Address at Grand Forks, N.D.
I regret that the necessities of the schedule brought me through the greater part of North Dakota by dark. Last night, however, I saw a portion of the drought area of eastern Montana, where they have a situation akin to yours in the western part of this State. We can at least be thankful that the rains and the crops in this valley, and, indeed, in the eastern part of both Dakotas and most of Minnesota have been far more plentiful than last year.
On this intensely interesting trip I have had another view of that northern and western part of the United States which is so greatly dependent for its prosperity on agriculture and its sister occupation, forestry. I am more than ever convinced of the importance of continuing our national policy of working toward a better economy by stabilizing and improving the life of the average family.
I received the other day a letter from one of the only two living former members of the Supreme Court of the United States.
I have not asked his permission but I am certain that he will not mind my reading to you three sentences from his letter because they express so beautifully the thoughts of so many of us. He says:
In this season of grave reflection it gives me greatest comfort and happiness to realize that politically and socially through all my long life, my earnest sympathies have gone out and my earnest efforts have been exercised for the great numbers of my neighbors who were living in intolerable conditions while a few of us under discriminating laws of our own making were enjoying much more than a fair share of the bounties of nature and governments.
The confidence that this has been and is unnecessary and socially unwise, and can and should be corrected in large measure by rational and social legislation, is at bottom the reason, my dear Mr. President, why I see eye to eye with you in your effort to accomplish in eight years what should have been in process of accomplishment through the last forty or fifty years.
My conviction is definite that the most difficult charges for our political adversaries to answer at the bar of history will be their opposition to the adoption of civilization's only process for peaceably settling disputes between nations, and their callous indifference and opposition to civilization's other demand that our neighbors be given at least a modest share in the comforts of life.
And he goes on to speak of what we are doing by introducing into our national life and legislation something at least of the influence of the Golden Rule—the inauguration of a trend toward better things which very certainly can never be halted or turned back. And finally he pays me the finest compliment any man could have in his life time. He says, "Of course you have fallen into some errors—that is human, but you have put a new face upon the social and political life of our country."
If ever I get to be eighty years old, like Mr. Justice John H. Clarke, I hope that I will have the same spirit that still seeks better things for my neighbors.
In seeking the betterment of our farm population, no matter what part of the country they live in, no matter whether they raise cotton or corn or wheat or beets or potatoes or rice, the experience we have today teaches us that if we would avoid the poverty of the past, we must strive today—not tomorrow—toward two objectives.
The first is called "better land use"—using the land in such a way that we do not destroy it or harm it for future generations, and in such a way that it will bring to us the best year-in and year-out return as a reward for our labors. This we are doing at least in part today by educating the users of land, by putting back into grass or trees land which should not be under the plow, by bringing water to dry soil which has immense possibilities for profitable use, and by helping farm families to resettle on good land. The money we are spending on these objectives is already coming back as increased national income and will be repaid, in the long run, many times over.
The other objective is the control, with the approval of what I believe is the overwhelming sentiment of the farmers themselves, of what is known as crop surplus.
Any one crop, wheat or cotton or corn, for example, is like any widely used manufactured commodity like bricks or automobiles or shoes. If, for instance, every shoe factory in the United States were to run on a three-shift basis, turning out shoes day and night for two or three years, we would have such a surplus of shoes in the United States that that surplus would have to be sold to the public, in order to get rid of it, at far less than the actual cost of manufacturing the shoes.
The same thing holds good of wheat or cotton or corn. We should remember, incidentally, that the prosperity of the wheat growers helps the prosperity of the cotton growers, because you in the Northwest, when wheat is bringing a reasonable and fair price, have more money to buy more articles made out of cotton; and the prosperity of the cotton growers helps you, the growers of wheat, for the cotton belt, if the price of cotton is reasonable and fair, is enabled to buy and eat more bread.
If an enormous surplus of wheat or any other crop piles up in the hands of buyers and speculators, you know from past experience how the price of wheat will drop almost out of sight the following year. Neither you nor I want to repeat the experiences of 1932.
Therefore, I believe that it is essential to our national economy that we have something to say about the control of the major crop surpluses. The Supreme Court has ruled, in a divided opinion, that the Government cannot make a contract with a farmer by which acreage is fixed either downward or upward. I personally have never subscribed to the constitutional theory that agriculture is a purely local matter and that it has, therefore, no national scope.
Perhaps, when we pass the new crop bill, it will be held constitutional for the Government to say to a farmer, "If you do thus and so, the Government will do thus and so." As a matter of common sense I cannot see very much practical difference between the two methods. In the one case the farmer voluntarily enters into a contract; in the other case he voluntarily does something with the knowledge that the Government on its part will do something. One is a contract; the other is a promise. The result is the same.
I feel certain that a majority in both Houses of the Congress will heed the wish of most of the farmers of the Nation in enacting crop surplus control legislation. And it is my thought that legislation toward that end ought to be passed at the earliest possible moment.
Because this legislation was not passed at the last session, it is too late for it to have any bearing on the winter wheat which is now in the ground. Many farmers do Fall plowing against next Spring's seeding, and in some parts of the Nation crops, such as cotton, are actually planted in late February and early March.
Even after a bill is passed and becomes law on the signature of the President, it takes a month or two before it is humanly possible to set up the machinery in all parts of the country to carry out the provisions of the new law. If, therefore, new legislation is to affect the 1938 crops, haste seems to be important from every angle.
I am happy to come back to North Dakota, and I hope that the coming year will bring you still further along the road to prosperity.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address at Grand Forks, N.D. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/208839