My Confession of Faith

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George Henry Payne, The Birth of the New Party or Progressive Democracy (Atlanta: J. L. Nichols & Company, 1912), 232-282, available online at the Hathi Trust Digital Library:

Speech Before the Progressive Party National Convention

To you, men and women who have come here to this great city of this great State[1] formally to launch a new party, a party of the people of the whole Union, the National Progressive party, I extend my hearty greeting. You are taking a bold and a greatly needed step for the service of our beloved country. The old parties are husks, with no real soul within either, divided on artificial lines, boss‑ridden and privilege‑controlled, each a jumble of incongruous elements, and neither daring to speak out wisely and fearlessly what should be said on the vital issues of the day. This new movement is a movement of truth, sincerity and wisdom, a movement which proposes to put at the service of all our people the collective power of the people, through their Governmental agencies, alike in the Nation and in the several States. We propose boldly to face the real and great questions of the day, and not skillfully to evade them as do the old parties. We propose to raise aloft a standard to which all honest men can repair, and under which all can fight, no matter what their past political differences, if they are content to face the future and no longer to dwell among the dead issues of the past. We propose to put forth a platform which shall not be a platform of the ordinary and insincere kind, but shall be a contract with the people; and, if the people accept this contract by putting us in power, we shall hold ourselves under honorable obligation to fulfill every promise it contains as loyally as if it were actually enforceable under the penalties of law. 

No Hope from the Old Party Machines

The prime need today is to face the fact that we are now in the midst of a great economic revolution.  There is urgent necessity of applying both common sense and the highest ethical standard to this move for better economic conditions among the mass of people if we are to make it one of healthy evolution and not one of revolution. It is, from the standpoint of our country, wicked as well as foolish longer to refuse to face the real issues of the day. Only by so facing them can we go forward; and to do this we must break the old party organizations and obliterate the old cleavage lines on the dead issues inherited from fifty years ago. Our fight is a fundamental fight against both of the old corrupt party machines, for both are under the dominion of the plunder league of the professional politicians who are controlled and sustained by the great beneficiaries of privilege and reaction. . . .

Neither the Republican nor the Democratic platform contains the slightest promise of approaching the great problems of today either with understanding or good faith; and yet never was there greater need in this Nation than now of understanding, and of action taken in good faith, on the part of the men and the organization shaping our governmental policy. Moreover, our needs are such that there should be coherent action among those responsible for the conduct of National affairs and those responsible for the conduct of State affairs; because our aim should be the same in both State and Nation; that is, to use the Government as efficient agency for the practical betterment of social and economic conditions throughout this land. There are other important things to be done, but this is the most important thing. It is preposterous to leave such a movement in the hands of men who have broken their promises as have the present heads of the Republican organization (not of the Republican voters, for they in no shape represent the rank and file of Republican voters). These men by their deeds give the lie to their words. There is no health in them, and they cannot be trusted. But the Democratic party is just as little to be trusted. . . . [T]he Democratic platform not only shows an utter failure to understand either present conditions or the means of making these conditions better, but also a reckless willingness to try to attract various sections of the electorate by making mutually incompatible promises which there is the slightest intention of redeeming, and which, if redeemed would result in sheer ruin. . . .  

If this country is really to go forward along the path of social and economic justice, there must be a new party of nation‑wide and non‑sectional principles, a party where the titular National chiefs and the real State leaders shall be in genuine accord, a party in whose counsels the people shall be supreme, a party that shall represent in the Nation and the several States alike the same cause, the cause of human rights and of governmental efficiency. At present both the old parties are controlled by professional politicians in the interests of the privileged classes, and apparently each has set up as its ideal of business and political development a government by financial despotism tempered by make‑believe political assassination. Democrat and Republican alike, they represent government of the needy many by professional politicians in the interests of the rich few. This is class government, and class government of a peculiarly unwholesome kind. 

The Right of the People to Rule

It seems to me, therefore, that the time is ripe, and overripe, for a genuine Progressive movement, Nationwide and justice‑loving, sprung from and responsible to the people themselves, and sundered by a great gulf from both of the old party organizations, while representing all that is best in the hopes, beliefs, and aspirations of the plain people who make up the immense majority of the rank and file of both the old parties. 

