Grover Cleveland

Letter to Members of the Notification Committee of the Democratic National Convention Accepting the Presidential Nomination

September 08, 1888

WASHINGTON, September 8th, 1888.

HON. PATRICK A. COLLINS, and others, Committee etc.

GENTLEMEN:—In addressing to you my formal acceptance of the nomination to the Presidency of the United States, my thoughts persistently dwell upon the impressive relation of such action to the American people, whose confidence is thus invited, and to the political party to which I belong, just entering upon a contest for continued supremacy.

The world does not afford a spectacle more sublime than is furnished when millions of free and intelligent American citizens select their Chief Magistrate, and bid one of their number to find the highest earthly honor and the full measure of public duty in ready submission to their will.

It follows that a candidate for this high office can never forget that when the turmoil and the strife which attend the selection of its incumbent shall be heard no more, there must be in the quiet calm which follows, a complete and solemn self-consecration by the people's chosen President of every faculty and endeavor to the service of a confiding and generous nation of freemen.

These thoughts are intensified by the light of my experience in the Presidential office, which has soberly impressed me with the severe responsibilities which it imposes, while it has quickened my love for American institutions, and taught me the priceless value of the trust of my countrymen.

It is of the highest importance that those who administer our government should jealously protect and maintain the rights of American citizens at home and abroad, and should strive to achieve for our country her proper place among the nations of the earth; but there is no people whose home interests are so great, and whose numerous objects of domestic concern deserve so much watchfulness and care.

Among these are the regulation of a sound financial system suited to our needs, thus securing an efficient agency of national wealth and general prosperity; the construction and equipment of means of defense, to insure our national safety and maintain the honor beneath which such national safety reposes; the protection of our national domain, still stretching beyond the needs of a century's expansion, and its preservation for the settler and the pioneer of our marvelous growth; a sensible and sincere recognition of the value of American labor, leading to the scrupulous care and just appreciation of the interests of our workingmen; the limitation and checking of such monopolistic tendencies and schemes as interfere with the advantages and benefits which the people may rightly claim; a generous regard and care for our surviving soldiers and sailors, and for the widows and orphans of such as have died, to the end that while the appreciation of their services and sacrifices is quickened, the application of their pension fund to improper cases may be prevented; protection against a servile immigration, which injuriously competes with our laboring men in the field of toil, and adds to our population an element ignorant of our institutions and laws, impossible of assimilation with our people, and dangerous to our peace and welfare; a strict and steadfast adherence to the principles of Civil Service Reform, and a thorough execution of the laws passed for their enforcement, thus permitting to our people the advantages of business methods in the operation of their government; the guarantee to our colored citizens of all their rights of citizenship, and their just recognition and encouragement in all things pertaining to that relation; a firm, patient and humane Indian policy, so that in peaceful relations with the government the civilization of the Indian may be promoted, with resulting quiet and safety to the settlers on our frontiers; and the curtailment of public expense by the introduction of economical methods in every department of the government.

The pledges contained in the platform adopted by the late Convention of the National Democracy, lead to the advancement of these objects, and insure good government—the aspiration of every true American citizen, and the motive for every patriotic action and effort. In the consciousness that much has been done in the direction of good government by the present administration, and submitting its record to the fair inspection of my countrymen, I indorse the platform thus presented, with the determination that, if I am again called to the Chief Magistracy, there shall be a continuance of devoted endeavor to advance the interests of the entire country.

Our scale of federal taxation and its consequences largely engross, at this time, the attention of our citizens, and the people are soberly considering the necessity of measures of relief.

Our government is the creation of the people, established to carry out their designs and accomplish their good. It was founded on justice, and was made for a free, intelligent and virtuous people. It is only useful when within their control, and only serves them well when regulated and guided by their constant touch. It is a free government because it guarantees to every American citizen the unrestricted personal use and enjoyment of all the reward of his toil, and of all his income, except what may be his fair contribution to necessary public expense. Therefore, it is not only the right, but the duty, of a free people, in the enforcement of this guaranty, to insist that such expense should be strictly limited to the actual public needs. It seems perfectly clear that when the government, this instrumentality created and maintained by the people to do their bidding, turns upon them, and through an utter perversion of its powers, extorts from their labor and capital tribute largely in excess of public necessities, the creature has rebelled against the creator, and the masters are robbed by their servants.

