Franklin D. Roosevelt

Remarks at Fort Peck, Montana.

October 03, 1937

Governor Ayers and, I can almost say, my old friends of Fort Peck, because some of you were here three years ago.

Three years have come and gone and I see a great change. When I was here before, there was just the beginning of a dam and now it is about three-quarters finished.

I have been thrilled by it not only because it is four times bigger than any other earth filled dam in the whole world, but because of what it is going to do for the people of Montana and the whole Missouri Basin.

It is another illustration of what we have been doing in the past three or four years. During that time we have given useful work to millions of unemployed citizens; we have brought water to dry places; we have increased and cheapened the use of electricity; and we have completed literally thousands of projects of immediate usefulness in every county and every state of the Union.

But, most important of all, the Nation as a whole has understood the long-range purpose of our policies. The Nation has understood that we are building for future generations of our children and grandchildren, and that in the greater part of what we have done, the money spent is an investment which will come back a thousandfold in the coming years.

I wish that lots of people could have taken this trip with me out to the Coast and back. I wish in particular that a certain type of citizen could have taken it—the "doubting Thomases."

Not long ago a very important business man of New York City came to see me to talk about the one thing that lay nearest to his heart, the balancing of the budget. Well, I told him I thought it was pretty important, and that we were going to get it balanced next year. Then I asked him if he had ever read the budget. He said, "No." I asked him how much he would save in the coming year if he could and he said, "Oh, two or three billions of dollars." And then came my question which always stumps people of his kind. I said, "Just where would you cut expenses?" He hemmed and hawed, and he hemmed and hawed some more; but he couldn't tell me where he would save money, although he was saying to the Nation, through the newspaper he owned, that it was perfectly simple to do it.

Well, I pressed him on it and finally he said this: "Why, you could save half the cost of relief by putting every family on the dole. Every family that is out of a job or starving, put them on a dole the whole year round. Most important of all, you can stop building, right away, these silly public works like Fort Peck and the Grand Coulee and Bonneville Dam. Stop all this flood control business. Stop all this irrigation business."

When I suggested to him that his program would bring terrific hardship to several million families of Americans, he finally told me what his real philosophy of life was. He said, "All this business of helping people is ruining the country. Look at my taxes. I have to pay half of all my income in Federal and State and local taxes."

I happened to know what that gentleman's income was- four hundred thousand dollars a year. And that "poor" man thought that he was going to the poor house because, after paying his taxes, he only had two hundred thousand dollars a year left.

Well, they are not all like him. Most of the attacks being made on American policies come from people who do not know the United States, come from people who have never been out through the great West, come from people who do not understand the problem, for example, of the drought area. They are people who do not understand the obligation that the governments of the locality and of the state and of the Nation have to try to do everything they possibly can to make possible a decent living for the citizens within their borders.

Yes, they are the kind of people who do not understand when Jim Murray and jim O'Connor come into my office week after week and make perfect nuisances of themselves and say to me, "Mr. President, we have got to have power developed at the Fort Peck Dam." They are the kind of people that say, "Why, there is all the power in the world up there; why add any more to it?" They are the kind of people who cannot understand the interest—my interest, Jim Murray's interest, Jim O'Connor's interest, Jerry O'Connell's interest—in the development of the Yellowstone, of the Milk, of the Gallatin, of the Big Horn and of a lot of other rivers right in this State.

One thing I have always specialized in ever since I started collecting postage stamps at the age of ten years is geography, and especially the geography of the United States. I think I realize, as all of you good people do, that we can do many things, and we are going to do many things, for the preservation of our water out through the dry areas of the country, and in taking people off land where they cannot possibly live and giving them a chance to farm on good land.

That is the kind of policy your Government should have and must follow. I believe that the people, not only of Montana but of every other state in the Union, are appreciative of the fact that we know where we are going and intend to go there.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Remarks at Fort Peck, Montana. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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