Title: Fourth Annual Message to the Congress of the United States
Date: December 7, 1926
Location: Washington, D.C.
Context: Coolidge addresses the Congress of the United States on the state of the union in 1926.
Members of the Congress:
In reporting to the Congress the state of the Union, I find it impossible to characterize it other than one of general peace and prosperity. In some quarters our diplomacy is vexed with difficult and as yet unsolved problems, but nowhere are we met with armed conflict. If some occupations and areas are not flourishing, in none does there remain any acute chronic depression.
What the country requires is not so much new policies as a steady continuation of those which are already being crowned with such abundant success. It cannot be too often repeated that in common with all the world we are engaged in liquidating the war.
In the present short session no great amount of new legislation is possible, but in order to comprehend what is most desirable some survey of our general situation is necessary.
A large amount of time is consumed in the passage of appropriation bills. If each Congress in its opening session would make appropriations to continue for two years, very much time would be saved which could be devoted to a consideration of the general needs of the country or would result in decreasing the work of legislation.
Our present state of prosperity has been greatly promoted by three important causes, one of which is the economy, resulting in reduction and reform in national taxation. Another is the reduction of many kinds of waste. The third is a general raising of the standards of efficiency.
This combination has brought the perfectly astonishing result of a reduction in the index price of commodities and an increase in the index rate of wages. We have secured a lowering of the cost to produce and a raising of the ability to consume. Prosperity resulting from these causes rests on the securest of all foundations. It gathers strength from its own progress.
In promoting this progress the chief part which the National Government plays lies in the field of economy. Whatever doubts may have been entertained as to the necessity of this policy and the beneficial results which would accrue from it to all the people of the nation, its wisdom must now be considered thoroughly demonstrated.
It may not have appeared to be a novel or perhaps brilliant conception, but it has turned out to be preeminently sound. It has not failed to work. It has surely brought results. It does not have to be excused as a temporary expedient adopted as the lesser evil to remedy some abuse, it is not a palliative seeking to treat symptoms, but a major operation for the eradication at the source of a large number of social diseases.
Warning Against Extravagance.
Nothing is easier than the expenditure of public money. It does not appear to belong to anybody. The temptation is overwhelming to bestow it on somebody. But the results of extravagance are ruinous. The property of the country, like the freedom of the country, belongs to the people of the country. They have not empowered their Government to take a dollar of it except for a necessary public purpose. But if the Constitution conferred such a right, sound economics would forbid it.
Nothing is more destructive of the progress of the nation than Government extravagance. It means an increase in the burden of taxation, dissipation of the returns from enterprise, a decrease in the real value of wages, with ultimate stagnation and decay.
The whole theory of our institutions is based on the liberty and independence of the individual. He is dependent on himself for support and therefore entitled to the rewards of his own industry. He is not to be deprived of what he earns that others may be benefited by what they do not earn. What he saves through his private effort is not to be wasted by Government extravagance.
Our national activities have become so vast that it is necessary to scrutinize each item of public expenditure if we are to apply the principle of economy. At the last session we made an immediate increase in the annual budget of more than $100,000,000 in benefits conferred on veterans of three wars, public buildings, and river and harbor improvement. Many projects are being broached requiring further large outlays.
Would Avoid New Enterprise.
I am convinced that it would be greatly for the welfare of the country if we avoid at the present session all commitments except those of the most pressing nature. From a reduction of the debt and taxes will accrue a wider benefit to all the people of this country than from embarking on any new enterprise.
When our war debt is decreased we shall have resources for expansion. Until that is accomplished we should confine ourselves to expenditures of the most urgent necessity.
The Department of Commerce has performed a most important function in making plans and securing support of all kinds of national enterprise for the elimination of waste. Efficiency has been greatly promoted through good management and the constantly increasing cooperation of the wage earners throughout the whole realm of private business. It is my opinion that this whole development has been predicated on the foundation of a protective tariff.
As a result of economy of Administration by the Executive and of appropriation by the Congress, the end of this fiscal year will leave a surplus in the Treasury estimated at $383,000,000. Unless otherwise ordered, such surplus is used for the retirement of the war debt. A bond which can be retired today for 100 cents will cost the people 104¼ cents to retire a year from now.
While I do favor a speedy reduction of the debt as already required by law and in accordance with the promises made to the holders of our Liberty bonds when they were issued, there is no reason why a balanced portion of surplus revenue should not be applied to a reduction of taxation.
It cannot be repeated too often that the enormous revenues of this nation could not be collected without becoming a charge on all the people whether or not they directly pay taxes. Every one who is paying for the bare necessities of food and shelter and clothing, without considering the better things in life, is indirectly paying a national tax.
The nearly 20,000,000 owners of securities, the additional scores of millions of holders of insurance policies and depositors in saving banks, are all paying a national tax. Millions of individuals and corporations are making a direct contribution to the National Treasury which runs from 1½ to 25 per cent. of their income, besides a number of special requirements, like automobile and admission taxes.
For Delay on Permanent Cut.
Whenever the state of the Treasury will permit, I believe in a reduction of taxation, I think the taxpayers are entitled to it. But I am not advocating tax reduction merely for the benefit of the taxpayer; I am advocating it for the benefit of the country.
If it appeared feasible, I should welcome permanent tax reduction at this time. The estimated surplus, however, for June 30, 1928, is not much larger than is required in a going business of $4,000,000,000.
We have had but a few months’ experience under the present revenue act and shall need to know what is developed by the returns of income produced under it, which are not required to be made until about the time this session terminates, and what the economic probabilities of the country are in the latter part of 1927, before we can reach any justifiable conclusion as to permanent tax reduction. Moreover the present surplus results from many nonrecurrent items.
