Democracy Reawakening
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 10 Mar 1938, p. 288-303
Catledge, Turner, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
The present situation in the United States. The confusing news coming out of the United States, with many examples provided by the speaker. Problems in the U.S. coming not out of questions of fundamental purpose, but confined almost wholly to questions of method. The speaker's beliefs as to what is happening in the United States just now, and the very contradictions and conflicts as a very significant sign of a substantial reawakening of traditional Democracy. Evidence of this reawakening of the sort of Democracy that resists Government; of the doctrine that holds that the "least governed is the best governed." A review of events five years ago when F.D. Roosevelt took office as President and asked the nation for a lease on certain parts of their cherished freedom for the duration of an emergency which had already closed banks and was threatening ruin to the whole capitalistic structure. How these events set the stage for what is happening now. Reasons why the U.S. is halting in this forward march of democracy. A reawakening of the Democratic concepts that were surrendered in order that Democracy could save itself. The beginning of this new idea at the time of Mr. Roosevelt's re-election in 1936. That re-election a tribute to Roosevelt for having brought the country through a trying period and placing it on what then seemed to be a prosperous course. The confusing and contradictory events since then. The United States being driven into a place of world leadership, despite its own professions of isolation.
Date of Original
10 Mar 1938
Language of Item
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Full Text
Thursday, March 10th, 1938

PRESIDENT: Gentlemen: The New York Times, one of the greatest newspapers in the world was founded in 1881, but the paper that we really know had its beginning in x896. Its purchaser then, Mr. Adolph Ochs, had the ideal of a conservative paper' which would never indulge in yellow journalism and that policy has been strictly adhered to. To distinguish this paper from the yellow journals of that day he adopted the motto which is still printed on the front page: "All the News That's Fit To Print." This paper is world-embracing and has its own correspondents in all centers of the world. Our guest-speaker, Mr. Turner Catledge, is one of the leading newspaper men in the United States and is on the staff' of this great paper in Washington. His address, I believe, will include the analysis of the present business and political situations in the United States and his convictions as to the immediate future. At no time have the problems of one country so affected other countries as today, and there is no one better qualified than Mr. Catledge to speak on our neighbour's' problems. "Democracy Awakening" is the title he has chosen for his address today and it is with great pleasure that I introduce to you Mr. Turner Catledge.

(Applause.) MR. TURNER CATLEDGE: Mr. President, Mr. Consul. Members of the Press, Gentlemen of The Empire Club of Canada: Your gracious invitation for me to meet with you today has placed me under a debt which I am afraid I cannot hope to discharge by any remarks I might have to make to you at this time. The account has been compounded considerably by the kind words of introduction and by the kindness and consideration with which I have been treated since arriving in your wonderful city early this morning so much so in fact that I am afraid I must here and now confess insolvency so far as meeting that obligation is concerned. Therefore, Mr. President, I can only beseech your charity.

When your President, Mr. Harcourt, and your very personable member, Mr. Main Johnson, first suggesed the possibility of my coming to Toronto to speak to The Empire Club, they said I might give you an account of the present situation in the United States. From Mr. Johnson's knowledge of the type of my work in Washington he meant, I assume, that I might describe to you the things that are taking place in my country from the standpoint of Government and public policy at this rather fretful period in our history. Along with some 500-odd other newspaper correspondents, I literally eat, drink and sleep with these phases of our national life day in and day out from year to year, except for those rare occasions when I have the pleasure of going visiting, as I am doing here today.

