The Contemporary American State—Federal System
Publication:
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 7 Oct 1965, p. 14-22


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Kerner, Governor Otto, Speaker
Media Type:
Text
Item Type:
Speeches
Description:
State government in the United States. State government as it has been looked upon by many U.S. citizens. Why there should be a state level of government. The historic search for democracy in nations, the need for balance of power, checks and balances. An error made by all those who seek to detract from the governments of the states. Healthy competition among the states, with example. How state government is a greater governmental force today than it has ever been in the history of the United States. State powers and responsibilities, as opposed to state rights. The speaker's confidence that state government is not on the wane, with a number of reasons. An explication of the movement to centralized authority in Washington. The civil rights movement and some inevitable results. A paradox. Two factors which are the veritable keys to strong state government. Thomas Jefferson's confidence in the profound democratic meaning and the important practical application of the state-federal system. The speaker's agreement.
Date of Original:
7 Oct 1965
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Language of Item:
English
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Full Text
OCTOBER 7, 1965 The Contemporary American State Federal System
AN ADDRESS BY Governor Otto Kerner, STATE OF ILLINOIS
CHAIRMAN The President,
Lt. Col. E. A. Royce, E.D.

COLONEL ROYCE:

Mr. Prime Minister, Mr. Consul General, distinguished guests, gentlemen

May I welcome our members and their guests to this, the first of our series of fall and winter meetings in the 1965/66 season. I hope that you enjoyed the summer-such as it was and I am happy to say that the programme which is taking shape for this year's activities of the Club gives every evidence of being a most interesting one.

The State of Illinois, whose Chief Executive will speak to us today, with its more than 10,000,000 people engaged in industry of every sort, is the largest exporter of all that family of sovereign states which together make up our powerful and friendly neighbour, the United States of America. In passing, perhaps I should mention that Illinois and Canada share certain historical attributes since both were originally settled by the French, both saw extensive bickering between the French and English and in each case the Indians entered into the spirit of the thing enthusiastically. Of course, in Illinois this warfare has long since ceased and even in our own country we are now at peace with the Indians. I am reliably informed that a recent suggestion they take the country back was rejected as highly amusing but unattractive under present political conditions!

Our speaker was born in Chicago, he obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree at Brown University and later attended Trinity College of Cambridge University. Following his studies of law at the Northwestern University School, he was admitted to the bar in 1934 the same year in which he took another important step by enlisting as a private in the Black Horse Troop of the Illinois National Guard. Later he transferred to the Field Artillery and it was with that arm that he began his active service in March, 1941, serving in both the Mediterranean theatre and later in the Pacific theatre; duty attested by battle decorations won in both areas.

In March, 1946, after returning to the United States, he assumed the task of reorganizing the 33rd Division of the Illinois National Guard and retired with the rank of Major General in 1954.

Resuming his practice of law in the post-war years, he was appointed United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois and he continued in that office until elected as a county judge in 1954. Six years later he accepted the nomination for governor and was elected; nominated again in 1964, he was again elected; a particularly impressive performance when one realizes that only once before in the past one hundred years has a Democratic Governor been elected in Illinois for two successive terms-from this you will appreciate the calibre of the man we have with us today.

During the Governor's tour of duty, his administration has developed a mental health programme of outstanding merit, adopted a new criminal code and reorganized the state court system. Not content to conduct extensive reforms in the administration of his own state, he sponsored the first overseas trade mission ever undertaken by a state administration and finally had the privilege of seeing more citizens going to work at higher wages than ever before in the history of Illinois. A 3rd degree mason, active in the Boy Scouts, the Cancer Fund, Red Cross Society and Church circles, as well as being a director of the John Howard Society, he has been honoured by many universities by the award of honorary degrees.

Gentlemen, a man learned in the law, a soldier, a statesman, a humanitarian and the chief executive of a great state--His Excellency, Governor Otto Kerner.

MR. KERNER:

I am greatly pleased to appear before such a distinguished group as the Empire Club of Canada. The invitation to address you has honoured me and for that I thank you. Moreover, I thank you for the opportunity to meet personally members of such a celebrated organization.

If nothing else, I hope your assessment of me will not be any worse than that supplied by a Canadian periodical which once described the Duke of Devonshire as one who "does not overpower you with his brilliance, nor is his intelligence an amazingly bright one, but he has a pleasant manner."

I chose to discuss on this occasion federal-state relations in my country as they appear to me. Domestic political and governmental problems are usually reserved for airing in one's own national family. I do not find it extraordinary to discuss such personal national matters with Canadians because I believe our peoples look upon one another as more than friends. We are brothers; born of the soil of colonial America, of a common heritage, sharing a common faith in Democracy.

