Remarks in Raleigh, North Carolina
Fellow citizens, men and women of Raleigh:
I am glad here at the capital of North Carolina to have a chance to greet so many of the sons and daughters of your great State. North Carolina's part in our history has ever been high and honorable. It was in North Carolina that the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence foreshadowed the course taken in a few short months by the representatives of the thirteen colonies assembled in Philadelphia. North Carolina can rightfully say that she pointed us the way which led to the formation of the new Nation. In the Revolution she did many memorable deeds; and the battle of King's Mountain marked the turning point of the Revolutionary war in the South. But I congratulate you not only upon your past, but upon your present. I congratulate you upon the great industrial activity shown in your Commonwealth, an industrial activity which, to mention but one thing, has placed this State second only to one other in the number of its textile factories. You are showing in practical fashion your realization of the truth that there must be a foundation of material well-being in order that any community may make real and rapid progress. And I am happy to say that you are in addition showing in practical fashion your understanding of the great truth that this material well being, though necessary as a foundation, can only be the foundation, and that upon it must be raised the superstructure of a higher life, if the Commonwealth is to stand as it should stand. More and more you are giving care and attention to education; and education means the promotion not only of industry, but of that good citizenship which rests upon individual rights and upon the recognition by each individual that he has duties as well as rights—in other words, of that good citizenship which rests upon moral integrity and intellectual freedom. The man must be decent in his home life, his private life, of course; but this is not by itself enough. The man who fails to be honest and brave both in his political franchise and in his private business contributes to political and social anarchy. Self-government is not an easy thing. Only those communities are fit for it in which the average individual practices the virtue of self-command, of self restraint, of wise disinterestedness combined with wise self-interest; where the individual possesses common sense, honesty and courage.
And now I want to say a word to you on a special subject in which all the country is concerned, but in which North Carolina has a special concern. The preservation of the forests is vital to the welfare of every country. China and the Mediterranean countries offer examples of the terrible effect of deforestation upon the physical geography, and therefore ultimately upon the national well-being, of the nations. One of the most obvious duties which our generation owes to the generations that are to come after us is to preserve the existing forests. The prime difference between civilized and uncivilized peoples is that in civilized peoples each generation works not only for its own well being, but for the well-being of the generations yet unborn, and if we permit the natural resources of this land to be destroyed so that we hand over to our children a heritage diminished in value we thereby prove our unfitness to stand in the forefront of civilized peoples. One of the greatest of these heritages is our forest wealth. It is the upper altitudes of the forested mountains that are most valuable to the Nation as a whole, especially because of their effects upon the water supply. Neither State nor Nation can afford to turn these mountains over to the unrestrained greed of those who would exploit them at the expense of the future. We can not afford to wait longer before assuming control, in the interest of the public, of these forests; for if we do wait, the vested interests of private parties in them may become so strongly intrenched that it may be a most serious as well as a most expensive task to oust them. If the Eastern States are wise, then from the Bay of Fundy to the Gulf we will see, within the next few years, a policy set on foot similar to that so fortunately carried out in the high Sierras of the West by the National Government. All the higher Appalachians should be reserved, either by the States or by the Nation. I much prefer that they should be put under National control, but it is a mere truism to say that they will not be reserved either by the States or by the Nation unless you people of the South show a strong interest therein.
Such reserves would be a paying investment, not only in protection to many interests, but in dollars and cents to the Government. The importance to the Southern people of protecting the Southern mountain forests is obvious. These forests are the best defense against the floods which, in the recent past, have, during a single twelvemonth, destroyed property officially valued at nearly twice what it would cost to buy the Southern Appalachian Reserve. The maintenance of your Southern water powers is not less important than the prevention of floods, because if they are injured your manufacturing interests will suffer with them. The perpetuation of your forests, which have done so much for the South, should be one of the first objects of your public men. The two Senators from North Carolina have taken an honorable part in this movement. But I do not think that the people of North Carolina, or of any other Southern State, have quite grasped the importance of this movement to the commercial development and prosperity of the South.
The position of honor in your parade today is held by the Confederate veterans. They by their deeds reflect credit upon their descend ants and upon all Americans, both because they did their duty in war and because they did their duty in peace. Now if the young men, their sons, will not only prove that they possess the same power of fealty to an ideal, but will also show the efficiency in the ranks of industrial life that their fathers, the Confederate veterans, showed that they possessed in the ranks of war, the industrial future of this great and typically American Commonwealth is assured.
The extraordinary development of industrialism during the last half century has been due to several causes, but above all to the revolution in the methods of transportation and communication; that is, to steam and to electricity, to the railroad and the telegraph.
When this Government was founded commerce was carried on by essentially the same instruments that had been in use not only among civilized, but among barbarian, nations, ever since history dawned; that is, by wheeled vehicles drawn by animals, by pack trains, and by sailing ships and rowboats. On land this meant that commerce went in slow, cumbrous, and expensive fashion over highways open to all. Normally these highways could not compete with water transportation, if such was feasible between the connecting points.