The first essential in the Progressive program is the right of the people to rule. But a few months ago our opponents were assuring us with insincere clamor that it was absurd for us to talk about desiring that the people should rule, because, as a matter of fact, the people actually do rule. Since that time the actions of the Chicago Convention, and to an only less degree of the Baltimore Convention,[2] have shown in striking fashion how little the people do rule under our present conditions. We should provide by National law for Presidential primaries. We should provide for the election of United States Senators by popular vote. We should provide for a short ballot; nothing makes it harder for the people to control their public servants than to force them to vote for so many officials that they cannot really keep track of any one of them, so that each becomes indistinguishable in the crowd around him. There must be stringent and efficient corrupt practices acts, applying to the primaries as well as the elections; and there should be publicity of campaign contributions during the campaign. We should provide throughout this Union for giving the people in every State the real right to rule themselves, and really and not nominally to control their public servants and their agencies for doing the public business; an incident of this being giving the people the right themselves to do this public business if they find it impossible to get what they desire through the existing agencies. I do not attempt to dogmatize as to the machinery by which this end should be achieved. In each community it must be shaped so as to correspond not merely with the needs but with the customs and ways of thought of that community, and no community has a right to dictate to any other in this matter. But wherever representative government has in actual fact become non‑representative there the people should secure to themselves the initiative, the referendum, and the recall, doing it in such fashion as to make it evident that they do not intend to use these instrumentalities wantonly or frequently, but to hold them ready for use in order to correct the misdeeds or failures of the public servants when it has become evident that these misdeeds and failures cannot be corrected in ordinary and normal fashion. The administrative officer should be given full power, for otherwise he cannot do well the people's work; and the people should be given full power over him.  

I do not mean that we shall abandon representative government; on the contrary, I mean that we shall devise methods by which our Government shall become really representative. To use such measures as the initiative, referendum, and recall indiscriminately and promiscuously on all kinds of occasions would undoubtedly cause disaster; but events have shown that at present our institutions are not representative—at any rate in many States, and sometimes in the Nation—and that we cannot wisely afford to let this condition of things remain longer uncorrected. . . . We choose our representatives for two purposes. In the first place, we choose them with the desire that, as experts, they shall study certain matters with which we, the people as a whole, cannot be intimately acquainted, and that as regards these matters they shall formulate a policy for our betterment. Even as regards such a policy, and the actions taken thereunder, we ourselves should have the right ultimately to vote our disapproval of it, if we feel such disapproval. But, in the next place, our representatives are chosen to carry out certain policies as to which we have definitely made up our minds, and here we expect them to represent us by doing what we have decided ought to be done. All I desire to do by securing more direct control of the governmental agents and agencies of the people is to give the people the chance to make their representatives really represent them whenever the Government becomes misrepresentative instead of representative. 

I have not come to this way of thinking from closet study, or as a mere matter of theory; I have been forced to it by a long experience with the actual conditions of our political life. A few years ago, for instance, there was very little demand in this country for Presidential primaries. There would have been no demand now if the politicians had really endeavored to carry out the will of the people as regards nominations for President. But, largely under the influence of special privilege in the business world, there have arisen castes of politicians who not only do not represent the people, but who make their bread and butter by thwarting the wishes of the people. This is true of the bosses of both political parties in my own State of New York, and it is just as true of the bosses of one or the other political party in a great many States of the Union. The power of the people must be made supreme within the several party organizations.  

In the contest which culminated six weeks ago in this city I speedily found that my chance was at a minimum in any State where I could not get an expression of the people themselves in the primaries. I found that if I could appeal to the rank and file of the Republican voters, I could generally win, whereas, if I had to appeal to the political caste—which includes the most noisy defenders of the old system—I generally lost. Moreover, I found, as a matter of fact, not as a matter of theory, that these politicians habitually and unhesitatingly resort to every species of mean swindling and cheating in order to carry their point. . . . The nomination of Mr. Taft at Chicago was a fraud upon the rank and file of the Republican party; it was obtained only by defrauding the rank and file of the party of their right to express their choice; and such fraudulent action does not bind a single honest member of the party.[3] . . .