For that matter, our friends have the privilege of asking of we of the United States: "How is it at home? How it is with the states, what with the things we know about Washington sending troops into states, financial dilemmas in many states, the startling growth of the national government . . . How is it with the United States if the states are indeed sick? Does not such an illness strike at the soul of your system?"

By coincidence, the day I began preparing my remarks for this occasion, a Chicago newspaper, on the eve of the annual convention of the Illinois Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organization-the voice of the trade union movement-carried an account of action taken by the organization's executive board.

The board, in a 150-page report to the 2,000 delegates forecast that state legislatures may "fold up" within 20 years, and adding the unkindest cut of all, that "labour is not alarmed about it." Charging that the General Assembly of Illinois, as well as those of the other states, contain antagonistic elements which have retarded progress at the state level, the report recited how the labour movement, more and more, carries its appeals to the federal government. Let me quote to you from that report:

"As construction and highway projects drift faster and faster into federal hands, as welfare and educational matters are moved over into the national field, it is becoming increasingly clear that there will be less and less duties for the Illinois Legislature to perform."

Is this report unique in its criticism of the government of the states? No. Is it entirely without cause? No.

There is no question in my mind that over many years state government in the United States has been looked upon unfavourably by many of our citizens and in many cases and on many occasions, with distrust and disdain.

If someone were to say to me that state houses have not been without sin of omission and commission, I could not but agree. To say that sin is not a stranger to courthouses, city halls and the capitals of nations as well as state houses-that sin is not a stranger to business and society in general as well as the profession of politics-is an answer, but it is not enough.

Why should there even be such a level of government as the state?

I believe the answer is a simple one. It is the historic search for democracy in nations, the need for balance of power, checks and balances.

Our martyred President Kennedy believed in this truth deeply. In a speech to governors, he said: "Because our system is designed to encourage both differences and dissent, because its checks and balances are designed to preserve the rights of the individual and the locality against pre-eminent central authority, you and I, . . . both recognize how dependent we both are, one upon another, for the successful operation of our unique and happy form of Government. Our system and our freedom permit the legislative to be pitted against the executive, the state against the Federal Government, the city against the countryside, party against party, interest against interest, all in competition or in contention one with another. Our task--your task in the State House and my task in the White House--is to weave from all these tangled threads a fabric of law and progress."

If state borders are only historical ones, drawn arbitrarily, then so be it. They are there and they must serve.

Let me say here and now that I believe firmly in the American system of government. I believe firmly in the state as a strong partner in the promotion of the common good and that I believe it to be imperative to the democracy of the United States.

Let me point out one glaring error made by all those who seek to detract from the governments of the states who tell us that state government is waning in importance and is not the creature it once was when the 13 original colonies banded to form the federal union. State government today has greater responsibility than ever before in the history of our country.

States of the Union, individually and in concert, have plunged into fields that would have startled the governors of our early history. The field of economic growth is one dramatic example. When once the economy of the state was believed to be a leaf on the waters of economic forces and decisions of the national government, the governors of today's states have realized the simple truth that not only are we affected by the national economy but we affect it. Illinois is a state of 101/z million people, a great agricultural and industrial entity whose products are sought the world over. Indeed, we are the nation's number one exporter. Would not the nation be the lesser without Illinois? Is it not our duty then, not only for our state, but for our country, to seek to improve the economy of Illinois? Do we not have the tools? I say we do and we have been applying them, as many other states are doing.

This competition among the states, I submit, is healthy and constructive and this ever-growing awareness of the needs of states is healthy and constructive for the nation as well.

We in Illinois and the Midwest, for example, are disenchanted with federal policy controlling the shipment of goods and products beyond the limits of the United States. We believe that the Midwest has faced discrimination in freight rates and that this discrimination has worked to retard the growth of the St. Lawrence Seaway, of our lake ports, and of our economy.

We in the Midwest believe that what we seek is fair and equitable, serves the interest of the states in the region, and of the nation as a whole.

The Congress has not offered relief, but I am confident that someday it will and when it does I am just as confident it will be because, in great measure, of the activities and pressures of the states.

As I stated before, state government is a greater governmental force today than it has ever been in the history of our country. Today, state government is making great progress in such areas as mental health--a field in which I am proud to say Illinois is the leader--education, social welfare programmes and many others. Nor have the governors of the states ignored the fact that many problems that face each state go beyond its borders but are not necessarily federal problems. They are regional problems.

