Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Harold E Stassen - A Man for All Seasons

     Harold Edward Stassen, the husband of my great aunt Esther Glewwe, was a man ahead of his times.  To better understand who he was and what role he played, I'm going to include some of the speeches that he gave throughout his lifetime. 

     Harold Stassen, known as the "boy governor", became the Governor of Minnesota in 1938 at the age of 31, the youngest man ever elected to this position in the state. The world went to war in 1939 when Germany invaded Poland.  In May of 1940, Winston Churchill gave his famous speech of "blood, sweat, and tears."  The evacuation of Dunkirk had begun.  By June, the Germans entered Paris.  A week later, on June 24, 1940, Harold Stassen gave this keynote address before the Republican National Convention at Philadelphia.  It is as timely today as it was 72 years ago.

     "Our forefathers erected here a great lighthouse of liberty.

     They showed a new way for men to live.  At last men and women could stand erect.  They were free-free to think for themselves, to speak and to work and to worship for themselves.  Free to use their hands and their brains to build homes for themselves.  And free to choose from among themselves their own rulers.

     When those founders of our nation met in this historic city a century and a half ago,  the dark shadow of despotic government covered most of the earth.  The wealth, the traditions, and the power of the Old World were all arrayed against them.

     Yet they succeeded.  The framework for a government of free men which they drafted here became a beacon of liberty and progress for the entire world.  The people of thirteen struggling states adopted their work, and made of it the living Constitution of these United States.  The people took from their number a great leader and made of him, George Washington, their first President.

     Their task was well done.  Let us strive to do as well in this our time of crisis.

     For once again the black shadow of despotism falls over the world.  Fellow Republican delegates, even as we meet, lights are going out in Europe.  Blackouts of dictators take the place of lighthouses of free men.  It is our grave responsibility to keep burning brightly the light of liberty.

      The challenge of the hour clearly calls for our Republican party to rise above narrow partisanship.  Ours is the high duty to place the future of this nation above all other considerations, including our own desire to win.

     Let us face, with calm courage, the task that is before us.

     Let us announce here and now that we have faith in the future of this nation and its way of life.

     It is for us realistically to take inventory, to draw heavily from the lessons of the past, and resolutely to turn our eyes to the future.  Our first task is to cut through the clouds of confusion and of petty superficial political issues, and present to the people, crystal-clear, the great underlying problems and principles upon which our real future progress must be made.  We must brush aside the brambles of prejudice, bitterness, and hatred and lead through to national unity based upon understanding, tolerance, and confidence.

     Every citizen of this nation, regardless of his station in life, his political party, his nationality background, his creed or his race, faces two great responsibilities during these next months.

     First he faces the responsibility of supporting his government, as now constituted, in every measure for the public good.  So long as the now President of these United States is in the White House, so long as the now senators and representatives are in the Capitol they are our President and our Congress, and when they together take action of vital public concern they are entitled to have and they will have the support of all men and women, including in full measure the support of the Republicans of this nation.

     But there is a second and even greater responsibility facing every man and woman in this country.  That is the duty of deciding quietly and calmly who shall exercise the leadership of this nation in the next four years of its existence.  Then, in keeping with that decision, each citizen should go to his ballot box next November and cast his precious vote.

      These two responsibilities are both of major importance, and each is distinct and separate.  He who would confuse them and would withhold support of such action now because of the conviction that there should be a change on November is guilty of a disservice to the future of this country.  And he who seeks to claim that support now must carry with it surrender of the right to change in November is equally guilty of a disservice to the future of this nation.

     It is not a pleasant task to criticize those in positions of government authority.  Yet it is absolutely essential to the functioning of democracy.  It was not easy for the people of England to criticize their prewar government, yet how essential--in fact how belated--was their change.  It was not easy for the people of France to criticize their prewar government or their prewar generals, yet how necessary and how fatally delayed was their change.  When democracies face a crisis, their first step must be an extremely frank and fair analysis of their leadership as they prepare to meet their hours of peril.

To be continued.......

Peaslee, Amos J., Man Was Meant To Be Free, Selected statements of Governor Harold E Stassen 1940-1951,  Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1951, pp5-7

Picture from Minnesota Historical Society Collection,

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