Harry S. Truman photo

Address at a Dinner of the Federal Bar Association.

April 24, 1950

Mr. President, distinguished guests, members of the Federal Bar Association:

I am delighted to be at this dinner tonight, and to join in commemorating the 30th anniversary of the founding of this fine organization of Federal lawyers. You know, you have an unusual representation of the Government here tonight. You have the executive branch, represented by the President and the members of his Cabinet. You have the Chief Justice and members of the greatest court on earth, representing the judicial branch of the Government, and you have the second most powerful man--sometimes I think he is the first most powerful man in the Government of the United States--in the Speaker of the House of Representatives, which represents the legislative branch of the Government.

It would be rather hard for me to deny that I am friendly to lawyers. The record would speak against me if I should deny it.

Six of the nine members of my Cabinet are lawyers. So are quite a few other top officials of the executive branch.

When you couple this with the fact that over half of the House of Representatives and about two-thirds of the Senate are lawyers, as well as all our Federal judges of course, you can see that--so far as the Government of the United States is concerned--the legal profession is not just a passing fancy. It is probably here to stay.

Our lawyers have a primary responsibility in the maintenance of justice. This is particularly true of the Government lawyer, whose first devotion must be to the public interest. The public interest does not mean only the interest of the Government. It means also the protection of the rights of individual citizens.

Our concept of justice represents a basic difference between our system of government and that of the totalitarian states. Justice is the foundation of true democracy. Our system of justice preserves the freedom and dignity of the individual, and his right to think and speak as he feels and to worship as he pleases. It protects him in the assertion of his rights even against his own government. It makes certain that his assertion of those rights will be fairly considered and justly decided.

But there is in the world today a tyrannical force which does not recognize justice as we know it. It is a force which crushes the minds and bodies of those under its control, and seeks to enlarge itself by aggression and by false promises of freedom and economic security.

Wherever this force extends, there is no freedom of speech, no freedom of religion, no freedom even of opinion. The state is the all-powerful arbiter of men's words and acts. Human dignity and human freedom are meaningless.

Against this tyrannical force, which we know as communism, the United States stands as the great champion of freedom. Against this force, the United States has developed and put into effect a positive program to strengthen freedom and real democracy. Our program is shaped to strengthen the United States and to help other free nations protect themselves against aggression and subversion.

Since the end of the war we have taken farseeing steps, unprecedented in the history of the world, to help other free nations rebuild from the destruction of war and strengthen their democratic institutions. Our programs of foreign aid have made it possible for these free nations to resist Communist aggression.

The Greek-Turkish aid program, the Marshall plan, the North Atlantic Treaty, the military assistance program, and our support of the United Nations are the major elements in our central policy to work for a peaceful and a prosperous world. We have taken the leadership in aiding underdeveloped areas, and in reducing trade barriers between nations. We are keeping our military forces strong and alert, and we are giving meaning and strength to our joint defense arrangements with other countries.

We have done all this because it represents enlightened self-interest. We know that the greatest threat to us does not come from the Communists in this country, where they are a noisy but small and universally despised group. The greatest threat comes from Communist imperialism abroad, where the center of its military and economic strength lies. The real danger is that communism might overrun other free nations and thus strengthen itself for an ultimate attack against us.

But although communism is not a major force in this country, we are taking no chances on its becoming a strong force. On the one hand, we are working to create conditions in the United States in which communism cannot possibly thrive. On the other hand, we are striking hard blows at Communist subversion wherever it is found.

We are vigorously pressing domestic programs to improve the standard of living of our people, to assure equal opportunity for all, and to promote their health and education, and their security and freedom. These programs were not specifically designed as anti-Communist measures. We would have had them even if there were not a single Communist in the world. Nevertheless, they are among the strongest anti-Communist weapons in our whole arsenal.

Communism has little appeal for people who are healthy, well-educated, prosperous, and free. Moreover, there are few things that will do more to prevent the Communists from winning followers in other lands than a demonstration by the United States that democracy truly means a better, freer life for everybody.

While we have been working to improve our democracy, we have been fully aware of the threat of Communist subversion within our own borders. Through the Federal Bureau of Investigation and our other security forces, through prosecutions in the courts by the Department of Justice, through our Federal employee loyalty program, and in many other ways, we have vigorously attacked Communists wherever their activities became a threat to our liberties.

There has been so much confusion recently about who is doing what to defeat communism in this country, that I think the record should be set straight.