Urges Bi-Partisan Measure.
Meantime, it is possible to grant some real relief by a simple measure making reductions in the payments which accrue on the 15th of March and June, 1927. I am very strongly of the conviction that this is so much a purely business matter that it ought not to be dealt with in a partisan spirit. The Congress has already set the notable example of treating tax problems without much reference to party, which might well be continued.
What I desire to advocate most earnestly is relief for the country from unnecessary tax burdens. We cannot secure that if we stop to engage in a partisan controversy. As I do not think any change in the special taxes, or any permanent reduction is practical, I therefore urge both parties of the House Ways and Means Committee to agree on a bill granting the temporary relief which I have indicated.
Such a reduction would directly affect millions of taxpayers, release large sums for investment in new enterprise, stimulating industrial production and agricultural consumption, and indirectly benefiting every family in the whole country. These are my convictions stated with full knowledge that it is for the Congress to decide whether they judge it best to make such a reduction or leave the surplus for the present year to be applied to retirement of the war debt. That also is eventually tax reduction.
It is estimated that custom receipts for the present fiscal year will exceed $615,000,000, the largest which were ever secured from that source. The value of our imports for the last fiscal year was $4,466,000,000, an increase of more than 71 per cent. since the present tariff law went into effect.
Of these imports about 65 per cent., or, roughly, $2,900,000,000, came in free of duty, which means that the United States affords a duty-free market to other countries almost equal in value to the total imports of Germany and greatly exceeding the total imports of France. We have admitted a greater volume of free imports than any other country except England.
We are, therefore, levying duties on $1,550,000,000 of imports. Nearly half of this, or $700,000,000, is subject to duties for the protection of agriculture and have their origins in countries other than Europe. They substantially increased the prices received by our farmers for their produce.
About $300,000,000 more is represented by luxuries such as costly rugs, furs, precious stones, &c. This leaves only about $550,000,000 of our imports under a schedule of duties which is in general under consideration when there is discussion of lowering the tariff.
Opposes Tariff Reduction.
While the duties on this small portion, representing only about 12 per cent. of our imports, undoubtedly represent the difference between a fair degree of prosperity or marked depression to many of our industries and the difference between good pay and steady work or wide unemployment to many of our wage earners, it is impossible to conceive how other countries or our own importers could be greatly benefited if these duties are reduced.
Those who are starting an agitation for a reduction of tariff duties, partly at least for the benefit of those to whom money has been lent abroad, ought to know that there does not seem to be a very large field within the area of our imports in which probable reductions would be advantageous to foreign goods.
Those who wish to benefit foreign producers are much more likely to secure that result by continuing the present enormous purchasing power which comes from our prosperity that has increased our imports over 71 per cent. in four years than from any advantages that are likely to accrue from a general tariff reduction.
The important place which agriculture holds in the economic and social life of the nation cannot be overestimated. The National Government is justified in putting forth every effort to make the open country a desirable place to live. No condition meets this requirement which falls to supply a fair return on labor expended and capital invested.
While some localities and some particular crops furnish exceptions, in general agriculture is continuing to make progress in recovering from the depression of 1921 and 1922. Animal products and food products are in a more encouraging position, while cotton, due to the high prices of past years supplemented by ideal weather conditions, has been stimulated to a point of temporary overproduction.
Acting on the request of the cotton-growing interests, I appointed a committee to assist in helping out their plans. As a result of this cooperation sufficient funds have been pledged to finance the storage and carrying of 4,000,000 bales of cotton. Whether those who own the cotton are willing to put a part of their stock into this plan depends on themselves. The Federal Government has cooperated in providing ample facilities.
No method of meeting the situation would be adequate which does not contemplate a reduction of about one-third in the acreage for the coming year. The responsibility for making the plan effective lies with those who own and finance cotton and cotton lands.
Increase in Farm Income.
The Department of Agriculture estimates the net income of agriculture for the year 1920-21 at only $375,000,000; for 1924-25, $2,656,000,000; for 1925-26, $2,757,000,000. This increase has been brought about in part by the method, already referred to, of Federal tax reduction, the elimination of waste and increased efficiency in industry.
The wide gap that existed between the index price of agricultural products and the index price of other products has been gradually closing up, though the recent depression in cotton has somewhat enlarged it. Agriculture had on the whole been going higher while industry had been going lower.
Industrial and commercial activities, being carried on for the most part by corporations, are taxed at a much higher rate than farming, which is carried on by individuals. This will inevitably make industrial commodity costs high while war taxation lasts.
It is because of this circumstance that national tax reduction has a very large indirect benefit upon the farmer, though it can not relieve him from the very great burden of the local taxes which he pays directly. We have practically relieved the farmer of Federal income tax.
Federal Assistance Reviewed.
There is agreement on all sides that some portions of our agricultural industry have lagged behind other industries in recovery from the war and that further improvement in methods of marketing of agricultural products is most desirable. There is belief also that the Federal Government can further contribute to these ends beyond the many helpful measures taken during the last five years through the different acts of Congress for advancing the interests of the farmers.
The packers and stockyards act,
Establishing of the intermediate credit banks for agricultural purposes,
The Purnell Act for agricultural research,
The Capper-Volstead Cooperative Marketing Act,
The cooperative marketing act of 1926,
Amendments to the warehousing act,
The enlargement of the activities of the Department of Agriculture,
Enlargement of the scope of loans by the Farm Loan Board,
The tariff on agricultural products,
The large Federal expenditure in improvement of waterways and highways,
The reduction of Federal taxes,
in all comprise a great series of governmental action in the advancement of the special interest of agriculture.
Further Measures of Aid.
