Franklin D. Roosevelt photo

Campaign Address in Topeka, Kansas on the Farm Problem

September 14, 1932

Governor Woodring, my friends:

I have come here not alone to talk to you about farms and farming. I have come just as much and even more to listen and to learn. On this whole trip I am seeking, as on many previous occasions, first-hand contacts with that section of the Nation which is responsible for the major part of the food supply of the Nation.

In my contacts here and in the discussions that I have, I want to hear from men and women of all parties and of all views on the question of farm relief. I am going to follow one simple principle in this discussion and that is complete and absolute frankness. This question is too serious to be trifled with by empty political platitudes or by specious and ingenious tricks of language or of thought. In dealing with the subject I want to avoid on the one hand political sky-writing, and on the other hand political wisecracking.

In keeping faith with this principle of getting down to business, let me say what I think we all recognize — that there is no single remedy that will by itself bring immediate prosperity to the agricultural population of all parts of the United States. You know that, and I know that, and it is a good point from which to start.

I know this personally for four reasons. First, I have lived on a farm in the State of New York for fifty years. Second, I have run a farm in the State of Georgia for eight years, and run it without profit. Third, ever since I went into public life, I have made it a point to travel over this country and in so doing I have maintained what I think modesty would permit me to say is a genuine and practical interest in the farm problems of the various parts of this country at first hand. And, finally, as Governor of the State of New York, the farm products of which rank fifth or sixth among all the forty-eight States of the Union, I have in four years devoted myself to building a farm program of which the people of my State, regardless of party, have some reason to be proud.

Four years ago, in the campaign for the governorship in 1928 the fact was properly stressed that even though New York is often thought of as a State primarily urban, yet its own farm problem was of immediate and critical importance. Some of the distress that you and the Middle West as a whole have felt was present in parts of New York and in the East in the same acute form. Without indulging in excessive promises, I assured the farmers of New York that their problems would be met by practical and definite action.

In the creation of a State plan I recognized the principle of bringing more than one mind to bear on the problem and of putting more than one shoulder to the wheel. Not alone through the process of appointing commissions and calling conferences, but by the actual enactment of practical legislation, we built our policies. In the years that have followed we have attempted a number of substantial things. They are set forth in the public record. Existing tax obligations of local communities were lightened to the extent of twenty-four millions a year. State aid for roads was redistributed on a mileage basis instead of on an assessment basis, so that the poorer communities could enjoy exactly the same assistance per mile in the improvement of dirt roads as that given to the richer suburban communities.

The same principles of aid were applied to rural schools in order to guarantee a modern education for the children of farmers even in the most sparsely settled communities. The State assumed the entire cost of constructing and reconstructing roads and bridges in the state highway system, thus lifting another heavy tax burden from farm property. The State paid all except a very small fraction of the cost of grade-crossing elimination so that safety might be afforded to the less as well as the more fortunate districts of the State. Appropriations for the safeguarding of rural health were increased. A provision for funds for a soil survey of the State was made and this is already paying a substantial dividend in more profitable farming, in its aid to our State reforestation program and in enabling farmers to get necessary road improvements, telephone lines and electric power lines. In addition to that, the cooperative corporation law and the laws regulating traffic in farm produce were revised and strengthened in the interest of the farmer. Very recently, legislation was enacted to create a new system of rural credit organizations to meet the emergency created by the collapse of rural banks.

Why do I tell you all this? I cite these examples to illustrate the many angles that attended the building up of this program. The great lesson of it all — a lesson for every State in the Union —is that there is no single cure-all, but that progress comes from a comprehension of many factors and a sincere attempt to move forward on many lines at the same time.

