John Ben Shepperd: Panhandle Plains Regional Meeting of the Natural Gasoline Association of America

November 22, 1957

Panhandle Plains Regional Meeting of the Natural Gasoline Association of America (Amarillo, Texas)


The oil and gas industry is today in the in forefront of the struggle between the states and the federal government to determine the seat of sovereignty of our American system of government.

We are front-line soldiers in this battle of ideas and we are bearing the brunt of the enemy’s mental artillery. Because our industry is successful and widespread, a major victory would be attained if its complete regulation could be stolen from the various states—governmental sovereignties which, by the way, have done an outstanding job in the field of conservation.

We are being attacked from two directions. A direct frontal assault by a power-greedy federal government plagues us through its use of bureaucratic edicts to snap up powers from the States with reckless abandon.

But we are being balked even more by a sneak attack from the rear by the United States Supreme Court. The Court has slipped into the battle through the back door to sweep away powers from the states which even the federal government doesn’t want. And in doing so it has made mincemeat out of our system of checks and balances and compounded the felony of federal encroachment.

Of these two assaults, the destruction of the constitutional rights of the states through the judicial fiat is the more dangerous. This is true because its method is noiseless, moving through our midst like a ghostly apparition.  The cold and clammy designing hand of judicial legislation is often recognized in its ravages only by lawyers and parties litigant in the cases concerned. But if the Court continues with its insidiously successful trend, the states of the Union can be divested of their autonomy before our people know what is happening.

The oil and gas industry was victim of this judicial legislation particularly in the Philips and Tidelands cases. In the Phillips case, we saw the entire natural gas industry fall under federal regulation despite a clear expression by Congress and the Federal Power Commission that independent producers were to be exempt. With this ruling also went the power to regulate over thirty per cent of the oil business because that much oil is produced with casinghead gas.

We have painfully re-learned the fundamental that what the federal government regulates, it also controls.

And if the new proposed regulations by the Federal Power Commission go into effect, we will have to change our entire bookkeeping, reporting and accounting procedures in order to conform to federal standards. We are already making more reports than we did in the Army and we are afraid to go to the bathroom without submitting a written request in triplicate to the FPC.

We are being submerged and asphyxiated in a run-around of bureaucratic red tape, not only in our paper work but in all phases of our industry. We are being standardized to fit a pattern that will be convenient for the filing cabinets in Washington bureaus.

But when you standardize this great industry in such a fashion, you are destroying the initiative, ingenuity and rugged individualism that made it great. The oil and gas industry is symbolic of free enterprise at its best. Compare our tremendous progress, contributions to society and contributions to government—in the form of revenue and scientific know-how—to that of socialistic countries which own or completely control oil and gas. In that vast difference we find a dynamic answer to the pseudo-intellectuals who want the government to do everything.

Yet knowing these things we have allowed our industry to be backed into a corner. We have adopted an apologetic, negative attitude; we don’t call attention to our contributions to America loudly and clearly . . . we whisper about them.

It is not politically popular to be in the oil and gas business except during campaign contributing time. Politicians refuse to stand up and speak for us. In fact, most of them won’t even admit they know anybody in our business. Since the President of the United States placed a $2500 price tag on the integrity of the United States Senate, we apologize when we support the Harris Bill as weak as the present version is.

Whispers circulate that we can’t afford to be active because somebody might do something to the depletion allowance. We tolerate and yes, even support mediocre political hacks because they supposedly help us preserve our 27 ½%.

This failure to face our responsibilities to the industry and to ourselves, is like the preacher conducting the funeral of a ne’er-do-well. The preacher couldn’t think of anything good or constructive to say about the deceased so after hemming and hawing around he finally said, “Old Jim was a good hand at gutting a fish.”

The fact is that the states are being pushed out of the field of preservation and conservation in favor of an onrushing tide of outright socialization of our natural resources. But we ignore these things, the real issues involved, and allow ourselves to be sold a bill of goods that maintains we should be careful, quiet and absent . . . and be content to hold what we have.

This stand-pat attitude is most prevalent in regard to the depletion allowance, yet all the while we are having to struggle with increased costs, rising prices for steel and difficulty in making new discoveries. We are not bringing in big fields anymore and we are spending much more money to get wells that deplete faster than the oil fields in East Texas—the Yates field, the Wink field and so on.

Gentlemen, we don’t have to take a back seat to anybody when we talk about our depletion allowance! In fact, when some the left-wing A.D.A.’ers introduce a bill to lower it, we should find someone with enough guts to introduce one to raise it!

We are also back on the defense on the Tidelands issue. Either because of mental laziness or sublime faith in the Eisenhower Administration, many Texans believed the issue was finally settled in 1953 when Congress passed the bill rightfully restoring the Tidelands to the various states. This legislation gave the President power to fix the Tidelands boundaries of the states. He could have restored to Texas her rightful heritage of three leagues or ten and one-half miles—he could still do so—but instead of this, his Justice Department has filed a suit to cut us back to three miles. Texas is still struggling with people who follow the philosophy that state lines are on the map of the United States only for the purpose of offering a more pleasant color scheme.

