Sen. Charles W. Tobey (R-NH)
Delivered before an America First Committee Rally
Carnegie Hall, New York City
September 17, 1941
One hundred and fifty-four years ago today at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, thirty-nine members of the Constitutional Convention signed the completed document of the Constitution of the United States which Mr. Gladstone appropriately termed “the most wonderful work every struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.” Both the inspiration of its construction and the tenacity of its existence have fully justified that praise bestowed upon it. On us rests the responsibility to perpetuate it.
The Constitution provided that it should go into effect after nine states had approved it, and the signal satisfaction of being the decisive ratifying state fell to the State of New Hampshire, which I have the honor to represent in the Senate of the United States.
It is fitting for us to gather here in the cradle of our government, in the city in which our first President was inaugurated into office, to celebrate the birthday of the Constitution, which has stood as a guardian of individual liberty, and the supreme law of the land, for more than a century and a half.
We have heard often of late the phrase “The horse and buggy age” applied to the sayings and wisdom of our founding fathers. My only hope is that history may remember as kindly the officials who thus desecrate the memory of those who presided at the modest beginning of our great government, which has brought a greater degree of liberty, prosperity and happiness to our people than that enjoyed anywhere else in the world—a government that, until recently, was at peace with the world and respected by the world.
The wisdom and philosophy of the Constitution, has been tested by the whirlwind of party passions, fratricidal warfare and grave economic convulsions. Never until these last few years have the great merit and immortal principles of this document been assailed.
Think of the magnitude of the task which confronted these men who assembled in Philadelphia in 1787! They were called upon to write down upon parchment, for the first time in history, a scheme for a government that would insure the preservation and evolution of liberty for all time. Their problem was clearly stated by Lincoln in 1858 in these words: “It has long been a grave question whether any government, not too strong for the liberties of the people, can be strong enough to maintain itself in a great emergency.” Still they created a government which was to prove not too strong, even to trample upon the rights of the slave with shackles on arms and ankles, yet strong enough to maintain itself in the face of the greatest trials and hardships that ever confronted a Republic in the history of the world.
True to the trust reposed in them by the people, our founding fathers steered clear of autocracy; rule by one man, which can only mean tyranny and despotism. They realized that God has not yet created any one man wise enough or benevolent enough to seize and enforce his individual pattern to govern the hearts and minds and consciences and property and lives of every citizen in the land. They comprehended the true science of government. Passionately, they believed that powers of the government must be separated. As often expressed by them “the accumulation of all the powers of government in the same hands, whether of one, or a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed or elected,” could justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.
Let us review a few of the modern trends and developments which threaten to destroy our constitutional form of government. Let us expose some of the modern doctrines which some seek to inculcate in the minds of American citizens, doctrines that in other parts of the world produced international lawlessness, anarchy and war; doctrines that in other parts of the world are depriving the people of their liberties and of their lives. Only in that way can we stem the tide of foreign ideologies in the Administration that threaten to sweep away every vestige of our freedom.
I will not enumerate the series of deviations from the letter and spirit of the Constitution which have marked the philosophy of government behind the President from his first election to the present period of war hysteria. I but mention in passing the flood of “must legislation,” concentrating always more and more power in the hands of the President and railroaded through a “rubber stamp” Congress.
Added to this line of evasion of the Constitution by the President, was his flagrant, and unprecedented attempt to destroy one of the three coordinate branches of our government. I refer to his attempt to dilute the effectiveness of the Supreme Court by packing it, as a corrupt lawyer would try to pack a jury.
The latest maneuver of this master of a “free” people was accomplished in his last radio talk, in which he announced the issuance of orders to the Atlantic fleet to “eliminate” the submarines, but his radio talk went much farther even than that. By that talk, the President eliminated the Congress along with the submarines. Fellow Americans, the President has in fact eliminated your Congress just as effectively as a depth charge puts a submarine out of business.
I measure my words when I say that in my opinion the greatest menace to this country and to our form of government, does not come from any enemy abroad, but rather exists right here in our own country, and more particularly and specifically, under the Capitol Dome in Washington, where the people’s representatives in the Congress, have apparently lost their sense of responsibility under the Constitution to act as a separate but coordinate branch of the federal government and have yielded to pressure and blandishments of another branch, the Executive. Therein is the great threat to the American way of life and the American form of government.
