Category Archives: US Constitution

Henry A. Wallace, Tell the People Who We Are

img_0502The last in my Wallace series: After losing the vice presidency to Truman in the 1944 election, Wallace served FDR as Secrectary of Commerce until his death.  He continued under Truman until their wildly parting policy positions, especially regarding Russia, finally resulted in Truman firing him from this position.  By 1948, the Progressive Party was ready to make a run for the White House and Wallace was their presidential candidate.  The speech below is from that 1948 campaign.  Tell Them Who We Are, Henry A. Wallace.  Speech delivered at Progressive Party Rally, New York, N. Y., September 10, 1948.  From Vital Speeches of the Day (October 1, 1948), v. 14, n. 24, p. 743.

Tell the People Who We Are:  Just two years ago I spoke to many thousands of you who are here tonight. I said then as I say tonight that peace is the basic issue of the 1948 election campaign. I say now that the first job of national defense: the most important job in maintaining the peace is the job of conquering hate here at home, the job of protecting the civil rights of all Americans.
This is a great American meeting.
It is a meeting in the best American tradition—a meeting of men and women of all races, of all creeds.

Last week—in smaller gatherings—we proved that such meetings can be held in the much-maligned Southern states. We proved that such meetings—meetings of all the people—can be held wherever men respect the Constitution of the United States; and wherever they respect the Christian principles of brotherhood on which so much of our modern civilization has been built.  The news reported from the South last week was news of eggs and tomatoes. It was news of violence and threats of violence.
And there were eggs. And there were tomatoes. And there was violence and there were threats of violence.  Yes, and there were the ugly spewings of hate and prejudice; and the sad sight of men and women and children whose faces were contorted with hate.

TRIP SOUTH–But the significance of our trip south was not the dramatic proof that there are seeds of violence and fascism and deep prejudice in the Southern states. The significance was not in proving what is known.  No. The significance of our Southern trip lies in the two dozen completely unsegregated, peaceful meetings which we were able to hold.
The significance lies in those meetings in Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee which were held—even as this meeting tonight—in the best American tradition.  We held such meetings by insisting on our American rights to freely assemble and freely speak.  And if there is one message above all other messages which bring you as a result of that Southern trip, it is this: Fear is a product of inactivity and the greatest remedy for fear is to stand up and fight for your rights.  In the course of private and public life I have traveled many places. I have experienced many fields. I have had a wide variety of emotional experiences. But I have never had such deeply moving experiences as those of the first week of September, 1948, when I traveled South to campaign for peace.

I had seen the victims of mass prejudice in a DP camp.
I had seen and felt—as any decent human being must feel—for the Jewish orphans interned in Italy.
I had visited foreign lands—Latin America, China and many parts of Europe, and had my heart go out to victims of oppression.
I have deplored and felt that I truly understood the plight of workers who have faced picket line violence.

FOUND FASCISM –I had been South before—many times—and I thought I understood the plight of our Negro citizens.  But I discovered last week that my understanding was only the limited understanding; the sympathetic feeling of a friend for a man who is afflicted.  To me fascism is no longer a second-hand experience—a motion picture, a photograph or the deeply moving words of a great writer.  It is no longer a mere definition of an economic and political system in which freedom is stifled by private power; in which prejudices are bred and nourished; in which man is set against man for the profit of powerful and greedy forces.  No, fascism has become an ugly reality—a reality which I have tasted.  I have tasted it neither so fully nor so bitterly as millions of others. But I have tasted it.  And in tasting it I have reinforced my solemn resolution to fight it wherever and whenever it appears so long as I live.
Last week—when I had a chance to live—to live very briefly and relatively mildly—the kind of life which millions of Americans live every waking hour, last week I learned what prejudice and hatred can mean. I learned to know the face of violence, although I was spared the full force of violence. I saw the ugly reality of how hate and prejudice can warp good men and women; turn Christian gentlemen into raving beasts; turn good mothers and wives into jezebels.  I didn’t like that part of what I saw. I didn’t like to see men and women fall victims to the catchwords of prejudice and the slogans of hate, even as the poor people of Germany were victimized by the catchwords and slogans of Hitler and Streicher.

HATE MONGERS IN ACTION–I saw how a few hate mongers carefully placed in a crowd of decent folks can set off a dangerous spark.  I saw a young college student—a Progressive party worker—who was severely cut across his chest and arms by the agents of hate.  I was a passenger in the car of a prominent businessman in a Southern city as he raced down dark streets and alleys to elude all who might be following us so that he could take me, unknown to anyone else, to his home for dinner.  He was a courageous man. The precautions he took were necessary. His business in that Southern town would have been ruined, if it were known that a candidate for the Presidency, a former Vice President, was having dinner at his home.  I saw an irate landlord rouse a quiet neighborhood where I had gone quietly to rest and work on a radio speech at the apartment of a young couple.  I saw how fear is bred and perpetuated and capitalized—and I didn’t like it.

