Prior to the declaration of war every man who had venture to oppose
our entrance into it had been condemned as a coward or worse, and
even the President had by no means been immune from these attacks.
Since the declaration of war, the triumphant war press has pursued
those Senators and Representative who voted against war with
malicious falsehood and recklessly libelous attacks, going to the
extreme limit of charging them with treason against their country.
This campaign of libel and character assassination directed against
the Members of Congress who opposed our entrance into the war has
been continued down to the present hour, and I have upon my desk
newspaper clippings, some of them libels upon me alone, some
directed as well against other Senators who voted in opposition to
the declaration of war. One of these newspaper reports most widely
circulated represents a Federal judge in the State of Texas as
saying, in a charge of a grand jury -- I read the article as it
appeared in the newspaper and the headline with which it is
District Judge Would Like to Take Shot at Traditions in Congress
( By Associated Press lease wire)
Houston, Texas, October 1, 1917. Judge Waller T. Burns, of the
United States district court, in charging a Federal grand jury at
the beginning of the October term today, after calling by name
Senators Stone of Missouri, Hardwick of Georgia, Vardaman of
Mississippi, Gronna of North Dakota, Gore of Oklahoma, and
LaFollette of Wisconsin, said:
“If I had a wish, I would wish that you men had jurisdiction to
return bills of indictment against these men. They ought to be tried
promptly and fairly, and I believe this court could administer the
law fairly; but I have a conviction, as strong as life, that this
country should stand them up against an adobe wall tomorrow and give
them what they deserve. If any man deserves death, it is a traitor.
I wish that I could pay for the ammunition. I would like to attend
the execution, and if I were in the firing squad I would not want to
be the marksman who had the blank shell.”...
If this newspaper clipping were a single or exceptional instance of
lawless defamation, I should not trouble the Senate with a reference
to it. But, Mr. President, it is not.
In this mass of newspaper clippings which I have here upon my desk,
and which I shall not trouble the Senate to read unless it is
desired, and which represent but a small part of the accumulation
clipped from the daily press of the country in the last three
months, I find other Senators, as well as myself, accused of the
highest crimes of which any man can be guilty -- treason and
disloyalty -- and, sir, accused not only with no evidence to support
the accusation, but without the suggestion that such evidence
anywhere exists. It is not claimed that Senators who opposed the
declaration of war have since that time acted with any concerted
purpose, either regarding war measures or any others. They have
voted according to their individual opinions, have often been
opposed to each other on bills which have come before the Senate
since the declaration of war, and, according to my recollection,
have never all voted together since that time upon any singe
proposition upon which the Senate has been divided.
I am aware, Mr. President, that in pursuance of this campaign of
vilification and attempted intimidation, requests from various
individuals and certain organizations have been submitted to the
Senate for my expulsion from this body, and that such requests have
been referred to and considered by one of the committees of the
If I alone had been made the victim of these attacks, I should not
take one moment of the Senate’s time for their consideration, and I
believe that other Senators who have been unjustly and unfairly
assailed, as I have been, hold the same attitude upon this that I
do. Neither the clamor of the mob nor the voice of power will ever
turn me by the breadth of a hair from the course I mark out for
myself, guided by such knowledge as I can obtain and controlled and
directed by a solemn conviction of right and duty.
But, sir, it is not alone Members of Congress that the war party in
this country has sought to intimidate. The mandate seems to have
gone forth to the sovereign people of this country that they must be
silent while those things are being done by their Government which
most vitally concern their well-being, their happiness, and their
lives. Today, and for weeks past, honest and law-abiding citizens of
this country are being terrorized and outraged in their rights by
those sworn to uphold the laws and protect the rights of the people.
I have in my possession numerous affidavits establishing the fact
that people are being unlawfully arrested, thrown into jail, held
incommunicado for days, only to be eventually discharged without
ever having been taken into court, because they have committed no
crime. Private residences are being invaded, loyal citizens of
undoubted integrity and probity arrested, cross-examined, and the
most sacred constitutional rights guaranteed to every American
citizen are being violated.
It appears to be the purpose of those conducting this campaign to
throw the country into a state of terror, to coerce public opinion,
to stifle criticism, and suppress discussion of the great issues
involved in this war.
I think all men recognize that in time of war the citizen must
surrender some rights for the common good which he is entitled to
enjoy in time of peace. But, sir, the right to control their own
Government according to constitutional forms is not one of the
rights that the citizens of this country are called upon to
surrender in time of war.
Rather, in time of war, the citizen must be more alert to the
preservation of his right to control his Government. He must be most
watchful of the encroachment of the military upon the civil power.
He must beware of those precedents in support of arbitrary action by
administration officials which, excused on the pleas of necessity in
war time, become the fixed rule when the necessity has passed and
normal conditions have been restored.
More than all, the citizen and his representative in Congress in
time of war must maintain his right of free speech.
More than in times of peace it is necessary that the channels for
free public discussion of governmental policies shall be open and
unclogged. I believe, Mr. President, that I am now touching upon the
most important question in this country today -- and that is the
right of the citizens of this country and their representatives in
Congress to discuss in an orderly way, frankly and publicly and
without fear, from the platform and through the press, every
important phase of this war; its causes, and manner in which it
should be conducted, and the terms upon which peace should be made.
The belief which is becoming widespread in this land that this most
fundamental right is being denied to the citizens of this country is
a fact, the tremendous significance of which those in authority have
not yet begun to appreciate. I am contending, Mr. President, for the
great fundamental right of the sovereign people of this country to
make their voice heard and have that voice heeded upon the great
questions arising out of this war, including not only how the war
shall be prosecuted but the conditions upon which it may be
terminated with a due regard for the rights and the honor of this
Nation and the interests of humanity.
I am contending for this right because the exercise of it is
necessary to the welfare, to the existence of this Government, to
the successful conduct of this war, and to a peace which shall be
enduring and for the best interests of this country.
Suppose success attends the attempt to stifle all discussion of the
issues of this war, all discussions of the terms upon which it
should be concluded, all discussion of the objects and purposes to
be accomplished by it, and concede the demand of the war-mad press
and war extremists that they monopolize the right of public
utterance upon these questions unchallenged. What think you would be
the consequences to this country not only during the war but after
Mr. President, our Government, above all others, is founded on the
right of the people freely to discuss all matters pertaining to
their Government, in war not less than in peace. It is true, sir,
that Members of the House of Representatives are elected for two
years, the President for four years, and the Members of the Senate
for six years, and during their temporary official terms these
officers constitute what is called the Government.
But back of them always is the controlling, sovereign power of the
People, and when the people can make their will known, the faithful
officer will obey that will. Though the right of the People to
express their will by ballot is suspended during the term office of
the elected official, nevertheless the duty of the official to obey
the popular will shall continue throughout his entire term of
office. How can that popular will express itself between elections
except by meetings, by speeches, by publications, by petitions, and
by addresses to the representatives of the people?
Any man who seeks to set a limit upon those rights, whether in war
or peace, aims a blow at the most vital part of our Government. And
then, as the time for election approaches and the official is called
to account for his stewardship -- not a day, not a wee, not a month,
before the election, but a year or more before it, if the people
choose -- they must have the right to the freest possible discussion
of every question upon which their representative has acted, of the
merits of every measure he has supported or opposed, of every vote
he has cast, and every speech that he has made.
And before this great fundamental right every other must, if
necessary, give way. For in no other manner can representative
government be preserved.