In determination of what further measures may be undertaken it seems to me there are certain pitfalls which must be avoided and our test in avoiding them should be to avoid disaster to the farmer himself.
Acting upon my recommendation, the Congress has ordered the Interstate Commerce Commission to investigate the freight-rate structure, directing that such changes shall be made in freight rates as will promote freedom of movement of agricultural products. Railroad consolidation, which I am advocating, would also result in a situation where rates could be made more advantageous for farm produce, as has recently been done in the revision of rates on fertilizers in the South.
Additional benefit will accrue from the development of our inland waterways. The Mississippi River system carries a commerce of over 50,000,000 tons at a saving of nearly $18,000,000 annually.
The Inland Waterways Corporation operates boats on 2,500 miles of navigable streams and through its regulation with 165 railroads carries freight into and out of forty-five States of the Union. During the past six months it has handled over 1,000,000 bushels of grain monthly and by its lower freight rates has raised the price of such grain to the farmer probably 2⅓ cents to 3 cents per bushel. The highway system on which the Federal Government expends about $85,000,000 a year is of vital importance to the rural regions.
Fertilizer and Grazing Problems.
The advantages to be derived from a more comprehensive and less expensive system of transportation for agriculture ought to be supplemented by provision for an adequate supply of fertilizer at a lower cost than it is at present attainable. This advantage we are attempting to secure by the proposed development at Muscle Shoals, and there are promising experiments being made in synthetic chemistry for the production of nitrates.
A survey should be made of the regulation of Government grazing lands to the livestock industry. Additional legislation is desirable more definitely to establish the place of grazing in the administration of the national forests, property subordinated to their functions of producing timber and conserving the water supply.
Over 180,000,000 acres of grazing land are still pastured as commons in the public domain with little or no regulation. This has made their use so uncertain that it has contributed greatly to the instability of the livestock industry. Very little of this land is suited to settlement or private ownership. Some plan ought to be adopted for its use in grazing, corresponding broadly to that already successfully applied to the national forests.
Would Strengthen Cooperatives.
The development of sound and strong cooperative associations is of fundamental importance to our agriculture. It is encouraging to note, therefore, that a vigorous and healthy growth in the cooperative movement is continuing. Cooperative associations reporting to the Department of Agriculture at the end of 1925 had on their membership rolls a total of 2,700,000 producers. Their total business in 1925 amounted to approximately $2,400,000,000, compared with $635,800,000 in 1915.
Legislative action to assist cooperative associations and supplement their efforts was passed at the last session of Congress. Important credit measures were also provided by Congress in 1923, which have been of inestimable value to the cooperative associations. Although the Federal credit agencies have served agriculture well, I think it may be possible to broaden and strengthen the service of these institutions.
Attention is again directed to the surplus problem of agriculture by the present cotton situation. Surpluses often affect prices of various farm commodities in a disastrous manner, and the problem urgently demands a solution. Discussions both in and out of Congress during the past few years have given us a better understanding of the subject, and it is my hope that out of the various proposals made the basis will be found for a sound and effective solution upon which agreement can be reached.
Aids in Solving Surplus Question.
In my opinion cooperative marketing associations will be important aids to the ultimate solution of the problem. It may well be, however, that additional measures will be needed to supplement their efforts. I believe all will agree that such measures should not conflict with the best interests of the cooperatives, but rather assist them and strengthen them.
In working out this problem to any sound conclusion it is necessary to avoid putting the Government into the business of production or marketing or attempting to enact legislation for the purpose of price fixing. The farmer does not favor any attempted remedies that partake of these elements. He has a sincere and candid desire for assistance. If matched by an equally sincere and candid consideration of the different remedies proposed, a sound measure of relief ought to result.
It is unfortunate that no general agreement has been reached by the various agricultural interests upon any of the proposed remedies. Out of the discussion of various proposals which can be had before the Committees of Agriculture, some measure ought to be perfected which would be generally satisfactory.
Due to the emergency arising from a heavy tropical storm in Southern Florida, I authorize the Secretary of Agriculture to use certain funds in anticipation of legislation to enable the farmers in that region to plant their crops. The department will present a bill ratifying their loans which were made for this purpose.
More Funds to Fight Forest Fires.
Federal legislation has been adopted authorizing the cooperation of the Government with States and private owners in the protection of forest lands from fire. This preventive measure is of such great importance that I have recommended for it an increased appropriation.
Another preventive measure of great economic and sanitary importance is the eradication of tuberculosis in cattle. Active work is now in progress in one-fourth of the counties of the United States to secure this result. Over 12,000,000 cattle have been under treatment, and the average degree of infection has fallen from 4.9 per cent. to 2.8 per cent. The Federal Government is making substantial expenditures for this purpose.
Serious damage is threatened to the corn crop by the European corn borer. Since 1917 it has spread from Eastern New England westward into Indiana and now covers 100,000 square miles. It is one of the most formidable pests because it spreads rapidly and is exceedingly difficult to control. It has assumed a menace that is of national magnitude and warrants the Federal Government in extending its cooperation to the States and local agencies which are attempting to prevent its further spread and secure its eradication.
The whole question of agriculture needs more careful consideration. In the past few years the Government has given this subject more attention than any other and has held more consultations in relation to it than on any other subject. While the Government is not to be blamed for failure to perform the impossible, the agricultural regions are entitled to know that they have its constant solicitude and sympathy.
Many of the farmers are burdened with debts and taxes which they are unable to carry. We are expending in this country many millions of dollars each year to increase farm production. We ought now to put more emphasis on the question of farm marketing. If a sound solution of a permanent nature can be found for this problem, the Congress ought not to hesitate to adopt it.
