Remarks in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
There are many, many lesser problems which go to make up in their entirety the huge and complex problems of our modern industrial life. Each of these problems is, moreover, connected with many of the others. Few indeed are simple or stand only by themselves. The most important are those connected with the relation of the farmers, the stock growers and soil tillers, to the community at large, and those affecting the relations between employer and employed. In a country like ours it is fundamentally true that the well-being of the tiller of the soil and the wage-worker is the well-being of the State. If they are well off, then we need concern ourselves but little as to how other classes stand, for they will inevitably be well off too; and, on the other hand, there can be no real general prosperity unless based on the foundation of the prosperity of the wage-worker and the tiller of the soil.
But the needs of these two classes are often not the same. The tiller of the soil has been of all our citizens the one, on the whole, the least affected in his ways of life and methods of industry by the giant industrial changes of the last half century. There has been change with him, too, of course. He also can work to best advantage if he keeps in close touch with his fellows; and the success of the national Department of Agriculture has shown how much can be done for him by rational action of the Government. Nor is it only through the Department that the Government can act. One of the greatest and most beneficent measures passed by the last Congress, or indeed by any Congress in recent years, is the Irrigation Act, which will do for the States of the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountain region at least as much as ever has been done for the States of the humid region by river and harbor improvements. Few measures that have been put upon the statute books of the Nation have done more for the people than this law will, I firmly believe, directly and indirectly accomplish for the States in question.
The Department of Agriculture devotes its whole energy to working for the welfare of farmers and stock growers. In every section of our country it aids them in their constantly increasing search for a better agricultural education. It helps not only them, but all the nation, in seeing that our exports of meats have clean bills of health, and that there is rigid inspection of all meats that enter into interstate commerce. Thirty—eight million carcasses were inspected during the last fiscal year. Our stock growers sell forty—five million dollars' worth of live stock annually, and these animals must be kept healthy or else our people will lose their trade. Our export of plant products to foreign countries amounts to over six hundred million dollars a year, and there is no branch of its work to which the Department of Agriculture devotes more care. Thus the Department has been successfully introducing a macaroni wheat from the headwaters of the Volga, which grows successfully in ten inches of rainfall, and by this means wheat growing has been successfully extended westward into the semi-arid region. Two million bushels of this wheat were grown last year; and being suited to dry conditions it can be used for forage as well as for food for man.
The Department of Agriculture has been helping our fruit men to establish markets abroad by studying methods of fruit preservation through refrigeration and through methods of handling and packing. On the Gulf coasts of Louisiana and Texas, thanks to the Department of Agriculture, a rice suitable to the region was imported from the Orient and the rice crop is now practically equal to our needs in this country, whereas a few years ago it supplied but one-fourth of them. The most important of our farm products is the grass crop; and to show what has been done with grasses, I need only allude to the striking change made in the entire West by the extended use of alfalfa.
Moreover, the Department has taken the lead in the effort to prevent the deforestation of the country. Where there are forests we seek to preserve them; and on the once treeless plains and the prairies we are doing our best to foster the habit of tree planting among our people. In my own lifetime I have seen wonderful changes brought about by this tree planting here in your own State and in the States immediately around it.
There are a number of very important questions, such as that of good roads, with which the States alone can deal, and where all that the National Government can do is to co-operate with them. The same is true of the education of the American farmer. A number of the States have themselves started to help in this work and the Department of Agriculture does an immense amount which is in the proper sense of the world educational, and educational in the most practical way.
It is therefore clearly true that a great advance has been made in the direction of finding ways by which the Government can help the farmer to help himself—the only kind of help which a self-respecting man will accept, or, I may add, which will in the end do him any good. Much has been done in these ways, and farm life and farm processes continually change for the better. The farmer himself still retains, because of his surroundings and the nature of his work, to a preeminent degree the qualities which we like to think of as distinctly American in considering our early history. The man who tills his own farm, whether on the prairie or in the woodland, the man who grows what we eat and the raw material which is worked up into what we wear, still exists more nearly under the conditions which obtained when the "embattled farmers" of '76 made this country a nation than is true of any others of our people.
But the wage-workers in our cities, like the capitalists in our cities, face totally changed conditions. The development of machinery and the extraordinary change in business conditions have rendered the employment of capital and of persons in large aggregations not merely profitable but often necessary for success, and have specialized the labor of the wage-worker at the same time that they have brought great aggregations of wage-workers together. More and more in our great industrial centres men have come to realize that they cannot live as independently of one another as in the old days was the case everywhere, and as is now the case in the country districts.
