A Mississippi Democrat responds to Truman's position.
April 8, 1948
Mr. Speaker, not since the first gun was fired on Fort Sumter, resulting as it did in the greatest fratricidal strife in the history of the world, has any message of any President of these glorious United States provoked so much controversy, and resulted in the driving of a schism in the ranks of our people, as did President Truman's so-called civil-rights message, sent to the Congress several weeks ago. Not only did that message provoke serious racial controversies, but it raised anew the issue of the rights of the sovereign States as against a strong centralized government and drove a devastating wedge into the unity of the Democratic Party at a time when that party was riding high on a wave of popularity in the entire country.
It revived the age-old controversy which flourished at the very beginning of our Government, the controversy of a strong centralized government as advocated by Alexander Hamilton on the one hand, and a government of the people as opposed to a government by the rulers, as advocated by the greatest of all exponents of civil rights, possibly the greatest Democrat of them all, Thomas Jefferson. For, after all, it was Jefferson's theory that that people is best governed who is least governed, and the closer the government is to the people, the better the government is.
And while it is freely admitted and generally understood that this message was conceived as a political maneuver, at a time when that erstwhile Republican and Democrat, Henry Wallace, who echoes the voice of the Kremlin in Moscow, was attempting to form a third party, it must also be recognized that this proposed program would adversely affect the rights, privileges, and freedom of the people of all sections and of all walks of life in this country. It stabs at the very heart of the rights and freedom of all races, colors, and sections of our great country. For, if the Federal Government can repeal the poll tax in Mississippi and several other Southern States, regulate employment under the FEPC, punish innocent taxpayers under the Anti-Lynch Bill, and abolish segregation in the several States by usurpation of the sovereign rights of the several States of the Union, then we have indeed witnessed an end of constitutional government as conceived by the founding fathers....
Is it any wonder then, Mr. Speaker, that a revolt has arisen all over our country, from Mississippi on the shores of the Gulf-kissed coast in the South to the stony crags of Maine in the North, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans, by southern Democrats and those freedom-loving Americans everywhere, at this attempt to destroy the true civil rights of the citizens of our great and common country? For, I again call to the attention of my northern colleagues what I have often repeated upon the floor of this House, namely, that the South is not the only section aggrieved by those proposed unconstitutional laws, the same sharp resentment at the interference by a powerful Federal Government with their individual liberties as the people of the South.
Does any fair-minded American find amazement, however, that the people of the South are in revolt against the leadership of the Democratic Party? It is necessary to remind any student of political history in this country that it was the section from which I hail that has cradled, nourished, and sustained the Democratic Party throughout its lean as well as its prosperous years? The South has ever been a strong believer in and contender for the Jeffersonian theory of democracy. It has ever been ready to fight for those principles. Many of its most gallant sons shed their precious blood upon the altar of States' rights. Certainly it is not surprising, therefore, that it should take the lead in the battle against this program, which would destroy the last vestige of the rights of the sovereign States....
But now, for the first time in the history of the country, and the loyalty of my section to the Democratic Party, a President of the United States has asked the Congress to enact such a devastating, obnoxious, and repugnant program to the people of that section and their Jeffersonian conception of democracy as this so-called civil-rights program. No President, either Democrat or Republican, has ever seen fit heretofore to make such recommendations.
And what, I ask you, my colleagues, has this message of our President, calling for the enactment of this program, accomplished to date? So far as I have been able to observe its accomplishments have been two-fold. First, it has inflicted an apparently fatal blow, not only to the unity of the party, but to the unity of the country, at a time when that unity is so highly desirable in a fight to the death with the enemy of free men--communism. Secondly, it has encouraged the arrogant demands of these minority groups to whom it was designed to appeal. Witness, Mr. Speaker, the sorry spectacle of an erstwhile pullman porter, William Randolph, a Negro labor leader, defiantly telling the membership of a committee of this Congress that unless segregation in the armed forces should be abolished that he would call upon the Negroes of this country to ignore the call of their country in the event of a war with Russia. Such ingratitude, such arrogance, such treason can only be attributed to such political bargaining as this proposed program.
Excerpted from: Congressional Record - House, April 8, 1948, pp. 4270-4272. Speaker: William M. Colmer, Democratic Representative from Mississippi.
My American Experience
Who is your favorite 20th-century American president? Was it FDR? Reagan? Clinton? Or one of the other 14 men who helped usher the United Sates through the 1900s? Who do you think was the most influential?