William Howard Taft

Remarks at the Banquet of the Boston Chamber of Commerce in Boston, Massachusetts

September 14, 1909

Mr. President, Gentlemen of the Boston Chamber of Commerce, My Fellow Citizens:

I have been under a promise to come to Boston and speak to its Chamber of Commerce for more than a year. It is a great pleasure to redeem that promise. To be the guest at a magnificent feast like this, to be thus received in Boston, one of the greatest centers of the wealth, of the culture and art, of the educational influences, and of the moral forces of our country, and to be welcomed by so distinguished a company, the Governor of the State, a Justice of the Federal Supreme Court, Foreign Ministers, members of the State Judiciary, United States Senators and Representatives, powerful and broad-minded prelates and ministers of religion, together with the men who are the bone and sinew of the commerce of this great section — make this occasion most memorable in my life, and properly call for an expression on my part of deep gratitude and high appreciation.

I congratulate Boston on a union in one organization of all of her business men, for it insures a concentration of influence that must make for good. The opportunities for usefulness are great in civic improvement and progress and in State and National affairs. While you doubtless include in your ranks persons of all political views, many questions must arise upon which you can all unite, and thus exert a most effective influence.

As Boston is the commercial center of New England, your association really speaks for New England, a part of the country whose importance can be measured by the emphasis with which sectional writers and speakers sometimes attack it. It is no mere exaggeration of speech or flattery, therefore, for me to point out that this Chamber of Commerce, by the ideals which it may maintain in the matter of business integrity and scrupulous business methods and in maintenance of law in the conduct of corporations, has great power and corresponding responsibility.

I am very grateful for the hospitable reception which I have had on the North shore of Massachusetts. A vacation which I had planned of more than two months has been whittled down to a little more than one month; but every minute of it I have enjoyed.

The bracing and pure air, the beautiful roads, the fine golf links, the prosperous towns and villages, the intelligent and considerate people, all have contributed to make my stay a delightful one. The beauties of that region are nothing but an expansion and enlargement of the wonderful park system and suburbs of Boston.

I have attempted to keep within the speed limit and before a broad-minded judge I could establish this by satisfactory evidence. But it has not prevented me from motoring into every village and town and countryside of Essex County. I am delighted at the prospect of returning here again next summer, when I hope and pray that no tariff or other bill will shorten my days of leisure.

I am on the eve of beginning a journey 13,000 miles in length, which will enable me to see tens and hundreds of thousands of my fellow citizens, and enable them, I hope, to see me. Occasionally I hear a query, why should I start off on such a trip and what particular good does it do to anybody?

Well, it certainly is not going to be a pleasure trip, although I shall enjoy it. It will involve much hard work and a great deal of mental effort to think of things to say, and to say them simply and clearly so that they can be understood. It will strain the digestion not only of myself and those who accompany me, but also of the many who extend hospitality along the way; and it will very considerably reduce the appropriation of $25,000 made by Congress for the traveling expenses of the President.

On the other hand, it will certainly give me a very much more accurate impression as to the views of the people in the sections which I visit. It will bring closely to me the needs of particular sections, so far as national legislation and executive action are concerned, and I believe it will make me a wiser man and a better public officer.

Moreover, it will give the people an opportunity to see the man whom they have chosen, for the time being, to act as their chief executive, and who, because of this office, in a sense temporarily typifies nationality. I ought to be able to explain to the people some of the difficulties of government and some of the problems of solution from the standpoint of the executive and the legislator, as distinguished from that of the honest but irresponsible critic.

The personal touch between the people and the man to whom they temporarily delegate power of course conduces to a better understanding between them. Moreover, I ought not to omit to mention as a useful result of my journeying that I am to visit a great many expositions and fairs, and that the curiosity to see the President will certainly increase the box receipts and tend to rescue many commendable enterprises from financial disaster.

This is an innocent, but it has come to be a very useful, function of the presidential office.

The thing that I most object to and look forward to with most fear is the necessity for speaking every day on some subject or other to a listening multitude. It becomes a brain-racking performance before one gets through with a trip of two months.

