December 03, 1907
To the Senate and House of Representatives:
No nation has greater resources than ours, and I think it can be truthfully said that the citizens of no nation possess greater energy and industrial ability. In no nation are the fundamental business conditions sounder than in ours at this very moment; and it is foolish, when such is the case, for people to hoard money instead of keeping it in sound banks; for it is such hoarding that is the immediate occasion of money stringency. Moreover, as a rule, the business of our people is conducted with honesty and probity, and this applies alike to farms and factories, to railroads and banks, to all our legitimate commercial enterprises.
In any large body of men, however, there are certain to be some who are dishonest, and if the conditions are such that these men prosper or commit their misdeeds with impunity, their example is a very evil thing for the community. Where these men are business men of great sagacity and of temperament both unscrupulous and reckless, and where the conditions are such that they act without supervision or control and at first without effective check from public opinion, they delude many innocent people into making investments or embarking in kinds of business that are really unsound. When the misdeeds of these successfully dishonest men are discovered, suffering comes not only upon them, but upon the innocent men whom they have misled. It is a painful awakening, whenever it occurs; and, naturally, when it does occur those who suffer are apt to forget that the longer it was deferred the more painful it would be. In the effort to punish the guilty it is both wise and proper to endeavor so far as possible to minimize the distress of those who have been misled by the guilty. Yet it is not possible to refrain because of such distress from striving to put an end to the misdeeds that are the ultimate causes of the suffering, and, as a means to this end, where possible to punish those responsible for them. There may be honest differences of opinion as to many governmental policies; but surely there can be no such differences as to the need of unflinching perseverance in the war against successful dishonesty.
In my Message to the Congress on December 5, 1905, I said:
“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 wageworker, 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 damage 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 go 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.
“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 to-day, 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. 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. 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.”
I have called your attention in these quotations to what I have already said because I am satisfied that it is the duty of the National Government to embody in action the principles thus expressed.
No small part of the trouble that we have comes from carrying to an extreme the national virtue of self-reliance, of independence in initiative and action. It is wise to conserve this virtue and to provide for its fullest exercise, compatible with seeing that liberty does not become a liberty to wrong others. Unfortunately, this is the kind of liberty that the lack of all effective regulation inevitably breeds. The founders of the Constitution provided that the National Government should have complete and sole control of interstate commerce. There was then practically no interstate business save such as was conducted by water, and this the National Government at once proceeded to regulate in thoroughgoing and effective fashion. Conditions have now so wholly changed that the interstate commerce by water is insignificant compared with the amount that goes by land, and almost all big business concerns are now engaged in interstate commerce. As a result, it can be but partially and imperfectly controlled or regulated by the action of any one of the several States; such action inevitably tending to be either too drastic or else too lax, and in either case ineffective for purposes of justice. Only the National Government can in thoroughgoing fashion exercise the needed control. This does not mean that there should be any extension of Federal authority, for such authority already exists under the Constitution in amplest and most far-reaching form; but it does mean that there should be an extension of Federal activity. This is not advocating centralization. It is merely looking facts in the face, and realizing that centralization in business has already come and can not be avoided or undone, and that the public at large can only protect itself from certain evil effects of this business centralization by providing better methods for the exercise of control through the authority already centralized in the National Government by the Constitution itself. There must be no ball in the healthy constructive course of action which this Nation has elected to pursue, and has steadily pursued, during the last six years, as shown both in the legislation of the Congress and the administration of the law by the Department of Justice. The most vital need is in connection with the railroads. As to these, in my judgment there should now be either a national incorporation act or a law licensing railway companies to engage in interstate commerce upon certain conditions. The law should be so framed as to give to the Interstate Commerce Commission power to pass upon the future issue of securities, while ample means should be provided to enable the Commission, whenever in its judgment it is necessary, to make a physical valuation of any railroad. As I stated in my Message to the Congress a year ago, railroads should be given power to enter into agreements, subject to these agreements being made public in minute detail and to the consent of the Interstate Commerce Commission being first obtained. Until the National Government assumes proper control of interstate commerce, in the exercise of the authority it already possesses, it will be impossible either to give to or to get from the railroads full justice. The railroads and all other great corporations will do well to recognize that this control must come; the only question is as to what governmental body can most wisely exercise it. The courts will determine the limits within which the Federal authority can exercise it, and there will still remain ample work within each State for the railway commission of that State; and the National Interstate Commerce Commission will work in harmony with the several State commissions, each within its own province, to achieve the desired end.
Moreover, in my judgment there should be additional legislation looking to the proper control of the great business concerns engaged ininterstate business, this control to be exercised for their own benefit and prosperity no less than for the protection of investors and of the general public. As I have repeatedly said in Messages to the Congress and elsewhere, experience has definitely shown not merely the unwisdom but the futility of endeavoring to put a stop to all business combinations. Modern industrial conditions are such that combination is not only necessary but inevitable. It is so in the world of business just as it is so in the world of labor, and it is as idle to desire to put an end to all corporations, to all big combinations of capital, as to desire to put an end to combinations of labor. Corporation and labor union alike have come to stay. Each if properly managed is a source of good and not evil. Whenever in either there is evil, it should be promptly held to account; but it should receive hearty encouragement so long as it is properly managed. It is profoundly immoral to put or keep on the statute books a law, nominally in the interest of public morality that really puts a premium upon public immorality, by undertaking to forbid honest men from doing what must be done under modern business conditions, so that the law itself provides that its own infraction must be the condition precedent upon business success. To aim at the accomplishment of too much usually means the accomplishment of too little, and often the doing of positive damage. In my Message to the Congress a year ago, in speaking of the antitrust laws, I said:
“The actual working of our laws has shown that the effort to prohibit all combination, good or bad, is noxious where it is not ineffective. Combination of capital, like combination of labor, is a necessary element in our present industrial system. It is not possible completely to prevent it; and if it were possible, such complete prevention would do damage to the body politic. What we need is not vainly to try to prevent all combination, but to secure such rigorous and adequate control and supervision of the combinations as to prevent their injuring the public, or existing in such forms as inevitably to threaten injury. It is unfortunate that our present laws should forbid all combinations instead of sharply discriminating between those combinations which do evil. Often railroads would like to combine for the purpose of preventing a big shipper from maintaining improper advantages at the expense of small shippers and of the general public. Such a combination, instead of being forbidden by law, should be favored. It is a public evil to have on the statute books a law incapable of full enforcement, because both judges and juries realize that its full enforcement would destroy the business of the country; for the result is to make decent men violators of the law against their will, and to put a premium on the behavior of the willful wrongdoers. Such a result in turn tends to throw the decent man and the willful wrongdoer into close association, and in the end to drag down the former to the latter’s level; for the man who becomes a lawbreaker in one way unhappily tends to lose all respect for law and to be willing to break it in many ways. No more scathing condemnation could be visited upon a law than is contained in the words of the Interstate Commerce Commission when, in commenting upon the fact that the numerous joint traffic associations do technically violate the law, they say: The decision of the United States Supreme Court in the Trans-Missouri case and the Joint Traffic Association case has produced no practical effect upon the railway operations of the country. Such associations, in fact, exist now as they did before these decisions, and with the same general effect. In justice to all parties, we ought probably to add that it is difficult to see how our interstate railways could be operated with due regard to the interest of the shipper and the railway without concerted action of the kind afforded through these associations.