The cost of the government must continue to be met by tariff duties collected at our custom houses upon imported goods, and by internal revenue taxes assessed upon spiritous and malt liquors tobacco, and oleomargarine.

I suppose it is needless to explain that all these duties and assessments are added to the price of the articles upon which they are levied, and thus become a tax upon all those who buy these articles for use and consumption. I suppose, too, it is well understood that the effect of this tariff taxation is not limited to the consumers of imported articles, but that the duties imposed upon such articles permit a corresponding increase in price to be laid upon domestic productions of the same kind; which increase, paid by all our people as consumers of home productions and entering every American home, constitutes a form of taxation as certain and as inevitable as though the amount was annually paid into the hand of the tax-gatherer.

These results are inseparable from the plan we have adopted for the collection of our revenue by tariff duties. They are not mentioned to discredit the system, but by way of preface to the statement that every million of dollars collected at our custom houses for duties upon imported articles and paid into the public treasury, represent many millions more which, though never reaching the National treasury, are paid by our citizens as the increased cost of domestic productions resulting from our tariff laws.

In these circumstances, and in view of this necessary effect of the operation of our plan for raising revenue, the absolute duty of limiting the rate of tariff charges to the necessities of a frugal and economical administration of the government, seems to be perfectly plain. The continuance, upon a pretext of meeting public expenditures, of such a scale of tariff taxation as draws from the substance of the people a sum largely in excess of public needs, is surely something which under a government based upon justice, and which finds its strength and usefulness in the faith and trust of the people, ought not to be tolerated.

While the heaviest burdens incident to the necessities of the government are uncomplainingly borne, light burdens become grievous and intolerable when not justified by such necessities.

Unnecessary taxation is unjust taxation.

And yet this is our condition. We are annually collecting at our custom houses and by means of our internal revenue taxation, many millions in excess of all legitimate public needs. As a consequence there now remains in the National treasury a surplus of more than one hundred and thirty millions of dollars.

No better evidence could be furnished that the people are exorbitantly taxed. The extent of the superfluous burden indicated by this surplus will be better appreciated when it is suggested that such surplus alone, represents taxation aggregating more than one hundred and eight thousand dollars in a county containing fifty thousand inhabitants.

Taxation has always been the feature of organized government; the hardest to reconcile with the peoples' ideas of freedom and happiness. When presented in a direct form nothing will arouse popular discontent more quickly and profoundly than unjust and unnecessary taxation. Our farmers, mechanics, laborers, and all our citizens, closely scan the slightest increase in the taxes assessed upon their lands and other property, and demand good reason for such increase. And yet they seem to be expected, in some quarters, to regard the unnecessary volume of insidious and indirect taxation visited upon them by our present rate of tariff duties with indifference if not with favor.

The surplus revenue now remaining in the treasury not only furnishes conclusive proof of unjust taxation, but its existence constitutes a separate and independent menace to the prosperity of the people.

This vast accumulation of idle funds represents that much money drawn from the circulating medium of the country which is needed in the channels of trade and business.

It is a great mistake to suppose that the consequences which follow the continual withdrawal and hoarding by the government of the currency of the people are not of immediate importance to the mass of our citizens, and only concerns those engaged in large financial transactions.

In the restless enterprise and activity which free and ready money among the people produces, is found that opportunity for labor and employment and that impetus to business and production, which bring in their train prosperity to our citizens in every station and vocation. New ventures, new investments in business and manufacture, the construction of new and important works, and the enlargement of enterprises already established, depend largely upon obtaining money upon easy terms with fair security; and all these things are stimulated by an abundant volume of circulating medium. Even the harvested grain of the farmer remains without a market, unless money is forthcoming for its movement and transportation to the seaboard.

The first results of a scarcity of money among the people is the exaction of severe terms for its use. Increasing distrust and timidity is followed by a refusal to loan or advance on any terms. Investors refuse all risks and decline all securities, and in a general fright the money still in the hands of the people is persistently hoarded. It is quite apparent that when this perfectly natural, if not inevitable, stage is reached, depression in all business and enterprise will, as a necessary consequence, lessen the opportunity for work and employment, and reduce salaries and the wages of labor.

Instead, then, of being exempt from the influence and effect of an immense surplus lying idle in the National treasury, our wage earners and others who rely upon their labor for support, are most of all directly concerned in the situation. Others seeing the approach of danger may provide against it, but it will find those depending upon their daily toil for bread unprepared, helpless, and defenseless. Such a state of affairs does not present a case of idleness resulting from disputes between the laboring man and his employer, but it produces an absolute and enforced stoppage of employment and wages.

