My Democratic Credo
March 29, 1946 – US House of Representatives, Washington DC
Mr. Speaker, I think we all know that Communism is no real threat to the democratic institutions of our country.
But the irresponsible way the term “Communism” is used to falsely label the thing that majority of us believe in can be very dangerous.
I do not think Communism in Russia need prevent international cooperation in building the peace, any more than it prevented international cooperation in wining the war.
I know that the road ahead is not without difficulty or without its vexing problems, but, if we could solve all the difficulties and the problems that arose during the war, surely we can solve them in peace.
We solved them in war because we had to. If we had not, we would all now be slaves of the Axis Nations.
We will solve them in peace if we fully realize the grim fact that if we do not,civilization has run its course.
We have reached a point where war can no longer be the final recourse.We have reached a point where we either grow up or blow up.
If it is blow up, the issues over which we struggle today are meaningless. I have asked to talk about Communism. But I am also going to talk about democracy-democracy, which I strive daily to live-democracy which is the only form of society in which I believe-the principles of which were fed to me with my first spoon of cereal-democracy which my forefathers helped establish on this great continent.
I shall talk about democracy, because we it is democracy that we believe in and live by-or should live by. We are interested in Communism as a system that challenges democracy. I am not afraid of that challenge.
I do not think we value democracy highly enough. The great mass of the American people will never exchange democracy for Communism as long as democracy fulfills its promise. The best way to keep Communism out of our country is to keep democracy in it-to keep constantly before our eyes and minds the achievements and the goals which we, a free people, have accomplished and intend to accomplish in the future under our own democratic system.
I am jealous for democracy. I do not like to see the things that democracy can accomplish credited to Communism. Through the years democracy has given the people of the United States more freedom and a higher standard of living than any system that we know-and it has done so with less inequity, less persecution, less infringement on the rights of free thinking speech, and free action than under any other form of government anywhere in the world. I do not want the things that democracy has done ascribed to anything other than democratic process.
I am jealous for the school system we have built under democracy, and I do not want its extension, including fair salaries for teachers, day nurseries, school-lunch programs, and Federal aid to education, called Communism.
I am jealous for the reputation of our democratic institutions to achieve a high level of employment, and I do not want to see measures for increasing that employment attributed to Communism.
I am jealous for my belief, and the belief of millions of other Americans, that in our democracy the Government is the servant of the people, and that, as the servant of the people, it will protect the people-all of us, Protestant , Catholic, Jew, or gentile: black, white, or yellow. I do not like to have that belief, the very cornerstone of our greatness, disavowed and called communistic.
I am jealous for that greatest of all our institutions, the American home. I pay my disrespect to those short-sighted individuals who called our housing program for our returning service men and women, the program which would have helped millions of them start their homes, communistic.
I believe now, and I shall always believe, that this Government of the people is capable of self-growth, is capable of making whatever adjustments are needed in a world that has changed so greatly since the days when my grandfather, the Reverend William Harrison Gahagan, helped found Dayton, Ohio.
I do not claim that democracy, as we know it, is perfect, but I know that it has the capacity to remedy its own imperfections, and I do not want to hear each remedy called Communism.
I have a respect that amounts to reverence for our kind of Government and for this body of which I am privileged to be a Member.
As a child, the Congress of the United States was to me the symbol of freedom. It was the embodiment of all the great phrases and words that I had heard spoken in my home and at school, words I memorized in my heart and mind.
“Sweet land of liberty,” “We, the people of the United States,” “One Nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” “A Government of the people, by the people, for the people,” “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” “From every mountainside let freedom ring!”
As a very little girl I stood holding my father’s hand and looked upon the Members of this body. In my childish way I thought to myself how wonderful to be a Member of the Congress of the United States-to speak for the people-to be part of the people’s government.
In the years that followed, I, as many other Members of this House,earned in a few weeks what we are paid here in a year. But the privilege and satisfaction of becoming a Member of this House are greater than any I ever enjoyed outside. For I still feel now, as I felt as a child, that the confidence of people in their Representatives who they have freely chosen, is in itself the greatest reward-and cannot be measured by any material standards.
