A message of hope from 1922 – as true today as it was when our country was first founded.
William Allen White won a 1923 Pulitzer Prize for his editorial, “To an Anxious Friend,” published in the Emporia Gazette on this date, July 27, 1922. It was part of a dispute over free speech following objections to the way the state of Kansas handled the men who participated in the Great Railroad Strike of 1922.
You tell me that law is above freedom of utterance. And I reply that you can have no wise laws nor free entertainment of wise laws unless there is free expression of the wisdom of the people – and, alas, their folly with it. But if there is freedom, folly will die of its own poison, and the wisdom will survive. That is the history of the race. It is proof of man’s kinship with God. You say that freedom of utterance is not for time of stress, and I reply with the sad truth that only in time of stress is freedom of utterance in danger. No one questions it in calm days, because it is not needed. And the reverse is true also; only when free utterance is suppressed is it needed, and when it is needed, it is most vital to justice.
Peace is good. But if you are interested in peace through force and without free discussion – that is to say, free utterance decently and in order – your interest in justice is slight. And peace without justice is tyranny, no matter how you may sugarcoat it with expedience. This state today is in more danger from suppression than from violence, because, in the end, suppression leads to violence. Violence, indeed, is the child of suppression. Whoever pleads for justice helps to keep the peace; and whoever tramples on the plea for justice temperately made in the name of peace only outrages peace and kills something fine in the heart of man which God put there when we got our manhood. When that is killed, brute meets brute on each side of the line.
So, dear friend, put fear out of your heart. This nation will survive, this state will prosper, the orderly business of life will go forward if only men can speak in whatever way given them to utter what their hearts hold – by voice, by posted card, by letter, or by press. Reason has never failed men. Only force and repression have made the wrecks in the world.