I shouldn't wonder that you would like to know what is happening with your neighbour down across the border: If I should succeed in presenting a clear picture to you today, I hope you will relay it back in some manner, for there are many people in the United States who would dearly like to know the same thing. This is not because they are uninformed as to the isolated daily happenings. As a newspaper correspondent I would be the last to admit that. But they are by no means certain as to what all the things that are stirring now mean in the aggregate as to what they foretell in tens of the broader outlook for their economic and social and political lives. Considering this rather mystified state of mind of my own countrymen, it takes but little imagination to picture a large question mark silhouetted across your own consciousnesses. It must reflect considerable wonderment as to all the noise and contradictions that crackle daily across the wires that bind our countries together. One day there comes a rather pleasing word from Washington that the New Deal administration is to let up in its onward rush and conciliate its differences with private business. The very next follows a dispatch that it is to go off on another course of weeping reform; that it proposes to humble business to its very knees. Along comes word that the great programme of raising prices is to be abandoned because prices are already too high. Then comes word that prices are yet not high enough and must be boosted still further and then follows a long discourse on how some prices are to be raised and some are to be lowered, that "balanced prices" is the goal. One dray the air reverberates with demands from financial interests great and small that the Government liquidate its efforts at recovery, relief and reform and turn the whole thing over to private enterprise--a demand to "let prosperity take its course." The next day there comes news of falling stock markets and the start of a new business recession, and the accompanying demand that the Government keep up its spending policies to prevent the recurrence of a frightful depression. One day we vow to balance our Federal budget and the next day we spend more than we take in. One day we try to coax the private companies to spend two or three billions of dollars in extensions and equipment and the next day a Government agent intimates a programme to drive the private utilities out of existence and to buy their existing facilities as practical junk.

There is an amusing story going the rounds of Washington apropos of all of this. According to this little tit-obit of American humour, our tax collecting agency found the record of a man who had consistently prospered in business ever since 1933. His success in recent years had become phenomenal. Month after month he had made more money than he made the month before. The tax collector became suspicious. Something must be wrong. All this unvarying success was not to be overlooked. It had to be investigated. Weeks were spent looking into the business and private affairs of this poor man who had done nothing more than make money during the cyclonic periods through which the United States has been passing. He was shadowed by G-men. His relatives were questioned, his family harassed. After a long time a report of the investigation was filed. It consisted of one short sentence. It said: "This man cannot read and has no radio." In short, he was utterly unconfused by all the statements and counter-statements that flew in ever-increasing volume out of and into the stream-lined machine in Washington.

I wouldn't put you in that poor man's class. I sincerely trust that you have made money and waxed prosperous during these late troubled years, but I know you can read and I can tell from this gadget here before me that many of your people have a chance at least to listen to the radio. I am certain furthermore, that you have not been able to tune out completely the static from down the way. May I express the hope in passing, Mr. President and Gentlemen, that you will take these remarks in the spirit in which they are meant. I would be the last to visit a neighbouring country and entertain my hosts by casting aspersions on my own nation. But there is so much that strikes me as rather humorous in our situation that I cannot refrain from indulging in a bit of fun at times at our own expense.

Seriously, it may indeed be conceivable that sitting up here, on this side of the cooling breezes of the Great Lakes, that the conflicts and contradictions which we turn out daily seem much less severe than they do among our own people. You may be in a better position to balance one side against the other and to formulate a clearer understanding of what is going on--to separate the light from the heat, as it were.

But I question that, and in questioning it, I mean not disparagement of your newspaper commentators of your own power's of perception. Frankly, and with due deference to us all, I do not think that you, nor we, nor anyone else knows right now exactly what will be the outcome of the present political manifestations in the United States. We can console ourselves with this thought, however. Our troubles do not issue from questions of fundamental purpose; they axle confined almost wholly to questions of method. The purpose of our people now is the same as it was five years ago or a hundred years ago, for that matter. I do not know to what better source I could go than to President Roosevelt himself for a statement of the objectives of our efforts. On the fifth anniversary of the New Deal, which was a week ago yesterday, he reported his goal, restated it by quoting exactly what he had said in 1935, to a Canadian newspaper man.

He said then, "The social objective remains just what it was, which is to do what any honest government of any country would do; to try to increase the security and the happiness of people in all occupations of life and in all parts of the country; to give them more of the good things of life; to give them a greater distribution, not only of wealth in the narrow terms, but of wealth in the wider terms; to give them places to go in the summertime-recreation; to give them assurance that they are not going to starve in their old age; to give honest business a chance to go ahead and make a reasonable profit, and to give everyone a chance to make a living."

