William Howard Taft

Address at a Banquet Tendered by Citizens of San Francisco at the Hotel Fairmont

October 05, 1909

Mr. Mayor and Men of San Francisco:

This is the fifth time that I have had the honor and the pleasure of visiting your great city. And I am going to come again when I can. I have not had the privilege at any time of staying long. But one of the great advantages of your city is that you do not have to stay long to like it well. There is something so cosmopolitan, something so free and open-hearted in the way in which you take in strangers, something so confident on your part that you have something to give to us which we ought to know and love and feel grateful about as long as San Francisco lives, that I come here always with a feeling that, first I am coming where I am welcome; second, that I will always cany away in my heart a memory, sweet and always to be called up when I think of my favorite cities.

I shall feel deeply this expression of your good fellowship. You have added to the character of San Francisco in the last three years something that makes you exceptional in the history of the world. I know, because there was a time when I had some responsibility connected with it — I know how that first year after the disaster that visited you seemed an unsurmountable obstacle to your restoring the city to the imperial sway that it had upon this coast. And we in the East were considering whether your power was to pass northward or southward, and were regretting that the Golden Gate and your magnificent harbor were not to be in accord with the city upon its shores. And yet you have overcome all of this.

I do not know how you have done it. Somebody ought to write a history about it and tell how it was that you overcame not alone the disaster, but the difficulties that in your own population you had to meet and that seemed for a time entirely impossible to overcome. I do not wonder that you are proud of it. I do not wonder that your orators can speak of nothing else, for that fills the measure of your memories during the last three years. I had intended to make a staid, sober, dull, business speech to you. It did occur to me as I heard what we had been delighted to hear to-night, that there was an answer to a question which was put to me with respect to the presidential tour. A man said to me, "It's all right in respect to your going and imparting information to the people. But how are they going to impart it to you with reference to the needs of their sections?" It occurred to me as I sat here this evening that if that man had been here to-night he might have heard a hint or two.

Now, there are certain local matters of which I have heard with reference to which I should like to speak, because I am deeply interested in them. You have undertaken to furnish an auxiliary coast artillery force. The United States agrees to equip it and give it instruction, so that if your shores are ever threatened that force will be trained to work the guns for which in the Federal army we have but about a quarter of the men required.

I understand that there is a movement in San Francisco to erect an armory for that coast artillery. I sincerely hope it will succeed. You could not do anything that would aid the Government more than in the preparation and the furnishing of such a force. Infantry are good, and infantry we ought to have. But if you will furnish a trained force to man the guns, you will give us a force that, under ordinary circumstances if we did not have it, would take at least two and perhaps three years to fit men to discharge that duty.

Then I have heard something about the merchant marine. You are the gateway to the Pacific.

The Philippine Islands have at last had justice done to them, and we are going to have free trade between them and this country. And that trade is going to grow. It may be slow at first, but it will grow so substantially and be of such mutual advantage to this country and the Philippines that when the time comes for us to say to them, "Go if you choose; cut off your relations to us; you are fit for self-government," in my judgment neither they nor this country will be willing to say so. I do not mean to say that we should not go on and give them as full a self-government as they desire. But I do mean to say that they will see it to their advantage, as you will, that the bond shall not be broken, and that some sort of relation like that between Australia and England or between Canada and England, shall be retained, and the markets of each country opened to the merchants of the other

You have Alaska on the north. Its wealth — though it has produced marvellously, measured by the expectations of those who sat up and threw bricks at Seward for spending seven millions to buy it — nevertheless hardly has been scratched. And if I can carry out my purpose, and Congress will follow my recommendation, we will have in that territory a government by a commission which shall have legislative power to attend to the domestic needs of that territory and recommend to Congress the development that ought to be going on there.

Congress — and I do not hesitate to say it — has been derelict. It has not done its duty with respect to Alaska. It ought to do it now. I know there is a disposition to say that we ought to give it popular self-government. But I think that those of you who arc familiar with the character of the settlements in that Territory will agree with me that they have not reached the time when that is the safest and best method of government for their real development.

It is easy to catch the applause of the crowd by saying, "We are bound to self-government, and self-government is the best government possible." Well it is — under conditions favorable to it. But there are times and conditions of a temporary character when it is not the best. And we ought to say so.

Then we are building the Panama Canal. We are digging out of it three millions of cubic yards a month. We shall certainly complete it by the first of January, 1915, and I am hoping, oh, so fervently, that it will be a considerable time before that.

