Warren G. Harding photo

Address in Helena, Montana

June 29, 1923

My Countrymen:

One of the greatest lessons which the World War taught to society was a realization of its stupendous producing capacity under modern organization. When the war started many of us, probably most of us, believed it could not last very long because we could not conceive that it could be economically and industrially supported for a long time. We had been taught to believe that as a whole the community annually consumed pretty nearly all that it produced, and that in order to maintain this ratio it was necessary to keep all the producers steadily at work. We were convinced that when the most efficient producers were taken by millions away from the fields, the shops, the mines, and the offices, and set at the business of armed destruction, they would very presently pull down upon themselves the whole fabric of our complex industrial system, and that the war would be smothered in the ruins. This view was the basis of what became almost an obsession with many people, indeed with most of the best informed people, during the early stages of the war. It was commonly and freely said that economic exhaustion would compel an end to the struggle before a year, and a much more popular limitation was six months.

The event showed how very little we understood either the tremendous producing capacity of the community as a whole or the strength and solidity of our industrial structure. When the first year of the war had passed, the world was just beginning to realize that in all probability the struggle was only in its larger beginning. Millions of men had been called from the fields, and yet still other men were being trained for it. At the end of two years the war was greater than ever, and after three years it had still further expanded until it actually involved, whether as combatants or as the sources of supply for the combatants, the whole world. The industrial, the agricultural, the financial, the social, and spiritual forces of the world were mobilized at last for the great final test of strength. In the end that test was both military and economic. Victory rested upon the banners which were borne by the side that represented the greatest number of soldiers, of ships, of guns; which represented the greatest capacity to bring together, control, and fabricate the necessaries of war and to maintain great civil populations behind the lines.

It became very early a war of conscription. Governments conscripted their men for service in the field; patriotism and public opinion conscripted everybody else for work at home. A new system of division and dilution of labor was introduced through which men and women, boys and girls, old men and old women—millions of people who under the old order of peace days had been rejected from the realm of skilled production—were quickly trained to the most intricate and technical tasks. So, in the midst of the most destructive storm that mankind had ever invoked upon itself, there was presented the marvelous phenomenon of a world producing at a greater rate than it had ever done before.

How was this gigantic industrial phenomenon wrought? By putting everybody at work. By inducing everybody to work to the limit of strength and capacity. By paying the workers at rates which enlisted their utmost eagerness to produce to the limit. Yes, if you please, by letting labor and capital and management all engage more or less in profiteering at the expense of society as a whole. Unheard-of wages were paid to people who in other times would have been considered quite incapable of earning them, but who, under the stimulus of the emergency, became effective and absolutely necessary factors in the industrial organization. Particularly was this true of the women, young and old, who took up tasks in the shop, the field, the transportation systems, and behind the lines of combatants, such as had never before been assigned to them. And the women made good so emphatically, so impressively, that as to-day we look over the whole field of the world mobilization and the world conflict we realize that something very much like a revolution was effected in the varied relationships of the industrial community.

Viewed in the retrospect we see more clearly than ever the sordid side, of war. I have said before, and I choose to repeat it very deliberately now, that if war must come again—God grant that it shall not!—then we must draft all of the nation in carrying on. It is not enough to draft the young manhood. It is not enough to accept the voluntary service of both women and men whose patriotic devotion impels their enlistment. It will be righteous and just, it will be more effective in war and marked by less regret in the aftermath, if we draft all of capital, all of industry, all of agriculture, all of commerce, all of talent and capacity and energy of every description to make the supreme and united and unselfish fight for the national triumph. When we do that there will be less of war. When we do that the contest will be aglow with unsullied patriotism, untouched by profiteering in any service.

Of course, we are striving to make conditions of foreign relations and so fashion our policies that we may never be involved in war again. If we are committed to universal service—that is, the universal commitment of every American resource and activity—without compensation except the consciousness of service and the exaltations in victory, we will be slower to make war and more swift in bringing it to a triumphant dose. Let us never again make draft on our manhood without as exacting a draft on all we possess in the making of the industrial, financial, commercial, and spiritual life of the republic.

