Speech given by Senator Warren G. Harding at the Courthouse Dedication

Speech given by Senator Warren G. Harding at the dedication of the Courthouse on October 18, 1919 as reported by the Cincinnati Enquirer.

“My Fellow Countrymen:

It is a very fitting thing in dedicating this temple of justice and seat of government to dedicate ourselves anew to these two great fundamentals which underlie all civilization. Justice is the very foundation on which civilized society is builded, and orderly government is liberty itself.

We have just witnessed the sublime rededication of 1000,000,000 of Americans to the cause of the republic. We have seen Americans at the altars of Americanism, having been bathed in the blood of 65,000 men; rededicated in the blood of 122,000 of our men and the sacrifices of 4,000,000 sons of this republic. Rededication of America has given notice to the people that justice must be the rule of the people.

It is a natural thing that every generation looks upon its trials and perils, as it does its triumphs and achievements, as the most momentous of all history. That is because of the intimacy of direct and immediate relationship and the pressing problem of solution. There have been many heralded crises in history since the first dawn of civilization, and they were met according to the capacity and courage of human understanding. If one generation failed, if one people faltered, then human progression halted until another with better understanding and higher courage assumed the task.

The world has yet to acclaim the perfect civilization. It never will, because there are no more shackles to human aspiration than there are limits to human genius. I believe we have attained in these earlier years of the twentieth century the highest and best civilization that the world has ever witnessed, yet we have recently seen it threatened by the surpassing world war of all history, and find it menaced today by the turbulent aftermath.

One cannot dispute the endangered situation, and it is folly to ignore it. The fires of war have produced a liquid state, and the elemental passions of man are seeking to influence the new crystallization of the convictions of mankind. Men are believing, and not a few are saying, that our inherited civilization is threatened with destruction, but I think it is more seemly to say it is being supremely tested.

Civilization will not fail. Empires may fall, autocracies may fail, thrones may totter, kingdoms may vanish and pure democracies may drink of the poisoned draught of lawless liberties which leads to destruction, but the conscience of representative, intelligent, popular Government is an enduring thing, fit to survive the ephemeral passions of men.

It is not a crisis like that of nearly 60 years ago, when divided union threatened. Our present day menace is a divided citizenship in this republic. It is not an uprising to abolish class. It is a threatened conflict to establish class domination. It is not a struggle for maintained or enlarged liberties or the exaltation of justice; it is the assault of greed for gain and power.

It seems sometimes as though we had forgotten that most essential thing once called the common weal, and the bent of all energies seemingly is directed to organized advantage. Everybody except the public is organized for selfish ends. Farmers and professional men, producers and distributers, merchants and bankers, manufacturers and laborers, actors and managers, soldiers and sailors, motorists and chauffeurs, political parties and governmental clerks and employees, league to enforce peace and league to preserve American independence, teachers and scholars; everybody except the public itself.

But the common weal society of America hasn’t held a meeting in a day that can be remembered. I venture to suggest that the present-day needs call for less organization and agitation and more application of old-fashioned acquirement.

I do not mean to challenge organization; I pay tribute to its lawful helpfulness. But I do challenge that organized selfishness which seeks either to fashion the law to promote selfish ends, to ignore the law or defy the law to achieve that which law does not sanction.

One must believe justice an inherent quality, innate and essentially instinctive. It is a human sense in the normal manly man, bestowed by the infinite and just Creator. It is manifest in higher animal life, as a marked necessity to group existence, and its exactions in animal life are unalterable.

Transgressions are punished conspicuously, though we know little of rewarded merits. The beaver colony banishes its disturbing idler, the working bees kill the drone without hesitation; a flock of crows, after seeming conference, unite in executing an offending member, and the rogue elephant, always malicious, is stamped with the disapproval of the herd which banishes him. Justice is of little concern to the solitary life, but it is the first essential to grouped existence everywhere, and is the fundamental law of organized society.

