The weakling and the coward are out of place in a strong and free community. In a republic like ours the governing class is composed of the strong men who take the trouble to do the work of government; and if you are too timid or too fastidious or too careless to do your part in this work, then you forfeit your right to be considered one of the governing and you become one of the governed insteadone of the driven cattle of the political arena.
Our form of government does not enter into rivalry with the institutions of others. We do not copy our neighbours, but are an example to them. It is true that we are called a democracy, for the administration is in the hands of the many and not of the few. But while the law secures equal justice to all alike in their private disputes, the claim of excellence is also recognised; and when a citizen is in any way distinguished, he is preferred to the public service, not as a matter of privilege, but as the reward of merit. Neither is poverty a bar, but a man may benefit his country whatever be the obscurity of his condition.
Shortly after I was elected, in Nineteen Hundred and Forty-eight, I made up my mind that I would not seek another term. I have seen a great many men in public life, and one of their besetting sins is to stay in office too long. Nowadays, in such organizations as the Army and the civil service and industry, there is compulsory retirement, but no such regulations prevail in politics. I decided that I would not be guilty of this common failing, and that I should make way for younger menand the Constitutional Amendment Number twenty-two, the two-term amendment, does not apply to me. The people responsible for the 22nd amendment thought I was not worth considering and that Id be beaten in 1948 so I was exempted.
In several educational institutions during the last few years manifestation of student activity in riots has been exciting the country. To the conservative mind, these riots bode no good. As a matter of fact student riots of one sort or another, protests against the order that is, kicks against college and university management indicate a healthy growth and a normal functioning of the academic mind. Youth should be radical. Youth should demand change in the world. Youth should not accept the old order if the world is to move on. But the old orders should not be moved easilycertainly not at the mere whim or behest of youth. There must be clash and if youth hasnt enough force or fervor to produce the clash the world grows stale and stagnant and sour in decay. If our colleges and universities do not breed men who riot, who rebel, who attack life with all the youthful vim and vigor, then there is something wrong with our colleges. The more riots that come on college campuses, the better world for tomorrow.
The government being the peoples business, it necessarily follows that its operations should be at all times open to the public view. Publicity is therefore as essential to honest administration as freedom of speech is to representative government. Equal rights to all and special privileges to none is the maxim which should control in all departments of government.
Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate, than that these people are to be free; nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government. Nature, habit, opinion have drawn indelible lines of distinction between them.
And if we are to open employment opportunities in this country for members of all races and creeds, then the Federal Government must set an example. The President himself must set the key example. I am not going to promise a Cabinet post or any other post to any race or ethnic group. That is racism in reverse at its worst. So I do not promise to consider race or religion in my appointments if I am successful. I promise only that I will not consider them.
I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races,that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.
It is probably true that business corrupts everything it touches. It corrupts politics, sports, literature, art, labor unions and so on. But business also corrupts and undermines monolithic totalitarianism. Capitalism is at its liberating best in a noncapitalist environment.
If, in the middle of World War II, a general could be writing a poem, then maybe I was not so irrelevant after all. Maybe the general was doing more for victory by writing a poem than he would be by commanding an army. At least, he might be doing less harm. By applying the same logic to my own condition [consultant in poetry at the Library of Congress], I decided that I might be relevant in what I called a negative way. I have clung to this concept ever sincenegative relevance. In moments of vain-glory I even entertain the possibility that if my concept were more widely accepted, the world might be a better place to live in. There are a lot of people who would make better citizens if they were content to be just negatively relevant.
You have to choose between trusting to the natural stability of gold and the natural stability of the honesty and intelligence of the members of the Government. And, with due respect for these gentlemen, I advise you, as long as the Capitalist system lasts, to vote for gold.
One half of our brethren who fight and pay taxes, are excluded, like Helots, from the rights of representation, as if society were instituted for the soil, and not for the men inhabiting it; or one half of these could dispose of the rights and the will of the other half, without their consent.
Were our State a pure democracy, in which all its inhabitants should meet together to transact all their business, there would yet be excluded from their deliberations, 1. infants, until arrived at years of discretion. 2. Women, who, to prevent depravation of morals and ambiguity of issue, could not mix promiscuously in the public meetings of men. 3. Slaves, from whom the unfortunate state of things with us takes away the right of will and of property. Those then who have no will could be permitted to exercise none in the popular assembly; and of course, could delegate none to an agent in a representative assembly. The business, in the first case, would be done by qualified citizens only.
[Many agricultural counties] are far more important in the life of the State than their population bears to the entire population of the State. It is for this reason that I have never been in favor of restricting their representation in our State Senate to a strictly population basis. It is the same reason that the founding fathers of our country gave balanced representation to the States of the Union, equal representation in one House and proportionate representation based upon population in the other.
The Republic needed to be passed through chastening, purifying fires of adversity and suffering: so these came and did their work and the verdure of a new national life springs greenly, luxuriantly, from their ashes.
In truth, the abuses of monarchy had so much filled all the space of political contemplation, that we imagined everything republican which was not monarchy. We had not yet penetrated to the mother principle, that governments are republican only in proportion as they embody the will of their people, and execute it. Hence, our first constitutions had really no leading principles in them. But experience and reflection have but more and more confirmed me in the particular importance of the equal representation then proposed.
