December 05, 1905
To the Senate and House of Representatives:
The people of this country continue to enjoy great prosperity. Undoubtedly there will be ebb and flow in such prosperity, and this ebb and flow will be felt more or less by all members of the community, both by the deserving and the undeserving. Against the wrath of the Lord the wisdom of man cannot avail; in time of flood or drought human ingenuity can but partially repair the disaster. A general failure of crops would hurt all of us. Again, if the folly of man mars the general well-being, then those who are innocent of the folly will have to pay part of the penalty incurred by those who are guilty of the folly. A panic brought on by the speculative folly of part of the business community would hurt the whole business community. But such stoppage of welfare, though it might be severe, would not be lasting. In the long run the one vital factor in the permanent prosperity of the country is the high individual character of the average American worker, the average American citizen, no matter whether his work be mental or manual, whether he be farmer or wage-worker, business man or professional man.
In our industrial and social system the interests of all men are so closely intertwined that in the immense majority of cases a straight-dealing man who by his efficiency, by his ingenuity and industry, benefits himself must also benefit others. Normally the man of great productive capacity who becomes rich by guiding the labor of many other men does so by enabling them to produce more than they could produce without his guidance; and both he and they share in the benefit, which comes also to the public at large. The superficial fact that the sharing may be unequal must never blind us to the underlying fact that there is this sharing, and that the benefit comes in some degree to each man concerned. Normally the wage-worker, the man of small means, and the average consumer, as well as the average producer, are all alike helped by making conditions such that the man of exceptional business ability receives an exceptional reward for his ability. Something can be done by legislation to help the general prosperity; but no such help of a permanently beneficial character can be given to the less able and less fortunate, save as the results of a policy which shall inure to the advantage of all industrious and efficient people who act decently; and this is only another way of saying that any benefit which comes to the less able and less fortunate must of necessity come even more to the more able and more fortunate. If, therefore, the less fortunate man is moved by envy of his more fortunate brother to strike at the conditions under which they have both, though unequally, prospered, the result will assuredly be that while danger may come to the one struck at, it will visit with an even heavier load the one who strikes the blow. Taken as a whole we must all go up or down together.
Yet, while not merely admitting, but insisting upon this, it is also true that where there is no governmental restraint or supervision some of the exceptional men use their energies not in ways that are for the common good, but in ways which tell against this common good. The fortunes amassed through corporate organization are now so large, and vest such power in those that wield them, as to make it a matter of necessity to give to the sovereign—that is, to the Government, which represents the people as a whole—some effective power of supervision over their corporate use. In order to insure a healthy social and industrial life, every big corporation should be held responsible by, and be accountable to, some sovereign strong enough to control its conduct. I am in no sense hostile to corporations. This is an age of combination, and any effort to prevent all combination will be not only useless, but in the end vicious, because of the contempt for law which the failure to enforce law inevitably produces. We should, moreover, recognize in cordial and ample fashion the immense good effected by corporate agencies in a country such as ours, and the wealth of intellect, energy, and fidelity devoted to their service, and therefore normally to the service of the public, by their officers and directors. The corporation has come to stay, just as the trade union has come to stay. Each can do and has done great good. Each should be favored so long as it does good. But each should be sharply checked where it acts against law and justice.
So long as the finances of the Nation are kept upon an honest basis no other question of internal economy with which the Congress has the power to deal begins to approach in importance the matter of endeavoring to secure proper industrial conditions under which the individuals—and especially the great corporations—doing an interstate business are to act. The makers of our National Constitution provided especially that the regulation of interstate commerce should come within the sphere of the General Government. The arguments in favor of their taking this stand were even then overwhelming. But they are far stronger today, in view of the enormous development of great business agencies, usually corporate in form. Experience has shown conclusively that it is useless to try to get any adequate regulation and supervision of these great corporations by State action. Such regulation and supervision can only be effectively exercised by a sovereign whose jurisdiction is coextensive with the field of work of the corporations—that is, by the National Government. I believe that this regulation and supervision can be obtained by the enactment of law by the Congress. If this proves impossible, it will certainly be necessary ultimately to confer in fullest form such power upon the National Government by a proper amendment of the Constitution. It would obviously be unwise to endeavor to secure such an amendment until it is certain that the result cannot be obtained under the Constitution as it now is. The laws of the Congress and of the several States hitherto, as passed upon by the courts, have resulted more often in showing that the States have no power in the matter than that the National Government has power; so that there at present exists a very unfortunate condition of things, under which these great corporations doing an interstate business occupy the position of subjects without a sovereign, neither any State Government nor the National Government having effective control over them. Our steady aim should be by legislation, cautiously and carefully undertaken, but resolutely persevered in, to assert the sovereignty of the National Government by affirmative action.
