Helen Keller Reference Archive

Letter to Morris Hillquit

(Socialist Party candidate for Mayor of New York City)

First Published: New York Call, November 5, 1917
Source: Helen Keller: Her Socialist Years (International Publishers, 1967)
Transcription/Markup: Anonymous/Brian Baggins
Online Version: Helen Keller Reference Archive (marxists.org) 2000


I have refrained from writing, or giving utterance to the fierce protest in my heart against the war madness that is sweeping away the reason and common sense of our people, because I believed that President Wilson would defend our liberties and stay with his strong hand the forces that are invading them. I have waited and waited for some word from the White House. I have prayed and hoped against hope that today, tomorrow or next day the newspapers would contain a rebuke that would bring the nation back to sanity and tolerance. I have read and read President Wilson's own lofty utterance about freedom, justice and the rights of the people against the rights of governments. I thought he must realize that the Trading With the Enemy Act does not differ essentially from the drastic measure which the Federalists of 1798 rushed through Congress. In the quiet of his study he wrote that the Sedition Act cut perilously near the root of freedom of speech and of the press. He saw clearly that there was no telling where such power would stop. Who can tell where the power given by the Trading With the Enemy Act will stop--an act that makes the Postmaster General absolute dictator over the press, an act that renders it impossible for any publication criticizing any measure of the government to circulate through the mails, be sent by express or freight, or sold...

Now you know, and the voters of New York know, when they are in their right minds, that it is neither treasonable nor seditious to criticize any statute or law. Nor is it treasonable to agitate for the repeal of any act. We are within our constitutional rights as citizens to agitate for the abolition of conscription. Why should we give up the best things we have, freedom of speech, of the press and of assemblage and establish Kaiserism in this country while we send our armies to destroy it in Europe? I am not discussing the war, its causes, its origin, its righteousness or unrighteousness, or whether the Christian spirit is eternally opposed to it or not.

I am not opposed to war for sentimental reasons. The blood of fighting ancestors flows in my veins. I would gladly see our young men go forth to battle if I thought it was a battle for true freedom. I would gladly participate in a war that would really make the world safe for democracy. By making the world safe for democracy I do not mean simply to put down autocracy in Germany...

I do not know if your election would bring about a speedy peace. But I do know that it would encourage us to look forward to a people's peace--a peace without victory, a peace without conquests or indemnities. I would that a large vote cast for you would be a stong protest against the Prussian militarism that is taking possession of our government. It would be an unequivocal denial that New York City stands for the kind of democracy that prevails here just now, a democracy where freedom of assemblage is denied the people, a democracy where armed officials behave like thugs, forcibly dispersing meetings, burning literature and clubbing the people; a democracy where workingmen are arrested and imprisoned for exercising their right to strike, a democracy where the miners of Bisbee were torn from their homes, huddled in freight cars like cattle, flung upon a desert without food or water and left to die; a democracy where Negroes may be massacred and their property burned, as was done in East St. Louis; a democracy where lynching and child labor are tolerated, a democracy where a minister who follows the feet of the Messenger of Peace beautiful upon the earth was flogged almost to death, and the only comment of the press upon this outrage was a series of facetious remarks, and a half-concealed approval of the "hot-headed Kentuckians whose earnestness and patriotism carried them a little too far."

If I had the right to vote, I would vote for you, Mr. Hillquit, because a vote for you would be a blow at the militarism that is one of the chief bulwarks of capitalism, and the day that militarism is undermined, capitalism will fall.