William Howard Taft

Remarks at the Georgia-Carolina Fair in Augusta, Georgia

November 08, 1909

Mr. Chairman, Governor Brown, Governor Ansel, Ladies and Gentlemen, Citizens of Georgia and South Carolina:

It is a great pleasure to be here. I have had the pleasure of listening to a governor of a single State in his own State, and I have heard his estimate of his own State approved by his own fellow-citizens; but it is an unusual and exceptional opportunity to have two States represented by two Governors, each explaining the excellence and the primacy of his particular State, and when there is thrown into that controversy the question of personal pulchritude, it assumes a character that makes it of exceeding interest.

I want first to express my personal happiness in being again in Augusta, and in seeing and meeting the friends that I made during my stay of about two months last year. There is a lady in Washington whom I am very anxious to see. Nothing could modify my ambitions, nothing restrain the haste with which I would go back to the Capitol City except the pleasure of meeting my old friends in Augusta. I feel always like claiming what Judge Black explained with his constitutional law, that when I was elected President of the United States I was elected from Georgia. And while the part which Georgia took in that ceremony was what we may call negative, it nevertheless was accompanied by the good-will of so many Georgians that I am proud to think of the friends that I have here.

This occasion suggests a number of useful thoughts. It is a meeting of two States to encourage agriculture in both. We have arrived at a time in the development of our country and in the application of our Constitution when the uniform operation of State law upon subjects not covered by the Federal power is becoming more and more important. One of course, can mention the subject of negotiable instruments, of marriage and divorce, and a number of other topics that commend themselves as proper subjects of uniform operation, but it seems to me that the most important scope, the most important collection of subjects is that which relates to the conservation of our national resources. Unless we can have uniform State operation, uniform State legislation with reference to the preservation of our forests, the equalization of water which falls from the clouds, and the preservation of our soil from being washed out to sea, we shall not be able to carry out the program set for us by Theodore Roosevelt, and which to every thoughtful man must commend itself as of the highest importance to the safety and the preservation of our nation.

Another subject which under the influence of your growing manufacturing interests brings itself into one's mind, even though it may suggest a subject of partisan difference, is the question of our mercantile marine. You are making cotton goods in Georgia and South Carolina, and you wish a market in which to dispose of them. Unless our country exercises more control over the mercantile marine of the world than it now does, you are going to find yourselves at great disadvantage in seeking markets of the world in which to dispose of your products. Therefore, I commend to your consideration the question, What means shall we take to establish lines to South America and to the Philippines, to the Orient, to Manchuria, and to all those countries to which you look for the purchases of the products that you here make?

[The President was here interrupted for a few moments by the appearance of a dirigible balloon over the fair grounds.]

I hesitate to occupy your time in discussing an old method of transporting goods when you have before your eyes the newest one invented, and yet I venture to think that it will be some time before that method of transportation will be followed in the matter of cotton bales.

Another subject that is forging ahead and must be considered by the National Government with a great deal more care and with the expenditure of much more money than it has heretofore put into such investigation, is the question of sanitation and the health of the inhabitants of this country. This is peculiarly so in the South, for as you reach nearer to the tropics the danger of the spread of diseases is much greater. We have now various bureaus in Washington that have functions connected with the suppression of diseases and the investigation of their character; but they are scattered, and they need to be united in one bureau, which shall devote its attention, just as the Agricultural Department devotes its attention, to the study of questions of evil under all conditions prevailing in this country, so that by the circulation of the knowledge obtained it may enable the people to live hygienic lives. Now, it is true that the health of the citizens is directly committed to the States, but it is also true that the question of agriculture is committed by the Constitution directly to the States. Nevertheless, the Agricultural Department has found much that with the means at its command it can do to assist the agriculture of the country. Think back two decades, my friends, and see what enormous strides have been made in the proper treatment of the soils, in the development of your crops, in the making available the by-products of those crops, and in an entire change of the character of agriculture from a haphazard, wasteful industry to one in which science and professional knowledge are to-day of the highest importance. So, too, with respect to sanitation. It is necessary that the towns and States should direct their attention and their money to making better bodies for their citizens as well as better minds, and if the National Government with its resources can follow out lines of investigation that can show proper treatment to be followed, it is well that it should take that step.