This is only in form an innovation. In substance it is merely a restoration; for from the earliest time such regulation of industrial activities has been recognized in the action of the lawmaking bodies; and all that I propose is to meet the changed conditions in such manner as will prevent the Commonwealth abdicating the power it has always possessed not only in this country, but also in England before and since this country became a separate Nation.
It has been a misfortune that the National laws on this subject have hitherto been of a negative or prohibitive rather than an affirmative kind, and still more that they have in part sought to prohibit what could not be effectively prohibited, and have in part in their prohibitions confounded what should be allowed and what should not be allowed. It is generally useless to try to prohibit all restraint on competition, whether this restraint be reasonable or unreasonable; and where it is not useless it is generally hurtful. Events have shown that it is not possible adequately to secure the enforcement of any law of this kind by incessant appeal to the courts. The Department of Justice has for the last four years devoted more attention to the enforcement of the anti-trust legislation than to anything else. Much has been accomplished, particularly marked has been the moral effect of the prosecutions; but it is increasingly evident that there will be a very insufficient beneficial result in the way of economic change. The successful prosecution of one device to evade the law immediately develops another device to accomplish the same purpose. What is needed is not sweeping prohibition of every arrangement, good or bad, which may tend to restrict competition, but such adequate supervision and regulation as will prevent any restriction of competition from being to the detriment of the public—as well as such supervision and regulation as will prevent other abuses in no way connected with restriction of competition. Of these abuses, perhaps the chief, although by no means the only one, is overcapitalization—generally itself the result of dishonest promotion—because of the myriad evils it brings in its train; for such overcapitalization often means an inflation that invites business panic; it always conceals the true relation of the profit earned to the capital actually invested, and it creates a burden of interest payments which is a fertile cause of improper reduction in or limitation of wages; it damages the small investor, discourages thrift, and encourages gambling and speculation; while perhaps worst of all is the trickiness and dishonesty which it implies—for harm to morals is worse than any possible harm to material interests, and the debauchery of politics and business by great dishonest corporations is far worse than any actual material evil they do the public. Until the National Government obtains, in some manner which the wisdom of the Congress may suggest, proper control over the big corporations engaged in interstate commerce—that is, over the great majority of the big corporations—it will be impossible to deal adequately with these evils.
I am well aware of the difficulties of the legislation that I am suggesting, and of the need of temperate and cautious action in securing it. I should emphatically protest against improperly radical or hasty action. The first thing to do is to deal with the great corporations engaged in the business of interstate transportation. As I said in my message of December 6 last, the immediate and most pressing need, so far as legislation is concerned, is the enactment into law of some scheme to secure to the agents of the Government such supervision and regulation of the rates charged by the railroads of the country engaged in interstate traffic as shall summarily and effectively prevent the imposition of unjust or unreasonable rates. It must include putting a complete stop to rebates in every shape and form. This power to regulate rates, like all similar powers over the business world, should be exercised with moderation, caution, and self-restraint; but it should exist, so that it can be effectively exercised when the need arises.
The first consideration to be kept in mind is that the power should be affirmative and should be given to some administrative body created by the Congress. If given to the present Interstate Commerce Commission, or to a reorganized Interstate Commerce Commission, such commission should be made unequivocally administrative. I do not believe in the Government interfering with private business more than is necessary. I do not believe in the Government undertaking any work which can with propriety be left in private hands. But neither do I believe in the Government flinching from overseeing any work when it becomes evident that abuses are sure to obtain therein unless there is governmental supervision. It is not my province to indicate the exact terms of the law which should be enacted; but I call the attention of the Congress to certain existing conditions with which it is desirable to deal, In my judgment the most important provision which such law should contain is that conferring upon some competent administrative body the power to decide, upon the case being brought before it, whether a given rate prescribed by a railroad is reasonable and just, and if it is found to be unreasonable and unjust, then, after full investigation of the complaint, to prescribe the limit of rate beyond which it shall not be lawful to go—the maximum reasonable rate, as it is commonly called—this decision to go into effect within a reasonable time and to obtain from thence onward, subject to review by the courts. It sometimes happens at present not that a rate is too high but that a favored shipper is given too low a rate. In such case the commission would have the right to fix this already established minimum rate as the maximum; and it would need only one or two such decisions by the commission to cure railroad companies of the practice of giving improper minimum rates. I call your attention to the fact that my proposal is not to give the commission power to initiate or originate rates generally, but to regulate a rate already fixed or originated by the roads, upon complaint and after investigation. A heavy penalty should be exacted from any corporation which fails to respect an order of the commission. I regard this power to establish a maximum rate as being essential to any scheme of real reform in the matter of railway regulation. The first necessity is to secure it; and unless it is granted to the commission there is little use in touching the subject at all.
