Americanism

This address was given by Maurice Timothy Dooling (1860–1924), in 1918. He was a district judge in California. It is a succinct expression of the nature and purpose of “Americanism.”

Foreword

The evening of Tuesday, September 24, 1918, was set apart in the Bohemian Club as American Night. There had been celebrated previously, French Night, British Night, Belgian Night, and Italian Night.

American Night is memorable particularly for the response of the Honorable M. T. Dooling, Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, to the toast, “Americanism.” Its lofty sentiments and the manner of the address electrified all those who were present, creating the greatest enthusiasm and causing immediate and repeated demands for its publication.

The evening was a most patriotic one. The Club dining room was decorated with the colors of the Allies—our Stars and Stripes draping the Club’s service flag of one hundred and fifty-one Stars. The entire Club chorus entered the room singing “America, the Beautiful.” During the dinner, popular songs representing this country’s wars were sung by the chorus joined by the members. These were rendered chronologically, commencing with “Yankee Doodle,” followed by “When Johnnie Comes Marching Home” (substituting “the Yanks” for “Johnnie’’), “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean,” “ Dixie,” “A Hot Time in the Old Town To-night,” “Over There,” “There’s a Long, Long Trail” and “Joan of Arc.” Pledges to the President of the United States, to the Allies and their rulers, were made. Mr. George Sterling read a poem, “Service,” written for the occasion. Remarks followed by Lieutenant de la Sevre of the French Artillery (an officer who has seen three years service in the trenches and who bore two chevrons for wounds received); by Captain Tymms, M. C., of the Royal Air Force, a distinguished British aviator, visiting the camps in the United States; and by Mr. R. S. Browne, military attaché to the Red Cross Mission in France, a member of the Club who had just returned from France and had been several days at the front during the battle of Chateau-Thierry. Songs of a patriotic character were sung at intervals, and then came Judge Dooling with the stirring speech which is presented in this publication in order that it may be preserved and brought to the attention of a larger number than the few hundred who heard it upon that notable occasion.


Americanism

I have been asked to say a few words upon Americanism on this our American Night. In complying, I am embarrassed, not by any lack, but rather by the excess of material that the subject brings to hand. Indeed, what one may briefly say upon a subject so broad depends altogether upon the angle of approach, and I am led, by training perhaps, to a phase that may seem commonplace. But, in these days, I believe we should occasionally be brought face to face with fundamental ideas—ideas which, because they are so familiar, are constantly; overlooked, forgotten, or ignored. Yet it is in their defense that we are now engaged in this tremendous war.

Americanism is something of an abstraction, and hard to define. No two persons, perhaps, would define it exactly alike, even though to all the idea may be basically the same. To me it means the great common spirit which everywhere pervades the land; the spirit of individual liberty, properly protected and duly restrained. It is a product, a result, an emanation rather, from the system which at once affords the protection and imposes the restraint. It is so interwoven with that system that it is impossible to say where the concrete ends and the abstract begins. But we cannot understand the one without a consideration of the other. To us, who are accustomed to our free institutions, who are born under the American flag or admitted into American citizenship—there comes no doubt of their justice or permanence, and the great social and civil truths that underlie and sustain them are so much a part of our very existence that it seems to us they must have sprung fully developed from man’s uncultivated instinct. But nothing could be further from the truth.

In the long upward struggle of the human race for individual liberty, every form and variety of government had been tried, from the extreme slavery and subjection of millions to the caprice of one man; through long centuries of suffering and hope, of struggles on the field and contests in the forum, by dungeon, rack and scaffold, with the. fires of liberty now burning brightly for a moment, and now all but extinguished in the blood of its adherents, from India westward by way of Greece and Rome, and the medieval municipalities; through all the varied feudal forms, the changing political experiences of England, France and the Low Countries; and finally culminating in the happy success of American patriots in establishing in a newly discovered land a government based, not upon the rights of rulers, but upon the rights of man, and for which no possible abiding place could have been found in all the world as it had theretofore been known.

Upon this new and broad domain, in the wide, free spaces of a land of unknown limits, old theories were overthrown, and a new principle enunciated, that upon foundations where liberty and law find equal support, a government could be maintained, not by the power of standing armies, or the might of floating navies, but by the willing support of an enlightened, free, and patriotic people. By a distribution of powers, untried till then and by the world regarded as a hopeless experiment, they granted to local communities the control of domestic affairs, and entrusted their care and maintenance to the various state governments. They collected and deposited under a written constitution, all the power necessary to guard the larger and the common interests, and established a central government sufficiently powerful to protect the meanest and restrain the most august; to maintain the dignity of law-abiding freedom among the powers of the earth; to defend now the interests of a hundred million freemen, to hold their authority and speak their voice in the face of all mankind.

