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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William Dallas Herring, May 16, 1987. Interview C-0035. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Risk of drifting toward totalitarianism

America is at constant risk to drift toward totalitarianism, Herring believes, because it is an efficient method of governance. Less efficient, perhaps, is democracy, which takes hard work.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William Dallas Herring, May 16, 1987. Interview C-0035. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

It's nothing more than Jeffersonian democracy. The amazing thing is that the American experiment has worked because we trusted the people, in large numbers, to make the right decisions, and you created a situation in which they could speak to the issues. I went out politicking for one of the candidates for governor one time in north Duplin. We came to a crossroads filling station-country store, and the boys had been out setting out tobacco, and they were dirty and barefooted, sprawled on the floor, glad to get a moment to relax. I was with Hubert Philips, a lawyer over here in Kenansville, and we were plugging the virtues of our candidate. We were not making much headway, but Hubert spoke to one fellow sitting on the floor with his back against the wall and his boots spread ajar, his overalls rolled up half way his shank bone and his feet just as dirty as could be. He got to talking to him about tobacco and got his interest. He said, "How about voting for our man." He said, "Well, it don't matter how I'm going to vote anyway. It's them people up there in Baltimore that's the ones that elect the governor of North Carolina." [Laughter] He didn't know his geography, but he made this point—they don't give a damn about us. We don't have a chance. I said, "Well, if you didn't have a chance, I wouldn't be here." That's what we're over here for, to hear from you. It has worked, Jay, all the way through my career. When we got in trouble, is when we drifted away from the grass roots. Walter Hines Page makes this point over and over and over again, and I could cite you chapter and verse where it is that kind of philosophy that helps build America. We can drift into the idea of totalitarianism too easily, because it's simple. It's efficient. It's cost-effective. It brings the judgment now. But it has taken two hundred or more years to build what we've got, and we're not through with it yet.