“This means that the law as construed by the Supreme Court is such that the business of the country can not be conducted without breaking it.”
As I have elsewhere said:
“All this is substantially what I have said over and over again. Surely it ought not to be necessary to say that it in no shape or way represents any hostility to corporations as such. On the contrary, it means a frank recognition of the fact that combinations of capital, like combinations of labor, are a natural result of modern conditions and of our National development. As far as in my ability lies my endeavor is and will be to prevent abuse of power by either and to favor both so long as they do well. The aim of the National Government is quite as much to favor and protect honest corporations, honest business men of wealth, as to bring to justice those individuals and corporations representing dishonest methods. Most certainly there will be no relaxation by the Government authorities in the effort to get at any great railroad wrecker—any man who by clever swindling devices robs investors, oppresses wage-workers, and does injustice to the general public. But any such move as this is in the interest of honest railway operators, of honest corporations, and of those who, when they invest their small savings in stocks and bonds, wish to be assured that these will represent money honestly expended for legitimate business purposes. To confer upon the National Government the power for which I ask would be a check upon overcapitalization and upon the clever gamblers who benefit by overcapitalization. But it alone would mean an increase in the value, an increase in the safety of the stocks and bonds of law-abiding, honestly managed railroads, and would render it far easier to market their securities. I believe in proper publicity.There has been complaint of some of the investigations recently carried on, but those who complain should put the blame where it belongs—upon the misdeeds which are done in darkness and not upon the investigations which brought them to light. The Administration is responsible for turning on the light, but it is not responsible for what the light showed. I ask for full power to be given the Federal Government, because no single State can by legislation effectually cope with these powerful corporations engaged in interstate commerce, and, while doing them full justice, exact from them in return full justice to others. The conditions of railroad activity, the conditions of our immense interstate commerce, are such as to make the Central Government alone competent to exercise full supervision and control.
“The grave abuses in individual cases of railroad management in the past represent wrongs not merely to the general public, but, above all, wrongs to fair-dealing and honest corporations and men of wealth, because they excite a popular anger and distrust which from the very nature of the case tends to include in the sweep of its resentment good and bad alike. From the standpoint of the public I can not too earnestly say that as soon as the natural and proper resentment aroused by these abuses becomes indiscriminate and unthinking, it also becomes not merely unwise and unfair, but calculated to defeat the very ends which those feeling it have in view. There has been plenty of dishonest work by corporations in the past. There will not be the slightest let-up in the effort to hunt down and punish every dishonest man. But the bulk of our business is honestly done. In the natural indignation the people feel over the dishonesty, it is essential that they should not lose their heads and get drawn into an indiscriminate raid upon all corporations, all people of wealth, whether they do well or ill. Out of any such wild movement good will not come, can not come, and never has come. On the contrary, the surest way to invite reaction is to follow the lead of either demagogue or visionary in a sweeping assault upon property values and upon public confidence, which would work incalculable damage in the business world and would produce such distrust of the agitators that in the revulsion the distrust would extend to honest men who, in sincere and same fashion, are trying to remedy the evils.”
The antitrust law should not be repealed; but it should be made both more efficient and more in harmony with actual conditions. It should be so amended as to forbid only the kind of combination which does harm to the general public, such amendment to be accompanied by, or to be an incident of, a grant of supervisory power to the Government over these big concerns engaged in interstate business. This should be accompanied by provision for the compulsory publication of accounts and the subjection of books and papers to the inspection of the Government officials. A beginning has already been made for such supervision by the establishment of the Bureau of Corporations.
The antitrust law should not prohibit combinations that do no injustice to the public, still less those the existence of which is on the whole of benefit to the public. But even if this feature of the law were abolished, there would remain as an equally objectionable feature the difficulty and delay now incident to its enforcement. The Government must now submit to irksome and repeated delay before obtaining a final decision of the courts upon proceedings instituted, and even a favorable decree may mean an empty victory. Moreover, to attempt to control these corporations by lawsuits means to impose upon both the Department of Justice and the courts an impossible burden; it is not feasible to carry on more than a limited number of such suits. Such a law to be really effective must of course be administered by an executive body, and not merely by means of lawsuits. The design should be to prevent the abuses incident to the creation of unhealthy and improper combinations, instead of waiting until they are in existence and then attempting to destroy them by civil or criminal proceedings.
A combination should not be tolerated if it abuse the power acquired by combination to the public detriment. No corporation or association of any kind should be permitted to engage in foreign or interstate commerce that is formed for the purpose of, or whose operations create, a monopoly or general control of the production, sale, or distribution of any one or more of the prime necessities of life or articles of general use and necessity. Such combinations are against public policy; they violate the common law; the doors of the courts are closed to those who are parties to them, and I believe the Congress can close the channels of interstate commerce against them for its protection. The law should make its prohibitions and permissions as clear and definite as possible, leaving the least possible room for arbitrary action, or allegation of such action, on the part of the Executive, or of divergent interpretations by the courts. Among the points to be aimed at should be the prohibition of unhealthy competition, such as by rendering service at an actual loss for the purpose of crushing out competition, the prevention of inflation of capital, and the prohibition of a corporation’s making exclusive trade with itself a condition of having any trade with itself. Reasonable agreements between, or combinations of, corporations should be permitted, provided they are submitted to and approved by some appropriate Government body.
