William Howard Taft

Remarks at the Auditorium in Richmond, Virginia

November 10, 1909

Mr. Mayor, Governor Swanson, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It has been my good fortune to be welcomed to Virginia a number of times by your distinguished Governor, and I can not fail to express to him the gratitude I really feel toward him for making me always at home on Virginia soil. I congratulate you on having such a Governor, and now that he is for the moment to retire to private life, I hope that all success and prosperity may follow him there. I am quite sure that Virginia knows a good thing when it sees it, and that the leisure which he deserves will not be drawn out too long.

I am also indebted to the presence here of the young men of the Virginia Military Institute. I congratulate them on the military appearance that they present as they march along the streets between their admiring fellow citizens of Virginia. I am glad to say that as Secretary of War I came to know that we depend on the Virginia Military Institute as one of two great institutions to furnish to us officers when exigency and the danger to the Government should occur and require us to call for men skilled in arms, and that they have always shown in the attention to duty, in their soldierly bearing, in the high ideals they preserve, the type and character and ideals set for them by Stonewall Jackson, for whom they entertain, as well they may, the highest respect and the fondest memory.

This, my friends of Virginia, is the last speech I shall make swinging around the circle. I do not know whether you feel glad about it, but I do.

I am glad to be here in Virginia. I feel a certain sort of pride in the fact that I was the only Republican candidate for President who ever ventured in a canvass for the Presidency to address a Virginia audience, and while the result may not have been of such favor as to induce the gentleman who follows me to attempt it again, it proves what I knew was the case, that I could have in Virginia most courteous attention and a most respectful and tolerant hearing.

I left Boston or Beverly on the 14th of September, and I have been travelling and talking and talking and travelling ever since. I have visited and talked to and seen the people of twenty-six States and two Territories. And I think I know something about the United States. One fact that has impressed itself upon me from beginning to end is the spirit of hopefulness, of contentment, of energy, and of enterprise that there is in every corner of this great country, and that spirit is not alone in those States that are full of fertile fields as you see them from the car window, but that spirit prevails in States in which the expanse of the most God-forsaken country man ever looked upon is great and discouraging. But they have been there long enough to know that if they can only catch the water as it falls from the sky and guide it to the soil that looks so forbidding, it will blossom as the rose and bring forth products fourfold what can be cultivated and brought forth in States where they have continuous rain. And so it is that they feel that while the outlook is apparently one of a desert and most discouraging, they have a great advantage over those of us that plod along with the rain from the skies in the somewhat slow and hardly enterprising East. Now when we have those conditions prevailing in the most discouraging part of the country, may we not say that the prospect before us, made necessarily hopeful by the spirit of the inhabitants, is such that we may all be thankful for it ?

Another fact that drives itself home in respect to every audience one addresses is the fact that we are all Americans and very much alike. I could if I heard a man pronounce the word "south" or the word "door" or the word "shore" tell fairly well whether he came from the south or north of Mason and Dixon's line. But with that exception, if I could not hear what he said and could only look upon the crowd, as it is, I could not tell whether the audience came from Washington State, from Boston, from California, from the Middle West or from the South. The women's hats are exactly alike, and a mournful husband on my right suggests that they cost as much.

We have taken millions of foreigners into our civilization, but we have amalgamated them, and with the spirit of our free institutions and the energy of our civilization we have made them all Americans. We have bred to a type, and that type is Americanism, a type that commends itself to us as having the highest ideals and the greatest potentiality for elevation of a country and the individual that the world has ever seen.

Now during all this time of sixty days there has been a moment or two of deliberation, and during that time I have been studying what is it the duty of an Executive to recommend to an incoming Congress in respect to future legislation; and when I think of the number of things that Congress ought to do, I am staggered lest it may not find the time to do them.

In the first place there is the conservation of our resources, the reclamation of arid lands. We have reached a time now where a great many people in the West are counting on an immediate supply of water for the land upon which they have sett led, which is not forthcoming because the money applied to the reclamation fund does not come in as quickly as expected, or at least quickly enough to meet the exigency of the occasion. I am strongly in favor of anticipating that fund which is a fund raised solely by the sale of public lands, by the issuing of bonds, the payment of which shall be charged to the same source of revenue. That will bring about quickly a change in respect to the arid lands and with respect to the projects already announced by the Reclamation Bureau, so that nobody shall be deceived, and the work which is a work of primary importance shall go on. The truth is, my dear friends, that we are finding that in spite of our enormous domain, in spite of its great productivity, the demand for the products of the soil is greater because of the growing population than the supply under existing circumstances, and we must enlarge our acreage in one way or another, and the plain way seems by reclamation through the application of water to land heretofore a desert and by draining those lands which have heretofore been swamp. Those lands when brought into productivity will yield far more than the lands already under natural tillage. Then we have a great deal of valuable coal land owned by the Government. We have a great many water-power sites, the water power of which will furnish an immense amount of power for use by electrical appliances. Then there are millions of acres of phosphate to be used in the fertilization of the soil. Under existing laws those lands are likely to be parted with merely under a homestead settlement. They are of such peculiar value that it seems wiser that the Government should receive some control over the water-power sites and the coal lands and the phosphates so that they may not come into the hands of one controlling corporation, but may be retained by the Government, with the power to restrict the prices at which the coal, or at least at which the power is sold, to prevent the absorption into one command of all the power on the continent. Just how the problem is to be worked out it is difficult to state, and certainly I would not attempt to stale it here, but generous as we have been in the past with respect to mineral lands and the lands which can enjoy water power, we ought now to end that generosity and preserve those things that the Government still owns, in order that hereafter with a much more careful hand we may grant them for useful development.

