Calvin Coolidge photo

Excerpts of the President's News Conference

February 10, 1928

I think it has already been announced that I appointed Colonel Latrobe to be my Aide. He is a Baltimore man, who, as I understand, went down to Cuba and helped the Cubans in their contest with Spain before we went into the war and after that was in the service. I ran across him when I was out to South Dakota. Some of you probably remember seeing the detachment of cavalry go through Rapid City that he was taking from Fort D. A. Russell near Cheyenne to Fort Meade. I liked his appearance so much that I asked him to come on to Washington, and when he came here Colonel Winship seemed to be the most available man to go to the Philippines with Colonel Stimson, and so I am making that change.

I understand that the Senate Committee is starting in to draft a flood control bill. I have talked with various members of the House and the Senate that are interested in this legislation with a view to seeing if I could not compose the differences that exist in the House and the Senate and some differences between what 1 would like to have and the desires of some members of the House and the Senate. My position, as 1 suggested the other day, was fully set out in my message, wherein I stated that I thought the property that was to be benefited ought to bear some portion of the expense. Now, it has been suggested to me that there are some localities that are unable to bear any expense, others that can bear some of it, others perhaps that could bear all of the proposal which I made of 20 per cent, which was 20 per cent of 180-odd million dollars, not of the 290-odd, because there was 110 million dollars of the Jadwin plan that applied especially to navigation and only 180-odd million that was specifically for flood relief. That, as 1 stated, would make the 20 per cent some $35,000,000, which would be payable over a term of years, probably running as high as 10 years in some localities, and make the contribution about $3,500,000 a year, which reduced to an acreage charge was about 3 cents per acre, per year, which made me think that it wouldn't be an onerous burden. But no survey has ever been made to determine just what the economic conditions are and just what communities can bear the burden and what communities can not. So 1 suggested to the three senior Senators from Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, that that question might be determined by the appointment of a Commission that would make an economic survey and determine what each community could contribute, how it could be contributed, and how their costs would be financed—perhaps by the Treasury taking their bonds or something of that kind, and that is a proposal that I would like to see worked out. I don't know but there was some confusion the other day in my not making my statement entirely clear. Of course, the matter of $35,000,000 spread over 10 years is rather a negligible amount, so far as the United States Treasury is concerned, so that 1 said that if this Mississippi flood problem was the only thing that was to be considered that I wouldn't make very much argument about the contribution down there. It isn't the only thing that is to be considered, because there are now proposals for the United States Government to build levees and afford flood protection for practically all the rivers in the United States, which would be a very great cost, and for that reason I was quite anxious to maintain the principle of local contributions in the lower Mississippi. Some of the bills that have been drawn up have a section providing that the bearing of the entire cost by the United States Government is not to be considered as a precedent. I suggested to one man that was in that if it could be done in this case anyone else that wanted flood control could also bring in a bill and put that clause in his bill that it was not to be considered as a precedent. It seems to me that the decision about that would be this—that this is something that the United States Government ought to do. If it was a good thing to do, to bear all the cost would be a precedent, and if it wasn't a good thing for the Government to do then it ought not to be done. But, as I stated before, I think the people interested are getting closer and closer together and will undoubtedly reach some conclusion that is fair. I wouldn't want the statement to go out too strongly that I had changed my position. The only addition that I have made to my position was the suggestion that this question might be determined by a commission that would go into the details and so take care of any communities that were not able to contribute. But of course the question comes in here of whether the land isn't already burdened with bonds and mortgages and obligations, that is all that it can bear, and if it is so burdened 3 cents an acre, which would in the course of years run into $35,000,000, might in some instances be more of a burden, it was argued to me, than could be borne. There is another angle to this—that if the United States Government is to pay all the costs the demands will be greatly enlarged. I should expect that under any commission that might be set up or any agency that might be used for the prosecution of this work, that it would be done in a business way. But it is very easy to get into something different and start out on the prosecution of a plan that as it progressed would reveal itself as one which was so ambitious that it might break down. There will be enlarged demands if the United States Government is to pay the cost. Some railroad men came in to see me yesterday that said that the cost to certain railroads down there, by putting these plans into operation, they estimated at about $70,000,000, and they wanted whoever was to bear the cost to reimburse them for such expenditures as they were required to make minus any benefits that might accrue to them. Of course, if their roads were put in a position where they will not suffer from floods, that would be a distinct benefit to them and might be set off against some of the cost. They have had flood charges for repairs and damages of an ascertainable amount running over a series of years, and if they were to be entirely relieved of those of course that would be a credit to be offset against the expense of putting them in a position where they wouldn't suffer any more from floods. I merely mention that as an example of one of the things that will constantly come up as the plans progress. I think it would be the best plan, so far as I can judge, to proceed to do this work in accordance with the present law; that is, through the War Department, the Chief of the Bureau of Engineers, and the Mississippi Flood Commission. That is merely a matter of opinion. If someone can present a better method of carrying on the work, I should be glad to adopt that. But this method has worked out very well in the construction of levees and dikes. The work has been done in a businesslike way. I think I have suggested before that there is only one of the standard levees that gave way and all of the rest held during the last great flood. The plan of having a commission, of course, undertake to determine damages would not hold up the work at all. The work could go right on and the commission report to the next Congress, and on that report the next Congress would then legislate.

PRESS: How would that commission be selected?

PRESIDENT: Ordinarily it would be selected by the President and approved by the Senate.

Source: "The Talkative President: The Off-the-Record Press Conferences of Calvin Coolidge". eds. Howard H. Quint & Robert H. Ferrell. The University Massachusetts Press. 1964.

Calvin Coolidge, Excerpts of the President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives