Breckinridge, Sophonisba. In “Statement of Miss Jane Addams and Others, January 11, 1916.” Commission for Enduring Peace. Hearings before Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives.... Washington: Government Printing Office, 1916.

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Author: Breckinridge, Sophonisba.

Title: [Testimony] page 10-13 in “Statement of Miss Jane Addams and Others, January 11, 1916.” Commission for Enduring Peace. Hearings before Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, Sixty-Fourth Congress, First Session on H.R. 6921 and H.J. Res. 32.

Publisher: Washington: Government Printing Office, 1916.

At the time of this testimony presented in January 1916, Dr. Sophonisba Breckinridge, a native of Kentucky and dean at the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy, had just returned with Jane Addams and others in the Women's Peace Party from a convention in The Hague - and Congress was considering the idea of a worldwide gathering of neutral nations to help bring the warring nations to a peace treaty. In her testimony, Dr. Breckinridge emphasized how the U.S. should address injustices locally in order to be more believable globally. She used British legal history to point out how the U.S. federal government could enforce protection for immigrants here at home when unjustly accused or denied rights at the local level. She drew attention to the injustices of capitalism and how industrial giants were allowed to pay less than a minimum wage here and abroad. This, she contended, also allowed for private business interests abroad - where the poor working conditions and low wages engendered discontent - to start international conflicts that otherwise would have been avoided.

Her testimony is transcribed in full below:

[page 10] Miss Breckenridge[sic]. Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee, we women come to you with these proposals for world organizations as though they were simple things, and as though we thought they were simple matters for your deliberation. Perhaps I might say just a word upon the state of mind of many women in this country on this subject. Mrs. [Lucia Ames] Mead [of Boston] said the plan she put up was a plan that would not cost anything; but, of course, she meant it was a plan that would not cost dollars and cents and human labor. It costs, perhaps, the thing that is perhaps most rare and most precious – a thing that we feel perhaps is possessed by our honorable committee, which I might call “good gray matter.” After all, it is so much easier to spend dollars and cents than to put our brains upon these problems.

With reference to the support your committee would have throughout the country in taking steps toward this world organization, you would have an unexpected and intelligent support on the part of the great body of club women. They have been studying in this last decade in their courses in civics the fundamentals of governmental organization, and one of the things they are familiar with is what Montesquieu said when he said our Government was to be a government of laws and not of men, meaning it was to be a government of liberty and universal application and freedom, under just treatment, and not [page 11] a government of caprice or a government of force; so they have familiarized themselves with the principles of our Government, which was organized on that basis of laws and not men, with a separation of powers – the judicial, legislative, and the executive. All the women in the country know about that. Therefore, if you would start upon a program of world organization you will find that these women can not quite see why you could not apply the very same line of reasoning and justice to some of the other nations of the earth which we applied in our own difficult situation 135 years ago.

I wish, therefore, to assure you that among the women of the country you would find a very unexpected intelligent and cordial support in this direction. Mrs. Mead spoke of or used the illustration, going back to the time of Christ, about throwing a dollar in the ocean, but I would like to suggest another possibility. If some 800 years ago, instead of at the time of the birth of Christ, you had been a party to the government which was then developing in England, you would have seen taking shape very much the same thing that we want to take shape to-day. It is almost an entirely incomprehensible fact how vital a part peace has played in the organization of the English Government by the idea of the “king’s Peace.” The “King’s Peace” was that great idea which gave justice and protection to those who traveled on the King’s highway, and all those places which were under the protection of the law, as distinguished from the idea of force. If I might just say this, for example: I believe in the early days of England it was not force that conquered; force only got the territory on which they stood. It was the law as embodied in the establishment of the courts which conquered the people of England and finally welded them into one; so I am persuaded to think we are right in looking to the Committee on Foreign Relations as the voice and the brains and the principal of this Nation in framing principles by which we may lead through our power, our wealth, our love of liberty, and our experience in developing this great Nation in the last 150 years.

