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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained
In his speech yesterday afternoon before the Harvard Law School Association, at the centenary celebration of the school, the Honorable Charles Evans Hughes, former Justice of the United States Supreme Court, issued a warning against the tendencies among American lawmakers and the government, toward autocracy. An intolerable personal government or a despotic bureaucracy seems to be the rocks upon which the nation is drifting, in Mr. Hughes' opinion.
Mr. Hughes said in part: "While our inventors are constantly learning new ways of controlling the forces of nature, while engineering in war and peace is astounding us with its vision and precision of execution, it is in the art of governing ourselves that we not only fall short of what we should expect in a free people of so great intelligence, but frequently present a sorry spectacle.
Uncertain Laws Are Tolerated
"The tendency to enact uncertain laws seems to be increasing, and, what is still worse, the people tolerate it and there are but faint demands for improvement. Intent on some immediate exigency, and with slight consideration of the larger issues, we create autocratic power by giving administrative officials who can threaten indictment the opportunities of criminal statutes, without any appropriate definition of crime.
"We went to war for liberty and democracy, with the result that we fed the autocratic appetite. We have seen the war powers, which are essential to the preservation of the nation in time of war; exercised broadly after the military exigency had passed and in conditions for which they were never intended, and we may well wonder, in view of the precedents now established, whether constitutional government as heretofore maintained in this Republic could survive another great war even victoriously waged.
The Law School and Self-Discipline
"The service of the Law School is that of method and cooperation, of standards and ideals. It does not supply brains or tact, or any substitute for either. It can give but a modicum of legal learning, less now, relatively, than ever. The law student sees at once, if he did not appreciate it before, that little has counted in his preparation but method and self-discipline."
Referring to the introduction at the Harvard Law School of the "case system," Mr. Hughes said, quoting from James C. Carter, "the lawyer's understanding does not 'firmly grasp the subject upon which he is engaged, until he turns to the actual cases as recorded in the reports and finds in them the living law as it has been actually developed by the real transactions of men.' It was inevitable that the standard of scientific method in teaching law should be raised, and it is the peculiar distinction of this school that it was raised here.
"The works of Langdell, Ames, Gray, Holmes and Williston, the work of the earlier and the present members of the Faculty of this school, now headed by Dean Pound, constitute the most important contribution made in this country in the course of the past fifty years to the understanding of the law. The Harvard Law Review has been in large measure the vehicle of this contribution and in itself has rendered a notable service, guiding and stimulating professional thought."
Present Methods Obviously Crude
Warning against the bureaucratic and personal government tendencies of the country, Mr. Hughes said: "Ignoring the distinctions prized by our fathers, and excusing the violation of tradition by easily made phrases, we unite legislative, executive and judicial powers in an administrative agency, with large spheres of uncontrolled discretion. While it is possible that bureaucracy may show wisdom and efficiency, just as despotism by benevolence and directness may give an admirable government, it is the experience of mankind that liberty in the long run cannot be secure without compelling administration to adhere to accepted and declared principles. If administrative action is fettered by minute requirements imposed by the legislature, the opportunities for impeding litigation will leave vast opportunities to the mercy of the cunning, selfish and avaricious, and the means designed for protection will defeat their own purposes. On, the other hand, present methods are obviously crude and tend toward an intolerable personal government.
Dean Pound Also Speaker
In conclusion, Mr. Hughes praised the work of commissions and boards, as putting out the raw material of the law that is to be, and emphasized the need of the training which special studies can furnish. "It is the truth alone that can keep you free," he concluded.
Dean Pound, in an address at Langdell Hall at 10.30, also sounded a warning against "the recrudescence of personal government involved in this era of administrative commissions.
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