|The American Presidency Project|
|• Al Smith|
|Address of Acceptance at the State Capitol, Albany, New York|
|August 22, 1928|
|Upon the steps of this Capitol, where twenty-five years ago I first came into the service of the State, I receive my party's summons to lead it in the nation. Within this building, I learned the principles, the purposes and the functions of government and to know that the greatest privilege that can come to any man is to give himself to a nation which has reared him and raised him from obscurity to be a contender for the highest office in the gift of its people.
Here I confirmed my faith in the principles of the Democratic Party so eloquently defined by Woodrow Wilson: "First, the people as the source and their interests and desires as the text of laws and institutions. Second, individual liberty as the objective of all law." With a gratitude too strong for words and with humble reliance upon the aid of Divine Providence, I accept your summons to the wider field of action.
Government should be constructive, not destructive; progressive, not reactionary. I am entirely unwilling to accept the old order of things as the best unless and until I become convinced that it cannot be made better.
It is our new world theory that government exists for the people as against the old world conception that the people exist for the government. A sharp line separates those who believe that an elect class should be the special object of the government's concern and those who believe that the government is the agent and servant of the people who create it. Dominant in the Republican Party today is the element which proclaims and executes the political theories against which the party liberals like Roosevelt and La Follette and their party insurgents have rebelled. This reactionary element seeks to vindicate the theory of benevolent oligarchy. It assumes that a material prosperity, the very existence of which is challenged, is an excuse for political inequality. It makes the concern of the government, not people, but material things.
I have fought this spirit in my own State. I have had to fight it and to beat it, in order to place upon the statute books every one of the progressive, humane laws for whose enactment I assumed responsibility in my legislative and executive career. I shall know how to fight it in the nation.
It is a fallacy that there is inconsistency between progressive measures protecting the rights of the people, including the poor and the weak, and a just regard for the rights of legitimate business, great or small. Therefore, while I emphasize my belief that legitimate business promotes the national welfare, let me warn the forces of corruption and favoritism, that Democratic victory means that they will be relegated to the rear and the front seats will be occupied by the friends of equal opportunity.
Likewise, government policy should spring from the deliberate action of an informed electorate. Of all men, I have reason to believe that the people can and do grasp the problems of the government. Against the opposition of the self-seeker and the partisan, again and again, I have seen legislation won by the pressure of popular demand, exerted after the people had had an honest, frank and complete explanation of the issues. Great questions of finance, the issuance of millions of dollars of bonds for public projects, the complete reconstruction of the machinery of the State government, the institution of an executive budget, these are but a few of the complicated questions which I, myself, have taken to the electorate. Every citizen has thus learned the nature of the business in hand and appreciated that the State's business is his business.
That direct contact with the people I propose to continue in this campaign and, if I am elected, in the conduct of the nation's affairs. I shall thereby strive to make the nation's policy the true reflection of the nation's ideals. Because I believe in the idealism of the party of Jefferson, Cleveland, and Wilson, my administration will be rooted in liberty under the law; liberty that means freedom to the individual to follow his own will so long as he does not harm his neighbor; the same high moral purpose in our conduct as a nation that actuates the conduct of the God-fearing man and woman; that equality of opportunity which lays the foundation for wholesome family life and opens up the outlook for the betterment of the lives of our children.
In the rugged honesty of Grover Cleveland there originated one of our party's greatest principles: "Public office is a public trust." That principle now takes on new meaning. Political parties are the vehicle for carrying out the popular will. We place responsibility upon the party. The Republican Party today stands responsible for the widespread dishonesty that has honeycombed its administration.
During the last presidential campaign the Republican managers were partially successful in leading the American people to believe that these sins should be charged against the individual rather than against the party. The question of personal guilt has now been thoroughly disposed of and in its place, challenging the wisdom and good judgment of the American people, is the unquestioned evidence of party guilt.
The Democratic Party asks the electorate to withdraw their confidence from the Republican Party and repose it with the Democratic Party pledged to continue those standards of unblemished integrity which characterized every act of the administration of Woodrow Wilson.
But I would not rest our claim for the confidence of the American people alone upon the misdeeds of the opposite party. Ours must be a constructive campaign.
The Republican Party builds its case upon a myth. We are told that only under the benevolent administration of that party can the country enjoy prosperity. When four million men, desirous to work and support their families, are unable to secure employment there is very little in the picture of prosperity to attract them and the millions dependent upon them.
