Remarks at the Banquet of the Iroquois Club in Chicago, Illinois
Mr. President, Mr. Toastmaster, and you, my hosts:
I very deeply appreciate the honor of being your guest and guest of the city of Chicago this evening, and in looking at the possibilities of the future let me add that I have not the least anticipation of Chicago's ever reversing that most complimentary vote which I so deeply appreciated last year, because it will never have the chance.
Our country is governed and under existing circumstances can only be governed, under the party system, and that should mean and that will mean when we have a sufficient number of people who take the point of view that Judge Dickinson takes—that will mean that there will be a frank and manly opposition of party to party, of party man to party man, combined with an equally frank refusal to conduct a party contest in any such way as to give good Americans cause for regret because of what is said before election when compared with what is said after election.
The frankest opposition to a given man or a given party on questions of public policy not only can be, but almost always should be combined with the frankest recognition of the infinitely greater number of points of agreement than of the points of difference. And I have accepted your kind and generous invitation to come before you this evening, be cause the longer I am in political life the more firmly I am convinced that the great bulk of the questions of most importance before us as a people are questions which we can best decide, not from the standpoint of Republicanism or Democracy, but from the standpoint of the interests of the average American citizen, whether Republican or Democrat.
Most questions that come up in Washington are questions that go much deeper than party; are questions that affect the whole country, and the man would indeed be unfit for the position of President who did not feel that when he held that office he held it in the most emphatic as the representative of all the people.
One of the works Uncle Sam has on hand just at present is digging the Panama Canal, and it is going to be dug. It is going to be dug honestly and as cheaply as is compatible with efficiency, but with efficiency first. I wanted Congress to give me power to remodel the commission. It did not do it. I remodeled it anyhow, purely in the exercise of my executive functions; and I made up my mind this time I was not going to make the slightest effort to represent different sections of the country on that canal; I was going to try to have the whole country represented and put the best man I could get in any given position without the slightest regard to where he came from.
I believe that sooner or later it will be found that the great bulk of our people agree with what I am about to say. Among the most vital questions that have come up for solution, because of the extraordinary industrial development of this country, as of all the modern world, are the questions of capital and labor, and the questions resulting from the effect upon the public of the organization into great masses of both capital and labor. I believe thoroughly in each kind of organization, but I recognize that if either kind of organization does what is wrong, the increase in its power for efficiency that has resulted from the combi nation, means the increase in its power to do harm, and that, therefore, corporation—that is, organized capital—and union—that is, organized labor—must alike be held to a peculiar responsibility to the public at large, and that from each alike we have the right to demand not only obedience to the law, but service to the public.
Now observe, there are two sides to what I have said, and we are very apt to hear only insistence upon one side; sometimes the insistence upon this side, sometimes the insistence upon that, but not as often as we should, insistence upon both sides of the question.
I will take the first question of organized capital. When this nation was created such a thing as a modern corporation not only did not exist, but could not be imagined. That is especially true of the great modern corporations engaged in interstate commerce. A century ago the high ways of commerce were exactly such as they had been from the days of the dawn of civilization on the banks of the Nile and in Mesopotamia. We now have the great highways of commerce of an entirely different kind. For the first time in history we have a highway for the commerce of all the people under the control of a private individual or a private corporation.
Now, gentlemen, let me in the first place insist upon this fact, that the men who have built up the great railway systems of this country, like the other men who have built up the great industries of this country, have, as a rule, made their fortunes as incidents to benefiting and not to harming the country. As a rule, benefit and not harm has come from their efforts, and in making fortunes for themselves they have done good to all of us. We have all benefited by the talents of the great captains of industry.
All of this that I have said I wish kept in mind steadily in appreciating what I am going to say; for, while acknowledging in the frankest manner the benefits that have come from the development of these great industrial enterprises, I also feel that we must recognize that the time has now come when it is essential, in the interests of the public, that there should be, and be exercised, a power of supervision and regulation over them in the interests of the public.
Personally, I believe that the Federal government must take an in creasing control over corporations. I trust there will be no halt in the steady process of assuming such national control, and the first step toward it should be the adoption of a law conferring upon some executive body the power of increased supervision and regulation of the great corporations engaged primarily in interstate commerce of the rail roads. And my views on that subject could not have been better expressed that they were expressed yesterday, I think, by Secretary Taft in Washington, and as they were expressed by the Attorney General in his communication to the Senate committee a couple of weeks ago.
I believe that the representatives of the nation should lodge in some executive body the power to establish a maximum rate, the power to have that rate go into effect practically immediately, and the power to see that the provisions of the law apply in full to the companies owning private cars, just as much as to the railroads themselves. The courts would retain, no matter what the legislature did, the power to interfere and upset any action that was confiscatory in its nature. I am well aware that the action of such a body as I have spoken of may stop far short of confiscation and yet do great damage. In other words, I am well aware that to give this power means the possibility that the power may be abused. That possibility we must face. Any power strong enough, any power which could be granted sufficiently great to be efficient, would be sufficiently great to be harmful if abused. That is true of the power of taxation. Nevertheless, the power of taxation must exist; and so with the power of which I speak, it must exist.
It must be lodged in some body which is to give expression to the needs of the people as a whole, and the fact that it is possible that power may be abused is not and cannot be an argument against placing it where we shall have a right to expect that it will be used fairly toward all. One thing I wish definitely understood: If the power is granted to me to create such a board, such a commission, or to continue in power, if I so desire a commission or board, with increased powers, I shall strive to appoint and retain men who will do exactly the same justice to the railroad as they will exact from the railroad.
Now for the other side of the question. There have been a great many republics before our time, and again and again these republics have split upon the rock of disaster. The greatest and most dangerous rock in the course of any republic, the rock of class hatred. Sometimes the republic becomes a republic in which one class grew to dominate another class, and for loyalty to the republic was substituted loyalty to a class. The result was in every case the same. It meant disaster, and ultimately the downfall of the republic and it mattered not one whit which class it was that became dominant; it mattered not one whit whether the poor plundered the rich or the rich exploited the poor. In either case, just as soon as the republic became one in which one class sought to benefit itself by injuring another class, in which the one class substituted loyalty to that class for loyalty to the republic, the end of the republic was at hand.
No true patriot will fail to do everything in his power to prevent the growth of any such spirit in this country. This government is not, and never shall be, the government of a plutocracy. This government is not and never shall be the government of a mob. I believe in corporations. They are indispensable instruments in our modern industrialism, but I believe that they should be so supervised and regulated that they should act for the interest of the community as a whole.
So I believe in unions. I am proud of the fact that I am an honorary member of one union, but I believe that the union, like the individual, must be kept to a strict accountability to the power of the law.
Mayor Dunne, as President of the United States, and, therefore, as the representative of the people of this country, I give you as a matter of course, my hearty support in upholding the law, in keeping order, in putting down violence, whether by a mob or by an individual. And there need not be the slightest apprehension in the hearts of the most timid that ever the mob spirit will triumph in this country. Those immediately responsible for dealing with the trouble must exhaust every effort in so dealing with it before call is made upon any outside body. But if ever the need arises, back of the city stands the State, and back of the State stands the nation.
And there, gentlemen, is a point upon which all good Americans are one. They are all one in the conviction, in the firm determination that this country shall remain in the future as it has been in the past, a country of liberty and justice under the forms of law. A country in which the will of the people is supreme, but in which that will finds its expression through the forces of law and order, through the forms of law expressed as provided for in the Constitution of the United States and of the several states that go to make up our nation.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at the Banquet of the Iroquois Club in Chicago, Illinois Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343610