Address on the League of Nations, February 11, 1919

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Ladies and Gentlemen: I should like to echo what Dr. Brown said, that he would attempt no discussion [page 2] of the legal or diplomatic aspects of the League of Nations; and as he confined himself to the religious aspect, and may I say to the Old Testament as well as the new, I should like to confine myself to the aspects of the next question, social progress, as it is written on the program.

The whole question of a League of Nations has been brought actively before us, because men are now meeting in Paris to consider what is to be done at the end of this great war. The vital and generous experiences, the self-sacrificing devotion of millions of men arouse the human mind and the human heart to a looking forward, to an apprehension of the future; to a willingness to try new things.

You remember that at the peace of Vienna, after the great Napoleonic wars, that then they discussed the question of slavery, and did go so far as to change the whole method of the traffic in slaves, although they were not able to interfere with individual nations, and to do away with slavery.

You remember that at the first meeting at Aix La Chapelle, Robert Owens appeared before them and laid down, as best he might, with all the eloquence that he had -- although at that moment he stood almost alone in [page 3] the world -- what he called the shocking conditions surrounding the condition of labor in the then new factories. It was hoped that because their hearts were softened, because their imaginations were stirred, that they would be willing to take up questions such as that. 

And now again men are meeting with stirred imaginations, and with moved hearts at the end of this great war; and again we are asking, will they take up some of these great questions upon which social progress, and almost the future of civilization depends?

It seems [to] many of us that the questions that are before these great statesmen there in Paris are these: Can they say that certain questions can be better decided by an international body than they can be by national bodies, for the benefits of the nations themselves. And please let me state that no one wishes to do away with nationalities, when they are urging a larger international action. National feeling has never been so ordered; it has never been so broken up into small units, and so overwhelming, perhaps, as it is at this moment in the world’s history. And one reason that a League of Nations is being urged is that these small nationalities may have a show, and may have a chance.

Take the question of Belgium, if you please. Has the neutrality of Belgium been guaranteed by a League [page 4] of Nations, of course it would have been respected. Germany took a chance when she made her illegal invasion of Belgium. She knew that Italy, which had guaranteed that neutrality, was for the moment on her side. She thought at that moment that England would probably not come in, and so she ventured it. If the neutrality of Belgium, if the existence of Belgium as a nation, had been so guaranteed by all the other nations on the face of the earth, Germany would have been dead sure that they would come to her relief, and of course she would not have ventured to invade Belgium.

So the type of nationality that I urge at this moment is the furthest possible from wishing to do away with national feelings or national safeguards, or the most ardent and burning sort of national patriotism. But, certain things cannot be achieved by nations alone, and can only be achieved by nations coming together to carry them out. If I may illustrate in one or two ways, I should be glad to hold your attention for only a few moments.

Let us take, for instance, the change in national feeling in regard to officers of the state, which has taken place during the last fifty years throughout the civilized world, and compare it to the lack of change, [page 5] or to the lack of registry of that change among international relationships. I like to illustrate for instance, from the quarantining and suppression of cholera. You know, perhaps, that cholera came into Europe in 1851. At that time, the great nations called together diplomatic conferences to see what might be done toward quarantining Asiatic cholera and keeping it out of Europe. The nations met and discussed for a long time as to what they might do, and they got so mixed up in questions of national prestige, of national honor, of not giving over to some other nations their national prerogatives that after they had met for months, they disbanded and did nothing whatever about quarantining cholera. And if you believe it, they met five times again, and only at the last time in 1892, after cholera had come into Europe the sixth time, did they come to any conclusion, and then it was a very cautious conclusion. They agreed that it might be safe to quarantine the Suez Canal, because the stream of Pilgrims to Mecca, and the commerce coming out of Asia came through there and it was a point of great difficulty.

