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Remarks on the World Court. (Speech delivered in US Senate. 1926.)

Mr. President, the debate in the Senate upon the merits and demerits of the World Court has been illuminating. Able Senators have gone into lengthy discussions of the relation of the World Court to the League of Nations. The functions of the World Court have been clearly and forcefully expounded. I realize that I have not the ability to enlarge upon these discussions. I doubt very much if they can be materially enlarged, except by tedious repetition.

The World Court has been under discussion for several years, and the greatest statesman in the world have made their contributions. The discussions on the Senate floor are, broadly speaking, a consensus of these opinions. These discussions are contributed by two groups of Senators- one group advocating the entrance of the United States into the World Court; the other group maintaining that such entrance is unwise, and that serious dangers are involved in such entrance. No one will question the patriotism and the sincerity of the able Senators who have shared in this discussion.

No sane man asserts that the League of Nations, the World Court, or any other international organization is a panacea for perpetual peace. The causes of war exist and always will exist so long as the nations of the earth are not in absolute isolation. The Senator from Ohio [Mr. Fess], in his forceful speech, made this clear. It is all the more necessary, therefore, that nations plan for the minimum of destruction, and forever try to avoid a world cataclysm.

Our boys were assured that they were entering the World War to end war, and for no other purpose. To what extent have we fulfilled our promise?

I quote the following from the text of the armistice day proclamation issued by John R. McQuigg, national commander of the American Legion, on December 11, 1925:

In so far as in us lies, we owe it to those who fell on Flanders Field and elsewhere- fell in a belief that they were fighting a war to end wars- to see to it that their desires and dreams for peace were true.

I am positive in my own mind that all of the boys are in full sympathy with this declaration. The only question is, How can their desires and dreams for peace be made to come true? In this proclamation I find the recommendation of the 'immediate adherence of the United States to a permanent court of international justice.'

Important changes have occurred since George Washington issued his warnings to the United States. The industrial world has been revolutionized. In the last 75 years more progress in science and invention has been made than in all the centuries preceding the beginning of this period. The progress was made in the hope that life could and would be conserved. In the World War, through the demands of the cave man's instincts and impulses, science and invention were turned into agencies of destruction. In the world of matter, in the world of things, man has proved himself a giant. In the world of human nature, he has proved himself a pygmy. The demand of the hour is for human engineering whereby the test of every enterprise shall be the making of men instead of the exploitation of things.

The United States has from time to time caught a glimmer of light and recognized that the all-important fact that human relations are subject to laws, and therefore subject to improvement. In this debate there has been displayed an extraordinary degree of skepticism born of fear. Human nature is fundamentally the same the world over. In the smallest social unit the element of distrust works for disintegration. Lack of faith in the nobler emotions of man opens wide the gate for the ravages of the lower emotions. Distrust works for the destruction of the home, the community, the State, the nation; and the world. Human nature is not static; it is dynamic. It is a long road that man has traveled- from the plane of primitive man to the plane of savagery, from the plane of savagery to the plane of barbarism, and from the plane of barbarism to his present place in civilization. I have faith in his further progress. I admit that just now there seems to be a slum in the human nature market. The world is not going to the devil, although his present investments are extensive.

The world is one big family. Time and distance have been annihilated. National isolation is a thing of the past. The United States is becoming more and more industrialized, and is therefore increasingly involved in international affairs. The more highly industrialized a nation is, the more dependent it is upon other nations of the world for materials, such as coal, iron, oil, copper, timber, food, and so forth. The foreign trade is assuming more and more importance to the United States.

In 1913 the American imports amounted to $1,813,000,000; in 1924 to $345,000,000, while the value of exports in 1913 was $2,466,000, and in 1924, $4,311,000,000.

Judge Gary has estimated that the United States-

With only 6 per cent of the world's population and 7 per cent of the world's leading land produces the following proportions: Iron and steel, 40 per cent; lead, 40 per cent; silver, 40 per cent; zinc, 50 per cent; coal, 52 per cent; aluminum, 60 per cent; copper, 60 per cent; wheat, 25 per cent; corn, 75 per cent.