In the year 1926, the latest figures available show that one-twentieth of one per cent of the 430,000 corporations in this country earned 40 per cent of their profits; 40 per cent of the corporations actually lost money; one-fourth of 1 per cent of these corporations earned two-thirds of the profits of all of them. Specific industries are wholly prostrate and there is widespread business difficulty and discontent among the individual business men of the country.
Prosperity to the extent that we have it is unduly concentrated and has not equitably touched the lives of the farmer, the wage-earner and the individual business man. The claim of governmental economy is as baseless as the claims that general business prosperity exists and that it can exist only under Republican administration.
When the Republican Party came into power in 1921 it definitely promised reorganization of the machinery of government, and abolition or consolidation of unnecessary and overlapping agencies. A Committee was appointed. A representative of the President acted as Chairman. It prepared a plan of reorganization. The plan was filed in the archives. It still remains there. After seven years of Republican control the structure of government is worse than it was in 1921. It is fully as bad as the system which existed in New York State before we secured by constitutional amendment the legislation which consolidated more than one hundred offices, commissions and boards into eighteen coordinated departments, each responsible to the Governor. In contrast with this, the Republican Party in control at Washington when faced with the alternative of loss of patronage for faithful or more efficient and economical management of the government permitted the old order to continue for the benefit of the patronage seekers.
The appropriations for independent bureaus and offices not responsible to any cabinet officer increased from $3,400,000 in 1914 to $163,000,000 in 1921, and to $556,000,000 in 1928. No wonder that a cabinet officer of the Republican President of 1921 said "if you could visualize the government as a business or administrative unit, you would see something like one of those grotesque spectacles of a big oyster shell to which in the course of years, big and irregular masses of barnacles have attached themselves without symmetry or relevancy." And the Chamber of Commerce of the United States said in its annual report this year: "No progress has been made on the plan of reorganization of the government's departments as advocated by the Chamber." The administration spokesman answers only: "We have given an economical administration," and that has been repeated so often that some people begin to believe it without the slightest proof. I assert that there is no proof.
The appropriation bills signed by the President of the United States for the last year are just one-half a billion dollars more than they were for the first year of his administration. The appropriations for the Executive Department itself (The President and Vice-President) have increased more than 10 per cent under President Coolidge.
The figures for expenditure as distinguished from appropriations tell the same story. Aside from interest on the public debt which has been reduced by retirement of bonds or by refinancing at lower interest rate, the actual expenditures for governmental activities during the fiscal year ending in 1928 were just $346,000,000 more than in President Coolidge's first year.
If the defenders of the administration answer that taxes have been reduced, they find themselves in a similar dilemma. The total taxes collected are $24,000,000 more than in the first year of the Coolidge administration. While tax rates have been reduced and some war-time taxes abandoned, the government actually took from the people in income taxes $383,000,000 more during the last fiscal year than during the first year of the Coolidge administration. And even these reductions in tax rates have been brought about primarily because the administration has committed the government to appropriations authorized but not made, amounting approximately to one billion dollars, which is an obligation that is being passed on to succeeding administrations. I wish to focus the public attention on these fundamental facts and figures when it is fed with picturesque trifles about petty economies, such as eliminating stripes from mail bags and extinguishing electric lights in the offices at night.
With this has gone a governmental policy of refusal to make necessary expenditures for purposes which would have effected a real economy. The Postmaster-General states that there was a large annual waste in the handling of mail, resulting from lack of modern facilities and equipment. Scarcely a large city in the country has adequate quarters for the transaction of Federal business. The government pays rent in the city of Washington alone of more than one million dollars annually. It is estimated that the government is paying rentals of twenty million dollars in the nation. True economy would be effected by the erection of Federal buildings, especially in the numerous instances where sites acquired many years ago have been left vacant because the administration did not desire to have these expenditures appear in the budget. It is not economy to refuse to spend money and to have our soldiers living in barracks which the Chief of Staff of the Army recently stated were indecent and below the standard for the meanest type of housing permitted anywhere. And the wise, properly timed construction of needed public improvements would substantially tend to lessen the evils of unemployment.
If the people commission me to do it, I shall with the aid of the Congress effect a real reorganization and consolidation of governmental activities upon a business basis and institute the real economy which comes from prudent expenditure. I shall aid programs for the relief of unemployment, recognizing its deep, human and social significance and shall strive to accomplish a national well-being resting upon the prosperity of the individual men and women who constitute the nation.
