Letter to Mr. Wilson from Helen Keller, (December 12, 1917)
Transcription of Letter
25 Seminole Avenue, Forest Hills, Long Island, New York,
December 12, 1917.
Mr. Woodrow Wilson,
President of the United States,
Washington, D. C.
Dear Mr. Wilson,
Again I enter your presence through the medium of a letter. I am aware that it may be almost an inexcusable intrusion. But I have more than ordinary confidence in your kindness, patience and forbearance. I have read with eager interest a good deal that you have written. Many of your splendid utterances have become an integral part of my thoughts and aspirations. That is what gives me courage to write to you about matters that multiply perplexities and wring my heart.
Some friends of mine are soon to be arraigned with many others in Chicago for alleged violation of some recently enacted statutes abridging freedom of speech and of the press. I cannot plead for them without attempting to make you understand why I sympathize with them, and why I feel with them that they are the victims of intolerance and persecution. Although we are living in a time of intolerance, suspicion and force rather than of forbearance, confidence and compassion--a time when men's thoughts grow confused, and their sense of fairness is well nigh stifled in the smoke of battle--a time when all sorts of prejudiced, self-appointed persons sit in judgment upon the words and acts of others--a time when the most fatuous utterances in the name of patriotism are hailed with unchallenged reverence, yet even in such a time I shall not believe that the humanity and kindliness in your great heart are dormant.
I do not imagine that I even begin to know what you know about the situation. I only wish to speak out what is in my mind because similar thoughts are in the minds of a great many people who are feeling their way through a darkness of conflicting duties and beliefs. We sincerely wish to be loyal to our country. But we must also be true to our consciences and ideals. We are perplexed because they often seem to conflict. Still, when I feel most depressed, most under the spell of fear, I think of your sincerity and wisdom, and a groping warmth steals into my heart.
The danger from Prussian militarism is as clear, as intolerable to my friends and myself as it is to you or to any one fighting in France. It is because we think a similar despotism is beginning here that we are troubled. Rights we had thought ours forever-- rights hallowed by the blood and fortunes of our fathers--rights we had been taught were the very bulwarks of our liberties--rights guaranteed to us by the Constitution of the United States, are being openly violated every day. The voice of authority commanding silence has downed the voice of justice. Meetings of protest are forcibly broken up; newspapers expressing the opinions of radicals are debarred from the mails; individuals are threatened and clubbed for speaking their minds; many of them have been imprisoned, and excessive bails demanded. The intolerance of the newspapers amounts to fanaticism. Ministers of the gospel of Christ find humor in the flogging of Herbert Bigelow. A high government official condones the murder of Frank Little by a mob, thereby upholding mob rule and lynching. If such a state of affairs continues, our prisons will become holy shrines where thoughtful men will go and pray.
When they hung John Brown, Emerson said, "They have made the gallows as holy as the cross." Beware, lest the avenging hand of remorse be laid upon our generation for the persecution of those who uphold their downtrodden brethren.
Because the Kaiser is destroying freedom in Europe to preserve autocracy, must we destroy it here to preserve democracy? Is there no democratic way of accomplishing the noble enterprise we have undertaken? We want America safe for democracy, no matter what happens in Europe. We want peace and freedom for the world, and we believe that this can be attained only by substituting an industrial democracy for the present economic system. When we emphasize this phase of the world-struggle, we meet with opposition, intolerance and persecution.
It takes courage to uphold opinions opposed by all the forces of a strong government. It may require a Bolsheviki mind to do that. Perhaps you think that is the sort of mind I have. I have. For to me the Russian Revolution seems the most wonderful thing that has happened in two thousand years. It is like a conscious sun bursting upon a gloomy, disastrous world--a sun which shall heal the nations. Yet the New York Times characterizes it as "a wreck and ruin, not ameliorated by anything admirable, but attended with every circumstance of shame and disgrace from cowardice to treachery." What shall bridge the gulf between a Bolsheviki mind and a capitalist mind?
Now my friends, among them Arturo Giovannitti--a maker of plays, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, who is beloved by the struggling workers, and Carlo Tresca are victims of this angry intolerance. They seem to have been arrested because they are associated with the Industrial Workers of the World.
As a matter of fact, since America entered the war, Arturo Giovannitti and Miss Flynn have taken no part in propaganda directed against the war policy of the nation. Mr. Tresca, one of the kindest, sweetest, most lovable of men, is the editor of "L'Avenire,: an Italian paper opposed to militarism. His opposition to war, like my own, is based not only on humanitarian grounds, but also on the conviction that wars are disastrous to the welfare and happiness of the working-people, their struggles, their aspirations and their liberties.
But I am come to plead for these friends, not to praise them. True; they are honest exponents of a social revolution which they believe will overthrow the present economic system. Their crime is, that they see the evils of their time and speak out against them, not always wisely or well. They are more or less erratic. But they follow their ideals, and the way is one of self-denial and danger. Faith alone lights that path. All through the ages idealists have followed a course opposed by majorities and governments. Despots are impotent before this divine urge. A nation is civilized or not according to the number of those who follow that light, that urge. Nay, while the accumulated growths of civilization are being destroyed at this time, they are sowing the seeds from which the future will be fructified. I am bound to these thinkers by many holy interests, affections, hopes, visions, and desires. We hope that some day mankind will be free and wise and happy in a world where there shall be no want or fear, but bread and work and joy for every human being; and even if that wondrous day should never dawn, to have hoped and worked for it cannot be wrong. We believe in the oneness of humanity. We believe in peace and brotherhood. We believe in the elimination of poverty, ignorance and oppression by one or by many. We believe in industrial democracy as a solution of the economic problem. We grope for the wall--the wall that shall support our weakness; we grope as those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon-day as in the night; therefore is understanding far from us, and justice doth not overtake us.
I also venture to assert that if conditions in this country were quite what they should be, there would be no Industrial Workers of the World in America. They are victims caught in a maddening maze of wrong economic and industrial conditions. They have endured cumulative wrongs and injuries until they are driven to rebellion. They have proclaimed defiance to the ruling classes and avowed their intentions of attempting to overthrow all existing social conditions. They consider they have a world to win.
But in spite of the affiliation of my friends Arturo Giovannitti, Miss Flynn and Mr. Tresca, with the Industrial Workers of the World. they (sic) have individually, and in conscious deference to the war policy of the nation, committed no seditious act, and have not been connected with any illegal propaganda. Does not a sense of fair play dictate that they should be tried separately, instead of collectively?
We look to you, our president whose name shall not be writ in water, you whose sincerity, wisdom and strength we rely upon in these disastrous days--we look to you to befriend the weak and the misrepresented against those who are guided solely by general rules which seek a short cut to justice, without the trouble of exerting patience, discrimination, impartiality. Your far-seeing statesmanship, your wisdom, your idealism are our national honor. You are our beacon in the multitudinous darkness of war.
With cordial assurances of appreciation and esteem, I am,
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