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No. 22 "What Is the Constitution Between Friends?" Speech of James M. Beck, March 27, 1935. American Liberty League. 400dpi TIFF G4 page images Digital Library Services, University of Kentucky Libraries Lexington, Kentucky Am_Lib_Leag_22 These pages may freely searched and displayed. Permission must be received for subsequent distribution in print or electronically. No. 22 "What Is the Constitution Between Friends?" Speech of James M. Beck, March 27, 1935. American Liberty League. American Liberty League. Washington, D.C. 1935. This electronic text file was created by Optical Character Recognition (OCR). No corrections have been made to the OCR-ed text and no editing has been done to the content of the original document. Encoding has been done through an automated process using the recommendations for Level 1 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines. Digital page images are linked to the text file. Pamphlets Available Copies of the following pamphlets may be obtained upon application to the League's national headquarters: American Liberty League Speech by Jouett Shouse The Tenth Commandment Why, The American Liberty League? Statement of Principles and Purposes Progress vs. Change Speech by Jouett Shouse Recovery, Relief and the Constitution Speech by Jouett Shouse American Liberty League Its Platform An Analysis of the President's Budget N. R. A. Its Past, and Recommendations for the Future Analysis of the $4,880,000,000 Emergency Relief Appropriation Act Economic Security A Study of Proposed Legislation Democracy or Bureaucracy? Speech by Jouett Shouse The Bonus An Analysis of Legislative Proposals The Constitution Still Stands Speech by Jouett Shouse Inflation Possibilities Involved in Existing and Proposed Legislation The Thirty Hour Week Dangers Inherent in Proposed Legislation The Pending Banking Bill A Proposal to Subject the Nation's Monetary Structure to the Exigencies of Politics The Legislative Situation Speech by Jouett Shouse The Holding Company Bill An Analysis of a Measure Which Would Probably Cause Eventual Government Ownership and Operation of Utilities * Write to AMERICAN LIBERTY LEAGUE NATIONAL PRESS BUILDING WASHINGTON, D. C. â˜… â˜… "What Is the Constitution Between Friends?9 9 â˜… â˜… â˜… Speech of JAMES M. BECK Former Solicitor General of the United States and Member of the National Advisory Council of the American Liberty League March 27, 1935 AMERICAN LIBERTY LEAGUE NATIONAL PRESS BUDLDING WASHINGTON, D. C. Document No. 22 "What is the Constitution Between Friends ?'' â˜… ThE great objective of the American Liberty League, an organization of patriotic Americans of all parties, creeds, and classes, under whose auspices I am privileged to speak tonight, is the preservation of the constitutional liberties of the American people. It is a gratifying sign of the times that more Americans are taking an interest in this subject than at any time since the Civil War, but it is less encouraging that more Americans today question the wisdom of the Constitution and are more indifferent to the unceasing destruction of its basic principles than at any time since the Constitution became the supreme law of the land. I remember well the Centennial Anniversary of the Constitution in 1887. Philadelphia, with its characteristic hospitality, was then the host of the nation. Many thousands gathered in Independence Square, and enthusiastically hailed a century of constitutional development with the joyous io triomphe of a proud and exultant people. A platform had been erected in front of the historic tower of Independence Hall, from whose belfry, as from Pharos, the light of an ordered liberty had streamed to the uttermost corners of the world. The President of the United States delivered a notable address and the formal oration was pronounced by Mr. Justice Miller of the Supreme Court. The Congress of the United States was represented by numerous distinguished members of both the Senate and the House. The diplomats of all nations were there to attest by their presence the worldwide admiration for the wisdom of the Constitution, which was then questioned by no thoughtful man. A chorus of a thousand voices, with fitting music, proclaimed the faith of all there assembled that ages upon ages would be the proud fortune of the Constitution as the fundamental law of one of the noblest nations in the annals of history. Throughout all this Centennial Celebration, which lasted a week, there was but one note, and that of unbounded optimism. The American people, with remarkable unanimity, then believed in their Constitution and cherished it as the proudest heritage of a great people. Nearly forty-eight years Constitution have passed since that Now Fighting celebration, and the basic For Existence principles of the Constitution are today fighting for their very existence. It is not merely its mechanical details that are now called into question, but the fundamental conception of a federated central government, whose channel of power was strictly defined. Local self-government of the States and the inalienable rights of the individual are now challenged by responsible leaders of thought and the chosen representatives of the people. We have now in fact, although not in form, a totalitarian socialistic state, which claims unlimited power. As a great Chief Justice once warned us: "It is with governments as with religions, the form often survives the substance of the faith." It must be obvious to thoughtful men that constitutional