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Address to the Porto Rican Legislature.

March 24, 1931

Gentlemen of the legislature, my fellow American citizens:

I am grateful for the courtesy and generosity of the reception which I have received in Porto Rico. It is indeed a great pleasure for me to be here and to have this opportunity of meeting you personally.

Ever since I became President of the United States I have wished to visit this part of the Union and to have an opportunity of that fuller acquaintance with your problems which comes of personal contact. The time at my disposal is unfortunately too limited to visit many of your communities and inspect all of their various activities and institutions. I wish it were possible for me to do so. I should also like to see more of the beauties and resources of the island of which you are so justly proud.

I want you to realize that it is not lack of interest or of good will on my part that prevents more extended visit and the making of larger acquaintance, but simply the limitations of other responsibilities.

Though I come for the first time to Porto Rico, my contact with the island and my opinion of her people do not date merely from the time when I assumed the position of President. More than a decade ago, as Food Administrator during the troublous times of the war, I came to know Porto Ricans, to become acquainted with their abilities, and, above all, to realize their splendid devotion to our country in time of national danger.

Our Nation is proud of the progress made by the people of Porto Rico. Endowed with liberty, freedom, with self-government and individual opportunity through incorporation under the American flag, the island by the efforts of its citizens and the cooperation of the whole United States has in a single generation emerged from stagnation to a high place in the march of progress.

Porto Rico is, indeed, a magnificent example of what a capable and intelligent people may accomplish under free institutions. You have, indeed, shown courage and initiative under these impulses of freedom and liberty. In proof of this progress I need but recall a few evidences. You have in this single generation since joining in our citizenship increased more than 60 percent in population, increased over 500 percent in material wealth and over 800 percent in attendance upon public schools. You have decreased illiteracy by almost 50 percent and the death rate has been diminished by more than 60 percent.

I know of no finer achievement than that of the people of this island who from their gaining wealth have builded up from a few public schools with but 25,000 scholars at the time of the occupation to a great system of several thousand schools, colleges, and universities, which today gives instruction to over 200,000 scholars.

You are temporarily suffering not alone from the aftermath of the devastating hurricane of 1928, when a tenth of all the property of the island and a much larger percentage of the tools of livelihood were destroyed, but you are involved with us all in the worldwide business depression. Discouraging as these disasters may be for the moment, we know that they are but passing events in our history; that with the courage of your people and under the benevolent institutions which have been builded here, their effects will be overcome and the Nation and this island will resume their march in prosperity and progress.

In Washington we are sensible of these many serious difficulties with which you are struggling at the moment. We also realize not only these difficulties with which you are confronted, but we realize also your possibilities for future progress. This administration has given proof of the continued solicitude of our citizens on the mainland for your welfare by the measures recommended to the Congress and authorized by it. It has been the policy of the Federal Government to contribute even more liberally to the development of Porto Rico in this period of her upgrowth toward freedom and liberty than has been given to our States.

Not only has the island enjoyed the invaluable privileges of full inclusion in our economic system but all of the Federal revenues from the island have been assigned to the island treasury, and now a large measure of the Federal welfare services in public works, public roads, education, agriculture, and in public health, are being extended to the island without costs to its people.

The suffering of the people of the island from the great hurricane found a generous response not only from the contribution of your fellow citizens in the United States but by large measures of relief from the Federal Treasury. The American people have been glad to cooperate in this upbuilding and in the reconstruction from present difficulties, and they take great pride in the progress you have made.

Basically what we are all striving for in our economic life is to provide, for all of our citizens on this island as well as the mainland, the opportunity to gain for themselves and their families by their own effort a fair and adequate livelihood. We have confidence in the advancement of your part of our Nation through economic development, through the education, and through the ordered liberty, which have created the great sister commonwealths upon the mainland.

We wish to see every Porto Rican with the same opportunities in life to which we believe every American citizen is entitled. Economic advancement is not necessarily the foundation of moral and spiritual advancement, but it can be made so if we so conduct our institutions that prosperity shall be diffused among all our citizens. If we use its surplus to advance the cultural, the moral, and spiritual welfare of our people, then economic advancement serves not alone these purposes, but becomes the bulwark of liberty and freedom itself.

I have been particularly impressed with the splendid efforts that you are making in the education and in health and care of children. They are the responsibility of every man and woman of the community, for in them as a whole lies the future. If each generation of youth enter upon the responsibilities of life and of the Nation better equipped in body and mind and in character than their parents the Nation will advance. If we fail in that no amount of legislation, no amount of wealth, no amount of culture or scientific discovery will assure progress.

I would be remiss if I should not on this occasion refer to the distinguished and devoted services to the people of Porto Rico of your Governor, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. Not only has he devoted himself with success to the problems of reconstruction and development in every proper direction, but he has realized, as we all must realize, the peculiar and grave problems presented by the increase in your population more rapidly than adequate livelihood can be gained from the older and established industries. His efforts to secure new industrial development and to expand your markets are of the first importance to the people of the island. He has proven himself the true friend of the Porto Rican people.

I should wish to convey to you a word of encouragement for the future. The achievements of your past should be your assurance. You have shown splendid ability at cooperation, building new institutions of government, and in disaster, magnificent courage. That courage and that spirit of cooperation will bring to you the blessings of prosperity. You are endeavoring, as all our people are endeavoring, to build a system where men may have an opportunity of livelihood, where insecurity is no longer a spectre in the home of those who have the will to work, and where upon the soil of this prosperity you shall find richer fruits of culture and wider opportunities of mind and spirit. Those possibilities are before the people of Porto Rico. Your fellow citizens upon the mainland will cooperate with you to those ends.

Note: The President spoke at 8 a.m. from the steps of the capitol at San Juan.

Following his address, the President visited Morro Castle and then returned to the U.S.S. Arizona for departure to the Virgin Islands.

A reading copy of this item with holograph changes by the President is available for examination at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library.

Herbert Hoover, Address to the Porto Rican Legislature. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/211856

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