Illegal transactions often occur under the forms of law. It has often occurred that a shipper has been told by a traffic officer to buy a large quantity of some commodity and then after it has been bought an open reduction is made in the rate to take effect immediately, the arrangement resulting to the profit of one shipper and the one railroad and to the damage of all their competitors; for it must not be forgotten that the big shippers are at least as much to blame as any railroad in the matter of rebates. The law should make it clear so that nobody can fail to understand that any kind of commission paid on freight shipments, whether in this form or in the form of fictitious damages, or of a concession, a free pass, reduced passenger rate, or payment of brokerage, is illegal. It is worth while considering whether it would not be wise to confer on the Government the right of civil action against the beneficiary of a rebate for at least twice the value of the rebate; this would help stop what is really blackmail. Elevator allowances should be stopped, for they have now grown to such an extent that they are demoralizing and are used as rebates.
The best possible regulation of rates would, of course, be that regulation secured by an honest agreement among the railroads themselves to carry out the law. Such a general agreement would, for instance, at once put a stop to the efforts of any one big shipper or big railroad to discriminate against or secure advantages over some rival; and such agreement would make the railroads themselves agents for enforcing the law. The power vested in the Government to put a stop to agreements to the detriment of the public should, in my judgment, be accompanied by power to permit, under specified conditions and careful supervision, agreements clearly in the interest of the public. But, in my judgment, the necessity for giving this further power is by no means as great as the necessity for giving the commission or administrative body the other powers I have enumerated above; and it may well be inadvisable to attempt to vest this particular power in the commission or other administrative body until it already possesses and is exercising what I regard as by far the most important of all the powers I recommend—as indeed the vitally important power—that to fix a given maximum rate, which rate, after the lapse of a reasonable time, goes into full effect, subject to review by the courts.
All private-car lines, industrial roads, refrigerator charges, and the like should be expressly put under the supervision of the Interstate Commerce Commission or some similar body so far as rates, and agreements practically affecting rates, are concerned. The private car owners and the owners of industrial railroads are entitled to a fair and reasonable compensation on their investment, but neither private cars nor industrial railroads nor spur tracks should be utilized as devices for securing preferential rates. A rebate in icing charges, or in mileage, or in a division of the rate for refrigerating charges is just as pernicious as a rebate in any other way. No lower rate should apply on goods imported than actually obtains on domestic goods from the American seaboard to destination except in cases where water competition is the controlling influence. There should be publicity of the accounts of common carriers; no common carrier engaged in interstate business should keep any books or memoranda other than those reported pursuant to law or regulation, and these books or memoranda should be open to the inspection of the Government. Only in this way can violations or evasions of the law be surely detected. A system of examination of railroad accounts should be provided similar to that now conducted into the National banks by the bank examiners; a few first-class railroad accountants, if they had proper direction and proper authority to inspect books and papers, could accomplish much in preventing willful violations of the law. It would not be necessary for them to examine into the accounts of any railroad unless for good reasons they were directed to do so by the Interstate Commerce Commission. It is greatly to be desired that some way might be found by which an agreement as to transportation within a State intended to operate as a fraud upon the Federal interstate commerce laws could be brought under the jurisdiction of the Federal authorities. At present it occurs that large shipments of interstate traffic are controlled by concessions on purely State business, which of course amounts to an evasion of the law. The commission should have power to enforce fair treatment by the great trunk lines of lateral and branch lines.
I urge upon the Congress the need of providing for expeditious action by the Interstate Commerce Commission in all these matters, whether in regulating rates for transportation or for storing or for handling property or commodities in transit. The history of the cases litigated under the present commerce act shows that its efficacy has been to a great degree destroyed by the weapon of delay, almost the most formidable weapon in the hands of those whose purpose it is to violate the law.
