John Ben Shepperd: Chamber of Commerce Installation Benefit

May 14, 1957

Chamber of Commerce Installation Benefit (Marshall, Texas)


The Legislature has managed to find plenty of problems – and their share of solutions.  They are in their 127th day – the last seven days without pay.  The Session has cost over 1 1/4 million dollars or over $10,000 a day.  Each bill passed to date has cost the people $3,500, including the one to outlaw alligator hunting in Chambers County.

The filibuster record was broken again by a group of Senators who placed a demagogic appeal to a misguided minority above the right of the local school districts of Texas to manage and settle their own problems.  A two day filibuster costs enough to pay a Senator’s salary for fourteen years.

It always makes news when somebody filibusters, but in spite of all the publicity, there are still thousands of citizens who think a filibuster is a cowboy who breaks fillies.  But then these same characters think a lobbyist is a hotel bell-hop.

The Legislature is considering a record-breaking spending bill of over 2 billion dollars.  We are now spending more than 2 million dollars a day, which in 1899 would have run the state government for a whole year.

Water started out as the biggest problem facing the Legislature – is still is, only conditions have changed – at the beginning, we didn’t have any – now we have too much.

The Legislature has given the Game and Fish Commission more control over fish and game but still has not provided effective controls of wild-cat insurance companies by passing a law providing for criminal penalties.

The Legislature has passed a bill opening deer season in Duval County but they have only passed two of the fifteen bills that would “Open the door to good government in Texas”.  These bills were designed to prevent a reoccurrence of the sordid and sorry mess that existed in Duval County.  Among these bills was one to prevent secret meetings of governmental bodies; another provides for the removal of any public official who claimed the Fifth Amendment on any question pertaining to his official duties; another provides for full publication of proceedings and financial statements of governmental bodies.

However, the Legislature did stop turkey shooting in Zapata County for five years so if we can’t look through the open door and watch our public officials, we can at least watch the turkeys – they also lay eggs.

Actually I can’t be too critical of the Legislature, particularly the House of Representatives, because in my opinion, they would have had a worthwhile and fruitful session if they had done nothing else but pass the eight Segregation Bills that are designed to leave the affairs of local government in local hands.

And right here, I would like to commend your very able Representative of this County, Reagan Huffman, for leading this fight.  Reagan has done a job on these bills that will forever be a monument to his statesmanship and sincerity of purpose.  Your State Senator, Wardlow Lane, has also ably handled the passage of one of the bills through the Senate and I feel sure will be successful in pushing through the others.

But I didn’t come here tonight to talk about the Legislature.  I came to talk about the Chamber of Commerce.

When we talk about the struggle that our Chambers of Commerce are having to build better and more progressive communities, there is another struggle going on in the courthouses and the state and national capitols that should concern you very much – the struggle to determine the seat of our sovereignty.

Those of us who are still old-fashioned enough to believe in local autonomy and constitutional government as set forth by the founding fathers in 1787 are being plagued by a power-greedy Federal Government which, through bureaucratic edict is snapping up powers from the states with reckless abandon.  We are balked even more by a United States Supreme Court which takes powers from the states which even the Federal Government does not want.  We firmly believe that this Court has superimposed its own political theory over our constitutional law and that unless something is done, state lines will soon be erased.

There is another area in which we are slowly but surely losing our freedom in this country and that is the field of government spending and taxing.  Governmental wise, Texas and the nation are in one of their most critical periods.  This year government will take 119 billion dollars from the pockets of tax-payers: the Federal Government 86 billion, state and local 33 billion.  Taxes in total have doubled in seven years.  Government is now taking one dollar out of each three of national income.  The 275 billion dollar federal debt equals the full assessed value of all the land, all the buildings, all the mines, all the machinery, all the factories, all the livestock – everything of tangible value in the United States of America.  In addition to this 27 billion dollar federal debt, the Federal Government now has 250 billion dollars in contingent liabilities, F.H.A. mortgages and such, which bring its primary and secondary obligations to the staggering total of 535 billion dollars.  On top of this the total debt of the forty-eight state governments is $12,890,000,000.

What can we do about all this money?  I have been thinking for some time that we should turn the job of governing us – at least the financial end of it – over to the women of America.

It’s actually a woman’s world – at least they own and control most of it financially.  Women own a majority of the stock in railroad, bus lines, utilities, steel and 44% of oil.  Women buy 90% of men’s neckties.  Women spend 7 ½ out of every 10 consumer dollars in this country, and they have proved they can spend money more wisely than men – with maybe one exception – last year women spent over 69 million dollars on lipstick – they should have credit of course for the amount that rubbed off on men.  They spent 132 million on shampoos; 88 million on home permanents; 26.5 million on rinses, tints and dyes – I suppose they have heard that gentleman prefer – but then that’s another subject.  They spent 66 million for cleansing cream; 52.8 million on make-up bases and a mere 8.8 million on eye make-up.  This doesn’t include an additional 2.8 billion dollars spent in beauty shops.  But then girls will be girls – or do their darndest to be.