I see no necessity for discussing in detail the acute distress in which the farmers of America find themselves. You all know that better than anyone can tell you. You have felt it in your own lives and experiences. And you have seen it reflected in limiting the opportunities that you have wanted to give to your families. This experience of yours is far more moving than any phrases of mine or of anyone else. This distress has grown for more than eleven years over a radius of hundreds of miles from where I stand, in as productive and fertile a country as the world has ever seen. We have poverty, we have want in the midst of abundance. With incomparable natural wealth within the reach of these progressive farmers they struggle with poverty and unbelievably hard times. They try to hold their farms under conditions produced by corn, hogs, cotton, wool, cattle and wheat selling on the farm at prices as low as or lower than at any time in the history of the United States. There has been some slight rise from these low levels, but in spite of that, there remain in millions of farm homes continuing uncertainty and continuing apprehension. This means that the farmer misses not only the things that make life tolerable but those that make decent living possible. It means — and this is most important — that the farmer's children must suffer the denial of those chances for education that justice and fairness should assure to them. We all of us hoped that our children would have a "better break" than we had. But the economic turn has almost blasted that hope for the farm parent. This means nothing less, my friends, than the shadow of peasantry.

There are six and one-half million families to whom this deepening shadow is a grim reality. These six and one-half million families represent 22 percent of the total population of the United States. They are the men, women and children actually living on farms. It is fair to ask what percentage of the national income comes each year to this 22 percent of the population. Let us remember these figures: Twelve years ago, in 1920, this 22 percent of the population got 15 percent of the national income; in 1925 it received 11 percent. By 1928 agriculture's share had dropped to only just above 9 percent, and the most recent estimate, based on the figures of the United States Department of Agriculture itself, shows that farm income has today dropped to about 7 percent. Remember well that during the past four years when he has been the Chief Executive of the Nation, and also as a member of the Cabinet during the previous six years, the dominant factor in our governmental economic policies has been the distinguished gentleman who is running against me.

But let us not stop at our six and one-half million farm families. Let us remember that fifty million men, women and children within our borders are directly and immediately concerned with the present and the future of agriculture.

Again, let us not stop there. Another fifty or sixty million people who are engaged in business or in industry in our large and small city communities are at last coming to understand the simple fact that their lives and futures are profoundly concerned with the prosperity of agriculture. They realize more and more that there will be no outlet for their products unless their fifty million fellow Americans who are directly concerned with agriculture are given the buying power to buy city products.

Our economic life today is a seamless web. Whatever our vocation, we are forced to recognize that while we have enough factories and enough machines in the United States to supply all our needs, those factories will be closed part of the time and these machines will lie idle part of the time if the buying power of fifty million people on the farms remains restricted or dead as it is today.

Two months ago I pointed out in my speech of acceptance the interdependence of the people of the United States the fact that we cannot have independence in its true sense unless we take full account of our interdependence in order to provide a balanced economic well-being for every citizen of the country.

Industrial prosperity can reach only artificial and temporary heights as it did in 1929 if at the same time there is no agricultural prosperity. This Nation cannot endure if it is half "boom" and half "broke."

That word "interdependence" applies not only to the city on the one hand and the farm on the other, but it applies also to the relationship between the different parts of our country. If in the South a cotton-raising population goes into bankruptcy because the price of cotton is so low that it does not pay for the cost of production, you in the wheat belt or in the corn belt are directly affected by a tragedy a thousand miles away. If you who raise wheat or corn lose your homes through foreclosure, every other farmer in the East, or in the South, or out on the Pacific Coast, and every factory worker in every part of the country, is directly affected by your distress.

Interdependence within the field of agriculture itself is a vital fact. Every kind of farming is related to every other kind, and a disturbance anywhere within the structure causes repercussions everywhere.

If we would get to the root of the difficulty, we shall find it in the present lack of equality for agriculture. Farming has not had an even break in our economic system. The things that our farmers buy today cost 9 percent more than they did before the World War in 1914. The things they sell bring them 43 percent less than then. These figures, as of August first, authenticated by the Department of Agriculture, mean that the farm dollar is worth less than half of what it represented before the war. Remember this, my friends: The things that farmers buy, protected by Mr. Grundy's tariff, are 9 percent above pre-war; the things that farmers sell — and remember world prices fix domestic prices — are 43 percent below pre-war prices. The correction of that condition must in some way bring the purchasing power of the farmer within reach of the things that Mr. Grundy has protected. It means finding a cure for the condition that compels the farmer to trade in 1932 two wagon-loads for the things for which in 1914 he traded one wagon-load. And that is as short a way as I know of stating the farm problem.

