Harry Truman and The Bill of Rights–Part Two
To return to my theme from last week, let’s see how President Truman discussed the Bill of Rights from 1947-1952 as a way of distinguishing the United States from the Soviet Union.
At a Q&A with the Association of Radio News Analysts (May 13, 1947), Truman said:
“I believe in the Bill of Rights. I think that is the most important part of our Constitution–the right of the individual to go where he pleases, to do what he pleases, say what he pleases, as long as he is not materially injuring his neighbors. That is the basis on which our Government is founded, and I think it is the greatest basis in the world for a government. Totalitarian governments do not work that way. The police state is a police state; I don’t care what you call it. I have tried me level best to get along with our friends the Russians, and I still want to get along with them.”
Address Before the Attorney General’s Conference on Law Enforcement (Feb. 15, 1950):
“I know that it would be easier to catch and jail criminals if we did not have a Bill of Rights in our Federal and State Constitutions. But I thank God every day that it is there, that the Bill of Rights is a fundamental law. That is what distinguishes us from the totalitarian powers.”
Address on Constitution Day at the Library of Congress (Sept. 17, 1951):
“[T]he first 10 amendments–the Bill of Rights . . . are just as fundamental a part of our basic law as the original version that we are sealing up here today. I hope that the first 10 amendments will be put on parchment and sealed up and placed alongside the original document. In my opinion they are the most important parts of the Constitution.
. . .
A Constitution is not just a matter of words. There are other constitutions which may read as well as ours. Just take, for example, the constitution of the Soviet Union. That constitution of the Soviet Union says that Soviet citizens are guaranteed freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly. I wonder what would happen to a citizen of the Soviet Union is he tried to exercise any of those freedoms? It professes to guarantee that citizens of the Soviet Union shall be secure in their persons and in their homes. And in addition, it purports to guarantee equality, the right to work, the right to an education, the right to rest and leisure, freedom of religion, and a lot of other fine things.
But these good words in the Soviet Constitution means less than nothing. They are empty promises, because the citizens of the Soviet Union have no way of enforcing their rights against the state.”