Acting upon the principle of "Equal opportunity for all, special privileges for none," I shall ask Congress to carry out the tariff declaration of our platform. To be sure the Republican Party will attempt in the campaign to misrepresent Democratic attitude to the tariff. The Democratic Party does not and under my leadership will not advocate any sudden or drastic revolution in our economic system which would cause business unheaval and popular distress. This principle was recognized as far back as the passage of the Underwood Tariff Bill. Our platform restates it in unmistakable language. The Democratic Party stands squarely for the maintenance of legitimate business and high standard of wages for American labor. Both can be maintained and at the same time the tariff can be taken out of the realm of politics and treated on a strictly business basis.
A leading Republican writing in criticism of the present tariff law, said: "It stands as one of the most ill drawn pieces of legislation in recent political history. It is probably near the actual truth to say that taking for granted some principle of protection of American business and industry, the country has prospered due to post-war conditions abroad and in spite of, rather than on account of, the Fordney-McCumber tariff." What I have just quoted is no part of a campaign document. It was written a few months ago by Professor William Starr Myers of Princeton University, writing the history of his own party.
Against the practice of legislative log-rolling, Woodrow Wilson pointed the way to a remedy. It provided for the creation and maintenance of a non-political, quasi-judicial, fact-finding commission which could investigate and advise the President and Congress as to the tariff duties really required to protect American industry and safeguard the high standard of American wages. In an administration anxious to meet political obligations, the Commission has ceased to function and it has been publicly stated by former members of it that the work of the Commission has been turned over to the advocates of special interests. To bring this about, it is a matter of record that the President demanded the undated resignation of one of its members before he signed his appointment.
I shall restore this Commission to the high level upon which President Wilson placed it, in order that, properly manned, it may produce the facts that will enable us to ascertain how we may increase the purchasing power of everybody's income or wages by the adjustment of those schedules which are now the result of log-rolling and which upon their face are extortion-ate and unnecessary.
Pay no attention to the Republican propaganda and accept my assurance as the leader of our Party that Democratic tariff legislation will be honest. It will play no favorites. It will do justice to every element in the Nation.
The Constitution provides that treaties with foreign powers must be ratified by a vote of two-thirds of the Senate. This is a legal recognition of the truth that in our foreign relations we must rise above party politics and act as a united nation. Any foreign policy must have its roots deep in the approval of a very large majority of our people. Therefore, no greater service was ever rendered by any President than by Woodrow Wilson when he struck at the methods of secret diplomacy. Today we have close relations, vital to our commercial and world standing, with every other nation. I regard it, therefore, as a paramount duty to keep alive the interest of our people in these questions, and to advise the electorate as to facts and policies.
Through a long line of distinguished Secretaries of State, Republican and Democratic alike, this country had assumed a position of world leadership in the endeavor to outlaw war and substitute reason for force. At the end of President Wilson's administration we enjoyed not only the friendship but the respectful admiration of the peoples of the world. Today we see unmistakable evidences of a widespread distrust of us and unfriendliness to us, particularly among our Latin American neighbors.
I especially stress the necessity for the restoration of cordial relations with Latin America and I take my text from a great Republican Secretary of State, Elihu Root, who said: "We consider that the independence and equal rights of the smallest and weakest member of the family of nations deserve as much respect as those of the great empires. We pretend to no right, privilege or power that we do not freely concede to each one of the American Republics."
The present administration has been false to that declaration of one of its greatest party leaders. The situation in Nicaragua fairly exemplifies our departure from this high standard. The administration has intervened in an election dispute between two conflicting factions, sent our troops into Nicaragua , maintained them there for years, and this without the consent of Congress. To settle this internal dispute, our marines have died and hundreds of Nicaraguans in turn have been killed by our marines. Without consultation with Congress, the administration entered on this long continued occupation of the territory of a supposedly friendly nation by our armed troops.
To no declaration of our platform do I more heartily commit myself than the one for the abolition of the practice of the President of entering into agreements for the settlement of internal disputes in Latin American countries, unless the agreements have been consented to by the Senate as provided for in the Constitution of the United States. I personally declare what the platform declares: "Interference in the purely internal affairs of Latin American countries must cease" and I specifically pledge myself to follow this declaration with regard to Mexico as well as the other Latin American countries.
The Monroe Doctrine must be maintained but not as a pretext for meddling with the purely local concerns of countries which even though they be small are sovereign and entitled to demand and receive respect for their sovereignty. And I shall certainly do all that lies in my power to bring about the fullest concerted action between this country and all the Latin American countries with respect to any step which it may ever be necessary to take to discharge such responsibilities to civilization as may be placed upon us by the Monroe Doctrine.