China is waking up. It is developing as it never has before. Its future is bright with the prospects of increased activity in its industries and the development of its marvellous resources. Its trade must grow under these conditions, and its international relationship become more and more valuable.

Japan is showing marvellous advance in its commercial strides. And as it does grow in its commercial success it becomes valuable as a neighbor and a trader and a customer.

I am in favor of helping the prosperity of all countries because, when we are all prosperous, the trade of each becomes more valuable to the other.

As has been said to-night, it is true that the future of the world for the next fifty or one hundred years in progress lies in the Pacific Ocean, at your gates. The success of your community as a business community and a trading community is not going to be dependent entirely on whether you have a merchant marine or not. We have gotten along in a wonderful way in increasing our international trade without any merchant marine at all.

But that is no argument and no reason for saying that we might not have made greater strides and might not have directed that trade much more intelligently had we had the ships which helped us to carry that trade to the foreign countries.

The trade of South America is a most valuable one, reaching up nearly to a billion dollars. Of that sum 250 millions is between the United States and South America.

We have word from our consuls that, appreciating the importance of that trade, European countries are stimulating by subsidies, and other means of encouragement that comes to the same thing, the addition to the number of sailings of steamships from European ports to South American ports, and that that addition is showing an effect upon the trade and moving more of it proportionately to Europe.

Now, we must do something. We have a protective system in the United States which encourages industries, and we are able to cany it because these industries are completely within our1as jurisdiction. But when we enter into competition on the high seas we can only control our own ships. We can not control the ships of other countries. Therefore we must adopt some other method than that which we pursue with respect to the protection of our industries. What method is that? I do not know any that commends itself quite as much to me, because it is on a protective principle, as to furnish to those men who will engage in that trade enough money to make the difference, to equalize the difference that they encounter in their competition with foreign trade by reason of the greater expense of labor, the greater expense of material and the greater cost incident to the stricter regulations that we impose with respect to our sailors, and unless we also add an amount equal to the subsidies which our competing nations give to their own ships.

That is said to be undemocratic doctrine. It is said to be subsidy. It is said to put money in the pockets of private individuals. As Tom Reed said: "That man is opposed to the statute because somebody might make a dollar and a half out of it." It is not true that we put that subsidy into his pocket to enlarge it. We put that subsidy into the pocket of a private individual or a private corporation to enable him or it to render to us a service — that is, to give us a merchant marine, out of which, with the subsidy added, he shall be able to make only a reasonable profit

Now we make eight or nine million dollars out of our foreign mails. The proposition is to experiment first by using that profit which we thus make to pay mail subsidies and establish lines of those steamships between this coast and the Orient, between this coast and Australia, and between the east coast of this country and South America. Let us try that. Let us see how it works. If it gives us good times, and those lines, by reason of the fact that they carry' the United States flag and are put on for the purpose of encouraging American business, do encourage that business — that will be a basis for further trial, further experiment and further building up of a United States merchant marine.

If, on the other hand, that experiment proves to be a failure, the money that we have spent will be well spent in teaching that it was a failure.

Something has been said about the conservation of resources by Governor Gillett—oh, no, there is another thing that I forgot about the Governor. He wants sixteen or eighteen battleships on this side of the water. Well if you will guarantee that the only attacks which are coming will come on this side, we will let you have the battleships.

But I want to call attention to the fact that if, in two or three or five years, we have a Panama Canal, it in itself will double the efficiency of our navy, and the difference between the east coast and the west coast will be far less in sailing distance than it ever was before. The truth is that my impression about the Panama Canal is that the great revolution it is going to introduce in trade and the trade of the world is in the trade between the east and the west coast of the United States.

I think it is going to affect the transcontinental lines so as to take from them a large part of the heavy bulk merchandise that can not afford to and ought not to pay high rates, and to limit their carriage to that kind of merchandise that needs rapid dispatch and is valuable enough to pay the high rates consistent with that rapid dispatch.

It will also, of course, affect the trade between the eastern coast of the United States and the western coast of South America; for that, with the Panama Canal, will be almost in a straight line. If you will look at your geography, you will see it — your recollection of your geography does not tell you that, but if you will put the ruler there you will find that is just about it. Also, it will develop the trade between the west coast of the United States and European ports.

Everybody in the United States will, I am very sure, feel the benefits of the Panama Canal. How far it will affect the Oriental trade from New York or from Liverpool is a different question. There the competition of the Suez Canal will be so great that the modification will not be, I think, as much as is expected.

