4 July 1963, Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA
It is a rare privelege for the Prime Minister of a nation of something under eleven millions of people to be invited be invited to speak, in the United States of America, on a day which commemorates the Declaration of Independence and, 50 years later, the death of its draftsman, Thomas Jefferson.
Yet I take comfort from the fact that, when Thomas Jefferson became President of the United States, he presided over the destiny of a nation with only half of the present population of Australia. Yet he is immortal, and his work endures.
There is nothing more stimulating than to recall that the American Colonies, as they moved into independence through blood and revolution and much suffering, and encountered the immense practical problems of fashioning a system of self-government, had in their service a group of men so superbly talented as Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, John Marshall, and their great contemporaries. They did not all think the same way, but each was remarkable. These names, after a lapse of time of a century and a half, remain familiar to millions of people with even a superficial knowledge of political and constitutional ' history.
But it is important to recall that men of great talent who embark upon the stormy seas of public affairs, and particularly those who achieve posts of leadership and responsibility, will frequently be over-praised by their friends and overattacked by their opponents. For the arts of propaganda are not of modern invention. They were in a flourishing state in the United States of America and elsewhere in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, and -have been practised ever since.
The great trouble about all contemporary propaganda is that it tends to create a false dichotomy. The people under discussion are, so we are -asked to believe, all pure and shining, or wicked and worthless. This is, of course, absurd. History, we hope, sorts these things out and finds an immense variety of shades of grey.
The art of politics, and the ' history of politicians illustrate this simple truth. For, in spite of people of allegedly superior and independent mind, politics derives its vigour from partisanship and partisans. The only non-party system of government is a dictatorship. But one by-product of the party system is that if we come into a long era of Tory domination, the names of former great
Whigs become dimmed. And vice versa. The great name of Thomas Jefferson has experienced these " whirligigs of time." Greatly admired in the formative years of the United States, draftsman of -the Declaration of Independence, George Washington's first Secretary of State, Vice-President, President for two terms, his career as a statesman was a formidable and glittering one.
Add to this his astonishing attainments as a scholar, a lawyer, a farmer, an architectural designer and you ' have a man not easily to -be surpassed in any country or at any time. I love the remark attributed to President Kennedy at a ' White House dinner for a notable group of guests. " I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House-with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."
Yet when his political opponents had achieved their turn of office, a turn which lasted a long time, the name of Jefferson appears to have suffered an eclipse. It was not until the twentieth century that a suitable memorial was erected to him in Washington, and Monticello re-purchased and preserved.
I do not profess to understand with any precision the philosophical differences between your Democrats and Republicans of today. I suspect that your party lines are not so sharply drawn as ours are in Australia, where, as Winston Churchill once said, we " conduct our political battles with a fine eighteenth century vigor." The currents of your history -have buffeted your parties so much that no outsider could hope to trace the ' history of one party and find in it complete consistency or continuity. I am convinced that you have had great leaders of one paty who, generations later, might have proved to be leaders of another.
This is, of course, inevitable in any changing world or progressive society. Yet certain beliefs have an enduring validity. This,. indeed, is the secret of Thomas Jefferson's immortality. He believed in the importance of the persistent search for truth, and therefore in the liberty of the mind. But the liberty of the mind which he sought was something which was to be enjoyed by the well-furnished mind. It has never occurred to me that he believed in the appeal from Philip Sober to Philip Drunk. He had disciplined his own mind by the most amazing intellectual training. He was equipped for freedom. Hewanted others to be so. His founding of the University of Virginia was in reality his testimony to this truth; a democracy, to be effective, must be educated. Looking at the matter in the light of my own extensive experience in my own country, I would be disposed ( if, in this famous place, this. is not a species of blasphemy!) to think that Alexander Hamilton and his " Federalist" colleagues were right in attaching great importance to the creation of a powerful national administration and authority.
I am even imprudent enough -to think that many of today's Democrats have a not dissimilar view. But Mr. Jefferson was strong against tyranny or the means of creating it. To him individual liberty was the vital essence. American history has reconciled both conceptions. For it has been your glorious destiny, notably in the turbulent years of the twentieth century, to evolve a system in which national power has grown on the basis of a passionate and Jeffersonian belief in individual
The Communist powers, who have created a ruthless imperialism of their own, to the acute discomfort of their neighbours, have, for diversionary reasons of their own, painted a picture of " American imperialism." It is therefore important to recall, and to emphasise, that the interventions of the United States in world affairs have been directed, not to territorial expansion, but to the achievement and preservation of individual liberty in far-away countries where that liberty is threatened.
