Documents of American History II
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1950s: President Eisenhower's ''Spirit of Geneva'' Speech, 1955



Public Papers of the Presidents, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1955, p. 802-809

ADDRESS AT THE ANNUAL CONVENTION OF THE AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION, PHILADELPHIA.

August 24, 1955

President Wright, Mr. Chief Justice, Senator Pepper, other distinguished guests, and my friends:

Before I begin the expression of the thoughts I deem appropriate to this occasion, I should like to advert briefly to the tragic incident of our national life that I know is now uppermost in the hearts and minds of all America. I refer, of course, to the tragic disaster on the eastern coast of our country.
We stand in the shadow of the hall in which was written the Constitution of the United States. Implicit in that document is the conviction, the belief, the faith, that Americans would perform by voluntary cooperation those deeds which in other governments, up to that time, had to be performed by direction, by regimentation, by order of Government. Some of those group problems that they thought would be thus solved are those great humanitarian problems that occur when one section of our country suffers the kind of catastrophe that has just been visited upon portions of our eastern coast. Woodrow Wilson said the highest form of democracy is the spontaneous cooperation of a free people. It seems to me now we have one of those most unusual opportunities to exhibit that spontaneous cooperation.
Frankly I feel we should not wait for the National Red Cross, our agent in such affairs, to appeal to us for help. I believe we should seize the opportunity to give to them-to force upon them-more than they can use, to make certain that disaster is alleviated, that all of those people in those destroyed villages and towns, will understand that America's heart has not forsaken them, that we are proud to help.
Naturally I am honored that once again I am invited to speak before this great representation of the American Bar Association; particularly in this summer of 1955.
This is the first of a series of meetings celebrating the John Marshall Bicentennial. John Marshall was a soldier in the War for Independence, a Congressman, a diplomat of outstanding ability, a Secretary of State.
But his reputation for greatness most firmly rests on his service as Chief Justice of the United States. It was in that office that he established himself, in character, in wisdom, and in his clear insight into the requirements of free government, as a shining example for all later members of his profession.
In his day, the truth about the nature of the Union and the purposes that joined widely separated states into one Republic-about the Constitution and the application of its principles to the problems of the times-was obscured by the fog of sectionalism, selfish interests, and narrow loyalties. Through a generation, he expounded these matters and formulated decisions of such clarity and vigor that we now recognize him as a foremost leader in developing and maintaining the liberties of the people of the United States.
He made of the Constitution a vital, dynamic, deathless charter for free and orderly living in the United States.
Thus his influence has been felt far beyond the confines of the legal fraternity. One result of his work was to create among Americans a deep feeling of trust and respect for the Judiciary. Rarely indeed has that respect been damaged or that trust betrayed by a member of the Judicial branch of our three-sided government.
Americans realize that the independence and integrity and capacity of the Judiciary are vital to our nation's continued existence. For myself, this realization is understandably with me most sharply when it becomes my duty to make a nomination to the Federal Bench.
To the officers and members of the American Bar Association, I express my grateful acknowledgment of the assistance they have rendered, as a public service, in aiding me and my trusted advisers in the review of professional qualifications of individuals under consideration for Federal judicial positions. You have helped secure judges who, I believe, will serve in the tradition of John Marshall.
No other kind will be appointed.
Obviously, a rough equality between the two great political parties should be maintained on the bench. Thus we help assure that the Judiciary will realistically appraise and apply precedent and principles in the light of current American thinking, and will never become a repository of unbalanced partisan attitudes.
As we turn our minds to the global rather than primarily national circumstances of our time, I feel that John Marshall's life and his works have even a more profound significance than is to be found in our veneration for the American courts and for his memorable services during the formative years of the Republic.
The central fact of today's life is the existence in the world of two great philosophies of man and of government. They are in contest for the friendship, loyalty, and support of the world's peoples.
On the one side, our nation is ranged with those who seek attainment of human goals through a government of laws administered by men. Those laws are rooted in moral law reflecting a religious faith that man is created in the image of God and that the energy of the free individual is the most dynamic force in human affairs.
On the other side are those who believe-and many of them with evident sincerity-that human goals can be most surely reached by a government of men who rule by decree. Their decrees are rooted in an ideology which ignores the faith that man is a spiritual being; which establishes the all-powerful state as the principal source of advancement and progress.
The case of the several leading nations on both sides is on trial before the bar of world opinion. Each of them claims that it seeks, above all else, an enduring peace in the world. In that claim, all identify themselves with a deep-seated hunger of mankind. But the final judgment on them-and it may be many years in coming-will depend as much on the march of human progress within their own borders, and on their proved capacity to help others advance, as on the tranquillity of their relations with foreign countries.
Mankind wants peace because the fruits of peace are manifold and rich, particularly in this Atomic Age; because war could be the extinction of man's deepest hopes; because atomic war could be race suicide.
The world is astir today with newly awakened peoples. By the hundreds of millions, they march toward opportunity to work and grow and prosper, to demonstrate their self-reliance, to satisfy their aspirations of mind and spirit. Their advance must not and cannot be stopped.
These hundreds of millions help make up the jury which must decide the case between the competing powers of the world.
The system, or group of systems, which most effectively musters its strength in support of peace and demonstrates its ability to advance the well-being, the happiness of the individual, will win their verdict and their loyal friendship.
You of the American Bar Association will play a critical part in the presentation of freedom's case.
