William Howard Taft

Address at City Hall in Phoenix, Arizona

October 13, 1909

Governor Sloan, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am glad to meet you. It is a new sensation for me to talk to the people of a territory, and I may say thus far it is a very pleasant sensation.

In the first place, I want to commend myself, and that is by having appointed Judge Sloan your Governor. In the second place I want to congratulate you on having such a territory, such energy and such enterprise as has called forth from the Republican party a pledge that you shall have statehood, and in order to establish my relation with you early, I want to say that so far as I am concerned, I am going to help carry out that promise as far as I can. I say that as a beginning of my speech and not as its ending. Sometimes it is better to postpone the marriage and everything else in a novel to the end, but I always have the habit of looking through to see whether it ends all right before I begin, and I am inclined to think that the ladies before me generally follow that course.

Now, gentlemen, and ladies, for I don't know whether you are going to let the ladies vote or not, and I speak therefore with due consideration, you are anticipating statehood, you are anxious to show what you can do as an independent government, and I am afraid you are anticipatng the pleasure of that independence without fully understanding or realizing the responsibilities of it; and therefore if after having made this announcement I point out some of the difficulties that you are to have, you will excuse me. You have got to formulate a constitution after the Congress says you can come in, and I want to say a word about that constitution. In saying it I give you an earnest of the seriousness with which I say that I believe you will be made a State. A constitution is for the purpose of laying down fundamental limitations upon your legislature and your Executive. Now if you think that in the Constitutional Convention you ought to lay down all the limitations that are ordinarily included in a statute, you are going to make a great mistake. The greatest Constitution that was ever made is the Constitution of the United States; and you can go through that in a very short time. You take the last constitution that was made. It is the constitution of Oklahoma, and it is a zoological garden of cranks. I don't mean to say that it has not good ideas in it. It has. But the idea of tying down a legislature which is an experiment, so to speak, with the laws that are to be adapted to a new territory, with a long discourse imposing all sorts of limitations, is a mistake which you ought to profit by.

I want to congratulate you on having room enough in this Territory to grow. It is about four times the size of Ohio, and Ohio is a fairly large State. Of course there is a good deal of soil out here that we would not at first sight value in Ohio, but by your energy and by the application of modern methods of agriculture you seem to be reducing it to a condition where it brings forth wonderful crops and enriches those who devote their attention to its culture. Then the Governor tells me that you have another occupation — you can not call it agriculture or horticulture — I mean the hatching and raising of ostriches. I understand that this is the only State in which ostriches think it worth while to pursue race suicide, and that the result is that there is an industry, to call it by a general term, which is really profitable and which enables you to compete with South Africa. Then the alfalfa fields, the fruit and all the other products which you are able to bring forth make your future one which I need not assure you is most promising. But as I have said in the beginning, your assumption of statehood throws upon you a responsibility that will not enable you thereafter to charge it all to the Federal Government. When you get into difficulty out here and have bad officials you can not say the fault is all at Washington because Washington does not understand your needs. Then the fault will be on your own head. I have no doubt that you will stumble and fall as other peoples and other States have stumbled and fallen, but you are Americans, you are come of a race used to self-government, used to taking hard knocks in the school of experience and profiting by them. And if by a caution I can restrain the desire of those most progressive, or most full of the idea of having limitations on government — can restrain them from making the constitution other than fundamental law with simple rules of limitation, if I can halt and induce the people of this State to take time to deliberate over that instrument which is to follow them so long in the history of their State and in its growth and development, I shall not have let this morning go without its profit.

I thank you for the cordiality of your reception. I like to look into your eyes and see the spirit of enterprise, the spirit of welcome to the man who for the time being represents the Government of the United States of which you are so proud, and your recognition of the sovereignty of your country and a desire on your part to pay respect to him who for the time being represents the dignity of the law.

Source: Presidential Addresses and State Papers of William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft, Address at City Hall in Phoenix, Arizona Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/363252

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