Then we have the anti-trust law on our hands for enforcement, and the arrangement of the departments of the Government in such a way as to make it more effective if possible.

Then there is the interstate commerce law which certainly needs amendment in order to give the Interstate Commerce tribunal more power to prevent the delays which are now incident to appeals to the courts. In my judgment, the best way is to create a special court and have a court that is charged with the knowledge and practice in regard to railroads, so that the matter can be promptly disposed of.

Then I am strongly in favor of a postal savings bank. I know that in that proposition I come up against a great many conservative bankers, and also of a great many who view with doubt the wisdom of extending paternalism in the Government, but I venture to think that a project ought not to be condemned merely by calling it paternal. We have got beyond the laissez-faire doctrine in our Government; and where it happens that the Government is so situated that it can do a thing better than individuals can do it, can do it more economically than individuals can do it, and can supply a want for a means of thrift, I am in favor of its doing it.

The monetary reform is under consideration by a commission. When they will reach a conclusion I do not know. If there ever was a subject-matter that created differences of opinion, it is the question of how to treat our monetary and banking matters. Every man has a different theory, and with every man having a different theory we don't get any farther, but I am hopeful that the Commission may present the conditions that exist here and the conditions as they exist in Europe, and in this way point out to us some steps that may be taken to reform what is certainly to-day nothing but a patchwork.

Then there is another subject that is very near to my heart. I have been a judge, and legal procedure is a subject I know something about. We must improve our legal procedure so as to make it both in criminal and civil cases more simple, more rapid and less expensive, and I mean to recommend to Congress the appointment of a commission to take that subject up with respect to the Federal procedure; and then if by the Federal procedure we achieve a result that commends itself, it will form a model for the States.

Then there is another subject that especially in the South ought to attract great public attention, and that is the organization of a bureau which shall have control, so far as constitutionally it may be exercised by Federal authority, of the health of the United States. We have offices and bureaus distributed through the Government that are charged more or less with investigation and care and quarantine and that sort of thing, but I believe the time has come — and the medical profession of this country, who ought to know, and who do know, believe that the time has come—for the organization of a health bureau and the concentration in it of all the instruments for the preservation of health and for the investigation of diseases that are now included in the National Government, and such others as may be properly placed there by additional appropriation and direction.

That is a pretty long list of things to do, but if we set our shoulders together we can do a lot in one session or two sessions of Congress. When I was in the South before, and before I became President, but when I had a reasonable expectation of succeeding to that office, I said that I was anxious so far as the Executive could, to show to the Southern people that in the eye of the Executive and the Administration at Washington they were as closely a part of the Union and as much entitled to its consideration in every respect as any other part of the country. That, I said, it was not possible for the Executive to show other than in speech, except by the appointment to Federal office of men whose appointment would commend itself to the communities in which they live, that they might regard those appointees not as agents of an alien government, but as representing their own government. Now in so far as I have been able I have attempted to carry out that policy. A year has not yet elapsed, and you must give me three more years in order to demonstrate my sincerity in that regard. We have reached a point in this country when we can look back, not without love, not without intense pride, but without partisan passion, to the events of the Civil War. We have reached a point, I am glad to say, when the North can admire to the full the heroes of the South, and the South admire to the full the heroes of the North. There is a monument in Quebec that always commended itself to me — a monument to commemorate the battle of the Plains of Abraham; and on one face of that beautiful structure is the name of Montcalm, and on the other side the name of Wolfe. That always seemed to me to be the acme of what we ought to reach in this country, and I am glad to say that in my own alma mater of Yale we have established an association for the purpose of erecting within her academic precincts a memorial not to the Northern Yale men who died, not to the Southern Yale men who died, but to the Yale men who died in the Civil War. And so it is that I venture, without unduly obtruding in something that is none of my business, to hope that the project suggested by my predecessor in office. President Roosevelt, may be alluded to by me with approval and the expression of the hope that it is coming to fruition, to wit, that there should be a great memorial in honor of General Robert E. Lee in the establishment of what he himself would value most highly, a great school of engineering at Washington and Lee University, and I take this opportunity in this presence to express my deep sympathy in that movement and my desire to aid it in every way possible and proper on my part.

My friends, I am going to stop and relieve you. I have had great pleasure in talking to you in this informal way, advising you in some degree of the burdens that I am looking forward to undertaking when I get back to Washington. I do not know whether you have had that experience when you are on the eve of a so-called vacation and your conscience begins to prick you and then your duties grow mountain high so that you can not look over them at all. That is my feeling now. It is a somewhat strenuous life to eat and talk and talk and eat, but there are other things in which you have to exercise great responsibility and give great attention and industry to what you are undertaking for the nation at large, which are even more burdensome, more acute in the consumption of vital energy, than such a tour as I have had the honor of taking.

I look into your faces with the pleasurable thought that you are connected with the last of a very delightful episode in my life. I part with you with the gratitude for your cordial reception, with the belief sincere as possible that you and I agree in respect to sectionalism and its complete obliteration, and with the feeling that you and I rejoice and thank God that we are all Americans under Old Glory.

Source: Presidential Addresses and State Papers of William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft, Remarks at the Auditorium in Richmond, Virginia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/363250

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