It is obvious that the prosperity of this country as well as the welfare of the people of other lands is dependent upon the heavy exports of our surplus goods.

Enormous sums of American capital are now being invested in foreign fields. The overseas investments of our citizens are likely to increase steadily, especially so that we now possess, fortunately, half the entire coal supply of the world. Thousands and thousands of American citizens are the holders of foreign securities, and consequently are financially concerned with international relations.

Mr. REED of Missouri. Mr. President, will the Senator suffer an interruption there?

Mr. FERRIS. Yes, although I am not going to discuss technicalities.

MR. REED. I will not discuss them; but I want to ask if the Senator believes that we ought to entangle ourselves in European affairs because some Americans have gone over there to speculate?

Mr. FERRIS. Not at all. There is a difference as to motive.

The whole tendency of modern commerce and finance is to make the entire world an economic unit. Mankind is divided into about 60 nations, each of which claims absolute sovereignty. I am not going to take the time to designate the characteristics of nationalism. Nationalism would not be a menace if we could eliminate international industrialism but that is out of the question. If the nations of the earth were isolated, nationalism would be of minor importance. The major consequences, therefore, of the economic interdependence and political divisions is imperialism, and imperialism leads to militarism.

In order to protect national honor and national interests the peoples of Europe spent $40,000,000,000 upon armies and navies during the period from 1871 to 1913, the rank in total expenditures being: France, $8,568,000,000; Great Britain, $8,401,000,000; Russia, $7,581,000,000; Germany, $7,434,000,000.

But even with huge armies and navies, nations do not feel secure, so they form military alliances. Alliances lead to counteralliances, culminating in the balance-of-power system, with continents divided into two great armed camps.

Under this regime occasions for war, as in 1914, will continue to arise. It is clearly evident that the nationalist competitive system is a menace to world peace. It is imperative, therefore, that some way should be found to break the vicious circle-

Nationalism, imperialism, alliances, balance of power, crises, war.

This leads up to the question, what kind of international organization is needed? At the present hour the need for an international court seems to be imperative. In order to be effective a court must have-

  1. An adequate basis of law upon which to base its decisions.
  2. Permanent judges of high ability, wide experience and unquestioned moral integrity;
  3. Compulsory jurisdiction; and
  4. The confidence of the litigant nations.

All of these factors are present in the World Court as it is now organized. I will admit that if militarism, with the other menace of nationalism, is to prevail throughout the world no agency can be established whereby peace can be maintained. Ordinarily preparation for war means war.

To the common man who is unfamiliar with the technical discussions the objections to the World Court seem trifling, or at least not commensurate with the needs of the nations of the earth. The most enthusiastic advocates of the World Court are not foolish enough to anticipate that it is a divine organization, an organization that can adjudicate to the entire satisfaction of the entire world under all circumstances. It has already been stated on the floor of the Senate that the Supreme Court of the United States illustrates in large measure the fundamental method of the World Court. We are not treading on new ground; we are not traveling on imaginary roads. In so far as I know, the humblest citizen of the United States recognizes the superb functions of the Supreme Court of the United States.

In the industrial world, in fact in all of the ordinary affairs of life, from the smallest to the greatest, we appeal to experience. The temptation to throw our own long experience into the discard arises largely from fear, from a lack of confidence into the nations of Europe. We are familiar with their long record of warfare. I know how reckless these nations have been in their struggles for conquest, in their rivalries for power. Some of us find it difficult to realize that they can cherish any worth-while feelings for peace and good will. Has there been a change in the hearts and minds of leaders in these great nations since the armistice was signed? I for one believe that the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the affirmative answer. The formation of the League of Nations and the World Court constitute an unanswerable argument in favor of this answer.

From the standpoint of experience we have a right to say that the World Court has been in operation sufficiently long to demonstrate to the world that it can and does successfully perform the functions that the advocates of the World Court proclaim to-day. Under existing conditions in Europe it looks to me that this is a time for exhibiting our patriotism after the manner we exhibited it during the world war.