Throughout the whole of my adult life, the great ideological conflict in the world has been -between those who believe that the national power of governments is something granted by free people to their political rulers, and those who believe in the all-powerful State which concedes to its citizens such freedoms as it thinks fit.
Well before the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson himself had resolved the matter in classical terms:-' These are our grievances, which we have thus laid before His Majesty, with that freedom of language and sentiment which becomes a free people, claiming their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate."
This truth is, of course to us " self-evident," so that we find it difficult to realise that so many hundreds of millions of people either reject it or are unaware of it. Yet it is important that we should arrive at a clear realisation of the facts.
We are all a little disposed, when interesting ourselves in the emerging independence of some former colony, to think that democracy can be successfully transplanted in a comparatively brief time.
We are so utterly familiar with what I will call " parliamentary self-government" that we somehow forget that it has been a thing of slow and sometimes painful growth; that it has come from below, and not from above. You cannot create a democracy as quickly as you can create independence.
There are still too many influential people who forget that the granting of political independence is not an end in itself. It is, indeed, a beginning, just as capable of producing a new tyranny as it is of producing an independent community of free men. Indeed, we all know of more than one case in which independence has been followed by either chaos or something singularly like dictatorship.
There are lessons here for all of us. You are Americans. You detest colonialism because, to you, it connotes subordination. Whenever you see some surviving colony, somewhere, you are eager to make it independent. But it is a mistake to underestimate two factors.
The first is that a modern and intelligent colonial powerlike Australia in respect of our Papua and New Guinea territory-while aiming at complete independence as the goal,realises that the process of fitting native inhabitants for self rule must be relatively slow if it is to be relatively sure. We
know a good deal about this territory, with its confusion of tribes and languages, its rugged mountains, its towns in which the Papuans are comparatively advanced in civilisation, its remote valleys and jungles in which sheer savagery survives.
When well-meaning people tell us that we should create complete political independence in one blow by the simple process of creating a popular Assembly and arming it with full powers, we marvel that they should think self-government so artificial and so easy.
This does not mean that we favour dilatory tactics; freedom is too precious a thing for mankind to be wantonly denied. But the best guarantee of individual freedom is the existence of a community so constructed that freedom is its daily guide. The building of such a structure, starting with the foundations and not with the roof, takes time and conscious effort. I repeat, in a slightly different way, that you cannot endow a country with democracy as simply as you can endow it with money or goods.
I am saying these things because I think that we are all in danger of considering our international relations in too limited a way. The great issues of peace or war, of armaments and alliances, remain paramount so long as we live in a world in which aggressors multiply and are strong.
The great issues of trade, to which we are all currently directing much attention, have all the complexities which are inevitable when legitimate national interests have to be reconciled with the clear need for growing markets and rising productionin a world whose population is increasing at an almost bewildering rate. But are we yet doing enough to increase our knowledge of other peoples, or their knowledge of us?
If, as Mr. Jefferson did, we believe that an informed democracy is the greatest and most humane system of government ever devised; that it elevates and enfranchises the individual citizen; that it reconciles some demagogery with much dignity; are we doing enough to make it understood by other nations and peoples? Are we, perhaps, too negative in our democratic faith, defending it against aggression from outside, but not doing enough -to preach its gospel abroad? What
would Mr. Jefferson do and say if he could revisit us and look out upon this new world? For freedom was his burning faith.
It was not something just for the study or for reflection. It was a faith to be practised, but it was also a faith to be preached. For Mr. Jefferson was a vastly civilised man, with the roots of his learning and philosophy deep in the soil of the old world. Virginia itself was a characteristically English community
in many essentials. The colonies themselves felt no sense of quarrel with the people of Britain. Yet, when the need arose, they took up arms and by declaration, severed their ties with their mother country. Here was no war for territory. Here, indeed, was no ideological war in the sense in which we now understand that expression. It was simply a battle for freedom, fought in fact against an unimaginative government in London and British soldiers and mercenaries in America, though in form, ( ironically enough) against -the people of Britain, whose record in the achievement and defence of freedom was and is so long and honourable.