Now, that happened, not because the nations did not wish to protect their citizens from cholera, not because great questions of public health were not being considered within the borders of every single nation, but [page 6] because when they met together they fell back to the old Eighteenth Century conception of national life and sovereignty, and they could not distinguish between delegating a power and [abrogating] a power. And upon that simple difficulty, and because of that, they fell apart and did nothing about cholera.

In the meantime, what was happening? Great international medical and scientific associations, with physicians and scientists from all these nations, were meeting and they were studying the beginnings of quarantine regulation; and they did eventually quarantine cholera, but they did it by having each government separately pass laws; and then persuading the executives from other governments to [cooperate] with their executives; and gradually and slowly, and with the greatest possible difficulty, was some form of actual international [cooperation] obtained.

One could take a great many other illustrations like that; that the nations have really been afraid to face these great economic and social questions which they have not been afraid to face in their own countries.

Now, a moment has come, perhaps a moment has come when that whole theory has been broken down before the great needs of the world. The nations were obliged, the [page 7] allied nations, under the stress of war, under the necessity of feeding the dependent nationalities, -- they were obliged to come together in great humanitarian, great economic units. They had a tremendous inter-allied food administration, with direct representatives from the five great nations, and representation at other times of twenty-nine other nations, allied and neutral. They met in Rome a little while ago to discuss the purely scientific aspects of feeding the world with the actual resources to be found in the world, -- then broken down; that had to break down under the pressure of war. Just as they pooled their financial arrangements, just as they pooled their shipping arrangements, so they pooled their arrangements in regard to food. And under this great need, under this great impulse to keep people from starving, they broke into the economic field, and whether they do anything more or not, there is at this moment a League of Nations feeding a very large part of the world. There is at this moment an inter-allied food administration buying food and handling food, and distributing food, as Mr. Hoover said, in his last [manifesto], for 240,000,000 people in Europe and in the near East. (Applause.)

That is a [cooperative] undertaking, and to that extent at least at this moment a League of Nations [page 8] is in actual operation. There are other things they are doing in the same way. They are pooling their shipping; they are pooling their finances among other things, but that perhaps stands out.

What will happen when they come to consider some of the other things, if they keep this spirit which has animated them, and which under the pressure of war they yielded to with scarcely a word of dissent?

First and foremost, there are certain things which must be taken up, if the world is to be safeguarded. I do not want to get into an argument with Dr. Brown, but of course a man loves his wife better than he loves anybody’s else; and Mr. Brown will be the first to acknowledge that he cannot protect his wife from the ills of society unless he protects the very meanest woman upon the street, at the same time. (Applause.) And in this social progress in an international way, that is where we come.

We are not urging that we should love one nation more than our own, on the contrary we are urging higher patriotic devotion than ever known, but we have said that there are certain things which we cannot obtain for our own nation, certain safeguards that we cannot get for our fellow countrymen unless those safeguards are [page 9] at the same time given to people who live in other parts of the earth. Perhaps Mr. Taft will permit me to illustrate from his own administration.

MR. TAFT: If you can find anything there, use it. (Applause and Laughter.)

MISS ADDAMS: I have a whole page here. I am going to use three. This is the first one I am going to use: when Mr. Taft was President of the United States, and was ready to listen to the social workers when we came to him with many ills, he remembers that we were very anxious to have Congress pass a law forbidding the use of white phosphorus in the manufacture of matches. Every other great civilized power, England and France and all the European nations had already passed such a law, forbidding the use of phosphorus in the manufacture of matches because it gave the workers “[phossy] jaw”. Why not use some other preparation of phosphorus that did not give the workers [phossy] jaw; and yet there was the greatest difficulty to get that done in the United States. You all remember it was finally passed, not as a humanitarian measure, because Congress seemed afraid to tackle anything upon that side, it was all hedged around by states rights and the rest of it; but they finally did it as a tax measure, and matches [page 10] made with white phosphorus were taxed out of existence or at least the price was brought up to those made with red phosphorus. I am not going into the whole matter of what the Diamond Match Company and others did, but there was the United States safeguarding the people who worked in an ill-paid industry, to bring them up to the same measure of protection that had been accorded to people in Europe who worked in that same industry.

