State of the Union Address
December 8, 1914
GENTLEMEN OF THE CONGRESS:
The session upon which you are now entering will be the closing session
of the Sixty-third Congress, a Congress, I venture to say, which will long
be remembered for the great body of thoughtful and constructive work which
it has done, in loyal response to the thought and needs of the country.
I should like in this address to review the notable record and try to make
adequate assessment of it; but no doubt we stand too near the work that
has been done and are ourselves too much part of it to play the part of
historians toward it.
Our program of legislation with regard to the regulation of business
is now virtually complete. It has been put forth, as we intended, as a
whole, and leaves no conjecture as to what is to follow. The road at last
lies clear and firm before business. It is a road which it can travel without
fear or embarrassment. It is the road to ungrudged, unclouded success.
In it every honest man, every man who believes that the public interest
is part of his own interest, may walk with perfect confidence.
Moreover, our thoughts are now more of the future than of the past.
While we have worked at our tasks of peace the circumstances of the whole
age have been altered by war. What we have done for our own land and our
own people we did with the best that was in us, whether of character or
of intelligence, with sober enthusiasm and a confidence in the principles
upon which we were acting which sustained us at every step of the difficult
undertaking; but it is done. It has passed from our hands. It is now an
established part of the legislation of the country. Its usefulness, its
effects will disclose themselves in experience. What chiefly strikes us
now, as we look about us during these closing days of a year which will
be forever memorable in the history of the world, is that we face new tasks,
have been facing them these six months, must face them in the months to
come,-face them without partisan feeling, like men who have forgotten everything
but a common duty and the fact that we are representatives of a great people
whose thought is not of us but of what America owes to herself and to all
mankind in such circumstances as these upon which we look amazed and anxious.
War has interrupted the means of trade not only but also the processes
of production. In Europe it is destroying men and resources wholesale and
upon a scale unprecedented and appalling, There is reason to fear that
the time is near, if it be not already at hand, when several of the countries
of Europe will find it difficult to do for their people what they have
hitherto been always easily able to do,--many essential and fundamental
things. At any rate, they will need our help and our manifold services
as they have never needed them before; and we should be ready, more fit
and ready than we have ever been.
It is of equal consequence that the nations whom Europe has usually
supplied with innumerable articles of manufacture and commerce of which
they are in constant need and without which their economic development
halts and stands still can now get only a small part of what they formerly
imported and eagerly look to us to supply their all but empty markets.
This is particularly true of our own neighbors, the States, great and small,
of Central and South America. Their lines of trade have hitherto run chiefly
athwart the seas, not to our ports but to the ports of Great Britain and
of the older continent of Europe. I do not stop to inquire why, or to make
any comment on probable causes. What interests us just now is not the explanation
but the fact, and our duty and opportunity in the presence of it. Here
are markets which we must supply, and we must find the means of action.
The United States, this great people for whom we speak and act, should
be ready, as never before, to serve itself and to serve mankind; ready
with its resources, its energies, its forces of production, and its means
It is a very practical matter, a matter of ways and means. We have the
resources, but are we fully ready to use them? And, if we can make ready
what we have, have we the means at hand to distribute it? We are not fully
ready; neither have we the means of distribution. We are willing, but we
are not fully able. We have the wish to serve and to serve greatly, generously;
but we are not prepared as we should be. We are not ready to mobilize our
resources at once. We are not prepared to use them immediately and at their
best, without delay and without waste.
To speak plainly, we have grossly erred in the way in which we have
stunted and hindered the development of our merchant marine. And now, when
we need ships, we have not got them. We have year after year debated, without
end or conclusion, the best policy to pursue with regard to the use of
the ores and forests and water powers of our national domain in the rich
States of the West, when we should have acted; and they are still locked
up. The key is still turned upon them, the door shut fast at which thousands
of vigorous men, full of initiative, knock clamorously for admittance.
The water power of our navigable streams outside the national domain also,
even in the eastern States, where we have worked and planned for generations,
is still not used as it might be, because we will and we won't; because
the laws we have made do not intelligently balance encouragement against
restraint. We withhold by regulation.
I have come to ask you to remedy and correct these mistakes and omissions,
even at this short session of a Congress which would certainly seem to
have done all the work that could reasonably be expected of it. The time
and the circumstances are extraordinary, and so must our efforts be also.
