Progress knows nothing of fixity. It cannot be pressed into a definite mould. It cannot bow to the dictum, “I have ruled,” “I am the regulating finger of God.” Progress is ever renewing, ever becoming, ever changing—never is it within the law.
If that be crime, we are criminals even like Jesus, Socrates, Gallileo, Bruno, John Brown and scores of others. We are in good company, among those whom Havelock Ellis, the greatest living psychologist, describes as the political criminals recognized by the whole civilized world, except America, as men and women who out of deep love for humanity, out of a passionate reverence for liberty and an all-absorbing devotion to an ideal are ready to pay for their faith even with their blood. We cannot do otherwise if we are to be true to ourselves—we know that the political criminal is the precursor of human progress—the political criminal of to-day must needs be the hero, the martyr and the saint of the new age.
But, says the Prosecuting Attorney, the press and the unthinking rabble, in high and low station, “that is a dangerous doctrine and unpatriotic at this time.” No doubt it is. But are we to be held responsible for something which is as unchangeable and unalienable as the very stars hanging in the heavens unto time and all eternity?
Gentlemen to the jury, we respect your patriotism. We would not, if we could, have you change its meaning for yourself. But may there not be different kinds of patriotism as there are different kinds of liberty? I for one cannot believe that love of one’s country must needs consist in blindness to its social faults, to deafness to its social discords, of inarticulation to its social wrongs. Neither can I believe that the mere accident of birth in a certain country or the mere scrap of a citizen’s paper constitutes the love of country.
I know many people—I am one of them—who were not born here, nor have the applied for citizenship, and who yet love America with deeper passion and greater intensity that many natives whose patriotism manifests itself by pulling, kicking, and insulting those who do not rise when the national anthem is played. Our patriotism is that of the man who loves a woman with open eyes. He is enchanted by her beauty, yet he sees her faults. So we, too, who know America, love her beauty, her richness, her great possibilities ; we love her mountains, her canyons, her forests, her Niagara, and her deserts—above all do we love the people that have produced her wealth, her artists who have created beauty, her great apostles who dream and work for liberty—but with the same passionate emotion we hate her superficiality, her cant, her corruption, her mad, unscrupulous worship at the alter of the Golden Calf.
We say that if America has entered the war to make the world safe for democracy, she must first make democracy safe in America. How else is the world to take America seriously, when democracy at home is daily being outrages, free speech suppressed, peaceable assemblies broken up by overbearing and brutal gangsters in uniform ; when free press is curtailed and every independent opinion gagged. Verily, poor as we are in democracy, how can we give of it to the world? We further say that a democracy conceived in the military servitude of the masses, in their economic enslavement, and nurtured in their tears and blood, is not democracy at all. It is despotism—the cumulative result of a chain of abuses which, according to the dangerous document ,the Declaration of Independence, the people have the right to overthrow.
The District Attorney has dragged in our Manifesto, and he has emphasized the passage, “Resist conscription.” Gentlemen of the jury, please remember that that is not the charge against us. But admitting that the Manifesto contains the expression, “Resist conscription,” may I ask you, is there only one kind of resistance? Is there only the resistance which means the gun, the bayonet, the bomb or flying machine? Is there not another kind of resistance? May not the people simply fold their hands and declare, “We will not fight when we do not believe in the necessity of war”? May not the people who believe in the repeal of the Conscription Law, because it is unconstitutional, express their opposition in word and by pen, in meetings and in other ways? What right has the District Attorney to interpret that particular passage to suit himself? Moreover, gentlemen of the jury, I insist that the indictment against us does not refer to conscription. We are charged with a conspiracy against registration. And in no way or manner has the prosecution proven that we are guilty of conspiracy or that we have committed an overt act.
Gentlemen of the jury, you are not called upon to accept our views, to approve of them or to justify them. You are not even called upon to decide whether our views are within or against the law. You are called upon to decide whether the prosecution has proven that the defendants Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman have conspired to urge people not to register. And whether their speeches and writings represent overt acts.
Whatever you verdict, gentlemen, it cannot possibly affect the rising tide of discontent in this country against war which, despite all boasts, is a war for conquest and military power. Neither can it affect the ever increasing opposition to conscription which is a military and industrial yoke placed upon the necks of the American people. Least of all will your verdict affect those to whom human life is sacred, and who will not become a party to the world slaughter. Your verdict can only add to the opinion of the world as to whether or not justice and liberty are a living force in this country or a mere shadow of the past.
Your verdict may, of course, affect us temporarily, in a physical sense—it can have no effect whatever upon our spirit. For even if we were convicted and found guilty and the penalty were that we be placed against a wall and shot dead, I should nevertheless cry out with the great Luther: “Here I am and her I stand and I cannot do otherwise.”
And gentlemen, in conclusion let me tell you that my co-defendant, Mr. Berkman, was right when he said the eyes of America are upon you. They are upon you not because of sympathy for us or agreement with Anarchism. They are upon you because it must decided sooner or later whether we are justified in telling people that we will give the democracy in Europe, when we have no democracy here? Shall free speech and free assemblage, shall criticism and opinion—which even the espionage bill did not include—be destroyed? Shall it be a shadow of the past, the great historic American past? Shall it be trampled underfoot by any detective, or policeman, anyone who decides upon it? Or shall free speech and free press and free assemblage continue to be the heritage of the American people?
Gentlemen of the jury, whatever you verdict will be, as far as we are concerned, nothing will be changed. I have held ideas all my life. I have publicly held my ideas for twenty-seven years. Nothing on earth would ever make me change my ideas except one thing ; and that is, if you will prove to me that our position is wrong, untenable, or lacking in historic fact. But never would I change my ideas because I am found guilty. I may remind you of two great Americans, undoubtedly not unknown to you, gentlemen of the jury; Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. When Thoreau was placed in prison for refusing to pay taxes, he was visited by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Emerson said: “David, what are you doing in jail?” and Thoreau replied: “ Ralph, what are you doing outside, when honest people are in jail for their ideals?” Gentlemen of the jury, I do not wish to influence you. I do not wish to appeal to you passions. I do not wish to influence you by the fact that I am a woman. I have no such desires and no such designs. I take it that you are sincere enough and honest enough and brave enough to render a verdict according to you convictions, beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt.
Please forget that we are Anarchists. Forget that it is claimed that we propagated violence. Forget that something appeared in MOTHER EARTH when I was thousands of miles away, three years ago. Forget all that, and merely consider the evidence. Have we been engaged in a conspiracy? has that conspiracy been proven? have we committed overt acts? have those overt acts been proven? We for the defense say they have not been proven. And therefore your verdict must be not guilty.
But whatever your decision, the struggle must go on. We are but the atoms in the incessant human struggle towards the light that shines in the darkness—the Ideal of economic, political and spiritual liberation of mankind!
Delivered October 1966, Berkeley, CA:
Thank you very much. It’s a privilege and an honor to be in the white intellectual ghetto of the West. We wanted to do a couple of things before we started. The first is that, based on the fact that SNCC, through the articulation of its program by its chairman, has been able to win elections in Georgia, Alabama, Maryland, and by our appearance here will win an election in California, in 1968 I’m going to run for President of the United States. I just can’t make it, ’cause I wasn’t born in the United States. That’s the only thing holding me back.
We wanted to say that this is a student conference, as it should be, held on a campus, and that we’re not ever to be caught up in the intellectual masturbation of the question of Black Power. That’s a function of people who are advertisers that call themselves reporters. Oh, for my members and friends of the press, my self-appointed white critics, I was reading Mr. Bernard Shaw two days ago, and I came across a very important quote which I think is most apropos for you. He says, “All criticism is a[n] autobiography.” Dig yourself. Okay.
The philosophers Camus and Sartre raise the question whether or not a man can condemn himself. The black existentialist philosopher who is pragmatic, Frantz Fanon, answered the question. He said that man could not. Camus and Sartre was not. We in SNCC tend to agree with Camus and Sartre, that a man cannot condemn himself.¹ Were he to condemn himself, he would then have to inflict punishment upon himself. An example would be the Nazis. Any prisoner who — any of the Nazi prisoners who admitted, after he was caught and incarcerated, that he committed crimes, that he killed all the many people that he killed, he committed suicide. The only ones who were able to stay alive were the ones who never admitted that they committed a crimes [sic] against people — that is, the ones who rationalized that Jews were not human beings and deserved to be killed, or that they were only following orders.
On a more immediate scene, the officials and the population — the white population — in Neshoba County, Mississippi — that’s where Philadelphia is — could not — could not condemn [Sheriff] Rainey, his deputies, and the other fourteen men that killed three human beings. They could not because they elected Mr. Rainey to do precisely what he did; and that for them to condemn him will be for them to condemn themselves.
In a much larger view, SNCC says that white America cannot condemn herself. And since we are liberal, we have done it: You stand condemned. Now, a number of things that arises from that answer of how do you condemn yourselves. Seems to me that the institutions that function in this country are clearly racist, and that they’re built upon racism. And the question, then, is how can black people inside of this country move? And then how can white people who say they’re not a part of those institutions begin to move? And how then do we begin to clear away the obstacles that we have in this society, that make us live like human beings? How can we begin to build institutions that will allow people to relate with each other as human beings? This country has never done that, especially around the country of white or black.
Now, several people have been upset because we’ve said that integration was irrelevant when initiated by blacks, and that in fact it was a subterfuge, an insidious subterfuge, for the maintenance of white supremacy. Now we maintain that in the past six years or so, this country has been feeding us a “thalidomide drug of integration,” and that some negroes have been walking down a dream street talking about sitting next to white people; and that that does not begin to solve the problem; that when we went to Mississippi we did not go to sit next to Ross Barnett²; we did not go to sit next to Jim Clark³; we went to get them out of our way; and that people ought to understand that; that we were never fighting for the right to integrate, we were fighting against white supremacy.
Now, then, in order to understand white supremacy we must dismiss the fallacious notion that white people can give anybody their freedom. No man can given anybody his freedom. A man is born free. You may enslave a man after he is born free, and that is in fact what this country does. It enslaves black people after they’re born, so that the only acts that white people can do is to stop denying black people their freedom; that is, they must stop denying freedom. They never give it to anyone.
Now we want to take that to its logical extension, so that we could understand, then, what its relevancy would be in terms of new civil rights bills. I maintain that every civil rights bill in this country was passed for white people, not for black people. For example, I am black. I know that. I also know that while I am black I am a human being, and therefore I have the right to go into any public place. White people didn’t know that. Every time I tried to go into a place they stopped me. So some boys had to write a bill to tell that white man, “He’s a human being; don’t stop him.” That bill was for that white man, not for me. I knew it all the time. I knew it all the time.
I knew that I could vote and that that wasn’t a privilege; it was my right. Every time I tried I was shot, killed or jailed, beaten or economically deprived. So somebody had to write a bill for white people to tell them, “When a black man comes to vote, don’t bother him.” That bill, again, was for white people, not for black people; so that when you talk about open occupancy, I know I can live anyplace I want to live. It is white people across this country who are incapable of allowing me to live where I want to live. You need a civil rights bill, not me. I know I can live where I want to live.
So that the failures to pass a civil rights bill isn’t because of Black Power, isn’t because of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; it’s not because of the rebellions that are occurring in the major cities. It is incapability of whites to deal with their own problems inside their own communities. That is the problem of the failure of the civil rights bill.
And so in a larger sense we must then ask, How is it that black people move? And what do we do? But the question in a greater sense is, How can white people who are the majority — and who are responsible for making democracy work — make it work? They have miserably failed to this point. They have never made democracy work, be it inside the United States, Vietnam, South Africa, Philippines, South America, Puerto Rico. Wherever American has been, she has not been able to make democracy work; so that in a larger sense, we not only condemn the country for what it’s done internally, but we must condemn it for what it does externally. We see this country trying to rule the world, and someone must stand up and start articulating that this country is not God, and cannot rule the world.
Now, then, before we move on we ought to develop the white supremacy attitudes that were either conscious or subconscious thought and how they run rampant through the society today. For example, the missionaries were sent to Africa. They went with the attitude that blacks were automatically inferior. As a matter of fact, the first act the missionaries did, you know, when they got to Africa was to make us cover up our bodies, because they said it got them excited. We couldn’t go bare-breasted any more because they got excited.
Now when the missionaries came to civilize us because we were uncivilized, educate us because we were uneducated, and give us some — some literate studies because we were illiterate, they charged a price. The missionaries came with the Bible, and we had the land. When they left, they had the land, and we still have the Bible. And that has been the rationalization for Western civilization as it moves across the world and stealing and plundering and raping everybody in its path. Their one rationalization is that the rest of the world is uncivilized and they are in fact civilized. And they are un-civil-ized.