This is one of the paradoxes of history, but, in the result, a happy one. For, just as ' the issue of the War of Independence was freedom, so was freedom the result, exalted in the minds of the colonists and destined to give character and direction to their later national history.
You are today doing great honour to an Australian. May I, therefore, say something about my own country and yours? Australia has, I need hardly say, many points of contact and understanding with the United States. It is the fashion among a few cynical observers to treat our friendly attachment to your country as a sort of " cupboard love," based upon self interest in a dangerous world. This is a superficial view, for at least three reasons.
When Britain's colonial adventure in America ended in 1782 with the birth of a new nation, Captain Cook had already explored and reported upon the East Coast of Australia, but there had been no white settlement. It -had been the practise in Britain in the 18th century to transport to -the colonies large numbers of persons convicted of offences (many of them very trivial) against the law. Between 1717 and the War of Independence the historian records that some 50,000 English convicts were received into America. But this had now ceased. Where could such people be sent in future? The choice ultimately fell on Australia, the particular site chosen being Botany Bay, just south of
Sydney. A fler under Captain Phillip arrived at Botany Bay in 1788, and the modern history of Australia began The first settlers were convicts and their custodians. In short, a colony began in my own country just after and because colonialism ended in America.
When people in England make jesting remarks to me about these lowly origins of our now thriving and law-abiding Commonwealth, I make the good-natured retort that, though many thousands of convicted persons were sent to America, and many thousands to Australia, -the records show -that the great majority of persons convicted in England during the transportation era remained in England.
The whole point I make is that, though nobody could have foreseen it at the rime, your War of Independence created as it turned out, two nations; one your own, the other Australia. When, at the close of the 19th century, the Australian colonies decided to federate and become one nation, it was to -the Constitution of the United States that the draftsmen of the Australian Constitution turned
for light and leading. During the months and years in which some of the best political and legal thinkers in Australia were engaged in the work of drafting, the Constitution of the United States of America was never far away from hand. In the great Convention Debates, the decisions of the United States Supreme Court were extensively cited. True, your Union had grown out of armed conflict; ours came more peacefully, by reason and argument, the gradual persuading of self-governing colonies, each with a well-defined local pride, that a national existence should be achieved. It came about that the Australian distribution of legislative powers between Commonwealth and States is much like your own. The separation of powers, legislative, executive and judicial, though not, perhaps, such a high matter of doctrifle as with you, still makes its impact upon judicial decisions.
Your founders were, of course, much influenced by the great French commentators upon a British C6nstitution which in a real sense had no existence. And so, for example, your Executive does not sir in Congress or, in a direct sense, answer -to it. But we inherited, and bad long practised, responsible Cabinet government, with Ministers sitting in Parliament and answering to it and, from time to time, being put out of office by it. It is this fact which gives a special colour to the Australian Constitution, and provides an underlying difference partly concealed by remarkable similarities of form.
In my hey-day at the Bar of -the High Court of Australia in constitutional cases, it was still the practise to make much reference to the currents of American judicial opinion, currents, may I say, in which backeddies have occasionally occurred, but the main stream of which, as in Australia, has moved towards an enlarging interpretation of national powers. We may not always like this if we believe in a federal and not a unitary system of government and see, as Mr. Jefferson did, some guarantee of individual liberty in a division of governmental powers. But there has been, particularly in times of national emergency or strain, a real value in a Constitution which can be applied to new circumstances without crippling rigidity.
But 1 grow tedious. All I really wanted to say was that, if the na-mes of your great founders and brilliant political philosophers are familiar in Australian minds and mouths, it is largely because our constinutional history -has been profoundly influenced by your own. A Jefferson memorial would not be out of place in Canberra.
My third reason has, I believe, a fine Jeffersonian ring. For I feel sure' that Mr. Jefferson, though he worked primarily for the liberty of Americans and felt no call to impose his views on an older world, would, confronted by the -problems of the modern world, have vastly approved the world defence of individual liberty, a defence in which the U. S. A. is playing such a splendid and vital part.
Australia has a deep feeling for your country, not just because your friendship contributes so greatly to our national security, but basically because, great or small, we work for the same kind of free world. The freedom of man is not a local perquisite and cannot be defended in isolation. There can be no better place than Monticello in which to remind ourselves of this great, though occasionally forgotten, truth.