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Selected Works of Henry A. Wallace

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Government Service the Supreme Duty

"What I Mean By a Liberal Person"

Henry A. Wallace

Speech delivered before a meeting sponsored by the Independent Voters Committee of the Arts and Sciences for Roosevelt, Madison Square Garden, New York City, September 21, 1944.
From Vital Speeches of the Day (October 1, 1944), v. 10, n. 24, p. 760.

  1. My good friends, Orson Welles, Jo Davidson, good friends all of you: Tonight I see America as a vigilant watcher and perpetual guardian of the ramparts of the future. This future has one essential—the continuous rebirth of liberalism. The light of this liberalism is all important, not only to the United States but to the far corners of the earth.

  2. Should the ignorance of the selfish, the blindness of the fearful or the designs of the international freebooters capture Washington, where then would be the victories of Berlin and Tokyo, either for us or for the world?

  3. You may well ask what I mean by a liberal person. A liberal is a person who in all his actions is continuously asking, "What is best for all the people—not merely what is best for me personally?" Abraham Lincoln was a liberal when he said he was both for the man and the dollar, but in case of conflict he was for the man before the dollar. Christ was the greatest liberal of all when He put life before things—when He said to seek the Kingdom of Heaven first and things would take care of themselves. Great artists, actors and scientists must be great liberals because in order to create great things they are compelled, for a time at least, to forget "self." In the fever of enthusiasm they strive to create a new beauty, to discover a new truth, to serve mankind in a new way.

  4. The most important seedbed of the future for the production of great scientists, great artists and great liberal leaders is our twenty million white collar workers. These are the forgotten men and women. During war the cost of living always runs away from their wages. They are poorly organized, but any liberal movement if it is to succeed should remember that it must not only represent farmers and factory workers but also the white collar workers and their cousins, the small businessmen.

  5. To us, who realize the supreme importance of the continuous rebirth of liberalism to meet changing conditions, it is peculiarly appropriate at this time to pay tribute to the memory of one of the greatest American liberals, who more than any other showed his capacity to change in order to meet new conditions—George W. Norris. Norris, a Protestant, a Middle Westerner, a Republican and a dry supported Al Smith in 1928 because he believed Al was more liberal than Herbert Hoover. Norris felt even happier in supporting Roosevelt in 1932, 1936, 1940 and 1944. Roosevelt saw eye to eye with Norris on the Tennessee Valley Authority, farm relief, rural electrification and foreign policies.

  6. Roosevelt, like Norris, had fought the forces of evil in both parties. Norris said about Roosevelt, "He is the nearest right on the power issue of any man in public life." Roosevelt said about Norris, "To those who would say that Senator Norris has been no respecter of parties I would suggest something more important: the forces of evil are far less respecters of parties. They are the lineal descendants of the men and the organizations who called Jefferson a 'radical'; who called Jackson a 'demagogue'; who called Lincoln a 'crackpot idealist'; who called Theodore Roosevelt a 'wild man'; who called Woodrow Wilson an 'impractical idealist.' Senator Norris, I go along with you because it is my honest belief that you follow in their footsteps—radical like Jefferson, demagogue like Jackson, idealist like Lincoln, wild like Theodore Roosevelt, theorist like Wilson—dare to be all of these, as you have in bygone years."

  7. Yes, dare to be all of these, as you have in bygone years. Here Roosevelt issued a challenge to Norris which he met to the last days of his life. One of my most cherished possessions is a five-page letter written by Norris on Aug. 19 of this year, a few days before his fatal illness, in which he, demonstrated perhaps for the last time his unfailing devotion to the liberal ideals which meant everything to him.

  8. Norris is dead, but another liberal equally close to Roosevelt, and even closer to the heart of labor, lives. I refer to Senator Wagner. No man ever has or ever will sponsor so much vital labor legislation. No man has fought more continuously for a square deal for labor, regardless of race or color. No Senator has more constantly pled the cause of the Jew seeking a haven of safety.