If we had been in a state of mind to philosophize about it all, I think we might have recognized that women have been for a long time preparing themselves for this tremendous incursion into the field of industrial production. For a long time before the war began there had been evidence of a reaction among the women against the old ideals of the Victorian period. For three or four decades, the more venturesome women had been timidly breaking away from the old-fashioned home and its old-fashioned ideals. Even those who viewed the new-woman movement with greatest misgiving and least approval had already been compelled to recognize that a new and revolutionary idea was taking possession of them. We might iterate and reiterate, and theorize and dogmatize, upon the old thesis that the place for woman was in the home; but we will have to admit that despite all our preachments, all our urgings, all our misgivings, woman wasn't staying there. She was teaching in the schools, she was accounting for perhaps a majority of the graduates from the high schools, and a big and increasing minority of the student community in the colleges and universities. She was practicing law and medicine, preaching sermons, working in the shops, the offices, the factories; she was, in short, becoming a competitor with her brother in almost all the departments of productive effort and activity.

Then came the war, and all at once even the most dubious among us realized that the women, everywhere, constituted the first line of industrial reserves upon which society must fall back in its great crisis. They volunteered for every service in which they could be useful, and at once established their right to a new and more important industrial status. They built ships, they operated munition factories, they learned to perform the heaviest and most difficult tasks; they tilled the fields, filled the offices, largely conducted the hospitals, and even served as most useful auxiliaries to forces on the battlefield. Not as a boon, but as a duty, full partnership in the conduct of political affairs was conferred upon them.

All this has inevitably worked a profound change in the relation of woman to the social and political organization. We may approve it or disapprove it, we may view it with satisfaction or with misgiving, but the fact is before us that woman has taken a new place in the community. And just as her participation in the industrial sphere expands, so her relations to the home and its interest is necessarily contracted. Whether we account it wise or otherwise, we must recognize that the tendency is to take the modern mother more and more away from the control, the training, the intellectual guidance and spiritual direction of her children. The day nursery, and after that the kindergarten begins to care for her children in the earliest years; after that come the public school, the high school, the college and the university, taking over from her more and more of the responsibility and influence over the children. We may entertain the old-fashioned prejudices against this development; but we are compelled to recognize that under modem conditions a large and increasing proportion of women are bound to be at the same time mothers in the home and industrial producers or professional workers outside the home, or else they must be denied the service and responsibility of motherhood.

Frankly, I am one of those old-fashioned people who would be glad if the way could be found to maintain the traditional relations of father, mother, children, and home. But very plainly these relations are in process of a great modification. The most we can do, to the utmost possible extent, is to readapt our conditions of industry and of living so as to enable the mothers to make the utmost of their lessened opportunity for shaping the lives and minds of their children. We must hope, and we must make it possible, that mothers will not assume, when their babes of yesterday become the schoolboys and schoolgirls of to-day, that the responsibility of the mother is ended, and that the teacher, the school authorities, the college, the state, will henceforth assume it. Rather, we must recognize that no other influence can possibly be substituted for that of motherhood; and we must make it possible for the mothers to cooperate with these social institutions of the new order, to give the children so far as possible the privileges of a home atmosphere which will supplement the advantages of mere education and training. It must be made possible for the mothers to familiarize themselves with the problems of the people, the school superintendents, the college authorities, the health and sanitation officials. In short, the mothers must be placed in such position that despite their obligations outside the home they shall not have to surrender their domestic responsibility. Rather, means must be found to enable them, through the varied instrumentalities which, society affords, to equip themselves for the better discharge of their responsibility toward the children of the land.

Through such effort as this there will be opportunity for a great service. Those mothers who have the advantage of the best material and intellectual opportunities will, if they make the most of these advantages, help greatly to improve the conditions of children that come from families and homes less fortunately situated. They will be able to help in lifting up the poorer, the less fortunate children, to a higher level. The mother who tirelessly seeks rightly to train her own children, to instill into them that indefinable essence which we know as good breeding, will be performing this service not alone for her own children, but in only less measure for the children who come from homes less blessed with the finer things of life. Herein is the supreme advantage of the public-school system. I have never been able to find much satisfaction in die good fortune of families who, when they are able to do it, prefer to take their children out of the public schools and give them the doubtful advantage of more exclusive educational methods. I think we should cling to the democracy of the public schools.

The teacher, and the authorities back of her, must be equally ready to cooperate with the home and the mother. In the home must still be performed the duty of instilling into the child those fundamental concepts of religion and of faith which are essential to rightly shaping the character of citizens, and therefore of the nation. It would be an irreparable mistake if in surrendering to society a larger responsibility for the child's intellectual and physical well being, we should forget the necessity for proper religious training. That duty must be performed in the home; it will always be peculiarly the duly of a mother.