Let me most earnestly say that these recommendations are not made in any spirit of hostility to the railroads. On ethical grounds, on grounds of right, such hostility would be intolerable; and on grounds of mere National self-interest we must remember that such hostility would tell against the welfare not merely of some few rich men, but of a multitude of small investors, a multitude of railway employes, wage workers, and most severely against the interest of the public as a whole. I believe that on the whole our railroads have done well and not ill; but the railroad men who wish to do well should not be exposed to competition with those who have no such desire, and the only way to secure this end is to give to some Government tribunal the power to see that justice is done by the unwilling exactly as it is gladly done by the willing. Moreover, if some Government body is given increased power the effect will be to furnish authoritative answer on behalf of the railroad whenever irrational clamor against it is raised, or whenever charges made against it are disproved. I ask this legislation not only in the interest of the public but in the interest of the honest railroad man and the honest shipper alike, for it is they who are chiefly jeoparded by the practices of their dishonest competitors. This legislation should be enacted in a spirit as remote as possible from hysteria and rancor. If we of the American body politic are true to the traditions we have inherited we shall always scorn any effort to make us hate any man because he is rich, just as much as we should scorn any effort to make us look down upon or treat contemptuously any man because he is poor. We judge a man by his conduct—that is, by his character—and not by his wealth or intellect. If he makes his fortune honestly, there is no just cause of quarrel with him. Indeed, we have nothing but the kindliest feelings of admiration for the successful business man who behaves decently, whether he has made his success by building or managing a railroad or by shipping goods over that railroad. The big railroad men and big shippers are simply Americans of the ordinary type who have developed to an extraordinary degree certain great business qualities. They are neither better nor worse than their fellow-citizens of smaller means. They are merely more able in certain lines and therefore exposed to certain peculiarly strong temptations. These temptations have not sprung newly into being; the exceptionally successful among mankind have always been exposed to them; but they have grown amazingly in power as a result of the extraordinary development of industrialism along new lines, and under these new conditions, which the law-makers of old could not foresee and therefore could not provide against, they have become so serious and menacing as to demand entirely new remedies. It is in the interest of the best type of railroad man and the best type of shipper no less than of the public that there should be Governmental supervision and regulation of these great business operations, for the same reason that it is in the interest of the corporation which wishes to treat its employes aright that there should be an effective Employers’ Liability act, or an effective system of factory laws to prevent the abuse of women and children. All such legislation frees the corporation that wishes to do well from being driven into doing ill, in order to compete with its rival, which prefers to do ill. We desire to set up a moral standard. There can be no delusion more fatal to the Nation than the delusion that the standard of profits, of business prosperity, is sufficient in judging any business or political question—from rate legislation to municipal government. Business success, whether for the individual or for the Nation, is a good thing only so far as it is accompanied by and develops a high standard of conduct—honor, integrity, civic courage. The kind of business prosperity that blunts the standard of honor, that puts an inordinate value on mere wealth, that makes a man ruthless and conscienceless in trade, and weak and cowardly in citizenship, is not a good thing at all, but a very bad thing for the Nation. This Government stands for manhood first and for business only as an adjunct of manhood.
The question of transportation lies at the root of all industrial success, and the revolution in transportation which has taken place during the last half century has been the most important factor in the growth of the new industrial conditions. Most emphatically we do not wish to see the man of great talents refused the reward for his talents. Still less do we wish to see him penalized but we do desire to see the system of railroad transportation so handled that the strong man shall be given no advantage over the weak man. We wish to insure as fair treatment for the small town as for the big city; for the small shipper as for the big shipper. In the old days the highway of commerce, whether by water or by a road on land, was open to all; it belonged to the public and the traffic along it was free. At present the railway is this highway, and we must do our best to see that it is kept open to all on equal terms. Unlike the old highway it is a very difficult and complex thing to manage, and it is far better that it should be managed by private individuals than by the Government. But it can only be so managed on condition that justice is done the public. It is because, in my judgment, public ownership of railroads is highly undesirable and would probably in this country entail far-reaching disaster, but I wish to see such supervision and regulation of them in the interest of the public as will make it evident that there is no need for public ownership. The opponents of Government regulation dwell upon the difficulties to be encountered and the intricate and involved nature of the problem. Their contention is true. It is a complicated and delicate problem, and all kinds of difficulties are sure to arise in connection with any plan of solution, while no plan will bring all the benefits hoped for by its more optimistic adherents. Moreover, under any healthy plan, the benefits will develop gradually and not rapidly. Finally, we must clearly understand that the public servants who are to do this peculiarly responsible and delicate work must themselves be of the highest type both as regards integrity and efficiency. They must be well paid, for otherwise able men cannot in the long run be secured; and they must possess a lofty probity which will revolt as quickly at the thought of pandering to any gust of popular prejudice against rich men as at the thought of anything even remotely resembling subserviency to rich men. But while I fully admit the difficulties in the way, I do not for a moment admit that these difficulties warrant us in stopping in our effort to secure a wise and just system. They should have no other effect than to spur us on to the exercise of the resolution, the even-handed justice, and the fertility of resource, which we like to think of as typically American, and which will in the end achieve good results in this as in other fields of activity. The task is a great one and underlies the task of dealing with the whole industrial problem. But the fact that it is a great problem does not warrant us in shrinking from the attempt to solve it. At present we face such utter lack of supervision, such freedom from the restraints of law, that excellent men have often been literally forced into doing what they deplored because otherwise they were left at the mercy of unscrupulous competitors. To rail at and assail the men who have done as they best could under such conditions accomplishes little. What we need to do is to develop an orderly system, and such a system can only come through the gradually increased exercise of the right of efficient Government control.