Take another example. I have for many years belonged to an association called the “International Association for the Promotion of Labor Legislation”. We met in Berne in 1908, and there it was said the next thing we should do was to try and get all the civilized nations of the earth to prohibit night work of women in factories. Now, if these poor old battered reformers in Berne had had any governmental authority back of them, they could have settled many things very easily. But not at all; they made these resolutions, and each one went back to his own government and did a great deal of talking and thinking, and finally [persuaded] thirteen of the great European powers during the next four years to pass a law prohibiting any women from working at night in a factory, between the hours of ten in the evening and six o’clock in the morning. That was international action. [page 11]

It was ratified, as you all remember, by a series of economic treaties between these great powers; not as a political treaty exactly, but a sort of gentlemen’s agreement, which they called an economic agreement so that no nation would take an unfair advantage in a commercial way by using the labor of women at night against a neighboring nation. That was international action, whatever happens.

If the representatives of those thirteen powers could have made that -- of course the whole thing could have been done much more orderly and much more reasonably, and they could have gone back with some sort of authority before their separate parliaments, if it had come in that way, as it doubtless would have come if they had been given the authority to go by their separate parliaments and legislatures.

Now, that is an example of the sort of thing, as I understand it, that the League of Nations is going to take up on the labor side. They are going to try to establish certain standards of labor, which will be maintained throughout the world, so that the country that has no conscience shall not have an industrial and commercial advantage over the country that has a conscience in regard to the standard of laboring people. (Applause.)

I should like to illustrate again, if I may, [page 12] from Mr. Taft’s administration, -- which is full of illustrations. He will doubtless remember the great efforts that were made to establish some sort -- we are always using America as an illustration of what might be done with a league of nations; going back to the thirteen colonies, we can use it in this way, -- he will remember the difficulties we have had in regard to many things because, shall I say, of this 18th Century Doctrine, slightly overworked now, of state sovereignty and state rights. And we had the Child Labor question. The child labor factories in Alabama were manufacturing cotton under laws which did not prohibit the use of little children; and the mills of Massachusetts were manufacturing cotton under laws which prohibited the use of children. And it was manifestly unfair, and yet it seemed almost impossible to remedy until we struck that overworked Interstate Commerce Act; and as you know that law which was passed has now been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

What did that mean? It means that even among ourselves it was very difficult to establish those standards which would hold up all of the states to what has come to be considered as the least standard, as the minimum standard below which a state cannot allow its citizens to fall. But Mr. Taft came to our rescue and [page 13] established a Children’s Bureau and put a Chicago woman in charge, I am happy to say, Miss Julia Lathrop whose business it was not to enforce the uniform Child Labor law, because that could not then be obtained, but to see what could be done in an administrative way as a representative of the Federal Government, to bring the standards regarding the welfare, the health, the working conditions of children up to a certain working level throughout all these United States. (Applause.)

When the people abroad take up the questions in regard to labor matters -- and you know the second item upon it is the prohibition of labor for children under fourteen -- they will have before them exactly this standard, this basis which the United States has tried to bring out; first doing what they can legally and when that fails doing it through a straight administrative measure, such as has been set by the standards of the various international commissions which have grown up during the war.

There are many other illustrations of the same sort, which could very easily be brought home to us. Right here in Chicago, we constantly feel the lack of one of these standards which the international body now meeting in Paris promises to give us. In the list they said they would assure us as far as possible that a nationalist of [page 14] another country would receive the protection of the country in which he for the moment might be residing. 

What happens in this country in regard to aliens? If an alien were working in a mine in Pennsylvania, if he were working in a factory in Illinois and lost his life his family, if they were living in Italy or Hungary, his wife or widow or children have no chance to receive any compensation. There are good compensation acts for the American citizen or a naturalized Italian or Hungarian, but there are no compensation acts for an Italian who has failed to become naturalized; and yet there are his wife and children exactly the same as they would have been had he been a naturalized citizen.