There are two undeniable historic facts of the past twelve years:

First, the present Administration, and the two previous Administrations, in all of which the President was an important member, failed utterly to understand the farm problem as a national whole, or to plan for its relief; and second, they destroyed the foreign markets for our exportable farm surplus beginning with the Fordney-McCumber Tariff and ending with the Grundy Tariff, thus violating the simplest principle of international trade, and forcing the inevitable retaliation of foreign countries.

I cannot forbear at this point expressing my amazement that in the face of this retaliation — inevitable from the day the Grundy Tariff became law and predicted by every competent observer at home and abroad — not one effective step to deal with it or to alleviate its consequences has been taken or proposed by the national Administration. In that attitude the Republican leadership, from the President down, shows an incredible disregard of plain facts, combined with what I shall politely term a stubborn indifference to the consequence of its own folly.

Of some steps which should have been taken and which should now be taken to meet this situation I have already spoken and I shall have more to say. But at this moment I want to speak of other phases of the problem of permanent farm relief. Let us pause for a moment and take a look at the problem in the longer perspective. We must have, I assert with all possible emphasis, national planning in agriculture. We must not have, as now, the scattering of our efforts through the heterogeneous and disassociated activities of our governmental agencies dealing with the problem. On the other hand, we must avoid the present tendency to jump from one temporary expedient to another. We need unity of planning, coherence in our Administration and emphasis upon cures rather than upon drugs.

On my part, I suggest the following permanent measures:

First, I would reorganize the United States Department of Agriculture, looking toward the administrative machinery needed to build a program of national planning. I should be the last person in the world to become a harsh and thoughtless critic of a department that has done many good things. But I know enough of government and of the ways of government to know that the growth of a department is often irregular, illogical and haphazard. It is always easy to add to a department; additions mean more jobs. But to cut away unnecessary functions,' eliminate useless jobs or redirect routine activities toward more fruitful purposes is a task that must be and shall be undertaken.

Second, I favor a definite policy looking to the planned use of the land. We already have more than enough tilled land to meet our needs for many years to come, since our population has ceased to expand so rapidly and agriculture is becoming each year more efficient. But we have in the thirteen original States of the East, and a few others, great areas of relatively poor land hardly worth cultivation, which provide either actual or potential competition with better land. This lowers the quality of farm products, depresses the prices of better farm products, creates great added expense because of the faulty distribution of the population and consumes public and private resources in attempting the development of means of living and communication that ought not to be needed. The sum total result of all this is waste and hardship. To provide the necessary guidance for the correction of this faulty distribution of farms and of farming energy there is need for an economic soil survey, especially in the Eastern States, to be carried on jointly by the Nation and the States through the initiative of the Federal Government. This soil survey should have a much broader scope than present surveys, and should be directed toward the problems of proper utilization of the land and future distribution of population along sound economic lines. It should lead to mapping and classification of land of all kinds, to determine which lands are best suited for agricultural production, which lands are marginal and which lands are suited only to growing tree crops.

Let me give you this simple example of something I have actually done. Remember, at the same time, that this does not apply to the wheat belt; it applies only in small measure to the corn belt, but it does apply fully to most of the Eastern States. We in the State of New York have approved, by vote of the people, the expenditure of ten millions of dollars toward the elimination of marginal lands from actual farming. This year in a short time we have bought, as I said, over two hundred thousand acres of unprofitable marginal farm lands and we have turned these acres into the growing of trees for lumber and pulp. I do not have to point out to you the fact that this Eastern program is not only good for the East but is also of value in that it removes the competition of marginal hill farms from your own crops in the West.

Planning of that kind, designed primarily to gain a better and less wasteful distribution of agricultural productive effort, inevitably will point the way to readjustments in the distribution of the population in general. The pendulum is swinging back from the intense concentration of population in cities. We know the possibilities for the greater ease and comfort of modern rural and small town living. This does not mean a "back-to-the-land" movement in the ordinary sense of a return to agriculture, but it does mean definite efforts to decentralize industry.

It will effect cheaper and more wholesome living for many millions of our population. To the farmer it will mean bringing a considerable part of his market closer to his own dooryard.