And that runs on today, you see, because what we have today is we have what we call “modern-day Peace Corps missionaries,” and they come into our ghettos and they Head Start, Upward Lift, Bootstrap, and Upward Bound us into white society, ’cause they don’t want to face the real problem which is a man is poor for one reason and one reason only: ’cause he does not have money — period. If you want to get rid of poverty, you give people money — period.
And you ought not to tell me about people who don’t work, and you can’t give people money without working, ’cause if that were true, you’d have to start stopping Rockefeller, Bobby Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson, the whole of Standard Oil, the Gulf Corp, all of them, including probably a large number of the Board of Trustees of this university. So the question, then, clearly, is not whether or not one can work; it’s Who has power? Who has power to make his or her acts legitimate? That is all. And that this country, that power is invested in the hands of white people, and they make their acts legitimate. It is now, therefore, for black people to make our acts legitimate.
Now we are now engaged in a psychological struggle in this country, and that is whether or not black people will have the right to use the words they want to use without white people giving their sanction to it; and that we maintain, whether they like it or not, we gonna use the word “Black Power” — and let them address themselves to that; but that we are not going to wait for white people to sanction Black Power. We’re tired waiting; every time black people move in this country, they’re forced to defend their position before they move. It’s time that the people who are supposed to be defending their position do that. That’s white people. They ought to start defending themselves as to why they have oppressed and exploited us.
Now it is clear that when this country started to move in terms of slavery, the reason for a man being picked as a slave was one reason — because of the color of his skin. If one was black one was automatically inferior, inhuman, and therefore fit for slavery. So that the question of whether or not we are individually suppressed is nonsensical, and it’s a downright lie. We are oppressed as a group because we are black, not because we are lazy, not because we’re apathetic, not because we’re stupid, not because we smell, not because we eat watermelon and have good rhythm. We are oppressed because we are black.
And in order to get out of that oppression one must wield the group power that one has, not the individual power which this country then sets the criteria under which a man may come into it. That is what is called in this country as integration: “You do what I tell you to do and then we’ll let you sit at the table with us.” And that we are saying that we have to be opposed to that. We must now set up criteria and that if there’s going to be any integration, it’s going to be a two-way thing. If you believe in integration, you can come live in Watts. You can send your children to the ghetto schools. Let’s talk about that. If you believe in integration, then we’re going to start adopting us some white people to live in our neighborhood.
So it is clear that the question is not one of integration or segregation. Integration is a man’s ability to want to move in there by himself. If someone wants to live in a white neighborhood and he is black, that is his choice. It should be his rights. It is not because white people will not allow him. So vice versa: If a black man wants to live in the slums, that should be his right. Black people will let him. That is the difference. And it’s a difference on which this country makes a number of logical mistakes when they begin to try to criticize the program articulated by SNCC.
Now we maintain that we cannot be afford to be concerned about 6 percent of the children in this country, black children, who you allow to come into white schools. We have 94 percent who still live in shacks. We are going to be concerned about those 94 percent. You ought to be concerned about them too. The question is, Are we willing to be concerned about those 94 percent? Are we willing to be concerned about the black people who will never get to Berkeley, who will never get to Harvard, and cannot get an education, so you’ll never get a chance to rub shoulders with them and say, “Well, he’s almost as good as we are; he’s not like the others”? The question is, How can white society begin to move to see black people as human beings? I am black, therefore I am; not that I am black and I must go to college to prove myself. I am black, therefore I am. And don’t deprive me of anything and say to me that you must go to college before you gain access to X, Y, and Z. It is only a rationalization for one’s oppression.
The — The political parties in this country do not meet the needs of people on a day-to-day basis. The question is, How can we build new political institutions that will become the political expressions of people on a day-to-day basis? The question is, How can you build political institutions that will begin to meet the needs of Oakland, California? And the needs of Oakland, California, is not 1,000 policemen with submachine guns. They don’t need that. They need that least of all. The question is, How can we build institutions where those people can begin to function on a day-to-day basis, where they can get decent jobs, where they can get decent houses, and where they can begin to participate in the policy and major decisions that affect their lives? That’s what they need, not Gestapo troops, because this is not 1942, and if you play like Nazis, we playing back with you this time around. Get hip to that.
The question then is, How can white people move to start making the major institutions that they have in this country function the way it is supposed to function? That is the real question. And can white people move inside their own community and start tearing down racism where in fact it does exist? Where it exists. It is you who live in Cicero and stop us from living there. It is white people who stop us from moving into Grenada. It is white people who make sure that we live in the ghettos of this country. it is white institutions that do that. They must change. In order — In order for America to really live on a basic principle of human relationships, a new society must be born. Racism must die, and the economic exploitation of this country of non-white peoples around the world must also die — must also die.
Now there are several programs that we have in the South, most in poor white communities. We’re trying to organize poor whites on a base where they can begin to move around the question of economic exploitation and political disfranchisement. We know — we’ve heard the theory several times — but few people are willing to go into there. The question is, Can the white activist not try to be a Pepsi generation who comes alive in the black community, but can he be a man who’s willing to move into the white community and start organizing where the organization is needed? Can he do that? The question is, Can the white society or the white activist disassociate himself with two clowns who waste time parrying with each other rather than talking about the problems that are facing people in this state? Can you dissociate yourself with those clowns and start to build new institutions that will eliminate all idiots like them.
And the question is, If we are going to do that when and where do we start, and how do we start? We maintain that we must start doing that inside the white community. Our own personal position politically is that we don’t think the Democratic Party represents the needs of black people. We know it don’t. And that if, in fact, white people really believe that, the question is, if they’re going to move inside that structure, how are they going to organize around a concept of whiteness based on true brotherhood and based on stopping exploitation, economic exploitation, so that there will be a coalition base for black people to hook up with? You cannot form a coalition based on national sentiment. That is not a coalition. If you need a coalition to redress itself to real changes in this country, white people must start building those institutions inside the white community. And that is the real question, I think, facing the white activists today. Can they, in fact, begin to move into and tear down the institutions which have put us all in a trick bag that we’ve been into for the last hundred years?
I don’t think that we should follow what many people say that we should fight to be leaders of tomorrow. Frederick Douglass said that the youth should fight to be leaders today. And God knows we need to be leaders today, ’cause the men who run this country are sick, are sick. So that can we on a larger sense begin now, today, to start building those institutions and to fight to articulate our position, to fight to be able to control our universities — We need to be able to do that — and to fight to control the basic institutions which perpetuate racism by destroying them and building new ones? That’s the real question that face us today, and it is a dilemma because most of us do not know how to work, and that the excuse that most white activists find is to run into the black community.
Now we maintain that we cannot have white people working in the black community, and we mean it on a psychological ground. The fact is that all black people often question whether or not they are equal to whites, because every time they start to do something, white people are around showing them how to do it. If we are going to eliminate that for the generation that comes after us, then black people must be seen in positions of power, doing and articulating for themselves, for themselves.
That is not to say that one is a reverse racist; it is to say that one is moving in a healthy ground; it is to say what the philosopher Sartre says: One is becoming an “antiracist racist.” And this country can’t understand that. Maybe it’s because it’s all caught up in racism. But I think what you have in SNCC is an anti-racist racism. We are against racists. Now if everybody who is white see themself [sic] as a racist and then see us against him, they’re speaking from their own guilt position, not ours, not ours.
Now then, the question is, How can we move to begin to change what’s going on in this country. I maintain, as we have in SNCC, that the war in Vietnam is an illegal and immoral war. And the question is, What can we do to stop that war? What can we do to stop the people who, in the name of our country, are killing babies, women, and children? What can we do to stop that? And I maintain that we do not have the power in our hands to change that institution, to begin to recreate it, so that they learn to leave the Vietnamese people alone, and that the only power we have is the power to say, “Hell no!” to the draft.
We have to say — We have to say to ourselves that there is a higher law than the law of a racist named McNamara. There is a higher law than the law of a fool named Rusk. And there’s a higher law than the law of a buffoon named Johnson. It’s the law of each of us. It’s the law of each of us. It is the law of each of us saying that we will not allow them to make us hired killers. We will stand pat. We will not kill anybody that they say kill. And if we decide to kill, we’re going to decide who we going to kill. And this country will only be able to stop the war in Vietnam when the young men who are made to fight it begin to say, “Hell, no, we ain’t going.”
Now then, there’s a failure because the Peace Movement has been unable to get off the college campuses where everybody has a 2S and not going to get drafted anyway. And the question is, How can you move out of that into the white ghettos of this country and begin to articulate a position for those white students who do not want to go. We cannot do that. It is something — sometimes ironic that many of the peace groups have beginning to call us violent and say they can no longer support us, and we are in fact the most militant organization [for] peace or civil rights or human rights against the war in Vietnam in this country today. There isn’t one organization that has begun to meet our stance on the war in Vietnam, ’cause we not only say we are against the war in Vietnam; we are against the draft. We are against the draft. No man has the right to take a man for two years and train him to be a killer. A man should decide what he wants to do with his life.
So the question then is it becomes crystal clear for black people because we can easily say that anyone fighting in the war in Vietnam is nothing but a black mercenary, and that’s all he is. Any time a black man leaves the country where he can’t vote to supposedly deliver the vote for somebody else, he’s a black mercenary. Any time a — Any time a black man leaves this country, gets shot in Vietnam on foreign ground, and returns home and you won’t give him a burial in his own homeland, he’s a black mercenary, a black mercenary.
And that even if I were to believe the lies of Johnson, if I were to believe his lies that we’re fighting to give democracy to the people in Vietnam, as a black man living in this country I wouldn’t fight to give this to anybody. I wouldn’t give it to anybody. So that we have to use our bodies and our minds in the only way that we see fit. We must begin like the philosopher Camus to come alive by saying “No!” That is the only act in which we begin to come alive, and we have to say “No!” to many, many things in this country.
This country is a nation of thieves. It has stole everything it has, beginning with black people, beginning with black people. And that the question is, How can we move to start changing this country from what it is — a nation of thieves. This country cannot justify any longer its existence. We have become the policeman of the world. The marines are at our disposal to always bring democracy, and if the Vietnamese don’t want democracy, well dammit, “We’ll just wipe them the hell out, ’cause they don’t deserve to live if they won’t have our way of life.”
There is then in a larger sense, What do you do on your university campus? Do you raise questions about the hundred black students who were kicked off campus a couple of weeks ago? Eight hundred? Eight hundred? And how does that question begin to move? Do you begin to relate to people outside of the ivory tower and university wall? Do you think you’re capable of building those human relationships, as the country now stands? You’re fooling yourself. It is impossible for white and black people to talk about building a relationship based on humanity when the country is the way it is, when the institutions are clearly against us.
We have taken all the myths of this country and we’ve found them to be nothing but downright lies. This country told us that if we worked hard we would succeed, and if that were true we would own this country lock, stock, and barrel — lock, stock, and barrel — lock, stock, and barrel. It is we who have picked the cotton for nothing. It is we who are the maids in the kitchens of liberal white people. It is we who are the janitors, the porters, the elevator men; we who sweep up your college floors. Yes, it is we who are the hardest workers and the lowest paid, and the lowest paid.
And that it is nonsensical for people to start talking about human relationships until they’re willing to build new institutions. Black people are economically insecure. White liberals are economically secure. Can you begin to build an economic coalition? Are the liberals willing to share their salaries with the economically insecure black people they so much love? Then if you’re not, are you willing to start building new institutions that will provide economic security for black people? That’s the question we want to deal with. That’s the question we want to deal with.
We have to seriously examine the histories that we have been told. But we have something more to do than that. American students are perhaps the most politically unsophisticated students in the world, in the world, in the world. Across every country in this world, while we were growing up, students were leading the major revolutions of their countries. We have not been able to do that. They have been politically aware of their existence. In South America our neighbors down below the border have one every 24 hours just to remind us that they’re politically aware.
And we have been unable to grasp it because we’ve always moved in the field of morality and love while people have been politically jiving with our lives. And the question is, How do we now move politically and stop trying to move morally? You can’t move morally against a man like Brown and Reagan. You’ve got to move politically to put them out of business. You’ve got to move politically.
You can’t move morally against Lyndon Baines Johnson because he is an immoral man. He doesn’t know what it’s all about. So you’ve got to move politically. You’ve got to move politically. And that we have to begin to develop a political sophistication — which is not to be a parrot: “The two-party system is the best party in the world.” There is a difference between being a parrot and being politically sophisticated.