A national committee studying physical fitness recently reported our youth are more “soft”.  This isn’t confined to our youth nor to our bodies. We are more than a little “soft in the head” if we think we can remain free by letting the federal government take our freedoms and liberties away.

It becomes an entity separate from the people and begins to do our thinking for us. Every little desire of our hearts it endeavors to provide. The pursuit of happiness is not enough for it guarantee; it wants to make us happy. It is not enough that God made created us equal; the government wants to improve upon that creation. It is not enough to guarantee the citizen a fair shake; the government will see to it that every citizen gets the same shake even if he doesn’t want it.

And our government—the creation of our own hands, which is our own responsibility – will accomplish these miracles by acting upon certain theories which we actively propagate among ourselves through wishful thinking plus the desire to escape responsibility.

You have heard the expression “double-think”, a process by which political dialecticians convince us that black is white. Consider a few examples of our own double thinking. Consider them well, for these are the principles upon which our country is largely being governed. The way to establish prosperity is to discourage thrift. The way to help the poor is to destroy the rich. The way to help the wage earner is to tear down the wage payer. The way to make all men free is to make all men just alike. We can keep out of depression by constantly spending more than we earn. We can maintain prosperity by overtaxing the people and shipping the surplus money out of the country. We can build character and courage by taking away man’s initiative and independence. And the quickest way to divest the population of its initiative is to convince half of the people they need not work because the other half will support them; and to convince the other half that work is useless because someone else will reap the fruit of their labor.

There is nothing wrong, I suppose, with centralized, socialized government as long as it does not undermine the citizen’s character, rob him of his liberties or take away his ability to govern himself. But that is like saying it’s all right to play around with temptation as long as you don’t get embroiled in sin.

My chief objection to the centralization of government is not the expenditure of money but the destruction of the moral fiber of the people. Big government teaches the working man to spit on his boss instead of his hands. It treats private enterprise like a temporary, necessary evil. It teaches by precept and practice that there is nothing on the moral or spiritual plane that is worthy as much as higher material standard of living.

But I know of no evil half so deadly as that which, at the present time, takes one-third of the average citizen’s income and spreads it around at home and abroad with such reckless abandon that our Federal Government now spends more money than all of our state and local governments put together. Already from the purely economic standpoint, the United States government is out-socializing the most completely socialized economies in the world. As a matter of fact, it is supporting most of them with forty-cent dollars. Our money is so inflated that telling a woman she looks like a million dollars is no longer a compliment.

And how is this possible? Americans, historically, have been the most antagonistic of all people toward this philosophy of high taxation. It is primarily an abdication of personal responsibility.  Americans want to grow nothing but cotton and wear nothing but silk. We have mastered the art of being prosperous though broke, and safe though insecure.

But there is a more present, more acute reason for the spiral of taxation and inflation which today is wiping out the collected savings of millions by eating up the value of the dollar faster than it collects interest. That reason is fear—fear of many things. Fear of old age, insecurity, failure, social inferiority, sickness and many other facts of life. But most of all and most reprehensible of all, we are afraid of Communism.

The fear of Communism is making cowards of us all and for fear of the Kremlin we are spending ourselves into bankruptcy, just as Lenin predicted in 1920.  For fear of Communism we are still trying to buy friendship around the world and failing more dismally year by year, billion by billion. Every way we turn, the specter of Communism jumps up to frighten us into pouring more money into the federal treasury.

This year there was a slight trend toward economy in government—although it wasn’t very noticeable—but it all vanished like so much smoke when then Communists put their satellites up in the sky.

Immediately the free spenders began running around in circles, just like Sputnik, calling for drastic increases in government expenditures without bothering to find out first if the money was even needed.

They began pointing at the sky and asking “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?” But this is no six-bit doggie they want to buy . . . his doghouse costs millions of dollars.

We are fretfully conscious of what the Communists will say about us if we don’t do this or that.  Our every move, domestic or foreign, is calculated on the basis of whether the Communists will make propaganda hay out of it. For fear of Communism, we are destroying the Constitution. The Government feels that it has to be out-socialize the master Socialists, otherwise the other countries of the world will not like us. The danger of Communism is only this—that it forces those who fear it to imitate it.

It is time for Americans to utter a new Declaration of Independence. It is time for each of up to stand up and say, “I am not afraid of Communism. And for fear of Communism, I will not lay down my basic American Freedoms, nor will I suffer my fellow countrymen to be abused by hysterical politicians and bureaucrats, nor will I be taxed into oblivion, nor will I be smothered to death with the kisses of the welfare state. I will not allow my country’s domestic affairs to be governed by considerations of what Communist propagandists may say about it. I will not permit my country to be made a fool in the embassies of the world for fear that other countries without honor or pride may consort with Communists if we do not buy them off. The pirates of Tripoli were men of better caliber. Billions for defense, if necessary, but not one cent for tribute to Communism.”

[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.]