We of America need a new Declaration of Independence by the American Congress,—independence of any other branch of the government, consistent with the oath of the Congress to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and if that oath means anything, it means that the Congress should exercise and be true to the obligations that it assumes in that oath, in accordance with the provisions of our Constitution. It was apprehension of just such dangers which I now cite, that caused Washington to cry out: “But let there be no change by usurpation, for it is the customary instrument by which free governments are destroyed.”
From my State of New Hampshire came a great states-man whose words on the Constitution bear repetition tonight. I quote: “Other misfortunes may be borne and their effects overcome. If disastrous wars should sweep our commerce from the ocean, another generation will renew it; if they exhaust our treasury, future industries will replenish it, but, who can reconstruct the fabric of demolished government? Who can rear again the well-proportioned columns of Constitutional liberty? 4 7ho can frame together the skillful architecture which unites national sovereignty with state’s rights, individual security and public prosperity? No! If these columns fall, they will he raised not again.”
Men and women of America, I plead with you. Think—think over those words of the immortal Webster. Individual rights have been cast to the wind under the present regime in power in our government. Only through the Congress can the people be saved. Constitutional liberty once lost is difficult to regain.
This is a fateful hour in the history of our nation. Common honesty and integrity have been cast to the winds and the people are being deceived in a gigantic conspiracy to drive them into the war. We all should have a share in arriving at such a momentous decision as faces our nation.
No one man—no one group of men-should be allowed to make the decision for us, only the people’s representatives in Congress, to whom the Constitution grants the sole power to declare war. A great fundamental precept of the Declaration of Independence is that Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.
Tonight as we look across the seas at the old world, we see the lights of civilization being again extinguished in another chapter of the many wars which have devastated the peoples of Europe for generation after generation. We can characterize this war as Romain Rolland did the last: “A sacrilegious conflict which saw a maddened Europe ascending its funeral pyre and, like Hercules, destroying itself with its own hands.”
Today, certain forces in our country, intrigues by inter-national interests, are bending their every effort to embroil us in the European holocaust, by ignoring the Constitutional prerogatives of the people’s representatives in the Congress, which body has the sole power to declare war.
I ask you: Shall the American people be driven into that chaos by leaders in this country in violation of their solemn promises to the American people?
Shall the American people lose to power-inebriated leaders in this country the individual rights which they now hold under the Constitution?
Shall the American Congress be reduced to a supine group of fear-stricken, timid men as was the German Reichstag?
Last November, the American people throughout the country went to the polls with promises of peace still ringing in their ears. Both major parties had adopted strong and unequivocal peace planks. For months; Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Willkie had been competing with each other in making more and more vigorous promises, more and more reassuring promises that the American people would not be driven into the European war. Mr. Roosevelt pledged this in the following words, I quote: “And while I am talking to you, fathers and mothers, I give you one more assurance. I have said this before, but I shall say it again, and again, and again, your sons are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.”
In a voice vibrant with emotional appeal and with a ring of sincerity designed to win votes, Mr. Willkie said, I quote: “The battle of America is a battle for liberty. It belongs right here at home. 1 believe we should keep out of war at all hazards. We are being urged toward war by an administration which is alike careless in speech and in action.” ’When, after election those assurances were recalled to Mr. Willkie, he replied, quote: “That was a bit of campaign oratory.”
Has this nation sunk to the depths of degradation reached by the Stalin regime and other European powers?
Can our people no longer listen to the words of our so-called statesmen with any confidence that they are speaking what is in their minds and hearts?
Are we, like the European nations, to have a government of men and not of laws?
Are we to be tricked and duped with impunity only to awaken like the Germans and the Russians to find that we are mere cogs in the wheel of government and no longer free individuals endowed with inalienable rights?
Can the President and Mr. Willkie successfully jeopardize the well-being and the very lives of the American people, on the assurance of Lend-Lease Administrator Harry Hopkins that “The people are too damned dumb to know what it is all about”?