We have to raise questions about whether or not we do need new types of political institutions in this country, and we in SNCC maintain that we need them now. We need new political institutions in this country. Any time — Any time Lyndon Baines Johnson can head a Party which has in it Bobby Kennedy, Wayne Morse, Eastland, Wallace, and all those other supposed-to-be-liberal cats, there’s something wrong with that Party. They’re moving politically, not morally. And that if that party refuses to seat black people from Mississippi and goes ahead and seats racists like Eastland and his clique, it is clear to me that they’re moving politically, and that one cannot begin to talk morality to people like that.
We must begin to think politically and see if we can have the power to impose and keep the moral values that we hold high. We must question the values of this society, and I maintain that black people are the best people to do that because we have been excluded from that society. And the question is, we ought to think whether or not we want to become a part of that society. That’s what we want to do.
And that that is precisely what it seems to me that the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee is doing. We are raising questions about this country. I do not want to be a part of the American pie. The American pie means raping South Africa, beating Vietnam, beating South America, raping the Philippines, raping every country you’ve been in. I don’t want any of your blood money. I don’t want it — don’t want to be part of that system. And the question is, How do we raise those questions? How do we ….How do we begin to raise them?
We have grown up and we are the generation that has found this country to be a world power, that has found this country to be the wealthiest country in the world. We must question how she got her wealth? That’s what we’re questioning, and whether or not we want this country to continue being the wealthiest country in the world at the price of raping every — everybody else across the world. That’s what we must begin to question. And that because black people are saying we do not now want to become a part of you, we are called reverse racists. Ain’t that a gas?
Now, then, we want to touch on nonviolence because we see that again as the failure of white society to make nonviolence work. I was always surprised at Quakers who came to Alabama and counseled me to be nonviolent, but didn’t have the guts to start talking to James Clark to be nonviolent. That is where nonviolence needs to be preached — to Jim Clark, not to black people. They have already been nonviolent too many years. The question is, Can white people conduct their nonviolent schools in Cicero where they belong to be conducted, not among black people in Mississippi. Can they conduct it among the white people in Grenada?
Six-foot-two men who kick little black children — can you conduct nonviolent schools there? That is the question that we must raise, not that you conduct nonviolence among black people. Can you name me one black man today who’s killed anybody white and is still alive? Even after rebellion, when some black brothers throw some bricks and bottles, ten thousand of them has to pay the crime, ’cause when the white policeman comes in, anybody who’s black is arrested, “’cause we all look alike.”
So that we have to raise those questions. We, the youth of this country, must begin to raise those questions. And we must begin to move to build new institutions that’s going to speak to the needs of people who need it. We are going to have to speak to change the foreign policy of this country. One of the problems with the peace movement is that it’s just too caught up in Vietnam, and that if we pulled out the troops from Vietnam this week, next week you’d have to get another peace movement for Santo Domingo. And the question is, How do you begin to articulate the need to change the foreign policy of this country — a policy that is decided upon race, a policy on which decisions are made upon getting economic wealth at any price, at any price.
Now we articulate that we therefore have to hook up with black people around the world; and that that hookup is not only psychological, but becomes very real. If South America today were to rebel, and black people were to shoot the hell out of all the white people there — as they should, as they should — then Standard Oil would crumble tomorrow. If South Africa were to go today, Chase Manhattan Bank would crumble tomorrow. If Zimbabwe, which is called Rhodesia by white people, were to go tomorrow, General Electric would cave in on the East Coast. The question is, How do we stop those institutions that are so willing to fight against “Communist aggression” but closes their eyes to racist oppression? That is the question that you raise. Can this country do that?
Now, many people talk about pulling out of Vietnam. What will happen? If we pull out of Vietnam, there will be one less aggressor in there — we won’t be there, we won’t be there. And so the question is, How do we articulate those positions? And we cannot begin to articulate them from the same assumptions that the people in the country speak, ’cause they speak from different assumptions than I assume what the youth in this country are talking about.
That we’re not talking about a policy or aid or sending Peace Corps people in to teach people how to read and write and build houses while we steal their raw materials from them. Is that what we’re talking about? ‘Cause that’s all we do. What underdeveloped countries needs — information on how to become industrialized, so they can keep their raw materials where they have it, produce them and sell it to this country for the price it’s supposed to pay; not that we produce it and sell it back to them for a profit and keep sending our modern day missionaries in, calling them the sons of Kennedy. And that if the youth are going to participate in that program, how do you raise those questions where you begin to control that Peace Corps program? How do you begin to raise them?
How do we raise the questions of poverty? The assumptions of this country is that if someone is poor, they are poor because of their own individual blight, or they weren’t born on the right side of town; they had too many children; they went in the army too early; or their father was a drunk, or they didn’t care about school, or they made a mistake. That’s a lot of nonsense. Poverty is well calculated in this country. It is well calculated, and the reason why the poverty program won’t work is because the calculators of poverty are administering it. That’s why it won’t work.
So how can we, as the youth in the country, move to start tearing those things down? We must move into the white community. We are in the black community. We have developed a movement in the black community. The challenge is that the white activist has failed miserably to develop the movement inside of his community. And the question is, Can we find white people who are going to have the courage to go into white communities and start organizing them? Can we find them? Are they here and are they willing to do that? Those are the questions that we must raise for the white activist.
And we’re never going to get caught up in questions about power. This country knows what power is. It knows it very well. And it knows what Black Power is ’cause it deprived black people of it for 400 years. So it knows what Black Power is. That the question of, Why do black people — Why do white people in this country associate Black Power with violence? And the question is because of their own inability to deal with “blackness.” If we had said “Negro power” nobody would get scared. Everybody would support it. Or if we said power for colored people, everybody’d be for that, but it is the word “black” — it is the word “black” that bothers people in this country, and that’s their problem, not mine — they’re problem, they’re problem.
Now there’s one modern day lie that we want to attack and then move on very quickly and that is the lie that says anything all black is bad. Now, you’re all a college university crowd. You’ve taken your basic logic course. You know about a major premise and minor premise. So people have been telling me anything all black is bad. Let’s make that our major premise.
Major premise: Anything all black is bad.
Minor premise or particular premise: I am all black.
I’m never going to be put in that trick bag; I am all black and I’m all good, dig it. Anything all black is not necessarily bad. Anything all black is only bad when you use force to keep whites out. Now that’s what white people have done in this country, and they’re projecting their same fears and guilt on us, and we won’t have it, we won’t have it. Let them handle their own fears and their own guilt. Let them find their own psychologists. We refuse to be the therapy for white society any longer. We have gone mad trying to do it. We have gone stark raving mad trying to do it.
I look at Dr. King on television every single day, and I say to myself: “Now there is a man who’s desperately needed in this country. There is a man full of love. There is a man full of mercy. There is a man full of compassion.” But every time I see Lyndon on television, I said, “Martin, baby, you got a long way to go.”
So that the question stands as to what we are willing to do, how we are willing to say “No” to withdraw from that system and begin within our community to start to function and to build new institutions that will speak to our needs. In Lowndes County, we developed something called the Lowndes County Freedom Organization. It is a political party. The Alabama law says that if you have a Party you must have an emblem. We chose for the emblem a black panther, a beautiful black animal which symbolizes the strength and dignity of black people, an animal that never strikes back until he’s back so far into the wall, he’s got nothing to do but spring out. Yeah. And when he springs he does not stop.
Now there is a Party in Alabama called the Alabama Democratic Party. It is all white. It has as its emblem a white rooster and the words “white supremacy” for the write. Now the gentlemen of the Press, because they’re advertisers, and because most of them are white, and because they’re produced by that white institution, never called the Lowndes County Freedom Organization by its name, but rather they call it the Black Panther Party. Our question is, Why don’t they call the Alabama Democratic Party the “White Cock Party”? (It’s fair to us…..) It is clear to me that that just points out America’s problem with sex and color, not our problem, not our problem. And it is now white America that is going to deal with those problems of sex and color.
If we were to be real and to be honest, we would have to admit — we would have to admit that most people in this country see things black and white. We have to do that. All of us do. We live in a country that’s geared that way. White people would have to admit that they are afraid to go into a black ghetto at night. They are afraid. That’s a fact. They’re afraid because they’d be “beat up,” “lynched,” “looted,” “cut up,” etcetera, etcetera. It happens to black people inside the ghetto every day, incidentally, and white people are afraid of that. So you get a man to do it for you — a policeman. And now you figure his mentality, when he’s afraid of black people. The first time a black man jumps, that white man going to shoot him. He’s going to shoot him. So police brutality is going to exist on that level because of the incapability of that white man to see black people come together and to live in the conditions. This country is too hypocritical and that we cannot adjust ourselves to its hypocrisy.
The only time I hear people talk about nonviolence is when black people move to defend themselves against white people. Black people cut themselves every night in the ghetto — Don’t anybody talk about nonviolence. Lyndon Baines Johnson is busy bombing the hell of out Vietnam — Don’t nobody talk about nonviolence. White people beat up black people every day — Don’t nobody talk about nonviolence. But as soon as black people start to move, the double standard comes into being.
You can’t defend yourself. That’s what you’re saying, ’cause you show me a man who — who would advocate aggressive violence that would be able to live in this country. Show him to me. The double standards again come into itself. Isn’t it ludicrous and hypocritical for the political chameleon who calls himself a Vice President in this country to — to stand up before this country and say, “Looting never got anybody anywhere”? Isn’t it hypocritical for Lyndon to talk about looting, that you can’t accomplish anything by looting and you must accomplish it by the legal ways? What does he know about legality? Ask Ho Chi Minh, he’ll tell you.
So that in conclusion we want to say that number one, it is clear to me that we have to wage a psychological battle on the right for black people to define their own terms, define themselves as they see fit, and organize themselves as they see it. Now the question is, How is the white community going to begin to allow for that organizing, because once they start to do that, they will also allow for the organizing that they want to do inside their community. It doesn’t make a difference, ’cause we’re going to organize our way anyway. We’re going to do it. The question is, How are we going to facilitate those matters, whether it’s going to be done with a thousand policemen with submachine guns, or whether or not it’s going to be done in a context where it is allowed to be done by white people warding off those policemen. That is the question.
And the question is, How are white people who call themselves activists ready to start move into the white communities on two counts: on building new political institutions to destroy the old ones that we have? And to move around the concept of white youth refusing to go into the army? So that we can start, then, to build a new world. It is ironic to talk about civilization in this country. This country is uncivilized. It needs to be civilized. It needs to be civilized.
And that we must begin to raise those questions of civilization: What it is? And who do it? And so we must urge you to fight now to be the leaders of today, not tomorrow. We’ve got to be the leaders of today. This country — This country is a nation of thieves. It stands on the brink of becoming a nation of murderers. We must stop it. We must stop it. We must stop it. We must stop it.
And then, therefore, in a larger sense there’s the question of black people. We are on the move for our liberation. We have been tired of trying to prove things to white people. We are tired of trying to explain to white people that we’re not going to hurt them. We are concerned with getting the things we want, the things that we have to have to be able to function. The question is, Can white people allow for that in this country? The question is, Will white people overcome their racism and allow for that to happen in this country? If that does not happen, brothers and sisters, we have no choice but to say very clearly, “Move over, or we’re going to move on over you.”
Delivered 16 July 1964, San Francisco:
My good friend and great Republican, Dick Nixon, and your charming wife, Pat; my running mate, that wonderful Republican who has served us so well for so long, Bill Miller and his wife, Stephanie; to Thurston Morton who’s done such a commendable job in chairmaning this Convention; to Mr. Herbert Hoover, who I hope is watching; and to that — that great American and his wife, General and Mrs. Eisenhower; to my own wife, my family, and to all of my fellow Republicans here assembled, and Americans across this great Nation.
From this moment, united and determined, we will go forward together, dedicated to the ultimate and undeniable greatness of the whole man. Together — Together we will win.
I accept your nomination with a deep sense of humility. I accept, too, the responsibility that goes with it, and I seek your continued help and your continued guidance. My fellow Republicans, our cause is too great for any man to feel worthy of it. Our task would be too great for any man, did he not have with him the hearts and the hands of this great Republican Party, and I promise you tonight that every fiber of my being is consecrated to our cause; that nothing shall be lacking from the struggle that can be brought to it by enthusiasm, by devotion, and plain hard work.
In this world no person, no Party can guarantee anything, but what we can do and what we shall do is to deserve victory, and victory will be ours.
The good Lord raised this mighty Republic to be a home for the brave and to flourish as the land of the free — not to stagnate in the swampland of collectivism, not to cringe before the bullying of communism.