That confidence demands that we give to our role our hearts, our minds, the whole of our talents. It is here, so long as we are permitted to serve as Members of this House, that the greatest of all possible rewards is found. For the greatest of all possible trust has been given to us, a trust to protect the liberties of the people and fulfill their hopes.
This is the role, as a representative of the people, which I cherish above all I have ever held, or could ever dream of holding.
It is as a representative of the people, a democratic people, who believe in the principles and future of democracy – that I now speak about Communism.
There is no word in the world today more misused or misunderstood. I, for one, would not pretend to give a final definition of the word.
I have no special contribution to make on the subject. I am not a student of Communism. I have not been to Russia.
That, however, does not mean that I have not thought about Communism and tried to understand it and take an objective view toward it. One of the most important things today is for the American people to try to understand the Russian people and the Russian people to understand us.
I think we do a disservice to democracy when we dismiss Communism as the devil’s handiwork. Of course, there is competition between democracy and Communism in the world today.
There is no doubt in my mind that the result will continue to be triumph of democracy in the world if we spend our energy and genius on demonstrating to the world what democracy can do.
One-sixth of the globe today, an area as large as the United States, India and China combined, is inhabited by people who are living under a form of state socialism known as Communism.
Primarily as a result of geographic isolation, these people since the Middle Ages have lived under the cruelest, most barbaric autocracy in world history. Under the czars, the nobility held huge estates. There was a relatively small trading class, and working class of artisans. In 1917, when the revolution began, there were only 10,000,000 industrial workers in the whole country. There were many more millions of peasants who worked the land with the most primitive tools and methods; mentally and physically debased, almost to the level of animals, and who until less than a hundred years ago were bought and sold like the animals on the land of the big estates on which they lived and worked.
When Lenin with the philosophy of Marx and Engels arrived in Petrograd in the midst of a revolt against the czars and the war, there was small wonder that the Russian people followed him who promised bread and freedom. In other words, Communism was born out of hunger, slavery, illiteracy, superstition, degradation.
But, Communism has no place in our society. We have something better. We have democracy. Communist methods are foreign to ours. Their policies are superimposed from the top and you take it from the top whether you like it or not.
Under our democratic system, programs are proposed from many sources in the community. A candidate running for office stands for a certain program, and the people elect him or reject him on the basis of that program. In other words, the people themselves select or reject what is good for them. We do not believe that one man or a group of men can save the people. We believe that the people save themselves.
The Soviet have never developed certain rights which to us are fundamental – the civil rights we cherish, the political rights we so boisterously and vigorously enjoy. They have sacrificed the competitive free-enterprise system we believe in.
Since the war, I think we must all admit that some good things have been accomplished under Communism for the Russian people.
But, Communism is the receiver which takes over when bankruptcy takes place.
It is our job not only to see that bankruptcy never takes place here, but that through democratic processes the welfare and security of the people which are what make a society solvent increase day by day.
The fear of Communism in this country is not rational. And the irrational fear of Communism is being deliberately used in many quarters to blind us to our real problems. The spreading of this fear is in fact propaganda for Communism.
I am nauseated and sick to death of the vicious and deliberate way the word Communist has been forged into a weapon and used against those who organize and raise their voices in defense of democratic ideals – of hearing the very program initiated by Franklin Roosevelt and which the majority of American people voted for in four successive national elections and to which President Truman has dedicated himself in his twenty-one point program called Communistic by those who seek to defeat the majority will of the American people.
Communism could successfully invade only a weakened democracy. A vigorous democracy – a democracy in which there are freedom from want, freedom from fear, freedom of religion and freedom of speech – would never succumb to Communism or any other ism.
Our fight is not against the windmill of Communism in America. Rather it is against those who would make a treadmill of democracy through special privilege, bigotry and intolerance.
Those who serve democracy and the future of democracy best are those who believe that full employment and fair employment practices can be achieved under our free enterprise system and who fight for full employment and fair employment practices through the democratic process.