That is a statement of the purpose of the people of the United States and their government not one of us would dare dispute. But, Gentlemen, it is by no means new. It is merely an extension of Mr. Hoover's dream of "two cars in every garage and a chicken in every pot." It is a more serious statement of the earlier doctrine of a "full dinner pail." As a boy in the deep south I used to hear it in even more homespun terms. Candidates in our country used to run for office on the platform of "an early spring, a late frost and plenty of side meat in the smokehouse." There is nothing new, then, as to our purpose. It was perhaps best stated in the preamble of our constitution-"to form a more perfect union, to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."

Again I repeat that our troubles now are over methods, but I confess that those are troubles enough. This dispute over methods, in the minds of many of our people, has posed a serious question before the country as to the forms of government itself, and of the place and function of the central authority in directing the details of the march toward this common goal. As I see it, Gentlemen, we in the United States are faced directly with the question: Are we to proceed as we have for the last five years to develop a fast-moving, high-powered governmental mechanism to take us whizzing along the road toward our Utopia, Or, are we to settle down and move along toward our age-old purpose under a more traditional democracy which, as many of our people see it, was evolved through the long-continuing Anglo-Saxon revolt against the very restrictions and oppressions of government itself?

I should like to digress here just long enough to disclaim any intention to express opinions of my own as to the merits or demerits of forces and personalities contributing to the present situation in my country. I would make this qualification here no more than I would in addressing an audience in the United States. In my work in Washington I avoid such opinions as far as possible. My paper and its men are devoted primarily to the collection and transmittal of facts; to the gathering and dissemination of uncoloured news. We try to represent a balanced account of both sides of any and every issue that arises.

But there are times when, necessarily, we must appraise our facts in terms of evident trends; when we must try to determine what they add up to. And in that respect I hold a rather definite belief concerning what is happening in the United States just now. I see in what is going on there--in the very contradictions and conflicts to which I have referred--,a very significant sign. I see a substantial reawakening of traditional Democracy; of the type that resists Government; of the doctrine that holds that the "least governed is the best governed." It is a reaction which I could not have believed were likely or even possible two, three or four years ago when we were suddenly caught up in a new enthusiasm to make Democracy work as an effective agent to pull us out of the economic dumps. And I consider it all the more important because I believe it is taking place not alone among the politicians in my city of Washington; not primarily within the so-called "economic royalty" in Wall Street; not even substantially among the partisans who ever hunger for public office. The reaction which has brought about our present situation, and which has contributed most to my own belief that traditional Democracy is awakening from the anaesthetic, is taking place out along the highways and byways of our broad land; along the main streets of our smaller cities and towns; in short, among the great middle class which still forms the very backbone of our Republic.

One would not have to travel far in the United States to gather this impression today. People are beginning to complain, with good old time Democratic complaint, against the restrictions and interferences of Government. I would not even stop to discuss the question of whether these complaints are real or fancied. If the people think they are real, that makes it so from a political standpoint whether they are in fact real or not. The most real thing in politics is public psychology.

I would not even ask you to take a trip through the States as much as I know you'd enjoy it, to check my deductions and my impressions. I would take you straight to Washington and let you see Congress in action. Whatever else one can say for or against our Congress one must admit that it represents our people. The Congressmen and Senators certainly see to that. Individually they make it their business to find out what the people want or will stand for and the measure of their success in gauging the sentiment of the people is attested by the large number of successful, professional office holders who cling to their seats year after year in our national parliament. If I could only take you to see our Congress in action today and in some manner be able then to portray to you how it was acting at this very hour five years ago today, then I am sure I would need go no further with a computation of the facts to show you that the people, through their representatives, are looking more to the comforts of old-time Democracy.