MET COURAGE THAT BRINGS HOPE–But I also saw the kind of courage; the kind of real, deep human fighting spirit which promises a new day for the South and for the world.  I saw men and women, white and Negro, who have been leading the fight against hate and prejudice and intolerance in the South.  I saw them standing up and fighting for the very foundations of our American way of life—standing up to all kinds of intimidation. And from them radiates a contagious spirit; the same kind of spirit of resistance which stopped the armies of Adolf Hitler in half a dozen European countries.  I heard Clark Foreman say so truthfully that “Down here, to believe in the Constitution means you are automatically called a Communist”; and I heard a young college student, a veteran, add: “It’s like General Carlson said, ‘To be called a Red here is a badge of honor.’ ”  I am confident that their spirit—the spirit of the progressive Southerners—will triumph in the South. I am hopeful that our trip helped to build their forces; helped rally new strength; helped along the movement which will free the South. Rich in resources—proud and courageous, the South must be—and will be—freed from the shackles in which it has been held by huge corporations with headquarters only four miles south of here—not in Virginia, not in Tennessee, but in Wall Street.
STEEL KEEPS PEOPLE DIVIDED –The free South and the feudal South live side by side in the State of Alabama. In one day we received courteous receptions and held free meetings in the best American tradition in Decatur and Huntsville and Gunthersville in the great TVA area; and on the same day we could not hold meetings in Gadsden and Birmingham and Bessemer, cities which are dominated by Northern-owned steel corporations. We did not hold meetings because the police insisted on dividing Americans by the color of their skins. We did not hold meetings because the constitutional right to freely assemble and speak was denied by the police authorities of those company towns.
Here—in Alabama—in a single day, we saw the economic basis of hate and segregation.  In the steel towns it is profitable to keep labor divided.
North against South, race against race, farmer against worker—the profits of the men who own the South are multiplied by keeping the people divided.  But their days are numbered.  The good people of the South have learned their scriptures. They know the fundamental Christian doctrine of the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man. They know that “God hath made of one blood all the nations to dwell upon the face of the earth.” They know that we are all members, one of another. Just as surely as men everywhere, they want the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth; and they are not going to be stopped any longer by those who spew hate.  It is the owners of the mines and mills, the great plantations, and newspapers who incite violence.
OWNERS DON’T FIGHT, BUT INFLAME–They don’t personally engage in lynching either free speech or human beings, just as they don’t personally engage in fighting the wars from which they profit.  But they inflame the passions of others. They have had others do their dirty work. But the ranks of new recruits for their dirty work are narrowing as more and more men and women of the South see how they have been victimized by prejudice—as they see how it has profited the few, and brought misery for themselves and their neighbors.  And the workers and farmers and independent businessmen of the South are turning from the false leadership of those who have been styled “Southern liberals”—they are turning from those who have preached the tolerance of intolerance, tolerance of segregation; tolerance of murderous Jim Crow. They are learning that such men are only slightly to the left of Hitler and Rankin.
They are learning that no man can believe in both segregation and democracy.
In a radio interview the editor of an Arkansas paper asked me about FEPC. He wanted to know if I would interfere with the right of men to choose their own associates. And I replied that I considered that a most Important right. I replied that it was precisely my devotion to that right that leads me to fight segregation—segregation which deprives both white and Negro from freely choosing their own associates.  I told this same man; this same champion of segregation that while I knew we couldn’t legislate love, we most certainly could and will legislate against the acts of hate.
PLEDGE TO CUT CONGRESS–Throughout the South we spoke for the full protection of all citizens under the Constitution of the United States. Tonight, I want to call upon the candidates of the Republican and Democratic parties to pledge with me that whosoever shall be elected, he will enforce the second section of the Fourteenth Amendment no less than the other provisions of the Constitution. That section of our Constitution calls for the reduction of the number of Congressmen for each state where the right to vote is abridged.
In 1946 the votes cast to elect fourteen Congressmen. from Louisiana and Mississippi were less than the votes cast in the Twenty-fifth Congressional District here in New York.  John Rankin and thirteen others, all together, received less votes than are cast here in the Twenty-fifth District.  That is not only unfair to the people of New York’s Twenty-fifth District; it is grossly unfair to the people of the Southern states whose freedom has been limited by the failure of the Congress to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment.
If every Congressional candidate, if each of the Presidential candidates will take a pledge to secure constitutional reapportionment on the basis of the next census, I predict that we shall see an end to the many hindrances to free suffrage in the South.
We pledge ourselves to enforce this constitutional right.

