Franklin D. Roosevelt

Address at Dedication of International Bridge, Clayton, New York.

August 18, 1938

My fellow bridge builder, Mr. Mackenzie King, and you who are here today representing millions of other bridge builders on both sides of the international line:

It has always seemed to me that the best symbol of common sense was a bridge. Common sense is sometimes slow in getting into action, and perhaps that is why we took so long to build this one.

It is a particular pleasure to me to meet you here, where a boundary is a gateway and not a wall. Between these islands an international gap, never wide, has been spanned, as gaps usually are, by the exercise of ability, guided by cooperative common sense. I hope that all my countrymen will use it freely. I know that they will find, as I have done today and on many other occasions, a happy welcome on the Canadian shore, and forthright fellowship with neighbors who are also friends.

The St. Lawrence River is more than a cartographic line between our two countries. God so formed North America that the waters of an inland empire drain into the Great Lakes Basin. The rain that falls in this vast area finds outlet through this single natural funnel, close to which we now stand.

Events of history have made that river a boundary, and as a result the flow of these waters can be used only by joint agreement between our two governments. Between us, therefore, we stand as trustees for two countries of one of the richest natural assets provided anywhere in the world. The water that runs underneath this bridge spells unlimited power; permits access to raw materials both from this continent and from beyond the seas, and enhances commerce and production.

When a resource of this kind is placed at our very doors, I think the plain people of both countries agree that it is ordinary common sense to make use of it. Yet up to now the liquid wealth, which flowing water is, has run in large part unused to the sea. I really think that this situation suggests that we can 'agree upon some better arrangement than merely letting this water contribute a microscopic fraction to the level of the North Atlantic Ocean. The bridge which we here dedicate is a tangible proof that administration by two neighbors of a job to be done in common offers no difficulty. Obviously the same process applied on the larger scale to the resource of full sea-going navigation and of complete power development offered by the St. Lawrence River can build and maintain the necessary facilities to employ its magnificent possibilities.

I suppose it is true, as it has been true of all natural resources, that a good many people would like to have the job—and the profits—of developing it for themselves. In this case, however, the river happens to be placed in the hands of our two governments, and the responsibility for getting the results lies plainly at our doors.

At various times both the people of Canada and the people of the United States have dreamed of the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes development. They have translated those ideas into plans which with modern engineering skill can easily be carried out. While there has been no difference between us as to the object itself, history compels me to say that we have not been able to arrange matters so that both peoples have had the same idea at the same time. I offer a suggestion. How would it do for a change, if, instead of each of us having the idea at alternate intervals, we should get the idea simultaneously? And I am very much inclined to believe that we are rapidly approaching that happy and desirable event.

There are many prophets of evil. There always have been before anything was done. I am very clear that prophets of trouble are wrong when they express the fear that the St. Lawrence Waterway will handicap our railroad systems on both sides of the border. We know now that the effect of a waterway in most cases is not to take traffic away from railroad lines. Actually, it creates new possibilities, new business and new activity. Such a waterway generates more railroad traffic than it takes away.

There is today, a fourteen foot channel carrying traffic from the Great Lakes through the St. Lawrence River into the Atlantic Ocean. If this channel were improved and deepened to twenty-seven or thirty feet, every city in both nations on the Great Lakes and on the whole course of navigation from the sea to the Lakes would become an ocean port. The banks of the St. Lawrence Valley would become one of the great gateways of the world and would benefit accordingly. Here all that is needed is cooperative exercise of technical skill by joint use of the imagination and the vision which we know both our countries have. Can anyone doubt that, when this is done, the interests of both countries will be greatly advanced? Do we need to delay, do we need to deprive our peoples of the immediate employment and profit, or prevent our generation from reaping the harvest that awaits us?

Now let me make an unusual statement. I am sure that on neither side of the line will you misunderstand me. I consider that I have, myself, a particular interest in the St. Lawrence, dating back to my earliest days in the Legislature of the State of New York in 1911. I have a particular duty as President in connection with the development of the St. Lawrence, both for navigation and for power. The almost unparalleled opportunity which the river affords has not gone unnoticed by some of my friends on the American side of the border. A conception has been emerging in the United States which is not without a certain magnificence. This is no less than the conviction that if a private group could control the outlet of the Great Lakes Basin on both sides of the border, that group would have a monopoly in the development of a territory larger than many of the great empires in history.

If you were to search the records with which my Government is familiar, you would discover that literally every development of electric power, save only the Ontario-Hydro, is allied to, if not controlled by, a single American group, with, of course, the usual surrounding penumbra of allies, affiliates, subsidiaries and satellites. In earlier stages of development of natural resources on this continent, this was normal and usual. In recent decades we have come to realize the implications to the public—to the individual men and women, to business men, big and little, and even to government itself, resulting from the ownership by any group of the right to dispose of wealth which was granted to us collectively by nature herself.

The development of natural resources, and the proper handling of their fruits, is a major problem of government. Naturally, no solution would be acceptable to either nation which does not leave its government entirely master in its own house.

To put it bluntly, a group of American interests is here gradually putting itself into a position where, unless caution is exercised, they may in time be able to determine the economic and the social fate of a large area, both in Canada and the United States.

Now it is axiomatic in Canadian-American relations that both of us scrupulously respect the right of each of us to determine its own affairs. For that reason, when I know that the operation of uncontrolled American economic forces is slowly producing a result on the Canadian side of the border, which I know very well must eventually give American groups a great influence over Canadian development, I consider it the part of a good neighbor to discuss the question frankly with my Canadian neighbors. The least I can do is to call attention to the situation as I see it.

Our mutual friendship suggests this course in a matter of development as great and as crucial as that of the St. Lawrence River and the basin tributary to it. Fortunately among friendly nations today this is increasingly being done. Frank discussion among friends and neighbors is useful and essential. It is obvious today that some economic problems are international, if only because of the sheer weight which the solutions have on the lives of people outside, as well as inside any one country. To my mind, the development of St. Lawrence navigation and power is such a problem.

I look forward to the day when a Canadian Prime Minister and an American President can meet to dedicate, not a bridge across this water, but the very water itself, to the lasting and productive use of their respective peoples. Until that day comes, and I hope it may be soon, this bridge stands as an open door. There will be no challenge at the border and no guard to ask a countersign. Where the boundary is crossed the only word must be, "Pass, friend."

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address at Dedication of International Bridge, Clayton, New York. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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