The evil effect of the administration's policy with respect to Latin America has extended to our relations with the rest of the world. I am not one of those who contend that everything Republican is bad and everything Democratic is good. I approve the effort to renew and extend the arbitration treaties negotiated under the administration of President Wilson. But the usefulness of those treaties as deterrents of war is materially impaired by the reservations asserted by various nations of the right to wage defensive wars as those reservations are interpreted in the light of President Coolidge's record. Defending his policies he announced on April 25, 1927, the doctrine that the person and property of a citizen are a part of the national domain, even when abroad. I do not think the American people would approve a doctrine which would give to Germany, or France, or England, or any other country, the right to regard a citizen of that country or the property of a citizen of that country situated within the borders of the United States a part of the national domain of the foreign country. Our unwarranted intervention in internal affairs in Latin America and this specious reason for it constitute the basis upon which other countries may seek to justify imperialistic policies which threaten world peace and materially lessen the effectiveness which might otherwise lie in the multilateral treaties.
The real outlawry of war must come from a more substantial endeavor to remove the causes of war and in this endeavor the Republican administration has signally failed. I am neither militarist nor jingo. I believe that the people of this country wish to live in peace and amity with the world. Freedom from entangling alliances is a fixed American policy. It does not mean, however, that great nations should not behave to one another with the same decent friendliness and fair play that self-respecting men and women show to one another.
In 1921 there was negotiated a treaty for the limitation of the construction of battleships and battle cruisers of over ten thousand tons. It was approved without party dispute as a start of the process of removing from the backs of the toiling masses of the world the staggering burden of the hundreds of millions of dollars that are wrung from them every year for wasteful transformation into engines of destruction. For seven years the Republican administration has followed it with nothing effective. No limitation has been placed upon land armaments, submarines, vessels of war of under ten thousand tons displacement, poisonous gases or any of the other machinery devised by man for the destruction of human life. In this respect our diplomacy has been futile.
I believe the American people desire to assume their fair share of responsibility for the administration of a world of which they are a part, without political alliance with any foreign nation. I pledge myself to a resumption of a real endeavor to make the outlawry of war effective by removing its causes and to substitute the methods of conciliation, conference, arbitration and judicial determination.
The President of the United States has two constitutional duties with respect to prohibition. The first is embodied in his oath of office. If, with one hand on the Bible and the other hand reaching up to Heaven, I promise the people of this country that "I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," you may be sure that I shall live up to that oath to the last degree. I shall to the very limit execute the pledge of our platform "to make an honest endeavor to enforce the 18th Amendment and all other provisions of the Federal Constitution and all laws enacted pursuant thereto."
The President does not make the laws. He does his best to execute them whether he likes them or not. The corruption in enforcement activities which caused a former Republican Prohibition Administrator to state that three-fourths of the dry agents were political ward heelers named by politicians without regard to Civil Service laws and that prohibition is the "new political pork barrel," I will ruthlessly stamp out. Such conditions can not and will not exist under any administration presided over by me.
The second constitutional duty imposed upon the President is "To recommend to the Congress such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." Opinion upon prohibition cuts squarely across the two great political parties. There are thousands of so-called "wets" and "drys" in each. The platform of my party is silent upon any question of change in the law. I personally believe that there should be change and I shall advise the Congress in accordance with my constitutional duty of whatever changes I deem "necessary or expedient." It will then be for the people and the representatives in the national and State legislatures to determine whether these changes shall be made.
I will state the reasons for my belief. In a book "Law and its Origin," recently called to my notice, James C. Carter, one of the leaders of the bar of this country, wrote of the conditions which exist "when a law is made declaring conduct widely practiced and widely regarded as innocent to be a crime." He points out that in the enforcement of such a law "trials become scenes of perjury and subornation of perjury; juries find abundant excuses for rendering acquittal or persisting in disagreement contrary to their oaths" and he concludes "Perhaps worst of all is that general regard and reverence for law are impaired, a consequence the mischief of which can scarcely be estimated." These words written years before the 18th Amendment or the Volstead Act were prophetic of our situation today.
I believe in temperance. We have not achieved temperance under the present system. The mothers and fathers of young men and women throughout this land know the anxiety and worry which has been brought to them by their children's use of liquor in a way which was unknown before prohibition. I believe in reverence for law. Today disregard of the prohibition laws is insidiously sapping respect for all law. I raise, therefore, what I profoundly believe to be a great moral issue involving the righteousness of our national conduct and the protection of our children's morals.