The People and the Courts

The American people, and not the courts, are to determine their own fundamental policies.  The people should have power to deal with the effect of the acts of all their governmental agencies. This must be extended to include the effects of judicial acts as well as the acts of the executive and legislative representatives of the people. Where the judge merely does justice as between man and man, not dealing with Constitutional questions, then the interest of the public is only to see that he is a wise and upright judge. Means should be devised for making it easier than at present to get rid of an incompetent judge; means should be devised by the bar and the bench acting in conjunction, with the various legislative bodies to make justice far more expeditious and more certain than at present. The stick-in‑the‑bark legalism, the legalism that subordinates equity to technicalities, should be recognized as a potent enemy of justice. But this is not the matter of most concern at the moment. Our prime concern is that in dealing with the fundamental law of the land, in assuming finally to interpret it, and therefore finally to make it, the acts of the courts should be subject to and not above the final control of the people as a whole. I deny that the American people have surrendered to any set of men, no matter what their position or their character, the final right to determine those fundamental questions upon which free self‑government ultimately depends. The people themselves must be the ultimate makers of their own Constitution, and where their agents differ in their interpretations of the Constitution the people themselves should be given the chance, after full and deliberate judgment, authoritatively to settle what interpretation it is that their representatives shall thereafter adopt as binding. 

Whenever in our Constitutional system of government there exist general prohibitions that, as interpreted by the courts, nullify, or may be used to nullify, specific laws passed, and admittedly passed, in the interests of social justice, we are for such immediate law, or amendment to the Constitution, if that be necessary, as will thereafter permit a reference to the people of the public effect of such decision, under forms securing full deliberation, to the end that the specific act of the legislative branch of the Government thus judicially nullified, and such amendments thereof as come within its scope and purpose may constitutionally be expected by vote of the people from the general prohibitions, the same as if that particular act had been expressly excepted when the prohibition was adopted. This will necessitate the establishment of machinery for making much easier of amendment both the National and the several State Constitutions . . . . Our purpose is not to impugn the courts, but to emancipate them from a position where they stand in the way of social justice; and to emancipate the people, in an orderly way, from the inequity of enforced submission to a doctrine which would turn Constitutional provisions which were intended to favor social justice and advancement into prohibitions against such justice and advancement. . . .

Social and Industrial Justice to the Wage-Workers

I especially challenge the attention of the people to the need of dealing in far‑reaching fashion with our human resources, and therefore our labor power. In a century and a quarter as a nation the American people have subdued and settled the vast reaches of a continent; ahead lies the greater task of building upon this foundation, by themselves, for themselves and with themselves, an American commonwealth which in its social and economic structure shall be four square with democracy. . . .

In the last twenty years an increasing percentage of our people have come to depend on industry for their livelihood, so that today the wage‑workers in industry rank in importance side by side with the tillers of the soil. As a people we cannot afford to let any group of citizens or any individual citizen live or labor under conditions which are injurious to the common welfare. Industry, therefore, must submit to such public regulation as will make it a means of life and health, not of death or inefficiency. . . .

We stand for a living wage. Wages are subnormal if they fail to provide a living for those who devote their time and energy to industrial occupations. The monetary equivalent of a living wage varies according to local conditions, but must include enough to secure the elements of a normal standard of living—a standard high enough to make morality possible, to provide for education and recreation, to care for immature members of the family, to maintain the family during periods of sickness, and to permit of reasonable saving for old age. 

Hours are excessive if they fail to afford the worker sufficient time to recuperate and return to his work thoroughly refreshed. We hold that the night labor of women and children is abnormal and should be prohibited; we hold that the employment of women over forty‑eight hours per week is abnormal and should be prohibited. We hold that the seven‑day working week is abnormal, and we hold that one day of rest in seven should be provided by law. We hold that the continuous industries, operating twenty‑four hours out of twenty‑four, are abnormal, and where, because of public necessity or of technical reasons (such as molten metal), the twenty‑four hours must be divided into two shifts of twelve hours or three shifts of eight, they should by law be divided into three of eight. 

Safety conditions are abnormal when, through unguarded machinery, poisons, electrical voltage, or otherwise, the workers are subjected to unnecessary hazards of life and limb; and all such occupations should come under governmental regulation and control. 

Home life is abnormal when tenement manufacture is carried on in the household. It is a serious menace to health, education and childhood, and should therefore be entirely prohibited. Temporary construction camps are abnormal homes and should be subjected to governmental sanitary regulation. 

The premature employment of children is abnormal and should be prohibited; so also the employment of women in manufacturing, commerce, or other trades, where work compels standing constantly; and also any employment of women in such trades for a period of at least eight weeks at time of childbirth. . . .