I expect to recommend to Congress that there be a union of all the instrumentalities of the Government for the organization of means of health and the study of disease. We have since the Spanish-American War developed a knowledge of diseases, especially of the tropics, that never existed before, and when we have studied the tropical diseases we have gone a long way to help ourselves in all diseases. The truth is that the tropical diseases are only exaggerations generally of the diseases that appear in a less virulent form in the temperate zone, and by reason of the virulence they bear a closer study and give forth a better result in the investigation. Now the consequence is that since the Spanish War we have found out through the study of our army officers and our army surgeons how the yellow fever can be suppressed, how malignant malaria can be suppressed. Without that knowledge, my dear friends, it would have been impossible to build the Panama Canal. We pride ourselves on having done something or being about to do something that France was not able to do with all the millions which De Lesseps was able to command, but we must remember that she did not then have at her command the knowledge which we have had in the suppression of the disease that made life on that Isthmus so dangerous to every one who attempted to live there. The consequence is that to-day we have less malaria, or certainly not more on the Isthmus of Panama than you have in your Southern States, and there has not for three years been a case of yellow fever. That can be traced directly to the results of the Spanish War and the labor of American physicians and especially of the surgeons of the United States Army; and if there were no other great result from that war, that single aid to humanity is enough to have justified it.

But I am not going to detain you longer. I am here on my way home after some 13,000 miles of travel studying the American people. I have studied them before. I sought their franchises and that was a considerable study, but it is an aid to go about among them, not asking for their votes but merely seeking from them advice on public policies, their aims, their aspirations and their needs.

I went from Boston clear across the country to the northwest corner in Washington down to the southwest corner at Los Angeles, across the two Territories, through that almost boundless State of Texas, through Arkansas and Missouri, down the Mississippi River, and then through the South to New Orleans, through Mississippi, Alabama, and now to Georgia and South Carolina, and I feel as if I had had an experience that justifies me in saying something about the American people.

Persons have said to me, "If you do all the talking, how can you expect to derive any information from the people whom you address?" Well, that is a relevant question, but I don't do all the talking. I could tell you of some banquets and some meetings where other people did some talking, and a man must be blind and deaf indeed if he can pass through a crowd of intelligent American citizens like this and not draw from them, even through his pores, something of their thoughts, something of their wishes, something of their needs and something of their aims.

The one thought that strikes a judicial mind going about this country is the homogeneity of the American people. We have taken in from abroad millions and millions of foreigners, but we have amalgamated them in such a remarkable way that to-day as you take the trip that I have taken, there is nothing that strikes you with the same emphasis and with the same certainty as the persistence of the American type. We are not Germans, we are not Britishers, we are not Frenchmen; we are Americans, and we have the same ambitions, the same moral standards and the same love of country. I might also say we have the same love of our respective States and the same faith in the prosperity of our respective counties and towns and cities in which we live.

We are looking forward, looking to the future, confident that we can solve the serious problems that stare us in the face, asking no odds of any one, but only an equal opportunity, and with that equal opportunity confident that we can achieve in the future as great victories as our fathers achieved in the past.

Now with respect to the Southland, my reception has been full of sweet gratification to me, because I have felt that the people of the South were glad to see me and wished to show me by their reception that they sympathized with my desire — my earnest desire — to do everything possible in my administration to make completely forgotten all sectional lines and everything that would tend to separate us — not to forget our cherished traditions — not to forget the heroes of our particular sections in that awful struggle that we in the North call the "Civil War" and you call the "War between the States" — not to forget or abate one bit of our pride that has now become a common heritage of all Americans, but to rejoice that, while that great test showed the character of American heroes, the character of American self-sacrifice, it is in the past, and that the future is with nothing but harmony and love between all our people.

William Howard Taft, Remarks at the Georgia-Carolina Fair in Augusta, Georgia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/365210

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