At first everything the President says is reported in the newspapers. If after a time he repeats himself, as he must do, and the correspondents and reporters exercise the discretion which they ought, and cut the report, a suffering public will thank them.

One of the reasons why I hesitated to fix the time for meeting the Boston Chamber of Commerce on the eve of my departure for the West was because I would have to make a speech here and I needed all the material that I could think of for speeches in the West.

When I explained this to the committee who were good enough to wait upon me to tender your hospitable invitation I was relieved greatly to hear from Mr. Frederick P. Fish, who was one of the committee, the statement that I need give myself no concern in that regard, because commonplace remarks would be entirely appropriate from me here.

Now, whether Mr. Fish meant by this to characterize the intellectual capacity of the speaker, or the intellectual demands of the audience, I am at a loss to say. But if what I say to-night is commonplace, you may know that I am only filling the order which Mr. Fish gave me, and complying with the invitation as I have understood it.

This is the second week of September. We are all ending our vacations and going home. This is the time of the year, rather than the first of the calendar year, when good resolutions ought to be made — and kept, as far as possible. This is the time when, looking forward to the coming again of Congress in December, one must consider the needs of the country so far as they may be relieved by congressional legislation, and attempt to state what that legislation should be.

Your chairman has made some reference to a number of subjects to which the attention of Congress may well be directed. In the first place, there is the monetary situation. While it is probable that the Vreeland Bill passed by the last Congress would aid us in case of another financial crash, it is certain that our banking and monetary system is a patched-up affair which satisfies nobody, and least of all those who are clear-headed and have a knowledge of what a financial system should be.

The matter has been referred by Congress to a monetary commission, which has been studying with much interest and enthusiasm the financial and banking systems of the great Governments of Europe and has embodied and will soon publish in interesting and attractive form the best accounts of the financial systems of the world.

It is quite apparent from the statements of Mr. Vreeland, who is now the head of the committee on banking and currency in the House of Representatives, and from the conversations of Mr. Aldrich, who is the chairman of the monetary commission and of the finance committee of the Senate, that the trend of the minds of the monetary commission is toward some sort of arrangement for a central bank of issue which shall control the reserve and exercise a power to meet and control the casual stringency which from time to time will come in the circulating medium of the country and the world.

Mr. Aldrich states that there are two indispensable requirements in any plan to be adopted involving a central bank of issue. The one is that the control of the monetary system shall be kept free from Wall Street influences, and the other, that it shall not be manipulated for political purposes. These are two principles to which we can all subscribe.

It is quite possible that the report of the commission of a definite conclusion may be delayed beyond the next session of Congress.

Meanwhile, the members of the commission intend to substitute a campaign of education in order to arouse public opinion to the necessity of a change in our monetary and banking systems, and to the advantages that will arise from placing some form of control over the money market and the reserve in the hands of an intelligent body of financiers responsible to the Government.

I am told that Mr. Aldrich will "swing around the circle" in the present fall, and will lecture in many of the cities of the Middle West on the defects and needs of our monetary system. I can not too strongly approve of this proposal. Mr. Aldrich, who is the leader of the Senate, and certainly one of the ablest statesmen in financial matters in either house, has been regarded with deep suspicion by many people, especially in the West.

If, with his clear-cut ideas and simple but effective style of speaking, he makes apparent to the Western people what I believe to be his earnest desire to aid the people and to crown his political career by the preparation and passage of a bill which shall give us a sound and safe monetary and banking system, it would be a long step toward removing the political obstacles to a proper solution of the question.

I do not need to argue with this audience that a change in our monetary and banking systems is necessary. You are too good business men not to know it, and I sincerely hope that the whole force of your association will be exerted to insist upon the adoption of a satisfactory system before the end of this Administration.

It is a subject that the general public has very little conception of, and when they suffer from the radical defects of the system they are utterly unable to tell how and why. We all need education on the subject. We must all unite to mend our roof before the storm and rain shall show us again its leaky and utterly inadequate character.

I am not going to discuss the merits and demerits of the new tariff bill with you. I shall have often to refer to that before my journey is ended and I must save something for other audiences. Suffice it to say that the passage of the bill has removed a disturbing element in business.

