JUNE 25, 1951
HYDE PARK, Sunday—I have been thinking over very carefully the dissenting opinions of Justices Douglas and Black in connection with the arrest, under the Smith Act, of the last group of Communists. Justice Frankfurter's statement—to the effect that he thought this bill might be harmful, but also that it was the duty of the Congress to pass the laws and not the duty of the Supreme Court to oppose the country's sentiment—seems to leave some things open to discussion.
Such an attitude has not always been taken by the Supreme Court. It may well be the correct attitude. But in this particular case I am not sure that our forefathers—who were so careful to guard our civil liberties and, particularly, the rights of freedom of speech, freedom of thought and freedom of assembly—would not feel that the Supreme Court had perhaps a higher obligation to point out whether a law endangered these freedoms.
I have argued this question over and over again in the United Nations when freedom of the press was attacked. I have stated that although I frequently disagreed with the opinions expressed by certain groups of papers in this country, I would hesitate to take any steps to curtail their freedom of expression. This, because when you begin to prevent the expression of opinion because you do not like it, you may shortly find that you curtail the expression of opinion which you like. Freedom of expression must be guaranteed to all, not just to those who think in one particular way.
If people are going to be arrested every time they meet together and discuss how they will organize to overthrow the government of the United States—but before they have actually taken any action toward that end—then the Communist party is going to go completely underground and it will be harder for the proper government authorities to watch them. Talk will do little harm. It is action that counts and that should be stopped. I don't doubt for a minute that the Communists in this country want to overthrow our government by force. I am perfectly confident, however, that they can not do it as long as the majority of our people have the opportunity to work, to receive a fair and just wage, and also have a guarantee of security, through a social security system, in time of adversity beyond their control I am inclined to agree with the President of Ecuador, who was recently quoted as saying that he felt the greatest weapon against Communism was a high standard of living among the people generally.
The Communist party was outlawed in France before World War II. Yet, through the work of the partisans for the liberation of France, they built up their strength and by the end of the war were a powerful group because they stood side by side with other Frenchmen in the defense of liberty. Outlawing a party, forbidding its members to meet and talk, will, I think, give a feeling to the peoples of the world that we are afraid to stand by the things on which we say we have built our nation and in which we believe. For that reason I feel we ought to move carefully. We should think seriously about any step that curtails civil liberties and expresses fear in the strength of democracy instead of confidence that our people understand its values.