  9. Senator Wagner is running for re-election. The liberals of the nation will watch the outcome of this election with great eagerness to see whether one of the finest of American liberals is again returned to a place of usefulness and service. Were I a citizen of New York it would be my proud privilege to vote for Wagner and Roosevelt.

  10. No view of the future in the light of liberalism, as represented by President Roosevelt and Senator Wagner, can overlook ,the necessity of planning the inclusion of all the people in the economic, educational and political progress which only such liberalism can guarantee. And by all the people I want specifically to include the Negro and every other minority group. If that means a permanent Fair Employment Practices Committee, patterned after the committee already established by the President, then we must have it. If that means Federal aid to education such as was killed in this Congress by the Republicans, then we must provide it. If that means abolition of the poll tax, then the poll tax must go. I repeat what I have said before and shall always believe—in an economic, educational and political sense there must be no inferior races.

  11. There are ninety million people in the United States who could vote if all were permitted to vote. The more potential voters who register and vote, the more democracy. And I am firm in the belief that the more voters we have the more liberalism we shall enjoy, and therefore the greater hope for America and for the world. I am talking in New York. I use New York as an example. On Oct. 12 registration is over, and so there is a double duty of registering before Oct. 12 and voting on Nov. 7. Since he who does not register does not vote, I urge all Americans to register so that the largest number of Americans in history may reach the polls on Nov. 7.

  12. The problem in this campaign is not one of indispensability. The only issue confronting us is: who of the two men can better handle the following two problems:

    1. Who can the better cooperate with Churchill, Stalin and the Generalissimo in writing a lasting, liberal, democratic peace which will best preserve American interests without being unfair to any nation, big or small?

    2. Who can best make sure that there are jobs for everybody, and therefore good incomes for farmers, white-collar workers, business and professional men?

  13. Who scores higher as we pose these two problems? I know your answer.

  14. Even the most ardent Republican knows that Roosevelt has the precious asset of long acquaintance as he deals with Churchill and Stalin. He has met them face to face. He knows their innermost reactions because he has been in continuous, almost daily contact with them for several years. Even a reactionary will not lightly vote to toss such knowledge into the discard.

  15. Moreover, all middle-aged Republicans in favor of permanent peace will remember how Harding betrayed their peace ideals in 1920 and 1921. In spite of everything Dewey has said, the isolationists are still going to vote Republican in 1944. Just as Harding placated the isolationists in 1921, so Dewey would be under the necessity of placating the isolationists in 1945. The Republican party, in spite of the millions of its members who think clearly about international affairs, has been, is now and will be the channel through which the isolationists, the cartellists and the international freebooters work best.

  16. I am glad to bring you a bit of information which should cheer us all to greater and more confident effort. During the past month I have spent most of my time among active workers, seeking my own education on the great subject of post-war employment. There has been time for many questions. Four out of five of the people I met believe post-war jobs and a durable peace the two most important problems of their lives. Two-thirds of the people think Roosevelt is the man best equipped to fashion a permanent peace. A majority think that Roosevelt is the best hope for the management of post-war domestic affairs. Three out of four say Roosevelt is the man to finish the war. I am not forecasting. I am merely telling you what I heard and what was said by a cross-section of the people. I am telling you this because I returned to Washington from each of four trips more than ever convinced that the American people can't be frightened, can't be confused and are moving ahead in calm bravery toward the future and its problems.

  17. There is one especial reason this year which makes a ballot Nov. 7 of unusual value. In this democracy we are dedicated to the principle that the majority rules. There are these ninety million potential voters. Forecasters who make up what are called polls regarding future events have estimated at Princeton, N. J., that only forty million of the ninety million will vote. The additional information is volunteered that a vote below forty million should result in a victory for the conservatives. The same sources declare that nineteen million conservatives are certain to vote against Roosevelt and that only eighteen million other people are certain to vote for Roosevelt.