liberty, which we once regarded as definitely won, must now again be fought for, if it is to survive. This should surprise no one, for it is everlastingly true that "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." A Congressman once asked a great and noble President to do something that was plainly prohibited by the Constitution. Grover Cleveland, always loyal to the Constitution and mindful of his oath of office to defend it, was greatly shocked, but the Congressman smilingly said, "Mr. President, what is the Constitution between friends?" This jocose inquiry, although not intended to be philosophical, does suggest the question, which is now so constantly urged, why the people of this generation should obey the pro- visions of a Constitution framed in a different age and under different conditions by men all of whom are dead. It is asked, what duty do the living owe the dead? They are beyond either our censure or our praise. We cannot either help or hurt them. They did ordain and establish a fundamental law, which, as long as it was unamended, was to be obeyed as the supreme law of the land by their and succeeding generations. They regarded it as the only form of government which could insure the perpetuity of the Union, that sacred Union which is older than the Constitution. Were they right or wrong? Were they master builders or only apprentices? By common consent they were as able an assemblage of men as ever met in recorded history to frame a form of government. Nevertheless, today many The Cult of men, in and out of office, Changing unmindful of our heroic Verities past and indifferent to the morrow, clamour-ously ask why the living should now be subject to the restraints of the Constitution. Such men must believe that truths are only relative and conditioned upon time and circumstance, and that there are, in the spiritual life of men, no eternal verities. We can admit that the present generation has far greater knowledge than the generation which framed the Constitution, but it does not follow that the passions and caprices of the present hour are wiser than the collective experience of all past generations. Surely the world learns something by many thousand years of experience, and it is in this sense that Edmund Burke said that "Society is a noble compact between the living, the dead, and the unborn." A nation that is indifferent to the tried experience of the ages can have neither dignity nor stability. The framers of the Constitution may be dead, but no one has ever suggested that a Gothic cathedral, like that of Milan or Rheims, is less beautiful because its master builders are dead. The beauty of the Parthe-4 non, even in its ruins, is immortal, and the mystery of the Sphinx still remains, even though the dust of successive centuries covers its foundations. The framers of the Constitution made no pretence either to omniscience or infallibility. They did study all existing and past forms of government, and were influenced by the experience of all past ages, and especially the struggles for an ordered liberty of their English forebears. For nearly four months they considered the essentials of an ordered liberty and embodied their composite conclusions in a Constitution which has hitherto not only stood the test of experience, but "tried by the arduous greatness of things done," has won the admiration of the world as the most successful form of government of which history has any record. Its great purpose was not alone to hold in nicest equipoise the relative powers of the nation and the constituent States, but even more to maintain in the scales of justice and liberty a true equilibrium between the rights of government and the rights of the individual. It did not believe that the State, whether it was the federal State or the constituent States, was omnipotent or infallible. In defending the integrity of the human soul, it became the noblest charter of individualism in the annals of mankind. It is that inestimable heritage, to the safety of which the present generation of Americans seem so indifferent. Too many seem willing to sell their birthright for a mass of pottage. Well did the sage of Benjamin the Revolution, old Dr. Franklin's Franklin, say: Warning They that give up es- sential liberty to obtain a little Bafety deserve neither liberty nor Bafety.M The same truth was uttered by the greatest political philosopher of our race, Edmund Burke, when he said: "'Constitutions must be defended by the wisdom and fortitude of men. These qualities no Constitution can give. They are the gifts of God, and He S alone knows whether we shall possess such gifts at the time when we stand in need of them." In considering the moral authority of the Constitution, and the duty of the living generation to transmit it unimpaired to posterity, a distinction must always be made between its mechanical details and its basic principles. The living generation need have less hesitation in readjusting the machinery of the government in the light of experience than in disregarding the fundamental principles which define the relative power of the State and the individual. These latter represent a deep and accurate philosophy of government which is not of the day. It was true in 1787, it is true today, and will be true tomorrow that you cannot have a successful federated government unless the central government be strictly limited in its powers, for the experience of history teaches us that the attempt of a central government to rule widely scattered States and communities sooner or later