Workingwomen have the same need to combine for protection that workingmen have; the ballot is as necessary for one class as for the other; we do not believe that with the two sexes there is identity of function; but we do believe that there should be equality of right; and therefore we favor woman suffrage. In those conservative States where there is a genuine doubt how the women stand on this matter, I suggest that it be referred to a vote of the women, so that they may themselves make the decision. Surely if women could vote, they would strengthen the hands of those who are endeavoring to deal in efficient fashion with evils such as the white slave traffic;[4] evils which can in part be dealt with nationally, but which in large part can be reached only by determined local action, such as insisting on the widespread publication of the names of the owners, the landlords, of houses used for immoral purposes. 

No people are more vitally interested than workingmen and workingwomen in questions affecting the public health. The pure food law must be strengthened and efficiently enforced. In the National Government one department should be entrusted with all the agencies relating to the public health, from the enforcement of the pure food law to the administration of quarantine. This department, through its special health service, would cooperate intelligently with the various State and municipal bodies established for the same end. . . .

The Farmer

There is no body of our people whose interests are more inextricably interwoven with the interests of all the people than is the case with the farmers. . . . Everything possible should be done to make life in the country profitable so as to be attractive from the economic standpoint and also to give an outlet among farming people for those forms of activity which now tend to make life in the cities especially desirable for ambitious men and women. There should be just the same chance to live as full, as well‑rounded, and as highly useful lives in the country as in the city. 

The Government must cooperate with the farmer to make the farm more productive. There must be no skinning of the soil. The farm should be left to the farmer's son in better, and not worse, condition because of its cultivation. Moreover, every invention and improvement, every discovery and economy, should be at the service of the farmer in the work of production; and, in addition, he should be helped to cooperate in business fashion with his fellows, so that the money paid by the consumer for the product of the soil shall to as large a degree as possible go into the pockets of the man who raised that product from the soil. . . . In every respect this nation has to learn the lessons of efficiency in production and distribution, and of avoidance of waste and destruction; we must develop and improve instead of exhausting our resources. It is entirely pos­sible by improvements in production, in the avoidance of waste, and in business methods on the part of the farmer to give him an increased income from his farm while at the same time reducing to the consumer the price of the articles raised on the farm. Important although education is everywhere, it has a special importance in the country. The country school must fit the country life; in the country, as elsewhere, education must be hitched up with life. . . .

Business and the Control of the Trusts[5]

The present conditions of business cannot be accepted as satisfactory. There are too many who do not prosper enough, and of the few who prosper greatly there are certainly some whose prosperity does not mean well for the country. Rational Progressives, no matter how radical, are well aware that nothing the Government can do will make some men prosper, and we heartily approve the prosperity, no matter how great, of any man, if it comes as an incident to rendering service to the community; but we wish to shape conditions so that a greater number of the small men who are decent, industrious, and energetic, shall be able to succeed, and so that the big man who is dishonest shall not be allowed to succeed at all. 

. . . [W]e desire that business shall prosper; but it should be so supervised as to make prosperity also take the shape of good wages to the wage‑worker and reasonable prices to the consumer, while investors and business rivals are insured just treatment, and the farmer, the man who tills the soil, is protected as sedulously as the wage‑worker himself. 

Unfortunately, those dealing with the subject have tended to divide into two camps, each as unwise as the other. One camp has fixed its eyes only on the need of prosperity, loudly announcing that our attention must be confined to securing it in bulk, and that the division must be left to take care of itself. . . .  The other set has fixed its eyes purely on the injustices of distribution, omitting all consideration of the need of having something to distribute, and advocates action which, it is true, would abolish most of the inequalities of the distribution of prosperity, but only by the unfortunately simple process of abolishing the prosperity itself. This means merely that conditions are to be evened, not up, but down, so that all shall stand on a common level, where nobody has any prosperity at all. The task of the wise radical must be to refuse to be misled by either set of false advisers; he must both favor and promote the agencies that make for prosperity, and at the same time see to it that these agencies are so used as to be primarily of service to the average man.  

