The Governor's Address

Brass Tacks

The address of the Honorable Governor Ross Barnett at the Law School Forum, while pathetically inadequate for the occasion, was in some ways a masterpiece. Mr. Barnett could not hope to deliver anything resembling a logical, sensible position, as he has never before been called upon to do so. Instead he chose to present a stump speech, a form with which he is intimately acquainted.

A stump speech need not make sense or state an argument lucidly. Such precision would detract from its real purpose--to excite the uneducated and impress upon them the identification of the speaker with "traditional values." The phrases must pour forth in magnificent thunder, roll like waves across the audience. Any attempt at argument might confuse the people--or if they understood it, enrage them. Unfortunately for the Honorable Governor, his audience at Sanders wanted clear argument. Three professors of law were on hand to debate substantive issues in intelligible terms. Ross gave them only patriotic sentiments, eloquent appeals to liberty, the Constitution, and traditional values. He invoked the name of nearly every major political folk hero but Lincoln, and stood firmly against the march of Communism. The clarion call rang in his ears as he praised peace, denounced Hitler and totalitarianism, and asked for Americans to "become awakened" to the "evil perils" of government encroachment.

His Tools Too Crude

The distinguished speaker used ancient techniques to win what even he knew to be a hostile audience, but his tools were too crude and prosaic to accomplish the job. To demonstrate his own friendliness, he grandly asked--nay, pleaded--that everyone visit his great state and see the unparalleled wonders of its progress. To identify his cause with the heritage of his listeners he solemnly invoked irrelevant parts of Massachusetts' history. He threw in the names of Jefferson, Webster, Washington and others, not in the context of sentences, but as stark monuments to the Americanism of his views. He intoned them with severity. He emphasized with a shaking fist.

But once through with these histrionic preliminaries, he attempted to state some sort of case for states rights, painfully and obviously avoiding the real reason why the name of Ross Barnett is known outside the provincial confines of Mississippi--his violent racism. His audience, perfectly willing to be humored by the opening antics, quickly lost its humor. The professors, who had looked around the theatre in boredom during the Governor's description of Mississippi's laissez-faire economic system, poised their pencils, only to put them down again in disappointment.

There was nothing to take notes on. Mr. Barnett failed to present even plausible defenses of his nineteenth century view. Peruse this example:

"Democracy is not a thing of Washington. Democracy is a thing of the crossroads. It is at the crossroads of America that the children of this nation live. It is at the crossroads that their children are born--that they go to church on Sunday--that the schools are placed--that the average American citizen lives his life and is finally taken to his reward. It is at the crossroads that the life of America takes place--not in Washington."

What means this blather, Governor? What are we to make of it? Surely no one opposes children, churches, average Americans, and life--but does merely invoking such vivid images prove that the Constitution is a creature of the states, the point the learned speaker was attempting to make?

The Betrayal of 1819

No one on the panel had the heart to point out to Mr. Barnett that the Constitution, since 1819, at least, has not been constructed as a "creature of the states." In his greatest opinion (McCulloch v. Maryland), Chief Justice Marshall established the fact that "the government of the Union ... is emphatically and truly a government of the people ... its powers are granted by them.... The Constitution, when thus adopted, was of complete obligation, and bound the state sovereignties ..." The Governor who asked us all to re-read our history books, needs some refreshing himself.

There was no need for anyone to concern himself with the Honorable Governor's flat assertion that the decline of state power is leading us "into the trap of world-wide Communism," and that, in fact, "left-wing and Communist-front organizations" are leading the assault on the Tenth Amendment. Even a desire to be polite could not restrain the laughter that filled Sanders.

Almost to the point of tedium Dr. Barnett warned of the demise of state power. He told us that "the preservation of the prerogatives of people of a sovereign state, their right to deal exclusively with domestic problems and the absolute and unqualified denial of a totalitarian state in the United States--these principles are just as vital as, and more intimately affect, the welfare of every man, woman and child in America than even such important questions as foreign policy ..." There is, of course, no meaning in this grandiose concoction of words. But whatever message the great orator might have had in mind was destroyed when he was forced to admit that a large part of Mississippi's population--the Negroes--are permitted little voice in the management of their local affairs.

The professors tried valiantly to discuss some of the Governor's address. They pointed out, for example, that Mississippi's industrialization (so eloquently depicted by Mr. Barnett) would eventually force the state to abandon its segregation views and accept the Constitution. But these lucid arguments did not completely expose the sham in Barnett's speech. That privilege was reserved for a student who quietly asked the Honorable Governor, what were the human rights he wanted the states to protect. Mr. Barnett could not name one.