DEVELOPMENT OF WATER RESOURCES
In previous messages I have referred to the national importance of the proper development of our water resources. The great projects of extension of the Mississippi system, the protection and development of the lower Colorado River, are before Congress, and I have previously commented upon them. I favor the necessary legislation to expedite these projects.
Engineering studies are being made for connecting the Great Lakes with the North Atlantic, either through an all-American canal or by way of the St. Lawrence River. These reports will undoubtedly be before the Congress during its present session. It is unnecessary to dwell upon the great importance of such a waterway not only to our mid-continental basin, but to the commerce and development of practically the whole region.
Our river and harbor improvement should be continued in accordance with the present policy. Expenditures of this character is compatible with economy; it is in the nature of capital investment. Work should proceed on the basic trunk lines if this work is to be a success.
Danger of Sectional Jealousies.
If the country will be content to be moderate and patient and permit improvements to be made where they will do the greatest general good rather than insisting on expenditures at this time on secondary projects our internal waterways can be made a success. If proposed legislation results in a gross manifestation of local jealousies and selfishness this program cannot be carried out. Ultimately we can take care of extensions, but our first effort should be confined to the main arteries.
Our inland commerce has been put to great inconvenience and expense by reason of the lowering of the water level of the Great Lakes. This is an international problem on which competent engineers are making reports. Out of their study it is expected that a feasible method will be developed for raising the level to provide relief for our commerce and supply water for drainage. Whenever a practical plan is presented it ought to be speedily adopted.
It is increasingly evident that the Federal Government must in the future take a leading part in the impounding of water for conservation with incidental power for the development of the irrigable lands of the arid region. The unused waters of the West are found mainly in large rivers. Works to store and distribute these have such magnitude and cost that they are not attractive to private enterprise.
Water is the irreplaceable natural resource. Its precipitation cannot be increased. Its storage on the higher reaches of streams, to meet growing needs, to be used repeatedly as it flows towards the seas, is a practical and prudent business policy.
The United States promises to follow the course of older irrigation countries, where recent important irrigation developments have been carried out as national undertakings. It is gratifying, therefore, that conditions on Federal reclamation projects have become satisfactory.
Planning For Future Projects.
The gross value of crops grown with water from project works increased from $110,000,000 in 1924 to $131,000,000 in 1925. The adjustments made last year by Congress relieved irrigators from paying construction costs on unprofitable land, and by doing so inspired new hope and confidence in ability to meet the payments required. Construction payments by water users last year were the largest in the history of the bureau.
The anticipated reclamation fund will be fully absorbed for a number of years in the completion of old projects and reconstruction of projects inaugurated in the past three years. We should, however, continue to investigate and study the possibilities of a carefully planned development of promising projects, logically of governmental concern because of their physical magnitude, immense cost and the interstate and international problems involved. Only in this way may we be fully prepared to meet intelligently the needs of our fast-growing population in the years to come.
It would be difficult to conceive of any modern activity which contributes more to the necessities and conveniences of life than transportation. Without it our present agricultural production and practically all of our commerce would be completely prostrated.
One of the large contributing causes to the present highly satisfactory state of our economic condition is the prompt and dependable service, surpassing all our previous records, rendered by the railroads. This power has been fostered by the spirit of cooperation between the Federal and State regulatory commissions. To render this service more efficient and effective and to promote a more scientific regulation, the process of valuing railroad properties should be simplified and the primary valuations should be completed as rapidly as possible.
The problem of rate reduction would be much simplified by a process of railroad consolidations. This principle has already been adopted as Federal law. Experience has shown that a more effective method must be provided. Studies have already been made and legislation introduced seeking to promote this end. It would be of great advantage if it could be taken up at once and speedily enacted. The railroad systems of the country and the convenience of all the people are waiting on this important decision.
It is axiomatic that no agricultural and industrial country can get the full benefit of its own advantages without a merchant marine. We have been proceeding under the act of Congress that contemplates the establishment of trade routes to be ultimately transferred to private ownership and operation. Due to temporary conditions abroad and at home we have a large demand just now for certain types of freight vessels.
Some suggestion has been made for new construction. I do not feel that we are yet warranted in entering that field. Such ships as we might build could not be sold after they are launched for anywhere near what they would cost.
We have expended over $250,000,000 out of the public Treasury in recent years to make up the losses of operation, not counting depreciation or any cost whatever of our capital investment. The great need of our merchant marine is not for more ships but for more freight.
Our merchants are altogether too indifferent about using American ships for the transportation of goods for which they send abroad or bring home. Some of our vessels necessarily need repairs, which should be made. I do not believe that operation of our fleet is as economical and efficient as it could be made if placed under a single responsible head, leaving the Shipping Board free to deal with general matters of policy and regulation.
The Department of Commerce has for some years urgently presented the necessity for further legislation in order to protect radio listeners from interference between broadcasting stations and to carry out other regulatory functions. Both branches of Congress at the last session passed enactments intended to effect such regulation, but the two bills yet remain to be brought into agreement and final passage.
Due to decisions of the courts, the authority of the department under the law of 1912 has broken down: many more stations have been operating than can be accommodated within the limited number of wave lengths available; further stations are in course of construction; many stations have departed from the scheme of allocation set down by the department, and the whole service of this most important public function has drifted into such chaos as seems likely, if not remedied, to destroy its great value. I most urgently recommend that this legislation should be speedily enacted.
Suggests Radio Board.
I do not believe it is desirable to set up further independent agencies in the Government. Rather I believe it advisable to entrust the important functions of deciding who shall exercise the privilege of radio transmission and under what conditions, the assigning of wave lengths and determination of power, to a board to be assembled whenever action on such questions becomes necessary.
