On Monday, February 6th we celebrated the 112th birthday of Ronald Wilson Reagan, the 40th president of the United States from 1981 to 1989. More than just a nostalgic look back to a dearly loved Republican and father of the modern conservative movement, now is a great time to reconsider one of his famous speeches.
In today’s blog, I want to replay the text of the last half of one particular addresses because it is so appropriate for today as we build to 2024.
Ronny was a famous Party builder. He had to be because the Republican Party was the minority at the time both nationally as well as in his home state of California.
Ronald Reagan famously said that the “eleventh commandment” of the Republican Party was: “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.” The phrase was coined earlier in the 1960s by Gaylord Parkinson, who was the state chairman of California Republicans at the time. Parkinson also had a corollary, “Henceforth, if any Republican has a grievance against another, that grievance is not to be bared publicly.”
Reagan first talked about the “eleventh commandment” in 1966, when he began running to be governor of California as a relatively new Republican. Reagan said he didn’t believe in speaking ill of other Republicans and Parkinson did his thing hoping to bring about party unity.
Having won the governorship, Reagan continued with his theme as he did throughout the rest of his political career.
On April 1, 1967, then Governor Ronald Reagan of California delivered an address to the California Republican Assembly at the Lafayette Hotel, Long Beach, CA. He called the California Republican Assembly, “the Conscience of the Republican Party.” The CRA is a conservative California Republican activist group. It is the oldest and largest grassroots volunteer organization chartered by the California Republican Party.
As I said earlier tonight, it is the volunteer Republican organizations such as the CRA that have provided so many of the workers and so much of the enthusiasm and support for our party in California.
All of us, including myself, have much to be grateful to you for. We could not have won without you last November, nor will we know victory in 1968 without your wholehearted and undivided support.
But do we want to be like the nostalgic old grad who lives in the fading memory of one championship team, or do we look ahead and anticipate successive new victories?
If we are going to live in the past just remember, that past includes bitter defeats between 1958 and 1964. We could not have won with you if we had stooped to the intra-party warfare that characterized our years of defeat.
We have not won a war, or even complete victory in a battle. We stopped our opponents' advance and halted our own retreat. We cannot hold the present gains unless we move forward. Let me remind you: we did not win control of the Assembly; we did not win control of the Senate; we did not will the office of the Attorney General even though we had good candidates and good organization.
The 11th Commandment kept our party unified; but we were, and still are, a minority party. There is still much to be done in party building, in convincing independents and members of the opposing party that the course we chart leads to fiscal sanity, strong local government and individual rights and responsibilities.
Maybe there once was a time when our two-party system was less a difference in philosophy than a contest between partisans loyal to the old-school tie, but no more. Last November, millions of people voted to change, or at least pause to review, the philosophy of the party leadership now in power. They did not just decide to change hats and join the other club for a while.
Fortunately for those millions of concerned citizens, we too had paused to take inventory. We discovered we could no longer afford the luxury of internal fighting, backbiting and throat-cutting. We discovered our philosophical difference with those presently in power was greater than any grudge or split within our own ranks. We're ready and in position to offer an alternative for those concerned citizens who wanted to join with others, not to win a contest, but to preserve a way of life.
We must keep the door open offering our party as the only practical answer for those who, overall, are individualists. And because this is the great common denominator this dedication to the belief in man’s aspirations as an individual we cannot offer them a narrow sectarian party in which all must swear allegiance to prescribed commandments.
Such a party can be highly disciplined, but it does not win elections. This kind of party soon disappears in a blaze of glorious defeat, and it never puts into practice its basic tenets, no matter how noble they may be.
The Republican Party, both in this state and nationally, is a broad party. There is room in our tent for many views; indeed, the divergence of views is one of our strengths. Let no one, however, interpret this to mean compromise of basic philosophy or that we will be all things to all people for political expediency.
In our tent will be found those who believe that government was created by We, the People; that government exists for the convenience of the people and we can give to government no power we do not possess as individuals; that the citizen does not earn to support the government, but supports a government so that he may be free to earn; that, because there can be no freedom without law and order, every act of government must be approved if it makes freedom more secure and disapproved if it offers security instead of freedom.
Within our tent, there will be many arguments and divisions over approach and method and even those we choose to implement our philosophy. Seldom, if ever, will we raise a cheer signifying unanimous approval of the decisions reached. But if our philosophy is to prevail, we must at least pledge unified support of the ultimate decision. Unity does not require unanimity of thought.
And here is the challenge to you. It is the duty and responsibility of the volunteer Republican organizations, not to further divide, but to lead the way to unity. It is not your duty, responsibility of privilege to tear down, or attempt to destroy, others in the tent. As duly chartered Republican organizations, we can all advance our particular sectarianism or brand of candidates for the party to pass on openly and freely in a primary election.
But, as volunteer organizations, we must always remain in a position that will let us effectively support the candidates chosen by the entire party in a primary. To do less is a disservice to the party and, more importantly, to the cause in which we all believe.
Our 11th Commandment is perhaps more profound than we realize. Thou shall not speak ill of any Republican. To do so means we are inhibited in the support we can give that Republican if he should become the nominee of our party. Certainly, our task is harder if we must challenge and refute charges made by our opponents if those charges were first uttered by us.
It is my belief that, as Governor, I should neither endorse a primary candidate nor involve myself behind the scenes in primary campaigning. To do so is a misuse of the office with which I have been entrusted. When the primary is over, I believe I have a commitment a contract if you will to wholeheartedly support every candidate chosen by the party.
You, on the other hand, as individuals and as an organization, should be so involved. You, by your membership in a volunteer group, have proven you are activists leaders in furthering the philosophy which brings us together. You must, therefore, be leaders in setting campaign standards ready to endorse the party choice just as ready to repudiate any candidate of a campaign which refuses to abide by those standards.
Fight as hard in the coming primary as you can for your candidate, but be against only those we must defeat in November of 1968. Let no opposition candidate quote your words in the general election to advance statism or the philosophy of those who have lost confidence in man’s capacity for self-rule.
Just a year ago, we were a party almost totally without power. The two-party system existed only in theory. Out of sheer necessity, we achieved unity and victory. With that victory, we bought time, time to rally our forces for what may be our last chance.
As a result of our victory, we stated something in this State. We are being watched by those all across this land who once again dare to believe that our concept of responsible, people-oriented government can work as the founding fathers meant it to work. If we prove that here, we can, as I have said before, start a prairie fire that can sweep across this country.
But to start that fire, we must nurture the flame here at home or it will flicker and die and those who come after us will find only the ashes of lost hopes and dead dreams.
And nurture the flame he did. Just 14 years later, he defeated Jimmy Carter in a landslide to become the 40th President of the United States and then increased his margin four years later against Walter Mondale.
To see the entire speech, go to https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/archives/speech/april-1-1967-address-governor-ronald-reagan-california-republican-assembly