THE AMERICAN LIBERTY LEAGUE (1935)

 

[The most important conservative group to emerge in opposition to the New Deal was the American Liberty League, founded in 1934 by a group of businessmen—mostly Democrats who ironically had supported FDR in 1932.  One of the group’s leaders, Jouett Shouse, wrote the following to explain the reason for its existence.]

 

The Constitution of the United States amounts to a contract between the people and the officers of government: executive, legislative, and judicial. That contract del­egates to officials the power to do certain things and it forbids them to do certain other things.

 

Contracts may be modified or cancelled, but only by mutual consent or by methods specified in the contracts. The Federal Constitution contains adequate provisions for its own modification through the orderly processes of amendment. If the American people wish to change the form of their government from a federal republic with limited powers to an absolute dictatorship or to state socialism, they can do so by appropriate amendments to the Constitution. However, so far, they have done nothing of the kind, and the existing contract is still binding, whether it is ob­served or not.

 

One basic purpose of the American Lib­erty League is to see to it that this contract is complied with--faithfully, hon­estly, completely, and without evasion under the camouflage of giving new names to unconstitutional proposals....

 

The League’s aims are very definite. They are as public as it has been pos­sible to make them. They are embodied in its articles of incorporation as follows:

 

The particular business and objects of the Society shall be to defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States and to gather and disseminate information that (1) will teach the necessity of respect for the rights of persons and property as fundamental to every successful form of govern­ment and (2) will teach the duty of government to encourage and protect individual and group initiative and enterprise, to foster the right to work, earn, save and acquire property, and to preserve the ownership and lawful use of property when acquired.

 

It will be noted that the statement of principles links the “rights of persons and property.” There is a very good reason for that conjunction. In the view of those who comprise the membership of the League the superficially drawn distinction between "human rights" and "property rights" is a catch-phrase and nothing more. The two so-called categories of rights are inseparable in any society short of Utopia or absolute communism. To protect a man’s so-called human rights and strip him of his property rights would be to issue him a fishing license and then pro­hibit him from baiting his hook.

 

Furthermore there is one very clear les­son to be learned from history--namely, that governmental disregard for property rights soon leads to disregard for other rights. A bureaucracy or despotism that robs citizens of their property does not like to be haunted by its victims.

 

The prevention of governmental en­croachments upon the rights of citizens was one of the principal reasons for the division of the Federal Government into the legislative, judicial and executive branches. Where one man, or one bureau, is lawmaker, prosecuting attorney, judge, jury, and sheriff, there is no protection for the citizen.

 

There is no justification, under the traditional American system of govern­ment, for permitting an executive bureau to issue orders having the force of laws and subjecting citizens to criminal or civil penalties; there is no justification for per­mitting an executive official to take over the legislative prerogative of levying taxes and specifying the purposes and manner of disbursement of taxes.

The need for rigid observance of con­stitutional restrictions is always greater in emergencies than in more normal times because the emergencies produce constant pressure for disregard or evasion of limita­tions....

 

The American Liberty League believes that Congress, having been elected to represent the people, should not shirk its task by delegating authority to bureaus to promulgate arbitrary regulations having the force of laws. Likewise, the League believes that Congress should not attempt to delegate judicial power to executive bureaus. The courts of the nation and not government bureaus should pass upon questions of civil justice.

 

It is also the belief of the League that the right to authorize the spending of public funds and to raise revenue is solely the function of the legislative branch of the government and that balanced budgets and sound fiscal policies are possible only while Congress retains its full responsibility for the nature and manner of spending public money.