There should be right of appeal to the courts from the decision of such board. The administration of the decisions of the board and the other features of regulation and promotion of radio in the public interest, together with scientific research, should remain in the Department of Commerce.
Such an arrangement makes for more expert, more efficient and more economical administration than an independent agency or board, whose duties, after initial stages, requires but little attention, in which administrative functions are confused with semijudicial functions and from which of necessity there must be greatly increased personnel and expenditure.
THE WAGE EARNER
The great body of our people are made up of wage earners. Several hundred thousands of them are on the payrolls of the United States Government. Their condition very largely is fixed by legislation. We have recently provided increases in compensation under a method of reclassification and given them the advantage of a liberal retirement system as a support for their declining years. Most of them are under the merit system, which is a guarantee of their intelligence, and the efficiency of their service is a demonstration of their loyalty. The Federal Government should continue to set a good example for all other employers.
In the industries the condition of the wage earner has steadily improved. The twelve-hour day is almost entirely unknown. Skilled labor is well compensated. But there are unfortunately a multitude of workers who have not yet come to share in the general prosperity of the Nation. Both the public authorities and private enterprise should be solicitous to advance the welfare of this class.
The Federal Government has been seeking to secure this and through a protective tariff, through restrictive immigration, through requiring safety devices for the prevention of accidents, through the granting of workman’s compensation, through civilian vocational rehabilitation and education, through employment information bureaus, and through such humanitarian relief as was provided in the maternity and infancy legislation.
It is a satisfaction to report that a more general condition of contentment exists among wage earners and the country is more free from labor disputes than it has been for years. While restrictive immigration has been adopted in part for the benefit of the wage earner, and in its entirety for the benefit of the country, it ought not to cause a needless separation of families and dependents from their natural source of support contrary to the dictates of humanity.
No progress appears to have been made within large areas of the bituminous coal industry toward creation of voluntary machinery by which greater assurance can be given to the public of peaceful adjustment of wage difficulties such as has been accomplished in the anthracite industry. This bituminous industry is one of primary necessity and bears a great responsibility to the Nation for the continuity of supplies.
As the wage agreements in the unionized section of the industry expire on April 1 next, and as conflicts may result which may imperil public interest, and have for many years often called for action of the Executive in protection of the public, I again recommend the passage of such legislation as will assist the Executive in dealing with such emergencies through a special temporary board of conciliation and mediation and through administrative agencies for the purpose of distribution of coal and protection of the consumers of coal from profiteering.
At present the Executive is not only without authority to act but is actually prohibited by law from making any expenditure to meet the emergency of a coal famine.
The Federal courts hold a high position in the administration of justice to the world. While individual judicial officers have sometimes been subject to just criticism, the courts as a whole have maintained an exceedingly high standard. The Congress may well consider the question of supplying fair salaries and conferring upon the Supreme Court the same rule-making power on the law side of the district courts that they have always possessed on the equity side.
A bill is also pending providing for retirement after a certain number of years of service, although they have not been consecutive, which should have your favorable consideration. These faithful servants of the Government are about the last that remain to be provided for in the postwar readjustments.
There has been pending in Congress for nearly three years banking legislation to clarify the national bank act and reasonably to increase the powers of the national banks. I believe that within the limitation of sound banking principles Congress should now and for the future place the national banks upon a fair equality with their competitors, the State banks, and I trust that means may be found so that the differences on branch-banking legislation between the Senate and the House of Representatives may be settled along sound lines and the legislation promptly enacted.
It would be difficult to overestimate the service which the Federal Reserve system has already rendered to the country. It is necessary only to recall the chaotic condition of our banking organization at the time the Federal Reserve System was put into operation.
The old system consisted of a vast number of independent banking units, with scattered bank reserves which never could be mobilized in times of greatest need. In spite of vast banking resources, there was no coordination of resources or any credit elasticity. As a consequence, a strain was felt even during crop-moving periods and when it was necessary to meet other seasonal and regularly recurring needs.
Action on Bank Charter Renewal.
The Federal Reserve System is not a panacea for all economic or financial ills. It cannot prevent depression in certain industries which are experiencing overexpansion of production or contraction of their markets. Its business is to furnish adequate credit and currency facilities. This it has succeeded in doing, both during the war and in the more difficult period of deflation and readjustment which followed.
It enables us to look to the future with confidence and to make plans far ahead, based on the belief that the Federal Reserve System will exercise a steadying influence on credit conditions and thereby prevent any sudden or severe reactions from the period of prosperity which we are now enjoying.
In order that these plans may go forward, action should be taken at the present session on the question of renewing the banks’ charters and thereby insuring a continuation of the policies and present usefulness of the Federal Reserve System.
I am in favor of reducing, rather than expanding, Government bureaus which seek to regulate and control the business activities of the people. Every one is aware that abuses exist and will exist so long as we are limited by human imperfections. Unfortunately, human nature cannot be changed by an act of the legislature.
When practically the sole remedy for many evils lies in the necessity of the people looking out for themselves and reforming their own abuses, they will find that they are relying on a false security if the Government assumes to hold out the promise that it is looking out for them and providing reforms for them. This principle is pre-eminently applicable to the National Government. It is too much assumed that because an abuse exists it is the business of the National Government to provide a remedy.
The presumption should be that it is the business of local and State Governments. Such national action results in encroaching upon the salutary independence of the States and by undertaking to supersede their natural authority fills the land with bureaus and departments which are undertaking to do what it is impossible for them to accomplish and brings our whole system of government and disfavor.
We ought to maintain high standards. We ought to punish wrongdoing. Society has not only the privilege but the absolute duty of protecting itself and its individuals. But we cannot accomplish this end by adopting a wrong method.