The Congress has the power to charter corporations to engage in interstate and foreign commerce, and a general law can be enacted under the provisions of which existing corporations could take out Federal charters and new Federal corporations could be created. An essential provision of such a law should be a method of predetermining by some Federal board or commission whether the applicant for a Federal charter was an association or combination within the restrictions of the Federal law. Provision should also be made for complete publicity in all matters affecting the public and complete protection to the investing public and the shareholders in the matter of issuing corporate securities. If an incorporation law is not deemed advisable, a license act for big interstate corporations might be enacted; or a combination of the two might be tried. The supervision established might be analogous to that now exercised over national banks. At least, the antitrust act should be supplemented by specific prohibitions of the methods which experience has shown have been of most service in enabling monopolistic combinations to crush out competition. The real owners of a corporation should be compelled to do business in their own name. The right to hold stock in other corporations should hereafter be denied to interstate corporations, unless on approval by the Government officials, and a prerequisite to such approval should be the listing with the Government of all owners and stockholders, both by the corporation owning such stock and by the corporation in which such stock is owned.
To confer upon the National Government, in connection with the amendment I advocate in the antitrust law, power of supervision over big business concerns engaged in interstate commerce, would benefit them as it has benefited the national banks. In the recent business crisis it is noteworthy that the institutions which failed were institutions which were not under the supervision and control of the National Government. Those which were under National control stood the test.
National control of the kind above advocated would be to the benefit of every well-managed railway. From the standpoint of the public there is need for additional tracks, additional terminals, and improvements in the actual handling of the railroads, and all this as rapidly as possible. Ample, safe, and speedy transportation facilities are even more necessary than cheap transportation. Therefore, there is need for the investment of money which will provide for all these things while at the same time securing as far as is possible better wages and shorter hours for their employees. Therefore, while there must be just and reasonable regulation of rates, we should be the first to protest against any arbitrary and unthinking movement to cut them down without the fullest and most careful consideration of all interests concerned and of the actual needs of the situation. Only a special body of men acting for the National Government under authority conferred upon it by the Congress is competent to pass judgment on such a matter.
Those who fear, from any reason, the extension of Federal activity will do well to study the history not only of the national banking act but of the pure-food law, and notably the meat inspection law recently enacted. The pure-food law was opposed so violently that its passage was delayed for a decade; yet it has worked unmixed and immediate good. The meat inspection law was even more violently assailed; and the same men who now denounce the attitude of the National Government in seeking to oversee and control the workings of interstate common carriers and business concerns, then asserted that we were “discrediting and ruining a great American industry.” Two years have not elapsed, and already it has become evident that the great benefit the law confers upon the public is accompanied by an equal benefit to the reputable packing establishments. The latter are better off under the law than they were without it. The benefit to interstate common carriers and business concerns from the legislation I advocate would be equally marked.
Incidentally, in the passage of the pure-food law the action of the various State food and dairy commissioners showed in striking fashion how much good for the whole people results from the hearty cooperation of the Federal and State officials in securing a given reform. It is primarily to the action of these State commissioners that we owe the enactment of this law; for they aroused the people, first to demand the enactment and enforcement of State laws on the subject, and then the enactment of the Federal law, without which the State laws were largely ineffective. There must be the closest cooperation between the National and State governments in administering these laws.
In my Message to the Congress a year ago I spoke as follows of the currency:
“I especially call your attention to the condition of our currency laws. The national-bank act has ably served a great purpose in aiding the enormous business development of the country, and within ten years there has been an increase in circulation per capita from $21.41 to $33.08. For several years evidence has been accumulating that additional legislation is needed. The recurrence of each crop season emphasizes the defects of the present laws. There must soon be a revision of them, because to leave them as they are means to incur liability of business disaster. Since your body adjourned there has been a fluctuation in the interest on call money from 2 per cent to 30 percent, and the fluctuation was even greater during the preceding six months. The Secretary of the Treasury had to step in and by wise action put a stop to the most violent period of oscillation. Even worse than such fluctuation is the advance in commercial rates and the uncertainty felt in the sufficiency of credit even at high rates. All commercial interests suffer during each crop period. Excessive rates for call money in New York attract money from the interior banks into the speculative field. This depletes the fund that would otherwise be available for commercial uses, and commercial borrowers are forced to pay abnormal rates, so that each fall a tax, in the shape of increased interest charges, is placed on the whole commerce of the country.
“The mere statement of these facts shows that our present system is seriously defective. There is need of a change. Unfortunately, however, many of the proposed changes must be ruled from consideration because they are complicated, are not easy of comprehension, and tend to disturb existing rights and interests. We must also rule out any plan which would materially impair the value of the United States 2 per cent bonds now pledged to secure circulation, the issue of which was made under conditions peculiarly creditable to the Treasury. I do not press any especial plan. Various plans have recently been proposed by expert committees of bankers. Among the plans which are possibly feasible and which certainly should receive your consideration is that repeatedly brought to your attention by the present Secretary of the Treasury, the essential features of which have been approved by many prominent bankers and business men. According to this plan national banks should be permitted to issue a specified proportion of their capital in notes of a given kind, the issue to be taxed at so high a rate as to drive the notes back when not wanted in legitimate trade. This plan would not permit the issue of currency to give banks additional profits, but to meet the emergency presented by times of stringency.
“I do not say that this is the right system. I only advance it to emphasize my belief that there is need for the adoption of some system which shall be automatic and open to all sound banks, so as to avoid all possibility of discrimination and favoritism. Such a plan would tend to prevent the spasms of high money and speculation which now obtain in the New York market; for at present there is too much currency at certain seasons of the year, and its accumulation at New York tempts bankers to lend it at low rates for speculative purposes; whereas at other times when the crops are being moved there is urgent need for a large but temporary increase in the currency supply. It must never be forgotten that this question concerns business men generally quite as much as bankers; especially is this true of stockmen, farmers, and business men in the West; for at present at certain seasons of the year the difference in interest rates between the East and the West is from 6 to 10 per cent, whereas in Canada the corresponding difference is but 2 per cent. Any plan must, of course, guard the interests of western and southern bankers as carefully as it guards the interests of New York or Chicago bankers, and must be drawn from the standpoints of the farmer and the merchant no less than from the standpoints of the city banker and the country banker.”
