William Howard Taft

Address at the Armory in Tacoma, Washington

October 01, 1909

Mr. McCormick, Mr. Mayor, Ladies and Gentlemen:

After what your Mayor has said I don't know exactly what I ought to say. It is a good deal of a burden to bear to start off with that kind of an introduction. It invites a hope that I am sorry to say you will hardly be able to realize; but I am very glad to meet a Tacoma audience again. My recollection is that I stole into your town and ran around with a friend on my way to Portland two years ago; that I returned, and then met an audience in the Park; and that I had the honor then of being introduced by your Congressman, Mr. Cushman—"Old Cush," as we called him affectionately in Washington. It saddens my visit to think that he is no more; that he has gone from you and has left to you but a sweet and fragrant memory. It was my good fortune to come into contact with him early in my service as Secretary of War, and to know how he cherished his dear old home of Tacoma. I think I told you when I was here two years ago that he wore out the steps of the War Department trying to get me to recommend that a government reservation should be turned over to the city as a park. He said, "Mr. Secretary, if you will only do this my people of Tacoma will put a monument in that Park that can be seen way down Puget Sound"; and I said to him, "Why, Cush, old man, you would make a good deal better monument than I would, and what I will do is to get that park and then they will put up a monument to you." Of course, those things were said in kindly jest, but I am here to suggest to the people of Tacoma that they could not honor a more loving son—one who had served them better—than by putting up a monument to Francis Cushman in Wright's Park. First, he was an honest man; second, he was a courageous man; third, he was a man of intellect; fourth, he had a genial, kindly heart; and, fifth, he had that delicious flavor of humor that made everybody love to be with him and to come under its influence. There was something about Cushman that always reminded me of Lincoln. He was not a handsome man—neither was Lincoln—but it is impossible to think of either without an admiration for something about his physical make-up that appealed to you as an evidence of his straight-forward simplicity and love of his fellow-men. His humor, flashes of which have outlasted his life in Washington, comes back every time I think of him. He was going into the tariff debate, and he had known that his committee had voted for a dollar on lumber, and he wanted to keep it up to $2, but he was a party man; he believed in party; he believed that the maintenance of the solidarity of the Republican party on the whole was more important than his opinion on a particular issue, and so he was marching up to meet that particular thing he expected to be done, lumber carried from $2 to $1, but when he rose in that House, he said he wasn't hastening the moment because he felt a little bit like that gentleman who in the early days had established a small ranch, and then increased his herd of cattle by a judicious selection from his neighbors' herds until they came to the conclusion that it was necessary for him to swing from a limb; and when they asked him to come, he said h? was coming—that he wasn't hurrying because he said that while it was an event in which he had very considerable interest, he could not describe his attitude as one of enthusiasm.

I remember another of his witticisms. There was a gentleman in office in Washington whom "Cush" didn't think to be very popular in the West, and so at a Gridiron dinner, at which the President was present, after it was announced that this gentleman was about to retire, "Cush" expressed proper regret at his going, but said that he was bound to there would not be a dry throat west of the Missouri River. And so, my friends, Cushman went on through life—helping every one by his optimism—helping every one by his apt story—helping every one by his good fellowship, by his high standard, and by his wish to stand by his fellows. I am sorry, deeply sorry, that you have lost him as a Representative. I am sorry, deeply sorry, that I have lost him as a friend. And I could not come into this community after having been introduced to you, as I was by him two years ago, and having been associated with him since in a close and intimate way, without paying this tribute to a man who loved his people, to a man who deserved well of his people, to a man who loved his country, and to a man who deserved well of his country.

Now, my friends, I do not know what I am going to talk about exactly. I have delivered six or eight set speeches on subjects that I think ought to command the attention of Congress, and I have gotten rid of those. I felt about them very much as boys do about written examinations, and now I do not have anything to tie me down. I can talk to you about anything, if I can think of anything to say. There are one or two things I would like to argue with you, because perhaps you differ with me. It isn't of much use to talk with a man and to try to convince him of something he is already convinced of, to talk with him about something that he believes even more strongly than you do; but there is a subject in which possibly in this audience I shall find a number who disagree with me. I talked to an audience over in Seattle about it, and that is the question as to what we ought to do about Alaska. You are interested in Alaska here. The State of Washington—Seattle and Tacoma are the nearest ports to that great possession of the United States. Now, in the first place, we have to admit that we haven't any reason to be proud of the governmental arrangements that we have made in Alaska. Unfortunately, there is right next to Alaska a country that has been governed by our neighbors on the north, and that government compares most favorably with our government of Alaska, and we ought to do something about it. It is proposed that we should give to Alaska a territorial form of government, permitting the thirty or forty thousand people who are there, to elect a legislature, a governor and other territorial officers to exercise legislative power in that vast territory. Well, that sort of a proposition, of course, appeals to Americans because we Americans are generally in favor of popular government. We believe that popular government among intelligent people is better, because we believe that each set of men, call it class or otherwise, as you choose, men similarly situated are better able generally to decide through their representatives what is to their interest than if you leave it to somebody else; and hence we favor popular government and representative government, but that assumes certain conditions that make it possible for the people to act intelligently.