Warned by the wrecks of the past, they liberated religion from bondage to the temporal power, separated Church from State, and blotted from the statute books, the crimes of nonconformity. They quenched the torch that kindled persecution’s cruel fires, prevented the enactment of any law to compel adherence to a specific form of worship; disestablished churches and removed religious disabilities; abolished all exactions for the maintenance of ecclesiastical authority; guaranteed to everyone the utmost freedom in the exercise of his religion and restrained forever the power of the government from being enlisted against the adherents of any sect or creed, protecting with equal impartiality the mosque of the Musselman, and the altar of the fire-worshipper, the Jewish synagogue and the Roman cathedral.

The result has been the absolute triumph of disenthralled humanity. In those great ideas of responsible and popular government, of civil and religious liberty, lie the causes that have made of Americanism the thing that we know it to be. They bring into action the noblest impulses of our natures and encourage the development of the best that is in our citizenship. They lead the humblest among us to exert himself to the utmost, as no limit is placed upon the rewards to be attained. Within our boundaries each man stands upon an equal footing with his fellows. The road to advancement is open to all. Our history on its every page records the names of those who under every disadvantage, have amassed fortune or acquired fame.

It is the glory of our free institutions that they open to all the avenues of wealth and distinction, and secure to all protection in the enjoyment of the fruits of their labor.

There is no boy in America today, however humble his birth or in whatever depths of poverty his lot may be cast, who, if he have but a clear head, a strong arm, and a brave heart, may not rise, by the freedom of our laws and the liberality of our people, until he stands with the foremost in the honor and estimation of his country. Unlike that of other and less favored lands, where stern distinctions of class and caste have beaten down the aspirations of many a noble heart, and closed the doors of advancement to everyone not fortunately born, our society does not resemble the rigid crust of the earth, with its impassible barriers of rock and its impenetrable layers of stone, but rather the waters of the mighty sea, broad, deep, boundless, but so free in all its movements that the drop which today sweeps the sands in its unfathomable depths, may rise to-morrow, through all the vast expanse till it flashes in the sunlight on the crest of the highest wave.

Out of these conditions arises that Americanism which, under God tonight, is to be the deciding factor against the most dread menace that ever confronted a vexed and tortured world. An Americanism, which, seeking nothing for itself, now battles unselfishly for justice, freedom and security for all; which states its purposes in such certain tones their echoes ring above the clash of arms; which pledges all its strength of wealth and men to crush the power that is driving decency and safety from the world; which, having set its hand to that great task, will not be stayed until its work is done; which, to that end, turns all its energies from their wonted ways to meet the new and grim demands of war; which, though it make mistakes, still heaps miracle on miracle, achieving the impossible as though engaged in every day affairs; which launches ships in all its bays like falling autumn leaves; which enrolls in its potential armies twenty-three and a half millions in less than thirty hours; which, with its ally, converts the Atlantic into a ferry and through its submarine-infested waters safely transports its soldiers in numbers staggering belief; which, with ready cheer and amazing prodigality, contributes of its treasure to every agency that can assist the work in hand; which voluntarily saves from a supply already scant an abundance of food for its want-oppressed allies; whose engineers amaze a world in arms by the vastness of their works and the celerity of their achievements; whose daughters go by thousands to the fields of France, there to undo, so far as possible, the devastating work of war; whose peaceful sons, untrained but yesterday, now meet and turn the mightiest machine of war the world has ever known.

I am not boasting when I say that these are but some of the fruits of an aroused Americanism, with the story not yet half-way told. But this is true. When not aroused, we are a patient, long-enduring, easygoing people, and sinister forces have been at work among us, the full effects of whose evil activities we but dimly begin to see. Aside from the winning of the war, no more important duty now lies before us than to Americanize America; to bring everyone within our borders to a realization of the fact that if he remain here, he must adapt himself to our institutions, and conform to our laws; to suppress every lawless organization whatsoever its name or pretended reason for existence, and whether its lawlessness find expression in the wanton slaughter of spectators at a parade, or the maiming of housewives, unprotected in common carriers that have fallen under the ban.