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Address Before the Grain Dealers Association in Baltimore, Maryland

September 25, 1916

Mr. Chairman, Gentlemen of the Association, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a matter of sincere gratification to me that I can come and address an association of this sort, and yet I feel that there is a certain drawback to the present occasion. That drawback consists of the fact that it occurs in the midst of a political campaign. Nothing so seriously interrupts or interferes with the sober and sincere consideration of public questions as a political campaign. I want to say to you at the outset that I believe in party action, but that I have a supreme contempt for partisan action; that I believe that it is necessary for men to concert measures together in organized cooperation by party, but that whenever party feeling touches any one of the passions that work against the general interest, it is altogether to be condemned. Therefore, I feel that on occasions like this we should divest ourselves of the consciousness that we are in the midst of a political campaign, because associations like this are not gathered together to take part in partisan discussion, but to consider those permanent interests of the Nation which concern ns all the time, which do not alter their aspects because parties are contesting for power; and that we ought as much as possible on all occasions to think of ourselves as first of all men devoted to the welfare of the country and as compared with that devoted to nothing else whatever.

What I have come to say to you today, therefore, I would wish to say in an atmosphere from which all the vapors of passions have been cleared away, for I want to speak to you about the business situation of the world, so far as America is concerned. I am not going to take the liberty of discussing that business situation from the special point of view of your association, because I know that I would be bringing coals to Newcastle. I know that I am speaking to men who understand the relation of the grain business to the business of the world very much better than I do: and I know that it is true that, except under very unusual circumstances such as have existed in the immediate past, the export of grain from this country has been a diminishing part of our foreign commerce rather than an increasing part; that the increase of our own population—the decrease in proportion to that increase, of our production of grains, —has been rendering the question of foreign markets less important, though still very important, than it was in past generations, so far as the dealing in grain is concerned. I also remember, however, that we have only begun in this country the process by which the full production of our agricultural acreage is to be obtained. The agricultural acreage of this country ought to produce twice what it is now producing, and under the stimulation and instruction which have recently been characteristic of agricultural development I think we can confidently predict that within, let us say. a couple of decades the agricultural production of this country will be something like double, whereas, there is no likelihood that the population of this country will be doubled within the same period. You cm look forward, therefore, it seems to me, with some degree of confidence to an increasing, and perhaps a rapidly increasing, volume of the products in which you deal.

But, I have said, I have not come to discuss that. I have come to discuss the general relation of the United States to the business of the world in the decades immediately ahead of us. We have swung out, my fellow citizens, into a new business era in America. I suppose that there is no man connected with your association who does not remember the time when the whole emphasis of American business discussion was laid upon the domestic market. I need not remind you how recently it has happened that our attention has been extended to the markets of the world: much less recently, I need not say. in the matters with which you are concerned than in the other export interests of the country. But it happened that American production, not only in the agricultural held and in mining and in all the natural products of the earth, but also in manufacture, increased in recent years to such a volume that American business burst its jacket. It could not any longer be taken care of within the field of the domestic markets: and when that began to disclose itself as the situation, we also became aware that American business men had not studied foreign markets, that they did not know the commerce of the world, and that they did not have the ships in which to take their proportionate part in the carrying trade of the world: that our merchant marine had sunk to a negligible amount, and that it had sunk to its lowest at the very time when the tide of our exports began to grow in most formidable volume.

One of the most interesting circumstances of our business history is this: The banking laws of the United States— I mean the Federal banking laws, did not put the national banks in a position to do foreign exchange under favorable conditions, and it was actually true that private banks, and sometimes branch banks drawn out of other countries, notably out of Canada, were established at our chief ports to do what American bankers ought to have done. It was as if America was not only unaccustomed to touching all the nerves of the world's business, but was disinclined to touch them, and had not prepared the instrumentality by which it might take part in the great commerce of the round globe. Only in very recent years have we been even studying the problem of providing ourselves with the instrumentalities. Not until the recent legislation of Congress known as the Federal reserve act were the Federal banks of this country given the proper equipment through which they could assist American commerce, not only in our own country, but in any part of the world where they chose to set up branch institutions. British banks had been serving British merchants all over the world, German banks had been serving German merchants all over the world, and no national bank of the United States had been serving American merchants anywhere in the world except in the United States. We had, as it were, deliberately refrained from playing our part in the field in which we prided ourselves that we were most ambitious and most expert, the field of manufacture and of commerce. All that is past, and the scene has been changed by the events of the last two years, almost suddenly, and with a completeness that almost daunts the planning mind. Not only when this war is over, but now, America has her place in the world and must take her place in the world of finance and commerce upon a scale that she never dreamed of before.

