The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Lincoln Memorial: Truman beat King to it!
Continuing my personal Ripley's series on Harry Truman, courtesy of David McCullough's bio, I see (p579) that Truman had the smart idea to address the NAACP from the Lincoln Memorial.
On June 29 1947, shortly after having seen his veto of the Taft-Hartley Act handily overridden thanks to renegade Dems, gave a short address at the end of the NAACP annual conference .
The veto - doomed to fail and further cement the conservative coalition - was designed to woo the unions after a year of massive industrial strife and confrontation between unions and Administration.
The NAACP speech was a similar constitutency-goosing exercise. The Negro vote, from a small base, was coming on like a train. Because of the migration north and the SCOTUS ruling in Smith v Allwright outlawing the white primary, to name but two factors.
The sentiments are all very laudable; and, no doubt, the fact that a US president would actually voice them was some progress (and a Democrat linking arms with Lincoln, too!) .
But there were clearly limits:
We must strive to advance civil rights wherever it lies within our power. For example, I have asked the Congress to pass legislation extending basic civil rights to the people of Guam and American Samoa so that these people can share our ideals of freedom and self-government. This step, with others which will follow, is evidence to the rest of the world of our confidence in the ability of all men to build free institutions.
Civics 101 teaches that legislative and constitutional changes do not lie in the President's power! He has to ask Congress.
And how many of his audience had the slightest interest in Guam and American Samoa? The mere mention strikes me as something of an insult.
At the end, he passes the buck to the Almighty - with a Lincoln quote:
if it shall please the Divine Being who determines the destinies of nations, we shall remain a united people...
The fact was, as speaker and audience well knew, that Congress was an immovable block on reforms needing legislative sanction .
And, as for those needing mere executive action - like military desegregation, for instance - there'd not been much doing.
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