In reviewing the bad effects of this accumulated surplus and the scale of tariff rates by which it is produced, we must not overlook the tendency towards cross and scandalous public extravagance which a congested treasury induces, nor the fact that we are maintaining, without excuse, in a time of profound peace, substantially the rate of tariff duties imposed in time of war, when the necessities of the government justified the imposition of the weightiest burdens upon the people.

Divers plans have been suggested for the return of this accumulated surplus to the people and the channels of trade. Some of these devices are at variance with all rules of good finance; some are delusive, some are absurd, and some betray by their reckless extravagance the demoralizing influence of a great surplus of public money upon the judgments of individuals.

While such efforts should be made as are consistent with public duty and sanctioned by sound judgment, to avoid danger by the useful disposition of the surplus now remaining in the treasury, it is evident that if its distribution were accomplished another accumulation would soon take its place, if the constant flow of redundant income was not checked at its source by a reform in our present tariff laws.

We do not propose to deal with these conditions by merely attempting to satisfy the people of the truth of abstract theories, nor by alone urging their assent to political doctrine. We present to them the propositions that they are unjustly treated in the extent of present federal taxation, that as a result a condition of extreme danger exists, and that it is for them to demand a remedy and that defense and safety promised in the guarantees of their free government.

We believe that the same means which are adopted to relieve the treasury of its present surplus and prevent its recurrence, should cheapen to our people the cost of supplying their daily wants. Both of these objects we seek in part to gain by reducing the present tariff rates upon the necessaries of life.

We fully appreciate the importance to the country of our domestic industrial enterprises. In the rectification of existing wrongs their maintenance and prosperity should be carefully and in a friendly spirit considered. Even such reliance upon present revenue arrangements as have been invited or encouraged should be fairly and justly regarded. Abrupt and radical changes which might endanger such enterprises, and injuriously affect the interests of labor dependent upon their success and continuance, are not contemplated or intended.

But we know the cost of our domestic manufactured products is increased, and their price to the consumer enhanced by the duty imposed upon the raw material used in their manufacture. We know that this increased cost prevents the sale of our productions at foreign markets in competition with those countries which have the advantage of free raw material. We know that confined to a home market our manufacturing operations are curtailed, their demand for labor irregular and the rate of wages paid uncertain.

We propose therefore, to stimulate our domestic industrial enterprises by freeing from duty the imported raw materials which by the employment of labor are used in our home manufactures, thus extending the markets for their sale and permitting an increased and steady production with the allowance of abundant profits.

True to the undeviating course of the Democratic party we will not neglect the interests of labor and our workingmen. In all efforts to remedy existing evils, we will furnish no excuse for the loss of employment or the reduction of the wage of honest toil. On the contrary, we propose in any adjustment of our revenue laws to concede such encouragement and advantage to the employers of domestic labor as will easily compensate for any difference that may exist between the standard of wages which should be paid to our laboring men and the rate allowed in other countries. We propose, too, by extending the markets of our manufacturers to promote the steady employment of labor, while by cheapening the cost of the necessaries of life we increase the purchasing power of the workingman's wages and add to the comforts of his home.

And before passing from this phase of the question I am constrained to express the opinion, that while the interests of labor should be always sedulously guarded in any modification of our tariff laws, an additional and more direct and efficient protection to these interests would be afforded by the restriction and prohibition of the immigration or importation of laborers from other countries, who swarm upon our shores, having no purpose or intent of becoming our fellow-citizens, or acquiring any permanent interest in our country, but who crowd every field of employment with unintelligent labor at wages which ought not to satisfy those who make claim to American citizenship.

The platform adopted by the late National Convention of our party contains the following declaration: "Judged by Democratic principles the interests of the people are betrayed when by unnecessary taxation trusts and combinations are permitted and fostered which while unduly enriching the few that combine, rob the body of our citizens by depriving them as purchasers of the benefits of natural competition."

Such combinations have always been condemned by the Democratic party. The declaration of its National Convention is sincerely made, and no member of our party will be found excusing the existence or belittling the pernicious results of these devices to wrong the people. Under various names they have been punished by the common law for hundreds of years; and they have lost none of their hateful features because they have assumed the name of trusts instead of conspiracies.