Mankind never has stood more in need than it does now of the consolations and reassurances which derive from a firm religious faith. We are living in a time of many uncertainties, of weakened faith in the efficiency of institutions, of industrial systems, of economic hypotheses, of dictum and dogma in whatever sphere. Yet we all know that there are certain fundamental truths of life and duty and destiny which will stand eternal, through the evolution and the revolution of systems and societies founded by mankind. There must be no mistake whereby we shall confuse the things which are of eternity with those which are of time. We must not let our engrossment with the things of matter and of mind distract us from a proper concern for those which are of the spirit and the soul.

It must be kept ever in mind that the higher and finer attributes of humanity will rarely be developed from a human seedling planted in a soil adapted chiefly to the production of that which is selfish and sordid, in which it will be forced by special circumstances to struggle unduly for the bare continuance of existence. We will not grow strong minds in unsound bodies, nor may we hope that illuminated souls will often seek habitation in human frames weakened and tortured by disease and malnutrition. To an astounding and alarming certainty it has been demonstrated that a large proportion of school children, and even of adults, suffer from undernourishment. I may congratulate you that there is little of it in the West. Perhaps it is true that as to most of the adults the fault is of the individual rather than society. Whether that be true or not we can at least agree that the children are not to be blamed for their share in such misfortunes. If society has permitted the development of a system under which the citizens, of to-morrow suffer these deprivations to-day, then the obligation is surely upon society to right the wrong and to insure justice to the children who are not responsible for being here.

But we can not expect to bring full justice, full equality of circumstances and opportunity to the children, unless we shall make it possible for the parents. We are all too much given, I suspect, to a rather unthinking admiration for our highly mechanized social system under which we have so abundantly produced wealth and the possibilities of comfort and culture. We have not thought enough about the evils attendant upon the great inequities which mark the distribution of our stupendous product. But we are coming into a time when more and more we are giving thought to these things. Our satisfaction in the material achievements of our industrial age is being qualified as it never was before by our questionings along these lines. We are thinking of the weaker links in the social chain. We believe the equality of opportunity must be attended by a fitness to embrace it.

Here, again, the war was responsible for a great broadening of our social vision. It made its demand upon the highest and the lowest, the proudest and the humblest. It demanded a sacrifice that was just as great in the case of the poor man as the rich man. What was more, it brought a realization of the fact that men and women were of real service to the community just in proportion as they were capable of producing the things that were needed. So the workers, the builders, the producers attained a new sense of their dignity and importance. Contemplating its supreme crisis, the community was willing to render to those who were capable of serving it effectively in this juncture a greater share of their product than they had formerly been accustomed to receive. Wages, the world over, went to new high levels, salaries and fixed incomes shrank to lower levels of actual exchange value. There was a leveling up from the lower strata and downward from the higher. On the whole, despite many instances of injustice and of maladjustment in this process, its results marked a long advance on the road to equity and justice as among all elements of the community. A few years of civilization's desperate grapple with destiny brought to the working masses of the world an aggregate betterment of conditions, a general improvement of circumstances and opportunity, which otherwise would, have been possible only through the slow processes of generations.

We know now that the advances which were thus effected in the direction of social justice and economic equality will not be relinquished without determined opposition. There were those who, regarding the injustices of the old order as inevitable, mistakenly assumed that by a simple process which they called the "deflation of labor" the old relationships would presently be restored. They insisted that "wages must come down"; some of them went so far as to sound the slogan that "organized labor must be crushed." These have forgotten the lesson in organization, in cooperation, in community of sacrifice, by which civilization had been able to rescue itself. They had forgotten that the right of organization, and of cooperative dealings, is not any longer the special prerogative of management and of capital. The right of men, and brains, and skill, and brawn, to organize, to bargain through organizations, to select their own leaders and spokesmen, is no wit less absolute than is the right of management and of capital to form and work through those great concentrations of interests which we call corporations.

Labor, indeed, is fast becoming one of the great builders of capital. Whether it concentrates its savings by depositing them in its own banks, of which the number is rapidly increasing, or pools them with the general savings of society by making its deposits in other banks, the result is the same. Labor is more and more coming to be the financier and backer of its own employment. We shall not go back to the time when considerable elements in the community were wont to assume that a sharp line of demarcation should be drawn between labor and capital. Labor is becoming more and more a capitalist on its own account, and capital is more and more discovering that it must work, must contribute, must give us, through some superiority of method and management, a justification for its existence as a sort of separate estate. Those to whom the management and investment of capital is intrusted must recognize, as I know most of them already do, that the right of organization, and the title to those special efficiencies which come to organization, is not the exclusive prerogative of capital. It is equally the prerogative of labor.