In my annual message to the Fifty-eighth Congress, at its third session, I called attention to the necessity for legislation requiring the use of block signals upon railroads engaged in interstate commerce. The number of serious collisions upon unblocked roads that have occurred within the past year adds force to the recommendation then made. The Congress should provide, by appropriate legislation, for the introduction of block signals upon all railroads engaged in interstate commerce at the earliest practicable date, as a measure of increased safety to the traveling public.
Through decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States and the lower Federal courts in cases brought before them for adjudication the safety appliance law has been materially strengthened, and the Government has been enabled to secure its effective enforcement in almost all cases, with the result that the condition of railroad equipment throughout the country is much improved and railroad employes perform their duties under safer conditions than heretofore. The Government’s most effective aid in arriving at this result has been its inspection service, and that these improved conditions are not more general is due to the insufficient number of inspectors employed. The inspection service has fully demonstrated its usefulness, and in appropriating for its maintenance the Congress should make provision for an increase in the number of inspectors.
The excessive hours of labor to which railroad employes in train service are in many cases subjected is also a matter which may well engage the serious attention of the Congress. The strain, both mental and physical, upon those who are engaged in the movement and operation of railroad trains under modern conditions is perhaps greater than that which exists in any other industry, and if there are any reasons for limiting by law the hours of labor in any employment, they certainly apply with peculiar force to the employment of those upon whose vigilance and alertness in the performance of their duties the safety of all who travel by rail depends.
In my annual message to the Fifty-seventh Congress, at its second session, I recommended the passage of an employers’ liability law for the District of Columbia and in our navy yards. I renewed that recommendation in my message to the Fifty-eighth Congress, at its second session, and further suggested the appointment of a commission to make a comprehensive study of employers’ liability, with a view to the enactment of a wise and Constitutional law covering the subject, applicable to all industries within the scope of the Federal power. I hope that such a law will be prepared and enacted as speedily as possible.
The National Government has, as a rule, but little occasion to deal with the formidable group of problems connected more or less directly with what is known as the labor question, for in the great majority of cases these problems must be dealt with by the State and municipal authorities, and not by the National Government. The National Government has control of the District of Columbia, however, and it should see to it that the City of Washington is made a model city in all respects, both as regards parks, public playgrounds, proper regulation of the system of housing, so as to do away with the evils of alley tenements, a proper system of education, a proper system of dealing with truancy and juvenile offenders, a proper handling of the charitable work of the District. Moreover, there should be proper factory laws to prevent all abuses in the employment of women and children in the District. These will be useful chiefly as object lessons, but even this limited amount of usefulness would be of real National value.
There has been demand for depriving courts of the power to issue injunctions in labor disputes. Such special limitation of the equity powers of our courts would be most unwise. It is true that some judges have misused this power; but this does not justify a denial of the power any more than an improper exercise of the power to call a strike by a labor leader would justify the denial of the right to strike. The remedy is to regulate the procedure by requiring the judge to give due notice to the adverse parties before granting the writ, the hearing to be ex parte if the adverse party does not appear at the time and place ordered. What is due notice must depend upon the facts of the case; it should not be used as a pretext to permit violation of law or the jeopardizing of life or property. Of course, this would not authorize the issuing of a restraining order or injunction in any case in which it is not already authorized by existing law.
I renew the recommendation I made in my last annual message for an investigation by the Department of Commerce and Labor of general labor conditions, especial attention to be paid to the conditions of child labor and child-labor legislation in the several States. Such an investigation should take into account the various problems with which the question of child labor is connected. It is true that these problems can be actually met in most cases only by the States themselves, but it would be well for the Nation to endeavor to secure and publish comprehensive information as to the conditions of the labor of children in the different States, so as to spur up those that are behindhand and to secure approximately uniform legislation of a high character among the several States. In such a Republic as ours the one thing that we cannot afford to neglect is the problem of turning out decent citizens. The future of the Nation depends upon the citizenship of the generations to come; the children of today are those who tomorrow will shape the destiny of our land, and we cannot afford to neglect them. The Legislature of Colorado has recommended that the National Government provide some general measure for the protection from abuse of children and dumb animals throughout the United States. I lay the matter before you for what I trust will be your favorable consideration.