My dream is that she will take her place in that great field in a new spirit which the world has never seen before: not the spirit of those who would exclude others, but the spirit of those who would excel others. I want to see America pitted against the world, not in selfishness, but in brains. The first thing that brains have to feed upon is knowledge, and when I hear men proposing to deal with the business problems of the United States in the future as we dealt with them in the past. I do not have to inquire any further whether they are equipped with knowledge. I dismiss them from the reckoning, because I know that the facts are going to dominate and they know nothing about the facts. And the most that we can supply ourselves with just now is. not the detailed program of policy, but the instrumentalities of gaining thorough knowledge of what we are about. Every man of us must for some time to come be "from Missouri!" We must want to know what the facts are, and when we know what the facts are we shall know what the policy ought to be.

What instrumentalities have we provided ourselves with in order that we may be equipped with knowledge? There has been an instrumentality in operation for four or five years of which, strangely enough, American business men have only slowly become aware. Some four or live years ago the Congress established, in connection with the department which was then the Department of Commerce and Labor (now the Department of Commerce), a Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce, and one of the advantages which the American Government has derived from that bureau is that it has been able to hire brains for much less than the brains were worth. It is in a way a national discredit to us, my fellow citizens, that we are paying studious men, capable of understanding anything and of conducting any business, just about one-third of what they could command in the held of business; and it is one of the admirable circumstances of American life that they are proud to serve the Government on a pittance. There are such men in the Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce. They have been studying the foreign commerce of this country as it was never studied before, and ha\e been making reports so comprehensive and so thorough that they compare to their great advantage with the reports of any similar bureau of any other government in the world, and I have found to my amazement that some of the best of those reports seem never to ha\e been read. All you have to do in order to find out the details of some of the greatest fields of activity in the world in the matter of business is to resort to the Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce: but there again the phenomena that I have been speaking of have displayed themselves in a very remarkable way. It needed the catastrophe and the tragedy of this war to awaken American business men to the fact that these were the things which they must know and know at once.

And then, in addition to that, there was recently created the Federal Trade Commission. It is hard to describe the functions of that commission: all I can say is that it has transformed the Government of the United States from being an antagonist of business into being a friend of business. A few years ago American business men— I think you will corroborate this statement. —took up their morning paper with some degree of nervousness to see what the Government was doing to them. I ask you if you take up the morning paper now with any degree of nervousness? And I ask you if you have not found, those of you who have dealt with it all, the Federal Trade Commission to be put there to show you the way in which the Government can help you and not the way in which the Government can hinder you?

But that is not the matter that I am most interested in. It has always been a fiction—I don't know who invented it or why he invented it, that there was a contest between the law and business. There has always been a contest in every government between the law and bad business, and I do not want to see that contest softened in any way: but there has never been any contest between men who intended the right thing and the men who administered the law. But what I want to speak about is this: One of the functions of the Federal Trade Commission is to inquire with the fullest powers ever conferred upon a similar commission in this country into all the circumstances of American business for the purpose of doing for American business exactly what the Department of Agriculture has so long and with increasing efficiency done for the farmer, inform the American business man of every element, big and little, with which it is his duty to deal. Here are created searching eyes of inquiry to do the very thing that it was imperatively necessary and immediately necessary that the country should do, —look upon the field of business and know what was going on!

And then, in the third place, you know that we have just now clone what it was common sense to do about the tariff. We have not put this into words, but I do not hesitate to put it into words: We have admitted that on the one side and on the other we were talking theories and managing policies without a sufficient knowledge of the facts upon which we were acting, and, therefore, we have established what is intended to be a nonpartisan tariff commission to study the conditions with which legislation has to deal in the matter of the relations of American with foreign business transactions. Another eye created to see the facts! And I am hopeful that I can find the men who will see the facts and state them, no matter whose opinion those facts contradict. For an opinion ought always to have a profound respect for a fact; and when you once get the facts, opinions that are antagonistic to those facts are necessarily defeated. I have never found a really courageous man who was afraid to put his opinion to the test of facts, or a morally sincere man who was not ready to surrender to the facts when they were contrary to his opinion. The Tariff Commission is going to look for the facts no matter who is hurt. We are creating one after another the instrumentalities of knowledge, so that the business men of this country shall know what the field of the world's business is and deal with that field upon that knowledge.