It is up to us, the people, to show that we can have full employment and full production and freedom at the same time. That is a test democracy faces.
Nobody believes in free enterprise or its future more than I do. I have had all the benefits of this free enterprise system. I was bred in a family that handed down its business from father to son, a family that believed and believes today that individual initiative is the source of our economic vitality. I have every advantage and every opportunity that a child born into that kind of family would have.
It is because I know what education and opportunity and the respect of the community mean in the development of human beings that I fight for them for everyone.
I have never been in a breadline. I have never had to live on a ditch bank. I am not one of the millions who have never known a doctor’s care.
I was not one of those 200,000 women a year who gave birth to their children without medical attention. I do not belong to a minority – at least I think the Irish are not considered a minority in America any more.
But I have been in the slums of America. I have been to the ditch bank and have seen the people who came out of the cities because there was no place for them there. I have seen the people who were blown off, tractored off, or, because of lack of markets, were pushed off the land.
I have seen their miserable cars with all their worldly belongings strapped to them wending their weary way through State after State, millions in all, hunting for a job, hunting for somewhere beside the road to lay their heads.
I have seen shanty towns where the dust blinded and choked – where there was no water to relieve the thirst – no water to wash sick children, or when it rained rivers ran through the tents or the improvised shanties.
I have seen the children with sore eyes and swollen bellies. I have looked deep into the despairing eyes of fathers and mothers without jobs – or hope of jobs. I have seen minorities humiliated and denied full citizenship. And I tell you that we betray the basic principle upon which this Government of the people finds a way by which all the people can live out their lives in dignity and decency.
Yes; I believe in free enterprise. I believe in it so much that the whole object of my participation in government as a representative of the people is to make it free, free for everybody.
It is a good thing to own your own business, to own your own farm. The problem that confronts this Congress is that not enough people own their own businesses and own their own farms. The test again and again is whether we side with the great monopolies or with the people. The great monopolies are suffocating free enterprise and, if not halted in their growth, will in the end destroy not only their own dynasties but democracy itself.
Only 10,000 person own one-quarter and 75,000 persons own one-half of all the corporate stock in this country. Only 61,000 persons out of 13,000,000 collect half the dividends.
The war Franklin D. Roosevelt talked about in 1936 is still going on. It is, as he said, “a war for the survival of democracy,” and the battle should not rage around the bogus issue of Communism but around the real issue of monopoly and the exploitation of the people and their resources.
Monopolies did not build America. It was not monopoly that built our great industrial economy. It was competitive enterprises which later were too often strangled by the forces of monopoly. Typically, our plants, factories, mines, and mills, were built by enterprising businessmen, creating income for their respective communities. But after the facility was built, too often it was taken over by the large combine, the Wall Street group.
Not only did monopoly fail to contribute materially to the development of our industrial structure, it actually promoted illegal price fixing and the restriction of production, which resulted in under consumption and underemployment.
Monopoly, through cartels, contributed seriously to our industrial unpreparedness for war by restricting the production and distribution of such vital materials as magnesium, synthetic rubber, aviation gasoline, and electrical equipment and many other products.
Monopoly deeply affects the spiritual and economic lives of those who live in communities which it dominates.
In a study prepared by the Smaller War Plants Corporation and printed as Senate Document 165, a comparison was made of the levels of civic welfare in what were termed “big business” as against “small business” cities. It was found that in the big-business cities – those which most of the working population was employed by a few large plants or absentee-owned corporations – the level of civic welfare was lower than in small-business cities – those in which most of the workers were employed in many small, locally-owned businesses.
It was found that the chance that a baby would die within one year after birth was considerably greater in big – than small business cities.
Slums were more prevalent in the big cities.
The “big-business” cities had less home ownership; they spent less per capita on health, on public recreation, and on public libraries; and they had a lower degree of church membership than did comparable “small-business” cities of the same size located in the same area, possessing the same type of population.
These are only a few manifestations of the lower level of civil welfare which were found to prevail in the “big business” cities.
The alternative to this concentration is its very opposite – more privately owned business, more employers competing for the respect of the community, more participation in ownership.
