Written for the Sunday Advertiser and American
September 1, 1918
The man who seeks to stimulate and increase the production of materials necessary for the conduct of the war by raising the price he pays is a patriot. The man who refuses to sell at a fine price whatever he may have that is necessary for the conduct of the war is a profiteer. One man seeks to help his country at his own expense, the other seeks to help himself at his country’s expense. One is willing to suffer himself that his country may prosper, the other is willing his country should suffer that he may prosper.
In ordinary times these difficulties are taken care of by the operation of the law of supply and demand. If the price is too high the buyer has time to go elsewhere. In war the element of time is one of the chief considerations. When what is wanted is once found it must be made available at once. The principle of trusteeship also comes into more immediate operation. It is recognized in time of peace that the public may take what it may need of private property for the general welfare, paying a fair compensation, and that the right to own property carries with it the duty of using it for the welfare of our fellow man. The time has gone by when one may do what he will with his own. He must use his property for the general good or the very right to hold private property is lost.
These are some of the rules to be observed in the relationship between man and man To see that these rules are properly enforced, governments are formed. When they are not observed, when the strong refuse voluntary justice to the weak, then it is time for the strong arm of the law through the public officers to intervene and see that the weak are protected. This can usually be done by the enactment of a law which all will try to obey, but when this course has failed there is no remedy save by the process of law to take from the wrong doer his power in the future to do harm.
America is built on faith in the individual, faith in his will and power to do right of his own accord, but equally is the determination that the individual shall be protected against whatsoever force may be brought against him. We believe in him not because of what he has, but what he is. But this is a practical faith. It does not rest on any silly assumption that virtue is the re ward of anything but effort or that liberty can be secured at the price of anything but eternal vigilance.
It is in recognition of these principles and conditions that the General Court of last year gave the Governor power to make rules for the use by individuals of their property during the war for the general defense of the Commonwealth, and on failure on their part so to use their property, to take possession of it for such term as may be necessary. Up to the present time it has not been necessary to take property. Our faith in the patriotism of our citizens has been amply demonstrated. Of our four millions of people few have failed voluntarily to use their every resource for the defense of the Nation. But of late there have been some complaints of too high charges for rent in war material centers. In some cases patriotic workmen engaged in labor most vital to our country’s salvation have been threatened with eviction by profiteering landlords unless they paid exorbitant rents. No one is undertaking to say that rents must on no account be raised. But the Executive Department of Massachusetts is undertaking to say that in any case where rents are unreasonably raised to the detriment of people who are just as essential to our victory as the soldier in the field, if any one is to be evicted from such premises it will be the persons who are raising rents and not the persons who are asked to pay them. This action is taken to protect the Nation. It is taken in our desire and determination here to cooperate with the Federal Government in every activity that is necessary to the prosecution of the war. It is taken also for the protection of the individual. We do not care how humble he may be, we do not care how exalted the landlord may be, justice shall be done.
This is not to be taken as an offer on the part of the Commonwealth to have unloaded on it a large amount of property at a high price. Possession may be taken, but the ownership will not change. Unless reasonable rents are charged, the tenant will stay in possession, but the rent which the Commonwealth shall pay for occupation will be determined by a jury. This means justice, nothing more, nothing less justice to the tenant, justice to the landlord. It is not to be inferred that our real estate owners have lacked anything as a class in patriotism. They are our most loyal, most self sacrificing, most commendable citizens. Massachusetts by its Homestead Commission is encouraging its citizens to own real estate because such ownership is a sheet anchor to self government. But it is a proclamation of warning to profiteers, of approbation and approval to patriots, and of assurance and assistance to the working people and rent payers of our Commonwealth.
Calvin Coolidge, Have Faith in Massachusetts: A Collection of Speeches and Messages, 2nd ed.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1919