The Charlotte News

Tuesday, January 17, 1939


Site Ed. Note: Governor Maybank of South Carolina, as discussed in "The Charlestonians Return", would govern as a progressive New Deal Democrat. Apparently, the Hamrick cousin of Cash, a Charleston preacher, who apologetically stated at Cash's funeral that "he was a good boy who didn't mean to say all those bad things about people" was more engraved with the Apollyon entablature from reading editorials like "Christian--But Uncoerced" than the one on Charleston. Anyway, sometimes relatives and friends become jealously protective of memory, even after the sudden death of a cousin.

"It Happens Here", a reference to the Sinclair Lewis work, It Can't Happen Here, again points up Cash's insistence on absolute freedom of speech and press as a foundation stone of American democracy--and of course it is, with that limit in mind which Justice Holmes set forth of not yelling "Fire!" in the proverbial crowded theater. The editorial's opinion is troubling in one sense, however, given its time. Was the hate-mongering quelled with arrest of the hate-mongers in Los Angeles tantamount to making that fiery pronouncement? Or was it protected free speech? It is impossible to say from the editorial, for we don't have before us the precise content of the speech. Did the circulars seized exhort its readers to harass and take violent action toward Jews, as was then taking place in Czechoslovakia and Germany? Short of that, in the atmosphere of the times, did it need to use such direct exhortation to produce like results at that time? But, can a printed circular, even of the vilest type, ever truly, as printed matter, yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater such as to create the clear and present danger of exhorting a reader to violence? Is the limit only applicable to verbal speech?

The logical foundation pin of the editorial, that to quell freedom of speech of anyone, even hateful idiots, is to tend toward the very totalitarian notions sought to be repressed, is self-evident. In the end, however, it is the time, place, and manner of the speech, plus its actual content, which give rise or not to its reasonable limitation.

At the same time, if speech is repressed, then no intelligent editorial writer has its bad example against which to inveigh, to shape opinion away from it. And, inevitably, as Cash knew, people being as they are need no speech, verbal or printed, normally to whip emotional fervor to a fevered pitch in their private sanctums of the mind when they are predisposed to such whipping from their own imaginations, that of their peers and fellows in any given neighborhood, club, social order, workplace, what have you, where some free exchange of ideas may take place, whether on lunch breaks or after work at the local watering spot. Indeed, all sorts of publications will get passed about, subversive literature as it is called, in any given age, and what becomes branded as subversive by one may be another person's poetry or art--or dark satire.

Chatter people will about this and that popular or unpopular notion, whether fueled from a stump or not. And even when done from the stump, often the fueler, by alternate winds, while becoming at first the most eximious of the lot for the booby to follow, quickly becomes, after counter opinions are promulgated, the most notorious of petard hoisted celebrated fools to deplore.

Lesson in point being the pro-Nazi sentiments of the time of Mr. Lindbergh, (of whom General Johnson makes note in his editorial of the day on rearmament, and thus we include it).

Does the thing branded subversive thus work to discharge the chatter as much as it does to work its fervor?

So, who had the better of the argument, the Cash view or the Los Angeles ruling order of the time? With censorship in this period reaching its apogee in American life, we tend toward the notion that, despite its troubling application in this particular instance, the Cash opinion is the correct one, just as surely as it is in the Blue Law piece, for who is to be the ultimate arbiter of what is American speech or Christian speech or Red speech or Blue speech or White speech or any color of language when any segment of society, local, state or national, starts down such a course of censorship? Who is to sort out Socratic irony from actual adoption of a view uttered? Who has the ultimate authority to say what is subversive and what isn't, except in that limited case where the natural and immediate consequence of the speech itself is violence?

In 1939, it was Cash's own Charlotte next door neighbor, for example, Censor Frank McNinch, head of what was the equivalent today of the FCC who had the final say over the radio waves. And he sought to ban the airing of such subversive matter as a Eugene O'Neill play.

Cash's point is well taken therefore that when we start down that road, it inevitably leads to the absurd extreme, as personal taste inevitably overtakes any sound reason always in one man's or one committee's determination of censorship. Mr. Hays won't like an exposed feminine knee while Mr. McNinch won't like a damn while others won't like anything but that which they deem to be American, both feminine knees and damn being quite so.

As the Supreme Court would intone in 1943 in the Barnett case, any movement designed to exert national unity into a theory of oneness of that sort where citizens are compelled to adopt a particular statement of Americanism, such as in issue in that case, the compulsion of school children to salute the flag and recite the pledge of allegiance, or its concomitant equivalent, where adults, like small children, are to be protected from hearing or reading ideas, any ideas, is a unity to be achieved only in the graveyard.

What Is It Lindy Knows?