I again urge on the Congress the need of immediate attention to this matter. We need a greater elasticity in our currency; provided, of course, that we recognize the even greater need of a safe and secure currency. There must always be the most rigid examination by the National authorities. Provision should be made for an emergency currency. The emergency issue should, of course, be made with an effective guaranty, and upon conditions carefully prescribed by the Government. Such emergency issue must be based on adequate securities approved by the Government, and must be issued under a heavy tax. This would permit currency being issued when the demand for it was urgent, while securing its requirement as the demand fell off. It is worth investigating to determine whether officers and directors of national banks should ever be allowed to loan to themselves. Trust companies should be subject to the same supervision as banks; legislation to this effect should be enacted for the District of Columbia and the Territories.
Yet we must also remember that even the wisest legislation on the subject can only accomplish a certain amount. No legislation can by any possibility guarantee the business community against the results of speculative folly any more than it can guarantee an individual against the results of his extravagance. When an individual mortgages his house to buy an automobile he invites disaster; and when wealthy men, or men who pose as such, or are unscrupulously or foolishly eager to become such, indulge in reckless speculation—especially if it is accompanied by dishonesty—they jeopardize not only their own future but the future of all their innocent fellow-citizens, for the expose the whole business community to panic and distress.
The income account of the Nation is in a most satisfactory condition. For the six fiscal years ending with the 1st of July last, the total expenditures and revenues of the National Government, exclusive of the postal revenues and expenditures, were, in round numbers, revenues, $3,465,000,0000, and expenditures, $3,275,000,000. The net excess of income over expenditures, including in the latter the fifty millions expended for the Panama Canal, was one hundred and ninety million dollars for the six years, an average of about thirty-one millions a year. This represents an approximation between income and outgo which it would be hard to improve. The satisfactory working of the present tariff law has been chiefly responsible for this excellent showing. Nevertheless, there is an evident and constantly growing feeling among our people that the time is rapidly approaching when our system of revenue legislation must be revised.
This country is definitely committed to the protective system and any effort to uproot it could not but cause widespread industrial disaster. In other words, the principle of the present tariff law could not with wisdom be changed. But in a country of such phenomenal growth as ours it is probably well that every dozen years or so the tariff laws should be carefully scrutinized so as to see that no excessive or improper benefits are conferred thereby, that proper revenue is provided, and that our foreign trade is encouraged. There must always be as a minimum a tariff which will not only allow for the collection of an ample revenue but which will at least make good the difference in cost of production here and abroad; that is, the difference in the labor cost here and abroad, for the well-being of the wage-worker must ever be a cardinal point of American policy. The question should be approached purely from a business standpoint; both the time and the manner of the change being such as to arouse the minimum of agitation and disturbance in the business world, and to give the least play for selfish and factional motives. The sole consideration should be to see that the sum total of changes represents the public good. This means that the subject can not with wisdom be dealt with in the year preceding a Presidential election, because as a matter of fact experience has conclusively shown that at such a time it is impossible to get men to treat it from the standpoint of the public good. In my judgment the wise time to deal with the matter is immediately after such election.
When our tax laws are revised the question of an income tax and an inheritance tax should receive the careful attention of our legislators. In my judgment both of these taxes should be part of our system of Federal taxation. I speak diffidently about the income tax because one scheme for an income tax was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court; while in addition it is a difficult tax to administer in its practical working, and great care would have to be exercised to see that it was not evaded by the very men whom it was most desirable to have taxed, for if so evaded it would, of course, be worse than no tax at all; as the least desirable of all taxes is the tax which bears heavily upon the honest as compared with the dishonest man. Nevertheless, a graduated income tax of the proper type would be a desirable feature of Federal taxation, and it is to be hoped that one may be devised which the Supreme Court will declare constitutional. The inheritance tax, however, is both a far better method of taxation, and far more important for the purpose of having the fortunes of the country bear in proportion to their increase in size a corresponding increase and burden of taxation. The Government has the absolute right to decide as to the terms upon which a man shall receive a bequest or devise from another, and this point in the devolution of property is especially appropriate for the imposition of a tax. Laws imposing such taxes have repeatedly been placed upon the National statute books and as repeatedly declared constitutional by the courts; and these laws contained the progressive principle, that is, after a certain amount is reached the bequest or gift, in life or death, is increasingly burdened and the rate of taxation is increased in proportion to the remoteness of blood of the man receiving the bequest. These principles are recognized already in the leading civilized nations of the world. In Great Britain all the estates worth $5,000 or less are practically exempt from death duties, while the increase is such that when an estate exceeds five millions of dollars in value and passes to a distant kinsman or stranger in blood the Government receives all told an amount equivalent to nearly a fifth of the whole estate. In France so much of an inheritance as exceeds $10,000,000 pays over a fifth to the State if it passes to a distant relative. The German law is especially interesting to us because it makes the inheritance tax an imperial measure while allotting to the individual States of the Empire a portion of the proceeds and permitting them to impose taxes in addition to those imposed by the Imperial Government. Small inheritances are exempt, but the tax is so sharply progressive that when the inheritance is still not very large, provided it is not an agricultural or a forest land, it is taxed at the rate of 25 per cent if it goes to distant relatives. There is no reason why in the United States the National Government should not impose inheritance taxes in addition to those imposed by the States, and when we last had an inheritance tax about one-half of the States levied such taxes concurrently with the National Government, making a combined maximum rate, in some cases as high as 25 per cent. The French law has one feature which is to be heartily commended. The progressive principle is so applied that each higher rate is imposed only on the excess above the amount subject to the next lower rate; so that each increase of rate will apply only to a certain amount above a certain maximum. The tax should if possible be made to bear more heavily upon those residing without the country than within it. A heavy progressive tax upon a very large fortune is in no way such a tax upon thrift or industry as a like would be on a small fortune. No advantage comes either to the country as a whole or to the individuals inheriting the money by permitting the transmission in their entirety of the enormous fortunes which would be affected by such a tax; and as an incident to its function of revenue raising, such a tax would help to preserve a measurable equality of opportunity for the people of the generations growing to manhood. We have not the slightest sympathy with that socialistic idea which would try to put laziness, thriftlessness and inefficiency on a par with industry, thrift and efficiency; which would strive to break up not merely private property, but what is far more important, the home, the chief prop upon which our whole civilization stands. Such a theory, if ever adopted, would mean the ruin of the entire country—a ruin which would bear heaviest upon the weakest, upon those least able to shift for themselves. But proposals for legislation such as this herein advocated are directly opposed to this class of socialistic theories. Our aim is to recognize what Lincoln pointed out: The fact that there are some respects in which men are obviously not equal; but also to insist that there should be an equality of self-respect and of mutual respect, an equality of rights before the law, and at least an approximate equality in the conditions under which each man obtains the chance to show the stuff that is in him when compared to his fellows.