Certainly I would not have to review the record of the recent past to impress you with what is going on now. Here in Toronto you have been too close to our scene to require such a recapitulation. However, I would like to point out here that, on the basis of our record, the people of the United States did give up some of their traditional Democracy in their resort to common fast action to end the terrible economic depression back in 1933. They did it deliberately, willingly and with full warning of what they were doing. I can specify the date, almost to the hour, when we put our traditional Democracy in the closet in order to form a more perfect instrument with which to defend our economic system. It was March 4, 1933--the day when Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office as President--sometime around the hour of 12.00 noon, when he stood in rain and snow on the Capitol steps and asked the nation for a lease on certain parts of our cherished freedom for the duration of an emergency which had already closed our banks and was threatening ruin to our whole capitalistic structure. He told the damp, gloomy, crestfallen crowd in our capital plaza that day that if necessary he would ask Congress, their representatives, "for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis-broad executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe."

That was the warning. The sound of those words had hardly died away when the President fulfilled that warning. He asked for the "broad executive powers," just as he said he would, and Congress granted them without stint. What was troubling the country at that time was an eruption in our banking system which brought us, so we can see now in retrospect, to the very brink of economic collapse. Many people thought no doubt that what the President had in mind when he suggested the application of broad, let us even say, "dictatorial" powers, that he had the banking situation in mind. But there were other crises to meet, as he soon was to tell us. There was the pressing question of human relief. An estimated total of 12,000,000 persons were then out of means of earning a livelihood through no fault of their own. The President said, "They shall not starve," and the nation applauded him for saying it. There followed our policy of relief and work relief through which more than ten billion dollars have been poured out from the Federal Treasury in Washington. There was a "crisis" in agriculture. Prices were low and mortgages were crushing the farmer's. Citizens in certain parts of our country were taking the law into their own hands, preventing credit sales, stopping the processes of law-in one case dragging a judge from his official bench and tarring and feathering him for ordering a foreclosure of a farmer's mortgage. That was no time to haggle over academic questions of tradition or individual liberty. We considered our situation to be one not of tradition of liberty or ease but actually of life and death .to the Republic.

Soon there were governmental measures in force to relieve these conditions; to raise prices, to help the debt-ridden. We even cheapened our money in order that farmers and other debtors might pay their accounts with dollars of a value more in keeping with the level at which they hired the money.

There was a "crisis" in industry, involving both capital and labour. Early in the spring of 1933 I witnessed the duly elected spokesman for the organized business of the United States, join hands dramatically with the then representative of organized labour, in asking a committee of Congress to report a bill establishing frank and open dictatorial Federal powers over private business. I remember how startled even our New Dealish Congressmen were at such a spectacle. One Congressman asked in sincere horror, "What about the Constitution?" and the business representative replied, "The Constitution can be amended," and he offered the services of his far-flung business organization to help shove through a Congressional amendment in record time. The United States Chamber of Commerce was the organization.

There was a "crisis" among our home owners-among the middle classes, which I already have classified as the very backbone of our society. Mortgages were being foreclosed; equipment was being reclaimed and equities were vanishing in the scramble of investors to turn every possible asset into ready cash. An organization known as the Home Owners Loan Corporation, originally created under the Hoover administration, was put into full force, rescuing these people from utter ruin. Another agency known as the Farm Credit Administration was organized as a rescue squad for farmers caught in the same plight.

I mention these things, Gentlemen, in order to show you how in those early days we set the stage for exactly what is happening now. Every one of these acts involved the surrender of some part of our time-honoured system, some form of individual liberty which before those days we had surrounded with something approaching sanctity. I know the arguments as to why this should have been done even from a long range standpoint. I heard the contention raised then as it is indeed raised now, that besides the needs for meeting the emergency, the measures put in force cured evils of long standing and put a better balance into out' economy as between the debtors and the creditors, between main street and wall street, between the haves and the have-nots. I would not attempt here to go into the merits or demerits of these contentions. Really, as I have said before, I am not primarily concerned whether all or any of these measures were justified by academic standards I can only say that they were promulgated, that they were accepted, that they were looked upon as life-lines by those for whom they were enacted and that they unquestionably were approved by the vast majority of our people .at the time-and that today some of them, if not the whole philosophy that gave them basis, is being reappraised more and more in light of our more traditional concepts of freedom.