But to come to the question of the conservation of resources — the Governor stated it with exactness. We must preserve our forests, but we must preserve them in such a way and with such a knowledge of forestry and the reproduction of the timber as shall permit us to enjoy all the timber that ought to be cut and to leave that which shall insure a constant reforestation of the country.

Now, that is a difficult matter. The Government forests amount to about 195,000,000 acres. I think there are four times that amount in private ownership. Seventy per cent. of the Government forests are subjected to proper forest regulations, and only about 3 per cent. of the privately owned forests are so treated. That is a subject probably only within the State jurisdiction. It seems to me that the States ought to be, and doubtless they are, taking immediate steps to bring about the preservation of privately owned forests, because we are all concerned in the maintenance of our trees, in the distribution of the waters, and the equalization of the waters which the forests affect.

And the Federal government, unless in some way or other through the theory that it wishes to maintain navigable streams may exercise that authority, will find it difficult to deal directly with those who own forests and wish to cut them down without regard to the preservation of the trees and the equalization of the falling waters.

Then there are the water-power sites. There are a great many water-power sites that the government does not control, a great many that either are controlled by the States or are owned by the riparian owners. But I think we now know enough of the growing value of that water power to insist that the water-power sites which are still owned by the government shall be treated in such a way that the government may, in its conveyance of these sites, retain sufficient control over the large amount of water power that is still to be used which is on government sites, to prevent a monopoly and the gathering of all that power into a single hand.

And I believe it can be done reasonably by imposing conditions which in the beginning are not burdensome, but which by readjustment, after successful use shall have shown a profit, we can share with the government or with the consuming public, by reduction in rates, the charges that accrue from a continuing use of that water.

In respect to the reclamation of arid land — the irrigation of arid land — no one can visit this western country without realizing that that is perhaps the greatest problem we have. We used to think that our farming and agricultural land was so extensive that we never could exhaust it. The truth is, we are up against it now. And the real reason for the increase in prices in the things that go to make up the food of our inhabitants is the fact that all the good land has been or is rapidly being taken up.

We must, therefore, if we would still retain agricultural control of the world, take some steps to avail ourselves of those great stretches of what seem now to be arid and desert lands, but which, by the application of water, when the water is properly administered, may yield a production marvellous to behold.

So I think this trip has for me been full of information. It has made me much more alive to the immense importance of the conservation of our natural resources, especially of the importance of dealing properly with our arid lands.

The Federal Government has, of course, resources greater than most corporations. How far the Federal Government ought to go in this matter may be a subject for discussion. We certainly ought to encourage, as far as we can, private enterprises in the building of canals, irrigating canals, and in using the water of the streams to bring into agricultural production those desert plains.

But there are a great many enterprises about which it probably may be said that they are too venturesome, too full of risk for private enterprise. These ought to be undertaken by the Government with a hope of furnishing models to private owners thereafter upon which to complete the system and extend it.

I am not a paternalist, and yet I am not a doctrinaire of the laisser-faire school. I think a judicious mixture of paternalism where it trains the children of the Government in the way in which they should go is proper.

If we limit our expenditures on this head, as they are limited in the reclamation act to the proceeds of the sales of public lands and to the proceeds of bonds to be paid out of the sales of public land — as is now proposed — I don't think we shall have carried the matter to such an excess as will demoralize our people.

I know there was a convention up at Spokane, or somewhere, and a resolution was introduced that we should issue a billion of bonds for reclamation, a billion of bonds for irrigation, a billion of bonds for the improvement of rivers, and then there were two other billions, but I have forgotten just what they were to be applied to. Of course, such propositions send a chill down the back of a member of the appropriation committee, like my friend Senator Perkins; and everybody connected with the expenditure of money in Congress has gooseflesh when you even mention it.

Therefore I warn those who are very earnest in this matter that they must be reasonable and wise as serpents in making their suggestions in respect to the matter so as not to frighten those who feel charged with saving us from financial disaster.

And now, my friends, to return again to the personal element in the reception of to-day and to-night—I can not speak with the eloquence and fullness of heart that I feel welling up within me. I thank you and the people of San Francisco, for whom, in their stress and trial and admirable recovery I have the highest admiration, and I feel it a great honor to have at their hands such a cordial and sincere welcome as they gave me to-day, and such a good fellowship welcome as you have given me to-night.

William Howard Taft, Address at a Banquet Tendered by Citizens of San Francisco at the Hotel Fairmont Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/365225

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