A third process of permanent relief for agriculture can come through national leadership in the reduction and more equitable distribution of taxes. We all agree on that. With respect to this I propose to exert through the Presidency, as I have done through the Governorship, such influence as I can, in favor of a national movement to reorganize local government in the direction of eliminating some of the tax burden which now bears so heavily on farms of the Nation. There are too many taxing districts, too many local units of government, too many unnecessary offices and functions. The governmental underbrush which has sprouted for years should be cleared away. In addition, we need a clearer separation of fields of taxation as between the Nation, the States and the localities. By so doing, we can lift some of the tax burden resting on land, and I mean to stress that objective by every means at my command. These three objectives are of the sort that will require slow-moving development. They constitute a necessary building for the future. In meeting the immediate problem of distress, however, it is necessary to adopt quick-acting remedies.

In the first place, there is the necessity, as we all know, for the refinancing of farm mortgages in order to relieve the burden of excessive interest charges and the grim threat of foreclosure. Much was done in the last session of Congress to extend and liquefy and pass on to the Federal Government — the Nation —the burden of debt of railroads, banks, utilities and industry in general. Something in the nature of a gesture was made in the direction of financing urban homes. But practically nothing was done toward removing the destructive menace of debt from farm homes. It is my purpose, if elected, to direct all the energy of which I am capable to the formulation of definite projects to relieve this distress. Specifically, I am prepared to insist that Federal credit be extended to banks, insurance or loan companies, or other corporations or individuals holding farm mortgages among their assets, but that these credits must be made on the condition that every reasonable assistance be given to the mortgagors where the loans are sound, with the purpose of preventing foreclosure. These conditions must be enforced. Lower interest rates and an extension of principal payments will save thousands of farms to their owners. And hand in hand with this we must adopt the definite policy of giving those who have lost the title to their farms, now held by institutions seeking credit from governmental agencies, the preferential opportunity of getting their property back.

The second immediate necessity is to provide a means of bringing about, through governmental effort, a substantial reduction in the difference between the prices of things the farmer sells and the things he buys. One way of attacking this disparity is by restoring international trade through tariff readjustments.

The Democratic tariff policy consists, in large measure, of negotiating agreements with individual countries permitting them to sell goods to us in return for which they will let us sell to them goods and crops which we produce. An effective application of this principle will restore the flow of international trade; and the first result of that flow will be to assist substantially the American farmer in disposing of his surplus. It is recognized, however, that to take up the slack until international trade is sufficiently restored, we must devise means to provide for the farmer a benefit which will give him in the shortest possible time the equivalent of what the protected manufacturer gets from the tariff. You farmers put this well in a single phrase: "We must make the tariff effective."

In the last few years many plans have been advanced for achieving this object. None has been given a trial. The circumstances are so complex that no man can say with definite assurance that one particular plan is applicable to all crops or even that one plan is better than another in relation to a particular crop.

One fact I want to make clear, with all possible emphasis. There is no reason to despair merely because defects have been found in all of these plans; or because some of them have been discarded by responsible leaders in favor of new plans. The fact that so much earnest study and investigation of this problem has been made, from so many angles, and by so many men is, in my opinion, ground for assurance rather than despair. Such a wealth of information has been accumulated, so many possibilities explored, so many able minds enlisted, and, more important still, so much education on the subject provided for and by the farmers themselves, that the time has come when able and thoughtful leaders who have followed this development from the beginning are now focusing on the basic elements of the problem and the practical nature of its solution.

Within the past year many of our principal industrialists also have come to the conclusion that — since the great decline of our export trade — the chief hope for industrial rehabilitation lies in some workable and immediate method of dealing with farm surpluses.

Support for the trial of some plan to put the tariff into effect seems to be found everywhere except in the Administration at Washington. This official lack of sympathy has probably done more to prevent the development of concrete, generally acceptable plans than any other single force. To me it appears that the Administration takes an attitude that is wholly unfair. It says, in substance, that since a perfect plan has not been developed nothing can be done; and at the same time it takes a position wholly inimical to every effort made during the past eleven years to provide workable means of relief. This negative position taken by the Administration is more than a mere failure to assume leadership. It is an absolute repudiation of responsibility. This negative, even hostile position, has included, as we know, a disposition on the part of the Administration to set proponents of one plan off against the proponents of another, the apparent object being to create a situation in which it is possible for Administration leadership to say, "How can we do anything for agriculture when it is not agreed within itself as to what it wants to do?"