All this has been changed by the development of the railroads. Save on the ocean or on lakes so large as to be practically inland seas, transport by water has wholly lost its old position of superiority over transport by land, while instead of the old highways open to everyone, there are private ways—railroads—which are owned by private corporations, and which are practically. of unlimited, instead of limited, useful ness. The old laws and old customs which are adequate and proper to meet the old conditions need radical readjustment in order to meet these new conditions. The cardinal features in these changed conditions are, first, the fact that the new highway, the railway, is, from the commercial standpoint, of infinitely greater importance in our industrial life than was the old highway, the wagon road; and, second, that this new high way, the railway, is in the hands of private owners, whereas the old highway, the wagon road, was in the hands of the State. The management of the new highway, the railroad, or rather of the intricate web of railroad lines which cover the country, is a task infinitely more difficult, more delicate, and more important than the primitively easy task of acquiring or keeping in order the old highway; so that there is properly no analogy whatever between the two cases. I do not believe in government ownership of anything which can with propriety be left in private hands, and in particular I should most strenuously object to government ownership of railroads. But I believe with equal firmness that it is out of the question for the Government not to exercise a supervisory and regulatory right over the railroads; for it is vital to the well-being of the public that they should be managed in a spirit of fairness and justice toward all the public. Actual experience has shown that it is not possible to leave the railroads uncontrolled. Such a system, or rather such a lack of system, is fertile in abuses of every kind, and puts a premium upon unscrupulous and ruthless cunning in railroad management; for there are some big shippers and some railroad managers who are always willing to take unfair advantage of their weaker competitors, and they thereby force other big shippers and big railroad men who would like to do decently into similar acts of wrong and injustice, under penalty of being left behind in the race for success. Government supervision is needed quite as much in the interest of the big shipper and of the railroad man who want to do right as in the interest of the small shipper and the consumer.
Experience has shown that the present laws are defective and need amendment. The effort to prohibit all restraint of competition, whether reasonable or unreasonable, is unwise. What we need is to have some administrative body with ample power to forbid combination that is hurtful to the public, and to prevent favoritism to one individual at the expense of another. In other words, we want an administrative body with the power to secure fair and just treatment as among all shippers who use the railroads—and all shippers have a right to use them. We must not leave the enforcement of such a law merely to the Department of Justice; it is out of the question for the law department of the Government to do what should be purely administrative work. The Department of Justice is to stand behind and co-operate with the administrative body but the administrative body itself must be given the power to do the work and then held to a strict accountability for the exercise of that power. The delays of the law are proverbial, but what we need in this matter is reasonable quickness of action.
The abuses of which we have a genuine right to complain take many shapes. Rebates are not now often given openly. But they can be given just as effectively in covert form; and private cars, terminal tracks and the like must be brought under the control of the commission or administrative body, which is to exercise supervision by the Government. But in my judgment the most important thing to do is to give to this administrative body power to make its findings effective, and this can be done only by giving it power, when complaint is made of a given rate as being unjust or unreasonable, if it finds the complaint proper, then itself to fix a maximum rate which it regards as just and reasonable, this rate to go into effect practically at once, that is within a reasonable time, and to stay in effect, unless reversed by the courts. I earnestly hope that we shall see a law giving this power passed by Congress. Moreover, I hope that by law power will be conferred upon representatives of the Government capable of performing the duty of public accountants carefully to examine into the books of railroads, when so ordered by the Interstate Commerce Commission, which should itself have power to prescribe what books, and what books only, should be kept by railroads. If there is in the minds of the Commission any suspicion that a certain railroad is in any shape or way giving rebates or behaving improperly, I wish the Commission to have power as a matter of right, not as a matter of favor, to make a full and exhaustive investigation of the receipts and expenditures of the railroad, so that any violation or evasion of the law may be detected. This is not a revolutionary proposal on my part, for I only wish the same power given in reference to railroads that is now exercised as a matter of course by the national bank examiners as regards national banks. My object in giving these additional powers to the administrative body representing the Government–the Interstate Commerce Commission, or whatever it may be—is primarily to secure a real and not a sham control to the Government representatives. The American people abhor a sham, and with this abhorrence I cordially sympathize. Nothing is more injurious from every stand point than a law which is merely sound and fury, merely pretense, and not capable of working out tangible results. I hope to see all the power that I think it ought to have granted to the Government; but I would far rather see only some of it granted, but really granted, than see a pretense of granting all, in some shape that really amounts to nothing.
It must be understood, as a matter of course, that if this power is granted it is to be exercised with wisdom and caution and self restraint. The Interstate Commerce Commissioner or other Government official who failed to protect a railroad that was in the right against any clamor, no matter how violent, on the part of the public, would be guilty of as gross a wrong as if he corruptly rendered an improper service to the railroad at the expense of the public. When I say a square deal I mean a square deal; exactly as much a square deal for the rich man as for the poor man; but no more. Let each stand on his merits, receive what is due him, and be judged according to his deserts. To more he is not entitled, and less he shall not have.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks in Raleigh, North Carolina Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343632