Prohibition and Personal Liberty
Mr. President, Members of the American Association of Foreign Language Newspapers, and Ladies and Gentlemen:
I once heard “Personal Liberty” rather flippantly described as “the privilege which every free-born citizen enjoys of preventing his neighbor from doing what he likes.”
Sarcastic as it may sound, I am not at all sure that this definition of personal liberty, as practiced to-day by quite a goodly number of our fellow-citizens, is entirely beside the truth. The fact is that the best of us are more prompt to recognize our own individual rights than we are to recognize the individual rights of our neighbor, and here perhaps lies the root of all that is controversial about the question of personal liberty to-day. For, that the question of what constitutes personal liberty is a subject of controversy, and somewhat bitter controversy,
But here is the crux of this whole great question, as it confronts us to-day. It is just history, and the experience of those who lived before us, which are strangely lost sight of in the tendencies of many of our present-day reformers. They suffer from a perfect rage, not only to accelerate the slow and steady processes of Nature, but to correct and even arrest them; and, since the making of laws is now in our own hands, they demand that we shall devote our lawmaking power, not only to the correction of the defects of our weaker fellowmen, but to the correction of that which they believe to be the defects of Nature herself, who created those weaker fellow-men.
Education has become to them a mere secondary auxiliary in shaping our lightning course towards perfection. Mankind, if we are to believe them, can be made honest, and righteous, and sober, and moral, and what not, by a mere stroke of the legislative pen. The stern truth is forgotten, which history has so often and so painfully impressed upon humanity, that law can successfully