I recognize perfectly that it is very slow and difficult to devise the process; it took England some 250 years to substitute their legal and peaceful processes for the early chaotic and forceful methods. By the substitution of the writ for the appeal, and the substitution of the grand jury for the accusation before the coroner, by those substitutions we have acquired those early principles of common law, which is our most valuable inheritance from English civilization. And notwithstanding that, we have sections in our own country still which are in the primary stage of legal and social development. In parts of my own State, where feuds still exist, we have not been able to perfect an organization of obedience to the law and social order, but that does not mean we do not accept those great principles; so, realizing that, we still believe that you have every reason to count on most intelligent and cordial support in starting on a policy leading in that direction, and if a thing like that could be done in two centuries in the early days by the king and his counselors, why could it not be done in two or three decades in the twentieth century, with all our knowledge? That point I wanted to make in behalf of the women, because we do speak in behalf of a group of women who can not quite understand why these undertakings should be impossible. If I should use a domestic analogy, you would think [page 12] it a perfectly suitable thing for me to do. If I may quote, in using that domestic analogy, ex-President Taft, I think you will feel it has application; not because I am a woman, but because it is fundamentally true; and in his speech before the American Bar Association, in 1914, ex-President Taft recommended one of the measures which I want to call to your attention, and which will be submitted to you. President Taft at that time urged that we should take those steps which would result in setting our own house in order.

Mrs. Mead has spoken to you of the methods which she would recommend – drastic nonintercourse – as a substitute, perhaps, or at any rate, preliminary to the use of a joint police. Now, I believe that before we use drastic nonintercourse, or an international police, we should use the great power of our own experience in organization, and that we should set the nations of the world an example, and that we should likewise propose to them the possibility of such an organization. In setting our house in order, one of the steps, and that step to which President Taft referred, is action with reference to treatment of our unnaturalized citizens, or, rather, residents of this country. We know that one source of ferment is the treatment by the local jurisdictions of the unnaturalized residents who are in the community, but not of the community. And the measure to which President Taft referred, and which was recommended by the Committee on International Relations of the American Bar Association was that a bill, which Mr. Taft said would not have to be more than 12 lines long, should be drafted and enacted, which would give to the Federal Government control and power to protect the aliens prior to naturalization. If we were to do that, we should do what was done in the earlier years in English history, and our women are going to call to your attention later something of the kind if it has not already been taken up by your committee, or by another Member of the House.

The other matter I want to call to your attention is not an easy matter, but one of which I would like to have you think. It is with reference to the identity of interests of all the peoples of the world to which Mrs. Mead has referred. I believe that all the interests of all peoples are alike. I myself am by no means averse to a fight; I only want to choose my enemy; and the enemies that I prefer to encounter are those which stand between me and that which I think is my highest good, which I believe to be highest good of all other human beings, namely, poverty and ignorance, and injustice, and while I believe in the identity of all the peoples’ interests, I recognize that there are groups in each community whose interests seem to be hostile to the interests of others. I would like to call your attention to the fact that a student of our economic conditions has stated that probably over 40 per cent of our wage earners and their families enjoy an income of less than $600 a year, and 20 per cent an income of less than $500 a year. That means, of course, that our great employers of labor, in a large number of instances, pay wages which are less than living wages; it means that out of the underpaid labor, the underpaid time of their employees, they have a large surplus for which they seek investment; it means they seek investment and concessions to give them economic advantages, preferably among backward people; it means they sometimes call upon our Government to use its military and naval forces to support a grievance [page 13] which would not stand the scrutiny of the least intelligent court in this country, and I would be glad if out of this could come a determination by this committee and this Congress that no citizen seeking such concessions among backward people could claim the protection of the military and naval forces of this country, risking the lives of our young men, and involving the expenditure of many dollars of taxes from those poor underpaid workers, unless the agreement made in that country can stand such scrutiny as is given to an agreement enforced through our courts of equity, into which everyone must come with clean hands. The declaration of this principle would do away with some of the most fruitful sources of friction among nations. If, during this Congress, we could have these two great principles recognized, our own house would be more in order at the end of the session than it is at the present time, and we should have begun to set for other nations that example of peace within our own borders, and they would gradually join with us in a program looking toward world organization.