Law Professor John Q. Barrett
of St. John’s ([email protected])
is writing a biography of Justice Robert Jackson, perhaps the
greatest writer ever to sit on the Supreme Court and the first
American Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg. Every few weeks or so, Professor Barrett
sends an email about an event in or an aspect of Jackson’s
life to persons on his Jackson List. His April 28th email is about a speech Jackson made in late 1936, after FDR’s massive
electoral victory. The speech, as Barrett himself has said, is
of great relevance to our contemporary situation. It is so pertinent
that I’ve asked for and received Professor Barrett’s permission
to re-publish it, below:
the Jackson List:
On Wednesday evening, December
2, 1936, more than 400 people attended a Democratic Party victory
dinner and celebration at the Hotel Jamestown in Jamestown,
New York. The guest of honor was Robert H. Jackson, a former Jamestown
resident, lawyer and leading Democrat who was serving under President
Franklin D. Roosevelt in the United States Department of Justice
as Assistant Attorney General heading the Tax Division. At the
time, press reports from Washington indicated that the newly-reelected President Roosevelt was
about to appoint Attorney General Homer S. Cummings to a new position,
and that Jackson was
the leading candidate to succeed Cummings. (As events developed,
Cummings continued as Attorney General for almost two more years.
His successor was, for a year, Frank Murphy. In 1940, Jackson
succeeded Murphy as Attorney General.)
At the Jamestown
dinner, following musical entertainment and various addresses,
including a principal speech by Francis M. Shea, the young Dean
of the University of Buffalo School of Law, Jackson
delivered these timely - then, and now - remarks:
My friends and neighbors are
generous as well as gracious in singling me out for honors tonight.
Many of you could not be expected to enthuse over the political
aspects of this occasion and your interest is deeply appreciated.
Others are celebrating the event by which the Democratic Party
became a majority party not only in state and nation but in this
city as well. I share your joy at that achievement. It is a delight
to have Dean Shea come to Jamestown
for any reason and I feel honored that he should come now.
While I enjoy getting credit
for achievements, whether earned or not, I must disclaim all except
a very modest share in the victory. It was too general and too
sweeping to be attributable to personal efforts. It was a result
of a great many contributions.
local party organization remained loyal from top to bottom. Organized
labor gave the most effective demonstration of its strength and
solidarity in local history. Our Swedish citizenry were not afraid
of the cry of communism and ruin, for they knew that the efforts
of the Roosevelt administration were already
achievements in their native land. The Italian people have developed
a fine group of young professional men who saw in the Democratic
policy a fulfillment of the hopes of a people who came here seeking
opportunity and security. So many groups broke with their old
tradition and they are entitled to the credit for the result.
I am not so confident that
the Republican Party is dead. Some sixteen million voters who
remained loyal even this year is a very respectable political
beginning, if properly led, and if it can make up its mind what
its principles are to be. It is terribly handicapped in leadership.
Its old leaders are discredited and its future leaders are unknown.
They have few governorships, senatorships, or even large mayoralties
in which to learn leadership and to develop public standing. Moreover
the leadership problem is complicated by the tendency of the seaboard
states to want one kind of leadership and the interior another.
So the Republican Party is in a bad way. But it is not dead. Democratic
blundering might give it life again.
The fact is that the election
leaves us with a tremendous responsibility. It is no time for
delusions of grandeur nor for animosities, pettiness or partisanship.
Our danger is not from opposition
so much as from the lack of it. Our victory may be too devastating
to be wholesome. It is a temptation to be reckless, an invitation
of factions. We have been given a lot of rope and it will take
some self restraint to keep from hanging ourselves, by the excesses
and arrogances which too often follow oversized majorities.
is another danger. We must not forget our responsibilities to
those who elected us, just because those who were lately so bitter
are now outdoing themselves in proffers for good fellowship. This
campaign was no tea party - it had a definite meaning. The cat
cannot be put in care of the canary just because it is now purring.
Visible opposition is gone but do not believe that invisible underground
work has ceased by those whose motto is “Time Marches - Backwards.”
In the president [FDR] and
the governor [Herbert H. Lehman] and in our local appeals we offered
a fighting faith in real democracy, in economic freedom as well
as legal freedom for the working masses. We denied that the injustice
and disadvantage under which many people work must be accepted
and worshipped as the American way. We believe the soul killing
processes of industry and the cruelties of economic life are capable
of improvement. We challenged the doctrine that God stopped His
great clock in 1789 when our Constitution was framed and that
He placed on the Supreme Court a duty of seeing that nothing ever
In this local campaign, we carried our
cause directly to the people who cast the votes. We dealt with
no broker. We wasted no time trying to reach workers through
their employers. We had no middlemen. Let that be our method
always. When we go to the people we educate them to understand
us, but far more important they educate us to understand them.
Let us never forget that political
campaigns in the large sense are not materialistic. They are of
the spirit. Those who came with us cared nothing for our organization,
our patronage or our narrower partisanship, and they overlooked
our many mistakes. Their response was to ideas and ideals.
It is the salvation of democracy
that both sides learn wisdom from a campaign. Although the campaign
often seems so unintelligent, it is also characteristic that after
the heat of the campaign both sides welcome cooler thought and
are glad the bitterness is over with. There is evidence already
that conservatives have become more aware of the need of concession,
the liberalism more aware of the need of being practical. Only
if conservatism is intelligent and liberalism practical can the
struggle between the two be solved by the ballot.
whether we were among the victors or the vanquished, we share
together the exciting adventure of free government, with its process
of claim and counterclaim, of progress by compromise, of trial
and error. Slowly but surely we move to greater economic
security, to a more humane and just and equal order of society.
the bottom of my heart I thank you all for its demonstration of
confidence and friendship. It gives courage in whatever little
part I may play to remember your trust in me and to keep the faith.
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