Democracy cannot long survive when the people permit their lives to be dominated – economically or politically – by a powerful few.
We must make democracy work. We must realize the greatness that is in America. We are proud of our past and proudest because of what we can build upon the past. We do not want to turn our eyes backward and to keep the dead hand of the past upon our growth. And above all we want to shake off the deadening hand of monopoly.
We must reverse the trend of monopoly. We mst enlarge the opportunities for all, with our magnificent capacities for production and distribution. It is in this atmosphere of hope and freedom that we became great and shall go forward to new security and well-being for all our people, rather than much for the few and little for the many.
To make democracy work, we must recognize its real enemies. And one of the most dangerous of its enemies is intolerance born of fear and loss of faith in America.
Intolerance which poisons the sweet air of liberty.
I do not agree with everything that is said. But I will fight with the last ounce of my strength for the right of people to say what they will.
One of the great privileges of democracy is the privilege to make mistakes – the privilege to say foolish things, the privilege to expound ideas with which others violently disagree, the privilege to say them without being tracked down and labeled as subversive, the privilege to criticize our Representatives mercilessly, whoever they may be, and next to the secret ballot, the greatest privileges of all are right to organize and defeat or elect candidates to public office. The whole history of American politics is the history of vigorous and often violent disagreements.
We believe and we have shown by experience that we can afford these luxuries – these luxuries which are a necessity of democracy – because in a people’s government balance is found and kept in the final voice of the majority; the majority which at all times defends the minority. There is no danger in letting people have their say. We have proved that. There is only danger when you try to stop them from saying it.
This, the most powerful nation on earth, stands today as irrefutable proof that there is no danger in a conglomeration of peoples and ideas freely expressed. In fact, out of the very conglomeration a rich harvest, which is the growth of America, has been reaped.
There is danger in the hysteria that always follows war. That danger is suspicion – suspicion that breeds in ignorance, thrives on bigotry, reaches epidemic proportions on hysteria.
Tom Paine said:
Suspicion is the companion of mean souls and the bane of all good society.
This is true at home and abroad, as true in 1946 as it was in 1776. And former Secretary of State and War Henry L. Stimson wrote a few days ago:
The chief lesson I have learned in a long time is that the only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him; and the surest way to make him untrustworthy is to distrust him and show your distrust.
Mr. Stimson said this in reference to the atomic bomb and our international relations, but what is true of international relations is also true here at the home.
We, the Members of this body, will fail in our duty if we permit suspicion of another’s purpose to divert us from our own purpose – that of making democracy function at full efficiency for our own people.
To be sure, there are Communists in America. There are a few people in America who believe the free enterprise system has run its course. As I have made clear, here today, I share no such belief. But to attack each new development in progress of American Democracy as Communism is to dig the grave of government of the people, by the people, for the people.
If we succeed in the practice of democracy, Communism will never take over, as some faint-hearted but loud-mouthed have proclaimed.
We cannot fail if we carry forward into the future the principles which have made America great.
Mr. Speaker, this body must always be loyal to the principles of its founders and the teaching of its fathers.
It must never yield to the tyranny of bigotry.
It must never succumb to the ranting’s of the demagog.
It must always be the forum where justice is dispensed and intolerance is despised.
It must be the protector of free speech and the guardian of free worship.
It must never become an arena where class is arrayed against class – where race hatreds are bred and suspicions nourished.
We, the Members of this Congress – chosen by a free people to protect their rights and to bring reality to their hopes and faiths – are not bigots. We do not believe in name calling. We do not agree that everyone who disagrees with us should be hunted down like a criminal, denied his civil rights, and deprived of his ability to earn a living.
We, the Members of this House, do not believe that Capitol Hill is a hill on which to kindle a fiery cross but rather one on which to display the shining cross which since Calvary has been to all the world the symbol of the brotherhood of man.
Source: Douglas, Helen Gahagan. “My Democratic Credo.” Congressional Record. 79th Congress., 2d session. Washington, DC: US Govt Printing Office, 1946, 92.