It will be my purpose, my friends, to compose the conflicting elements of these various plans, to gather the benefit of the long study and' consideration of them, to coordinate efforts to the end that agreement may be reached upon the details of a distinct policy, aimed at producing the result to which all these efforts and plans are directed — the restoration of agriculture to economic equality with other industries within the United States. I seek to give to that portion of the crop consumed in the United States a benefit equivalent to a tariff sufficient to give you farmers an adequate price.

I want now to state what seem to me the specifications upon which most of the reasonable leaders of agriculture have agreed, and to express here and now my whole-hearted accord with these specifications.

First: The plan must provide for the producer of staple surplus commodities, such as wheat, cotton, corn in the form of hogs, and tobacco, a tariff benefit over world prices which is equivalent to the benefit given by the tariff to industrial products. This differential benefit must be so applied that the increase in farm income, purchasing and debt-paying power will not stimulate further production.

Second: The plan must finance itself. Agriculture has at no time sought and does not now seek any such access to the public treasury as was provided by the futile and costly attempts at price stabilization by the Federal farm board. It seeks only equality of opportunity with tariff-protected industry.

Third: It must not make use of any mechanism which would cause our European customers to retaliate on the ground of dumping. It must be based upon making the tariff effective and direct in its operation.

Fourth: It must make use of existing agencies and so far as possible be decentralized in its Administration so that the chief responsibility for its operation will rest with the locality rather than with newly created bureaucratic machinery in Washington.

Fifth: It must operate as nearly as possible on a cooperative basis and its effect must be to enhance and strengthen the cooperative movement. It should, moreover, be constituted so that it can be withdrawn whenever the emergency has passed and normal foreign markets have been reestablished.

Sixth: The plan must be, in so far as possible, voluntary. I like the idea that the plan should not be put into operation unless it has the support of a reasonable majority of the producers of the exportable commodity to which it is to apply. It must be so organized that the benefits will go to the man who participates.

These, it seems to me, are the essential specifications of a workable plan. In determining the details necessary to the solution of so vast a problem it goes without saying that many minds must meet and many persons must work together. Such cooperation must of necessity come from those who have had the widest experience with the problem and who enjoy to the greatest degree the confidence of the farmers in this country. Without in any sense seeking to avoid responsibility, I shall avail myself of the widest possible range of such assistance. My willingness to do this is fully attested to by the extent to which the development of our agricultural program in New York has been brought about through the assistance given to me, on a non-partisan, non-paid basis, by the leaders of agriculture in the State of New York. This cooperation and advice which I received in New York came not only from those directly interested in agriculture but from the leaders in the Legislature as well. There were there, as there are in the Congress of the United States, farsighted and patriotic public servants, Republicans and Democrats, who are willing to put the welfare of agriculture and of the country as a whole ahead of party advantage. To such leaders in all parties I shall look for guidance, good-will and support.

After all, the farmer's hope for the future must rest upon the policy and the spirit in which his case is considered. His problem is one of difficulty. It is for him to decide whether he wants the solution of this problem to be committed to leaders who are determined to relieve the inequities which have caused his distress, or to leaders whose record clearly shows that they are determined to preserve a staggering subsidy for industry, but to give agriculture only a measure of words and more words. The essence of this question comes down to a matter of keeping faith with American agriculture. On my part, I can stand on my own record and on the policies I have just set forth. On the opposite side, you have the long record of the present Administration.

In setting forth that record you know better than I that the farmers' hope has had to rest upon the policy and spirit in which his case was considered by the Government. We can fully test the policy and spirit of the present Administration. It runs back a long time, because those leaders have held public office before. In those offices they have had ample opportunity to demonstrate their attitude toward agriculture.

When the depression in agriculture began in 1921, Republican leaders first sought to belittle the plight of agriculture. They claimed that the old familiar tariff remedy would suffice; and they offered the Fordney-McCumber tariff act, passed, God save the mark, under the ironic label of farm relief. The Republican leaders in positions of national responsibility at that time —and this, of course, includes the then Secretary of Commerce — either did not or would not realize the change in international conditions due to international debts. They closed their eyes to the outstanding economic fact. Prior to the war we had paid our interest on our debts to Europe by means of agricultural exports. After the war, because we had changed to a creditor, and Europe was in debt to us, it was necessary that we demand either goods or gold in return. The Fordney-McCumber tariff barrier shut off the normal tide of trade. Europe could not pay, so she could not buy. Specifically, she began to stop buying our surplus farm products.

