Remarks at the Banquet Tendered by the Citizens of Charleston at the Charleston Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina
Mr. Mayor and Gentlemen of Charleton and of South Carolina:
I thank you for your kindly welcome. It is true that I have been in Charleston just as often as I could come here. And I intend to come as often in the future as possible, as a private citizen or under any conditions. Now, I first came here because I believed Charleston to be the quickest way to go to the Isthmus of Panama. And I haven't changed my opinion about it. Having come here and having become acquainted with the city of Charleston and with its many attractions and with a good many of the interior workings of the city and of South Carolina, they have a fascination for me. I like to come here and renew those pleasurable experiences in the discussions that prevail between the great thunderers in the press. No one who understands the attraction of real hospitality and the friendships that one makes in cities like this, ever comes to Charleston but that he wants to come back again.
Now, I am honored to-night by the presence of the Governor of your State and by that of your two Senators with all of whom, I am glad to say, I am on the most friendly personal terms. And as they cannot make any speeches, because I am to make the only one, that statement has to go down undenied. There are certain advantages in being the only speaker and there are certain disadvantages. When one is making three speeches a day and is searching for subjects upon which to talk, it is of much assistance if other men say something so that one can find suggestion in their ingenuity, and that is missing to-night for me. Last night at Savannah I had it in full and rich measure. Some one has suggested that I would be able to continue my remarks to-day without having completed all the subjects that were touched upon.
There is one gentleman not here to-night whom I could wish to see, and that is your active, bright, tender-hearted and most able Congressman. I sincerely hope that he is recovering his health completely. He has taken a stay at Fort Bayard, in New Mexico, and that has worked such wonders with other friends of mine similarly afflicted that I am very hopeful he will be restored to you with all his strength and with all his usefulness.
Inasmuch as nobody has been called upon to suggest any subject for discussion, I cannot think of anything to talk about except that which has been present in my thoughts every moment for the last fifty-five days—my present trip. It perhaps needs an explanation. I was invited to go to the Yukon Exposition at Seattle and I agreed to go. That is, I agreed to go if Congress made sufficient provision for my travelling expenses. And Congress did. And so the country had this journey put upon it. But the moment that I accepted that invitation to go to the Exposition, the places which were to be included in the going and coming began to increase in number by reason of the hospitable invitations from a number of places and also by the fact that I seemed to be useful in connection with state fairs and other enterprises that needed encouragement—one of which was the deepening of the Mississippi River—and before I got through, the itinerary had zigzagged across the country so as to aggregate about thirteen thousand miles.
I have had a good many people, especially as I drew near the close of the journey, express sympathy for me as to the endurance test I have gone through. Well, the question is one of temperament, one of taste and possibly one of disposition. If you like people and like to meet them, and if you have an interest in studying the differences and the similarities of the people of the United States, then such a trip as I have undertaken and have gone through with nearly to completion is something which any one having those tastes would enjoy most highly. I can say truly that I have enjoyed every moment of the trip. And I think I can affirm that the people generally in all parts of the country are in favor of having a President travel at least once in four years through the country. They are interested from curiosity perhaps, but also from better reasons, I think, in coming into personal touch with the man who for the time being exercises the executive authority in chief. They not only like to see him, but they like to hear him. I don't know that they pay any particular attention to his views, but they like to get the sound of his voice and hear something from him in order that they may "size up" the man who temporarily is at the head of the nation.
Now, I think that that is a pretty good thing; I think generally that if they see the man and come into a sort of personal touch, they are more sympathetic with him in his difficulties, and I am in favor of sympathy. I am where I need it, and I think we can get along a good deal better where we understand each other and have the means of understanding each other than where the man who is acting on delegated authority is afar from those who have delegated him to act. It certainly has a most beneficial effect upon the man thus charged. It certainly opens his eyes and his mind first to inquiry in reference to the needs of the country in its various sections, and while, on the other hand, it puts the people more or less in sympathy with him as President, it puts him certainly quite in sympathy with sections of whose aspirations and needs and thoughts he may have heard, but he never can have had them impressed on him as they are when he goes into that section, into that State, into that district where the needs arise, and where ambition is stirring the people up to make complaints or claims.