I recognize that entering the World Court is in a sense an adventure. But the United States knows something about the spirit of adventure: the landing of the Pilgrims was an adventure; the Spanish-American War was an adventure; the Civil War was an adventure; our entering the World War was an adventure. Adventure seems to be a fundamental element in human nature. In making an adventure it is always wise to consider the foundations for the adventure. To-day the United States is the only great Nation on earth that is not practically bankrupt. Probably not a single Senator in this body as much as believes that there is even a possibility that any one of the European nations will ever get out of debt. In fact, when we are absolutely frank about the matter, we do not anticipate that they will ever be able to fully discharge their obligations to the United States. I am not hinting that we should cancel any of the debts. Canceling debts will not, in my judgment, promote international safety.

The United States has a large portion of the wealth of the world. It has the larger part of the gold of the world. The United States is in a position, if it were so disposed, to lead in the field of international relationships. We Americans are sure that we have no disposition to entertain notions of conquest. We did not enter the World War for that purpose. Our purpose was specific and definite- to make the world safe for democracy. Our own continued prosperity depends upon our cooperative relations with the other nations of the earth. I have already indicated that we are one big family, and we are in a position to do more for the big family than possibly all the other nations combined.

Call entering the World Court an adventure. The question is, shall the United States make the adventure? I hold that our entering the World Court would be an event that would signalize a turning point in the world's history. I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet, but I have the right, the same as other men, to express my hopes and possibly even use my imagination. I believe the conduct of the United States in the World War demonstrates clearly that we are a peace-loving Nation, and if we were to enter the World Court, we would not endanger our own welfare nor become a menace to the welfare of other nations. We would become a beacon light to the world.

I cannot bring myself to believe that even now European nations are plotting the destruction of our great Republic. If secret diplomacy can be forever banished, if the people can have an opportunity to express their wishes, there is not any question in my mind but what the nations of the earth can intermingle and can maintain a peaceful family.

Practically all of the great nations of the earth are at this hour dependent upon the United States for a considerable portion of their industrial prosperity, and it would be exceedingly difficult for the nations of Europe to be prosperous without contributing to the prosperity of the United States.

I admit that my arguments- if they can be called arguments- do not grow out of technical analyses, nor out of the feeling that war is a necessary evil. I can not understand the philosophy of some Senators with reference to the motives of the nations that are now in the League of Nations and that are now using the World Court. If we are not going to enter the World Court, what international plan can be devised to prolong world peace? We have no reason to believe that wars are forever in the past. But there is no excuse for the statesmen of the world, or even the statesmen of the United States, to continue the dilatory tactics that have characterized our conduct since the close of the World War.

In concluding my brief address, I read four quotations, one very general in its character by William James, our great American psychologist and philosopher, now deceased. My second quotation I take from the annual message of President Coolidge, and to this quotation I attach great importance. Likewise a quotation from the Hon. Elihu Root, which relates to the independence of the court, and the third from Charles E. Hughes concerning our opportunity to maintain the supremacy of law among nations.

In these quotations there is no new subject matter, but the main issues are focused in these quotations, so as to at least give the common man some faith in the virtues of the World Court.

I do not know when this first quotation was written, but I presume it was written before the World War. Mr. James said:

Organize in every conceivable way the practical machinery for each successive chance of war abortive. Put peach mean in power; educate the editors and statesman to responsibility. How beautifully did their trained responsibility in England make the Venezuela incident abortive. Seize every pretext, however small, for arbitration methods and multiply the precedents; foster rival excitements and invent new outlets for heroic energy; and from one generation to another the chances are that irritation will grow less acute and states of strain less dangerous among the nations. Armies and navies will continue, of course, and fire the minds of populations with their potentialities of greatness. But their officers will find that somehow or other, with no deliberate intention on anybody's part, each successive 'incident' has managed to evaporate and lead nowhere, and that the thought of what might have been remains their only consolation. (From "The Remarks at the Peace Banquet," by William James, taken from the "The Philosophy of William James, taken from his own works," published by the Modern Library, New Yor, p. 259).

