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What Loyalty Demands by Louis D. Brandeis
An address delivered before the New Century Club on the occasion of the 250th Anniversary of the settlement of the Jews in the United States.
It is fitting that the period of National Thanksgiving should have been selected for commemorating the Two-hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the arrival of Jews in America. A great people whose history for 2000 years presents an almost unbroken record of persecution has found here a welcome. The blessings of a noble civilization – itself the fruit of generations of self-sacrifice – have been extended in a spirit of brotherhood and with generosity unparalleled.
It seems proper on this occasion to consider the obligation which this great privilege of American citizenship involves – the obligation of Loyalty to American institutions and ideals. What does such loyalty demand?
In the first place, loyalty demands complete democracy – the elimination so far as humanly possible, of class distinctions. In a country whose constitution prohibits discrimination on account of race or creed, there is no place for what President Roosevelt has called hyphenated Americans. There is room here for men of any race, of any creed, of any condition in life, but not for Protestant-Americans, or Catholic-Americans, or Jewish-Americans, not for German-Americans, Irish-Americans, or Russian-Americans. This country demands that its sons and daughters whatever their race – however intense or diverse their religious connections – be politically merely American citizens. Habits of living or of thought which tend to keep alive difference of origin or to classify men according to their religious beliefs are inconsistent with the American ideal of brotherhood, and are disloyal.
In the second place, loyalty demands from the individual citizen a life consistent with the character and purposes of our institutions. Free government cannot endure, the purposes for which it exists cannot be attained, except among a people honest, courageous, intelligent and just. While we may not in America discriminate between men because of differences in race or creed, we must distinguish clearly between the honest and the dishonest, between the pure and the corrupt, between the just and the unjust, between the man of public spirit and him who is steeped in sordid selfishness. The dishonest, the corrupt, the unjust, the selfish are hostile to the American ideal of brotherhood, and are disloyal.
In the third place, loyalty demands of every citizen active participation in government. Of him who has most in ability and intelligence, most is required, as the rich should contribute most in money to the expense of government. Few have the privilege or the burden of serving the State in an elective or an appointive office, but nearly every male inhabitant holds by birth or naturalization the office of citizen, and as such has the right and the obligation to vote. Every voter is a member of the government, is one of our country’s rulers. The proper performance of the duties of that office is essential to the welfare of the State. These duties are not simple. They are difficult and exacting: for it is not sufficient that men vote – though even that formal duty is neglected by nearly two-fifths of our citizens. It is essential that men vote right. In order that the voter may rule properly, he must seek accurate information about men and measures. He must seek to distinguish between the good and the bad – between the genuine and the sham – between the demagogue and the statesman. Above all, he should recognize the seriousness of this office of citizen, the seriousness of the vote which is its expression. He may not cast it out of fear or favor or be influenced merely by friendship. He may not cast it lightly. He should remember that he holds the power which inheres in his vote as a sacred trust to be exercised for the common good, and that he who selfishly omits to cast it, as he who casts it selfishly – is disloyal.
Such is the loyalty demanded of an American: and lives so led are also the truest expression of loyalty to the noble traditions of the Jewish Race. Through energy, perseverance, self-restraint and devotion, guiding large intelligence or genius, men of Jewish blood have, wherever opportunity permitted, taken rank among the foremost in almost every branch of human activity. They have achieved much in the material world - but their greatest triumphs are spiritual. Prone to idolatry, they had power within themselves to hurl from its pedestal the golden calf. Lovers of ease, lovers of pleasure, lovers of money, they had power within themselves to save their souls by lives of austerity.
As Professor Butcher has beautifully said in his Harvard Addresses: "To the Hebrews it was committed to proclaim to mankind the One and Supreme God – to keep alive His pure worship, to assert the inexorable moral law in a corrupt and heathen world…Disencumbered of material greatness they enlisted themselves on the side of purely spiritual forces. It was their prerogative ‘to be an ensign to the nations’ – to bear the banner of the true God. And long after the Jewish State had fallen, their religion became ‘that of civilized humanity.’"
The unity of God involved the brotherhood of man. "Ye shall have one manner of law for the stranger as for one of your own country" declared its code. For as the demands of Jewish law "knew no restrictions of race, so its privileges were open to all."
The recognition of these high ideals of the Jewish Race its members found at last in America. Loyalty to them is loyalty to true democracy – loyalty to the American ideals of Liberty, Fraternity, Justice.