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Message to Congress

April 07, 1897

To the Senate and House of Representatives:

Information which has recently come to me from the governors of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana, and from prominent citizens of these States and Tennessee, warrants the conclusion that widespread distress, involving the destruction of a large amount of property and loss of human life, has resulted from the floods which have submerged that section of the country. These are stated, on reliable authority, to be the most destructive floods that have ever devastated the Mississippi Valley, the water being much higher than the highest stage it has reached before. From Marion, Ark., north of Memphis, to Greenville, Miss., a distance of more than 250 miles by river, it is reported there are now at least fifty towns and villages under water, and a territory extending from 100 miles north of Memphis to 200 miles south, and from 5 to 40 miles wide, is submerged. Hundreds of thousands of acres of cultivated soil, with growing crops, are included in the submerged territory. In this section alone there are from 50,000 to 60,000 people whose property has been destroyed and whose business has been suspended. Growing crops have been ruined, thousands of cattle have been drowned, and the inhabitants of certain areas threatened with starvation. As a great majority of the sufferers are small farmers, they have thus been left entirely destitute, and will be unprepared for work even after the floods have subsided.

The entire Mississippi Valley in Arkansas is flooded and communication with many points cut off. In Mississippi a like condition exists. The levees in Louisiana, with a single exception, have held; but the water is rising and the situation there is reported as being extremely critical.

Under such circumstances the citizens of these States look for the co-operation and support of the National Government in relieving the pressing cases of destitution for food, clothing, and shelter, which are beyond the reach of local efforts. The authorities who have communicated with the Executive recognize that their first and most energetic duty is to provide as far as possible the means of caring for their own citizens; but nearly all of them agree in the opinion that after their resources have been exhausted a sum aggregating at least $150,000 and possibly $200,000 will be required for immediate use.

Precedents are not wanting that in such emergencies as this Congress has taken prompt, generous, and intelligent action, involving the expenditure of considerable sums of money, with satisfactory results. In 1874 $590,000 was appropriated, and in 1882 $350,000 was also appropriated for relief in same direction, besides large sums in other years.

The citizens' relief committee of Memphis has taken prompt action, has already cared for from 6,000 to 7,000 refugees from the flooded districts, and they are still arriving in that city in large numbers daily. Supplies and provisions have been sent to the various points in Arkansas and Mississippi by this committee, but the utmost that can be done by these efforts is to partly relieve the most acute cases of suffering. No action has yet been taken for the great majority of the inhabitants living in the interior, whose condition has already been described.

Under these conditions and having exerted themselves to the fullest extent, the local authorities have reluctantly confessed their inability to further cope with this distressing situation unaided by relief from the Government. It has therefore seemed to me that the representatives of the people should be promptly informed of the nature and extent of the suffering and needs of these stricken people, and I have communicated these facts in the hope and belief that the legislative branch of the Government will promptly re-enforce the work of the local authorities in the States named.


William McKinley, Message to Congress Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/205726

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