A few years ago there was loud complaint that the law could not be invoked against wealthy offenders. There is no such complaint now. The course of the Department of Justice during the last few years has been such as to make it evident that no man stands above the law, that no corporation is so wealthy that it can not be held to account. The Department of Justice has been as prompt to proceed against the wealthiest malefactor whose crime was one of greed and cunning as to proceed against the agitator who incites to brutal violence. Everything that can be done under the existing law, and with the existing state of public opinion, which so profoundly influences both the courts and juries, has been done. But the laws themselves need strengthening in more than one important point; they should be made more definite, so that no honest man can be led unwittingly to break them, and so that the real wrongdoer can be readily punished.
Moreover, there must be the public opinion back of the laws or the laws themselves will be of no avail. At present, while the average juryman undoubtedly wishes to see trusts broken up, and is quite ready to fine the corporation itself, he is very reluctant to find the facts proven beyond a reasonable doubt when it comes to sending to jail a member of the business community for indulging in practices which are profoundly unhealthy, but which, unfortunately, the business community has grown to recognize as well-nigh normal. Both the present condition of the law and the present temper of juries render it a task of extreme difficulty to get at the real wrongdoer in any such case, especially by imprisonment. Yet it is from every standpoint far preferable to punish the prime offender by imprisonment rather than to fine the corporation, with the attendant damage to stockholders.
The two great evils in the execution of our criminal laws to-day are sentimentality and technicality. For the latter the remedy must come from the hands of the legislatures, the courts, and the lawyers. The other must depend for its cure upon the gradual growth of a sound public opinion which shall insist that regard for the law and the demands of reason shall control all other influences and emotions in the jury box. Both of these evils must be removed or public discontent with the criminal law will continue.
Instances of abuse in the granting of injunctions in labor disputes continue to occur, and the resentment in the minds of those who feel that their rights are being invaded and their liberty of action and of speech unwarrantably restrained continues likewise to grow. Much of the attack on the use of the process of injunction is wholly without warrant; but I am constrained to express the belief that for some of it there is warrant. This question is becoming more and more one of prime importance, and unless the courts will themselves deal with it in effective manner, it is certain ultimately to demand some form of legislative action. It would be most unfortunate for our social welfare if we should permit many honest and law-abiding citizens to feel that they had just cause for regarding our courts with hostility. I earnestly commend to the attention of the Congress this matter, so that some way may be devised which will limit the abuse of injunctions and protect those rights which from time to time it unwarrantably invades. Moreover, discontent is often expressed with the use of the process of injunction by the courts, not only in labor disputes, but where State laws are concerned. I refrain from discussion of this question as I am informed that it will soon receive the consideration of the Supreme Court.
The Federal courts must of course decide ultimately what are the respective spheres of State and Nation in connection with any law, State or National, and they must decide definitely and finally in matters affecting individual citizens, not only as to the rights and wrongs of labor but as to the rights and wrongs of capital; and the National Government must always see that the decision of the court is put into effect. The process of injunction is an essential adjunct of the court’s doing its work well; and as preventive measures are always better than remedial, the wise use of this process is from every standpoint commendable. But where it is recklessly or unnecessarily used, the abuse should he censured, above all by the very men who are properly anxious to prevent any effort to shear the courts of this necessary power. The court’s decision must be final; the protest is only against the conduct of individual judges in needlessly anticipating such final decision, or in the tyrannical use of what is nominally a temporary injunction to accomplish what is in fact a permanent decision.
The loss of life and limb from railroad accidents in this country has become appalling. It is a subject of which the National Government should take supervision. It might be well to begin by providing for a Federal inspection of interstate railroads somewhat along the lines of Federal inspection of steamboats, although not going so far; perhaps at first all that it would be necessary to have would be some officer whose duty would be to investigate all accidents on interstate railroads and report in detail the causes thereof. Such an officer should make it his business to get into close touch with railroad operating men so as to become thoroughly familiar with every side of the question, the idea being to work along the lines of the present steamboat inspection law.
The National Government should be a model employer. It should demand the highest quality of service from each of its employees and it should care for all of them properly in return. Congress should adopt legislation providing limited but definite compensation for accidents to all workmen within the scope of the Federal power, including employees of navy yards and arsenals. In other words, a model employers’ liability act, far-reaching and thoroughgoing, should be enacted which should apply to all positions, public and private, over which the National Government has jurisdiction. The number of accidents to wage-workers, including those that are preventable and those that are not, has become appalling in the mechanical, manufacturing, and transportation operations of the day. It works grim hardship to the ordinary wage-worker and his family to have the effect of such an accident fall solely upon him; and, on the other hand, there are whole classes of attorneys who exist only by inciting men who may or may not have been wronged to undertake suits for negligence. As a matter of fact a suit for negligence is generally an inadequate remedy for the person injured, while it often causes altogether disproportionate annoyance to the employer. The law should be made such that the payment for accidents by the employer would be automatic instead of being a matter for lawsuits. Workmen should receive certain and definite compensation for all accidents in industry irrespective of negligence. The employer is the agent of the public and on his own responsibility and for his own profit he serves the public. When he starts in motion agencies which create risks for others, he should take all the ordinary and extraordinary risks involved; and the risk he thus at the moment assumes will ultimately be assumed, as it ought to be, by the general public. Only in this way can the shock of the accident be diffused, instead of falling upon the man or woman least able to bear it, as is now the case. The community at large should share the burdens as well as the benefits of industry. By the proposed law, employers would gain a desirable certainty of obligation and get rid of litigation to determine it, while the workman and his family would be relieved from a crushing load. With such a policy would come increased care, and accidents would be reduced in number. The National laws providing for employers’ liability on railroads engaged in interstate commerce and for safety appliances, as well as for diminishing the hours any employee of a railroad should be permitted to work, should all be strengthened wherever in actual practice they have shown weakness; they should be kept on the statute books in thoroughgoing form.