The remedy, as I have stated, is the fearless application of Jeffersonian principles. Jefferson and his followers foresaw the complex activities of this great, widespread country. They knew that in rural, sparsely settled districts people would develop different desires and customs from those in densely populated sections and that if we were to be a nation united on truly national matters, there had to be a differentialion in local laws to allow for different local habits. It was for this reason that the Democratic platform in 1884 announced "We oppose sumptuary laws which vex the citizens and interfere with individual liberty," and it was for this reason that Woodrow Wilson vetoed the Volstead Act.
In accordance with this Democratic principle, some immediate relief would come from an amendment to the Volstead Law giving a scientific definition of the alcoholic content of an intoxicating beverage. The present definition is admittedly inaccurate and unscientific. Each State would then be allowed to fix its own standard of alcoholic content, subject always to the proviso that that standard could not exceed the maximum fixed by the Congress.
I believe moreover that there should be submitted to the people the question of some change in the provisions of the 18th Amendment. Certainly, no one foresaw when the amendment was ratified the conditions which exist today of bootlegging, corruption and open violation of the law in all parts of the country. The people themselves should after this eight years of trial, be permitted to say whether existing conditions should be rectified. I personally believe in an amendment in the 18th Amendment which would give to each individual State itself only after approval by a referendum popular vote of its people the right wholly within its borders to import, manufacture or cause to be manufactured and sell alcoholic beverages, the sale to be made only by the State itself and not for consumption in any public place. We may well learn from the experience of other nations. Our Canadian neighbors have gone far in this manner to solve this problem by the method of sale made by the state itself and not by private individuals.
There is no question here of the return of the saloon. When I stated that the saloon "is and ought to be a defunct institution in this country" I meant it. I mean it today. I will never advocate nor approve any law which directly or indirectly permits the return of the saloon.
Such a change would preserve for the dry states the benefit of a national law that would continue to make interstate shipment of intoxicating beverages a crime. It would preserve for the dry states Federal enforcement of prohibition within their own borders. It would permit to citizens of other states a carefully limited and controlled method of effectuating the popular will wholly within the borders of those states without the old evil of the saloon.
Such a method would re-establish respect for law and terminate the agitation which has injected discord into the ranks of the great political parties which should be standing for the accomplishment of fundamental programs for the nation. I may fairly say even to those who disagree with me that the solution I offer is one based upon the historic policy of the Democratic Party, to assure to each State its complete right of local self-government. I believe it is a solution which would today be offered by Jefferson, or Jackson or Cleveland or Wilson, if those great leaders were with us.
Publicity agents of the Republican administration have written so many articles on our general prosperity, that they have prevented the average man from having a proper appreciation of the degree of distress existing today among farmers and stockraisers. From 1910 to the present time the farm debt has increased by the striking sum of ten billions of dollars, or from four billion to fourteen billion dollars. The value of farm property between 1920 and 1925 decreased by twenty billions of dollars. This depression made itself felt in an enormous increase of bank failures in the agricultural districts. In 1927 there were 830 bank failures, with total liabilities of over 270 millions of dollars, almost entirely in the agricultural sections, as against 49 such failures during the last year of President Wilson's administration.
The report of November 17, 1927, of a Special Committee of the Association of Land Grant Colleges and Universities states: "Incomes from farming since 1920 have not been sufficient to pay a fair return on the current value of capital used and a fair wage for the farmer's labor, or to permit farm people to maintain a standard of living comparable with other groups of like ability." The Business Men's Commission on Agriculture said in November, 1927, "Since the war, the prices of farm products have persisted in an uneconomic and unfavorable adjustment to the general scale of prices of other goods and services;" and "the disparity between urban and farm incomes has emphasized the disparity in standards of living in the rural and urban populations." "The value of farm land and farm property decreased heavily in the post-war deflation" and "large numbers of farmers have lost all their property in this process."
We have not merely a problem of helping the farmer. While agriculture is one of the most individualized and independent of enterprises, still as the report of the Business Men's Commission points out, "Agriculture is essentially a public function, affected with a clear and unquestionable public interest." The country is an economic whole. If the buying power of agriculture is impaired, the farmer makes fewer trips to Main street. The shop owner suffers because he has lost a large part of this trade. The manufacturer who supplies him likewise suffers as does the wage earner, because the manufacturer is compelled to curtail his production. And the banker cannot collect his debts or safely extend further credit. This country cannot be a healthy, strong economic body if one of its members, so fundamentally important as agriculture, is sick almost to the point of economic death.