By Hugh S. Johnson

New York City--The President's defense message didn't look much like some of the trial balloons that preceded it--"Ten thousand warplanes," a "two-ocean navy," and "hemisphere defense." Few of them floated high. Most of them got shot down as soon as they were released. It is a good thing that, in spite of what Mr. Ickes says, we do have a free press in this country not controlled from the "counting house." When Herr Hitler asked for a "nation in arms," the dummy German press said, "Heil!" When some of our amateur Fourth New Deal strategists asked for it, as a New Departure pump-priming, the American press with singular unanimity said, "hokum."


The President's message seems to be stripped of all emotional and political ballyhoo. It's request for stepping up the airplane production seems to be within the capacity of the industry without much unwise and panicky expansion. It does not appear to butt headlong into industrial or military impossibilities and, as far as I can learn, it is in accord with the best professional beliefs, both military and industrial.

But you do have to say, "seems," "appears" and "so far as I can learn." This is a new and bewildering subject on which there simply is not sufficient information.

So far as any of us know--something that Colonel Lindbergh discovered--something that Ambassadors Bullitt and Kennedy brought back--something that affected Mr. Chamberlain at Munich--now tells us that, while our military and naval and diplomatic information services slept, there was built up in the severely handicapped states of Germany and Italy a new war power, unsuspected until a few months ago, and suddenly revealed as potent enough to threaten not only the balance of power in Europe and Asia but the traditional security of the whole Western Hemisphere.


Here is something that needs looking into. It may be true but its mere recitation raises questions. I don't say that it is not true. Nobody knows from intense experience better than I the truth of what the President said about our utter helplessness in 1917 and that only through the respite of a year, while the Allies held the lines, were we able to throw our force into the conflict in 1918. He did not overstate that--he understated it.

Nevertheless, the country needs to know more about this business.

Roughly speaking, those two who could advise us are the Army General Staff, the Navy General Board, heads of the airplane industry and other industrialists--especially in the automobile industry.

It is true that politics ends at the ocean's edge. The country will stand behind the President on any reasonable defensive program. But here there isn't the slightest excuse for secrecy. All we need to know is that it is advisable and necessary and there are no lengths to which this country will not go to support its own defense.

A Muffed Opportunity

Senator Byrd has at last replied to the open letter of Chairman Eccles of the Federal Reserve Board. Senator Byrd started the controversy with a statement severely critical of this Administration's spending ways, and Mr. Eccles came back with a tut! tut! to the general fact that Senator Byrd was an old fogey in his economic views. Spending, asserted Mr. Eccles, created income, and anyhow the total public and private debt now, in spite of the billions poured out by the New Deal, was no greater than it had been in dizzy 1929.

In his reply, Senator Byrd goes to the mat over the fundamental differences between his and Eccles' convictions, and they are fundamental all right. He lunges at Mr. Eccles with vigor and some fury, but he misses his chance neatly to pink that argument about the total of debts now and back there in 1929.

For, as a humorist on The New Yorker aptly pointed out, Uncle Sam now opposes the bulk of it, which is to say that you and we owe it, our own selves. But in 1929 it was owed by a lot of total strangers, acting without any compulsion at all. You and we apparently can't help ourselves. We are being taken deeper and deeper into debt by the lawmaking body. And you may speak for yourselves, but we don't like it.

It Happens Here

District attorney's investigators at Los Angeles Sunday raided a German-American Bund office, seized 10,000 anti-Jewish circulars, and arrested Herman Schwinn (a significant name!), leader of the Bund in those parts.

All of which was simply and unmistakably a flat violation of the rights which the Fathers sought to guarantee to Americans by specifically denying to the supreme lawmaking body of the nation the power to abridge them. Readers of The Charlotte News do not need to be told that this newspaper despises Hitlerism in all its forms, and that it is dead against anti-Semitism. Nevertheless the right of free speech includes the right to preach Nazism and anti-Semitism, as it includes the right to preach any other damnable thing. And the growing tendency of local police officers to arrogate to themselves the authority denied Congress is not a defense of Americanism, not a defense of Jews, not an attack on Hitlerism--but itself the herald of the beginning of that very Hitlerism on these shores.

It's the kind of stuff a man named Harold Gray puts into a comic strip he draws, which he represents as good 100 per cent democratic method but which is as arrogantly unlawful as a concentration camp.

Once let the doctrine be established that it is the privilege of the cops to harass and shut up Nazis and anti-Semites, a start has been made toward letting the cops shut up anybody they or their masters don't like.

A Gloomy Portent

We rubbed our eyes. We sat up straight and rubbed them again. But no, it could not be. Someone had blundered. It was Bailey, of course--Bailey, the old-time prohibitionist returning to his first love. And not Robert Rice Reynolds, who had ridden into the Senate as a dripping wet, who had boasted to North Carolina audiences that he had had the courage of his wet convictions in his votes, and his chief claim to fame, apart from being the travelingest Senator, was that the he had once kissed the late Jean Harlow right out open in public, and had himself photographed doing it.