This administration has fought communism with action and not with just words. We have carried on this fight with every law on the statute books, and we have recommended new laws when we found they were necessary and could be framed without impairing the very freedoms we are seeking to protect.

No known instance of Communist subversion--or any other kind of subversion-has gone uninvestigated.

No case where the facts warranted has gone unprosecuted.

We have prosecuted and obtained conviction of 11 top-ranking members of the Communist Party in this country. We have successfully prosecuted many other persons for crimes related to communism. We have also prosecuted and obtained conviction of a large number of alleged Communists on charges of contempt for refusing to testify before Federal grand juries or congressional committees. And those prosecutions have been carried on by the Attorney General's office in the executive part of the Government.

We now have under investigation the cases of over 1,000 citizens to determine whether steps should be taken to revoke their citizenship on grounds involving subversive activities. One hundred and thirty-eight persons are under orders of deportation on grounds involving communism.

There is no area of American life in which the Communist Party is making headway, except maybe in the deluded minds of some people. The Communists have done their best to penetrate labor unions and the Government, but they are being successfully fought on both fronts. Labor has been doing a splendid job of cleaning its house. In the Federal Government, the employee loyalty program has been an outstanding success, and you Government lawyers have contributed greatly to its result.

I set up the employee loyalty program 3 years ago with two objectives in mind.

I was determined, as far as it was humanly possible, to see that no disloyal person should be employed by our Government, whether he was a Communist or a native American Fascist of the Silver Shirt or Ku Klux Klan variety. I was equally determined that loyal Government employees should be protected against accusations which were false, malicious, and ill-founded. And that is just as important as the other part of the program.

The loyalty program was drafted by able and experienced people to protect the security of the Government and to safeguard the rights of its employees. It is the first time in the history of this country that we have had such a program. The Communists and their friends, as well as some sincere idealists, say that it is too drastic. The false patriots and even some honest reactionaries say that it is entirely too mild. They want us to dismiss employees on the basis of unsupported charges. They actually resent the democratic safeguards of the loyalty program. All this confirms me in the conviction that it is a sound and effective program conceived and carried out in the American tradition. And that is just what it is.

The FBI, the agency loyalty boards, and the Loyalty Review Board have quietly and effectively carried out their job of protecting the integrity and security of the Government of the United States. The Loyalty Review Board is the central organization which directs the whole program. It is divided about half and half between Democrats and Republicans, and is headed by a distinguished Republican lawyer, Mr. Seth Richardson, who served as Assistant Attorney General of the United States under President Hoover.

Under the supervision of this Board, the loyalty program has rid the Government of all employees who were found to be disloyal--and they were only a tiny fraction of 1 percent.

Not a single person who has been adjudged to be a Communist or otherwise disloyal remains on the Government payroll today.

The able men charged with carrying out the loyalty program know that keeping disloyal persons out of the Government is a business which must be done carefully and objectively. They know that the job cannot be done by publicly denouncing men as "Communists" without having evidence to support such a charge, or by blackening the character of persons because their views are different from those of the accuser, or by hurling sensational accusations based on gossip, hearsay, or maybe just a hunch. They know that no one whose principal concern was the security of this country would try to do it that way. They know that any one who had information about Communist activity, or who placed the security of this country above selfish or partisan considerations, would turn that information over to the FBI, so that it could be properly investigated and the necessary action taken.

I have been surprised to see how much ignorance and misunderstanding there is about this loyalty program--even on the part of people who should know better. It has occurred to me that perhaps they do know better--or perhaps there is some element of politics in their accusations. Of course that couldn't be the case.

A large part of the hue and cry about the loyalty program has centered on my refusal to turn over to a congressional committee confidential loyalty files concerning individual employees. I have already stated several times the reasons why these files must not be disclosed. I want to restate them briefly, now.

The preservation of the strictest confidence with respect to loyalty files is the single most important element in operating a loyalty program which provides effective security for the Government and justice for the individual employee.

The disclosure of these files would not only destroy the whole loyalty program, but it would seriously damage the future usefulness of the FBI. Information is given to the FBI in confidence, which the FBI has sworn to protect. Breaking the confidence would not only greatly embarrass and even endanger the informants involved but would gravely impair the FBI's ability to get future information from other confidential sources.

Opening these files would reveal FBI procedures and methods. It might reveal highly secret information vital to our national security and of great value to foreign nations.

Disclosure of the files would result in serious injustice to the reputation of many innocent persons. This is true because the FBI investigative files do not contain proven information only. They include unverified charges and statements, as well as mere suspicions, which, upon investigation, are found to be untrue.