Why, Mr. President and Members of The Empire Club, by the end of the first session of Congress under Mr. Roosevelt, nineteen different acts had been passed, giving him greater control over the lives and property of American citizens than had been given to all Presidents before him combined, either in peace or war. The Government was in the banking, mortgage, feed, dairy, cotton, wheat, cattle, relief, construction, securities and communications business, and was preparing to regulate the hours and wages of labour, in industry generally. Under the authority of only four of these acts we set in motion the celebrated and ill-fated NRA--an attempt to supplant classic economics and "rugged individualism" in the field of business and industry, by government control. We set up the equally illfated Agricultural Adjustment Administration-through which we attempted to curb both the bounties and ravages of nature. Under one of them we practically doubled our circulating currency and under still another we started--but only started--to dismember a Federal bureaucracy which, as we thought then, was seriously threatening our public credit. I emphasize again and again that hardly an audible voice was raised against any of this. We were under .the pressure of circumstances. The immediate pain was too great to permit delay or of any more mature consideration than we gave things in those days. The early growth of the New Deal was so rapid as to frighten into silence the opposition party in Congress. Those who bore the same party label as the President tried to keep near the head of the procession to avoid being trampled in the onward rush. All the time there wars being recruited in Washington an odd assortment of personnel-names seldom beard outside of the cloistered precincts of colleges or the inner offices of great corporations began to appear in the newspaper headlines. The old line politicians soon found their places in the national spotlight being rather rudely usurped by others. They merely bowed to what they felt then was the inevitable.

Two whooping triumphs at the polls--in the Congressional elections in 1934 and the Presidential election in 1936--seemed to confirm the approval of the people for all of this.

What then, you would ask, has happened to alter this picture in the United States? Why does our country seem to be halting now in the forward march of this great democracy? In simple language, why all this shooting down across the lakes?

The complete answer is the chapter which is now being written in our history. It cannot be told with unfailing accuracy at this time. But again I would repeat my own belief that fundamental to the whole reaction is the reawakening of the Democratic concepts that were surrendered in those days when we were told, and when we believed, that Democracy had to be transformed into a quick-moving machine for the very purpose of saving itself. I think that, in the main, that is the answer to the apparent dawdling of our Congress, of many of the apparent inconsistencies and contradictions in the policies of the administration and to the reactions of our thinking people, as you have noted them on your visits to the States and in the newspaper comments which flood daily across the border.

And I think, Mr. President and Members of The Empire Club, that I can fairly well date the beginning of this new idea among us. Strange as it may seem, it began on the morning after Mr. Roosevelt's re-election in 1936, on the very day when -the statistics of the case seemed to dispel all questions as to the popularity of his regime or the completeness of his power.

While I wouldn't dare to set myself up as a better judge of those election returns than anyone else, I do question the appraisal made of them by many people in high places. I question most of all that they constituted another blank cheque for the New Deal Administratin to fill out as it would so fat' as future intentions were concerned. I consider them then and I consider them now just as much of a reward for a job well done as a mandate for future action. That re-election was in large part a tribute to Mr. Roosevelt for having brought the country through a trying period and placed it on what then seemed to be a prosperous course.

I remember quite vividly a conversation I had with a well-known Senator, one of the President's stalwart leaders in the emergency days, soon after his return to Washington in January, 1937. Like all other Democratic Senators reaching the Capital in the post-election period he was happy and, I might add, quite contented. I might add that he was extremely happy as his own constituency had just tie-elected him for another six years. He drew himself up to his desk, put his feet on the glass -top, lighted his cigar and grunted two or three self-satisfying grunts.

"Well," he said, "that was a tough three and one-half years. I hope now that the President will settle down; that he'll let us draw up in the shade and cool off a bit. The country needs test."

He almost went asleep while he was talking-just as well as if he had eaten a whole pumpkin pie. That Senator was and still is an important cog in our Federal legislative machinery. Often times his word on a bill finally settles it one way or the other. But beyond his own weight there was great importance in the view he expressed on that occasion. Many of his fellows, just like himself, had had enough for a while and wanted "to draw up in the shade and cool off."

