William Howard Taft

Remarks at the Banquet Tendered by the Citizens of Dallas, Texas

October 23, 1909

Mr. Mayor, Bishop Garrett, Senator Culberson, Gentlemen of Dallas and North Texas:

I like an optimist, and I like to sit next to one, and I like an optimist in a prince of the church, too. If they are not optimists, we ought to give up altogether. I congratulate the gentlemen of Dallas and of North Texas on their representative for this evening. I think it was wise, if a statement of needs was to be presented to the general Government, that you should have taken one accustomed to form supplications. If he has left out anything that the general Government ought to attend to, I shall call on my friend, Senator Culberson, with his broad view of the Constitution, to point it out. It has escaped me, at any rate.

With reference to forestry, I am not aware that the United States has any particular ownership in the forests of East Texas, and if they are to be preserved and reforested that must be attended to, I think, by the State of Texas. The Bishop says you would like a little help. Well, there are some propositions with reference to reforesting by the Federal Government on the theory that the Federal Government has the control of navigable streams, and that navigable streams, in order to be navigable, should be navigable the year round—that forests are useful in the economy of nature for the equalizing of the furnishing of water to those streams, and therefore that it is the business of the Federal Government to purchase sufficient land that ought to be forest land to make those streams equal the year round. Now, whether my friend, Senator Culberson, will follow me in that course of reasoning to show that that is within the Federal function, I do not know, but I am sure that my friend, the Bishop, will.

With respect to the boll-weevil and the green fly, they come within the general welfare clause, and we are doing the best we can. Uncle Jimmie Wilson reports every week at the Cabinet table on the boll-weevil, so that I am fairly familiar with it. I do not know that it is especially a Texas product, but we do hear more of it from Texas than any part of the country. The green fly is a gentleman with whom I am just making an acquaintance. But I shall consult Secretary Wilson and see that he, too, is covered by the general welfare clause.

With respect to irrigation, we are, if I understand it, engaged in a work in New Mexico, near enough to the west border of Texas to furnish, when that project is completed, a very considerable amount of water to that part of Texas that is exactly like heaven, your Grace, when you get water on it. The comparison otherwise is different. And I am very hopeful that the project and many others arising, not from the general welfare clause of the Constitution, but due to the enterprise and cupidity of man, may make that vast country that you have within the borders of this State as full of happy men and women and as productive as the bringing of water to the soil can make it.

Then, too, the Bishop mentioned ports and waterways. Well, ports do come within the strict limitation of the Constitution, and we are engaged in the Government, as far we have money, in improving the ports. My own impression is, that there is a better and more comprehensive method of attending to this matter than has heretofore been attempted or projected—that we ought to decide upon particular improvements of extended effect and determine that these things are to be done, and then do them with as much dispatch as possible. That involves what I haven't hesitated to say I am in favor of—when you get a project that ought to be done, I am in favor of issuing bonds to do it. But that is very far from saying that I am in favor of every project that is suggested, because it is easy to issue bonds to do it. In other words, I think that if you adopt that system, you must pursue a method of rigid examination into the merits of the project to see, not whether in the distant future it ought to be done, but whether it ought to be done now; and if it ought to be done now, then to do it in the most economical way, and the most economical way is to take your money and not wait for it until it accumulates by a surplus from your ordinary revenues, but to issue bonds and do it and share with posterity the burden of that which is of benefit to posterity.

Then the Bishop in that list that he presented alluded to the reclamation of swamp lands. Well, I am not prepared to say that that can not be worked in, having reference to the general welfare clause and the necessity for preserving the navigation of the streams.

Speaking seriously, the conservation of our resources, to which the Bishop has referred, is a subject of immense importance, and it involves not only the construction of waterways and the reforestation of our forests, but also the prevention of reduction in the erosion of our farm lands by the floods, which in theory at least would be largely reduced in volume, and much better able to be controlled, if our forests were extended and certain improvements entered upon in respect to our rivers. All I can say to the Bishop with respect to that is that the matter has been noted and will doubtless be worked out in due time.

