Rights Under the Constitution

About the time I arrived at the University, America was having a wave of reform, and was closing red-light districts right and left. Orders had gone out in Austin to close the district by the time the students got there. At the stroke of twelve midnight, on the day of matriculation, with the sheriff and chief of police presiding, the clamps went on.

But we students drank quite openly and brawled up and down Capitol Avenue. The brewery and liquor interests did exactly as they pleased, though it was a penitentiary offense to let students enter saloons.

Almost everybody's son converged on the University that year. The only exceptions were a few bankers' and mortgage holders' sons, who went to Princeton, Harvard and Yale. Rich ranchmen sent their sons to study law—so that when trades were made in Chicago or elsewhere, there would be no crooked work, and so that when the fathers died, their sons would carry on as shrewd fellows. Agriculture, animal husbandry, and genetics were all considered unessential by most of us. The agricultural college was giving students training to really fit men for life, but we didn't care, and went happily on our way.

Journalistic schools were being established in the universitites over the country. But most of the fellows were taking the law course. So I enrolled in journalism. The students had a newspaper, The Daily Texan. It was printed downtown, and, thank the Lord, was free of the censorship of timid professors. The Daily Texan is a big sheet now, and it prints nothing that is not pleasing to Mr. Mellon, the Gulf Sulphur Trust, and the oil, gas, and power companies. The regents are very respectable gentlemen; several are my loving classmates; yea, verily, they fear for the tender minds of the students, and deplore radicalism; they also keep most of the professors scared out of their wits. In the old days the Daily was a lusty publication, denouncing this and that, not depending on advertisements, and taking no orders from the barons of oil and power.

I became a reporter, then a proofreader, finally an "issue" editor. Even though the paper was rather free, some of us thought it a little too tame. So every April Fool's Day we printed the Blunderbuss. It was a first-class publication containing libel, slander and scandal of the highest (or lowest) order. It was an outrageous sheet, with fake names on the masthead. We maintained strict secrecy, and never got caught.

We had all kinds of professors in those days. There was one named Dr. Lewis E. Haney, who now gives sage business advice in the Hearst publications. Dr. Haney was considered to be a radical at the time—so red, it was said, that he ought to be thrown out of the University. And now he writes for Mr. Hearst. My! My! At the same time we had Dr. Leon Green, who was too conservative. Now he is at Northwestern, and they say he is too liberal!

There was Stark Young, who is now one of my bosses on the New Republic, and a distinguished author and dramatic critic. Stark would come around and argue with the boys of the Sigma Chi house, and we all thought he was a great man, and maybe he was. In any event, he was a talented writer and a real Southern gentleman, and wrote very poetically and dramatically, in good literary form—a kind of literature that romanticizes the South—and ruins it.

After a couple of years of journalism, I decided to be a lawyer, and whether it was jumping from the frying pan into the fire, I have never been able to find out. I jammed all my three years of law into one, and at twenty became a member of the bar. The last year studying law was a year of hard work and student fun.

For instance, there was the Scardino incident. A freshman named Scardino came to the University and was announced for president of the freshman class on an elaborate platform of social reform. I was at that time too progressive to suit the faculty. I decided to get into the fight. I was a junior law student, but that didn't matter. I announced my candidacy as freshman president, too. Many of the freshmen did not know the difference—at least my opponent didn't. We started our campaign.

I made my platform as reactionary as possible. I came out for the Constitution and for "the immemorial liberties whence man's mind runneth not to the contrary." I had read that in Blackstone and it sounded very good. Between candidates Scardino and Maverick there began a series of joint debates.

At the University we had what we called a "blanket tax," which covered all our expenses in athletics. I demanded to know how my opponent stood on the subject of "blanket taxes." We had some real old Texas politics. We made accusations and counter-accusations. We didn't know much, but our display of ignorance was no worse than the average adult politics of the time.

I demanded to know if he favored taxing blankets or not taxing blankets. "Will the gentleman be courageous enough to give an answer?" Then and there he came out for the repeal of the blanket tax. Apparently he didn't know the meaning of the word. He said that it was improper that anyone should pay a tax on a blanket, that everyone should have a right to sleep without being worried about the taxes on his blankets. I forgot which side I finally took, but I said something about Rome falling and made up quotations from Gibbon, which everyone cheered.

One day, in front of the Women's Building, the debate got pretty hot. We heckled each other, and I pretended to be very angry. Someone slipped up beside me, handed me a long, shining knife, and suggested that I murder Scardino. It startled me, and I handed the knife back. But the man showed me that it was a rubber dagger. So I hid the knife in my shirt, and the next time Mr. Scardino made a remark, I construed it as an insult and threatened to cut his heart out.

He demanded to know what kind of a savage I was. Making pretext of insult again, I jerked the knife from my shirt, and went at him. The crowd was quite as startled as I had been at first. They thought I had a real knife, and were getting ready to pull me away. However, while Scardino looked the other way, I bent my rubber knife in the view of the crowd.

We rushed across the field and I was making every effort to stab him and we were all fighting and scuffling on the campus. Scardino must have been reading dime novels, because he shouted, "Have the villain unhand me."