Now, my fellow Americans, the tide has been running against freedom. Our people have followed false prophets. We must, and we shall, return to proven ways — not because they are old, but because they are true. We must, and we shall, set the tides running again in the cause of freedom. And this party, with its every action, every word, every breath, and every heartbeat, has but a single resolve, and that is freedom — freedom made orderly for this Nation by our constitutional government; freedom under a government limited by the laws of nature and of nature’s God; freedom balanced so that order lacking liberty [sic] will not become the slavery of the prison shell [cell]; balanced so that liberty lacking order will not become the license of the mob and of the jungle.
Now, we Americans understand freedom. We have earned it; we have lived for it, and we have died for it. This Nation and its people are freedom’s model in a searching world. We can be freedom’s missionaries in a doubting world. But, ladies and gentlemen, first we must renew freedom’s mission in our own hearts and in our own homes.
During four futile years, the administration which we shall replace has — has distorted and lost that vision. It has talked and talked and talked and talked the words of freedom, but it has failed and failed and failed in the works of freedom.
Now, failures cements the wall of shame in Berlin. Failures blot the sands of shame at the Bay of Pigs. Failures mark the slow death of freedom in Laos. Failures infest the jungles of Vietnam. And failures haunt the houses of our once great alliances and undermine the greatest bulwark ever erected by free nations — the NATO community. Failures proclaim lost leadership, obscure purpose, weakening will, and the risk of inciting our sworn enemies to new aggressions and to new excesses.
And because of this administration we are tonight a world divided; we are a Nation becalmed. We have lost the brisk pace of diversity and the genius of individual creativity. We are plodding along at a pace set by centralized planning, red tape, rules without responsibility, and regimentation without recourse.
Rather than useful jobs in our country, our people have been offered bureaucratic “make work”; rather than moral leadership, they have been given bread and circuses. They have been given spectacles, and, yes, they’ve even been given scandals.
Tonight, there is violence in our streets, corruption in our highest offices, aimlessness amongst our youth, anxiety among our elders, and there’s a virtual despair among the many who look beyond material success for the inner meaning of their lives. And where examples of morality should be set, the opposite is seen. Small men, seeking great wealth or power, have too often and too long turned even the highest levels of public service into mere personal opportunity.
Now, certainly, simple honesty is not too much to demand of men in government. We find it in most. Republicans demand it from everyone. They demand it from everyone no matter how exalted or protected his position might be. Now the — the growing menace in our country tonight, to personal safety, to life, to limb and property, in homes, in churches, on the playgrounds, and places of business, particularly in our great cities, is the mounting concern, or should be, of every thoughtful citizen in the United States.
Security from domestic violence, no less than from foreign aggression, is the most elementary and fundamental purpose of any government, and a government that cannot fulfill this purpose is one that cannot long command the loyalty of its citizens.
History shows us — it demonstrates that nothing, nothing prepares the way for tyranny more than the failure of public officials to keep the streets safe from bullies and marauders.
Now, we Republicans see all this as more, much more, than the result of mere political differences or mere political mistakes. We see this as the result of a fundamentally and absolutely wrong view of man, his nature, and his destiny. Those who seek to live your lives for you, to take your liberties in return for relieving you of yours, those who elevate the state and downgrade the citizen must see ultimately a world in which earthly power can be substituted for Divine Will, and this Nation was founded upon the rejection of that notion and upon the acceptance of God as the author of freedom.
Now those who seek absolute power, even though they seek it to do what they regard as good, are simply demanding the right to enforce their own version of heaven on earth. They — and let me remind you, they are the very ones who always create the most hellish tyrannies. Absolute power does corrupt, and those who seek it must be suspect and must be opposed. Their mistaken course stems from false notions, ladies and gentlemen, of equality. Equality, rightly understood, as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences. Wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism.
Fellow Republicans, it is the cause of Republicanism to resist concentrations of power, private or public, which — which enforce such conformity and inflict such despotism. It is the cause of Republicanism to ensure that power remains in the hands of the people. And, so help us God, that is exactly what a Republican President will do with the help of a Republican Congress.
It is further the cause of Republicanism to restore a clear understanding of the tyranny of man over man in the world at large. It is our cause to dispel the foggy thinking which avoids hard decisions in the delusion that a world of conflict will somehow mysteriously resolve itself into a world of harmony, if we just don’t rock the boat or irritate the forces of aggression — and this is hogwash.
It is further the cause of Republicanism to remind ourselves, and the world, that only the strong can remain free, that only the strong can keep the peace.
Now, I needn’t remind you, or my fellow Americans regardless of party, that Republicans have shouldered this hard responsibility and marched in this cause before. It was Republican leadership under Dwight Eisenhower that kept the peace, and passed along to this administration the mightiest arsenal for defense the world has ever known. And I needn’t remind you that it was the strength and the [un]believable will of the Eisenhower years that kept the peace by using our strength, by using it in the Formosa Straits and in Lebanon and by showing it courageously at all times.
It was during those Republican years that the thrust of Communist imperialism was blunted. It was during those years of Republican leadership that this world moved closer, not to war, but closer to peace, than at any other time in the last three decades.
And I needn’t remind you — but I will — that it’s been during Democratic years that our strength to deter war has stood still, and even gone into a planned decline. It has been during Democratic years that we have weakly stumbled into conflict, timidly refusing to draw our own lines against aggression, deceitfully refusing to tell even our people of our full participation, and tragically, letting our finest men die on battlefields, unmarked by purpose, unmarked by pride or the prospect of victory.
Yesterday, it was Korea. Tonight, it is Vietnam. Make no bones of this. Don’t try to sweep this under the rug. We are at war in Vietnam. And yet the President, who is the Commander-in-Chief of our forces, refuses to say — refuses to say, mind you, whether or not the objective over there is victory. And his Secretary of Defense continues to mislead and misinform the American people, and enough of it has gone by.
And I needn’t remind you — but I will — it has been during Democratic years that a billion persons were cast into Communist captivity and their fate cynically sealed.
Today — Today in our beloved country we have an administration which seems eager to deal with communism in every coin known — from gold to wheat, from consulates to confidences, and even human freedom itself.
Now the Republican cause demands that we brand communism as the principal disturber of peace in the world today. Indeed, we should brand it as the only significant disturber of the peace, and we must make clear that until its goals of conquest are absolutely renounced and its relations with all nations tempered, communism and the governments it now controls are enemies of every man on earth who is or wants to be free.
Now, we here in America can keep the peace only if we remain vigilant and only if we remain strong. Only if we keep our eyes open and keep our guard up can we prevent war. And I want to make this abundantly clear: I don’t intend to let peace or freedom be torn from our grasp because of lack of strength or lack of will — and that I promise you, Americans.
I believe that we must look beyond the defense of freedom today to its extension tomorrow. I believe that the communism which boasts it will bury us will, instead, give way to the forces of freedom. And I can see in the distant and yet recognizable future the outlines of a world worthy of our dedication, our every risk, our every effort, our every sacrifice along the way. Yes, a world that will redeem the suffering of those who will be liberated from tyranny. I can see — and I suggest that all thoughtful men must contemplate — the flowering of an Atlantic civilization, the whole of Europe reunified and freed, trading openly across its borders, communicating openly across the world.
Now, this is a goal far, far more meaningful than a moon shot.
It’s a — It’s a truly inspiring goal for all free men to set for themselves during the latter half of the twentieth century.
I can also see — and all free men must thrill to — the events of this Atlantic civilization joined by its great ocean highway to the United States. What a destiny! What a destiny can be ours to stand as a great central pillar linking Europe, the Americas, and the venerable and vital peoples and cultures of the Pacific. I can see a day when all the Americas, North and South, will be linked in a mighty system, a system in which the errors and misunderstandings of the past will be submerged one by one in a rising tide of prosperity and interdependence. We know that the misunderstandings of centuries are not to be wiped away in a day or wiped away in an hour. But we pledge, we pledge that human sympathy — what our neighbors to the South call an attitude of “simpatico” — no less than enlightened self’-interest will be our guide.
And I can see this Atlantic civilization galvanizing and guiding emergent nations everywhere.
Now I know this freedom is not the fruit of every soil. I know that our own freedom was achieved through centuries, by unremitting efforts of brave and wise men. And I know that the road to freedom is a long and a challenging road. And I know also that some men may walk away from it, that some men resist challenge, accepting the false security of governmental paternalism.
And I — And I pledge that the America I envision in the years ahead will extend its hand in health, in teaching and in cultivation, so that all new nations will be at least encouraged — encouraged! — to go our way, so that they will not wander down the dark alleys of tyranny or the dead-end streets of collectivism.
My fellow Republicans, we do no man a service by hiding freedom’s light under a bushel of mistaken humility.
I seek an America proud of its past, proud of its ways, proud of its dreams, and determined actively to proclaim them. But our example to the world must, like charity, begin at home.
In our vision of a good and decent future, free and peaceful, there must be room, room for deliberation of the energy and the talent of the individual; otherwise our vision is blind at the outset.
We must assure a society here which, while never abandoning the needy or forsaking the helpless, nurtures incentives and opportunities for the creative and the productive. We must know the whole good is the product of many single contributions.
And I cherish a day when our children once again will restore as heroes the sort of men and women who, unafraid and undaunted, pursue the truth, strive to cure disease, subdue and make fruitful our natural environment and produce the inventive engines of production, science, and technology.
This Nation, whose creative people have enhanced this entire span of history, should again thrive upon the greatness of all those things which we, we as individual citizens, can and should do. And during Republican years, this again will be a nation of men and women, of families proud of their role, jealous of their responsibilities, unlimited in their aspirations — a Nation where all who can will be self-reliant.
We Republicans see in our constitutional form of government the great framework which assures the orderly but dynamic fulfillment of the whole man, and we see the whole man as the great reason for instituting orderly government in the first place.
We see — We see in private property and in economy based upon and fostering private property, the one way to make government a durable ally of the whole man, rather than his determined enemy. We see in the sanctity of private property the only durable foundation for constitutional government in a free society. And — And beyond that, we see, in cherished diversity of ways, diversity of thoughts, of motives and accomplishments. We don’t seek to lead anyone’s life for him. We only seek — only seek to secure his rights, guarantee him opportunity — guarantee him opportunity to strive, with government performing only those needed and constitutionally sanctioned tasks which cannot otherwise be performed.
We Republicans seek a government that attends to its inherent responsibilities of maintaining a stable monetary and fiscal climate, encouraging a free and a competitive economy and enforcing law and order. Thus, do we seek inventiveness, diversity, and creative difference within a stable order, for we Republicans define government’s role where needed at many, many levels — preferably, though, the one closest to the people involved.
Our towns and our cities, then our counties, then our states, then our regional compacts — and only then, the national government. That, let me remind you, is the ladder of liberty, built by decentralized power. On it also we must have balance between the branches of government at every level.
Balance, diversity, creative difference: These are the elements of the Republican equation. Republicans agree — Republicans agree heartily to disagree on many, many of their applications, but we have never disagreed on the basic fundamental issues of why you and I are Republicans.
This is a Party. This Republican Party is a Party for free men, not for blind followers, and not for conformists.
In fact, in 1858 Abraham Lincoln said this of the Republican party — and I quote him, because he probably could have said it during the last week or so: “It was composed of strange, discordant, and even hostile elements” — end of the quote — in 1858. Yet — Yet all of these elements agreed on one paramount objective: To arrest the progress of slavery, and place it in the course of ultimate extinction.
Today, as then, but more urgently and more broadly than then, the task of preserving and enlarging freedom at home and of safeguarding it from the forces of tyranny abroad is great enough to challenge all our resources and to require all our strength.
Anyone who joins us in all sincerity, we welcome. Those who do not care for our cause, we don’t expect to enter our ranks in any case. And — And let our Republicanism, so focused and so dedicated, not be made fuzzy and futile by unthinking and stupid labels.
I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.
(Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.)
And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.
Why the beauty of the very system we Republicans are pledged to restore and revitalize, the beauty of this Federal system of ours is in its reconciliation of diversity with unity. We must not see malice in honest differences of opinion, and no matter how great, so long as they are not inconsistent with the pledges we have given to each other in and through our Constitution.
Our Republican cause is not to level out the world or make its people conform in computer regimented sameness. Our Republican cause is to free our people and light the way for liberty throughout the world.
Ours is a very human cause for very humane goals.
This Party, its good people, and its unquenchable devotion to freedom, will not fulfill the purposes of this campaign, which we launch here and now, until our cause has won the day, inspired the world, and shown the way to a tomorrow worthy of all our yesteryears.
I repeat, I accept your nomination with humbleness, with pride, and you and I are going to fight for the goodness of our land.
