Remarks in Minneapolis, Minnesota
My fellow citizens:
At the special session of the Senate held in March the Cuban reciprocity treaty was ratified. When this treaty goes into effect, it will confer substantial economic benefits alike upon Cuba, because of the widening of her market in the United States, and upon the United States, because of the equal widening and the progressive control it will give to our people in the Cuban market. This treaty is beneficial to both parties and justifies itself on several grounds. In the first place we offer to Cuba her natural market. We can confer upon her a benefit which no other nation can confer; and for the very reason that we have started her as an independent republic and that we are rich, prosperous and powerful, it behooves us to stretch out a helping hand to our feebler younger sister. In the next place, it widens the market for our products, both the products of the farm and certain of our manufactures; and it is therefore in the interests of our farmers, manufacturers, merchants, and wage-workers. Finally, the treaty was not merely warranted but demanded, apart from all other considerations, by the enlightened consideration of our foreign policy. More and more in the future we must occupy a preponderant position in the waters and along the coasts in the region south of us; not a position of control over the republics of the south, but of control of the military situation so as to avoid any possible complications in the future. Under the Platt amendment Cuba agreed to give us certain naval stations on her coast. The Navy Department decided that we needed but two, and we have specified where these two are to be. President Palma has concluded an agreement giving them to us— an agreement which the Cuban legislative body will doubtless soon ratify. In other words, the Republic of Cuba has assumed a special relation to our international political system, under which she gives us outposts of defense, and we are morally bound to extend to her in a degree the benefit of our own economic system. From every standpoint of wise and enlightened home and foreign policy the ratification of the Cuban treaty marked a step of substantial progress in the growth of our nation toward greatness at home and abroad.
Equally important was the action on the tariff upon products of the Philippines. We gave them a reduction of twenty-five per cent, and would have given them a reduction of twenty-five per cent more had it not been for the opposition, in the hurried closing days of the last session, of certain gentlemen who, by the way, have been representing themselves both as peculiarly solicitous for the interests of the Philippine people and as special champions of the lowering of tariff duties. There is a distinctly humorous side to the fact that the reduction of duties which would benefit Cuba and the Philippines as well as ourselves was antagonized chiefly by those who in theory have been fond of proclaiming themselves the advanced guardians of the oppressed nationalities in the islands affected and the ardent advocates of the reduction of duties generally, but who instantly took violent ground against the practical steps to accomplish either purpose.
Moreover, a law was enacted putting anthracite on the free list and completely removing the duties on all other kinds of coal for one year.
We are now in a condition of prosperity unparalleled not merely in our own history but in the history of any other nation. This prosperity is deep rooted and stands on a firm basis because it is due to the fact that the average American has in him the stuff out of which victors are made in the great industrial contests of the present day, just as in the great military contests of the past; and because he is now able to use and develop his qualities to best advantage under our well-established economic system. We are winning headship among the nations of the world because our people are able to keep their high average of individual citizenship and to show their mastery in the hard, complex, pushing life of the age. There will be fluctuations from time to time in our prosperity, but it will continue to grow just so long as we keep up this high average of individual citizenship and permit it to work out its own salvation under proper economic legislation.
The present phenomenal prosperity has been won under a tariff which was made in accordance with certain fixed and definite principles, the most important of which is an avowed determination to protect the interests of the American producer, business man, wage worker, and farmer alike. The general tariff policy, to which, without regard to changes in detail, I believe this country is irrevocably committed, is fundamentally based upon ample recognition of the difference between the cost of production—that is, the cost of labor here and abroad, and of the need to see to it that our laws shall in no event afford advantage in our own market to foreign industries over American industries, to foreign capital over American capital, to foreign labor over our own labor. This country has and this country needs better-paid, better—educated, better-fed, and better-clothed workingmen, of a higher type, than are to be found in any foreign country. It has and it needs a higher, more vigorous, and more prosperous type of tillers of the soil than is possessed by any other country. The businessmen, the merchants and manufacturers, and the managers of the transportation interests show the same superiority when compared with men of their type abroad. The events of the last few years have shown how skillfully the leaders of American industry use in international business competition the mighty industrial weapons forged for them by the resources of our country, the wisdom of our laws, and the skill, the inventive genius, and the administrative capacity of our people.