We believe that these trusts are the natural offspring of a market artificially restricted; that an inordinately high tariff, beside furnishing the temptation for their existence, enlarges the limit within which they may operate against the people, and thus increases the extent of their power for wrong doing.

With an unalterable hatred of all such schemes we count the checking of their baleful operations among the good results promised by revenue reform.

While we cannot avoid partisan misrepresentation our position upon the question of revenue reform should be so plainly stated as to admit of no misunderstanding.

We have entered upon no crusade of free trade. The reform we seek to inaugurate is predicated upon the utmost care for established industries and enterprises, a jealous regard for the interests of American labor and a sincere desire to relieve the country from the injustice and danger of a condition which threatens evil to all the people of the land.

We are dealing with no imaginary danger. Its existence has been repeatedly confessed by all political parties, and pledges of a remedy have been made on all sides.

Yet, when in the legislative body, where under the Constitution all remedial measures applicable to this subject must originate, the Democratic majority were attempting with extreme moderation to redeem the pledge common to both parties, they were met by determined opposition and obstruction; and, the minority refusing to co-operate in the House of Representatives, or propose another remedy, have remitted the redemption of their party pledge to the doubtful power of the Senate.

The people will hardly be deceived by their abandonment of the field of legislative action to meet in political convention and flippantly declare in their party platform that our conservative and careful effort to relieve the situation is destructive to the American system of protection. Nor will the people be misled by the appeal to prejudice contained in the absurd allegation that we serve the interests of Europe, while they will support the interests of America.

They propose in their platform to thus support the interests of our country by removing the internal revenue tax from tobacco and from spirits used in the arts and for mechanical purposes. They declare also that there should be such a revision of our tariff laws as shall tend to check the importation of such articles as are produced here. Thus in proposing to increase the duties upon such articles to nearly or quite a prohibitory point, they confess themselves willing to travel backward in the road of civilization and to deprive our people of the markets for their goods, which can only be gained and kept by the semblance, at least, of an interchange of business, while they abandon our consumers' to the unrestrained oppression of the domestic trusts and combinations which are in the same platform perfunctorily condemned.

They propose further to release entirely from import duties all articles of foreign production (except luxuries) the like of which cannot be produced in this country. The plain people of the land and the poor, who scarcely use articles of any description produced exclusively abroad and not already free, will find it difficult to dis-

cover where their interests are regarded in this proposition. They need in their homes cheaper domestic necessaries; and this seems to be entirely unprovided for in this proposed scheme to serve the country.

Small compensation for this neglected need is found in the further purpose here announced and covered by the declaration, that if after the changes already mentioned there still remains a larger revenue than is requisite for the wants of the government, the entire internal taxation should be repealed "rather than surrender any part of our protective system."

Our people ask relief from the undue and unnecessary burden of tariff taxation now resting upon them. They are offered instead—free tobacco and free whiskey.

They ask for bread and they are given a stone.

The implication contained in this party declaration that desperate measures are justified or necessary to save from destruction or surrender what is termed our protective system, should confuse no one. The existence of such a system is entirely consistent with the regulation of the extent to which it should be applied and the correction of its abuses.

Of course in a country as great as ours, with such a wonderful variety of interests, often leading in entirely different directions, it is difficult if not impossible to settle upon a perfect tariff plan. But in accomplishing the reform we have entered upon, the necessity of which is so obvious, I believe we should not be content with a reduction of revenue involving the prohibition of importations and the removal of the internal tax upon whisky. It can be better and more safely done within the lines of granting actual relief to the people in their means of living, and at the same time giving an impetus to our domestic enterprises and furthering our national welfare.

If misrepresentations of our purposes and motives are to gain credence and defeat our present effort in this direction, there seems to be no reason why every endeavor in the future to accomplish revenue reform should not be likewise attacked and with like result. And yet no thoughtful man can fail to see in the continuance of the present burdens of the people, and the abstraction by the government of the currency of the country, inevitable distress and disaster. All danger will be averted by timely action. The difficulty of applying the remedy will never be less, and the blame should not be laid at the door of the Democratic party if it is applied too late.

With firm faith in the intelligence and patriotism of our countrymen, and relying upon the conviction that misrepresentation will not influence them, prejudice will not cloud their understanding, and that menace will not intimidate them, let us urge the people's interest and public duty for the vindication of our attempt to inaugurate a righteous and beneficent reform.


Grover Cleveland, Letter to Members of the Notification Committee of the Democratic National Convention Accepting the Presidential Nomination Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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