The normal market among the farmers of this country for the products of industry is ten billions of dollars. Our export market according to latest available figures is, exclusive of agricultural products, approximately one billion, six hundred millions of dollars. These large figures furnish striking indication of the serious blow to national prosperity as a whole which is struck when the buying power of the farmer is paralyzed.
When, therefore, I say that I am in accord with our platform declaration that the solution of this problem must be a prime and immediate concern of the Democratic administration, I make no class appeal. I am stating a proposition as vital to the welfare of business as of agriculture.
With the exception of the administrations of Cleveland and Wilson, the government of this country has been in Republican hands for half a century. For nearly eight years the President and Congress have been Republican. What has been done to solve this problem? Many promises were made which have never been fulfilled. Certainly the promise of relief by tariff has not been fulfilled.
The tariff is ineffective on commodities of which there is exportable surplus without controlled sale of the surplus. Our platform points the way to make the tariff effective for crops of which we produce a surplus. There has been government interference with laws of supply and demand to benefit industry, commerce and finance. It has been one-sided because business, industry and finance would have been helped more if proper attention had been given to the condition of agriculture. Nothing of substance has been done to bring this basic part of our national life into conformity with the economic system that has been set up by law. Government should interfere as little as possible with business. But if it does interfere with one phase of economic life, be it by tariff, by assistance to merchant marine, by control of the flow of money and capital through the banking system, it is bad logic, bad economics and an abandonment of government responsibility to say that as to agriculture alone, the government should not aid.
Twice a Republican Congress has passed legislation only to have it vetoed by a President of their own party, and whether the veto of that specific measure was right or wrong, it is undisputed that no adequate substitute was ever recommended to the Congress by the President and that no constructive plan of relief was ever formulated by any leader of the Republican Party in place of the plan which its Congress passed and its President vetoed. Only caustic criticism and bitter denunciation were provoked in the minds of the Republican leaders in answer to the nation-wide appeal for a sane endeavor to meet this crisis.
Cooperative, coordinated marketing and warehousing of surplus farm products is essential just as coordinated, cooperative control of the flow of capital was found necessary to the regulation of our country's finances. To accomplish financial stability, the Federal Reserve System was called into being by a Democratic administration. The question for agriculture is complex. Any plan devised must also be coordinated with the other phases of our business institutions. Our platform declares for the development of cooperative marketing and an earnest endeavor to solve the problem of the distribution of the cost of dealing with crop surpluses over the marketed unit of the crop whose producers are benefited by such assistance. Only the mechanics remain to be devised. I propose to substitute action for inaction and friendliness for hostility. In my administration of the government of my State, whenever I was confronted with a problem of this character, I called into conference those best equipped on the particular subject in hand. I shall follow that course with regard to agriculture. Farmers and farm leaders with such constructive aid as will come from sound economists and fair minded leaders of finance and business must work out the detail. There are varying plans for the attainment of the end which is to be accomplished. Such plans should be subjected at once to searching, able and fair minded analysis, because the interests of all require that the solution shall be economically sound.
If I am elected, I shall immediately after election ask leaders of the type I have named irrespective of party to enter upon this task. I shall join with them in the discharge of their duties during the coming winter and present to Congress immediately upon its convening, the solution recommended by the body of men best fitted to render this signal service to the nation. I shall support the activities of this body until a satisfactory law is placed upon the statute books.
Adequate distribution is necessary to bring a proper return to production. Increased efficiency of railroad transportation and terminal handling means lowering of cost which in turn reflects itself in the form of increased purchasing power through reduction in the cost of everyday necessities of life.
Nor do railroads exhaust means of transportation. I believe in encouraging the construction and use of modern highways to carry the short haul of small bulk commodities and to aid in effective marketing of farm products.
Of great importance and still in a highly undeveloped state are our transportation routes by waterways. Commodities of great bulk, where the freight cost is a large part of the cost to the ultimate consumer, are among the least profitable to railroads to carry and lend themselves most readily to water transportation.
Certain areas of our country are deeply interested in opening up a direct route from the middle west to the sea by way of the Great Lakes and adjacent waterways. Controversy has arisen over the relative merits of the St. Lawrence route or the All-American route. As Governor of New York, I have heretofore expressed a preference for the All-American route, basing my view on engineers' reports made to me. The correctness of these reports and also of those favoring the St. Lawrence route has been challenged. As President of the United States, therefore, it would be my clear duty to restudy this question impartially upon engineers' reports the accuracy of which must be above question. When the results of such a study are given to Congress, I am entirely willing to abide by the decision of Congress.