The constitutionality of the employers’ liability act passed by the preceding Congress has been carried before the courts. In two jurisdictions the law has been declared unconstitutional, and in three jurisdictions its constitutionality has been affirmed. The question has been carried to the Supreme Court, the case has been heard by that tribunal, and a decision is expected at an early date. In the event that the court should affirm the constitutionality of the act, I urge further legislation along the lines advocated in my Message to the preceding Congress. The practice of putting the entire burden of loss to life or limb upon the victim or the victim’s family is a form of social injustice in which the United States stands in unenviable prominence. In both our Federal and State legislation we have, with few exceptions, scarcely gone farther than the repeal of the fellow-servant principle of the old law of liability, and in some of our States even this slight modification of a completely outgrown principle has not yet been secured. The legislation of the rest of the industrial world stands out in striking contrast to our backwardness in this respect. Since 1895 practically every country of Europe, together with Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, British Columbia, and the Cape of Good Hope has enacted legislation embodying in one form or another the complete recognition of the principle which places upon the employer the entire trade risk in the various lines of industry. I urge upon the Congress the enactment of a law which will at the same time bring Federal legislation up to the standard already established by all the European countries, and which will serve as a stimulus to the various States to perfect their legislation in this regard.
The Congress should consider the extension of the eight-hour law. The constitutionality of the present law has recently been called into question, and the Supreme Court has decided that the existing legislation is unquestionably within the powers of the Congress. The principle of the eight-hour day should as rapidly and as far as practicable be extended to the entire work carried on by the Government; and the present law should be amended to embrace contracts on those public works which the present wording of the act has been construed to exclude. The general introduction of the eight-hour day should be the goal toward which we should steadily tend, and the Government should set the example in this respect.
Strikes and lockouts, with their attendant loss and suffering, continue to increase. For the five years ending December 31, 1905, the number of strikes was greater than those in any previous ten years and was double the number in the preceding five years. These figures indicate the increasing need of providing some machinery to deal with this class of disturbance in the interest alike of the employer, the employee, and the general public. I renew my previous recommendation that the Congress favorably consider the matter of creating the machinery for compulsory investigation of such industrial controversies as are of sufficient magnitude and of sufficient concern to the people of the country as a whole to warrant the Federal Government in taking action.
The need for some provision for such investigation was forcibly illustrated during the past summer. A strike of telegraph operators seriously interfered with telegraphic communication, causing great damage to business interests and serious inconvenience to the general public. Appeals were made to me from many parts of the country, from city councils, from boards of trade, from chambers of commerce, and from labor organizations, urging that steps be taken to terminate the strike. Everything that could with any propriety be done by a representative of the Government was done, without avail, and for weeks the public stood by and suffered without recourse of any kind. Had the machinery existed and had there been authority for compulsory investigation of the dispute, the public would have been placed in possession of the merits of the controversy, and public opinion would probably have brought about a prompt adjustment.
Each successive step creating machinery for the adjustment of labor difficulties must be taken with caution, but we should endeavor to make progress in this direction.
The provisions of the act of 1898 creating the chairman of the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Commissioner of Labor a board of mediation in controversies between interstate railroads and their employees has, for the first time, been subjected to serious tests within the past year, and the wisdom of the experiment has been fully demonstrated. The creation of a board for compulsory investigation in cases where mediation fails and arbitration is rejected is the next logical step in a progressive program.
It is certain that for some time to come there will be a constant increase absolutely, and perhaps relatively, of those among our citizens who dwell in cities or towns of some size and who work for wages. This means that there will be an ever-increasing need to consider the problems inseparable from a great industrial civilization. Where an immense and complex business, especially in those branches relating to manufacture and transportation, is transacted by a large number of capitalists who employ a very much larger number of wage-earners, the former tend more and more to combine into corporations and the latter into unions. The relations of the capitalist and wage-worker to one another, and of each to the general public, are not always easy to adjust; and to put them and keep them on a satisfactory basis is one of the most important and one of the most delicate tasks before our whole civilization. Much of the work for the accomplishment of this end must be done by the individuals concerned themselves, whether singly or in combination; and the one fundamental fact that must never be lost track of is that the character of the average man, whether he be a man of means or a man who works with his hands, is the most important factor in solving the problem aright. But it is almost equally important to remember that without good laws it is also impossible to reach the proper solution. It is idle to hold that without good laws evils such as child labor, as the over-working of women, as the failure to protect employees from loss of life or limb, can be effectively reached, any more than the evils of rebates and stock-watering can be reached without good laws. To fail to stop these practices by legislation means to force honest men into them, because otherwise the dishonest who surely will take advantage of them will have everything their own way. If the States will correct these evils, well and good; but the Nation must stand ready to aid them.
No question growing out of our rapid and complex industrial development is more important than that of the employment of women and children. The presence of women in industry reacts with extreme directness upon the character of the home and upon family life, and the conditions surrounding the employment of children bear a vital relation to our future citizenship. Our legislation in those areas under the control of the Congress is very much behind the legislation of our more progressive States. A thorough and comprehensive measure should be adopted at this session of the Congress relating to the employment of women and children in the District of Columbia and the Territories. The investigation into the condition of women and children wage-earners recently authorized and directed by the Congress is now being carried on in the various States, and I recommend that the appropriation made last year for beginning this work be renewed, in order that we may have the thorough and comprehensive investigation which the subject demands. The National Government has as an ultimate resort for control of child labor the use of the interstate commerce clause to prevent the products of child labor from entering into interstate commerce. But before using this it ought certainly to enact model laws on the subject for the Territories under its own immediate control.