That’s a lot of money, of course, but I believe women have done more with it and gotten better results – at least it looks better – than our politicians have done spending our tax-money.  Yes, we must all be concerned with over-centralization of a government we can’t afford to support.

And where do these things lead us?  Why right back to ourselves.  We know – if we would only be honest – that federal encroachment couldn’t gallop so fast if there were not considerable backing down the local level.  And that the Constitution wouldn’t be so badly abused in Washington if there weren’t so little use of it at home.  What do we need to get things back in proper proportion?

We need leaders who will put courage into state and local governments by serving in office and executing policies consistent with our basic beliefs of integrity, efficiency and economy.  We need business men who can use their heads to find ways of developing local resources and financing local improvements without depending on the Federal Government for help.  When leadership in state and local government breaks down, the people are forced to try to vote for prosperity instead of working for it.

Too many would-be leaders will assume leadership only within the safe boundaries of non-partisan and non-controversial fields and refuse to get mixed up in politics because they think it will hurt business or antagonize the boss or the union.  Show me a man with no identifiable stand on a clear-cut issue and I’ll show you a man with no identifiable character, patriotism or value to his community.

We need men and women will speak out for private enterprise.  A silent voice in the ranks of business is a shout for socialism or worse and a negative business man is almost as bad as positive Communist.  We need bankers who will be quick to give loans to young people just getting started and we need young people who won’t be satisfied with extra benefits and guaranteed income, but who value the freedom to excel on their own. If more people today were spitting on their hands instead of their employers, the country would be a lot better off.

And what about fellowship?  It takes a heap of living to make a house a home and it takes a heap of good citizenship to make freedom live.  But where does freedom die?

Freedom dies in the path over which men and women no longer walk to the polls.  It dies when on the courthouse lawn where they no longer attend political rallies.  It expires on the concrete steps of the schoolhouse where the feet of grown people never tread.  It perishes in church pews that are never filled and in homes where half the family is just standing by the door waiting for the other half to get back with the car.  Freedom dies wherever people are too stiff-necked to bow their heads and too weak-kneed to walk the straight line of responsibility.

We need a lot of men and women who are sold on basic American principles.  We need men and women who won’t sacrifice a dot or a dash in the Constitution to get a dollar sign on their personal ledger; who can take the ups and downs of life without becoming so concerned with left and the right that they forget the above and below.  We need men and women who’d rather be right than rich; who’d rather be fair than be famous; who’d rather be honest than be exalted; who’d rather be good than be clever; who’d rather be free then be secure; and who’d rather die on their feet than see their fellow citizens living on their knees.

Are these old truisms too dreamy and idealistic?  Will they work in 1957?  Let’s stop and take stock and see if we need idealistic dreamers, who recognize the need for a knowledge, love and devotion of the past.  In my humble opinion, this nation needs such idealistic dreamers today more than ever before in our history!  We need them as long as there are closed doors in public office, public meetings held in secret and public files marked “Confidential”.  We need them as long as there are antiquated, harmful laws on the statute books, remaining there only because they suit somebody’s political or financial convenience – and as long as there are loopholes in the law, left there by lawyer-legislators for the benefit of their private practice.

We need idealists as long as we live under big, bloated governments feeding on the lassitude of a citizenry that wants everybody to have a benefit at everybody else’s expense.  We need them as long as this nation is trying to live high on money borrowed from our children’s unborn children.  We need idealistic, courageous men and women as long as we have judges who cannot or will not lay aside their politics when they put up on the judicial robes.

Yes, we need idealistic dreamers as long as we have people in this country who believe that the best things in life can either be bought with money or voted into existence.  We need idealistic dreamers to constantly remind other Americans that nobody can go down the bank and file way a title to an East Texas sunset.  Nobody can lay gold on the counter and purchase cherished friendships, nor can we purchase at any price the love and companionship of a loyal wife or husband.  And all the dazzling wealth of the universe is not half so beautiful as the sound of a mother’s lullaby or the laughter of a strong, free man because

Freedom is old, not young, yet it;
is born anew in the first cry of
a free man’s son;
It is not a living thing, yet it
dies if we do not love it;
It is not weak, yet it must be
It is light, yet it weighs heavy
on him who is without it;
It is without price, yet it dearly
costs the one who sells it;
It is not small, but great; yet
once lost, it is never, never
found again.
Yes, to be born free is an accident;
To live free is a responsibility;
To die free is an obligation.

[Note: The views expressed in this speech were those of John Ben Shepperd, and do not necessarily represent the views of the John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute or the University of Texas Permian Basin.]