The Department of Commerce and Labor should also make a thorough investigation of the conditions of women in industry. Over five million American women are now engaged in gainful occupations; yet there is an almost complete dearth of data upon which to base any trustworthy conclusions as regards a subject as important as it is vast and complicated. There is need of full knowledge on which to base action looking toward State and municipal legislation for the protection of working women. The introduction of women into industry is working change and disturbance in the domestic and social life of the Nation. The decrease in marriage, and especially in the birth rate, has been coincident with it. We must face accomplished facts, and the adjustment of factory conditions must be made, but surely it can be made with less friction and less harmful effects on family life than is now the case. This whole matter in reality forms one of the greatest sociological phenomena of our time; it is a social question of the first importance, of far greater importance than any merely political or economic question can be, and to solve it we need ample data, gathered in a sane and scientific spirit in the course of an exhaustive investigation.
In any great labor disturbance not only are employer and employe interested, but a third party—the general public. Every considerable labor difficulty in which interstate commerce is involved should be investigated by the Government and the facts officially reported to the public.
The question of securing a healthy, self-respecting, and mutually sympathetic attitude as between employer and employe, capitalist and wage-worker, is a difficult one. All phases of the labor problem prove difficult when approached. But the underlying principles, the root principles, in accordance with which the problem must be solved are entirely simple. We can get justice and right dealing only if we put as of paramount importance the principle of treating a man on his worth as a man rather than with reference to his social position, his occupation or the class to which he belongs. There are selfish and brutal men in all ranks of life. If they are capitalists their selfishness and brutality may take the form of hard indifference to suffering, greedy disregard of every moral restraint which interferes with the accumulation of wealth, and cold-blooded exploitation of the weak; or, if they are laborers, the form of laziness, of sullen envy of the more fortunate, and of willingness to perform deeds of murderous violence. Such conduct is just as reprehensible in one case as in the other, and all honest and farseeing men should join in warring against it wherever it becomes manifest. Individual capitalist and individual wage-worker, corporation and union, are alike entitled to the protection of the law, and must alike obey the law. Moreover, in addition to mere obedience to the law, each man, if he be really a good citizen, must show broad sympathy for his neighbor and genuine desire to look at any question arising between them from the standpoint of that neighbor no less than from his own, and to this end it is essential that capitalist and wage-worker should consult freely one with the other, should each strive to bring closer the day when both shall realize that they are properly partners and not enemies. To approach the questions which inevitably arise between them solely from the standpoint which treats each side in the mass as the enemy of the other side in the mass is both wicked and foolish. In the past the most direful among the influences which have brought about the downfall of republics has ever been the growth of the class spirit, the growth of the spirit which tends to make a man subordinate the welfare of the public as a whole to the welfare of the particular class to which he belongs, the substitution of loyalty to a class for loyalty to the Nation. This inevitably brings about a tendency to treat each man not on his merits as an individual, but on his position as belonging to a certain class in the community. If such a spirit grows up in this Republic it will ultimately prove fatal to us, as in the past it has proved fatal to every community in which it has become dominant. Unless we continue to keep a quick and lively sense of the great fundamental truth that our concern is with the individual worth of the individual man, this Government cannot permanently hold the place which it has achieved among the nations. The vital lines of cleavage among our people do not correspond, and indeed run at right angles to, the lines of cleavage which divide occupation from occupation, which divide wage-workers from capitalists, farmers from bankers, men of small means from men of large means, men who live in the towns from men who live in the country; for the vital line of cleavage is the line which divides the honest man who tries to do well by his neighbor from the dishonest man who does ill by his neighbor. In other words, the standard we should establish is the standard of conduct, not the standard of occupation, of means, or of social position. It is the man’s moral quality, his attitude toward the great questions which concern all humanity, his cleanliness of life, his power to do his duty toward himself and toward others, which really count; and if we substitute for the standard of personal judgment which treats each man according to his merits, another standard in accordance with which all men of one class are favored and all men of another class discriminated against, we shall do irreparable damage to the body politic. I believe that our people are too sane, too self-respecting, too fit for self-government, ever to adopt such an attitude. This Government is not and never shall be government by a plutocracy. This Government is not and never shall be government by a mob. It shall continue to be in the future what it has been in the past, a Government based on the theory that each man, rich or poor, is to be treated simply and solely on his worth as a man, that all his personal and property rights are to be safeguarded, and that he is neither to wrong others nor to suffer wrong from others.
The noblest of all forms of government is self-government; but it is also the most difficult. We who possess this priceless boon, and who desire to hand it on to our children and our children’s children, should ever bear in mind the thought so finely expressed by Burke: “Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as they are disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there be within the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.” The great insurance companies afford striking examples of corporations whose business has extended so far beyond the jurisdiction of the States which created them as to preclude strict enforcement of supervision and regulation by the parent States. In my last annual message I recommended “that the Congress carefully consider whether the power of the Bureau of Corporations cannot constitutionally be extended to cover interstate transactions in insurance.”