Delivered 3 September 1937 in Washington D.C.:
Out of the agony and travail of economic America the Committee for Industrial Organization was born. To millions of Americans exploited without stint by corporate industry and socially debased beyond the understanding of the fortunate, its coming was as welcomed as the dawn to the night watcher. To a lesser group of Americans, infinitely more fortunately situated, blessed with larger quantities of the world’s goods and insolent in their assumption of privilege, its coming was heralded as a harbinger of ill, sinister of purpose, of unclean methods and non-virtuous objectives. But the Committee for Industrial Organizations is here. It is now henceforth a definite instrumentality, destined greatly to influence the lives of our people and the internal and external course of the republic.
This is true only because the purposes and objectives of the Committee for Industrial Organization find economic, social, political and moral justification in the hearts of the millions who are its members and the millions more who support it. The organization and constant onward sweep of this movement exemplifies the resentment of the many toward the selfishness, greed and the neglect of the few.
The workers of the nation were tired of waiting for corporate industry to right their economic wrongs, to alleviate their social agony and to grant them their political rights. Despairing of fair treatment, they resolved to do something for themselves. They, therefore, have organized a new labor movement, conceived within the principles of the national bill of rights and committed to the proposition that the workers are free to assemble in their own forums, voice their own grievances, declare their own hopes and contract on even terms with modern industry for the sale of their only material possession — their labor.
The Committee for Industrial Organization has a numerical enrollment of 3,718,000 members. It has 32 affiliated national and international unions. Of this number 11 unions account for 2,765,000 members. This group is organized in the textile, auto, garment, lumber, rubber, electrical manufacturing, power, steel, coal and transport industries. The remaining membership exists in the maritime, oil production and refining, ship building, leather, chemical, retail, meat packing, vegetable canning, metalliferous mining, miscellaneous manufacturing, agricultural labor, and service and miscellaneous industries. Some 200,000 workers are organized into 507 chartered local unions not yet attached to a national industrial union.
This record bespeaks progress. It is a development without precedent in our own country. Some of this work was accomplished with the enlightened cooperation or the tolerant acquiescence of employers who recognized that a new labor movement was being forged and who were not disposed, in any event, to flout the law of the land. On the other hand, much of this progress was made in the face of violent and deadly opposition which reached its climax in the slaughter of workers paralleling the massacres of Ludlow and Homestead.
In the steel industry the corporations generally have accepted collective bargaining and negotiated wage agreements with the Committee for Industrial Organization. Eighty-five per cent of the industry is thus under contract and a peaceful relationship exits between the management and the workers. Written wage contracts have been negotiated with 399 steel companies covering 510,000 men. One thousand thirty-one local lodges in 700 communities have been organized.
Five of the corporations in the steel industry elected to resist collective bargaining and undertook to destroy the steel workers’ union. These companies filled their plants with industrial spies, assembled depots of guns and gas bombs, established barricades, controlled their communities with armed thugs, leased the police power of cities and mobilized the military power of a state to guard them against the intrusion of collective bargaining within their plants.
During this strike 18 steel workers were either shot to death or had their brains clubbed out by police, or armed thugs in the pay of the steel companies. In Chicago, Mayor Kelly’s police force was successful in killing ten strikers before they could escape the fury of the police, shooting eight of them in the back. One hundred sixty strikers were maimed and injured by police clubs, riot guns and gas bombs and were hospitalized. Hundreds of strikers were arrested, jailed, treated with brutality while incarcerated and harassed by succeeding litigation. None but strikers were murdered, gassed, injured, jailed or maltreated. No one had to die except the workers who were standing for the right guaranteed them by the Congress and written in the law.
The infamous Governor Davey, of Ohio, successful in the last election because of his reiterated promises of fair treatment to labor, used the military power of the Commonwealth on the side of the Republican Steel Company and the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company. Nearly half of the staggering military expenditure incident to the crushing of this strike in Ohio was borne by the federal government through the allocation of financial aid to the military establishment of the state.
The steel workers have now buried their dead, while the widows weep and watch their orphaned children become objects of public charity. The murder of these unarmed men has never been publicly rebuked by any authoritative officer of the state or federal government. Some of them, in extenuation, plead lack of jurisdiction, but murder as a crime against the moral code can always be rebuked without regard to the niceties of legalistic jurisdiction by those who profess to be the keepers of the public conscience.
Shortly after Kelly’s police force in Chicago had indulged in their bloody orgy, Kelly came to Washington looking for political patronage. That patronage was forthcoming and Kelly must believe that the killing of the strikers is no liability in partisan politics.
Meanwhile, the steel puppet Davey is still Governor of Ohio, but not for long I think – not for long. The people of Ohio may be relied upon to mete our political justice to one who has betrayed his state, outraged the public conscience and besmirched the public honor.
While the men of the steel industry were going through blood and gas in defense of their rights and their homes and their families, elsewhere on the far-flung C.I.O. front the hosts of labor were advancing and intelligent and permanent progress was being made. In scores of industries plant after plant and company after company were negotiating sensible working agreements.
The men in the steel industry who sacrificed their all were nor merely aiding their fellows at home but were adding strength to the cause of their comrades in all industry. Labor was marching toward the goal of industrial democracy and contributing constructively toward a more rational arrangement of our domestic economy.
Labor does not see industrial strife. It wants peace, but a peace with justice. In the long struggle for labor’s rights it has been patient and forbearing. Sabotage and destruction syndicalism have had no part in the American labor movement. Workers have kept faith in American institutions. Most of the conflicts, which have occurred have been when labor’s right to live has been challenged and denied.
If there is to be peace in our industrial life let the employer recognize his obligation to his employees – at least to the degree set forth in existing statutes. Ordinary problems affecting wages, hours, and working conditions, in most instances, will quickly respond to negotiation in the council room.
The United States Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and similar groups representing industry and financial interests, are rendering a disservice to the American people in their attempts to frustrate the organization of labor and in their refusal to accept collective bargaining as one of our economic institutions.
These groups are encouraging a systematic organization of vigilante groups to fight unionization under the sham pretext of local interests. They equip these vigilantes with tin hats, wooden clubs, gas masks and lethal weapons and train them in the arts of brutality and oppression. They bring in snoops, finks, hatchet gangs and Chowderhead Cohens to infest their plants and disturb the communities.
Fascist organizations have been launched and financed under the shabby pretext that the C.I.O. movement is communistic. The real breeders of discontent and alien doctrines of government and philosophies subversive of good citizenship are such as these who take the law into their own hands.
No tin-hat brigade of goose-stepping vigilantes or bibble-babbling mob of blackguarding and corporation paid scoundrels will prevent the onward march of labor, or divert its purpose to play its natural and rational part in the development of the economic, political and social life of our nation.
Unionization, as opposed to communism, presupposes the relation of employment; it is based upon the wage system and it recognizes fully and unreservedly the institution of private property and the right to investment profit. It is upon the fuller development of collective bargaining, the wider expansion of the labor movement, the increased influence of labor in our national councils, that the perpetuity of our democratic institutions must largely depend.
The organized workers of America, free in their industrial life, conscious partners in production, secure in their homes and enjoying a decent standard of living, will prove the finest bulwark against the intrusion of alien doctrines of government.
Do those who have hatched this foolish cry of communism in the C.I.O. fear the increased influence of labor in our democracy? Do they fear its influence will be cast on the side of shorter hours, a better system of distributed employment, better homes for the under-privileged, social security for the aged, a fairer distribution of the national income?
Certainly the workers that are being organized want a voice in the determination of these objectives of social justice. Certainly labor wants a fairer share in the national income. Assuredly labor wants a larger participation in increased productive efficiency. Obviously the population is entitled to participate in the fruits of the genius of our men of achievement in the field of the material sciences.
Labor has suffered just as our farm population has suffered from a viciously unequal distribution of the national income. In the exploitation of both classes of workers has been the source of panic and depression, and upon the economic welfare of both rests the best assurance of a sound and permanent prosperity.
In this connection let me call attention to the propaganda which some of our industrialists are carrying on among the farmers. By pamphlets in the milk cans or attached to machinery and in countless other ways of direct and indirect approach, the farmers of the nation are being told that the increased price of farm machinery and farm supplies is due to the rising wage level brought about by the Committee for Industrial Organization. And yet it is the industrial millions of this country who constitute the substantial market for all agricultural products.
The interest of the two groups are mutually dependent. It is when the pay roll goes down that the farmer’s realization is diminished, so that his loans become overdue at the bank and the arrival of the tax collector is awaited with fear. On the other hand it is the prosperity of the farmer that quickness the tempo of manufacturing activities and brings buying power to the millions of urban and industrial workers.
As we view the years that have passed this has always been true and it becomes increasingly imperative that the farm population and the millions of workers in industry must learn to combine their strength for the attainment of mutual and desirable objectives and at the same time learn to guard themselves against the sinister propaganda of those who would divide and exploit them.
Under the banner of the Committee for Industrial Organization American labor is on the march. Its objectives today are those it had in the beginning: to strive for the unionization of our unorganized millions of workers and for the acceptance of collective bargaining as a recognized American institution.
It seeks peace with the industrial world. It seeks cooperation and mutuality of effort with the agricultural population. It would avoid strikes. It would have its rights determined under the law by the peaceful negotiations and contract relationships that are supposed to characterize American commercial life.
Until an aroused public opinion demands that employers accept that rule, labor has no recourse but to surrender its rights or struggle for their realization with its own economic power.
The objectives of this movement are not political in a partisan sense. Yet it is true that a political party which seeks the support of labor and makes pledges of good faith to labor must, in equity and good conscience, keep that faith and redeem those pledges.
The spectacle of august and dignified members of Congress, servants of the people and agents of the republic, skulking. in hallways and closets, hiding their faces in a party caucus to prevent a quorum from acting upon a labor measure, is one that emphasizes the perfidy of politicians and blasts the confidence of labor’s millions in politician’s promises and statesmen’s vows.
Labor next year cannot avoid the necessity of a political assay of the work and. deeds of its so-called friends and its political beneficiaries. It must determine who are its friends in the arena of politics as elsewhere. It feels that its cause is just and that its friends should not view its struggle with neutral detachment or intone constant criticism of its activities.
Those who chant their praises of democracy but who lose no chance to drive their knives into labor’s defenseless back must feel the weight of labor’s woe even as its open adversaries must ever feel the thrust of labor’s power.
Labor, like Israel, has many sorrows. Its women weep for their fallen and they lament for the future of the children of the race. It ill behooves one who has supped at labor’s table and who has been sheltered in labor’s house to curse with equal fervor and fine impartiality both labor and its adversaries when they become locked in deadly embrace.
I repeat that labor seeks peace and guarantees its own loyalty, but the voice of labor, insistent upon its rights, should not be annoying to the ears of justice or offensive to the conscience of the American people.
Broadcast nationally from Joseph P. Kennedy’s home on 25 July 1969:
My fellow citizens:
I have requested this opportunity to talk to the people of Massachusetts about the tragedy which happened last Friday evening. This morning I entered a plea of guilty to the charge of leaving the scene of an accident. Prior to my appearance in court it would have been improper for me to comment on these matters. But tonight I am free to tell you what happened and to say what it means to me.
On the weekend of July 18, I was on Martha’s Vineyard Island participating with my nephew, Joe Kennedy — as for thirty years my family has participated — in the annual Edgartown Sailing Regatta. Only reasons of health prevented my wife from accompanying me.
On Chappaquiddick Island, off Martha’s Vineyard, I attended, on Friday evening, July 18, a cook-out, I had encouraged and helped sponsor for devoted group of Kennedy campaign secretaries. When I left the party, around 11:15 P.M., I was accompanied by one of these girls, Miss Mary Jo Kopechne. Mary J was one of the most devoted members of the staff of Senator Robert Kennedy. She worked for him for four years and was broken up over his death. For this reason, and because she was such a gentle, kind, and idealistic person, all of us tried to help her feel that she still had a home with the Kennedy family.
There is no truth, no truth whatever, to the widely circulated suspicions of immoral conduct that have been leveled at my behavior and hers regarding that evening. There has never been a private relationship between us of any kind. I know of nothing in Mary Jo’s conduct on that or nay other occasion — the same is true of the other girls at that party — that would lend any substance to such ugly speculation about their character.
Nor was I driving under the influence of liquor.
Little over one mile away, the car that I was driving on the unlit road went off a narrow bridge which had no guard rails and was built on a left angle to the road. The car overturned in a deep pond and immediately filled with water. I remember thinking as the cold water rushed in around my head that I was for certain drowning. Then water entered my lungs and I actual felt the sensation of drowning. But somehow I struggled to the surface alive.
I made immediate and repeated efforts to save Mary Jo by diving into strong and murky current, but succeeded only in increasing my state of utter exhaustion and alarm. My conduct and conversations during the next several hours, to the extent that I can remember them, make no sense to me at all.