It is, of course, a mere truism to say that we want to use every thing in our power to foster the welfare of our entire body politic. In other words, we need to treat the tariff as a business proposition, from the standpoint of the interests of the country as a whole, and not with reference to the temporary needs of any political party. It is almost as necessary that our policy should be stable as that it should be wise. A nation like ours could not long stand the ruinous policy of readjusting its business to radical changes in the tariff at short intervals, especially when, as now, owing to the immense extent and variety of our products, the tariff schedules carry rates of duty on thousands of different articles. Sweeping and violent changes in such a tariff, touching so vitally the interests of all of us, embracing agriculture, labor, manufactures, and commerce, would be disastrous in any event, and they would be fatal to our present well-being if approached on the theory that the principle of the protective tariff was to be abandoned. The business world, that is, the entire American world, cannot afford, if it has any regard for its own welfare, even to consider the advisability of abandoning the present system.
Yet, on the other hand, where the industrial conditions so frequently change, as with us must of necessity be the case, it is a matter of prime importance that we should be able from time to time to adapt our economic policy to the changed conditions. Our aim should be to preserve the policy of a protective tariff, in which the Nation as a whole has acquiesced, and yet wherever and whenever necessary to change the duties in particular paragraphs or schedules as matters of legislative detail, if such change is demanded by the interests of the Nation as a whole.
In making any readjustment there are certain important considerations which cannot be disregarded. If a tariff law has on the whole worked well, and if business has prospered under it and is prospering, it may be better to endure some inconveniences and inequalities for a time than by making changes to risk causing disturbance and perhaps paralysis in the industries and business of the country. The fact that the change in a given rate of duty may be thought desirable does not settle the question whether it is advisable to make the change immediately. Every tariff deals with duties on thousands of articles arranged in hundreds of paragraphs and in many schedules. These duties affect a vast number of interests which are often conflicting. If necessary for our welfare, then of course Congress must consider the question of changing the law as a whole or changing any given rates of duty, but we must remember that whenever even a single schedule is considered some interests will appear to demand a change in almost every schedule in the law; and when it comes to upsetting the schedules generally the effect upon the business interests of the whole country would be ruinous.
One point we must steadily keep in mind. The question of tariff revision, speaking broadly, stands wholly apart from the question of dealing with the trusts. No change in tariff duties can have any substantial effect in solving the so-called trust problem. Certain great trusts or great corporations are wholly unaffected by the tariff. Practically all the others that are of any importance have as a matter of fact numbers of smaller American competitors; and of course a change in the tariff which would work injury to the large corporation would work not merely injury but destruction to its smaller competitors; and equally of course such a change would mean disaster to all the wage-workers connected with either the large or the small corporations. From the standpoint of those interested in the solution of the trust problem such a change would therefore merely mean that the trust was relieved of the competition of its weaker American competitors, and thrown only into competition with foreign competitors; and that the first effort to meet this new competition would be made by cutting down wages, and would therefore be primarily at the cost of labor. In the case of some of our greatest trusts such a change might confer upon them a positive benefit. Speaking broadly, it is evident that the changes in the tariff will affect the trusts for weal or for woe simply as they affect the whole country. The tariff affects trusts only as it affects all other interests. It makes all these interests, large or small, profitable; and its benefits can be taken from the large only under penalty of taking them from the small also.
To sum up, then, we must as a people approach a matter of such prime economic importance as the tariff from the standpoint of our business needs. We cannot afford to become fossilized or to fail to recognize the fact that as the needs of the country change it may be necessary to meet these new needs by changing certain features of our tariff laws. Still less can we afford to fail to recognize the further fact that these changes must not be made until the need for them outweighs the disadvantages which may result; and when it be comes necessary to make them they should be made with full recognition of the need of stability in our economic system and of keeping unchanged the principle of that system which has now become a settled policy in our national life. We have prospered marvelously at home. As a nation we stand in the very forefront in the giant international industrial competition of the day. We cannot afford by any freak or folly to forfeit the position to which we have thus triumphantly attained.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks in Minneapolis, Minnesota Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343408