To offset the harmful effect of this tariff situation, intelligent and responsible farm leaders worked out, in 1922, what they called a program for equality for Agriculture. Plans to achieve this equality for agriculture were brought before members of the President's Cabinet at that time. They moved in the direction of a Republican agricultural conference to consider it. The conference met. It took the amazing position that production should be reduced to the demands of the domestic market by the cheerful means, it appeared, of "starving out" the farmers who had formerly exported to Europe. It is matter of common knowledge that the President, then the Secretary of Commerce, was not without influence in the determination of this result.

In fact, the conclusions of that grim agricultural conference were strikingly similar to those voiced subsequently by the Secretary of Commerce himself. In 1925, for example, he said "continuance of overproduction means surplus, and that can only be corrected by prices low enough to make production unprofitable for some of the acreage of use." In plain English this meant "lower the price; starve out one-third of the farms; then see what happens." Throughout the whole agricultural agony of the ensuing three years the Secretary of Commerce set himself like adamant against all relief proposals. Farm leaders suggested segregation of export surplus from the domestic market. With marked acerbity he stated in a letter that such a step would "subsidize the British Empire."

The McNary-Haugen legislation called forth violent and abusive veto messages. There was, to put it mildly, no protest from the then Secretary of Commerce. The Secretary of the Treasury, in 1926, well phrased the attitude of the Administration. He insisted that any attempt to raise domestic prices was a "subsidy" and he stated that "if given to five agricultural commodities the Government could not logically refuse to give the same treatment to the textile, boot and shoe, coal and other industries" — sublimely disregarding the plain fact that the tariff was already giving those industries, in effect, the highest subsidy in history.

Now to put forth, as the Secretary of Commerce did, the idea of limiting farm production to the domestic market was simply to threaten agriculture with a terrific penalty. Apparently, either he did not see, or did not care, that this meant allowing wheat land in Kansas to remain idle, forcing foreclosure of farm mortgages, wrecking farm families, while our withdrawal from the world's markets principally benefited foreign producers. He did not ask the manufacturers to reduce their exports. As Secretary of Commerce, he made no fight for American agriculture's share of world's trade, though he could find time to assist foreign sales of every non-agricultural product. In his campaign speeches of 1928 he offered merely a program of cooperative marketing and self-help. This was to be developed through a farm board as a means of handling the surplus, although he should have known, as responsible farm leaders knew, that the cooperatives obviously could not undertake the burden of controlling the great surplus cut adrift by tariff barriers. He could and should have seen that they handled only a relatively small volume, and that it would be impossible for the members to shoulder the load and the cost. The idea of "stabilizing" through speculative operations was conceived and was written into the platform of 1928 and was vigorously supported by the candidate for the Presidency. You now know to your cost what stabilizing meant in practice.

Meanwhile, the familiar old song of the benefits to be derived from the tariff was heard. In 1928, in his acceptance speech, Mr. Hoover said: "An adequate tariff is the foundation of farm relief." He and his supporters insisted in 1928 that we were importing $3,300,000,000 of farm products and that an adequate tariff laid on these would be sufficient for the relief of agriculture. It was a ghastly fraud. The principal items of "agricultural" imports were rubber, silk, coffee, tea and the like — a long list of exotic and tropical goods, including such American farm products as elephants' tusks, skins of the Russian ermine and wallaby, and elk hides. The fact was that imports which competed with products grown in America amounted only to $460,000,000; and sugar represented over half of this figure. The truth was that our farmers do not produce the items proposed to be protected by a tariff. They consume them. The "remedy" handed the farmer was not to raise his selling price, but to raise his cost of living.

I take it that the process of education through hard knocks has gone far enough to make it unnecessary for me to comment further. The claim that the Republican discriminatory tariff methods are a benefit to the farmer is a cynical and pitiless fraud.