Now, what is the condition in Alaska? They have 35,000 or 40,000 people there, but they are a nomadic people. There are very few permanent residents attached to the soil. There are miners, moving from one mining camp to another. There are saloon-keepers, for that seems to be a very important element in that territory, who change from one place to another, and they are not so situated with reference to the permanent attachment to the soil, or with reference to a distribution through the entire territory, which is enormous, reaching from British Columbia to the Arctic Ocean—they are not so situated that they could provide a government of people having similar interests and reaching similar conclusions with reference to the whole territory. They are situated in one corner, or they are so scattered that it seems most unwise to me to attempt to make out of so small a community an organized territory and a territorial government. But you say, "If you don't do that, what are you going to do? They ought to have some authority in the territory that has power to legislate upon domestic matters. They ought to have some authority in the territory exercised by people who are on the ground and who understand the local needs." I agree to that. I think that is one of the things that has been most lacking. We have, of course, a commission of army officers there to build roads. We have some judges up there who exercise judicial jurisdiction and some sort of other jurisdiction. We have collectors of internal revenue, and we have a Governor, who has some authority, chiefly of making recommendations to Congress; and then we have a Delegate who comes to Congress, who does not vote but who suggests methods by which improvements can be made. But there is nobody to do anything in the sense of acting on the ground and making laws and regulations, which shall meet the needs of that territory.

Now, how are you going to bring it about? If they are not in a condition justifying local self-government, as I believe they are not, there is only one other way by which they can do it, and that is the way we pursued in the Philippines. There President McKinley appointed a commission of five persons, who went out to the Philippines and lived there and familiarized themselves with the needs of the Islands. The commission had the power to legislate on all matters of domestic concern except customs, and here in Alaska we might well omit land laws, mining laws and possibly a number of other general statutes with reference to the jurisdiction of courts. But if you give to the President the power to appoint five men who are to go there and settle and live there while they exercise their office, pay them good salaries—men who have no interest in the territory—and make it essential that they shall have no interest there of any sort, so that they will be entirely free from factionalism and sectionalism. Then you will get a body of men who will pass intelligently on measures needed to build up the territory and whose recommendations Congress will be glad to follow. Congress, on the other hand, will give to these men the power of local legislation—power to make certain things crimes, to make other things misdemeanours—power to levy internal taxation, power to make improvements; and then if you get such a commission, I doubt not that it will recommend to Congress to help railroads, because railroads can not be built by private enterprise in a country so far away and where so much risk attends the investment. There is no reason why we should not help Alaska, as we have in the Philippines helped the railroads there, by guaranteeing for a certain time the interest on railroad bonds.

There is not a subject in which I take a deeper interest than I do in the development of Alaska, and I propose, if Congress will follow my recommendation, to do something in that territory that shall make it move on. The ground has hardly been scratched there. Seward was laughed at for paying seven million dollars for that territory, and I think we have drawn from there already $200,000,000 of gold. The agricultural possibilities of the country, the forests and the timber that are there, are not fully understood. We do know that there is a wealth of coal that can be mined and that will make coal cheaper along the whole Pacific Coast. It is worth while, therefore, for us to take it up as a business matter. These things are to be treated from a common sense standpoint, not from a purely sentimental one, and if you believe in your hearts, as I believe in mine, that for ten years at least we will give a better government there by sending up five able, honest, disinterested men to pass laws, to recommend legislation to Congress, and to do the things that are needed to lead that territory on to proper development—if you believe it in your heart, then you ought to say so, and you ought not to be led aside by what seems to be for the moment a popular cry.