With the development of inland waterways goes the control of floods thereon. The Mississippi flood of last year brought home to the nation the imperative need for a national policy of flood control. The last two administrations waited for this calamity and for universal demand that something be done instead of taking leadership in this important work. Forethought, courage, and leadership and knowledge of what real ultimate economy means would have done much to prevent this calamity with its ensuing waste and misery. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of first aid and relief. In the last Congress the Reid-Jones Bill laid down sound lines for the solution of this great problem. The policy thus initiated for the Mississippi must be carried through. The money actually appropriated for flood relief is too small to make even a start. Too much time has been spent in squabbling over who shall pay the bill.
The Mississippi river and its tributaries constitute a great network of waterways flowing through a large number of States. Much more than flood control is involved. Fullest development of the Mississippi river and its tributaries as arteries of commerce should be the goal.
Wide possibilities for public good are latent in what remains of our natural resources. I pledge myself to a progressive liberal conservation policy based upon the same principles to which I have given my support in the State of New York, and to fight against selfish aggression in this field wherever it appears and irrespective of whom it may involve. No nation in history has been more careless about the conservation of natural resources than has ours. We have denuded our forests. We have been slow to reclaim lands for development and have allowed to run to waste or have given to private exploitation our public waters with their great potential power for the development of electrical energy.
The value of this heritage can best be measured when we consider the recent disclosures of the methods employed by private monopolies to wrest our remaining water powers from public control.
No more dishonest or unpatriotic propaganda has ever been seen in this country than that disclosed by the investigation into the methods of certain utility corporations. Private corporations to gain control of public resources have procured the writing of textbooks for the public schools; have subsidized lecturers pretending to give to the country their own honest and unbiased advice; have employed as their agents former public officials and have endeavored to mislead public opinion by the retention of the services of leaders of the community in various parts of the country. Highly paid lobbyists, penetrated into every State and into the legislative halls of the nation itself.
As against propaganda, it is the duty of the Democratic Party to set up truth. The ownership of some of these great water powers is in the nation, of others in the several states. These sources of water power must remain forever under public ownership and control. Where they are owned by the Federal Government, they should remain under Federal control. Where they are owned by an individual State, they should be under the control of that State, or where they are owned by States jointly, they should be under the control of those States.
Wherever the development, the government agency, State or Federal as the case may be, must retain through contractual agreement with the distributing companies the right to provide fair and reasonable rates to the ultimate consumer and the similar right to insist upon fair and equal distribution of the power. This can be secured only by the absolute retention by the people of the ownership of the power by owning and controlling the site and plant at the place of generation. The government -- Federal, State or the authority representing joint States -- must control the switch that turns on or off the power so greedily sought by certain private groups without the least regard for the public good.
I shall carry into Federal administration the same policy which I have maintained against heavy odds in my own State. Under no circumstances should private monopoly be permitted to capitalize for rate-making purposes water power sites that are the property of the people themselves. It is to me unthinkable that the government of the United States or any State thereof will permit either direct or indirect alienation of water power sites.
Electrical energy generated from water power as an incident to the regulation of the flow of the Colorado river is the common heritage of all the States through which the river flows. The benefits growing from such development should be equitably distributed among the States having right of ownership. The duty of the Federal Government is confined to navigation. I am of the opinion that the best results would flow from the setting up of a Colorado River Authority, representative equally of all the States concerned. The development should be by the States through the agency of this authority by treaty ratified by Congress.
It will be the policy of my administration while retaining government ownership and control, to develop a method of operation for Muscle Shoals which will reclaim for the government some fair revenue from the enormous expenditure already made for its development and which is now a complete waste. In this way the original peace-time purpose of the construction of this plant will be achieved. The nation will be reimbursed, agriculture will be benefited by the cheap production of nitrates for fertilizer and the surplus power will be distributed to the people.
The remaining public natural resources now under control of the Federal Government must be administered in the interests of all of the people. Likewise a complete survey and study of the remaining undeveloped public resources of land, coal, oil and other minerals is greatly needed and should be undertaken.
The United States because its people use more wood than any other or earth is therefore more dependent on the forest than any other great nation. At the same time we are the most wasteful of all people in the destruction of our forest resources.
The use of our national forests for recreation should be greatly extended. I also pledge myself to give the same continuing interest and support to a national park, reforestation and recreation program as have brought about the establishment of a great Conservation and State Park System in the State of New York.
