JULY 5, 1946
HYDE PARK, Thursday—The Fourth of July, when we celebrate our freedom, has made me want to urge my readers to become familiar with Howard Fast's "The American," which I am just about half way through. Mr. Fast's book is the story of Pete Altgeld1, but it might be the story of many another man during the Civil War and after. It is also the story of the organization of the little man, the man who works with his hands for small returns.
As we look back at those days, I think we can get some inspiration and satisfaction, for the little man, through his sacrifices and his organization, has made gains. He still has to sacrifice and still has to organize. Thank God, he has had some big men with him from the start.
The liberty which we celebrate on July Fourth is not as yet fully attained. The Four Freedoms we pledged ourselves to strive for in the Atlantic Charter are not fully attained at home or abroad. Who can say here in our wonderful country that we have freedom from fear—either the fear of aggression or the fear of want? Who can say that we have real freedom of religion, so that all men can declare their beliefs and feel there will be no discrimination against them because of those beliefs? Many of us forget the long fights and the leadership that individuals have given in order to advance every forward step; and it is good when a book of this kind is written, in which the story of a man and his development is laid before us, and with it a picture of his times, so that we get a perspective.
There is one point in the book I hope no one will miss. That is the fact that the gentle reformers—those of us who talk about doing things slowly, who are willing to face the truth about conditions and to talk about them, but who are rarely willing to take the risk of being the leaders in the action that brings change—are with us today as of old. We are not always as wise as Pete Altgeld2 in recognizing the time when a trend is on, and often before the trend exists there have to be men like Parsons—one of the labor leaders who had been falsely accused and hung after the Haymarket bombings—to awaken other men's consciences.
The speech of his wife, Lucy Parsons, could be addressed to many of us reformers today. "This is your society, you helped to build and create it, and it is this society that makes the criminal," she cries. "A woman becomes a prostitute because it is a little better than dying of hunger. A man becomes a thief because your system turns him into an outlaw. He sees your ethics, which are the ethics of wild beasts, and yet you jail him because he uses those ethics. And if the workers unite to fight for food, or a better way of life, you jail them too. And the sop to your conscience is reform, always reform."
I hope to comment about this book further when I have finished it, but meanwhile read it for yourselves.