. . . The Anti‑Trust Law must be kept on our statute books, and, as hereafter shown, must be rendered more effective in the cases where it is applied. But to treat the Anti-Trust Law as an adequate or as by itself a wise measure of relief and betterment is a sign not of progress, but of toryism[6] and reaction. It has been of benefit so far as it has implied the recognition of a real and great evil, and the at least sporadic application of the principle that all men alike must obey the law. But as a sole remedy, universally applicable, it has in actual practice completely broken down; as now applied it works more mischief than benefit. . . . The Anti‑Trust Law, if interpreted as the Baltimore platform demands it shall be interpreted, would apply to every agency by which not merely industrial but agricultural business is carried on in this country; under such an interpretation it ought in theory to be applied universally, in which case practically all industries would stop; as a matter of fact, it is utterly out of the question to enforce it universally; and, when enforced sporadically, it causes continual unrest, puts the country at a disadvantage with its trade competitors in international commerce, hopelessly puzzles honest business men and honest farmers as to what their rights are, and yet, as has just been shown in the cases of the Standard Oil and the Tobacco Trust, it is no real check on the great trusts at which it was in theory aimed and indeed operates to their benefit. . . .

. . . The Democratic platform offers nothing in the way of remedy for present industrial conditions except, first, the enforcement of the Anti‑Trust Law in a fashion which, if words mean anything, means bringing business to a standstill; and, second, the insistence upon an archaic construction of the States' rights doctrine in thus dealing with inter‑state commerce—an insistence which, in the first place, is the most flagrant possible violation of the Constitution to which the members of the Baltimore Convention assert their devotion, and which, in the next place, nullifies and makes an empty pretense of their first statement. The proposals of the platform are so conflicting and so absurd that it is hard to imagine how any attempt could he made in good faith to carry them out; but, if such attempt were sincerely made it could only produce industrial chaos. . . .

. . . We Progressives stand for the rights of the people. When these rights can best be secured by insistence upon States' rights, then we are for States' rights; when they can best be secured by insistence upon National rights, then we are for Na­tional rights. Inter‑State commerce can be effectively controlled only by the Nation. . . . The only effective way in which to regulate the trusts is through the exercise of the collective power of our people as a whole through the Governmental agencies established by the Constitution for this very purpose. Grave injustice is done by the Congress when it fails to give the National Government complete power in this matter; and still graver injustice by the Federal courts when they endeavor in any way to pare down the right of the people collectively to act in this matter as they deem wise; such conduct does itself tend to cause the creation of a twilight zone in which neither the Nation nor the States have power. . . .

As construed by the Democratic platform, the Anti-Trust Law would, if it could be enforced, abolish all business of any size or any efficiency. The promise thus to apply and construe the law would undoubtedly be broken, but the mere fitful effort thus to apply it would do no good whatever, would accomplish widespread harm and would bring all trust legislation into contempt. Contrast what has actually been accomplished under the Inter‑State Commerce Law with what has actually been accomplished under the Anti‑Trust Law. The first has, on the whole, worked in a highly efficient manner and achieved real and great results; and it promises to achieve even greater results (although I firmly believe that if the power of the Commissioners grows greater, it will be necessary to make them and their superior, the President, even more completely responsible to the people for their acts). The second has occasionally done good, has usually accomplished nothing, has generally left the worst conditions wholly unchanged, and has been responsible for a considerable amount of downright and positive evil.  