Although my doctors informed me that I suffered a cerebral concussion, as well as shock, I do not seek to escape responsibility for my actions by placing the blame either in the physical, emotional trauma brought on by the accident, or on anyone else. I regard as indefensible the fact that I did not report the accident to the policy immediately.
Instead of looking directly for a telephone after lying exhausted in the grass for an undetermined time, I walked back to the cottage where the party was being held and requested the help of two friends, my cousin, Joseph Gargan and Phil Markham, and directed them to return immediately to the scene with me — this was sometime after midnight — in order to undertake a new effort to dive down and locate Miss Kopechne. Their strenuous efforts, undertaken at some risk to their own lives also proved futile.
All kinds of scrambled thoughts — all of them confused, some of them irrational, many of them which I cannot recall, and some of which I would not have seriously entertained under normal circumstances — went through my mind during this period. They were reflected in the various inexplicable, inconsistent, and inconclusive things I said and did, including such questions as whether the girl might still be alive somewhere out of that immediate area, whether some awful curse did actually hang over all the Kennedys, whether there was some justifiable reason for me to doubt what has happened and to delay my report, whether somehow the awful weight of this incredible incident might, in some way, pass from my shoulders. I was overcome, I’m frank to say, by a jumble of emotions, grief, fear, doubt, exhaustion, panic, confusion and shock.
Instructing Gargan and Markham not to alarm Mary Jo’s friends that night, I had them take me to the ferry crossing. The ferry having shut down for the night, I suddenly jumped into the water and impulsively swam across, nearly drowning once again in the effort, and returned to my hotel about 2 A.M. and collapsed in my room.
I remember going out at one point and saying something to the room clerk.
In the morning, with my mind somewhat more lucid, I made an effort to call a family legal advisor, Burke Marshall, from a public telephone on the Chappaquiddick side of the ferry and belatedly reported the accident to the Martha’s Vineyard police.
Today, as I mentioned, I felt morally obligated to plead guilty to the charge of leaving the scene of an accident. No words on my part can possibly express the terrible pain and suffering I feel over this tragic incident. This last week has been an agonizing one for me and for the members of my family, and the grief we feel over the loss of a wonderful friend will remain with us the rest of our lives.
These events, the publicity, innuendo, and whispers which have surrounded them and my admission of guilt this morning raises the question in my mind of whether my standing among the people of my state has been so impaired that I should resign my seat in the United States Senate. If at any time the citizens of Massachusetts should lack confidence in their Senator’s character or his ability, with or without justification, he could not in my opinion adequately perform his duty and should not continue in office.
The people of this State, the State which sent John Quincy Adams, and Daniel Webster, and Charles Sumner, and Henry Cabot Lodge, and John Kennedy to the United States Senate are entitled to representation in that body by men who inspire their utmost confidence. For this reason, I would understand full well why some might think it right for me to resign. For me this will be a difficult decision to make.
It has been seven years since my first election to the Senate. You and I share many memories — some of them have been glorious, some have been very sad. The opportunity to work with you and serve Massachusetts has made my life worthwhile.
And so I ask you tonight, the people of Massachusetts, to think this through with me. In facing this decision, I seek your advice and opinion. In making it, I seek your prayers — for this is a decision that I will have finally to make on my own.
It has been written a man does what he must in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles, and dangers, and pressures, and that is the basis of human morality. Whatever may be the sacrifices he faces, if he follows his conscience — the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow man — each man must decide for himself the course he will follow. The stories of the past courage cannot supply courage itself. For this, each man must look into his own soul.
I pray that I can have the courage to make the right decision. Whatever is decided and whatever the future holds for me, I hope that I shall have been able to put this most recent tragedy behind me and make some further contribution to our state and mankind, whether it be in public or private life.
Thank you and good night.
“The Catholic Church’s actions with respect to the interplay of religious values and public policy make clear that there is no inflexible moral principle which determines what our political conduct should be.”
Delivered 13 September, 1984, The University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN:
Thank you very much, Father Hesburgh, Father McBrien, all the distinguished clergy who are present, ladies and gentlemen:
I am very pleased to be at Notre Dame and I feel very much at home, frankly — not just because you have seven or eight hundred students from New York state, not just because — not just because Father McBrien’s mother’s name is Catherine Botticelli — a beautiful name — not just because Father Hesburgh is a Syracuse native, but also because of your magnificent history of great football teams. Oh, the subway — They mean a lot to us, the…great Fighting Irish. The subway alumni of New York City have always been enthralled. And for years and years all over the state, Syracuse north and south, out on Long Island, people on Saturday’s would listen to their radio and now watch their television to watch the great Fighting Irish wearing the Gallic Green. It’s marvelous. The names of your great players reverberate back from the years: Nick Buoniconti, Nick Pietrosante, Angelo Bertelli. How about Ralph Guglielmi? What a great player he is.
I want to begin this talk by drawing your attention to the title of the lecture: “Religious Belief and Public Morality: A Catholic Governor’s Perspective.” I was not invited to speak on “church and state” generally, and certainly not to speak on “Mondale against Reagan.” The subject assigned to me is difficult enough. I’ll not try to do more than I’ve been asked.
I’m honored by the invitation, but the record shows that I’m not the first governor of New York State to appear at an event involving Notre Dame. One of my great predecessors, Al Smith, went to the Army-Notre Dame football game each time it was played in New York. His fellow Catholics expected Smith to sit with Notre Dame; protocol required him to sit with Army because it was the home team. Protocol prevailed. But not without Smith noting the dual demands on his affections: “I’ll take my seat with Army,” he said, “but I commend my soul to Notre Dame!”
Today, frankly, I’m happy I have no such problem: Both my seat and my soul are with Notre Dame. And as long as Father McBrien or Father Hesburgh doesn’t invite me back to sit with him at the Notre Dame-St. John’s basketball game, I’m confident my loyalties will remain undivided. And in a sense, it’s a question of loyalty that Father McBrien has asked me here today to discuss. Specifically, must politics and religion in America divide our loyalties? Does the “separation between church and state” imply separation between religion and politics? Between morality and government? And are these different propositions? Even more specifically, what is the relationship of my Catholicism to my politics? Where does the one end and the other begin? Or are they divided at all? And if they’re not, should they be?
These are hard questions. No wonder most of us in pubic life — at least until recently — preferred to stay away from them, heeding the biblical advice that if “hounded and pursued in one city,” we should flee to another. Now, however, I think that it’s too late to flee. The questions are all around us; the answers are coming from every quarter. Some of them have been simplistic; most of them fragmentary; and a few, spoken with a purely political intent, demagogic. There’s been confusion and compounding of confusion, a blurring of the issue, entangling it in personalities and election strategies, instead of clarifying it for Catholics, as well as for others.
Today, I’d like to try — just try — to help correct that. And of course I can offer you no final truths, complete and unchallengeable. But it’s possible that this one effort will provoke other efforts — both in support and contradiction of my position — that will help all of us to understand our differences and perhaps even discover some basic agreement. In the end, I am absolutely convinced that we will all benefit if suspicion is replaced by discussion, innuendo by dialogue, if the emphasis in our debate turns from a search for talismanic criteria and neat but simplistic answers to an honest, more intelligent attempt at describing the role that religion has in our public affairs, and the limits placed on that role. And if we do it right — if we’re not afraid of the truth even when the truth is complex — this debate, by clarification, can bring relief to untold numbers of confused, even anguished Catholics, as well as to many others who want only to make our already great democracy even stronger than it is.
I believe the recent discussion in my own state has already produced some clearer definition. As you may know, in early summer an impression was created in some quarters that official Church spokespeople would ask Catholics to vote for or against specific candidates on the basis of their political position on the abortion issue alone. I was one of those that was given that impression. Thanks to the dialogue that ensued over the summer — only partially reported by the media — we learned that the impression was not accurate.
Confusion had presented an opportunity for clarification, and we seized it. Now all of us — all of us are saying one thing, in chorus, reiterating the statement of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops that they will not take positions for or against specific political candidates, and that their stand — the stand of the bishops and the cardinals — on specific issues should not be perceived as an expression of political partisanship.
Now, of course the bishops will teach — they must teach — more and more vigorously, and more and more extensively. But they have said they will not use the power of their position, and the great respect it receives from all Catholics, to give an imprimatur to individual politicians or parties. Not that they couldn’t do it if they wished to — some religious leaders, as you know, do it. Some are doing it at this very moment. And not that it would be a sin if they did. God does not insist on political neutrality. But because it is the judgment of the bishops, and most of us Catholic laypeople, that it is not wise for prelates and politicians to be too closely tied together.
Now, I think that getting this consensus in New York was an extraordinarily useful achievement. And now, with some trepidation, I take up your gracious invitation to continue the dialogue in the hope that it will lead to still further clarification.
Let me begin this part of the effort by underscoring the obvious. I do not speak as a theologian; I don’t have that competence. I do not speak as a philosopher; to suggest that I could, would be to set a new record for false pride. I don’t presume to speak as a “good” person, except in the ontological sense of that word. My principal credential is that I serve in a position that forces me to wrestle with the problems that you’ve come here to study and to debate.
I am by training a lawyer and by practice a politician. Now, both those professions make me suspect in many quarters, including — including some of my own coreligionists. Maybe there’s no better illustration of the public perception of how politicians unite their faith and their profession than the story they tell in New York about “Fishhooks” McCarthy, a famous Democratic leader. (He actually lived.) “Fish Hooks” McCarthy lived on the Lower East Side. He was right-hand man to Al Smith, the prototypical political person of his time. “Fishhooks,” the story goes, was devout. So devout that every morning on his way to Tammany Hall to do his political work, he stopped into St. James Church on Oliver Street in downtown Manhattan, fell on his knees, and whispered every morning the same simple prayer: “O, Lord, give me health and strength. We’ll steal the rest.”
“Fishhooks” notwithstanding, I speak here as a politician; and also as a Catholic, a layperson baptized and raised in the pre-Vatican II Church, educated in Catholic schools, attached to the Church first by birth, then by choice, now by love; an old-fashioned Catholic who sins, regrets, struggles, worries, gets confused, and most of the time feels better after confession. The Catholic Church is my spiritual home. My heart is there, and my hope.
But there is, of course, more to being a Catholic than a sense of spiritual and emotional resonance. Catholicism is a religion of the head as well as the heart, and to be a Catholic is to say, “I believe,” to the essential core of dogmas that distinguishes our faith. The acceptance of this faith requires a lifelong struggle to understand it more fully and to live it more truly, to translate truth into experience, to practice as well as to believe. That’s not easy: applying religious belief to everyday life often presents difficult challenges. And it’s always been that way. It certainly is today. The America of the late twentieth century is a consumer society, filled with endless distractions, where faith is more often dismissed than challenged, where the ethnic and other loyalties that once fastened us to our religion seem to be weakening.
In addition to all the weaknesses, all the dilemmas, all the temptations that impede every pilgrim’s progress, the Catholic who holds political office in a pluralistic democracy, a Catholic who is elected to serve Jews and Muslims and atheists and Protestants, as well as Catholics, bears special responsibility. He or she undertakes to help create conditions under which all can live with a maximum of dignity and with a reasonable degree of freedom; where everyone who chooses may hold beliefs different from specifically Catholic ones, sometimes even contradictory to them; where the laws protect people’s right to divorce, their right to use birth control devices, and even to choose abortion.
In fact, Catholic public officials take an oath to preserve the Constitution that guarantees this freedom. And they do so gladly, not because they love what others do with their freedom, but because they realize that in guaranteeing freedom for all, they guarantee our right to be Catholics: our right to pray, our right to use the sacraments, to refuse birth control devices, to reject abortion, not to divorce and remarry if we believe it to be wrong.
The Catholic public official lives the political truth that most Catholics through most of American history have accepted and insisted on: the truth that to assure our freedom we must allow others the same freedom, even if occasionally it produces conduct by them which we would hold to be sinful. I protect my right to be a Catholic by preserving your right to be a Jew, or a Protestant, or a nonbeliever, or anything else you choose. We know that the price of seeking to force our belief on others is that they might someday force their belief on us.
Now, this freedom is the fundamental strength of our unique experiment in government. In the complex interplay of forces and considerations that go into the making of our law and policies, its preservation, the preservation of freedom, must be a pervasive and dominant concern.
But insistence on freedom is easier to accept as a general proposition than in its applications to specific situations because there are other valid general principles firmly embedded in our Constitution, which, operating at the same time, create interesting and occasionally troubling problems. Thus, the same amendment of the Constitution that forbids the establishment of a state church affirms my legal right to argue that my religious belief would serve well as an article of our universal public morality.
