"This is not a country of majority rule!"


Excerpts From Speech By Senator James A. Reed Of Missouri
(U.S. Senate, June 4, 1926)

I am getting a little tired of hearing about the sacred rights of the majority; that this is a country ruled by the majority; and that the majority has the right to have its way. This is not a country ruled by the majority. This is not a country of majority rule. The Constitution of the United States was written, in large part, to prevent majority rule. The Declaration of Independence was an announcement that there are limitations upon majority rule.

The rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were declared in the Declaration to be inalienable rights. They could not be given away by the citizen himself. Much less could they be taken away by temporary agents, sitting in legislative bodies, holding a limited authority of brief duration.

The Constitution itself is a direct limitation upon majority rule. "You shall not take property without due process of law," says the Constitution, and before we can take that safeguard away what must we do? We must obtain not a majority by this body, not a majority of the House of Representatives," but a two-thirds majority in each House concurring in a resolution, and that resolution must be approved by three fourths of the States. What about majority rule in connection with that proposition?

The right to trial by jury can not be taken away by majority rule. The right for the habitation of the citizen to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures can not be taken away by majority rule. If it could have been so taken away, Volstead and his like would have invaded every home of America and fanaticism would have thrust its ugly face into every home of this land...Before you can trample upon certain rights of the American people you must have more than a majority, Sir, and I believe it to be true that there are certain rights which even by amending the Constitution of the United States, we can not take away from the citizens of the United States.

Majority rule! Where is the logic or the reason to be found back of majority rule except in the mere necessity to dispatch business? The fact that a majority of 1 or 10 vote for a bill in the Senate is not a certification that the action is right. The majority has been wrong oftener than it has been right in all the course of time. The majority crucified Jesus Christ. The majority burned the Christians at the stake. The majority drove the Jews into exile and the ghetto. The majority established slavery. The majority set up innumerable gibbets. The majority chained to stakes and surrounded with circles of flame martyrs through all the ages of the world's history. The majority in China believe in a doctrine and follow a code of ethics different from ours. Either they are wrong or we are wrong. The majority in India follow a different code of ethics and have a different set of ideas than we, and they far out number us. Either they are wrong or we are wrong.

The majority went down the pathway of the ages wearing gyves, which they voluntarily forged and fastened upon their arms; and when a minority arose headed by some brave soul, they hanged him upon a gibbet, they crucified him upon a cross, they pulled his limbs apart with horrible instruments of torture, and the majority stood there leering and jibing at the man who was the apostle of a better day.

Majority rule without any limitation or curb upon the particular set of fools who happen to be placed for the moment in charge of the machinery of a government! The majority grinned and jeered when Columbus said the world was round. The majority threw him into a dungeon for having discovered a new world. The majority said that Galileo must recant or that Galileo must go to prison. The majority cut off the ears of John Pym because he dared advocate the liberty of the press. The majority to the South of the Mason and Dixon line established the horrible thing called slavery, and the majority north of it did likewise, and only turned reformer when slavery ceased to be profitable to them.

Majority rule!

Biographical Note

James Alexander Reed (1861 - 1944) was born in Ohio. After a brief sojourn in Iowa, he settled in Kansas City, Missouri in the 1880s. At the turn of the Century, he was the Prosecuting Attorney in Kansas City, where he obtained 285 convictions of 287 cases tried. From 1911 until his retirement in 1929, he served as a Democratic Senator from Missouri. The one political figure of the era, whom the usually cynical H. L. Mencken actually idolized, Reed opposed virtually every wish driven, cloudborne, proposal of his time. He was the first man, in either party, to openly oppose the League of Nations. In the 1920s he was the most outspoken foe of Prohibition in Congress. On the positive, he favored strong Naval preparedness; and, in a demonstration of analytic reasoning in 1922, he precisely outlined the course of the Japanese attacks on our Pacific positions over 19 years later. 20th Century America had no more effective Conservative voice!

While perhaps long for internet posting, any of Reed's major Senate addresses on Foreign Policy, Military Preparedness, Prohibition, or the fallacy of trying to solve human problems by creating a more intrusive Federal Government, will reward the reader with both the insight & technique to effectively deal with the present. Three of them are included in our Conservative Debate Handbook.

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