Nor shall I dwell at length on the necessity for amendments to the interstate-commerce law, to the anti-trust law, and the organization of the Departments in Washington with a view to promoting greater efficiency and expedition in the settlement of controversies arising under them.

During Mr. Roosevelt's Administration we were all struck with the necessity for reform in business methods, for more scrupulous attention to the conduct of business in accordance with the law, and with the necessity for simplifying the law in such a way as to make it clear to corporate managers what they can do and what they can not do.

We are, I believe, unless all signs fail, on the eve of another great business expansion, and an era of prosperity. Indeed it is already here in many branches of business.

The hum of prosperity and the ecstasy of great profits are likely to dull our interest in these reforms and to lead us back again to the old abuses, unless we insist upon legislation which shall clinch and enforce those standards by positive law.

Nothing revolutionary, nothing disturbing to legitimate business is needed; but we must set the marks clear in the statute by which the lines can be drawn and the proper legitimate paths be laid down upon which all business shall proceed, and must have it understood by means of prompt prosecution and punishment that the law is for all and is to be enforced even against the most powerful.

Then, too, the needs in respect to the conservation of our national resources; the amendment to the public land system; the execution of the pure-food law; and all the rest of the important matters that should demand attention, make the legislative and executive labor of the next three years heavy enough, if our purposes are carried out, to exhaust the energy of the most enthusiastic and hopeful.

Still the world is making progress — our country is making progress. Occasionally one hears a note like that of Governor Johnson, denouncing the East and calling upon the West to organize in a sectional way against the East, because the East is deriving more benefit from the governmental policy than the West, and at the expense of the West.

It is difficult for one to treat such an appeal seriously. Throughout the country there is free trade of the freest character; and due to this the prosperity of the West, especially of the agricultural West, is even more pronounced than that of the East.

Moreover, the East is too close to the Pacific Coast, too close to the Middle West, too close to the Rocky Mountains, because all the people of these western stretches have eastern ancestry and eastern associations and eastern connections, and because they have eastern capital with which their sections have been largely built up, and because they are too much assisted by eastern markets in enhancing the prices which their products bring, to make such an attempt at sectionalism successful.

It is true that at times public questions will be given a local color by what is thought to be a local benefit, as distinguished from the general and the national benefit.

But such attitude is generally temporary, and it takes but a few years of business experience, it takes but a panic or two, to present the most convincing evidence that in this country we are all in the same business boat, and that the prosperity of one section adds to the prosperity another, and the business disaster in one section is only the forerunner of business depression and disaster in another.

I was born and brought up in the Middle West. I have had a New England ancestry and New England associations. Fortune threw me out into the Pacific so that I know something of the feelings of the West coast. Jurisdiction as a judge gave me a somewhat intimate knowledge of Southern feelings and Southern aspirations.

I feel, therefore, as if I could speak with confidence in respect to the whole nation, and as President of the United States may well lift up my voice to protest against any effort, by whomsoever made, to arouse section against section, and Americans against Americans.

Not in the history of the country since the war has the feeling between the North and the South been more cordial and friendly than it is to-day, and a political attempt to make a cleavage between New England and the East on the one side and the West on the other, will be found to be so utterly hopeless as to confound those who propose it.

And now, my friends and fellow citizens, as I take my departure for the West I feel that I carry from you to every citizen and inhabitant of the United States whom I shall meet, the cordial greetings of New England and the East, your congratulations on the prospective prosperity in the whole country, and an earnest wish that the national Government shall be conducted in such a way as to ensure peace with all the nations of the world and tranquillity and prosperity at home, growing out of the conduct of business on lines of commercial integrity and within the law which forbids the organization and maintenance of monopolies and the systematic suppression of competition.

Things are not perfect; but we have made progress. We have a right to be optimistic and believe that further progress is likely; that conditions are improving and that we may continue to maintain for all citizens of the country that equality of opportunity which it is the highest object of a well-conducted Government to preserve.

Source: Presidential Addresses and State Papers of William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft, Remarks at the Banquet of the Boston Chamber of Commerce in Boston, Massachusetts Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/363259

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