There are times in such a trip when a man feels as if he were on a wild goose chase and not accomplishing much. Those times are usually about five o'clock in the morning, when he is waked up by an earnest crowd, anxious to have him turn out, although he may have gone to bed at one or two o'clock, and make a speech. They can not understand why he should stay in when he is purposely on a trip to show himself.
It has been said that this is a bad precedent, that the present incumbent has been blessed with a digestion and sufficient physical endurance to enable him to make the trip, but that by going about and making a precedent those who follow me and who may not be so blessed may find imposed upon them a burden which it is bad for the public to have their Chief Executive labor under. Well, perhaps that is so. I would not limit the Presidency, certainly, by a civil- service examination as to digestion and physical endurance; but each President, I think, can control that matter largely for himself, and is not governed by the precedents set by other Presidents. The truth is, I don't know any President in my recollection who has been much embarrassed by the precedents set by any other President.
There is one feature of this travelling where you use Sunday, because you have to, and that is that you are called upon to address audiences that are either in churches or in a state of worship, and you have to assume the character of a preacher. I have essayed once or twice in that direction, and I have been very much amused to see the comments of the gentlemen of the clerical profession on my failure in that regard. I notice that I am very' subject to criticism by those gentlemen who preside in a sense over the Scriptures—and who resent any attempt to deal liberally with texts from the Scriptures.
One of the difficulties in taking such a trip is that you lost track of the news. You see newspapers only occasionally, and then in such a way that you are not able to keep up with the issues of the day. That has some advantages, but it occasionally presents embarrassment. I am utterly oblivious to the importance and also utterly ignorant of the evidence with reference to the question. Which American discovered the pole? I know that is not the case with anyone who has had the pleasure of being in Charleston for the last sixty days.
Then, too, I have been able to avoid election troubles and even now have not learned all the results, because I have not had an opportunity to see them tabulated or stated. That, too, perhaps, if the elections are not satisfactory, is an advantage. One of the great pleasures of this trip, most gratifying to me, has been what I might almost call the fervor of the receptions that I have had throughout the States of the South. Of course, one in my position, and of limited political experience, might well be misled as to the popular expression and how much of it is substantial and what it means, and yet I have given some attention to the study of human nature and I think I know the Southern people, and I think I correctly construe what it is they have in their minds and hearts when they indicate to me as emphatically and sincerely as they do the pleasure that they have in my presence in their communities. And that is that I am not contemplating a political revolution; that is impossible; but only that I am seeking to smooth out some of the wrinkles that may perhaps have remained from our former differences and am trying to convince the people of the South by such means as the Executive has in his control of my earnest desire to make the South feel that it has influence at Washington, that its foremost men of prominence and influence are entitled to be heard, to be listened to—and that in dealing with the South this Administration looks upon it in no different sense in a general way than upon Ohio or Illinois or the great West.
And now, gentlemen, I have reached the end of my speech. I can only close by saying that, after the very pleasant receptions I have had in the South, it is delightful to come to Charleston and feel that the reception here is not alone the reception of another Southern city, but that it is the reception of a city where I have so many friends already formed that I looked at it rather as coming to a place like home than to a place where I had never visited and which I only regarded as a part of that genial section, with its magnificent traditions, with its enormous possibilities, and with its intense loyalty. I say good-bye now. I hope to come again as soon as I can and I hope that Charleston will retain all her attractiveness; that she will lose none of those residences and those other structures that make her unique throughout the country; that she will continue to have that press which makes each paper so interesting in discussing the other.
William Howard Taft, Remarks at the Banquet Tendered by the Citizens of Charleston at the Charleston Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/365212