Recent events have emphasized the importance of an early and exhaustive consideration of this question, to see whether it is not possible to furnish better safeguards than the several States have been able to furnish against corruption of the flagrant kind which has been exposed. It has been only too clearly shown that certain of the men at the head of these large corporations take but small note of the ethical distinction between honesty and dishonesty; they draw the line only this side of what may be called law-honesty, the kind of honesty necessary in order to avoid falling into the clutches of the law. Of course the only complete remedy for this condition must be found in an aroused public conscience, a higher sense of ethical conduct in the community at large, and especially among business men and in the great profession of the law, and in the growth of a spirit which condemns all dishonesty, whether in rich man or in poor man, whether it takes the shape of bribery or of blackmail. But much can be done by legislation which is not only drastic but practical. There is need of a far stricter and more uniform regulation of the vast insurance interests of this country. The United States should in this respect follow the policy of other nations by providing adequate national supervision of commercial interests which are clearly national in character. My predecessors have repeatedly recognized that the foreign business of these companies is an important part of our foreign commercial relations. During the administrations of Presidents Cleveland, Harrison, and McKinley the State Department exercised its influence, through diplomatic channels, to prevent unjust discrimination by foreign countries against American insurance companies. These negotiations illustrated the propriety of the Congress recognizing the National character of insurance, for in the absence of Federal legislation the State Department could only give expression to the wishes of the authorities of the several States, whose policy was ineffective through want of uniformity.
I repeat my previous recommendation that the Congress should also consider whether the Federal Government has any power or owes any duty with respect to domestic transactions in insurance of an interstate character. That State supervision has proved inadequate is generally conceded. The burden upon insurance companies, and therefore their policy holders, of conflicting regulations of many States, is unquestioned, while but little effective check is imposed upon any able and unscrupulous man who desires to exploit the company in his own interest at the expense of the policy holders and of the public. The inability of a State to regulate effectively insurance corporations created under the laws of other States and transacting the larger part of their business elsewhere is also clear. As a remedy for this evil of conflicting, ineffective, and yet burdensome regulations there has been for many years a widespread demand for Federal supervision. The Congress has already recognized that interstate insurance may be a proper subject for Federal legislation, for in creating the Bureau of Corporations it authorized it to publish and supply useful information concerning interstate corporations, “including corporations engaged in insurance.” It is obvious that if the compilation of statistics be the limit of the Federal power it is wholly ineffective to regulate this form of commercial intercourse between the States, and as the insurance business has outgrown in magnitude the possibility of adequate State supervision, the Congress should carefully consider whether further legislation can be bad. What is said above applies with equal force to fraternal and benevolent organizations which contract for life insurance.
There is more need of stability than of the attempt to attain an ideal perfection in the methods of raising revenue; and the shock and strain to the business world certain to attend any serious change in these methods render such change inadvisable unless for grave reason. It is not possible to lay down any general rule by which to determine the moment when the reasons for will outweigh the reasons against such a change. Much must depend, not merely on the needs, but on the desires, of the people as a whole; for needs and desires are not necessarily identical. Of course, no change can be made on lines beneficial to, or desired by, one section or one State only. There must be something like a general agreement among the citizens of the several States, as represented in the Congress, that the change is needed and desired in the interest of the people, as a whole; and there should then be a sincere, intelligent, and disinterested effort to make it in such shape as will combine, so far as possible, the maximum of good to the people at large with the minimum of necessary disregard for the special interests of localities or classes. But in time of peace the revenue must on the average, taking a series of years together, equal the expenditures or else the revenues must be increased. Last year there was a deficit. Unless our expenditures can be kept within the revenues then our revenue laws must be readjusted. It is as yet too early to attempt to outline what shape such a readjustment should take, for it is as yet too early to say whether there will be need for it. It should be considered whether it is not desirable that the tariff laws should provide for applying as against or in favor of any other nation maximum and minimum tariff rates established by the Congress, so as to secure a certain reciprocity of treatment between other nations and ourselves. Having in view even larger considerations of policy than those of a purely economic nature, it would, in my judgment, be well to endeavor to bring about closer commercial connections with the other peoples of this continent. I am happy to be able to announce to you that Russia now treats us on the most-favored-nation basis.