Shortly after his inauguration in 1929, the President assembled a special session of Congress. He went through the form of fulfilling his campaign promises by the passing of his agricultural marketing act and the Hawley-Smoot Tariff. The decline of prices increased, a slump was apparent. The cooperatives could not meet the situation. The Farm Board began its stabilizing operations. This resulted in a tremendous undigested surplus overhanging the market; it put a millstone around the neck of the cooperatives. The effort resulted in squandering hundreds of millions of the taxpayers' money. Farm Board speculative operations must and shall come to an end.

When the futility of maintaining prices of wheat and cotton, through so-called stabilization, became apparent, the President's Farm Board, of which his Secretary of Agriculture was a member, invented the cruel joke of advising farmers to allow twenty percent of their wheat lands to lie idle, to plow up every third row of cotton and to shoot every tenth dairy cow. Surely they knew that this advice would not — indeed, could not be taken. It was probably offered as the foundation of an alibi. They wanted to be able to say to the farmers: "You did not do as we told you to do. Now, go blame yourselves."

Now, after the harm has been done, the President's acceptance speech of 1932 fully recognizes the futility of the stabilizing experiment and merely apologizes for the results. In order to avoid responsibility he claims that the Farm Board departed "from its original purpose by making loans to farmers, cooperatives to preserve prices from panic." It was his Farm Board. Why did he permit such a departure?

The President's acceptance speech, with its artful excuses and its empty promise, will bear careful reading by the farmers of this country in the light of the promises of 1928. I wish that the Republican campaign organization would provide every farmer with a copy of the President's acceptance speech. I can imagine a farmer sitting on his door-step meditating on the questions that have caused him so much concern, while he reads that speech.

The farmer asks the question: "How may we expect that our exports will be restored and some way provided by which our customers may pay for our surplus produce with goods which we farmers can use?" He reads the answer in the acceptance speech: "I am squarely for a protective tariff."

"Does this," asks the farmer, "mean the Grundy Tariff Bill that you signed?" The acceptance speech is silent on that point.

Again the farmer asks, "Maybe the tariff can be made effective on farm produce consumed at home? Time after time the organized farmers of the United States and the friends of agriculture have sought to do just that." The answer of the President in his acceptance speech is an attempt to close the door of hope on this subject: "No power on earth can restore prices except by restoration of general recovery and markets. Every measure we have taken looking to general recovery is of benefit to the farmer."

And that, if you please, is the record. That is what we have to expect from the present Republican leadership: more Republican tariffs, implacable opposition to any plan to raise the price of farm products, a program of "starving out" a third of the present farm population. A splendid prospect, this! Reduced to lowest terms, the present administration asks farmers to put their interests into the hands of their bitterest opponents — men who will go to any and all lengths to safeguard and strengthen a protected few, but who will coldly say to American farmers: "One-third of you are not needed. Run a race with bankruptcy to see which will survive." It is no new theory of Government. It has been reactionary policy since time immemorial. Help the few; perhaps those few will be kind enough to help the many.

This is unsound; it is unfair; it is unjust; it is not American! Industry can never prosper unless the agricultural market is restored and farm buying power returns. Without tariff readjustment the President's program is hopeless; without active assistance, the Grundy schedules can break the farmer long before the farmer can find a market for his goods. It suggests that if industry revives, the farmer will be taken care of; though you all know that the boom of 1929 brought nothing but lower prices and more debts to the farm.

The situation challenges every responsible statesman in America to seek in agricultural circles an active remedial plan. The President has indicated his attitude in advance. His laconic "I shall oppose them" closes the last door of hope in him.

I cannot share his view. I will not believe that in the face of a problem like this we must merely throw up our hands. I have unbounded faith in a restored and rehabilitated agriculture. In this profession of faith I invite you to join. May those of us who intend a solution and decline the defeatist attitude join tirelessly in the work of advancing to a better-ordered economic life. The time has come. The hour has struck.

APP Note: In the Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, this document is sub-titled, "A Restored and Rehabilitated Agriculture."

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Campaign Address in Topeka, Kansas on the Farm Problem Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/289318

Filed Under

Categories

Attributes

Location

Kansas

Simple Search of Our Archives