I may use the prescribed processes of government — the legislative and executive and judicial processes — to convince my fellow citizens, Jews and Protestants and Buddhists and nonbelievers, that what I propose is as beneficial for them as I believe it is for me. But it’s not just parochial or narrowly sectarian but fulfills a human desire for order, for peace, for justice, for kindness, for love, for any of the values that most of us agree are desirable even apart from their specific religious base or context.
I’m free to argue for a governmental policy for a nuclear freeze not just to avoid sin, but because I think my democracy should regard it as a desirable goal. I can, if I wish, argue that the state should not fund the use of contraceptive devices not because the Pope demands it, but because I think that the whole community — for the good of the whole community — should not sever sex from an openness to the creation of life. And surely I can, if I am so inclined, demand some kind of law against abortion, not because my bishops say it is wrong, but because I think that the whole community, regardless of its religious beliefs, should agree on the importance of protecting life — including life in the womb, which is at the very least potentially human and should not be extinguished casually.
Now, no law prevents us from advocating any of these things. I am free to do so. So are the bishops. So is Reverend Falwell. In fact, the Constitution guarantees my right to try. And theirs. And his.
But should I? Is it helpful? Is it essential to human dignity? Would it promote harmony and understanding? Or does it divide us so fundamentally that it threatens our ability to function as a pluralistic community? When should I argue to make my religious value your morality? My rule of conduct your limitation? What are the rules and policies that should influence the exercise of this right to argue and to promote?
Now, I believe I have a salvific mission as a Catholic. Does that mean I am in conscience required to do everything I can as governor to translate all of my religious values into the laws and regulations of the State of New York or of the United States? Or be branded a hypocrite if I don’t? As a Catholic, I respect the teaching authority of my bishops. But must I agree with everything in the bishops’ pastoral letter on peace and fight to include it in party platforms? And will I have to do the same for the forthcoming pastoral on economics even if I am an unrepentant supply-sider? Must I, having heard the pope once again renew the Church’s ban on birth control devices as clearly as it’s been done in modern times — must I as governor veto the funding of contraceptive programs for non-Catholics or dissenting Catholics in my state? I accept the Church’s teaching on abortion. Must I insist that you do by denying you Medicaid funding? By a constitutional amendment? And if by a constitutional amendment, which one? Would that be the best way to avoid abortions or to prevent them?
Now, these are only some of the questions for Catholics. People with other religious beliefs face similar problems. Let me try some answers.
Almost all Americans accept the religious values as a part of our public life. We are a religious people, many of us descended from ancestors who came here expressly to live their religious faith free from coercion or repression. But we are also a people of many religions, with no established church, who hold different beliefs on many matters. Our public morality, then — the moral standards we maintain for everyone, not just the ones we insist on in our private lives — depends on a consensus view of right and wrong. The values derived from religious belief will not — and should not — be accepted as part of the public morality unless they are shared by the pluralistic community at large, by consensus. So that the fact that values happen to be religious values does not deny them acceptability as part of this consensus. But it does not require their acceptability, either.
Think about it: The agnostics who joined the civil rights struggle were not deterred because that crusade’s values had been nurtured and sustained in black Christian churches. And those on the political left are not perturbed today by the religious basis of the clergy and laypeople who join them in the protest against the arms race and hunger and exploitation.
The arguments start when religious values are used to support positions which would impose on other people restrictions that they find unacceptable. Some people do object to Catholic demands for an end to abortion, seeing it as a violation of the separation of church and state. And some others, while they have no compunction about invoking the authority of Catholic bishops in regard to birth control and abortion, might reject out of hand their teaching on war and peace and social policy.
Ultimately, therefore, what this means is that the question whether or not we admit religious values into our public affairs is too broad to yield to a single answer. Yes, we create our public morality through consensus and in this country that consensus reflects to some extent the religious values of a great majority of Americans. But no, all religiously based values don’t have an a priori place in our public morality. The community must decide if what is being proposed would be better left to private discretion than public policy, whether it restricts freedoms, and if so to what end, to whose benefit, whether it will produce a good or bad result, whether overall it will help the community or merely divide it.
Now, the right answers to these terribly subtle and complex questions can be elusive. Some of the wrong answers, however, are quite clear. For example, there are those who say there is a simple answer to all these questions; they say that by history and by the practice of our people we were intended from the beginning to be — and should be today — a Christian country in law. But where would that leave the nonbelievers? And whose Christianity would be law, yours or mine? This “Christian nation” argument should concern — even frighten — two groups in this society: non-Christians and thinking Christians. And I believe it does.
I think it’s already apparent that a good part of this nation understands — if only instinctively — that anything which seems to suggest that God favors a political party or the establishment of a state church is wrong and dangerous. Way down deep the American people are afraid of an entangling relationship between formal religions — or whole bodies of religious belief — and government. Apart from the constitutional law and apart from religious doctrine, there’s a sense that tells us it’s wrong to presume to speak for God or to claim God’s sanction of our particular legislation and his rejection of all other positions. Most of us are offended when we see religion being trivialized by its appearance in political throwaway pamphlets. The American people need no course in philosophy or political science or Church history to know that God should not be made into a celestial party chairman.
To most of us, the manipulative invoking of religion to advance a politician or a party is frightening and divisive. The American public will tolerate religious leaders taking positions for or against candidates, although I think the Catholic bishops are right in avoiding that position. But the American people are leery about large religious organizations, powerful churches, or synagogue groups engaging in such activities — again, not as a matter of law or doctrine, but because our innate wisdom and our democratic instinct teaches us these things are dangerous for both sides — dangerous for the religious institution, dangerous for the rest of our society.
Now, today there are a number of issues involving life and death that raise questions of public morality. And they are also questions of concern to most religions. Pick up a newspaper — almost any newspaper — and you’re almost certain to find a bitter controversy over any one of these questions: Baby Jane Doe, the right to die, artificial insemination, embryos in vitro, abortion, birth control — not to mention nuclear war and the shadow that it throws across all of existence.
Now, some of these issues touch the most intimate recesses of our lives, our roles as someone’s mother or child or husband; some affect women in a unique way. But they are also public questions, for all of us — public questions, not just religious one[s]. Put aside what God expects. Assume, if you like, that there is no God. Say that the Supreme Court has taken God entirely out of our civics. Then the greatest thing still left to us, the greatest value available to us, would be life — life itself. Even a radically secular world must struggle with the questions of when life begins, under what circumstances it can be ended, when it must be protected, by what authority; it, too, must decide what protection to extend to the helpless and the dying, to the aged and the unborn, to life in all of its phases.
Now, as a Catholic, I have accepted certain answers as the right ones for myself and for my family, and because I have, they have influenced me in special ways, as Matilda’s husband, as a father of five children, as a son who stood next to his own father’s deathbed trying to decide if the tubes and the needles no longer served a purpose. As a governor, however, I am involved in defining policies that determine other people’s rights in these same areas of life and death. Abortion is one of these issues, and while it is only one issue among many, it is one of the most controversial and affects me in a special way as a Catholic public official. So let me spend a little time considering it.
I should start, I believe, by noting that the Catholic Church’s actions with respect to the interplay of religious values and public policy make clear that there is no inflexible moral principle which determines what our political conduct should be. Think about it. On divorce and birth control, without changing its moral teaching, the Church abides the civil law as it now stands, thereby accepting — without making much of a point of it — that in our pluralistic society we are not required to insist that all our religious values be the law of the land. The bishops are not demanding a constitutional amendment for birth control or on adultery.
Abortion is treated differently.
Of course there are differences both in degree and quality between abortion and some of the other religious positions that the Church takes: Abortion is a matter of life and death and degree counts. But the differences in approach reveal a truth, I think, that is not well enough perceived by Catholics and therefore still further complicates the process for us. That is, while we always owe our bishops’ words respectful attention and careful consideration, the question whether to engage the political system in a struggle to have it adopt certain articles of our belief as part of the public morality is not a matter of doctrine. It is a matter of prudential political judgment. Recently, Michael Novak put it succinctly. “Religious judgment and political judgment are both needed,” he wrote, “but they are not identical.”
Now, my Church and my conscience require me to believe certain things about divorce, about birth control, about abortion. My Church does not order me — under pain of sin or expulsion — to pursue my salvific mission according to a precisely defined political plan. As a Catholic I accept the Church’s teaching authority. And while in the past some Catholic theologians may appear to have disagreed on the morality of some abortions — It wasn’t, I think, until 1869 that excommunication was attached to all abortions without distinction — and while some theologians may still disagree, I accept the bishops’ position that abortion is to be avoided.
As Catholics, my wife and I were enjoined never to use abortion to destroy the life we created, and we never have. We thought Church doctrine was clear on this. And more than that, both of us felt it in full agreement with what our own hearts and our own consciences told us. For me, for Matilda, life or fetal life in the womb should be protected, even if five of nine justices of the Supreme Court and my neighbor disagree with me. A fetus is different from an appendix or a set of tonsils. At the very least, even if the argument is made by some scientists or theologians that in the early stages of fetal development we can’t discern human life, the full potential of human life is indisputably there. That, to my less subtle mind, by itself is enough to demand respect, and caution, indeed reverence.
But not everyone in our society agrees with me and Matilda. And those who don’t — those who endorse legalized abortions — aren’t a ruthless, callous alliance of anti-Christians determined to overthrow our moral standards. In many cases, the proponents of legal abortion are the very people who have worked with Catholics to realize the goals of social justice set out by popes in encyclicals: the American Lutheran Church, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Presbyterian Church in the United States, B’nai B’rith Women, the Women of the Episcopal Church. And these are just a few of the religious organizations that don’t share the Catholic Church’s position on abortion.
Now, certainly, we should not be forced to mold Catholic morality to conform to disagreement by non-Catholics, however sincere they are, however severe their disagreement. Our bishops should be teachers, not pollsters. They should not change what we Catholics believe in order to ease our consciences or please our friends or protect the Church from criticism. But if the breadth and intensity and sincerity of opposition to Church teaching shouldn’t be allowed to shape our Catholic morality, it can’t help but determine our ability — our realistic, political ability — to translate our Catholic morality into civil law, a law not for the believers who don’t need it but for the disbelievers who reject it.
And it’s here, in our attempt to find a political answer to abortion — an answer beyond our private observance of Catholic morality — that we encounter controversy within and without the Church over how and in what degree to press the case that our morality should be everybody else’s morality. I repeat, there is no Church teaching that mandates the best political course for making our belief everyone’s rule, for spreading this part of our Catholicism. There is neither an encyclical nor a catechism that spells out a political strategy for achieving legislative goals. And so the Catholic trying to make moral and prudent judgments in the political realm must discern which, if any, of the actions one could take would be best.
This latitude of judgment is not something new in our Catholic Church. It’s not a development that has arisen only with the abortion issue. Take, for example, a very popular illustration — and I heard about again tonight two or three times, and I’m told about often: the question of slavery. It has been argued that the failure to endorse a legal ban on abortions is equivalent to refusing to support the cause of abolition before the Civil War. This analogy has been advanced by bishops of my own state.
But the truth of the matter is, as I’m sure you know, few, if any, Catholic bishops spoke for abolition in the years before the Civil War. And it wasn’t, I believe, that the bishops endorsed the idea of some humans owning and exploiting other humans. Not at all. Pope Gregory XVI, in 1840, had condemned the slave trade. Instead it was a practical political judgment that the bishops made. And they weren’t hypocrites; they were realists. Remember, at the time, the Catholics were a small minority, mostly immigrants, despised by much of the population, often vilified and the object even of sporadic violence. In the face of a public controversy that aroused tremendous passions and threatened to break the country apart, the bishops made a pragmatic decision. They believed their opinion would not change people’s minds. Moreover, they knew that there were Southern Catholics, even some priests, who owned slaves. They concluded that under the circumstances arguing for a constitutional amendment against slavery would do more harm than good, so they were silent — as they have been, generally, in recent years, on the question of birth control, and as the Church has been on even more controversial issues in the past, even ones that dealt with life and death.
Now, what is relevant to this discussion is that the bishops were making judgments about translating Catholic teaching into public policy, not about the moral validity of the teachings. In so doing they grappled with the unique political complexities of their time. The decision they made to remain silent on a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery or on the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law wasn’t a mark of their moral indifference. It was a measured attempt to balance moral truths against political realities. Their decision reflected their sense of complexity, not their diffidence. And as history reveals, Lincoln behaved with similar discretion.
Now, the parallel I want to draw here is not between or among what we Catholics believe to be moral wrongs. It is in the Catholic political response to those wrongs. Church teaching on abortion and slavery is clear. But in the application of those teachings — the exact way we translate them into political action, the specific laws we propose, the exact legal sanctions we seek — there was and is no one, clear, absolute route that the Church says, as a matter of doctrine, we must follow.
