William Howard Taft

Remarks to the Ohio Valley Improvement Association

December 09, 1909

Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen:

This is the first time in my life I can remember that I am sorry I am from Ohio. It is because, coming from Ohio, I can not make my recommendation in respect to the necessity for the improvement of the Ohio as strong as I might if I had not come from Ohio, for my motives will be questioned. You gentlemen who figure in private life do not have to encounter that. Those of us who do are rapidly getting used to it.

With respect to the Ohio improvement, it is the first one out of all the conventions, out of all the oratory and out of all the indefinite nebulous appeals for waterways that has a definite scope, a plain reason for being, a clear estimate of cost and a plain possibility of execution. You have six locks now completed, and where those six locks operate, the success of the system of slack water has been demonstrated. You have seven locks under construction, and there are fifty- four locks in all necessary to establish slack water at nine feet the year round from Pittsburg to Cairo, and that improvement in the long run is to cost—I should not say in the long run, for no one knows how much it would cost in the long run—but under the present estimates of engineers, if done with business-like rapidity, it would cost $63,000,000.

There is an additional advantage in this proposal.

I have not looked into waterways very much, but I have gathered the impression from such reading and discussion as I have been able to do and to hear, that it does not always follow because you have waterways with sufficient depth for steamers, for barges and for other transportation, that you are going to attract business on that waterway. The question is, whether you have the kind of business that the waterway will attract. In Europe I am told that there are rivers on which the traffic is all up-stream, or largely so, because the merchandise and material to be carried are at the mouth of the stream; and the place where they are to be landed is along near its sources, and that those steamers after carrying up the stream the material to be used come down partly empty, which is an indication that in order to justify improvements of this sort, those who contend for them must point out the utility by showing the proper business to be done.

Now, in respect to the Ohio improvement you have the present business. You can point to your coal mines and to your heavy products of manufacture in Pittsburg and throughout that neighborhood which can be carried cheaply down the Ohio River clear to the mouth and to the Gulf; and having the business and having the estimate and having the water and having the plans, there is not any reason why improvement should not be made.

I observe that there are a number of gentlemen who think that I cast a wet blanket over the convention yesterday by what I said there. I did not intend to do so. I only intended to help it along by pointing out the practical method of accomplishing what you are here for.

You have had enough experience with Congress to know that it is sui generis to have to deal with it as a body different from any other body, as it is different from any other body, being representative of three hundred and ninety-one districts of the United States, with differing interests and differing views. When you approach Congress with a proposal for the issuing of bonds, you are going to arouse great opposition and that opposition will arise and demand why, and they will demand an answer not in general expressions, not in resounding oratory, but they will want facts and estimates and a statement of something definitely useful into which they are going to put their money which they may even have to borrow in order to carry through the enterprise. You in the Ohio Valley have an enterprise in respect to which you can give the sufficient answers. All I can hope is that you shall find enough disinterested people in the country to support the Ohio improvement with some others that I mentioned yesterday that might be just as well carried along together, right in the heart of the country. The improvement of the Ohio River is not alone to improve the Ohio River and help the States along its border, but it is also to help the Mississippi River and the States that border on the Mississippi River down to the Gulf and the whole country.

I am only a coordinate branch of this Government and the least important of those branches, but such influence as I can bring to bear you can count on my bringing to bear in favor of the Ohio River, and it is not because I was born and brought up in Ohio and looked across the Ohio River until I left Ohio, but it is because I have looked into the question of the improvement, and if I came from the Columbia River I should still be in favor of the improvement of the Ohio.

APP Note: The president spoke at the White House.

William Howard Taft, Remarks to the Ohio Valley Improvement Association Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/365204

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