Such was the Scardino Affair. It was not my first breach of the peace. I had been canned out of the University for being connected with various disorders, such as rotten-egging professors, painting the water tank, hazing, and being a very poor student. I still indignantly deny the charges, except the last, although I will admit that some very incriminating evidence was produced against me, which, if similar charges should now be produced against my son, would cause me to take the same attitude that my father took: to wit, good money was being wasted on a jackass.

But this time I had made up my mind not to get suspended or expelled, for I knew I could not be reinstated again. I was studying the Constitution with a vengeance, knew the Bill of Rights by heart, attended labor meetings, and listened eagerly to Scott Nearing, who had the impudence to suggest that lynching of Negroes should stop.

One day, after the Scardino affair had died down, I was walking across the campus, really attending to my own business. But my reputation would not let me alone. As I walked along, I heard a great noise. It was a parade, with a very happy crowd, Scardino at the head.

Some upper classmen had posed as freshmen, and with others had induced Scardino to buy a keg of beer. My worthy opponent had entertained the crowd; a stump speech was made on a real stump; and the celebrants, heedless of rules to the contrary, entered the University grounds in triumphal parade, let by "General Pender," an old Negro, driving an express wagon. I saw some professors around, and having been warned to behave, I kept out of the affair completely. I knew there would be trouble. I did nothing more than to cheer.

But the next day I was summoned before the President, Old Doc Battle, and Doctor Benedict, now president, and Charles Shirley Potts, A.B., A.M., LL.D., and for all I know, Ph.D. I was called upon to tell what I had done.

"Please read the charge," I said icily, thinking of the Constitution, "and let my accusers face me." I looked very stern. I was serious.

They answered there was no charge, but that I should be a man, and tell all. I reminded them the Constitution was in effect, and that no man was required to be witness against himself, and had other rights. Also, I said that bringing me in was like picking up a criminal on suspicion, and giving him the third degree.

Dr. Potts got so sore I thought he was going to bite my ears off. He yelled at me:

"Young man, that is a mere constitutional subterfuge."

I knew nothing of the affair, and had no connection with it. I could have told them that. But I considered it a matter of principle, and had made up my mind not to testify.

The argument went on for an hour or two. Finally I was dismissed and told I could have three days in which to make up my mind.

I started things moving. I rushed out to see "my lawyer"—my good friend Judge Robert L. Batts, who had formerly been a professor, then a law partner of U. S. Attorney General Gregory. I asked him to get out an injunction to prevent the faculty from canning me, on the grounds that they were violating my various and sundry constitutional immunities. Though Judge Batts was one of the most distinguished lawyers in America, he let me take his time venting at length my anger over the invasion of these, my immemorial liberties. To this very day I do not know whether he took me seriously or not, but he listened attentively, registered outrage at the proper time, and promised help.

I decided to gamble my chances on being fired, for the satisfaction of proclaiming my constitutional rights. I let everyone know that I had a battery of the best lawyers in the country to back me up.

After postponing the hearing, the officials offered a compromise. I was assured that if I would tell what I had done, there would be no punishment. They apparently did not want to establish a precedent of failing to make a student testify against himself. This argument went on for several days. At the fraternity house and at the Judge's, we held conferences.

I finally decided to testify.

I entered the high-paneled office of the president. The court reporter came in and sat down. He sharpened his pencils. I was cautioned to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God. I did.

I said: "I know absolutely nothing about the incident, and had no connection with it whatever."

It was a terrible shock. They were all paralyzed with anger.

Dr. Battle looked me straight in the eye. "Mr. Maverick," he said, "will you please leave this room?"
Such incidents have their element of humor. But there is the serious side. Universities today should protect the civil rights of the students, and stop such nonsense as red hunts against young men and women who are doing nothing but learn, and who express themselves as they have a right to do.
We were trouble makers and bum students. I do not approve of that; but in those days the seriousness of the world did not appear to us. It was a good thing, however, that many of us did our own thinking, however slip-shod it was, and sat on the campus to argue philosophy, and read books that we were not supposed to read. In that way, we picked up a little education. We organized the "Campus Buzzards," a most worthy organization. We proclaimed ourselves as carrion philosophers and permitted no reading except that which was prohibited. Thus we learned.

In any event, the University courses in those days were dull. They have improved a great deal since. Students today are far better off.

The University had many members of the legislature who were attending the law school. So we frequently attended the State Legislature. We never missed the inaugural balls, which were always grand and glorious affairs, with plenty of champagne and punch.
While all of us talked of the immemorial liberties handed down to us by our forefathers, the great oil, gas, natural resources and power companies were getting a strangle hold on Texas. Talk of Prohibition and reform was a blind, in order that the Great Steal of Texas' natural resources could go on.
Whatever our state of learning as we left college, we all got jobs, for jobs were easy to get. It was an era of expansion, of selling hand-over-fist every commodity that could be grown or manufactured. The war in Europe was on in full earnest. Corporations needed men. And they paid well. Everything was lovely. We did not hear the rumble of the war drums in Europe.