Permanent success lies in local rather than national action. Unless the locality rises to its own requirements, there is an almost irresistible urge for the National Government to intervene. The States and the Nation should both realize that such action is to be adopted only as a last resort.
The social well-being of our country requires our constant effort for the amelioration of race prejudice and the extension to all elements of equal opportunity and equal protection under the laws which are guaranteed by the Constitution. The Federal Government especially is charged with this obligation in behalf of the colored people of the Nation.
Not only their remarkable progress, their devotion and their loyalty, but our duty to ourselves under our claim that we are an enlightened people requires us to use all our power to protect them from the crime of lynching. Although violence of this kind has very much decreased, while any of it remains we cannot justify neglecting to make every effort to eradicate it by law.
The education of the colored race under Government encouragement is proceeding successfully and ought to have continuing support. An increasing need to exists for properly educated and trained medical skill to be devoted to the service of this race.
This government holds in sacred trusteeship islands which it has acquired in the East and West Indies. In all of them the people are more prosperous than at any previous time. A system of good roads, education and general development is in progress. The people are better governed than ever before and generally content.
In the Philippine Islands Major Gen. Leonard Wood has been Governor General for five years and has administered his office with tact and ability greatly to the success of the Filipino people. These are a proud and sensitive race, who are making such progress with our cooperation that we can view the results of this experiment with great satisfaction.
As we are attempting to assist this race toward self-government, we should look upon their wishes with great respect, granting their requests immediately when they are right, yet maintaining a frank firmness when they are wrong. We shall measure their progress in no small part by their acceptance of the terms of the organic law under which the islands are governed and their faithful observance of its provisions.
Need exists for clarifying the duties of the auditor and declaring them to be what every one had supposed they were. We have placed our own expenditures under the supervision of the Controller General. It is not likely that the expenditures in the Philippine Islands need less supervision than our own.
The Governor General is hampered in his selection of subordinates by the necessity of securing a confirmation, which has oftentimes driven him to the expediency of using army officers in work for which civilian experts would be much better fitted. Means should be provided for this and such other purposes as he may require out of the revenue which this Government now turns back to the Philippine Treasury.
Looks to Thompson Report.
In order that these possessions might suffer no seeming neglect, I have recently sent Colonel Carmi A. Thompson to the islands to make a survey in cooperation with the Governor General to suggest what might be done to improve conditions. Later, I may make a more extended report, including recommendations.
The economic development of the islands is very important. They ought not to be turned back to the people until they are both politically fitted for self government and economically independent. Large areas are adaptable to the production of rubber. No one contemplates any time in the future either under the present or a more independent form of Government when we should not assume some responsibility for their defense.
For their economic advantage, for the employment of their people, and as a contribution to our power of defense which could not be carried on without rubber, I believe this industry should be encouraged. It is especially adapted to the Filipino people themselves, who might cultivate it individually on a small acreage. It could be carried on extensively by American capital in a way to furnish employment at good wages.
I am opposed to the promotion of any policy that does not provide for absolute freedom on the part of the wage earners and do not think we should undertake to give power for large holdings of land in the islands against the opposition of the people of the locality. Any development of the islands must be solely with the first object of benefiting the people of the islands. At any early day, these possessions should be taken out from under all military control and administered entirely on the civil side of Government.
Our policy of national defense is not one of making war, but of insuring peace. The land and sea force of America, both in its domestic and foreign implications, is distinctly a peace force. It is an arm of the police power to guarantee order and the execution of the law at home and security to our citizens abroad. No self-respecting nation would neglect to provide an army and a navy proportionate to its population, the extent of its territory, and the dignity of the place which it occupies in the world.
When it is considered that no navy in the world, with one exception approaches ours and none surpasses it, that our regular army of about 115,000 men is the equal of any other like number of troops, that our entire permanent and reserve land and sea force trained and training consists of a personnel of about 610,000, and that our annual appropriations are about $680,000,000 a year, expended under the direction of an exceedingly competent staff, it cannot be said that our country is neglecting its national defense.
It is true that a cult of disparagement exists, but that candid examination made by the Congress through its various committees has always reassured the country and demonstrated that it is maintaining the most adequate defensive forces in these present years that it has ever supported in times of peace.
This general policy should be kept in effect. Here and there temporary changes may be made in personnel to meet requirements in other directions. Attention should be given to submarines, cruisers, and air-forces. Particular points may need strengthening, but as a whole our military power is sufficient.
War Debt the One Weak Spot.
The one weak spot in the whole line is our still stupendous war debt. In any modern campaign the dollars are the shock troops. With a depleted treasury in the rear no army can maintain itself in the field. A country loaded with debt is a country devoid of the first line of defense. Economy is the handmaid of preparedness.
If we wish to be able to defend ourselves to the full extent of our power in the future we shall discharge as soon as possible the financial burden of the last war. Otherwise we would face a crisis with a part of our capital resources already expended.
The amount and kind of our military equipment is pre-eminently a question for the decision of the Congress after giving due consideration to the advice of military experts and the available public revenue. Nothing is more laudable than the cooperation of the agricultural and industrial resources of the country for the purpose of supplying the needs of the national defense. In time of peril the people employed in these interests volunteered in a most self-sacrificing way, often at the nominal charge of a dollar a year.
But the army and navy are not supported for the benefit of supply concerns; supply concerns are supported for the benefit of the army and navy. The distribution of orders on what is needed from different concerns for the purpose of keeping up equipment and organization is perfectly justified, but any attempt to prevail upon the Government to purchase beyond its needs ought not to be tolerated.
It is eminently fair that those who deal with the Government should do so at a reasonable profit. However, public money is expended not that someone may profit by it, but in order to serve a public purpose.
Against Arms Competition.
