[ Recorded for broadcast over radio and television ]
THURSDAY--MAY FIRST--has by proclamation been designated "Law Day." The reason is to remind us all that we as Americans live, every day of our lives, under a rule of law.
Freedom under law is like the air we breathe. People take it for granted and are unaware of it--until they are deprived of it. What does the rule of law mean to us in everyday life? Let me quote the eloquent words of Burke: "The poorest man may, in his cottage, bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail; its roof may shake; the wind may blow through it; the storms may enter; the rain may enter--but the King of England cannot enter; all his forces dare not cross the threshold of that ruined tenement !"
But the rule of law does more than ensure freedom from high-handed action by rulers. It ensures justice between man and man however humble the one and however powerful the other. A man with five dollars in the bank can call to account the corporation with five billion dollars in assets--and the two will be heard as equals before the law. The law, however, has not stopped here. It has moved to meet the needs of the times. True, it is good that the King cannot enter unbidden into the ruined cottage. But it is not good that men should live in ruined cottages.'
The law in our times also does its part to build a society in which the homes of workers will be invaded neither by the sovereign's troops nor by the storms and winds of insecurity and poverty. It does this, not by paternalism, welfarism and hand-outs, but by creating a framework of fair play within which conscientious, hard-working men and women can freely obtain a just return for their efforts.
This return includes not only good wages and working conditions, but insurance as a fight against the insecurities of injury, unemployment and old age. In the words of a great American lawyer: "The law must be stable, but it must not stand still."
Another direction in which the rule of law is moving is that of displacing force in relations among sovereign countries. We have an International Court of Justice. We have seen the exercise of an international police function, both in the United Nations force in Korea, and in the United Nations force assigned to the Gaza Strip. We have agreements in Article II of the United Nations Charter to the most fundamental concepts of international conduct.
We have elaborate rules of international law--far more complete and detailed than most people realize. More than once, nations have solemnly outlawed war as an instrument of national policy, most recently in the Charter of the United Nations. We have, in short, at least the structure and machinery of an international rule of law which could displace the use of force. What we need now is the universal will to accept peaceful settlement of disputes in a framework of law.
As for our own country, we have shown by our actions that we will neither initiate the use of force or tolerate its use by others in violation of the solemn agreement of the United Nations Charter. Indeed, as we contemplate the destructive potentialities of any future large-scale resort to force, any thoughtful man or nation is driven to a sober conclusion.
In a very real sense, the world no longer has a choice between force and law. If civilization is to survive, it must choose the rule of law. On this Law Day, then, we honor not only the principle of the rule of law, but also those judges, legislators, lawyers and law-abiding citizens who actively work to preserve our liberties under law.
Let history record that on Law Day free man's faith in the rule of law and justice is greater than ever before. And let us trust that this faith will be vindicated for the benefit of all mankind.