But, Gentlemen, that was not to occur, at least not with President Roosevelt's consent. Within a matter of days after this Senator had expressed this heartfelt desire, he and his colleagues were faced with a bill to recognize the administrative arm of the Government, a bill more sweeping in its terms than anything of its kind ever proposed before. Under its terms much of the powers already granted in the emergency period were to be confirmed and still others to be added. Among other things there would have been given into his hands complete control over a great collection of quasi-judicial bodies which Congress had set up as its own agencies, such agencies as those that regulate the railroads, the securities exchanges, maritime shipping and the like. Hardly had my forlorn Senator and his associates recovered from this shock to their complacency when the President dropped on heir heads his plan for reorganizing the Federal judiciary system-to remove the greatest obstruction from the path of the New Deal and then prepare for future action.

The record since that time, Gentlemen, is the record of the conflicts and contradictions that I alluded to in the beginning. The court bill was flatly denied the President. The reorganization bill had not passed when I left Washington last night. It is still under consideration in the Senate. Other acts asked by the President were changed or turned down to such an extent that only a week ago he intimated that he might change his entire strategy with Congress and leave it largely to its own devices--simply recommended the policies he hoped to promulgate and sufficing at that so far as he is concerned. Congress most evidently has shown by its present demeanour that it doubts the desire of the people for a fastmoving highly-centralized governmental machine for permanent and continuing control and direction of their economy as seems to so many of its members to be inherent in the President's legislative programme.

And I question, too, Mr. President, that the will of our people on this score has ever been adequately tested. It is, however, being tested now and the next election for which we are preparing should give some indication of the trend, assuming that our present economic situation does not become so difficult as to drive us again into emergency action and assuming furthermore that the acute international situation does not do the same thing.

I should like to digress long enough to say that regardless of our own professions of isolation in the United States we are being driven into a place in world leadership, unhappy as it might make us.

I would not have you believe that all things political in the United States fit perfectly into the picture. I have given you here of our situation, but I think in general on the basis of reality that is what is taking place. The reawakening of Democracy as I see it in progress now may indeed be short-lived. It may be a fitful rally before my country goes definitely and permanently into the kind of governmental programme which so many of our people in official position contend, with quite convincing argument, is inevitable and even preferable. The old, slow, easy going type of government, the -type which many of our officials derisively describe as laissez-faire, has no doubt lost much of its glamour. I doubt that it was even meant to be an efficient organization of men and resources. In times of stress, such as war or economic peril, both of which have occurred in my life time, we have resorted to something more controllable and more controlled--but something we always insisted was temporary, and democratic all the time. We are facing the test now as to whether old time democracy is to be restored to its former peace-time importance. The answer to that, Mr. President, and my genial hosts, I must leave until we meet again. (Applause.)

PRESIDENT: Mr. Catledge, we are indeed indebted to you for making the long trip from Washington to Toronto. We have greatly enjoyed hearing your comments on the present situation in your country. Many of your remarks seem very much like home. May you have an early spring and a late frost.

On behalf of The Empire Club of Canada, I offer you our most sincere thanks. (Applause.)

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Democracy Reawakening

The present situation in the United States. The confusing news coming out of the United States, with many examples provided by the speaker. Problems in the U.S. coming not out of questions of fundamental purpose, but confined almost wholly to questions of method. The speaker's beliefs as to what is happening in the United States just now, and the very contradictions and conflicts as a very significant sign of a substantial reawakening of traditional Democracy. Evidence of this reawakening of the sort of Democracy that resists Government; of the doctrine that holds that the "least governed is the best governed." A review of events five years ago when F.D. Roosevelt took office as President and asked the nation for a lease on certain parts of their cherished freedom for the duration of an emergency which had already closed banks and was threatening ruin to the whole capitalistic structure. How these events set the stage for what is happening now. Reasons why the U.S. is halting in this forward march of democracy. A reawakening of the Democratic concepts that were surrendered in order that Democracy could save itself. The beginning of this new idea at the time of Mr. Roosevelt's re-election in 1936. That re-election a tribute to Roosevelt for having brought the country through a trying period and placing it on what then seemed to be a prosperous course. The confusing and contradictory events since then. The United States being driven into a place of world leadership, despite its own professions of isolation.