While our policy of national defense will proceed in order that we may be independent and self-sufficient, I am opposed to engaging in any attempt at competitive armaments. No matter how much or how little some other country may feel constrained to provide, we can well afford to set the example, not of being dictated to by others, but of adopting our own standards.
We are strong enough to pursue that method, which will be a most wholesome model for the rest of the world. We are eminently peaceful, but we are by no means weak.
While we submit our differences with others, not to the adjudication of force, but of reason, it is not because we are unable to defend our rights. While we are doing our best to eliminate all resort to war for the purpose of settling disputes, we cannot but remember that the peace we now enjoy had to be won by the sword and that if the rights of our country are to be defended we cannot rely for that purpose upon anyone but ourselves.
We cannot shirk the responsibility, which is the first requisite of all Government, of preserving its own integrity and maintaining the rights of its own citizens. It is only in accordance with these principles that we can establish any lasting foundations for an honorable and permanent peace.
It is for these reasons that our country, like any other country, proposes to provide itself with an army and navy supported by a merchant marine. Yet these are not for competition with any other power. For years we have besought nations to disarm. We have recently expressed our willingness at Geneva to enter into treaties for the limitation of all types of warships according to the ratio adopted by the Washington Conference. This offer is still pending.
While we are and shall continue to be armed it is not as a menace, but rather a common assurance of tranquillity to all the peace-loving people of the world. For us to do any less would be to disregard our obligations, evade our responsibilities, and jeopardize our national honor.
This country, not only because it is bound by honor but because of the satisfaction derived from it, has always lavished its bounty upon its veterans. For years a service pension has been bestowed upon the grand army on reaching a certain age. Like provision has been made for the survivors of the Spanish War. A liberal future compensation has been granted to all the veterans of the World War.
But it is in the case of the disabled and the dependents that the Government exhibits its greatest solicitude. This work is being well-administered by the Veterans’ Bureau. The main unfinished feature is that of hospitalization. This requirement is being rapidly met.
Various veteran bodies will present to you recommendations which should have your careful consideration. At the last session we increased our annual expenditure for pensions and relief on account of the veterans of three wars. While I approve of proper relief for all suffering, I do not favor any further extension of our pension system at this time.
We still have in the possession of the Government the alien property. It has always been the policy of America to hold that private enemy property should not be confiscated in time of war. This principle we have scrupulously observed. As this property is security for the claims of our citizens and our Government, we cannot relinquish it without adequate provision for their reimbursement.
Legislation for the return of this property, accompanied by suitable provisions for the liquidation of the claims of our citizens and our Treasury, should be adopted. If our Government releases to foreigners the security which it holds for Americans, it must at the same time provide satisfactory safeguards for meeting American claims.
The duly authorized public authorities of this country have made prohibition the law of the land. Acting under the Constitution, the Congress and the Legislatures of practically all the States have adopted legislation for its enforcement. Some abuses have arisen which require reform.
Under the law, the National Government has entrusted to the Treasury Department the especial duty of regulation and enforcement. Such supplementary legislation as it requires to meet existing conditions should be carefully and speedily enacted.
Failure to support the Constitution and observe the law ought not to be tolerated by public opinion. Especially those in public places who have taken their oath to support the Constitution ought to be most scrupulous in its observance.
Officers of the Department of Justice throughout the country should be vigilant in enforcing the law, but local authorities, which had always been mainly responsible for the enforcement of law in relation to intoxicating liquor, ought not to seek evasion by attempting to shift the burden wholly upon the Federal agencies. Under the Constitution the States are jointly charged with the nation in providing for the enforcement of the prohibition amendment.
Some people do not like the amendment, some do not like other parts of the Constitution, some do not like any of it. Those who entertain such sentiments have a perfect right to seek through legal methods for a change. But for any of our inhabitants to observe such parts of the Constitution as they like, while disregarding others is a doctrine that would break down all protection of life and property and destroy the American system of ordered liberty.
The foreign policy of this Government is well known. It is one of peace based on that mutual respect that arises from mutual regard for international rights and the discharge of international obligations. It is our purpose to promote understanding and good-will between ourselves and all other people.
The American people are altogether lacking in an appreciation of the tremendous good fortune that surrounds their international position. We have no traditional enemies. We are not embarrassed over any disputed territory. We have no possessions which are coveted by others; they have none which are coveted by us. Our borders are unfortified. We fear no one; no one fears us.
All the world knows that the whole extent of our influence is against war and in favor of peace, against the use of force and in favor of negotiation, arbitration and adjudication as a method of adjusting international differences. We look with disfavor upon all aggressive warfare. We are strong enough so that no one can charge us with weakness if we are slow to anger.
Our place is sufficiently established so that we need not be sensitive over trifles. Our resources are large enough so that we can afford to be generous. At the same time we are a nation among nations and recognize a responsibility not only to ourselves, but in the interest of a stable and enlightened civilization, to protect and defend the international rights of our Government and our citizens.
As to Criticism Abroad.
It is because of our historical detachment and the generations of comparative indifference toward us by other nations that our public is inclined to consider altogether too seriously the reports that we are criticized abroad. We never had a larger foreign trade than at the present time. Our good offices were never more sought and the necessity for our assistance and cooperation was never more universally declared in any time of peace.
We know that the sentiments which we entertain toward all other nations are those of the most sincere friendship and good-will and of an unbounded desire to help, which we are perfectly willing to have judged by their fruits. In an effort to adjust our international obligations we have met with a response which, when everything is considered, I believe history will record as a most remarkable and gratifying demonstration of the sanctity with which civilized nations undertake to discharge their mutual obligations.