The many thousands of men and women you represent are, by their professional careers, committed to the search for truth that justice may prevail and human rights may be secured. Thereby, they promote the free world's cause before the bar of world opinion. But let us be clear that, in the global scene, our responsibility as Americans is to present our case as tellingly to the world as John Marshall presented the case for the Constitution to the American public more than a hundred years ago. In this, your aptitude as lawyers has special application.
In his written works and innumerable decisions, John Marshall proved the adequacy and adaptability of the Constitution to the Nation's needs. He was patient, tireless, understanding, logical, persistent. He was-no matter how trite the expression-a Crusader; his cause, the interpretation of the Constitution to achieve ordered liberty and justice under law.
Now America needs to exercise, in the Crusade for peace, the qualities of John Marshall. Peace and security for all can be established-for the fearful, for the oppressed, for the weak, for the strong. But this can be done only if we stand uncompromisingly for principle, for great issues, with the fervor of Marshall-with the zeal of the Crusader.
We must not think of peace as a static condition in world affairs. That is not true peace, nor in fact can any kind of a peace be preserved that way. Change is the law of life, and unless there is peaceful change, there is bound to be violent change.
Our nation has had domestic tranquillity largely through its capacity to change peacefully. The lone exception was when change, to meet new human concepts, was unduly resisted.
Our Founders would scarcely recognize the nation of today as that which they designed; it has been so greatly changed. But the change has been peaceful and selective; and always conforming to the principles of our founding documents. That has made it possible to conserve the good inherited from the past while adjusting to meet constantly rising goals. In that way we have kept in the front ranks of those who respect human dignity, who produce increasingly and who share fairly the fruits of their labors.
This is the kind of peace that we seek. Our program must be as dynamic, as forward looking, as applicable to the international problems of our times as the Constitution, under John Marshall's interpretations, was made flexible and effective in the promotion of freedom, justice and national strength in America.
That is the spirit in which the American delegation went to Geneva. We asserted then-and we shall always hold-that there can be no true peace which involves acceptance of a status quo in which we find injustice to many nations, repressions of human beings on a gigantic scale, and with constructive effort paralyzed in many areas by fear.
The spirit of Geneva, if it is to provide a healthy atmosphere for the pursuit of peace, if it is to be genuine and not spurious, must inspire all to a correction of injustices, an observance of human rights and an end to subversion organized on a world-wide scale. Whether or not such a spirit as this will thrive through the combined intelligence and understanding of men, or will shrivel in the greed and ruthlessness of some, is for the future to tell. But one thing is certain. This spirit and the goals we seek could never have been achieved by violence or when men and nations confronted each other with hearts filled with fear and hatred.
At Geneva we strove to help establish this spirit.
Geneva spells for America, not stagnation, then, but opportunity-opportunity for our own people and for people everywhere to realize their just aspirations.
Eagerness to avoid war-if we think no deeper than this single desire-can produce outright or implicit agreement that injustices and wrongs of the present shall be perpetuated in the future. We must not participate in any such false agreement. Thereby, we would outrage our own conscience. In the eyes of those who suffer injustice, we would become partners with their oppressors. In the judgment of history, we would have sold out the freedom of men for the pottage of a false peace. Moreover, we would assure future conflict!
The division of Germany cannot be supported by any argument based on boundaries or language or racial origin.
The domination of captive countries cannot longer be justified by any claim that this is needed for purposes of security.
An international political machine, operating within the borders of sovereign nations for their political and ideological subversion, cannot be explained away as a cultural movement.
Very probably, the reason for these and other violations of the rights of men and of nations is a compound of suspicions and fear. That explains. It cannot excuse. In justice to others and to ourselves, we can never accept those wrongs as a part of the peace that we desire and seek.
We must be firm but friendly. We must be tolerant but not complacent. We must be quick to understand another's viewpoint, honestly assumed. But we must never agree to injustice for the weak, for the unfortunate, for the underprivileged, well knowing that if we accept destruction of the principle of justice for all, we cannot longer claim justice for ourselves as a matter of right.
The peace we want-the product of understanding and agreement and law among nations-is an enduring international environment, based on justice and security. It will reflect enlightened self-interest. It will foster the concentration of human energy-individual and organized-for the advancement of human standards in all the areas of mankind's material, intellectual and spiritual life.
Can we achieve that sort of peace? I think we can. At times it may seem hopeless, far beyond human capacity to reach. But has any great accomplishment in history begun with assurance of its success? Our own Republic is a case in point. Through a long generation there was almost a unanimous world conviction that the United States of America was an artificial contrivance that could not long endure.
And the Republic survived its most perilous years-the experimental years-because of dedicated efforts by individuals, not because it had a built-in guarantee of success or a path free from obstacles.
Our case for peace, based on justice, is as sound as was John Marshall's for the Constitution and the Union. And it will be as successful-if we present it before the bar of world opinion with the same courage and dedicated conviction that he brought to his mission.
In our communities we can, each according to his capacity, promote comprehension of what this Republic must be-in strength, in understanding, in dedication to principle-if it is to fulfill its role of leadership for peace.
In the search for justice, we can make our system an ever more glorious example of an orderly government devoted to the preservation of human freedom and man's individual opportunities and responsibilities.
No matter how vigorously we propose and uphold our individual views in domestic problems, we can present abroad a united front in all that concerns the freedom and security of the Republic, its dedication to a just and prosperous peace.
Above all, conscious of the towering achievements manifest in the Republic's history under the Constitution, assured that no human problem is beyond solution given the will, the perseverance and the strength-each of us can help arouse in America a renewed and flaming dedication to justice and liberty, prosperity and peace among men.
So acting, we shall prove ourselves-lawyers and laymen alike-worthy heirs to the example and spirit of John Marshall. Like him in his great mission, we shall succeed.


Last update: February 28th, 2003.
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