I know that the newspapers of Alaska have forwarded a telegram, and I think it got into the papers, in which they recommend that they have a territorial legislature. Now, I am not going to impugn their motives. It is not necessary. I do think that their situation is such that they are much more likely to look upon themselves as able to legislate than perhaps men who look at it from a standpoint of indifference and who understand the nomadic or moving character of the population. You would hardly arrange for a mining camp to be a territory. It is agricultural soil and attachment to the ground itself that makes a permanent population and that is safe to legislate and maintain a popular government.

Now, I have said as much on that subject as I intend to say, except this, that there are a great many people who agree with me and I think there are a majority in Congress who believe that the territory is not in a condition to justify an organized territorial government. Those who are in favor, intensely in favor of developing Alaska, will perceive that my proposition is much more likely to receive support, and that, even if they really believe that they ought to have organized territorial government on a popular basis, it is a great deal better to get half a loaf than none at all, and it is better to take the proposition of a commission with legislative power than it is to have the present unsatisfactory condition of nobody able to legislate there and nobody to develop the country. I am appealing, therefore, to those who differ with me as to what would be wiser—to come over to my side, because on my side we are much more likely to get reform and remedial legislation with respect to Alaska, or to insist upon territorial organization by popular legislation?

I like to come out here, because I believe that here I find a people that sympathize deeply with me about the Philippines. The truth is, my political life began in the Philippines, and I rather feel as if I hailed from the gem of the Pacific than from any state of the Union, in a political sense. Certainly if it would not have been for them, I would not be President of the United States; and when I come to a people who are as interesting as you are, I like to talk with them because my sympathy and my hopes are far out in the Pacific from a personal standpoint.

I am convinced that with the adoption in this last tariff bill of free-trade with the Philippines, the people of Tacoma, Seattle and San Francisco are going to live to see the day when they will thank God for the passage of that bill. I came over from Seattle this afternoon with a gentleman who congratulated me on the immediate effect of the bill, and said that if I wanted to I could use his certification that the trade has already begun. He said that he had just sold 100,000 barrels of flour to Manila, and that a great many other things had been sold in the same direction. They are going to have a good many cloths, like pina cloth, that will attract the attention of the ladies, and will lead them to buy it because it will come over at a cheap rate and because it is very pretty. I am not a judge of it myself. There are summer hats of a delightful texture—I know because I have worn them—and there are many other things that the deft fingers of the Filipinos will make and export into this country. On the other hand, your manufactures, your flour and other things that you raise will go out to the Philippines, all because the duties have been taken off at both ends.

I want to congratulate you on the fact that in the next fifty years the growth of this world's business is to be in the Pacific—and you are on the Pacific. You have one of the most magnificent harbors in the world. I do not need to convince you about that I believe, and here at the end of three or four great transcontinental lines you have an opportunity to play an important part in the Oriental trade of this country.

Japan is making giant strides to control the Oriental trade. She is trying to get trade in China, just as we are. China is waking up from her dream of centuries past. She is developing and the more she develops the more we ought to like it. We ought not to proceed on the theory that the proper kind of a country for us to deal with is a country that sells to us things at a cheaper price than they ought to bring, and that will give us a higher price than our things ought to bring. That is the way modern commerce is carried on. The great countries that deal with us profitably are the countries who know what they want and whose business is of such great extent that they are able to deal with us on a level, and that is the kind of development that we ought to hope for China. With China growing, with Japan growing, with the Philippines growing, and you here at the end of two or three transcontinental lines, with a harbor so magnificent as this is, I do not know what your future is going to be. It is full of hope and if I did not know that you are just as full of hope as you ought to be, I would emphasize it.

But, that trade is to be carried in what? It is to be carried in ships. Now, w hose ships ought it to be carried in? [Cries of "ours".] Yes, you are right—you ought to go to the head. And yet we haven't a ship—well, you have; there is the Minnesota, and I am not going to cross the bridge that carried me over; it is a comfortable ship and it took me across the ocean, but it is the one ship you have here with an American flag. There are some in the Pacific Mail in San Francisco.

If the bill introduced in Congress by one of your Congressmen from Washington, Mr. Humphrey, passes, offering a subsidy, we shall have a number of lines to the Orient and several lines between New York and the southeastern coast of South America, where there is another trade we are likely to lose because Europe is putting on many fast lines running to that part of the world.