PROUD OF OUR ENEMIES–In pledging to live by the Constitution, we have earned enemies. And we are proud of our enemies.
The men who stand for Jim Crow.
The men who stand for Taft-Hartley.
The men who support fascists in Greece and China.
The men who prefer an atmosphere of war, because they profit by it.
The men who hated Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal and who now find their unity in hatred for the Progressive party.
These men, Republicans and Democrats bound together by hate, are using every mechanism which bipartisan fear can suggest to defeat congressional candidates who stand for peace.
The Democrats, the Republicans, and the self-styled Liberals have joined hands to support single candidates against the candidates of the Progressive party; against candidates of the American Labor party.  They have joined hands in their bipartisan wrath against two men with the best liberal and labor voting records in the Congress of the United, States.  They have honored—these corrupt and dangerous men—they have honored two real servants of the people, Vito Marcantonio and Leo Isacson. They have honored Leo Isacson with a single opponent. They have honored Vito Marcantonio with a joint campaign of vituperation and hate.  They are afraid of our strength. They saw what the people could do last February when they sent Leo Isacson to the Congress.  They have seen, time and again, the devotion of Vito Marcantonio’s constituents to that dynamic champion of progressive principles. They have reason for their fear—and though they have combined their resources and efforts, we shall lick them on election day and return Vito Marcantonio and Leo Isacson to the Congress.
BIPARTISANS’ NEW ALLIES–It is with great sadness that I note that the bipartisans have some new allies; fearful men who call themselves liberals and leaders of labor; men who cry out against Wall Street running the country and then ask workers to give dollar bills to keep President Truman and his Wall Street gang in Washington.
I say such action, such double talk, such duplicity is shameful, immoral, and corrupt.
These illiberal liberals; these labor leaders who fight monopoly with words, but whose actions support the candidates of monopoly, these men make possible the Truman double talk. They make it possible for Truman to condemn Taft-Hartley while using it to destroy unions and the Wagner Act; to call for civil rights, while maintaining segregation in the Armed Forces and conducting loyalty purges; to call for price controls after killing them; to call for peace, while preparing for war.
The surest proof that we of the Progressive party are not impractical in our politics is in the alliances of hate which have been formed against us.
Some of the liberals, some of the Pied Pipers of labor will tell us that they have compromised because Roosevelt compromised; but they slander a great man when they draw that comparison.  Roosevelt, by the deftest political maneuvering in all history, made many a political deal, but always advancing the cause of the common man.

NOT FOR SALE–The men who are bargaining with corruption today hope for no gains, no advancements. They are bargaining to minimize losses. They are fearful men. They are men who might well heed the lesson that the only cure for fear is to stand up and fight for right.
The bipartisans have learned that the Progressives are not for sale. They have found out—through their leading agent in New York City, Mayor O’Dwyer, that the party in which Fiorello LaGuardia was proud to enroll himself is not for sale.
Bill O’Dwyer found it out when he tried with his fanciest offers to get John Rogge to quit the race for the surrogate’s bench. Bill O’Dwyer heard Vito Marcantonio say “no.” He heard John Rogge say “no.” And he knows that John Rogge will conduct the kind of dynamic, fighting campaign against corruption which he himself should have fought against Tammany.
O’Dwyer, who has Trumanized his local administration by serving the same interests as the Republicans, by pitting police against strikers, by fighting inflation with increased subway fares, by invoking local loyalty orders; Bill O’Dwyer has found that Progressives know double-talk when they hear it.
As President Truman has demonstrated that he could not fill the shoes of Roosevelt; so Mayor O’Dwyer has shown that he cannot fill the shoes of LaGuardia.

NAME CALLING DISCOUNTED–Yes, our “no sale” sign has earned us many names. But it does not matter if they call us red or black, if they lie about us or egg us or stone us. We will not join the Republican-Democratic poker match which governs out of the backroom—from the bottom of the deck.
The shop-worn, the discredited, the cheap political tricksters have joined with those who all their lives have practiced black reaction. They have set up one camp, though there are many banners.
And what are they joined against? What are we that they should forget old feuds to fight against us?
We are those who stand against the course which leads to war.
We are those who would take from the hands of monopoly the power to say who shall starve and who shall feast. We are those who protest a policy toward minority groups that is administered by a policeman’s nightstick. We are those who feel attacked whenever the color of man’s skin or the color of his political beliefs is the official excuse for brutality, whether in Mississippi or in Harlem, whether at home or abroad.
We must go now into every building of this city, into every suburban home; onto every street corner. We must tell the people who we are. We will stand up and take the jeers of hirelings.
We must work—we will work, so that on Nov. 2, Americans can clearly choose.