There is one fundamental proposition which can be laid down as regards all these matters, namely: While honesty by itself will not solve the problem, yet the insistence upon honesty—not merely technical honesty, but honesty in purpose and spirit—is an essential element in arriving at a right conclusion. Vice in its cruder and more archaic forms shocks everybody; but there is very urgent need that public opinion should be just as severe in condemnation of the vice which hides itself behind class or professional loyalty, or which denies that it is vice if it can escape conviction in the courts. The public and the representatives of the public, the high officials, whether on the bench or in executive or legislative positions, need to remember that often the most dangerous criminals, so far as the life of the Nation is concerned, are not those who commit the crimes known to and condemned by the popular conscience for centuries, but those who commit crimes only rendered possible by the complex conditions of our modern industrial life. It makes not a particle of difference whether these crimes are committed by a capitalist or by a laborer, by a leading banker or manufacturer or railroad man, or by a leading representative of a labor union. Swindling in stocks, corrupting legislatures, making fortunes by the inflation of securities, by wrecking railroads, by destroying competitors through rebates—these forms of wrongdoing in the capitalist, are far more infamous than any ordinary form of embezzlement or forgery; yet it is a matter of extreme difficulty to secure the punishment of the man most guilty of them, most responsible for them. The business man who condones such conduct stands on a level with the labor man who deliberately supports a corrupt demagogue and agitator, whether head of a union or head of some municipality, because he is said to have “stood by the union.” The members of the business community, the educators, or clergymen, who condone and encourage the first kind of wrongdoing, are no more dangerous to the community, but are morally even worse, than the labor men who are guilty of the second type of wrongdoing, because less is to be pardoned those who have no such excuse as is furnished either by ignorance or by dire need. When the Department of Agriculture was founded there was much sneering as to its usefulness. No Department of the Government, however, has more emphatically vindicated its usefulness, and none save the Post-Office Department comes so continually and intimately into touch with the people. The two citizens whose welfare is in the aggregate most vital to the welfare of the Nation, and therefore to the welfare of all other citizens, are the wage-worker who does manual labor and the tiller of the soil, the farmer. There are, of course, kinds of labor where the work must be purely mental, and there are other kinds of labor where, under existing conditions, very little demand indeed is made upon the mind, though I am glad to say that the proportion of men engaged in this kind of work is diminishing. But in any community with the solid, healthy qualities which make up a really great nation the bulk of the people should do work which calls for the exercise of both body and mind. Progress can not permanently exist in the abandonment of physical labor, but in the development of physical labor, so that it shall represent more and more the work of the trained mind in the trained body. Our school system is gravely defective in so far as it puts a premium upon mere literary training and tends therefore to train the boy away from the farm and the workshop. Nothing is more needed than the best type of industrial school, the school for mechanical industries in the city, the school for practically teaching agriculture in the country. The calling of the skilled tiller of the soil, the calling of the skilled mechanic, should alike be recognized as professions, just as emphatically as the callings of lawyer, doctor, merchant, or clerk. The schools recognize this fact and it should equally be recognized in popular opinion. The young man who has the farsightedness and courage to recognize it and to get over the idea that it makes a difference whether what he earns is called salary or wages, and who refuses to enter the crowded field of the so-called professions, and takes to constructive industry instead, is reasonably sure of an ample reward in earnings, in health, in opportunity to marry early, and to establish a home with a fair amount of freedom from worry. It should be one of our prime objects to put both the farmer and the mechanic on a higher plane of efficiency and reward, so as to increase their effectiveness in the economic world, and therefore the dignity, the remuneration, and the power of their positions in the social world.
No growth of cities, no growth of wealth, can make up for any loss in either the number or the character of the farming population. We of the United States should realize this above almost all other peoples. We began our existence as a nation of farmers, and in every great crisis of the past a peculiar dependence has had to be placed upon the farming population; and this dependence has hitherto been justified. But it can not be justified in the future if agriculture is permitted to sink in the scale as compared with other employments. We can not afford to lose that preeminently typical American, the farmer who owns his own medium-sized farm. To have his place taken by either a class of small peasant proprietors, or by a class of great landlords with tenant-farmed estates would be a veritable calamity. The growth of our cities is a good thing but only in so far as it does not mean a growth at the expense of the country farmer. We must welcome the rise of physical sciences in their application to agricultural practices, and we must do all we can to render country conditions more easy and pleasant. There are forces which now tend to bring about both these results, but they are, as yet, in their infancy. The National Government through the Department of Agriculture should do all it can by joining with the State governments and with independent associations of farmers to encourage the growth in the open farming country of such institutional and social movements as will meet the demand of the best type of farmers, both for the improvement of their farms and for the betterment of the life itself. The Department of Agriculture has in many places, perhaps especially in certain districts of the South, accomplished an extraordinary amount by cooperating with and teaching the farmers through their associations, on their own soil, how to increase their income by managing their farms better than they were hitherto managed. The farmer must not lose his independence, his initiative, his rugged self-reliance, yet he must learn to work in the heartiest cooperation with his fellows, exactly as the business man has learned to work; and he must prepare to use to constantly better advantage the knowledge that can be obtained from agricultural colleges, while he must insist upon a practical curriculum in the schools in which his children are taught. The Department of Agriculture and the Department of Commerce and Labor both deal with the fundamental needs of our people in the production of raw material and its manufacture and distribution, and, therefore, with the welfare of those who produce it in the raw state, and of those who manufacture and distribute it. The Department of Commerce and Labor has but recently been founded but has already justified its existence; while the Department of Agriculture yields to no other in the Government in the practical benefits which it produces in proportion to the public money expended. It must continue in the future to deal with growing crops as it has dealt in the past, but it must still further extend its field of usefulness hereafter by dealing with live men, through a far-reaching study and treatment of the problems of farm life alike from the industrial and economic and social standpoint. Farmers must cooperate with one another and with the Government, and the Government can best give its aid through associations of farmers, so as to deliver to the farmer the large body of agricultural knowledge which has been accumulated by the National and State governments and by the agricultural colleges and schools.
The grain producing industry of the country, one of the most important in the United States, deserves special consideration at the hands of the Congress. Our grain is sold almost exclusively by grades. To secure satisfactory results in our home markets and to facilitate our trade abroad, these grades should approximate the highest degree of uniformity and certainty. The present diverse methods of inspection and grading throughout the country under different laws and boards, result in confusion and lack of uniformity, destroying that confidence which is necessary for healthful trade. Complaints against the present methods have continued for years and they are growing in volume and intensity, not only in this country but abroad. I therefore suggest to the Congress the advisability of a National system of inspection and grading of grain entering into interstate and foreign commerce as a remedy for the present evils.