. . . The Anti‑Trust Law should be kept on the statute books and strengthened so as to make it genuinely and thoroughly effective against every big concern tending to monopoly or guilty of anti‑social practices. At the same time, a National industrial commission should be created which should have complete power to regulate and control all the great industrial concerns engaged in inter‑State business—which practically means all of them—in this country. This commission should exercise over these industrial concerns like powers to those exercised over the railways by the Inter‑State Commerce Commission, and over the National banks by the Comptroller of the Currency, and additional powers if found necessary. The establishment of such a commission would enable us to punish the individual rather than merely the corporation, just as we now do with banks. . . .This commission should deal with all the abuses of the trusts—all the abuses such as those developed by the Government suit against the Standard Oil and Tobacco Trusts—as the Inter‑State Commerce Commission now deals with rebates.[7] It should have complete power to make the capitalization absolutely honest and put a stop to all stock watering. . . . It should have free access to the books of each corporation and power to find out exactly how it treats its employees, its rivals, and the general public. It should have power to compel the unsparing publicity of all the acts of any corporation which goes wrong. The regulation should be primarily under the administrative branch of the Government, and not by lawsuit. It should prohibit and effectually punish monopoly achieved through wrong, and also actual wrongs done by industrial corporations which are not monopolies, such as the artificial raising of prices, the artificial restriction on productivity, the elimination of competition by unfair or predatory practices, and the like; leaving industrial organizations free within the limits of fair and honest dealing to promote through the inherent efficiency of organization the power of the United States as a competitive nation among nations, and the greater abundance at home that will come to our people from that power wisely exercised. Any corporation voluntarily coming under the commission should not be prosecuted under the Anti‑Trust Law as long as it obeys in good faith the orders of the commission. The commission would be able to interpret in advance, to any honest man asking the interpretation, what he may do and what he may not do in carrying on a legitimate business. Any corporation not coming under the commission should be exposed to prosecution under the Anti‑Trust Law, and any corporation violating the orders of the commission should also at once become exposed to such prosecution; and when such a prosecution is successful, it should be the duty of the commission to see that the decree of the Court is put into effect completely and in good faith, so that the combination is absolutely broken up, and is not allowed to come together again, nor the constituent parts thereof permitted to do business save under the conditions laid down by the commission. . . .

We favor co‑operation in business, and ask only that it be carried on in a spirit of honesty and fairness. We are against crooked business, big or little; we are in favor of honest business, big or little. We propose to penalize conduct and not size. But all very big business, even though honestly conducted, is fraught with such potentiality of menace that there should be thoroughgoing governmental control over it, so that its efficiency in promoting prosperity at home and increasing the power of the Nation in international commerce may be maintained, and at the same time fair play insured to the wage‑workers, the small business competitors, the investors, and the general public. Wherever it is practicable we propose to preserve competition; but where under modern conditions competition has been eliminated and cannot be successfully restored, then the Government must step in and itself supply the needed control on behalf of the people as a whole. . . .

The Tariff

I believe in a protective tariff, but I believe in it as a principle, approached from the standpoint of the interests of the whole people, and not as a bundle of preferences to be given to favored individuals. In my opinion, the American people favor the principle of a protective tariff, but they desire such a tariff to be established primarily in the interests of the wage‑worker and the consumer. . . . Wherever nowadays an industry is to be protected it should be on the theory that such protection will serve to keep up the wages and the standard of living of the wage‑worker in that industry with full regard for the interest of the consumer. To accomplish this the tariff to be levied should as nearly as is scientifically possible approximate the differential between the cost of production at home and abroad. This differential is chiefly, if not wholly, in labor cost. No duty should be permitted to stand as regards any industry unless the workers receive their full share of the benefits of that duty. In other words, there is no warrant for protection unless a legitimate share of the benefits gets into the pay envelope of the wage-worker.

. . . The progressive thought of the country has recognized this fact for several years, and the time has come when all genuine Progressives should insist upon a thorough and radical change in the method of tariff‑making.  

The first step should be the creation of a permanent commission of non‑partisan experts whose business shall be to study scientifically all phases of tariff‑making and of tariff effects. This commission should be large enough to cover all the different and widely varying branches of American industry. It should have ample powers to enable it to secure exact and reliable information. It should have authority to examine closely all correlated subjects, such as the effect of any given duty on the consumers of the article on which the duty is levied; that is, it should directly consider the question as to what any duty costs the people in the price of living. It should examine into the wages and conditions and life of the workman in any industry, so as to insure our refusing protection to any industry unless less the showing as regards the share labor receives therefrom is satisfactory. . . .

. . . The reports of a permanent, expert, and non‑partisan tariff commission would at once strike a most powerful blow against the chief iniquity of the old log‑rolling method of tariff‑making. One of the principal difficulties with the old method has been that it was impossible for the public generally, and especially for those Members of Congress not directly connected with the committees handling a tariff bill, to secure anything like adequate and impartial information on the particular subjects under consideration. The reports of such a tariff commission would at once correct this evil and furnish to the general public full, complete, and disinterested information on every subject treated in a tariff bill. With such reports it would no longer be possible to construct a tariff bill in secret or to jam it through either house of Congress without the fullest and most illuminating discussion. . . .