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A great and noble experiment

john-tylerOn July 3, 1843, Mr. Joseph Simpson of Baltimore, a US citizen and a member of the Jewish faith, wrote President John Tyler a letter complaining of General of the Army Winfield Scott, in full military regalia, participating is some sort of Christian religious event in Baltimore.   Mr. Simpson believed it was never the intention of the Founders to advantage any single religious confession over another, and the participation of General Scott and other officers in this Christian event in the official regalia of the US military may be misunderstood to suggest otherwise.  Mr. Simpson wrote President Tyler, believing it his duty to report to the President this violation of the great tradition of the United States and its Constitution.

On July 10, 1843, President Tyler responded.  Tyler expressed no knowledge of the event involving Scott, but suggested it must be him participating only as a private citizen.  To that end, Tyler assured Mr. Simpson Scott must “lay aside his sword and epaulets” and appear “as a distinguished citizen but in no other light . . .”  Tyler continues,

“. . . The United States have adventured upon a great and noble experiment, which is believed to have been hazarded in the absence of all previous precedent—that of total separation of Church and State.  No religious establishment by law exists among us.  The conscience is left free from all restraint and each is permitted to worship his Maker after his own judgment.  The offices of the Government are open alike to all.  No tithes are levied to support an established Hierarchy, nor is the fallible judgment of man set up as the sure and infallible cored of faith.  The Mahomedan, if he will to come among us, would have the privilege guaranteed to them by the Constitution, to worship according to the Koran, and the East Indian might erect a shrine to Brahma if it so pleased him.  Such is the spirit of toleration inculcated by our political Institutions.  The fruits are visible in the universal contentment which everywhere prevails.  Christians are broken up into various sects, but we have no persecution, no stake or rack-no compulsion or force, no furious or bigoted zeal; but each and all move on in their selected sphere, and worship the Great Creator according to their own forms and ceremonies.  The Hebrew persecuted and down-trodden in other regions, takes up his abode among us with none to make him afraid . . . he may worship God of his fathers after the manner that worship was conducted by Aaron . . . and the aegis of the Government is over him to defend and protect him.  Such is the great experiment which we have tried and such are the happy fruits which have resulted from it; our system of free government would be imperfect without it.  The body may be oppressed and manacled and yet survive; but if the mind of man be fettered, its energies and faculties perish, and what remains is of the earth, earthly.  Minds should be free as the light or as the air.  While I remain connected with the Government, be assured, Sir, that so far as the Executive action is concerned, the guarantees of the Constitution in this great particular will know no diminution . . .”

 Even more interesting, Tyler, imagining permutations of Scott as a non-Christian, stated, “Was he a Hebrew and of the same tribe with yourself . . . (it) would in no manner affect him in his military character; nor would it make him obnoxious to the censure of the Government for so doing.”  Tyler is clear, a person’s religious, cultural, ethnic, etc. nature is of no consequence to a person’s full participation in the rights of citizenship in these United States.

A mere fifty five years after the ratification of the Constitution, President Tyler, describes not only the separation of church and state, an essential construction of our noble experiment, but he also provides insight into the expectation of cultural and ethnic diversity as a true and present reality of the great and noble experiment undertaken by our Founders.  In the time of the Founders, in the time of Tyler, and in our time, religious, ethnic, and cultural diversity was and remains a core value upheld and protected by our great and noble experiment.  As Tyler wrote, “Such is the spirit of toleration inculcated by our political Institutions.”  Any action by any branch of the US government intended to alter or diminish this spirit of toleration is inconsistent and antithetical to the intent of the Founders.  Tragically, we find ourselves living in a time when some actively encourage and support ethnic, cultural, religious, gender, LGBTQ, and racial intolerance.  It is left to us, those who embrace the great and noble experiment of our Founders, to resist this assault on the values and aspirations of our Constitution and our nation.  In this season of Thanksgiving, a holiday of our nation, I give thanks for the vision of our Founders and the vision of diversity and toleration they imagined, however flawed and limited in their own time.  Perhaps it is left to us, the future, to protect and perfect more completely the fullness of their imaginations.

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