Then, when the knowledge is obtained, what are we going to do? One of the things that interests me most about an association of this sort is that the intention of it is that the members should share a common body of information, and that they should concert among themselves those operations of business which are beneficial to all of them; that, instead of a large number of dealers in grain acting separately and each fighting for his own hand, you are willing to come together and study the problem as if you were partners and brothers and cooperators in this field of business. That has been going on in every occupation in the United States of any consequence. Even the men that do the advertising have been getting together, and they have made this startling and fundamental discovery, that the only way to advertise successfully is to tell the truth. There are many reasons for that. One of the chief reasons is that when you get found out, it is worse for you than it was before; but the great reason, the sober reason, is that business must be founded on the truth, and you men get together in order to create a clearing house for the truth about your business.

Very well: that is a picture in small of what we must do in the large. We must cooperate in the whole field of business, the Government with the merchant, the merchant with his employee, the whole body of producers with the whole body of consumers, to see that the right things are produced in the right volume and find the right purchasers at the right place, and that, all working together, we realize that nothing can be for the individual benefit which is not for the common benefit.

You know that there was introduced in the House of Representatives recently a bill, commonly called the Webb bill, for the purpose of stating it as the policy of the law of the United States that nothing in the antitrust laws now existing should be interpreted to interfere with the proper sort of cooperation among exporters. The foreign field is not like the domestic field. The foreign field is full of combinations meant to be exclusive. The antitrust laws of the United States are intended to prevent any kind of combination in the United States which shall be exclusive of new enterprises within the United States, any combination which shall set up monopoly in America; but the export business is a very big business, a very complicated business, a very expensive business, and it ought to be possible. and it will be possible and legal, for men engaged in exporting to get together and manage it in groups, so that they can manage it at an advantage instead of at a disadvantage as compared with foreign rivals. Not for the purpose of exclusive and monopolistic combination, but for the purpose of cooperation, and there is a very wide difference there. I for myself despise monopoly, and I have an enthusiasm for cooperation. By cooperation I mean working along with anybody who is willing to work along with you under definite understandings and arrangements which will constitute a sound business program. There can be no jealousy of that, and if there had been time. I can say with confidence that this bill, which passed the House of Representatives, would have passed the Senate of the United States also. So that any obstacle that ingenious lawyers may find in the antitrust laws will be removed. I was a lawyer once myself before I reformed; I can divide a hair 'twixt north and northeast side, but I do not think it is worth while, and I do not think that statutes are the places for ingenuity. A statute is intended to lay down a broad and comprehensive and national policy, and it ought to be read in that light. But there would be no fun in punctuation if you had to read it that way! The purpose of legislation in the immediate future in this country is going to be to remove all ingenious constructions and make it perfectly clear what the liberties as well as the restraints of trade are in this country.

And then there must be cooperation, not only between the Government and the business men, but between business men. Shippers must cooperate, and they ought to be studying right now how to cooperate. There are a great many gentlemen in other countries who can show them how! They ought to look forward, particularly, to caring for this matter, that they have vehicles in which to carry their goods. We must address ourselves immediately and as rapidly as possible to the re-creation of a great American merchant marine. Our present situation is very like this: Suppose that a man who had a great department store did not have any delivery wagons and depended upon his competitors in the same market to deliver his goods to his customers. You know what would happen. They would deliver their own goods first and quickest, and they would deliver yours only if yours were to be delivered upon the routes followed by their wagons. That is an exact picture of what is taking place in our foreign trade at this minute. Foreign vessels carry our goods where they, the foreign vessels, happen to be going, and they carry them only if they have room in addition to what they are carrying for other people. You can not conduct trade that way. That is conducting trade on sufferance. That is conducting trade on an "if you please." That is conducting trade on the basis of service the point of view of which is not your advantage. Therefore, we can not lose any time in getting delivery wagons.

There has been a good deal of discussion about this recently, and it has been said. "The Government must not take any direct part in this. You must let private capital do it, " and the reply was, "All right, go ahead." "Oh, but we will not go ahead unless you help us." We said, "Very well, then, we will go ahead, but we will not need your help, because we do not want to compete where you are already doing the carrying business, but where you are not doing the carrying business and it has to be done for some time at a loss. We will undertake to do it at a loss until that route is established, and we will give place to private capital whenever private capital is ready to take the place.'' That sounds like a very reasonable proposition. "We will carry your goods one way when we have to come back empty the other way and lose money on the voyage, and when there are cargoes both ways and it is profitable to carry them, we shall not insist upon carrying them any longer."