The bishops’ pastoral letter, “The Challenge of Peace,” speaks directly to this point. Quote: “We recognize,” they wrote, “that the Church’s teaching authority does not carry the same force when it deals with technical solutions involving particular means as it does when it speaks of principles or ends.” With regard to abortion, the American bishops have had to weigh Catholic moral teaching against the fact of a pluralistic country where our view is in the minority, acknowledging that what is ideally desirable isn’t always feasible, that there can be different political approaches to abortion beside unyielding adherence to an absolute prohibition.
This is in the American-Catholic tradition of political realism. In supporting or opposing specific legislation the Church in this country has never retreated into a moral fundamentalism that will settle for nothing less than total acceptance of its views. Indeed, the bishops have already confronted the fact that an absolute ban on abortion doesn’t have the support necessary to be placed in the Constitution. The bishops agreed to that. In 1981, they put aside their earlier efforts to describe a law that they could accept and get passed, and supported the Hatch amendment instead. They changed their view. Some Catholics felt that the bishops had gone too far. You remember the discussion. Some Catholics felt that the bishops had not gone far enough. Such judgments weren’t a rejection of the bishops’ teaching authority. The bishops even disagreed among themselves about how to proceed. Catholics are allowed to disagree on their technical political questions without having to confess.
And so very respectfully, and after careful consideration of the position and the arguments of the bishops for a long time, I’ve concluded that the approach of a constitutional amendment is not the best way for us to seek to deal with abortion.
I believe that the legal interdicting of abortion by either the federal government or the individual states is not a plausible possibility and, even if it could be obtained, it wouldn’t work. Given present attitudes, it would be Prohibition revisited, legislating what couldn’t be enforced and in the process creating a disrespect for law in general. And as much as I admire the bishops’ hope that a constitutional amendment against abortion would be the basis for a full, new bill of rights for mothers and children, I disagree, very respectfully, that that would be the result. I believe that, more likely, a constitutional prohibition — which you can’t get, but if you could — would allow people to ignore the causes of many abortions instead of addressing them, addressing the causes much the way the death penalty is used to escape dealing more fundamentally and more rationally with the problem of violent crime.
Now, other legal options that have been proposed are, in my view, equally ineffective. The Hatch amendment, by returning the question of abortion to the various states, would have given us a checkerboard of permissive and restrictive jurisdictions. In some cases people might have been forced to go elsewhere to have abortions and that might have eased a few consciences here and there, but it would not have done what the Church wants to do — it would not have created a deep-seated respect for life. Abortions would have gone on, millions of them.
Nor would a denial of Medicaid funding for abortion achieve our objectives. Given Roe against Wade, it would be nothing more than an attempt to do indirectly what the law says cannot be done directly; and worse than that, it would do it in a way that would burden only the already disadvantaged. Removing funding from the Medicaid program would not prevent the rich and middle classes from having abortions. It would not even assure that the disadvantaged wouldn’t have them; it would only impose financial burdens on poor women who want abortions.
And apart from that unevenness, there’s a more basic question. Medicaid is designed to deal with health and medical needs. But the arguments for the cutoff of Medicaid abortion funds are not related to those needs: They’re moral arguments. If we assume that there are health and medical needs, our personal view of morality ought not to be considered a relevant basis for discrimination.
We must keep in mind always that we are a nation of laws — when we like those laws and when we don’t. The Supreme Court has established a woman’s constitutional right to abortion — whether we like it or not. The Congress has decided that the federal government doesn’t have to provide federal funding, but that doesn’t bind the states in the allocation of their own state funds. Under the law, the individual states need not follow the federal lead. And in New York — I will speak only for New York, not for Indiana or any other state — in New York I believe we cannot follow the federal lead. The equal protection clause in New York’s constitution has been interpreted by courts as a standard of fairness that would preclude us from denying only the poor — indirectly, by a cutoff of funds — of the practical use of the constitutional right that’s given to all women in Roe against Wade.
Look, in the end, even if after a long and divisive struggle we were able to remove all Medicaid funding for abortion and restore the law to what it was, even if we could put most abortions out of our sight, return them to the backrooms where they were performed for so long, I don’t believe that our responsibility as Catholics would be any closer to being fulfilled than it is now, with abortion guaranteed as a right for women. The hard truth is that abortion is not a failure of government. No agency, no department of government forces women to have abortion[s], but abortions go on. Catholics, the statistics show, support the right to abortion in equal proportion to the rest of the population. Despite the teaching we’ve tried in our homes and our schools and our pulpits, despite the sermons and pleadings of parents and priests and prelates, despite all the efforts we’ve so far made at defining our opposition to what we call the “sin of abortion,” collectively we Catholics apparently believe — and perhaps act — little differently from those who don’t share our commitment.
Are we asking government to make criminal what we believe to be sinful because we ourselves can’t stop committing the sin? The failure here is not Caesar’s. The failure is our failure, the failure of the entire people of God.
Nobody has expressed this better than a bishop in my own state, bishop Joseph Sullivan, a man who works with the poor in New York City, a man who is resolutely opposed to abortion, and argues, with his fellow bishops, for a change of law. “The major problem the Church has is internal,” the bishop said last month in reference to abortion. “How do we teach? As much as I think we’re responsible for advocating public policy issues, our primary responsibility is to teach our own people. We have not done that. We are asking politicians to do what we have not done effectively ourselves.”
I agree with bishop Sullivan. I think our moral and social mission as Catholics must begin with the wisdom contained in the words: “Physician, heal thyself.” Unless we Catholics educate ourselves better to the values that define — and can ennoble — our lives, following those teachings better than we do now, unless we set an example that is clear and compelling, then we will never convince this society to change the civil laws to protect what we preach is precious human life. Better than any law, better than any rule, better than any threat of punishment would be the moving strength of our own good example, demonstrating our lack of hypocrisy, proving the beauty and worth of our instruction. We must work to find ways to avoid abortions without otherwise violating our faith. We should provide funds and opportunity for young women to bring their child to term, knowing both of them will be taken care of if that is necessary; we should teach our young men better than we do now their responsibilities in creating and caring for human life.
It is this duty of the Church to teach through its practice of love that Pope John Paul II has proclaimed so magnificently to all peoples. “The Church,” he wrote in Redemptor Hominis , “which has no weapons at her disposal apart from those of the Spirit, of the Word and of love, cannot renounce her proclamation of ‘the word in season and out of season.’ For this reason she does not cease to implore everybody in the name of God and in the name of man: Do not kill! Do not prepare destruction and extermination for each other! Think of your brothers and sisters who are suffering hunger and misery! Respect each one’s dignity and freedom!” The weapons of the Word and of love are already available to us; we need no statute to provide them.
Now, I am not implying that we should stand by and pretend indifference to whether a woman takes a pregnancy to its conclusion or aborts it. I believe we should in all cases try to teach a respect for life. And I believe with regard to abortion that, despite Roe against Wade, we can, in practical, meaningful ways.
And here, in fact, it seems to me that all of us can agree. Without lessening their insistence on a woman’s right to an abortion, the people who call themselves “pro-choice” can support the development of government programs that present an impoverished mother with the full range of support that she needs to bear and raise her children, to have a real choice. And without dropping their campaign to ban abortion, those who banner — gather under the banner of “pro-life” can join in developing and enacting a legislative bill of rights for mothers and children, as the bishops have already proposed.
Remember this: While we argue over abortion, the United States’ infant mortality rate places us sixteenth among the nations of the world. The United States, sixteenth among the nations of the world. Thousands of infants die each year because of inadequate medical care. Some are born with birth defects that, with proper treatment, could be prevented. Some are stunted in their physical and mental growth because of improper nutrition. If we want to prove our regard for life in the womb, for the helpless infant, if we care about women having real choices in their lives and not being driven to abortions by a sense of helplessness and despair about the future of their child, then there is work enough for all of us — lifetimes of it.
In New York, we’ve put in place a number of programs to begin this work, assisting women in giving birth to healthy babies. This year we doubled Medicaid funding to private-care physicians for prenatal and delivery services. We already spend 20 million dollars a year for prenatal care in outpatient clinics and for inpatient hospital care. One program is a favorite of mine. We call it “New Avenues to Dignity.” And it seeks to provide a teenage mother with the special services she needs to continue with her education, to train for a job, to become capable of standing on her own, to provide for herself and the child that she wants to bring into the world.
My dissent, then, from the contention that we can have effective and enforceable legal prohibitions on abortion is by no means an argument for religious quietism, for accepting the world’s wrongs because that is our fate as “the poor banished children of Eve.” I don’t accept that.
Let me make another point. Abortion has a unique significance, but not a preemptive significance. Apart from the question of efficacy of using legal weapons to make people stop having abortions, we know that our Christian responsibility doesn’t end with any one law or amendment. It doesn’t end with abortion. Because it involves life and death, abortion will always be central in our — in our concern, but so will nuclear weapons and hunger and homelessness and joblessness, all the forces diminishing human life and threatening to destroy it. The “seamless garment” that Cardinal Bernardin has spoken of is a challenge to all Catholics in public office, conservatives as well as liberals.
We cannot justify our aspiration to goodness as Catholics simply on the basis of the vigor of our demand for an elusive and questionable civil law declaring what we already know, that abortion is wrong. Approval or rejection of legal restrictions on abortion should not be the exclusive litmus test of Catholic loyalty. We should understand that whether abortion is outlawed or not, our work has barely begun: the work of creating a society where the right to life doesn’t end at the moment of birth, where an infant isn’t helped into a world that doesn’t care if it’s fed properly and housed decently and educated adequately, where the blind or retarded child isn’t condemned to exist rather than empowered to live.
The bishops stated this duty clearly in 1974. They said that a constitutional amendment was only the beginning of what we had to do, and they were right. The bishops reaffirmed that view in 1976, in 1980, and again this year when the United States Catholic Committee asked Catholics to judge candidates on a wide range of issues — not just abortion, but also on food policy, on the arms race, on human rights, on education, on social justice, and military expenditures. That’s the bishops teaching us: “Consider all things.” The bishops have been consistently pro-life and I respect them for that.
Ladies and gentlemen, the problems created by the matter of abortion are obviously complex and confounding. Nothing is clearer to me than my personal inadequacy to find compelling solutions to all of their moral, legal, and social implications. I, and many others like me, are eager for enlightenment, eager to learn new and better ways to manifest respect for the deep reverence for life, that deep reverence that is our religion and our instinct.
I hope that this public attempt to describe the problems as I understand them will give impetus to the dialogue in the Catholic community. I’m delighted to hear Father Hesburgh speak of an ongoing effort. However, it would be tragic if we let this dialogue over abortion become a prolonged, divisive argument that destroys or impairs our ability to practice any part of the morality given to us in the Sermon on the Mount, to touch, to heal, to affirm the human life that surrounds us. We Catholic citizens of the richest, most powerful nation that has ever existed are like the stewards made responsible over a great household: from those to whom so much has been given, much shall be required.
It is worth repeating that ours is not a faith that encourages its believers to stand apart from the world, seeking their salvation alone, separate from the salvation of those around them. We speak of ourselves as a body. We come together in worship as companions, in the ancient sense of that word, those who break bread together, and who are obliged by the commitment that we share to help one another, everywhere, in all that we do and, in the process, to help the whole human family. We see our mission to be “the completion of the work of creation.”
And this is difficult work today. It presents us with many hard choices. The Catholic Church has come of age in America. The ghetto walls are gone, our religion is no longer a badge of irredeemable foreignness. And our newfound status is both an opportunity and a temptation. If we choose, we can give in to the temptation to become more and more assimilated into a larger, blander culture, abandoning the practice of the specific values that made us different, worshiping whatever gods the marketplace has to sell while we seek to rationalize our own laxity by urging the political system to legislate upon others a morality that we no longer practice ourselves.
Or we have another choice: We can remember where we come from, the journey of two millennia. We can cling to our personal faith, to its insistence on constancy and service and example and hope. We can live and practice the morality that Christ gave us, maintaining His truth in this world, struggling to embody His love, practicing it especially where that love is most needed, among the poor and the weak and the dispossessed — not just by trying to make laws for other people to live by, but by living the laws already written for us by God, in our minds and in our hearts. We can be fully Catholic, proudly, totally at ease with ourselves, a people in the world, transforming it, a light to this nation, appealing to the best in our people and not the worst. Persuading, not coercing. Leading people to truth by love. And still, all the while, respecting and enjoying our unique pluralistic democracy. And we can do it even as politicians.
Thank you for listening.