Benjamin Harrison photo

Message to the House of Representatives Returning Without Approval a Bill to Authorize the Construction of an Addition to the Public Building in Dallas, Texas

April 29, 1890

To the House of Representatives:

I return without my approval the bill (H.R. 848) "to authorize the construction of an addition to the public building in Dallas, Tex."

The bill authorizes the construction of a wing or addition to the present public building at a cost of $200,000. I find that the bill as originally introduced by the member representing the Congressional district in which Dallas is situated fixed $100,000 as the limit of the proposed expenditure, and it was so reported from the Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds after conferring with the Supervising Architect of the Treasury. A bill of the same tenor was introduced in the Senate by one of the Senators from that State, fixing the same limit of expenditure.

The public building at Dallas, for which a first appropriation of $75,000 was made in 1882, subsequently increased to $125,000, was only completed in 1889. It is probably inadequate now to the convenient transaction of business, chiefly in that part assigned to the Post-office Department The material and architectural style of any addition are fixed by the present building and its ground area by the available unoccupied space, as no provision is made for buying additional ground. The present building is 85 by 56 feet, and Mr. John S. Witwer, the postmaster and the custodian of the building, writing to the Supervising Architect, advises that to meet the present and prospective needs of the Government an addition at least two-thirds as large as the present building should be provided. It will be seen from the following extract from a letter of the Supervising Architect to the chairman of the Senate Committee on public Buildings and Grounds, dated February 17, 1890, that a building larger than that suggested can be erected within the limit of $100,000. He says:

From computations made in this office based upon data received it is found that an extension or wing about 40 by 85 feet in dimensions, three stories high, with basement, giving 3,400 square feet, in addition to the 4,760 square feet of the first-floor area of the building, of fireproof construction, can be erected on the present site within the limit of cost proposed by said bill, namely, $100,000.

It may be possible that an expenditure of $325,000 for a public building at Dallas, if the questions of site, material, and architecture were all undetermined, could be defended, but under existing conditions I do not see how an appropriation of $200,000 can be justified when one-half that sum is plainly adequate to such relief as the present site allows.

The legislation for the erection of public buildings has not proceeded, so far as I can trace it, upon any general rules. Neither population nor the extent of the public business transacted has always indicated the points where public buildings should first be built or the cost of the structures. It can not be expected that, in the absence of some general law, the committees of Congress having charge of such matters will proceed in their recommendations upon strict or equal lines. The bills are individual, and if comparisons are attempted the necessary element of probable future growth is made to cover all apparent inequalities. It will be admitted, I am sure, that only a public need should suggest the expenditure of the public money, and that if all such needs can not be at once supplied the most general and urgent should have the preference.

I am not unfriendly to a liberal annual expenditure for the erection of public buildings where the safe and convenient transaction of the public business demands it and the state of the revenues will permit. It would be wiser, in my opinion, to build more and less costly houses and to fix by general law the amount of the annual expenditure for this purpose and some order of preference between the cities asking for public buildings.

But in view of the pending legislation looking to a very large reduction of our revenues and of the urgency and necessity of a large increase in our expenditures in certain directions, I am of the opinion that appropriations for. the erection of public buildings and all kindred expenditures should be kept at the minimum until the effect of other probable legislation can be accurately measured.

The erection of a public building is largely a matter of local interest and convenience, while expenditures for enlarged relief and recognition to the soldiers and sailors of the war for the preservation of the Union, for necessary coast defenses, and for the extension of our commerce with other American States are of universal interest and involve considerations, not of convenience, but of justice, honor, safety, and general prosperity.


APP Note: Title devised by Gerhard Peters

Benjamin Harrison, Message to the House of Representatives Returning Without Approval a Bill to Authorize the Construction of an Addition to the Public Building in Dallas, Texas Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



Simple Search of Our Archives