And it is absolutely necessary now to make good our new connections. Our new connections are with the great and rich Republics to the south of us. For the first time in my recollection they are beginning to trust and believe in us and want ns, and one of my chief concerns has been to see that nothing was done that did not show friendship and good faith on our part. You know that is used to be the case that if you wanted to travel comfortably in your own person from New York to a South American port, you had to go by way of England or else stow yourself away in some uncomfortable fashion in a ship that took almost as long to go straight, and within whose bowels you got in such a temper before you got there that you did not care whether she got there or not. The great interesting geographical fact to me is that by the opening of the Panama Canal there is a straight line south from New York through the canal to the western coast of South America, which hitherto has been one of the most remote coasts in the world so far as we were concerned. The west coast of South America is now nearer to ns than the eastern cost of South America ever was, though we have the open Atlantic upon which to approach the east coast. Here is the loom all ready upon which to spread the threads which can be worked into a fabric of friendship and wealth such as we have never known before!

The real wealth of foreign relationships, my fellow-citizens, whether they be the relationships of trade or any other kind of intercourse, the real wealth of those relationships is the wealth of mutual confidence and understanding. If we do not understand them and they do not understand ns, we can not trade with them, much less be their friends, and it is only by weaving these intimate threads of connection that we shall be able to establish that fundamental thing, that psychological, spiritual nexus which is, after all, the real warp and woof of trade itself. We have got to have the knowledge, we have got to have the cooperation, and then back of all that has got to lie what America has in abundance and only has to release, that is to say, the self-reliant enterprise.

There is only one thing I have ever been ashamed of about in America, and that was the timidity and fearfulness of Americans in the presence of foreign competitors. I have dwelt among Americans all my life and am an intense absorbent of the atmosphere of America, and I know by personal experience that there are as effective brains in America as anywhere in the world. An American afraid to pit American business men against any competitors anywhere! Enterprise, the shrewdness which Americans have shown, the knowledge of business which they have shown, all these things are going to make for that peaceful and honorable conquest of foreign markets which is our reasonable ambition.

I spoke a moment ago of the Federal Trade Commission. In conference with various business associations, members of that commission have made this astonishing discovery, that in some fields of manufacture at any rate, not 10 per cent of the producers of America keep accurate cost accounts. They do not know how much each part of their operation costs them. They have not analyzed their business in such a way as to know where economy can be substituted for waste, or where efficiency can take the place of inefficiency, and one of the things that is going to happen, now that we are going to be up against the expert cost accountants of the world, is that we are going to become first-class economists, and that American labor, already distinguished for its efficiency, is going to double and treble that efficiency. When that takes place and this great stimulating air of the world's competitive brains has wrought its effects upon us, we are going to be, I hope, what the world has never seen yet, a body of men who do not want to prevail by the backing of their Government but by the backing of their skill and knowledge.

A friend of mine was once invited to attend a peace meeting. He said he would come with pleasure if he might be permitted to explain that most of the men sitting on the platform were engaged in fomenting war, and when he was asked to explain this pleasing meaning, he said, "I have looked over the list of the men who constitute your executive committee and almost every one of them is engaged in doing things to excite the hostility and disturb the national feeling of men in foreign countries, particularly in the Orient, which will inevitably lead to war sooner or later. " The competitions of the modern world that are lasting are not the competitions of physical force. They are the competitions of intellectual force. The competitions of business either lay the foundations of respect and mutual confidence or the foundations of suspicion and mutual hostility.

America has stood in the years past for that sort of political understanding among men which would let every man feel that his rights were the same as those of another and as good as those of another, and the mission of America in the field of the world's commerce is to be the same, that when an American comes into that competition he comes without any arms that would enable him to conquer by force, but only with those peaceful influences of intelligence, a desire to serve, a knowledge of what he is about, before which everything softens and yields and renders itself subject. That is the mission of America, and my interest, so far as my small part in American affairs is concerned, is to lend every bit of intelligence I have to this interesting, this vital, this all-important matter of releasing the intelligence of America for the service of mankind.

APP NOTE: The President spoke at the Lyric Theater before a crowd estimated at 3,500. The president was introduced by Lee G. Metcalf, President of the Grain Dealers.

Woodrow Wilson, Address Before the Grain Dealers Association in Baltimore, Maryland Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/318147

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