As a further means of disrupting the old crooked, log‑rolling method of tariff‑making, all future revisions of the tariff should be made schedule by schedule as changing conditions may require. Thus a great obstacle will be thrown in the way of the trading of votes which has marked so scandalously the enactment of every tariff bill of recent years. The tariff commission should render reports at the call of Congress or of either branch of Congress and to the President. Under the Constitution, Congress is the tariff‑making power. It should not be the purpose in creating a tariff commission to take anything away from this power of Congress, but rather to afford a wise means of giving to Congress the widest and most scientific assistance possible, and of furnishing it and the public with the fullest disinterested information. Only by this means can the tariff be taken out of politics. . . .

The Democratic platform declares for a tariff for revenue only, asserting that a protective tariff is unconstitutional. To say that a protective tariff is unconstitutional, as the Democratic platform insists, is only excusable on a theory of the Constitution which would make it unconstitutional to legislate in any shape or way for the betterment of social and industrial conditions. The abolition of the protective tariff or the substitution for it of a tariff for revenue only, as proposed by the Democratic platform, would plunge this country into the most widespread industrial depression we have yet seen, and this depression would continue for an indefinite period. . . .


There can be no greater issue than that of Conservation in this country. Just as we must conserve our men, women and children, so we must conserve the resources of the land on which they live. We must conserve the soil so that our children shall have a land that is more and not less fertile than that our fathers dwelt in. We must conserve the forests, not by disuse but by use, making them more valuable at the same time that we use them. We must conserve the mines. Moreover, we must insure so far as possible the use of certain types of great natural resources for the benefit of the people as a whole. The public should not alienate its fee in the water power which will be of incalculable consequence as a source of power in the immediate future. The Nation and the States within their several spheres should by immediate legislation keep the fee of the water power, leasing its use only for a reasonable length of time on terms that will secure the interests of the public. Just as the Nation has gone into the work of irrigation in the West, so it should go into the work of helping reclaim the swamp lands of the South. We should undertake the complete development and control of the Mississippi as a National work, just as we have undertaken the work of building the Panama Canal. . . .

In the West, the forests, the grazing lands, the reserves of every kind, should be so handled as to be in the interests of the actual settler, the actual homemaker. He should be encouraged to use them at once but in such a way as to preserve and not exhaust them. We do not intend that our natural resources shall be exploited by the few against the interests of the many, nor do we intend to turn them over to any man who will wastefully use them by destruction, and leave to those who come after us a heritage damaged by just so much. The man in whose interests we are working is the small farmer and settler, the man who works with his own hands who is working not only for himself but for his children, and who wishes to leave to them the fruits of his labor. His permanent welfare is the prime factor for consideration in developing the policy of Conservation: for our aim is to preserve our natural resources for the public as a whole, for the average man and the average woman who make up the body of the American people.  


Alaska should be developed at once, but in the interest of the actual settler. In Alaska the Government has an opportunity of starting in what is almost a fresh field to work out various problems by actual experience. The Government should at once construct, own, and operate the railways in Alaska. The Government should keep the fee of all the coal‑fields and allow them to be operated by lessees with the condition in the lease that non‑use shall operate as a forfeit. Telegraph lines should be operated as the railways are. Moreover, it would be well in Alaska to try a system of land taxation which will, so far as possible, remove all the burdens from those who actually use the land, whether for building or for agricultural purposes, and will operate against any man who holds the land for speculation, or derives an income from it based, not on his own exertions, but on the increase in value due to activities not his own. There is very real need that this Nation shall seriously prepare itself for the task of remedying social injustice and meeting social problems by well‑considered governmental effort; and the best preparation for such wise action is to test by actual experiment under favorable conditions the devices which we have reason to believe will work well, but which it is difficult to apply in old settled communities without preliminary experiment.  

International Affairs

In international affairs this country should behave toward other nations exactly as an honorable private citizen behaves toward other private citizens. We should do no wrong to any nation, weak or strong, and we should submit to no wrong. Above all, we should never in any treaty make any promise which we do not intend in good faith to fulfill. I believe it essential that our small army should be kept at a high pitch of perfection, and in no way can it be so damaged as by permitting it to become the plaything of men in Congress who wish to gratify either spite or favoritism, or to secure to localities advantages to which those localities are not entitled. The navy should be steadily built up; and the process of upbuilding must not be stopped until—and not before—it proves possible to secure by international agreement a general reduction of armaments. The Panama Canal must be fortified. . . . [I]n time of war, where all treaties between warring nations, save those connected with the management of the war, at once lapse, the Canal would of course be open to the use of our war-ships and closed to war-ships of the nation with which we were engaged in hostilities. But at all times the Canal should be opened on equal terms to the ships of all nations, including our own engaged in international commerce. . . .


