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Address at the Opening of the Conference on Unemployment, Called by Secretary of Commerce Hoover in Washington, D.C.

September 26, 1921

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Conference:

It is a pleasure to express to you in advance of your labors the gratitude of the Government for your service to the nation. Perhaps it is not too much to say a service for the world. Not so very long since I was receiving the call of a distinguished foreigner, and in the course of our conversation he alluded to the conference which is met this morning and said: "Mr. President, our people are deeply interested in the American Conference on Unemployment, because our problem is akin to your own, and your relief in the United States will be an added signal of hope from America to us and other peoples who are like depressed."

That remark of a distinguished foreigner emphasized our responsibility. If it be true that no citizen is without example to some one among his fellows, which I believe to be everlastingly true, then nations, great and small, are influencing others in all they do.

You are invited together to consider a condition which is in nowise peculiar to the United States. The industrial depression which we are feeling is a war inheritance throughout the world. We saw humanity stressed in that production which is impelled by nations desperate in self-preservation. We saw the industrial call to arms which marshalled the family as well as the accustomed breadwinners, and we saw the spiritual, mental and physical might of the people cast in the scales measuring the might of the Republic. From such a test there is inevitable reaction. To such heights there is necessary ascent and inescapable descent. With the world involved, there is no escape for any of the world from the valleys of depression. Though we suffered less than many of those with whom we were associated, and less than any of those against whom we contended, it was inevitable that we should experience the fever's aftermath and come to know depression before we could become normal again.

Liquidation, reorganization, readjustment, reestablishment, taking account of things done and the sober contemplation of things to be done, the finding of firm ground and the open, sure and onward way— all these are a part of the inevitable, and he who thinks they might have been avoided by this plan or that, or this policy or that, or this international relationship or that, only hugs a delusion, when reason is needed for a safe council.

Even though the world's storehouses were depleted, at the same time, the finances were unbalanced, and none was ready to store a war crop for the more deliberate consumption of peace. Momentarily there was elation, but it was not the glow of abiding health. We mistook elation for restoration; to-day we are met in realization. You have been summoned to counsel all America, to apply your knowledge and your experience .in relieving a condition which concerns all America. Specifically, you are to deal with unemployment, to suggest the way of repairing the arterial circulation which is the very lifeblood of the Republic.

There is always unemployment. Under most fortunate conditions, I am told, there are a million and a half in the United States who are not at work. The figures are astounding only because we are a hundred millions, and this parasite percentage is always with us.

But there is excessive unemployment to-day, and we are concerned not alone about its diminution, but we are frankly anxious, under the involved conditions, lest it grow worse, with hardships of the winter season soon to be met.

I do not venture to quote the statisticians, whether the maximum figures are accurate or the minimum more dependable. Owing to the far swing from intensive endeavor and the effort to get down to solid foundations, coupled with the difficulty of readjusting expenditure—public, corporate and individual—from abnormal to normal, the problem of unemployment is the most difficult with which we are confronted.

But there are no problems affecting our national life and the welfare of the American people which we can not and will not solve. If we fail to-day, we will try again to-morrow. There has been vast unemployment before, and will be again. There will be depression after inflation, just as surely as the tides ebb and flow, but we can mitigate, we can shorten duration, we can commit all America to relief. And all America has never failed when committed to a common cause. If out of your counsels there comes a remedy which all America helpfully may apply to-day, it may be helpfully employed some time again when similar conditions are encountered.

It is fair to say that you are not asked to solve the long controverted problems of our special system. We have builded the America of today on the fundamentals of economic, industrial and political life which made us what we are, and the temple requires no remaking now. We are incontestably sound. We are constitutionally strong. We are merely depressed after the fever, and we want to know the way to speediest and dependable convalescence. When we know the way everybody in America, capital and labor, employer and employee, captains of industry and the privates in the trenches, will go over the top in the advance drive of peace. Frankly, it is difficult to know whether we have reached that bedrock to which reaction runs before the upward course begins, but here are representatives of the forces which make for all we are or ever can be, and your soundings ought to be reliable.

I would have little enthusiasm for any proposed relief which seeks either palliation or tonic from the public treasury. The excess of stimulation from that source is to be reckoned a cause of trouble rather than a source of cure. We should achieve but little in a remedial way if we continued to excite a contributing cause.

It is not my thought to suggest your lines of conference. Mr. Hoover, the Secretary of Commerce, to whom has been committed the arrangements for this important meeting, will present the agenda. I have wished to say to you that the people of the United States are very deeply interested, not alone the unemployed but all who are concerned for our common weal, and the world is looking on to find helpfulness in our American example. Fundamentally sound, financially strong, industrially unimpaired, commercially consistent, and politically unafraid, there ought to be work for everybody in the United States who chooses to work, and our condition at home and our place in the world depends on everybody going to work and pursuing it with that patriotism and devotion which makes for a fortunate and happy people.


THE WHITE HOUSE, October 3, 1921.

The conference which I recently summoned to Washington to advise as to the unemployment situation has demonstrated that an unusual volume of unemployment exists, and that pending the recuperation of trade the situation cannot be met, in due regard to our obligations and necessities, without a much more than usual organization throughout those states and municipalities where unemployment has reached considerable proportions.

The conference has recommended a plan of organization which has had the support of commercial, manufacturing, professional and labor representatives of the country. It is highly necessary that more accurate knowledge should be had through such organization of the volume and necessities of the unemployed. It is essential that the cooperation of all sections of each community should be brought into action behind such organization to provide work and assistance that we may pass through the coming winter without great suffering and distress.

It is of national importance that every community should at once undertake such organization in order that the nation may be protected as a whole. Moreover, the thorough commitment to such, a task is sure to start a thousand activities which will add to our common welfare.

I therefore appeal to the Governors and Mayors of the nation that they should take the steps recommended by the conference.

In order that there may be unity of action by all the forces which may be brought to bear, whether governmental or private,, the unemployment conference is establishing an agency in Washington through which appropriate cooperation can be promoted and through which reports on progress and suggestions may be given general circulation and cooperation. I trust this agency will be supported in this endeavor.

Warren G. Harding, Address at the Opening of the Conference on Unemployment, Called by Secretary of Commerce Hoover in Washington, D.C. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/329273

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