I knew that however bad the Republican party was, the Democratic party was much worse. The elements of which the Republican party was composed gave better ground for the ultimate hope of the success of the colored mans cause than those of the Democratic party.
For of those to whom much is given, much is required. And when at some future date the high court of history sits in judgment on each of usrecording whether in our brief span of service we fulfilled our responsibilities to the stateour success or failure, in whatever office we hold, will be measured by the answers to four questions:First, were we truly men of couragewith the courage to stand up to ones enemiesand the courage to stand up, when necessary, to ones associatesthe courage to resist public pressure, as well as private greed?Secondly, were we truly men of judgmentwith perceptive judgment of the future as well as the pastof our mistakes as well as the mistakes of otherswith enough wisdom to know what we did not know and enough candor to admit it. Third, were we truly men of integritymen who never ran out on either the principles in which we believed or the men who believed in usmen whom neither financial gain nor political ambition could ever divert from the fulfillment of our sacred trust?Finally, were we truly men of dedicationwith an honor mortgaged to no single individual or group, and comprised of no private obligation or aim, but devoted solely to serving the public good and the national interest?Couragejudgmentintegritydedicationthese are the historic qualities which, with Gods help will characterize our Governments conduct in the 4 stormy years that lie ahead.
Upon the standard to which the wise and honest will now repair it is written: You have lived the easy way; henceforth, you will live the hard way. You came into a great heritage made by the insight and the sweat and the blood of inspired and devoted and courageous men; thoughtlessly and in utmost self-indulgence you have all but squandered this inheritance. Now only by the heroic virtues which made this inheritance can you restore it again. You took the good things for granted. Now you must earn them again. For every right that you cherish, you have a duty which you must fulfill. For every hope that you entertain, you have a task that you must perform. For every good that you wish to preserve, you will have to sacrifice your comfort and your ease. There is nothing for nothing any longer.
God has lent us the earth for our life; it is a great entail. It belongs as much to those who are to come after us, and whose names are already written in the book of creation, as to us; and we have no right, by anything that we do or neglect, to involve them in unnecessary penalties, or deprive them of benefits which it was in our power to bequeath.
For we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. Soe that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world.
This means we must subject the machinetechnologyto control and cease despoiling the earth and filling people with goodies merely to make money. The search of the young today is more specific than the ancient search for the Holy Grail. The search of the youth today is for ways and means to make the machineand the vast bureaucracy of the corporation state and of government that runs that machinethe servant of man. That is the revolution that is coming. That revolutionnow that the people hold the residual powers of governmentneed not be a repetition of 1776. It could be a revolution in the nature of an explosive political regeneration. It depends on how wise the Establishment is. If, with its stockpile of arms, it resolves to suppress the dissenters, America will face, I fear, an awful ordeal.
As it was 189 years ago, so today the cause of America is a revolutionary cause. And I am proud this morning to salute you as fellow revolutionaries. Neither you nor I are willing to accept the tyranny of poverty, nor the dictatorship of ignorance, nor the despotism of ill health, nor the oppression of bias and prejudice and bigotry. We want change. We want progress. We want it both abroad and at homeand we aim to get it.
But above all, what this Congress can be remembered for is opening the way to a new American revolutiona peaceful revolution in which power was turned back to the peoplein which government at all levels was refreshed and renewed and made truly responsive. This can be a revolution as profound, as far-reaching, as exciting as that first revolution almost 200 years agoand it can mean that just 5 years from now America will enter its third century as a young nation new in spirit, with all the vigor and the freshness with which it began its first century.
As to the history of the revolution, my ideas may be peculiar, perhaps singular. What do we mean by the revolution? The war? That was no part of the revolution; it was only an effect and consequence of it. The revolution was in the minds of the people, and this was effected from 1760 to 1775, in the course of fifteen years, before a drop of blood was shed at Lexington.
You say that at the time of the Congress, in 1765, The great mass of the people were zealous in the cause of America. The great mass of the people is an expression that deserves analysis. New York and Pennsylvania were so nearly divided, if their propensity was not against us, that if New England on one side and Virginia on the other had not kept them in awe, they would have joined the British. Marshall, in his life of Washington, tells us, that the southern States were nearly equally divided. Look into the Journals of Congress, and you will see how seditious, how near rebellion were several counties of New York, and how much trouble we had to compose them. The last contest, in the town of Boston, in 1775, between whig and tory, was decided by five against two. Upon the whole, if we allow two thirds of the people to have been with us in the revolution, is not the allowance ample? Are not two thirds of the nation now with the administration? Divided we ever have been, and ever must be. Two thirds always had and will have more difficulty to struggle with the one third than with all our foreign enemies.
The time is now near at hand which must probably determine, whether Americans are to be, Freemen, or Slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own; whether their Houses, and Farms, are to be pillaged and destroyed, and they consigned to a State of Wretchedness from which no human efforts will probably deliver them. The fate of unborn Millions will now depend, under God, on the Courage and Conduct of this armyOur cruel and unrelenting Enemy leaves us no choice but a brave resistance, or the most abject submission; that is all we can expectWe have therefore to resolve to conquer or die.