I am quite aware that there were some who imagined, before the present administration was voted into responsibility, that it was going at least to acquiesce if not definitely sympathize with projects for the deflation of labor and the overthrow of labor organizations. Before this time these have come to realize their error. Nothing has been farther from the purpose of the present administration than any thought of destroying the right of either labor or capital to organize, and each to deal in its organized capacity.

We have recognized that there are evils and abuses on both sides of the almost imaginary line which now is presumed to separate labor and capital. We have wished and sought to minimize these abuses, through better organizations and better understanding, without destroying organizations or the right to form them. We have not wished to compel men to work when they did not want to work; we have not wished to compel employers to keep men at work under conditions which were impossible; but we have earnestly sought to lessen the occasions for conflict between the two parties. We have tried to bring to both of them a realization that both owed in this connection an obligation to the great public interest which is always the great sufferer by reason of their conflict.

In this connection let me say quite frankly that I know there were some elements which hoped for a great and decisive conflict between organized employment and organized labor, and that those elements were not all on either side of the imaginary dividing line. On the capital side of the line were those who hoped that the administration would lend itself to their program of breaking down organized labor and sending it back to the era of individual bargaining for the individual job. On the labor side of the line were those who hoped, by exorbitant demands and an attitude of uncompromising insistence, to force the nationalization of some of our most important industries and services. Between these two extreme groups, confident we had behind us the overwhelming public opinion of the nation, we have tried to hold the scales even; to prevent on the one side the destruction of organized labor, and on the other side to frustrate those programs which looked to the ultimate destruction of private capital and the nationalization of all the instrumentalities of production.

How well have we succeeded? At least, we have saved the nation from the extremists of both sides. Those who were sure that our salvation lay in the destruction of organized labor and the precipitated reduction of wages have found -that the national administration was not disposed to Acquiesce in their program. For many months past they have noted that the demand for labor was greater than the supply; that instead of millions of men out of jobs, there were tens of thousands of jobs without workers; that instead of a sharp and progressive reduction of labor's wage, there has been now for a long time a steady; continuing, persistent increase in that wage. On the other side, those who would have been glad to drive the country into an industrial crisis through the stoppage of production, arid to force the nationalization or communization of industry, have been equally disappointed in the outcome.

I believe our policy, and its results, have reflected the sound judgment of the overwhelming majority of the American people. I believe this people is firmly and finally committed to the ideal of preserving the fullest rights of private initiative and private enterprise, together with the right of organization on both sides of the line between capital and labor, and always consistent with the right of the public to be served efficiently and at a reasonable cost.

We have come thus far, and thus fortunately, through the most difficult period of reconstruction that we have ever known. We have been sheltered against the world storm of tendency to social revolution. The best test of policy is by results. By that test, we ask no more than a fair and reasoned verdict on our program; We ask that its results be compared with the showing, in these after-war years, that can be presented by any other country on the face of the earth. We ask that you examine the contrast, thoughtfully and seriously, between the general state of the public weal in this country and in others. For our vindication, we point to a great nation, its credit preserved, its industries crowded to the point of capacity production, its people employed, its wage scales high beyond all comparison with any other in the world, its banking system standing as the final bulwark of sound money and the gold standard, and its average level of comfort and prosperity unexampled among the races of men.

If I could make the fortunate picture stand out by offering contrast, I would speak of Russia and the colossal failure of its mad experiment. The dissatisfied working forces of America, where there are such, and the parlor theorists who have yet to create a single, thing useful to aspiring human kind, will find there less of freedom, much less of reward, and little of hope in much proclaimed emancipation. Royal absolutism has been destroyed, only to be superseded by what appears to be despotism in the name of democracy. To a limited few of democracy's advocates has come vast power. Perhaps wealth attends. Undoubtedly a new Russia is in the making, and there is no doubt the present sponsorship will survive.

Apart from the tragedy of it all, I am glad Russia is making the experiment. If twenty centuries of the Christian era and its great story of human progress and the countless centuries before the light of Christianity flamed have been lived and recorded upon mistaken theories of a righteous social order, then everything is wrong, Christianity a failure, and all of civilization a failure. I think Russia is going to rivet anew our belief in established social order. Meanwhile we know ours is the best the world has revealed, and I preach the gospel of holding fast to that which has proven good, ever trying in good conscience to make it better, and consider and treat as an enemy every man who chooses our land as a haven in which to assail the very institutions which shelter him.

There are two phases of the commitment of the great human family.

It is of little use to advance unless we hold to the advanced position. It is useless to construct unless we preserve. In the recognized test which our civilization is now undergoing America's supreme task is one of preservation. I call upon America to protect and preserve.

Warren G. Harding, Address in Helena, Montana Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/329290

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