Law is the expressed conception of justice and is designed to facilitate its ministration. Order is the enforcement of the law, and in all of these is orderly government, which is the most precious institution of men. Without it, civilization turns to chaos, liberty perishes and all progress halts.

First of these is justice. Confucius proclaimed it ‘like the North Star, which is fixed and all the rest revolve around it’. Webster declared it ‘the ligament which holds civilized being and civilized nations together’

Add to these the wisdom of Hooker, who said of law: ‘There can be no less acknowledged than that her seat is the bosom of God, her voice the harmony of the world, all things in heaven and earth do her homage, the very least as feeling her care and the greatest as not exempt from her power.’ Does any one think that if there had been justice among the nations our civilized nations would have been plunged into a great conflict?

Then marshal the forces of order to complete the structure. Blackie proclaimed ‘Order is the sanity of mind, the health of the body, the peace of the duty, the security of the state.’ Contemplating these essentials in sober refection and grateful appreciation, we find ourselves today at the very altar of consecration to the safeguards of human association and activity. Never trite utterances, it is well to remember that all conceptions of justice are not in accord. They vary as civilization varies, and are modified by teaching and environment; yet the great essentials are universal and unalterable.

Defined justice in this republic is the crystalized, reflective, deliberate, intelligent sentiment of the people thereof. It is not always written, but it is almost invariably adjudged. Nor is every statute always just, because the human agents which translate public sentiment into written lay are not infallible, but the law must ever be supreme until annulled by the spoken conscience of the people. There are orderly processes to meet every injustice, and every evil is swept away by the swelling tide of irresistible American public opinion.

The disputed qualities of justice in this republic, infinitely more complained about than real, are due to conflicting conceptions characteristic of a polyglot people, and the misconstrued qualities of American liberty and democracy. Our American liberty is not license, and the rule of American democracy is not the rule of the mob.

No pure democracy has survived since the world began. No Government will endure where weight of mere numbers, massed in ignorance of prejudice, outweighs the influence of conscience and intelligent conviction. Witness the pathetic tragedy of Russia, betrayed and betraying, impotent and chaotic.

No one believes the American menace of today to be of American origin. It had no beginning in American citizenship. It is a transplanting, taken from the soil of old world injustice, and cultured unfortunately in the indifference and neglect of our own republic.

Anxious about our liberties, we were unmindful of abuse, lest we narrow our freedom in the seeking to protect it. Eager for development, generous of our opportunities, ambitious for attainment, we sought the man-power of the world and we welcomed men from all nations, and exacted no consecration to the duties of citizenship. We revealed not the spirit of our American institutions, and offered not the fellowship of full-fledged citizenship.

We opposed the way to material advantage, but did not reveal the soul of representative democracy. We unconsciously gave the injustice of neglect, when we ought to have practiced the justice of lighting the way to understanding and full participation in American life.

In the soil of neglect and indifference, the noxious growth of radical Socialism, direct action, syndicalism, I. W. W.-ism, anarchy and Bolshevism had their development, accelerated by the hot winds of war and the unrest of humanity, until today there is the open outcry against established Government and existing order, and the assault within the law on the system of economic life which made us what we are, and the proposed substitution of destructive resolution for orderly constructive evolution.

The assault cloaked in lawful garb is more menacing than the open defiance. It seeks to employ the one inherent and notably great weakness in popular government. It threatens its numerical strength at the polls to turn from the paths of conviction those in public life who are sometimes more concerned with election results than they are with the common weal. It is no new development, it is a magnified manifestation of a very old weakness.

I trust it is the reflex of only a transitory sentiment that a very large proportion of our people have abandoned appeal to the conscience and convictions of public servants and substituted the limited tenure of service instead. The practice is not limited to any one element of our varied citizenship. It is the suspended sword with the clerical advocate of the international millennium and the whip of the organized forces who hold their interests first and the public second in legislative expression of our American ideals of justice.