  18. Well, I am not a conservative. I do not for one moment believe that the American people are not alive to the vital importance of registering and voting in this most important electoral year in the history of our country. I believe that. over forty-million people, a clear majority of the electorate, will vote Nov. 7. And I am willing to take the conservative statement from Princeton that forty-five million votes means victory with Roosevelt.

  19. A reactionary does not believe in, nor does he hope for, a forty-five million vote Nov. 7. Such a man merely wants a conservative victory. He wants Roosevelt beaten. He doesn't care how. He doesn't care whether the soldier, or the war worker away from home, gets maximum help from his Governor. For such a man, victory is its own significance. Only a full registration and a maximum vote will express the new liberalism and guarantee the hope of this world for permanent peace and maximum jobs.

  20. As we liberals strive to blueprint the future we give first place in our hearts to "Jobs for All," in health and in security. Any modern Government, post-war, which is not dedicated to full employment will fail its people. Such a Government deserves to fall. Such a Government will be discarded. It is not enough to protect factories in reconversion. It is absolutely imperative to protect people in reconversion.

  21. In all earnestness I say again that it is not enough to fix up our war production plants by granting tax relief to big capital. Twenty billion of tax relief for factory and machinery and capital structure will not do all this job. The blue print calls for an orderly and efficient change-over of thirty million workers from wartime and fighting jobs to full peacetime work. Any Government which fails in this maximum ideal, fails all. Any Government which does not give confidence to our workers and farmers, and to the great white collar twenty millions, that they shall not be idle, will be responsible for a panic mass movement.

  22. This panic would find millions in ill-considered shifting, each man trying to find the safest spot, many men forgetting that each should, in calm bravery, stand at his lathe or plow his furrow, until the job of Tokyo and Berlin is done—until the boys who have done the job of Tokyo and Berlin are back with us in work and comradeship. All may help in this—the individual, the businessman, and our Governments—city and county and State and national.

  23. It has been my privilege recently—since the Chicago convention, in fact—to travel through the South, New England and the Middle East, talking to farmers, workers, businessmen about the reconversion of human beings. Everywhere I have found optimism and courage. I have returned to Washington from these trips each time refreshed in the knowledge that our people will be calm. They, these American people, are grown up. They will not be frightened by those who say that their Government would abuse them. They don't believe absurd charges that their Government would keep one man at war for one minute longer than is necessary to win a total victory.

  24. And they know that every right thinking American believes that his Government will meet the terrific post-war employment problem in the spirit of fairness. Those who say otherwise are self-seeking. Those who say otherwise do not know the American people. You can't scare the American people this way.

  25. Next after "Jobs for All" we liberals emphasize the willingness—yes, the eagerness—of all men in health, to work. There can be no sit-down strikes of idle seeking the dole. In my trips I never found a single man who wanted to be idle. But I found hundreds who were thinking and planning for healthful work so that their churches, their homes, and their families might inherit the fruits of victory in peace and gainful labor.

  26. Third in our liberal blueprint we would underline the problem of the returned soldier. Wise laws have already been passed at Washington and by nearly every State, giving job priority to the volunteer and the man drafted into war work and the fighting line. The military authorities, for instance, have provided questionnaires for each soldier to sign regarding his former job. It will be known by every draft board and in every community whether a soldier wants his job back or whether he wants some other kind of work.

  27. There will have to be much readjustment. Five hundred thousand businesses have been closed since Pearl Harbor. An equal number of new businesses must be started as civilian demand and the backlog of civilian need swings the country from war to peace.

  28. A wise government, believing in humanity, should be adequate to protect the relocation of men and women with the least waste and the least idleness and the most promptness. There is not time here to fill in the detail. Some of the broad outlines may be mentioned. This country needs a peacetime industry producing at least one hundred seventy billion dollars annually at present price levels of peacetime goods and services. With war needs over, one hundred and seventy billion dollars of peacetime activity will mean 60 per cent more clothing to be enjoyed; will mean a better food standard; will mean better housing; will provide for the housewife those labor-saving devices and home comforts which modern invention has so ably conceived and executed.