Of course, fundamentally each man will yet find that the chief factor in determining his success or failure in life is the sum of his own individual qualities. He cannot afford to lose his individual initiative, his individual will and power; but he can best use that power if for certain objects he unites with his fellows. Much can be done by organization, combination, union among the wage-workers; finally something can be done by the direct action of the State. It is not possible empirically to declare when the interference of the State should be deemed legitimate and when illegitimate.
The line of demarcation between unhealthy over-interference and unhealthy lack of regulation is not always well defined, and shifts with the change in our industrial needs. Most certainly we should never invoke the interference of the State or Nation unless it is absolutely necessary; but it is equally true that when confident of its necessity we should not on academic grounds refuse it. Wise factory laws, laws to forbid the employment of child labor and to safeguard the employees against the effects of culpable negligence by the employer, are necessary, not merely in the interest of the wage-worker, but in the interest of the honest and humane employer, who should not be penalized for his honesty and humanity by being exposed to unchecked competition with an unscrupulous rival. It is far more difficult to deal with the greed that works through cunning than with the greed that works through violence. But the effort to deal with it must be steadily made.
Very much of our effort in reference to labor matters should be by every device and expedient to try to secure a constantly better understanding between employer and employee. Everything possible should be done to increase the sympathy and fellow—feeling between them, and every chance taken to allow each to look at all questions, especially at questions in dispute, somewhat through the other's eyes. If met with a sincere desire to act fairly by one another, and if there is, furthermore, power by each to appreciate the other's standpoint, the chance for trouble is minimized. I suppose every thinking man rejoices when by mediation or arbitration it proves possible to settle troubles in time to avert the suffering and bitterness caused by strikes.. Moreover, a conciliation committee can do best work when the trouble is in its beginning, or at least has not come to a head. When the break has actually occurred, damage has been done, and each side feels sore and angry; and it is difficult to get them together—difficult to make either forget its own wrongs and remember the rights of the other. If possible the effort at conciliation or mediation or arbitration should be made in the earlier stages, and should be marked by the wish on the part of both sides to try to come to a common agreement which each shall think in the interests of the other as well as of itself.
When we deal with such a subject we are fortunate in having before us an admirable object-lesson in the work that has just been closed by the Anthracite Coal Strike Commission. This was the commission which was appointed last fall at the time when the coal strike in the anthracite regions threatened our Nation with a disaster second to none which has befallen us since the days of the Civil War. Their report was made just before the Senate adjourned at the special session; and no Government document of recent years marks a more important piece of work better done, and there is none which teaches sounder social morality to our people. The commission consisted of seven as good men as were to be found in the country, representing the bench, the church, the army, the professions, the employers, and the employed.
They acted as a unit, and the report which they unanimously signed is a masterpiece of sound common-sense and of sound doctrine on the · very questions with which our people should most deeply concern them selves. The immediate effect of this commission' s appointment and action was of vast and incalculable benefit to the Nation; but the ultimate effect will be even better, if capitalist, wage-worker, and law maker alike will take to heart and act upon the lessons set forth in the report they have made.
Of course the National Government has but a small field in which it can work in labor matters. Something it can do, however, and that something ought to be done. Among other things I should like to see the District of Columbia, which is completely under the control of the National Government, receive a set of model labor laws. Washing ton is not a city of very large industries, but still it has some. Wise labor legislation for the city of Washington would be a good thing in itself, and it would be a far better thing, because a standard would thereby be set for the country as a whole.
In the field of general legislation relating to these subjects the action of Congress is necessarily very limited. Still there are certain ways in which we can act. Thus the Secretary of the Navy has recommended, with my cordial and hearty approval, the enactment of a strong employers'-liability law in the navy yards of the Nation. It should be extended to similar branches of the Government work. Again, sometimes such laws can be enacted as an incident to the Nation's control over interstate commerce. In my last annual Message to Congress I advocated the passage of a law in reference to car couplings—to strengthen the features of the one already on the statute books so as to minimize the exposure to death and maiming of railway employees. Much opposition had to be overcome. In the end an admirable law was passed "to promote the safety of employees and travelers upon railroads by compelling common carriers engaged in inter—state commerce to equip their cars with automatic couplers and continuous brakes and their locomotives with driving-wheel brakes." This law received my signature a couple of days before Congress adjourned. It represents a real and substantial advance in an admirable kind of legislation.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks in Sioux Falls, South Dakota Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343409