The conservation of our resources is going to test the practical operation of our Federal Constitution in cooperation, if I may use that expression, with the State constitutions, and this is going to involve joint operation on the part of the States between themselves, and their cooperation with the Federal Government. I believe it can be worked out. I believe that the Federal Constitution—the greatest instrument that ever was penned by man and adopted as a fundamental law—will prove in the end to be sufficient for our purposes, if we can invoke, as doubtless we can, the cooperation of the States on sensible lines. I think we are going to find that possible in the spirit which, I may say without invidious implication, is present here to-night—the spirit of State pride—which believes that there is nothing that the State cannot accomplish when it attempts to do so, even though it is willing to receive such aid as the general welfare clause of the Constitution will enable the general Government to give it.

The Bishop referred to prejudices that existed against Texas in those early days of the Republic before we knew what Texas was, but we know now, Bishop, and you don't find any such reference or criticism in the conventions of the Episcopal Church and the House of Bishops. You have not only been teaching them, but you in your own person and character have been furnishing an example to them and to all Texas as well.

The truth is, my dear friends, that the United States in one sense has contracted to a degree that our forefathers never in their wildest dreams imagined. You are nearer to Washington to-day in Dallas than New York was to Washington in the early days of the Republic. Your newspapers and your press, of which the Bishop has spoken so highly, and justly I doubt not—I congratulate you on your exceptional press, which puts you in touch with the center of the nation at Washington so far as the Government is concerned, with the markets of the world in London and New York, and wherever the standard of prices is set. The railroads put you in actual communication in so short a time that we all seem now to be one State rather than forty-six different States.

We have been breeding to a type in America, and what has struck me in going all over the United States is that we are all Americans, that we do not differ in our general mode of thought; we do not even differ in our fashions—the ladies know in Texas and California within the time that it takes the express to take a bonnet from New York to California what the change is, and the change is made, and you generous husbands in Texas know it, just as well as I do.

We are getting closer and closer together, and I thank God that it is so, because with our aims more alike, with our inspirations the same, with our object clearly defined before us of the elevation of the individual in connection with material prosperity, it seems to me that there is nothing that we may not accomplish, because we are engaged in what, for lack of a better term I take from the football language—we are engaged in team work.

Now, you might think that what I have said would demonstrate the lack of necessity for the President to travel around the country; that he ought to gather all the information that there is, because we are all alike and we are all working toward the same end, by sitting in Washington and getting it that way; but I venture to think that there is something in the personal touch between those to whom authority is delegated and those who delegate it that means much for both, certainly for the person who has for the time being to exercise the responsibility of executing what he understands to be the mandate of the people. I believe that I myself can see from the trip which I have thus far taken, the value of coming into contact with the people in all the different parts of the United States. I have not had presented in exactly the same forcible eloquent way the needs of any particular section with as much persuasiveness as the Bishop has put forth that which the State of Texas looks for. I have been able, however, to gather, in every part of the country which I have visited, the general needs of each section, what the people there are thinking about, what they are hoping for, and what they are entitled to. I do not wish to say that those two things differ, but they sometimes differ in the matter of time when they are to receive what they are asking for.

I heard the Bishop speak with great pleasure of that which you are laboring for in Texas —that of unity and an appreciation of the man, no matter what his politics are. I believe that that is true the country over. I think party ties are not quite so binding as they used to be. I think the bitterness of political discussion is by no means what it was in years past. The truth is, if you want to be an optimist, if you want to be happy, you must study the facts with respect to our past political history, and I am sure that we can all trace steps of improvement so marked that we shall find ourselves standing with the good Bishop in believing that the things here are far better than they ever were before, and that the things to come will continue to improve in the same measure.

My friends, I am going to say good night and good-bye. I am going to say to you what comes out of my heart—that I thank you for your very cordial reception. I know it is cordial, I know it is sincere, and you can't help it because I can see it in your faces. Of course, it is rendered to the Chief Magistrate of the nation which you love as true Americans, but nevertheless it is sweet for the time being to be the recipient of that expression of love and patriotism.

William Howard Taft, Remarks at the Banquet Tendered by the Citizens of Dallas, Texas Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/365216

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