Debt settlements have been negotiated with practically all those who owed us and all finally adjusted but two, which are in the process of ratification. When we consider the real sacrifice that will be necessary on the part of other nations, considering all their circumstances, to meet their agreed payments, we ought to hold them in increased admiration and respect. It is true that we have extended to them very generous treatment, but it is also very true that they have agreed to repay us all that we have loaned to them and some interest.
Negotiations in China.
A special conference on the Chinese customs tariff provided for by the treaty between the nine powers relating to the Chinese customs tariff signed at Washington on Feb. 6, 1922, was called by the Chinese government to meet at Peking on Oct. 26, 1925. We participated in this conference through fully empowered delegates and, with good-will, endeavored to cooperate with the other participating powers with a view to putting into effect promises made to China at the Washington conference, and considering any reasonable proposal that might be made by the Chinese government for the revision of the treaties on the subject of China’s tariff.
With these aims in view the American delegation at the outset of the conference proposed to put into effect the surtaxes provided for by the Washington treaty and to proceed immediately to the negotiation of a treaty, which, among other things, was to make provision for the abolition of taxes collected on goods in transit, remove the tariff restrictions in existing treaties, and put into effect the national tariff law of China.
Early in April of the present year the Central Chinese Government was ousted from power by opposing warring factions. It became impossible under the circumstances to continue the negotiations. Finally, on July 3, the delegates of the foreign powers, including those of the United States, issued a statement expressing their unanimous and earnest desire to proceed with the work of the conference at the earliest possible moment when the delegates of the Chinese Government are in a position to resume discussions with the foreign delegates of the problems before the conference.
Maintenance of Neutrality.
We are prepared to resume the negotiations thus interrupted whenever a Government representing the Chinese people and acting on their behalf presents itself. The fact that constant warfare between contending Chinese factions has rendered it impossible to bring these negotiations to a successful conclusion is a matter of deep regret. Throughout these conflicts we have maintained a position of the most careful neutrality. Our naval vessels in Asiatic waters, pursuant to treaty rights, have been used only for the protection of American citizens.
Silas S. Strawn, Esq., was sent to China as American Commissioner to cooperate with Commissioners of the other powers in the establishment of a commission to inquire into the present practice of extraterritorial jurisdiction in China, with a view to reporting to the Governments of the several powers their findings of fact in regard to these matters. The commission commenced its work in January, 1926, and agreed upon a joint report which was signed on Sept. 16, 1926. The commission’s report has been received and is being studied with a view to determining our future policy in regard to the question of extraterritorial privileges under treaties between the United States and China .
Hopeful of Geneva Arms Results.
The Preparatory Commission for the Disarmament Conference met at Geneva on May 18, and its work has been proceeding almost continuously since that date. It would be premature to attempt to form a judgment as to the progress that has been made. The commission has had before it a comprehensive list of questions touching upon all aspects of the question of limitation of armament.
In the commission’s discussions many differences of opinion have developed. However, I am hopeful that at least some measure of agreement will be reached as the discussions continue. The American representation on the commission has consistently tried to be helpful and has kept before it the practical objective to which the commission is working, namely, actual agreements for the limitation of armaments. Our representatives will continue their work in that direction.
One of the most encouraging features of the commission’s work thus far has been the agreement in principle among the naval experts of a majority of the powers parties to the Washington treaty limiting naval armament upon methods and standards for the comparison and further limitation of naval armament. It is needless to say that at the proper time I shall be prepared to proceed along practical lines to the conclusion of agreements carrying further the work begun at the Washington Conference in 1921.
Many important subjects which it is impossible even to mention in the short space of an annual message you will find fully discussed in the department reports. A failure to include them here is not to be taken as indicating a lack of interest, but only a disinclination to state inadequately what has been much better done in other documents.
THE CAPITAL CITY
We are embarking on an ambitious building project for the city of Washington. The Memorial Bridge is under way with all that it holds for use and beauty. New buildings are soon contemplated. This program should represent the best that exists in the art and science of architecture. Into these structures, which must be considered as of a permanent nature, ought to go the aspirations of the nation, its ideals expressed in forms of beauty.
If our country wishes to compete with others, let it not be in the support of armaments, but in the making of a beautiful capital city. Let it express the soul of America. Whenever an American is at the seat of his Government, however traveled and cultured he may be, he ought to find a city of stately proportion, symmetrically laid out and adorned with the best that there is in architecture, which would arouse his imagination and stir his patriotic pride.
In the coming years Washington should be not only the art centre of our own country, but the art centre of the world. Around it should centre all that is best in science, in learning, in letters and in art. These are the results that creation of those national resources with which we have been favored.
America is not and must not be a country without ideals. They are useless if they are only visionary; they are only valuable if they are practical. A nation cannot dwell constantly on the mountain tops. It has to be replenished and sustained through the ceaseless toil of the less inspiring valleys. But its face ought always to be turned upward, its vision ought always to be fixed on high.
We need ideals that can be followed in daily life, that can be translated into terms of the home. We cannot expect to be relieved from toil, but we do expect to divest it of degrading conditions. Work is honorable; it is entitled to an honorable recompense. We must strive mightily, but having striven there is a defect in our political and social system if we are not in general rewarded with success.
To relieve the land of the burdens that came from the war, to release to the individual more of the fruits of his own industry, to increase his earning capacity and decrease his hours of labor, to enlarge the circle of his vision through good roads and better transportation, to place before him the opportunity for education both in science and in art, to leave him free to receive the inspiration of religion, all these are ideals which deliver him from the servitude of the body and exalt him to the service of the soul.
Through this emancipation from things that are material we broaden our dominion over the things that are spiritual.
The White House, Dec. 7, 1926
Citation: The New York Times, 1926.