But the print held stubbornly to the name. It was, incredibly, Robert Rice Reynolds who had taken the floor (as a sort of friend of the court, we take it) to "amplify" Senator Sheppard's declaration that repeal has failed and that prohibition is coming back--Robert Rice who thundered: "Liquor is God's worst enemy, liquor is the devil's best friend," quite as though it were the late Willie Upshaw himself.

All of which leaves us with a black suspicion that we should naturally hesitate to allege as a fact: that Robert is beginning to take himself seriously and to yearn for other serious people to take him seriously. There was that business of coming home to defend Lord Hitler, his long speeches against war, that cryptic utterance the other day that he had got himself a really private office where he could sit and think. And now this--a patent effort to conciliate the prohibition folk. It saddens us somehow, somehow it saddens us, to see Robert end like that. He did have a sort of insouciant charm.

Christian--But Uncoerced

"This is a Christian land and we must have a strict law to keep it that way..."

Thus Mr. Abernethy, the Salisbury Road dairy man who yesterday persuaded the County Commissioners to enter on the ill-advised course of attempting to force Sunday Blue laws, Charlotte model, down--the throat of the rest of the state.

This is, as a matter of fact, a Christian land. That is to say, the population is prevailingly Christian in its religious faith. The Christians themselves happen to differ very widely as to whether it is wicked for a man to indulge an amusement on Sunday. And certainly it is no general article of the Christian faith that it is wicked. The doctrine is an invention of ascetics of the late Middle Ages, and the early fathers and monks regularly either worked or engaged in some relaxation on Sundays. But as for needing a law to keep the land Christian--i.e., to impose the notions of Mr. Abernethy and the County Commissioners concerning proper Sunday observance upon a whole people, Jew, Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, agnostic, as well as Protestants who don't happen to agree with them, this land has some other characteristics besides being Christian.

One of those characteristics is that its fundamental law provides for the separation of church and state and for complete freedom of conscience. Says the Constitution of the United States:

Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or permitting the free exercise thereof.

Says the Constitution of North Carolina:

" human authority should, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience."

It is precisely that fundamental law, that separation of church and state and that freedom of conscience, which Mr. Abernethy and the County Commissioners propose to subvert when they set out to enact a statewide Blue Law on the ground they urge. If this is a Christian land, it is also a free land, in which among other things a man has a right not to be a Christian and, so long as he does not actually create a public disturbance, to behave on Sunday as he chooses.

The Charlestonians Return

A man is being inaugurated as Governor of South Carolina today whose name is Burnet Rhett Maybank. The man who will pronounce the invocation at the ceremonies is named the Rev. Albert Rhett Stuart. One of the men on the inaugural arrangements committee is Representative Harry G. Senseney, and another is named Cotesworth Pinkney Means. The Charleston Washington Light Infantry, the cadets of Charleston's Porter Academy, the students of Charleston High School, the Charleston High School band, and the Charleston police band--these lead the parade.

It is, you see a case of Charleston retaking South Carolina--the return of the aristocrats. There was a Governor Rhett in Charleston as long ago as the hanging on the Battery front of Stede Bonnet, the pirate of the early seventeenth century, for it was Rhett who hanged him. The Pinkneys are as old as Charleston and as great as the Republic. And Burnet and Senseney, whose names come straight out of the old walled town of La Rochelle, from under the guns of Richelieu--carry the very essence of the French Huguenots in their sound. After 50 years they come back. For it was as long ago as that that a man named Ben Tillman and a man named Irby were riding up to glory and a man named Wade Hampton was passing into the twilight.

As to what it bodeth, that is a secret locked in the future. Maybank begins auspiciously. The people of South Carolina obviously like him. He comes to office with a record of success in business and as Mayor of Charleston and as chairman of South Carolina's TVA, the Santee-Cooper Authority. He is young. There are rumors that he is well aware that the world he has to face is a very different one from the one in which his ancestors could rule mainly by dint of gesturing gracefully. But outside of Charleston he is as yet mainly an unknown quantity. We wish him luck, and wait to see what we shall see.

But of one thing we are perfectly certain: there is a man in South Carolina, who is today all joy and confidence, Captain Billy Ball, editor of The Charleston News & Courier, an upcountry man who has made himself almost as much the spokesman of the Charlestonians as did another upcountry man, Calhoun--Captain Ball, the author of "The State That Forgot," wherein it is argued quite without qualification that all the evils that have beset South Carolina for the last 50 years are due simply to the fact that South Carolina has all these years refused to be ruled by the only people really fit to rule them: The Charlestonians and the gentry who associate themselves to the Charlestonians.


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