falls of its own weight. The complete centralization of power in the Imperial City caused the fall of Rome. Its epitaph was well pronounced by a distinguished historian, as follows: "The system of bureaucratic depotism, eleborated finally under Diocletian and Constantine, produced a tragedy in the truest sense, such as history has seldom exhibited; in which, by an inexorable fate, the claims of fanciful omnipotence ended in a humiliating paralysis of administration; in which determined effort to remedy social evils only aggravated them until they became unendurable; in which the best intentions of the central power, were, generation after generation, mocked and defeated by irresistible laws of human nature and by hopeless perfidy and corruption in the servants of government." _ The Constitution declined Pract" 1 *Â° ^Ve mT'm"tet' power â€žâ€ž either to the Central Gov- When , . ., . , ernment, the constituent Restrained Ci . , States or even the people. It reasoned that democratic institutions were only practicable when subjected to wise restraints, for it recognized the truth of Edmund Burke that the tyranny of the majority could be as cruel and unjust as that of an autocrat. Therefore the Constitution created a federated government of strictly limited powers, and defended the rights of the individual by wise restraints upon the caprices or passions of a fleeting majority. The framers did not believe, even in their day, when the Union was composed of only thirteen States along the Atlantic seaboard, that a centralized government with plenary authority to legislate for the undefined objective of the "general welfare," could possibly be permanent. They had not overthrown an arbitrary King to subject the people to the arbitrary rule of the majority. They desired the maximum of local self-government and the minimum of a paternalistic central government. If this was true in 1787, when the nation consisted of only thirteen States, it is even more true today when the nation consists of forty-eight States, spanning a vast continent, between whom there inevitably must be conflicting economic interest, and even varying human characteristics. The Fathers believed that even in their day a centralized government of unlimited power would create such sectional differences and economic collisions as would threaten the perpetuity of the Union, and in this they were justified by the uniform experience of history. Indeed our own Civil War should be a sufficient warning to the American people as to the real menace to the Union of conflicting sectional differences, and if the experience of history teaches anything, these fatal differences are promoted, and not lessened by a centralized government. It is, therefore, more true today than when the Constitution was formulated that the mighty destinies of the American people cannot be lastingly controlled from the city of Washington. At the moment the American people do not seem to recognize this, and possibly they will not until the bitter lesson of experience brings the truth home to them, for as Dr. Franklin said, "Experience is a dear school, but many will learn in no other." Some ardent New Dealer will argue that what a distressed people want is food and not constitutional theories. Indeed a distinguished The Hard School of Experience Senator has said, "the people cannot eat their Constitution." In recent years men high in authority, who took a solemn oath to defend the Constitution without reservation or mental evasion, have eaten away vital portions of the Constitution, sometimes by supersubtle interpretation and sometimes by bald usurpation. It may not trouble their digestions, but it should trouble their conscience. Undoubtedly the Constitution is not a substitute for bread, nor is bread a substitute for the Constitution, for "Man cannot live by bread alone." Thoughtful men may well be concerned, not only with clear violations of the Constitutional limitations hut with an abandonment of its basic theories. For example there has been an insistent effort by men in high place and low place, including those radio orators who fill the heavens with their insensate clamor, that we who love the Constitution are subordinating human rights to property rights. Indeed when the formation of the American Liberty League was announced, it was suggested that its founders failed to take sufficient account of human rights. If there be any just distinction between human rights and property rights, the American Liberty League is more concerned with the former than with the latter, but the distinction is false and invidious. Is not the right to property a human right? Property has no rights, but human beings have a right to property, and it is one of the most ancient and sacred of all rights. The cave dweller would have defended with his life the flint that he fashioned from a rock for his self-defense, and the sanctity of contract and the right to property have ever since been the very essence of civilization. Undoubtedly the Constitution was brought into "Thou Shalt being to defend property Not Steal" rights and the sanctity of contracts. It simply respects the great commandment, "Thou shalt not steal." It is the very essence of religion that property is a sacred trust, but this moral obligation does not mean that by compulsion those who have not earned can take from those who have. One of the greatest students of government of our time, Sir Henry Maine, in referring to the unexampled growth of America, said: "All this beneficent prosperity reposes on the sacredness of contract and the stability of private property; the first the implement, and the last the reward of success in the universal competition.