If I should now open these files, I would create a precedent for future cases in which access to these files is demanded--and there would be many of those requirements. This would completely destroy the loyalty program, since, as experience shows, it would mean an attempt to try all loyalty cases over again in newspaper headlines, although they had already been carefully considered and fairly decided by a bipartisan board of loyal and distinguished Americans.

This question of maintaining the confidential character of information which the President determines it would not be in the public interest to disclose is not new. It goes back to the beginnings of our Government. It started with Washington, was upheld by Monroe, and Jackson, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and half a dozen other Presidents I could name to you have taken the same position which I am taking. Nothing new at all. All you need do is read your history and study this situation, and you will find out that I am right on it.

Despite the historic precedents, with which I was thoroughly familiar, I gave the most careful consideration to the recent request of a Senate committee for access to the loyalty files. I obtained the views of Attorney General McGrath, the Loyalty Review Board Chairman, Seth Richardson, and the FBI Director, Edgar Hoover, before I reached my decision to deny this request. All three were unanimous in recommending to me in the strongest possible terms that I refuse to make the files available. The decision was mine to make and I made it. I am confident that no President, whatever his party, would have acted otherwise. I would do it again, if necessary.

The Federal employee loyalty program has demonstrated that the United States has the most loyal civil service in the world. It is a splendid organization, and I am proud to head it.

Of course, in an organization as large as the United States Government it is always possible, despite the greatest precautions, that there may be a few bad individuals. We shall not for one minute relax our vigilant efforts to protect the security of the Government of the United States. That is what I have sworn to do, and that is what I shall proceed to do to the best of my ability.

The present Attorney General and his predecessor have repeatedly asked that if any person has any information about the presence of any Communist in the Government, it be furnished to them.

I now repeat that request.

That is for anybody in the country who has any information that he feels would contribute to the safety and the welfare of the Government. All he has to do is to put it through the regular channels, and if results are to be obtained, they will be obtained. That is the only way you can do it, too.

If any citizen knows of the presence of a single Communist or other subversive person in any Federal job, let him furnish that information, and the evidence which supports his belief, to the Attorney General or to the FBI. Any information that may be furnished in response to this request will be promptly investigated and will be acted upon if the allegations are found to be true.

The fact of the matter is--because of measures we are taking--the internal security of the United States is not seriously threatened by the Communists in this country There are proportionately fewer Communists in this country than in any other large country on earth. They are noisy and they are troublesome, but they are not a major threat.

Moreover, they have been steadily losing ground since their peak in 1932, at the depth of our greatest depression, when they polled the largest number of votes in their history in this country.

There is a right way and a wrong way to fight communism. This administration is doing it the right way, and the sensible way.

Our attack on communism is embodied in a positive, threefold program:

One, we are strengthening our own defenses and siding free nations in other parts of the world so that we and they can effectively resist Communist aggression.

Two, we are working to improve our democracy so as to give further proof, both to our own citizens and to people in other parts of the world, that democracy is the best system of government that men have yet devised.

Three, we are working quietly but effectively, without headlines or hysteria, against Communist subversion in this country wherever it appears, and we are doing this within the framework of the democratic liberties we cherish.

That is the way this administration is fighting communism. That is the way it is going to continue to fight communism. Now I am going to tell you how we are not going to fight communism. We are not going to transform our fine FBI into a Gestapo secret police. That is what some people would like to do. We are not going to try to control what our people read and say and think. We are not going to turn the United States into a right-wing totalitarian country in order to deal with a left-wing totalitarian threat.

In short, we are not going to end democracy. We are going to keep the Bill of Rights on the books. We are going to keep those ancient, hard-earned liberties which you lawyers have done so much to preserve and protect.

If we all work together to maintain and strengthen our democratic ideals, communism will never be a serious threat to our. American way of life. The example we set for free men everywhere will help to roll back the tide of Communist imperialism in other parts of the world.

Now, I have outlined for you my program against communism. This is the way I have worked against it.

This is the way I shall continue to work against it.

And now, I call on all fair-minded men and women to join me in this good fight.

Note: The President spoke at 10 p.m. at the Hotel Statler in Washington. His opening words "Mr. President" referred to James Palmer, president of the Federal Bar Association. In the course of his remarks the President referred to the Chief Justice of the United States, Fred M. Vinson, and to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Sam Rayburn. The address was broadcast.

Harry S. Truman, Address at a Dinner of the Federal Bar Association. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/230998

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