Now from the annual message of President Coolidge to Congress, December 8, 1925. I know that Senators are perfectly familiar with this, but we are having here every day in the Senate the fundamentals of the World Court thrashed over and over and the same kind of opposition. It might be just as well to formulate systematically day by day some of the things splendid men have said elsewhere, as well as what splendid men say to the Senate:

[From the annual message of President Coolidge to Congress December 8, 1925]


It is difficult to imagine anything that would be more helpful to the world than stability, tranquility and international justice. We may say that we are contributing to these factors independently, but others less fortunately located do not and can not make a like contribution except through mutual cooperation. The old balance of power, mutual alliances, and great military forces were not brought about by any mutual dislike for independence, but resulted from the domination of circumstances. Ultimately, they were forced upon us. Like all others engaged in the war, whatever we said as a matter of fact, we joined an alliance. We became a military power. We impaired our independence. We have more at stake than anyone else in avoiding a repetition of that calamity. Wars do not spring into existence. They arise in small incidents and trifling irritations that can be adjusted by an international court. We can contribute greatly to the advancement of our ideals by joining with other nations in maintaining such a tribunal. If we are going to support any court, it would not be one that we have set up alone or which reflects only our ideas. Other nations have their customs and their institutions; their thoughts and their methods of life. If a court is going to be international, its composition will have to yield to what is good in all these various elements. Neither will it be possible to support a court which is exactly perfect or under which we assume absolutely no obligations. If we are seeking that opportunity, we might as well declare we are opposed to supporting any court.

The next is from Mr. Root and I think an appropriate heading over this would be "The court is independent and is subject to know control by any political power." This was on April 26, 1923:



Speaking on behalf of the World Court in an opening address as president of the American Society of International Law, on April 26, 1923, Hon. Elihu Root, former Secretary of State, and one of the founders of the World Court, said, in part:

'No diplomatic agreement is sought or attained. No member of the court represents or is at liberty to represent any state whatever.

Their duty is not to deal with policies or agreements, but to decide questions of fact and law in cases brought before them. Each judge's obligation is not to represent his country or any country, not to execute the orders of any foreign office, not to reflect the policy of any government, but upon his own conscience to hear and decide upon the evidence and the law in accordance with his own personal judgment.

The court is absolutely independent and is subject to no control by the League of Nations or by any other political authority.

War cannot be outlawed by proclamation or by resolution or by mere agreement or by mere force. War can be outlawed only by arraying the moral force of the civilized world in support of definite rules of conduct which exclude war, and by giving to that moral force institutions through which that force may be applied to specific cases of attempted violation. One of these necessary institutions is a court by whose judgment the great multitude who desire the peace of justice may know what is just.'



(Hon. Charles E. Hughes, former Secretary of State, at a testimonial dinner given in his honor in New York City, November 10, 1925)

We cannot profess allegiance to the cause of international justice without maintaining the institutions of international justice. We have now an opportunity, without sacrificing any national interest, to support and buttress the new institution to maintain the supremacy of law among the nations. I trust that we shall not miss this opportunity by failing to support the Permanent Court of International Justice.

When other nations seek to promote the judicial settlement of international disputes, how can we afford to count ourselves out? We are happy to think that after long years peoples are now emerging from the black night of hatred and distrust into a new day of reason and accord. But controversies will not be lacking. Economic, racial, and national interests will inevitably clash.

Our chief contribution to peace will not be in demands for formulas, in resolutions of mass meetings, in documents and declarations calling for the outlawry of war, but in the exhibition of a temperate disposition, in self-restraint manifested in the controversies that concern us, in the absence of threatening gestures, in the readiness to support the government seeking reasonable solutions of difficult questions.

It is a great privilege to serve the American people; it is a higher privilege to seek to interpret the generous sentiments for which the most part animate them.

Source: Congressional Record. Volume 67. 69th Congress, 1st session. 2122.