For that reason we have regional groups, such as the Midwestern Governors' Conference, which deal actively with common problems. At our last Midwestern meeting in Michigan, we devised an interstate compact on the mentally disordered offender, offering the facilities of one state to another to care for various types of offenders.

Individually, we have entered into various compacts. Illinois has compacts dealing with the collection of state taxes with the states of Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri and Indiana. We have water pollution and air pollution compacts with our neighbours. We are seeking others.

I am not one of those governors who decry so-called federal encroachment. I believe that the federal government must of necessity deal with problems which the states cannot. I believe that the states and the federal government are partners in progress. I believe that what some view as encroachment is either valid jurisdiction by the federal government or an assumption of responsibility which states, over the years, have failed to meet or to meet adequately.

Therefore, it is my opinion that rather than continually speak of states rights, governors should stress state powers and responsibilities. States must not abrogate responsibility. States must do the people's work because if we do not, someone else will and that someone will be the federal government. For whatever is the case, the people will see to it that their needs are served.

For my part, I am confident that state government is not on the wane, but most certainly it will increase in importance in the years ahead. I say this for a number of reasons.

First of all, I think that the continued growth of our country makes it imperative that there be strong state government for effective administration. For years it has become axiomatic that complex times and great growth make inevitable a stronger central government, even extraordinarily so. However, at this point in our history, the greater the growth and the more complex the problems, so it seems to me, the more difficult and the more perplexing it will be to govern efficiently from Washington.

Secondly, the state themselves have generated great awareness-greater than ever before-about the needs of government at the state level. The National Governors' Conference is becoming increasingly active particularly in one field-the need of the states for a greater share of tax revenues. Many plans and ideas are swirling about and I believe that in the years to come, there will be some action on this point. In this context, states are making great efforts to bring order and equity to their antiquated revenue structures.

Thirdly, politics increasingly is attracting more competent people to its ranks, at all levels. The governors of many of the states of my country, in my humble opinion, are among the ablest public servants who have served people in the history of the Union.

Lastly, two great factors are at play in my country which I believe hold the ultimate key to the strengthening of state government. One is the civil rights movement and the other, the reapportionment of the legislatures.

The United States Supreme Court in an historic opinion set down the principle of "one man--one vote." It had jolted the state houses from coast to coast. There is no question, absolutely none, that much of the movement to centralized authority in Washington came as a result of growing urban areas not being able to secure progressive legislation from rural-dominated legislatures because of inequitable representation.

The civil rights movement and its inevitable result will erase from the American scene the ugly fact that some states discriminate by policy against citizens within their own borders. Because of this fact federal authority has had to be imposed, not only upon those states, but necessarily upon all the states in an attempt to give all citizens their unalienable rights.

Which brings me to a great paradox-that a vocal minority in our country shouts about states rights in demagogic terms, opposing the civil rights movement and seeking to overturn the reapportionment opinion of the United States Supreme Court-two factors which are the veritable keys to strong state government-first class citizenship for all and equitable representation for all, in each and every state.

It will come to pass. I believe it just as surely as I believe, with an abiding faith, in Democracy.

Thomas Jefferson, in his first inaugural address as President of the United States, said that an essential principle of American government calls for "support of the state governments and all their rights as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns and the surest bulwarks against anti-republican tendencies; the preservation of the general government in its whole constitutional vigour, as the sheet anchor of our peace at home and safety abroad."

Thomas Jefferson was confident in the profound democratic meaning and the important practical application of the state-federal system. I do not wish to see it changed.

The federal government is not a remote bureaucracy. The state government is not an anachronism. Each must be strong and vigorous, interdependent and interacting, if the common good and Democracy are to be best served in the United States.

Thanks of this meeting were expressed by Col. B. J. Legge, Q.C., E.D.

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The Contemporary American State—Federal System


State government in the United States. State government as it has been looked upon by many U.S. citizens. Why there should be a state level of government. The historic search for democracy in nations, the need for balance of power, checks and balances. An error made by all those who seek to detract from the governments of the states. Healthy competition among the states, with example. How state government is a greater governmental force today than it has ever been in the history of the United States. State powers and responsibilities, as opposed to state rights. The speaker's confidence that state government is not on the wane, with a number of reasons. An explication of the movement to centralized authority in Washington. The civil rights movement and some inevitable results. A paradox. Two factors which are the veritable keys to strong state government. Thomas Jefferson's confidence in the profound democratic meaning and the important practical application of the state-federal system. The speaker's agreement.