Shame on any man, whether he be the President, whether he be counsel for the motion picture industry, or whether he be a Communist office-holder in an administrative department of our government—shame on any man who would deliberately deceive the plain people of America on a matter which means life and death to them.
Administration spokesmen are criticizing the majority of the people because they are not united for war in Europe. National unity is much to be desired but you can’t have national unity by deceiving the people or by going against the will of the people.
Fellow Americans, we can achieve national unity over-night if the President by action and words would adhere to the will of the people by announcing and carrying through a program for national defense—a defense policy to make the United States so strong that no nation or combination of nations would dare attempt to set foot in the Western Hemisphere—we could have national unity overnight if the Administration would return to the principles of America for America, with no entangling alliances with any of the European nations.
We can all be united for a defense program but that does not mean that we should forfeit our independence, our “American destiny” by becoming embroiled in the interminable and incessant wars of Europe, Asia and Africa. We tried that once and we reaped nothing but ingratitude and tears and casualty lists—we reaped nothing but over-crowded institutions for mental cases, crushing indebtedness, and years of depression, to be followed by an era of oppression. We fought “to make the world safe for democracy” and we accomplished nothing but to make it ripe for Nazism, Fascism and Communism.
Europe has always been engaged in wars, and it will not cease to be a cesspool of bloody ventures until it has spent its hatreds, its passions, its greeds, and until it has learned the principles of the Prince of Peace, that those who live by the sword shall perish by the sword.
History has proven that America cannot ally herself with any nation in war with any assurance that her decision of the moment is a wise one. Our boys died on the battlefields to defeat the Kaiser, but after the war Woodrow Wilson went to Europe to arrange the peace and came back a disillusioned man. In the “Genesis of the World War” by Harry Elmer Barnes, Professor of Historical Sociology at Smith College, we read the following:
“Perhaps the best ’epitaph’ on the whole episode of America and the World War and the finest proof of the futility of intervention, is contained in the Statement of Mr. Wilson to James Kerney on December 7, 1923, relative to the policy of Poincare—’I should like to see Germany clean up France, and I should like to see Jusserand and tell him so to his face’.”
He knew that the peace terms of that war could result in nothing but a greater war to come.
Only a short time ago, we were helping Finland against Russia. Today, we are sending munitions to Russia which will be used to bomb Finland. Today we would ally ourselves with Russia in her war with Germany, but it is possible that ten years from now we might ally ourselves with Germany to halt the menace of Communism sweeping Europe.
Why spend the lives of our richest blood on the battle-fields of Europe on such uncertain and impermanent ventures. Why not take a lesson from history and from our experiences and fallow the wisdom of the father of our nation, in his advice against entangling alliances?
But there are those who say: But what are we going to do to stop Hitler? These people are divided into two groups.
One is the group of those who use this fear propaganda because they have selfish motives for getting us into the war, and are willing to use any pretext to get us in. Take for example the group in the motion picture industry which has control of one of the greatest instruments of propaganda in the country. It has been advised that the motion picture industry has millions of dollars owed to it by British motion picture interests. It is obvious that they have a reason for wanting us to get into the war. Million-dollar investments must be protected.
There are those in another group, however, who have a sincere and honest apprehension that Hitler can conquer the world. My answer to that is that Hitler has built up so many hates in Europe, that he will never be able to untangle the potential Fifth Column against him, which exists throughout the continent, should he live a thousand years.
Each new conquest—each new country he invades only weakens him and hastens his downfall. He cannot turn his back on the people of Europe and Russia and seriously threaten the United States either militarily or economically. No less an authority than Bernard Baruch has testified that even though Hitler should win a technical military victory in Europe, Germany, and not the United States, would be the loser of the economic campaign for world trade.
Let those who sincerely fear invasion by Hitler listen to the considered judgment of Lt. Col. Thomas R. Phillips of the General Staff Corps of the United States Army. I quote: “Even if the United States had no harbor defenses, it would be impregnable to invasion. And this still would be true if our navy were inferior to that of an invading power.… The bomber has made the American coast impregnable to invasion.”
And yet, despite this, there are those who are bent on getting us into the war, even by the twisting of the true meaning of freedom of the seas. Let me tell you something about that.