This bill is an experiment. We are earning by our foreign mail upward of six or eight million dollars a year profit, that is, the stamps that we sell and our part of the money that is collected for foreign mail exceed our expenditures from six to eight million dollars. And all this bill proposes is that that sum shall be invested in subsidies to be paid to a number of lines to the Orient and to several lines to South America, so that we may try it out and see how it will work. Now, I say that it is wise to do that. There are gentlemen who will oppose it, and oppose it consistently, because they say it is paying money out of the public treasury into the pockets of private individuals. It is, but it is not paying it for them to keep it there. It is paying it for them to run ships out of which they can make no profit at all unless they get it out of what we pay to them; in other words, out of what is paid to them they will have to pay a large proportion in order to be able to compete with the ships of other nations, so that it is not paying the subsidy into their pockets for nothing. It is paying something into their pockets for them to do something which will inure to the benefit of the country.

Mr. Thomas B. Reed used to express his opinion of men who opposed what he regarded as beneficial legislation because somebody was likely to profit by it. "Oh, yes," he said, "he is one of those men opposed to the bill because a man might make $1.50." Now, that spirit I deprecate. We have proceeded to invest money in our rivers and harbors so that steamboats could run on them. Well, that money came out of your pocket and mine and through other sources of taxation to put water into the stream so that the steamboats should run on it. The man who runs the steamboat on the water gets profit out of it. Are not we helping him by direct contribution to do his business? So it is with the protective tariff. We put up a tariff for the purpose of increasing prices and making everybody contribute a little bit in order to have our industries diversified. This subsidy is exactly on the same principle. We cannot protect it by the tariff because the competition is by foreign vessels which we can not control, and the only thing we can do is to pay the money directly instead of making a protective tariff.

People run away from the name subsidy. It is a subsidy. I am not afraid to call it so. It is paid for the purpose of giving a merchant marine to the whole country so that the trade of the whole country may be benefited thereby, and the men running the ship will of course make a reasonable profit. It is difficult for anybody with any amount of money to run a vessel if he be an American and subject to American laws and make a profit. He can not do it; and we are trying to help him out with this subsidy so that he may make a reasonable profit. We are not making him a millionaire either. When he gets the subsidy he has to work hard to earn it and to make a reasonably small profit. We are gradually convincing those through the Middle West of the mistake of their opposition and the wisdom of paying such subsidies for the purpose of increasing our merchant marine.

It is said we have a great foreign trade at any rate. It is increasing every year, so what is the need of this. Let the rest of the world do our carrying business. If they will do it at a cheap rate, let's get it and save our money. The difficulty about that is that when you control the merchant marine, you do control trade. It is seen in South America. The facility with which steamer lines can be established between Europe and the ports of South America has led to their getting more and more proportionately of the trade between the eastern ports and South America, and so it is everywhere. When you control the merchant marine you control the avenues of trade, and you are able to divert it in one direction or another; therefore, it is a great instrument to help us increase our international trade.

I ought to say about that trade that one of our troubles is that we are altogether too conceited. We feel, for instance, that we have so much business here that if they do not like the patterns which we make, if they do not like the looms upon which our textile fabrics are made, they need not take them, and the consequence is we lose the trade. We need our foreign trade, and our merchants have to learn that they must make the same effort with the foreign trade as with the domestic trade. This is the course which has been followed by great companies that have made foreign commerce a success. But I merely note in passing that which has been made most apparent to those of us who have lived in the Orient—that the German and Swiss and Japanese manufacturers consult with the utmost attention the desires of the Oriental, and it is just as well that we should. If we want to sell something, we had better make it attractive to the men who wish to buy it.

Now, something which ought to appeal to all of us is that unless we have a merchant marine, our navy if called upon for offensive or defensive work is going to be most defective. We haven't tonnage enough to-day in our foreign trade to enable us to give to the navy the auxiliary ships that will be necessary to cany ammunition, coal and those other things that are necessary in order to fit the sailors and maintain the ships. Therefore, we ought to exert ourselves to produce that tonnage so when the time comes that the life of the nation is in danger and we need the navy to protect us against invasion or against attack, we should have the auxiliary under our own flag in order to make the operations of the navy effective.

I have talked a good deal longer than I have had a right. I have become interested in these subjects, and have gotten into a perspiration over them, but I believe thoroughly what I have said to you, and I hope when you go home and think it over, you will come over to my side; at any rate, if you do not, that you will believe I have been in earnest in what I have said.

I thank you sincerely for your attention. I hope your community will go on increasing in wealth and in intelligence, if that is possible.

William Howard Taft, Address at the Armory in Tacoma, Washington Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/365230

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