*1 When a Constitution ceases to defend the rights of property, it ceases to defend liberty. While lip service is generally given to the Constitution, it remained for an eminent and scholarly Columbia College professor to weaken its moral authority by the assertion that the framers of the Constitution were rich men who simply sought to preserve their property rights. With the patience of a Benedictine monk this distinguished historian searched the records and found that most of the framers of the Constitution were owners of government securities and deeply interested in the restoration of the public credit. This should not have surprised Dr. Beard, for these same men had initiated the revolution, a very hazardous enterprise, and devoted to the cause of independence not merely their lives and sacred honor, but also their fortunes. The trouble is not with Professor Beard's premises, but with his conclusions, for his unfortunate and mischievous suggestion that the motives of the framers were selfish in character was only another illustration that the profanation of the ideals of the Republic and their great exponents, sometimes colloquially referred to as "debunking," sells books and is therefore lucrative. To Dr. Beard's suggestion James (nat tne framers of the Madison's Constitution were selfish Estimate plutocrats although few of them by any stretch of the imagination could be caUed rich (a few were land rich) I oppose the deliberate estimate of James Madison, who, in his introduction to his record of the debates, gave a different estimate of the framers of the Constitution. He said: "But whatever may be the judgment pronounced on the competency of the architects of the Constitution, or whatever may be the destiny of the edifice prepared by them, I feel it a duty to express my profound and solemn conviction, derived from my intimate opportunity of observing and appreciating the views of the Convention, collectively and individually, that there never was an assembly of men, charged with a great and arduous task, who were more pure in their motives, or more exclusively or anxiously devoted to the object committed to them." I venture to believe that James Madison knew his great associates better than Dr. Beard. We are living in stressful "Muddle Ages" and tumultuous days, of Loose The whole world is in Thinking an uproar. Possibly no greater crisis has ever confronted civilization since the middle ages. The present might be called the "Muddle Ages," for never was there such loose and dangerous thinking. Men, in and out of office, are striving by pen and mouth, to tear down in a day the institution which it required a century and a half of struggle and sacrifice to erect. Current thought is like the turbid waters of the Mississippi in the period of a spring freshet, full of muddy swirls and eddies moving on to the infinite ocean of an unknown future. There never was a time when the American people had greater need to uphold the sound principles of their Constitution. It is possible that this generation will determine for all time the fate of that Constitution. Can it be that the American people will abandon the faith of Washington and Franklin, of Jefferson and Hamilton, of Marshall and Lincoln, of Cleveland and Mc-Kinley, in favor of wild, socialistic schemes that can only be a menace to the Union of the States ? Lincoln believed that the Union itself could not long survive the destruction of the Constitution, and this was the great warning of Washington in his Farewell Address, the noblest testament ever given by a leader to the people whom he had led to high achievement. Lincoln gave his heart's blood in this belief. On the eve of his first inauguration, when a Committee 10 waited upon him to urge him not to defend the Constitution by force of arms, with the warning that such defense would cause the grass to grow in the streets of our cities, Lincoln replied, "If I live to take the oath of office, I will swear to defend the Constitution, and I will do so even though the grass does grow in the streets." Is the spirit of Washing-Time for ton anfj Lincoln wholly Citizens dead? It is not enough to Act to say that it is still existent, for it may be said of the Constitution, as Mark Twain humorously said of the weather, that "everybody talks about, it but nobody does anything about it." The weather is beyond human effort. The preservation of the Constitution is not, but it must be preserved by collective effort. Those who love the Constitution must join forces in its defense. It cannot be done only through any political party. It must be done by a mighty popular impulse which rises above party. It was in this spirit that the American Liberty League, composed of patriotic men and women of all parties, was formed. If you, my hearers, think that the inestimable privileges of American citizenship impose any obligation upon you, then join, and join at once this patriotic collective effort to defend our constitutional liberty. Write to the American Liberty League, National Press Building, Washington, for membership blanks. No financial obligation is entailed. All that is asked of you is willing service. The American people can still save their Constitution if they will only awake from their dream of fancied security and join hands in a common purpose. Let this generation remember the warning of Holy Writ: "Where there is no vision, the people perish."