Freedom of the seas does not mean that one nation can send ships laden with contraband to a warring nation with-out accepting the risk of their being sunk by that nation’s enemies. As a matter of fact, Great Britain will not allow American vessels to carry food to the stricken peoples of Europe. Let a group in this country try to ship food to the starving Greeks or to ship medicine to our friends in Fin-land, and see what happens. Let it be remembered that the American merchant ship “Steel Seafarer” which was sunk in the Red Sea was loaded with contraband of war at least 12,000 miles from our shores.
Let those who urge us to go to war to uphold the doctrine of freedom of the seas, be honest in discussing this subject. The American people are not children. They know what contraband is, and they know that so long as Britain refuses to allow the United States to ship food to the starving peoples of Europe, there is no such thing as freedom of the seas.
We have one dear duty, to build up our army and our navy and our military production with unceasing de-termination, and thereby demonstrate to Hitler that any attempted invasion of the Western Hemisphere is out of the question.
Bear in mind that after the war is over Europe will be filled with depraved minds and starving bodies, and the seeds of Communism will find fertile soil and insure its growth. The Russian doctrines will over-ride Europe and the pressure of that propaganda upon our own nation will be tremendous. By building up our economic strength, by building up our productive capacity and by making the four freedoms a reality in our home country we will be better able to withstand this menace, both militarily and politically, than we would if we were to throw our all into the death struggle of Europe.
There is a deadly conspiracy to get us into the war, but it is not too late to make that conspiracy an unsuccessful one.
Two well-known columnists, Mr. Alsop and Mr. Kintner, have received appointments in the United States Navy. One of them is a cousin of Franklin Roosevelt. On June 4th they frankly stated in their syndicated column that the President and the men around him hoped that the Atlantic patrol would result in an incident which could be used as an excuse for taking this country into war. That was ex-pert testimony but the sinkings have not been fast enough, and now orders have been issued which are expected to produce more incidents. Congress is being by-passed, Congress, which has the sole power to declare war, has been eliminated in the matter. Congress will come back and exercise its prerogatives only if the people demand of the individual members the courage that is so greatly lacking today.
If those who are seeking an incident to involve our nation as a shooting participant in the European War are successful what lies ahead of us? What price war?
A debt unprecedented, so staggering in its magnitude as to make inevitable inflation, the impairment of savings, life insurance, and annuities; the crippling of trust funds, educational and charitable institutions, and the repudiation of a large part of our national debt; a depression in industry and finance which will make the depression of 1931 and 1932 seem mild in comparison; the sacrifice of millions of lives of young American manhood and, what is even worse, a tragic harvest of mentally incapacitated men, broken-hearted mothers and fathers and families.
We will lose our democratic way of life, the liberties and freedoms vouchsafed us in this Constitution we pay tribute to tonight, while in their place there will arise same fascist or communistic form of government.
What a heritage for our children ! And, in the long years of aftermath of the hell of it all, those of us still living will turn back in retrospection to these days, and the youth of that day will turn and ask us why we permtted the warmongers of 1941 to push this nation into the maelstrom of European intrigue and selfishness.
Wake up America? The hour is latel The danger is acute.
Demand that there shall be no waging of war by Executive decree, but only by the considered action of the one branch of our government empowered to declare war by the Constitution; the people’s representatives, the Congress of the United States. Article I Section 8 of our Constitution has not been repealed.
So, on this anniversary, when we turn our minds to that sacred document, the Constitution, which has been handed down to us by the fathers, on this day when our individual liberty and the welfare of our nation is at stake, let us give solemn thought to the words of former Chief Justice Hughes, who at the 150th Anniversary of the Congress said, “But in the great enterprise of making democracy workable, we are all partners. One member of our body politic cannot say to another: ’I have no need of thee.’ We work in successful cooperation by being true, each department to its own functions, and all to the spirit which pervades our institutions; exalting the processes of reason, seeking through the very limitations of power the promotion of the wise use of power, and finding the ultimate security of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and the promise of continued stability and a rational progress, in the good sense of the American people.”
To that good sense we appeal tonight.