I earnestly recommend to Congress the need of economy and to this end of a rigid scrutiny of appropriations. As examples merely, I call your attention to one or two specific matters. All unnecessary offices should be abolished. The Commissioner of the General Land Office recommends the abolishment of the office of Receiver of Public Moneys for the United States Land Office. This will effect a saving of about a quarter of a million dollars a year. As the business of the Nation grows, it is inevitable that there should be from time to time a legitimate increase in the number of officials, and this fact renders it all the more important that when offices become unnecessary they should be abolished. In the public printing also a large saving of public money can be made. There is a constantly growing tendency to publish masses of unimportant information. It is probably not unfair to say that many tens of thousands of volumes are published at which no human being ever looks and for which there is no real demand whatever.
Yet, in speaking of economy, I must in no wise be understood as advocating the false economy which is in the end the worst extravagance. To cut down on the navy, for instance, would be a crime against the Nation. To fail to push forward all work on the Panama Canal would be as great a folly. In my message of December 2, 1902, to the Congress I said:
“Interest rates are a potent factor in business activity, and in order that these rates may be equalized to meet the varying needs of the seasons and of widely separated communities, and to prevent the recurrence of financial stringencies, which injuriously affect legitimate business, it is necessary that there should be an element of elasticity in our monetary system. Banks are the natural servants of commerce, and, upon them should be placed, as far as practicable, the burden of furnishing and maintaining a circulation adequate to supply the needs of our diversified industries and of our domestic and foreign commerce; and the issue of this should be so regulated that a sufficient supply should be always available for the business interests of the country.”
Every consideration of prudence demands the addition of the element of elasticity to our currency system. The evil does not consist in an inadequate volume of money, but in the rigidity of this volume, which does not respond as it should to the varying needs of communities and of seasons. Inflation must be avoided; but some provision should be made that will insure a larger volume of money during the Fall and Winter months than in the less active seasons of the year; so that the currency will contract against speculation, and will expand for the needs of legitimate business. At present the Treasury Department is at irregularly recurring intervals obliged, in the interest of the business world—that is, in the interests of the American public—to try to avert financial crises by providing a remedy which should be provided by Congressional action.
At various times I have instituted investigations into the organization and conduct of the business of the executive departments. While none of these inquiries have yet progressed far enough to warrant final conclusions, they have already confirmed and emphasized the general impression that the organization of the departments is often faulty in principle and wasteful in results, while many of their business methods are antiquated and inefficient. There is every reason why our executive governmental machinery should be at least as well planned, economical, and efficient as the best machinery of the great business organizations, which at present is not the case. To make it so is a task of complex detail and essentially executive in its nature; probably no legislative body, no matter how wise and able, could undertake it with reasonable prospect of success. I recommend that the Congress consider this subject with a view to provide by legislation for the transfer, distribution, consolidation, and assignment of duties and executive organizations or parts of organizations, and for the changes in business methods, within or between the several departments, that will best promote the economy, efficiency, and high character of the Government work.
In my last annual message I said:
“The power of the Government to protect the integrity of the elections of its own officials is inherent and has been recognized and affirmed by repeated declarations of the Supreme Court. There is no enemy of free government more dangerous and none so insidious as the corruption of the electorate. No one defends or excuses corruption, and it would seem to follow that none would oppose vigorous measures to eradicate it. I recommend the enactment of a law directed against bribery and corruption in Federal elections. The details of such a law may be safely left to the wise discretion of the Congress, but it should go as far as under the Constitution it is possible to go, and should include severe penalties against him who gives or receives a bribe intended to influence his act or opinion as an elector; and provisions for the publication not only of the expenditures for nominations and elections of all candidates, but also of all contributions received and expenditures made by political committees.”
I desire to repeat this recommendation. In political campaigns in a country as large and populous as ours it is inevitable that there should be much expense of an entirely legitimate kind. This, of course, means that many contributions, and some of them of large size, must be made, and, as a matter of fact, in any big political contest such contributions are always made to both sides. It is entirely proper both to give and receive them, unless there is an improper motive connected with either gift or reception. If they are extorted by any kind of pressure or promise, express or implied, direct or indirect, in the way of favor or immunity, then the giving or receiving becomes not only improper but criminal. It will undoubtedly be difficult, as a matter of practical detail, to shape an act which shall guard with reasonable certainty against such misconduct; but if it is possible to secure by law the full and verified publication in detail of all the sums contributed to and expended by the candidates or committees of any political parties, the result cannot but be wholesome. All contributions by corporations to any political committee or for any political purpose should be forbidden by law; directors should not be permitted to use stockholders’ money for such purposes; and, moreover, a prohibition of this kind would be, as far as it went, an effective method of stopping the evils aimed at in corrupt practices acts. Not only should both the National and the several State Legislatures forbid any officer of a corporation from using the money of the corporation in or about any election, but they should also forbid such use of money in connection with any legislation save by the employment of counsel in public manner for distinctly legal services.
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