  29. A brave America knows that we have the factories and the machines and the great backlog of savings. Who should tell us that the consuming market is not here? Who should tell us that private American industry and a half million new businesses will not be ready and anxious to fill the need and to wait on the customer? The man who tells us such things is self-seeking or ignorant. The man who would approach the business of government leadership in fear and accusation, shall not merit the confidence of a work-willing people.

  30. When a willing people on farm, in mine, in factory, in the professions, in transportation, and in other service, goes forward toward full peacetime employment, there is reason to believe that three-fourths of the problem will take care of itself. There will, of course, be much to be done by the minute men of peacetime conversion in the cities, in the States and in the nation. For instance, Lynchburg, Va., has its plan; Worcester, Mass., has its plan; the State of Rhode Island has its plan; the forward-looking Governor of Georgia is on his way with post-war jobs for Georgia. The bankers and large corporations are necessary but have no monopoly on peacetime reconversion. The job is a human one. Liberals looking forward know this. You know it. Roosevelt knows it. I wonder if certain other people know it?

  31. Tonight we should look ahead to the Washington scene post-war. After all, what the Federal Government does will act as encouragement and inspiration for every State and every community. The national blueprint must come from Washington, after private industry, the county, the city and the State have contributed their all. I believe the best guarantee that Washington will do its full share comes from the examination of the facts.

  32. What has Roosevelt done since Hoover left off? What has Roosevelt done since Pearl Harbor to keep inflation from engulfing this country? What has Roosevelt done to see that our soldiers became the best equipped and the best fed, and that there was still enough left for all the healthful needs of those who remained behind to make and build for victory?

  33. These facts are your guide. These facts should govern your vote as you seek to choose between one of the two men.

  34. It would be absurd to attack the motives of any man seeking national leadership. Certainly both Dewey and Roosevelt will do their level best if called upon to serve. The first question to decide is one of equipment and experience. Who can better provide for permanent peace and full employment—Dewey or Roosevelt? What do you say?

  35. I pause here to say that no man can run this country by himself. If Roosevelt is to carry on he is charged, as you are charged with the duty of having the ablest body of teammates. If a wartime President may draft men to fight, certainly a peacetime President may call on the brains of this country to work full time in the most exciting battle of modern times—the battle against depression, against panic, against defeatism; the battle for full employment, national health, and permanent peace.

  36. There is no peacetime job for profit or self which ever again will be paramount over the needs of all. Government service must be the supreme duty when the need is determined. There can be no slackers as we fight for the common man in his pursuit of the richer life. I don't favor the dollar-a-year plan; I do believe that this Government, at fair wages, has the first call on all for all.

  37. Especially where brains and leadership are in demand, no private industry should have the right to bid unfairly for private profit against government and public necessity. A sit-down strike of brains needed by Government should be impossible in the days to come.

  38. The opponents of what Roosevelt stands for will question the right of the Government of all the people to call on the best brains for peacetime service. These same critics of Roosevelt first questioned the right of Government to draft men to fight. These same critics questioned Congress when the President was given power to take over factories for maximum war production.

  39. These same critics, who under no circumstances would vote for Roosevelt, will be the loudest in demanding that government and the people take second place—that the needs of men are second to the needs of profit and immediate dollars. And if, on Nov. 7, these men win because people are too excited to register or too far from a voting place to vote, we may return to a normalcy of a Harding and a ten-year decay into the panic of a Hoover.

  40. Our people are winning a magnificent military victory against despotism. Our people shall also win a victory even more exciting than the victories of the war. The constructive victory of the peace to come will be won on the farm, in the factory and at the fireside. Those who believe in human rights as a first love and a first duty shall win the peace.

  41. The new liberalism shall carry on responsibly and bravely confident that peace on earth and good-will toward men is a practical endeavor. There shall never be a return to the normalcy of yesteryear—to normalcy for the few and subnormalcy for the many. We welcome—yes, we shall fight for something we have never had—the normalcy of the good life for everybody.



Introduction  |   Essay  |   Documents  |   Resources

Selected Works of Henry A. Wallace

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