William Howard Taft

Address at Prescott, Arizona

October 13, 1909

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Mayor, Ladies and Gentlemen of Prescott:

My father used to tell me of an old gentleman who lent his coat to another man and said to him as he went away, "Don't swear while you wear that coat." He went away and came back after Here the President drank a glass of the famous Hassayampa water, handed him by the Chairman.] After that dose which your Chairman administered to me, I feel like drawing the long bow more than ever on this trip.

I am delighted to meet you. I am willing to admit, as I suppose you will, the truth of the statement of the Chairman, that I have not anywhere had an audience of which this is not a peer. I see you admit it, and you haven't drunk any of that water either. I got some of the water on the way up, but I believe it was from below the crossing. I had it in a canteen, and I expect to try it on some of my party.

My fellow citizens, I am glad to see you because I am glad to know that the population of Arizona, which I believe will soon become a State, is of a character to deserve it. I observe that even out of the mouths of babes and sucklings you hear the desire for statehood. I congratulate you on having such an energetic and pretty city. I have no doubt that here, as elsewhere in Arizona, as elsewhere in the new States which I have had the honor to visit, there is a determination on the part of each citizen in Prescott to make her population double in the next few years, to increase the wealth and prosperity and to make it known as a large place on the map. That spirit I found everywhere throughout the West. I found it subordinate, however, to the interest in the State and still more subordinate to the interest in the development of the country. All these feelings develop into an Americanism that makes a type in which every one who feels an interest in his country has a right to have great pride. Now I had the honor to address an audience at the capital of your territory this morning, and in the course of those remarks I ventured to prophesy that you would have statehood in the near future. The Republican platform upon which I had the honor to be elected promised statehood to Arizona and to New Mexico separately. I am not, however, the legislature of this government, and all I can do is to prophesy, not to promise. But from what I know, from what I have heard of the discussion, I am quite sure that the movement is proceeding, and that you may count on its success. Now then, if it is to be successful, I want to call your attention to the responsibilities that will be upon you as citizens of a State, as citizens of the country. You will have to select your own State officers, you will have to select your Representatives and Senators, but before all that you will have to make a fundamental law called your constitution, which is to govern your legislature, your lawmakers and your executive thereafter, and that is a responsibility which is very heavy and to which I invite your careful attention. The trouble is that you are so anxious for statehood, so determined to have it, that no matter what your constitution is, if it is presented to you, you will vote for statehood and vote for the constitution. At least that has been the experience in other territories. Therefore it behooves you to see to it that the men who frame your constitution are charged with the responsibility of making a good one. Now we have had constitutions made by territories coming into the Union which were voted and approved, and which did not approve themselves to those men who looked forward and understood what a constitution ought to be. It ought to be simple. It ought to be general. It ought to be comprehensive. It ought not to include every limitation upon the legislature that each member of that constitutional convention thinks would be wise to follow in legislation. You ought to leave something to your legislature. Don't make your constitution read like a statute. Be statesmen and make it read like a fundamental law. Study the Constitution of the United States and see what the greatest instrument of fundamental law was and is, and how simple; how it has been elastic and has yielded to the demands of our increasing country, and yet is to-day the wonder of the world. Don't allow every fact or every principle, however sound, to be asserted in that constitution. Trust something to your legislature thereafter and don't bind them and yourselves in such a way that you will be struggling for twenty-five years to get away from something that was made in haste and not with the sense of deliberation that you ought to exercise in making a path intended to last for fifty or one hundred years. I am talking sense, I know. You will find in your constitutional convention gentlemen who have radical progressive ideas. Many of the germs of truth ought to be carried out at least in statutes, but don't fasten yourselves down by all crankisms and by the views of people who want to make laws for a hundred years without knowing exactly what the conditions are under which those laws are to be made. I am not talking just for the sake of talking. I expect that you are going to make a constitution here. I hope you will. I am going to do the best I can to help to give you the power to make it, but don't load down yourselves and your future with restrictions and limitations in your fundamental law like those which are in the Oklahoma Constitution, making it read like a long page of the statutes instead of a fundamental instrument like some of the constitutions of the older States and the Constitution of the United States. Our fathers builded even better than they knew, and we have not gotten in advance of them in the matter of laying down simple principles of constitutional law. We do not know more than our fathers, for in that respect they have proven what they knew by the usefulness of the Constitution of the United States.

Now, my friends, as has been said, I can stay with you but a short time. You give me great courage, and give me great inspiration as I look into your eyes and see that you are deliberate men, that you are intelligent men, and that you propose to exercise your suffrage in such a way as to have a government of law, a government that respects the vested rights of property, that respects the liberty of the individual, and a government that shall reflect credit on your population.

I have passed from Boston to the west coast and down the west coast, and the thought that was uppermost in my mind as I addressed all the audiences which I have seen is that we are here and have for years been breeding to a type of men, not German, not English, not French, not Spanish, not Mexican, not Swiss, or Swedish, but a type adapted to our civilization, a type of Americans by which we can all stand. There may be discontent in this country, but if so I have not found it in any community. In every community, in every hamlet that I have addressed, there is a determination to make things better, both materially, in an educational way and spiritually. All they want is an opportunity and they don't ask odds of anybody. Now, that is the spirit I have found everywhere, and I am proud to be an American, and to know that such a spirit is actuating our people, because its continuance assures the greatness of our country and the making of it such that we can continue to love it with all our hearts.

William Howard Taft, Address at Prescott, Arizona Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/365221

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