It was Grover Cleveland who first made our national forest and conservation policy into a great public question. Theodore Roosevelt followed in his footsteps. What these two men began must be continued and carried forward.
The American people constitute a structure of many component parts. One of its foundations is labor. The reasonable contentment of those who toil with the conditions under which they live and work is an essential basis of the nation's well-being. The welfare of our country therefore demands governmental concern for the legitimate interest of labor.
The Democratic Party has always recognized this fact and under the administration of Woodrow Wilson, a large body of progressive legislation for the protection of those laboring in industry, was enacted. Our platform continues that tradition of the party. We declare for the principle of collective bargaining which alone can put the laborer upon a basis of fair equality with the employer; for the human principle that labor is not a commodity; for fair treatment to government and Federal employees; and for specific and immediate attention to the serious problems of unemployment.
From these premises it was inevitable that our platform should further recognize grave abuses in the issuance of injunctions in labor disputes which threaten the very principle of collective bargaining. Chief Justice Taft in 1919 stated that government of the relations between capital and labor by injunction was an absurdity. Justice Holmes and Justice Brandeis of the United States Supreme Court unite in an opinion which describes the restraints on labor imposed by a Federal injunction as a reminder of involuntary servitude.
Dissatisfaction and social unrest have grown from these abuses and undoubtedly legislation must be framed to meet just causes for complaint in regard to the unwarranted issuance of injunctions.
The Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate has already in progress a careful study of this situation. I promise full cooperation to the end that a definite remedy by law be brought forth to end the existing evils and preserve the constitutional guarantees of individual liberty, free assemblage and speech and the rights of peaceful persuasion.
I shall continue my sympathetic interest in the advancement of progressive legislation for the protection and advancement of working men and women. Promotion of proper care of maternity, infancy and childhood and the encouragement of those scientific activities of the National Government which advance the safeguards of public health, are so fundamental as to need no expression from me other than my record as legislator and as Governor.
None can question my respect for and cooperation with the Civil Service nor my interest in proper compensation for government service. I believe in that true equality of women that opens to them without restriction all avenues of opportunity for which they can qualify in business, in government service and in politics.
I have a full appreciation of what this country owes to our veteran soldiers. I know that when the country called, the veteran came promptly. When the veteran in distress calls to the country, the country should be equally prompt. Red tape and technicalities and autocratic bureaucracy should be brushed aside when the time comes for a grateful American people to recognize its debt to the men who offered themselves in our hour of need.
During all of our national life the freedom of entry to the country has been extended to the millions who desired to take advantage of the freedom and the opportunities offered by America. The rugged qualities of our immigrants have helped to develop our country and their children have taken their places high in the annals of American history.
Every race has made its contribution to the betterment of America. While I stand squarely on our platform declaration that the laws which limit immigration must be preserved in full force and effect, I am heartily in favor of removing from the immigration law the harsh provision which separates families, and I am opposed to the principle of restriction based upon the figures of immigrant population contained in a census thirty-eight years old. I believe this is designed to discriminate against certain nationalities, and is an unwise policy. It is in no way essential to a continuance of the restriction advocated in our platform.
While this is a government of laws and not of men, laws do not execute themselves. We must have people of character and outstanding ability to serve the nation. To me one of the greatest elements of satisfaction in my nomination is the fact that I owe it to no one man or set of men. I can with complete honesty make the statement that my nomination was brought about by no promise given or implied by me or any one in my behalf. I will not be influenced in appointments by the question of a person's wet or dry attitude, by whether he is rich or poor, whether he comes from the north, south, east or west, or by what church he attends in the worship of God. The sole standard of my appointments will be the same as they have been in my governorship -- integrity of the man or woman and his or her ability to give me the greatest possible aid in devoted service to the people.
In this spirit I enter upon the campaign. During its progress I shall talk at length on many of the issues to which I have referred in this acceptance address, as well as other important questions. I shall endeavor to conduct this campaign on the high plane that befits the intelligence of our citizens.
Victory, simply for the sake of achieving it, is empty. I am entirely satisfied of our success in November because I am sure we are right and therefore sure that our victory means progress for our nation. I am convinced of the wisdom of our platform. I pledge a complete devotion to the welfare of our country and our people. I place that welfare above every other consideration and I am satisfied that our party is in a position to promote it. To that end I here and now declare to my fellow countrymen from one end of the United States to the other, that I will dedicate myself with all the power and energy that I possess to the service of our great Republic.
|Citation: Al Smith: "Address of Acceptance at the State Capitol, Albany, New York", August 22, 1928. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=75571.|
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