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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 764


Photo of Menzies, Robert

Menzies, Robert

Period of Service: 19/12/1949 to 26/01/1966

More information about Menzies, Robert on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 04/07/1963

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 764

The Battle For Freedom
By SIR ROBERT MENZIES, The Prime Minister. of Australia

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 buffetted
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. He
wanted 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 selfrule
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 production
in 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 selfinterest
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 bhey-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.

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Transcript 764