The conservation of our natural resources and their proper use constitute the fundamental problem which underlies almost every other problem of our National life. We must maintain for our civilization the adequate material basis without which that civilization can not exist. We must show foresight, we must look ahead. As a nation we not only enjoy a wonderful measure of present prosperity but if this prosperity is used aright it is an earnest of future success such as no other nation will have. The reward of foresight for this Nation is great and easily foretold. But there must be the look ahead, there must be a realization of the fact that to waste, to destroy, our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed. For the last few years, through several agencies, the Government has been endeavoring to get our people to look ahead and to substitute a planned and orderly development of our resources in place of a haphazard striving for immediate profit. Our great river systems should be developed as National water highways, the Mississippi, with its tributaries, standing first in importance, and the Columbia second, although there are many others of importance on the Pacific, the Atlantic and the Gulf slopes. The National Government should undertake this work, and I hope a beginning will be made in the present Congress; and the greatest of all our rivers, the Mississippi, should receive especial attention. From the Great Lakes to the mouth of the Mississippi there should be a deep waterway, with deep waterways leading from it to the East and the West. Such a waterway would practically mean the extension of our coast line into the very heart of our country. It would be of incalculable benefit to our people. If begun at once it can be carried through in time appreciably to relieve the congestion of our great freight-carrying lines of railroads. The work should be systematically and continuously carried forward in accordance with some well-conceived plan. The main streams should be improved to the highest point of efficiency before the improvement of the branches is attempted; and the work should be kept free from every faint of recklessness or jobbery. The inland waterways which lie just back of the whole eastern and southern coasts should likewise be developed. Moreover, the development of our waterways involves many other important water problems, all of which should be considered as part of the same general scheme. The Government dams should be used to produce hundreds of thousands of horsepower as an incident to improving navigation; for the annual value of the unused water-power of the United States perhaps exceeds the annual value of the products of all our mines. As an incident to creating the deep waterways down the Mississippi, the Government should build along its whole lower length levees which taken together with the control of the headwaters, will at once and forever put a complete stop to all threat of floods in the immensely fertile Delta region. The territory lying adjacent to the Mississippi along its lower course will thereby become one of the most prosperous and populous, as it already is one of the most fertile, farming regions in all the world. I have appointed an Inland Waterways Commission to study and outline a comprehensive scheme of development along all the lines indicated. Later I shall lay its report before the Congress.
Irrigation should be far more extensively developed than at present, not only in the States of the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains, but in many others, as, for instance, in large portions of the South Atlantic and Gulf States, where it should go hand in hand with the reclamation of swamp land. The Federal Government should seriously devote itself to this task, realizing that utilization of waterways and water-power, forestry, irrigation, and the reclamation of lands threatened with overflow, are all interdependent parts of the same problem. The work of the Reclamation Service in developing the larger opportunities of the western half of our country for irrigation is more important than almost any other movement. The constant purpose of the Government in connection with the Reclamation Service has been to use the water resources of the public lands for the ultimate greatest good of the greatest number; in other words, to put upon the land permanent home-makers, to use and develop it for themselves and for their children and children’s children. There has been, of course, opposition to this work; opposition from some interested men who desire to exhaust the land for their own immediate profit without regard to the welfare of the next generation, and opposition from honest and well-meaning men who did not fully understand the subject or who did not look far enough ahead. This opposition is, I think, dying away, and our people are understanding that it would be utterly wrong to allow a few individuals to exhaust for their own temporary personal profit the resources which ought to be developed through use so as to be conserved for the permanent common advantage of the people as a whole.
The effort of the Government to deal with the public land has been based upon the same principle as that of the Reclamation Service. The land law system which was designed to meet the needs of the fertile and well-watered regions of the Middle West has largely broken down when applied to the dryer regions of the Great Plains, the mountains, and much of the Pacific slope, where a farm of 160 acres is inadequate for self-support. In these regions the system lent itself to fraud, and much land passed out of the hands of the Government without passing into the hands of the home-maker. The Department of the Interior and the Department of Justice joined in prosecuting the offenders against the law; and they have accomplished much, while where the administration of the law has been defective it has been changed. But the laws themselves are defective. Three years ago a public lands commission was appointed to scrutinize the law, and defects, and recommend a remedy. Their examination specifically showed the existence of great fraud upon the public domain, and their recommendations for changes in the law were made with the design of conserving the natural resources of every part of the public lands by putting it to its best use. Especial attention was called to the prevention of settlement by the passage of great areas of public land into the hands of a few men, and to the enormous waste caused by unrestricted grazing upon the open range. The recommendations of the Public Lands Commission are sound, for they are especially in the interest of the actual homemaker; and where the small home-maker can not at present utilize the land they provide that the Government shall keep control of it so that it may not be monopolized by a few men. The Congress has not yet acted upon these recommendations; but they are so just and proper, so essential to our National welfare, that I feel confident, if the Congress will take time to consider them, that they will ultimately be adopted.
Some such legislation as that proposed is essential in order to preserve the great stretches of public grazing land which are unfit for cultivation under present methods and are valuable only for the forage which they supply. These stretches amount in all to some 300,000,000 acres, and are open to the free grazing of cattle, sheep, horses and goats, without restriction. Such a system, or lack of system, means that the range is not so much used as asted by abuse. As the West settles the range becomes more and more over-grazed. Much of it can not be used to advantage unless it is fenced, for fencing is the only way by which to keep in check the owners of nomad flocks which roam hither and thither, utterly destroying the pastures and leaving a waste behind so that their presence is incompatible with the presence of home-makers. The existing fences are all illegal. Some of them represent the improper exclusion of actual settlers, actual home-makers, from territory which is usurped by great cattle companies. Some of them represent what is in itself a proper effort to use the range for those upon the land, and to prevent its use by nomadic outsiders. All these fences, those that are hurtful and those that are beneficial, are alike illegal and must come down. But it is an outrage that the law should necessitate such action on the part of the Administration. The unlawful fencing of public lands for private grazing must be stopped, but the necessity which occasioned it must be provided for. The Federal Government should have control of the range, whether by permit or lease, as local necessities may determine. Such control could secure the great benefit of legitimate fencing, while at the same time securing and promoting the settlement of the country. In some places it may be that the tracts of range adjacent to the homesteads of actual settlers should be allotted to them severally or in common for the summer grazing of their stock. Elsewhere it may be that a lease system would serve the purpose; the leases to be temporary and subject to the rights of settlement, and the amount charged being large enough merely to permit of the efficient and beneficial control of the range by the Government, and of the payment to the county of the equivalent of what it would otherwise receive in taxes. The destruction of the public range will continue until some such laws as these are enacted. Fully to prevent the fraud in the public lands which, through the joint action of the Interior Department and the Department of Justice, we have been endeavoring to prevent, there must be further legislation, and especially a sufficient appropriation to permit the Department of the Interior to examine certain classes of entries on the ground before they pass into private ownership. The Government should part with its title only to the actual home-maker, not to the profit-maker who does not care to make a home. Our prime object is to secure the rights and guard the interests of the small ranchman, the man who plows and pitches hay for himself. It is this small ranchman, this actual settler and homemaker, who in the long run is most hurt by permitting thefts of the public land in whatever form.
Earn graduate credits toward a Master’s
degree for each Live Online Graduate
Course in American History &
Government from Ashbrook Center at
Ashland University. Learn More