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bill is in so many important respects admirable, well conceived, and desirable. Its enactment into law would undoubtedly enhance the efficiency and improve the methods of handling the important branch of the public service to which it relates. But candor and a sense of duty with regard to the responsibility so clearly imposed upon me by the Constitution in matters of legislation leave me no choice but to dissent.
In two particulars of vital consequence this bill embodies a radical departure from the traditional and long-established policy of this country, a policy in which our people have conceived the very character of their Government to be expressed, the very mission and spirit of the Nation in respect of its relations to the peoples of the world outside their borders. It seeks to all but close entirely the gates of asylum which have always been open to those who could find nowhere else the right and opportunity of constitutional agitation for what they conceived to be the natural and inalienable rights of men; and it excludes those to whom the opportunities of elementary education have been denied, without regard to their character, their purposes, or their natural capacity.
Restrictions like these, adopted earlier in our history as a Nation, would very materially have altered the course and cooled the humane ardors of our politics. The right of political asylum has brought to this country many a man of noble character and elevated purpose who was marked as an outlaw in his own less fortunate land, and who has yet become an ornament to our citizenship and to our public councils. The children and the compatriots of these illustrious Americans must stand amazed to see the representatives of their Nation now resolved, in the fullness of our national strength and at the maturity of our great institutions, to risk turning such men back from our shores without test of quality or purpose. It is difficult for me to believe that the full effect of thig feature of the bill was realized when it was framed and adopted, and it is impossible for me to assent to it in the form in which it is here cast.
The literacy test and the tests and restrictions which accompany it constitute an even more radical change in the policy of the Nation. Hitherto we have generously kept our doors open to all who were not unfitted by reason of disease or incapacity for self-support or such personal records and antecedents as were likely to make them a menace to our peace and order or to the wholesome and essential relationships of life. In this bill it is proposed to turn away from tests of character and of quality and impose tests which exclude and restrict; for the new tests here embodied are not tests of quality or of character or of personal fitness, but tests of opportunity. Those who come seeking opportunity are not to be admitted unless they have already had one of the chief of the opportunities they seek, the opportunity of education. The object of such provisions is restriction, not selection.
If the people of this country have made up their minds to limit the number of immigrants by arbitrary tests and so reverse the policy of all the generations of Americans that have gone before them, it is their right to do so. I am their servant and have no license to stand in their way. But I do not believe that they have. I respectfully submit' that no one can quote their mandate to that effect. Has any political party ever avowed a policy of restriction in this fundamental matter, gone to the country on it, and been commissioned to control its legislation? Does this bill rest upon the conscious and universal assent and desire of the American people? I doubt it. It is because I doubt it that I make bold to dissent from it. I am willing to abide by the verdict, but not until it has been rendered. Let the platforms of parties speak out upon this policy and the people pronounce their wish. The matter is too fundamental to be settled otherwise.
I hare no pride of opinion in this question. I am not
foolish enough to profess to know the wishes and ideals of
America better than the body of her chosen representatives
know them. I only want instruction direct from those
whose fortunes, with ours and all men's, are involved.
[Just two years later—on January 29, 1917—President Wilson again vetoed an Immigration bill carrying a literacy test. An additional reason then was that exempting those fleeing from religious persecution was likely to lead to international complications. But Congress immediately repassed the bill by large majorities, and the literacy test thus became a law, after having been vetoed by Presidents Cleveland, Taft, and Wilson.]
Wilson's Address Before The American Electric RailWay Association, Washington, January 29, 1915
[Referring to the beneficent influence the new Federal Trade Commission should exert on "big business"—the era of suspicion passed, the era of confidence entered.]
Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is a real pleasure to me to be here and to look this company in the face. I know how important the interests that you represent are. . . .
It seems to me that I can say with a good deal of confidence that we are upon the eve of a new era of enterprise and of prosperity. Enterprise has been checked in this country for almost twenty years, because men were moving amongst a maze of interrogation points. They did not know what was going to happen to them. All sorts of regulation were proposed, and it was a matter of uncertainty what sort of regulation was going to be adopted. All sorts of charges were made against business, as if business were at default, when most men knew that the great majority of business men were honest, were public-spirited, were intending the right thing, and the many were made afraid because the few did not do what was right.
The most necessary thing, therefore, was for us to agree, as we did by slow stages agree, upon the main particulars of what ought not to be done and then to put our laws in such shape as to correspond with that general judgment. That, I say, was a necessary preliminary not only to a common understanding, but also to a universal cooperation. The great forces of a country like this can not pull separately; they have got to pull together. And except upon a basis of common understanding as to the law and as to the proprieties of conduct, it is impossible to pull together. I, for one, have never doubted that all America was of one principle. I have never doubted that all America believed in doing what was fair and honorable and of gcjd report But the method, the method of control by law against the small minority that was recalcitrant against these principles, was a thing that it was difficult to determine upon; and it was a very great burden, let me say, to fall upon a particular administration of this Government to have to undertake practically the whole business of final definition. That is what has been attempted by the Congress now about to come to a close. It has attempted the definitions for which the country had been getting ready, or trying to get ready, for half a generation. It will require a period of test to determine whether they have successfully defined them or not; but no one needs to have it proved to him that it was necessary to define them and remove the uncertainties, and that, the uncertainties being removed, common understandings are possible and a universal cooperation.
You, gentlemen, representing these arteries of which I have spoken, that serve to release the forces of communities and serve, also, to bind community with community, are surely in a better position than the men perhaps of any other profession to understand how communities constitute units— how even a nation constitutes a unit; and that what is detrimental and hurtful to a part you, above all men, ought to
know is detrimental to all. You can not demoralize some of the forces of a community without being in danger of demoralizing all the forces of a community. Your interest is not in the congestion of life, but in the release of life. Your interest is not in isolation, but in union, the union of parts of this great country, so that every energy in those parts will flow freely and with full force from county to county throughout the whole nation.
What I have come to speak of this afternoon is this unity of our interest, and I want to make some—I will not say "predictions," but to use a less dangerous though bigger word—prognostications. I understand that there is among the medical profession diagnosis and prognosis. I dare say the prognosis is more difficult than the diagnosis, since it has to come first; and not being a physician, I have all the greater courage in the prognosis. I have noticed all my life that I could speak with the greatest freedom about those things that I did not understand; but there are some things that a man is bound to try to think out whether he fully comprehends them or not. The thought of no single man can comprehend the life of a great Nation like this, and yet men in public life upon whom the burden of guidance is laid must attempt to comprehend as much of it as they can. Their strength will lie in common counsel; their strength will lie in taking counsel of as many informed persons as possible in each department with which they have to deal; but some time or other the point will come when they have to make a decision based upon a prognosis. We have had to do that in attempting the definitions of law which have been attempted by this Congress, and now it is necessary for us, in order to go forward with the confident spirit with which I believe we can go forward, to look ahead and see the things that are likely to happen.
In the first place, I feel that the mists and miasmic airs of suspicion that have filled the business world have now