Now, friends, this is my confession of faith. I have made it rather long because I wish you to know just what my deepest convictions are on the great questions of today, so that if you choose to make me your standard‑bearer in the fight you shall make your choice understanding exactly how I feel—and if, after hearing me, you think you ought to choose someone else, I shall loyally abide by your choice. The convictions to which I have come have not been arrived at as the result of study in the closet or the library, but from the knowledge I have gained through hard experience during the many years in which, under many and varied conditions, I have striven and toiled with men. I believe in a larger use of the governmental power to help remedy industrial wrongs, because it has been borne in on me by actual experience that without the exercise of such power many of the wrongs will go unremedied. I believe in a larger opportunity for the people themselves directly to participate in government and to control their governmental agents, because long experience has taught me that without such control many of their agents will represent them badly. By actual experience in office I have found that, as a rule, I could secure the triumph of the causes in which I most believed, not from the politicians and the men who claim an exceptional right to speak in business and government, but by going over their heads and appealing directly to the people themselves. . . . Whatever I did as President I was able to do only because I had the backing of the people. When on any point I did not have that backing, when on any point I differed from the people, it mattered not whether I was right or whether I was wrong, my power vanished. I tried my best to lead the people, to advise them, to tell them what I thought was right; if necessary I never hesitated to tell them what I thought they ought to hear, even though I thought it would be unpleasant for them to hear it; but I recognized that my task was to try to lead them and not to drive them, to take them into my confidence, to try to show them that I was right, and then loyally and in good faith to accept their decision. I will do anything for the people except what my conscience tells me is wrong, and that I can do for no man and no set of men; I hold that a man cannot serve the people well unless he serves his conscience; but I hold also that where his conscience bids him refuse to do what the people desire, he should not try to continue in office against their will. Our Government system should be so shaped that the public servant, when he cannot conscientiously carry out the wishes of the people, shall at their desire leave his office and not misrepresent them in office; and I hold that the public servant can by so doing, better than in any other way, serve both them and his conscience.  

Surely there never was a fight better worth making than the one in which we are engaged. It little matters what befalls any one of us who for the time being stand in the forefront of the battle. I hope we shall win, and I believe that if we can wake the people to what the fight really means we shall win. But, win or lose, we shall not falter. Whatever fate may at the moment overtake any of us, the movement itself will not stop. Our cause is based on the eternal principles of righteousness; and even though we who now lead may for the time fail, in the end the cause itself shall triumph. Six weeks ago, here in Chicago, I spoke to the honest representatives of a Convention which was not dominated by honest men; a Convention wherein sat, alas! a majority of men who, with sneering indifference to every principle of right, so acted as to bring to a shameful end a party which had been founded over half a century ago by men in whose souls burned the fire of lofty endeavor. Now to you men, who, in your turn, have come together to spend and be spent in the endless crusade against wrong, to you who face the future reso­lute and confident, to you who strive in a spirit of brotherhood for the betterment of our Nation, to you who gird yourselves for this great new fight in the never-ending warfare for the good of humankind, I say in closing what in that speech I said in closing: We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord.

  1. 1. Chicago, Illinois.
  2. 2. The Republican and Democratic conventions, respectively.
  3. 3. Roosevelt won nine primaries, while Taft won two, but ultimately lost the nomination because party leaders controlled the nomination process. See the Introduction.
  4. 4. “White slavery” was a term used to refer to forced prostitution or, especially, the transportation of women across state lines for immoral purposes.
  5. 5. “Trust” referred to control by one or more people over a number of firms operating in the same area of the economy, for example steel production or the railroads. A “Trust,” sometimes referred to as a “combination,” came about when shareholders in different corporations transferred their shares to one corporate entity that held them (hence, a “holding company”). The holding company or Trust could be used to establish a monopoly over an area of the economy. For this reason, “trust busting” became part of the U.S. government’s effort to insure free markets in the United States.
  6. 6. “Toryism” is conservatism, especially a preference for traditional ways of doing things.
  7. 7. A rebate was a reduction in a rate for high-volume users of railroads.
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