Take the vast amount of migratory labor, hundreds and thousands of people who leave Italy every year, harvest in South America; and clear on up into North Dakota. And they are constantly without the protection they would have had if some sort of international labor standard, labor protection had been devised.

I might illustrate from Illinois, a stupid thing we do here, for instance, in regard to aliens. If the widow of an alien applies for a pension, she can get a pension for a child that has been born in [page 15] America, but she cannot get a pension for her children born in Italy, even though they are all living with her here in Chicago. If the object of the widow’s pension were to keep the state from having foisted upon it children of malnutrition, who have no chance for growth, who have no chance for a mother’s care and no chance for an adequate education, all of that of course applies equally well to the child born in Italy. Yet under the present law, that pension cannot be secured. 

As I understand it, when they say in their regenda of labor standards that they are going to afford to every nation the equal protection of the country in which he is living at the moment with the people who belong to that country, it is that sort of thing they are contemplating. They may only make a beginning or they may go further, but that standardizing of the labor of the world will have to be undertaken if we would protect our labor at home; and if England would protect the fine labor standard which she has been working at ever since her first child labor law was passed in 1802, because that is the only possible way.

When the threads of screws have been standardized, when the delivery of letters has been standardized, certainly the time has come when an international body should [page 16] at least consider what might be done to standardize conditions of life and labor. It seems to me if we could begin, if we could take this great moment to say, if the world is able to look at these questions from the purely national point of view, if you please, but as to certain issues, unless they are considered internationally they cannot be taken care of nationally. Let us sort them out; let us find out concerning those things of which that is true. Let us keep for our own needs those things of which it is not true; but if we honestly discover there are certain things which can only be treated in that way, let us have the courage to do it. And it does not mean any [lessening] of nationalism. It simply means seeing things as they are, looking the facts in the face, as one of the speakers so eloquently urged us to do yesterday.

Perhaps one of the greatest unappeased desires of the human breast, and dominating men almost like a thirst, is the coming together in just relations, whether those relations be between man and man or between nation and nation. We like to say, and it is exactly true, America broke through her isolation when she sent her troops abroad. She also broke through her isolation when every woman and every man in this country every time he ate a bit of food or bought a bit of food had vividly before [page 17] his imagination the needs of the children in Belgium, the crying conditions of the people of [Romania]. We broke through in our sympathies as well as in our sense of righteousness and justice, strong and fine as they were.

Now, can this sympathy we extended to those all over the world, who up to this point have fallen through the national safeguards, because for some reason or other they could not avail themselves of them? Will that be extended to those people who, unless they are protected, menace the standards and the protection of even the most advanced nation on the face of the earth; and that, as I understand it, is the social progress which the men abroad are not considering.

Let us follow the food problem, if you please, to its legitimate conclusion. After the inter-allied Food Administration has fed [Serbia] for month after month, they are not going to turn their back, the minute the new harvest comes in, and say: Take care of yourself. They are not going to do that until they have established some sort of internationalized railroad to the sea, so that her food may go in and out without being taxed by her hostile or even friend neighbors. Or they are not going to say that this food in the Ukraine [page 18] cannot come down into the Balkans because Turkey or some other nation may be holding the Straits of Bosphorus. They are going to say that they must be internationalized; that these peoples we have been feeding so long can have food without fear of the hostility or greed of a nation holding the Bosphorus. And we are going to internationalize strategic waterways. One could go over these fourteen points, -- I think I used to work six of them out on the Food Administration alone -- and you will find that they are the logical outcome of that Congress at The Hague where a fine mid-Victorian set of philosophers established a de facto basis for this new sort of government for this mad world, a world which threatens to go to pieces unless some of the economic needs are met by those wise and conservative, by those who know what the world needs and are ready to meet it without fear and without favor. (Applause.)