My own observation of Congress, from the intimate viewpoint, after many a disheartening spectacle, is that peril reveals the strong-hearted spokesman of the everlasting justice, and there are men for every emergency who put consecration to duty above political expediency, and will sacrifice themselves, now if need be, rather than surrender the essentials of justice or the inherited fundamentals which made us what we are.

I make no reference to the pending question of altered foreign relations. I am speaking of our perils from within. No one need ever fear the dangers to the republic which come from enemies without. Our danger lies in those who wear the garb of citizenship and profit in its advantages thereof, but do not share the spirit of this American republic.

No Government, no organized agency, no cabal, no menacing political force can suspend certain fundamental laws which are the just decrees of the ages. Reward of merit is eternal. Man must earn her bread with the sweat of his brow. Life itself is toil with accomplishment its compensations. Exacted idleness and imposed slavery are equally hateful. Justice must influence the compensation for all toll but merit will ever be its favorite advocate.

Movements to remove excessively and abnormally the activities of men are designed to paralyze human achievement and they challenge nature in her sublimest mood. Increased cost of production and lowered cost of living are as opposed as life and death and promised equality of reward without regard to merit challenges civil liberty itself, and would enthrone mediocrity where Justice has ruled for ages.

No one disputes the right to seek better conditions of life – it is to be encouraged. The pursuit of the unattained is the spur that ever drives us on beyond the blight of contentment. Justice and law and order not only inspire but clearly point the way. They are ever in harmony. Men who dispute are biased by their own selfishness and it is a rule of the judiciary that no man is ever a safe judge in his own cause. Men who elect to enjoy the advantaged of the civil state must accept the dictates of civil order. Men who seek the advantages of civil liberty must accept the restraints of civil liberty.

Every citizen worthwhile wishes to live and holds the aspiration to live as fully as his surroundings and capacity will admit. Since this is the inherent desire, organized society seeks so to administer justice that no one shall suffer because of his lawful relations to society, nor shall he break the elations of others who aspire to the same righteous end.

Thus the law, Justice’s law, orderly enforced, makes possible the fullest human life and assures the fullness of human attainment. Nothing is gained to penalize industry or to stifle genius, or to punish thrift, or suppress ambition. Those are the outrunners to the advancing human procession. If men choose to advance and acquire lawfully opportunity beckons in the United Stated of America and offers more generous reward than anywhere else in the world. But justice never blighted a righteous capability since human aspiration had their birth. Law and order guarantee their preservation and they sanction and secure achievement.

It is an interesting thing to study the surpassing American development in helpful retrospection. It will add to assurance of the forward view which invited us on and ever on, if we but look back reflectively on the path we made and look within ourselves to know our motives in the making. Men will profit by introspection.

One may well doubt whether righteous government is the more secure because of its form or the character of those who exercise the grant of authority. Here in Ohio, as elsewhere, notably in Cincinnati and Hamilton County, a few years ago we heard much debate about the form of municipal government, but our experiments soon taught us that the type of men in authority was more important than the titles under which they were given their authority.

I congratulate Cincinnati and Hamilton County, that state of Ohio and the American nation upon a man like [Cincinnati Mayor] John Galvin. I care not what his title may be. It’s the man.

I believe representative popular government to be not only the best in the world, but the most dependable popular government ever established by man. Republics have failed before and the founding fathers wrought wisely avoiding the causes of the recorded failures of history.

They gave us the plan of representative expression of dependable public opinion and we are trying to preserve that. They gave us the three distinct and coordinated branches of government. And we are resolved to preserve them. Sometimes we go far adrift from the harbor of safety, but there is abiding assurance in the unfailing return to the constitutional anchorage.

For the war, in the surpassing emergency, Congress essentially submerged itself, yielding much of its power to the Commander-in-Chief and I gladly gave my assistance because I thought it was necessary to meet the emergency. Many viewed it with alarm, but it was an encouraging spectacle which proved our capacity to meet the supreme test. When the crisis was passed, the reassertion of Congress, its reassumption of its full part in the functions of the nation, gave ample proof that our concentration to meet a peril from without means no surrender of the inherited plan which made us what we are.