Fortunately, two great measures, finely conceived, the one to unlock,
with proper safeguards, the resources of the national domain, the other
to encourage the use of the navigable waters outside that domain for the
generation of power, have already passed the House of Representatives and
are ready for immediate consideration and action by the Senate. With the
deepest earnestness I urge their prompt passage. In them both we turn our
backs upon hesitation and makeshift and formulate a genuine policy of use
and conservation, in the best sense of those words. We owe the one measure
not only to the people of that great western country for whose free and
systematic development, as it seems to me, our legislation has done so
little, but also to the people of the Nation as a whole; and we as clearly
owe the other fulfillment of our repeated promises that the water power
of the country should in fact as well as in name be put at the disposal
of great industries which can make economical and profitable use of it,
the rights of the public being adequately guarded the while, and monopoly
in the use prevented. To have begun such measures and not completed them
would indeed mar the record of this great Congress very seriously. I hope
and confidently believe that they will be completed.
And there is another great piece of legislation which awaits and should
receive the sanction of the Senate: I mean the bill which gives a larger
measure of self-government to the people of the Philippines. How better,
in this time of anxious questioning and perplexed policy, could we show
our confidence in the principles of liberty, as the source as well as the
expression of life, how better could we demonstrate our own self-possession
and steadfastness in the courses of justice and disinterestedness than
by thus going calmly forward to fulfill our promises to a dependent people,
who will now look more anxiously than ever to see whether we have indeed
the liberality, the unselfishness, the courage, the faith we have boasted
and professed. I can not believe that the Senate will let this great measure
of constructive justice await the action of another Congress. Its passage
would nobly crown the record of these two years of memorable labor.
But I think that you will agree with me that this does not complete
the toll of our duty. How are we to carry our goods to the empty markets
of which I have spoken if we have not the ships? How are we to build tip
a great trade if we have not the certain and con,;tpnt means of transportation
upon which all profitable and useful commerce depends? And how are we to
get the ships if we wait for the trade to develop without them? To correct
the many mistakes by which we have discouraged and all but destroyed the
merchant marine of the country, to retrace the steps by which we have..
it seems almost deliberately, withdrawn our flag from the seas.. except
where, here and there, a ship of war is bidden carry it or some wandering
yacht displays it, would take a long time and involve many detailed items
of legislation, and tile trade which we ought immediately to handle would
disappear or find other channels while we debated the items.
The case is not unlike that which confronted us when our own continent
was to be opened up to settlement and industry, and we needed long lines
of railway, extended means of transportation prepared beforehand, if development
was not to lag intolerably and wait interminably. We lavishly subsidized
the building of transcontinental railroads. We look back upon that with
regret now, because the subsidies led to many scandals of which we are
ashamed; but we know that the railroads had to be built, and if we had
it to do over again we should of course build them, but in another way.
Therefore I propose another way of providing the means of transportation,
which must precede, not tardily follow, the development of our trade with
our neighbor states of America. It may seem a reversal of the natural order
of things, but it is true, that the routes of trade must be actually opened-by
many ships and regular sailings and moderate charges-before streams of
merchandise will flow freely and profitably through them.
Hence the pending shipping bill, discussed at the last session but as
yet passed by neither House. In my judgment such legislation is imperatively
needed and can not wisely be postponed. The Government must open these
gates of trade, and open them wide; open them before it is altogether profitable
to open them, or altogether reasonable to ask private capital to open them
at a venture. It is not a question of the Government monopolizing the field.
It should take action to make it certain that transportation at reasonable
rates will be promptly provided, even where the carriage is not at first
profitable; and then, when the carriage has become sufficiently profitable
to attract and engage private capital, and engage it in abundance, the
Government ought to withdraw. I very earnestly hope that the Congress will
be of this opinion, and that both Houses will adopt this exceedingly important
The great subject of rural credits still remains to be dealt with, and
it is a matter of deep regret that the difficulties of the subject have
seemed to render it impossible to complete a bill for passage at this session.
But it can not be perfected yet, and therefore there are no other constructive
measures the necessity for which I will at this time call your attention
to; but I would be negligent of a very manifest duty were I not to call
the attention of the Senate to the fact that the proposed convention for
safety at sea awaits its confirmation and that the limit fixed in the convention
itself for its acceptance is the last day of the present month. The conference
in which this convention originated was called by the United States; the
representatives of the United States played a very influential part indeed
in framing the provisions of the proposed convention; and those provisions
are in themselves for the most part admirable. It would hardly be consistent
with the part we have played in the whole matter to let it drop and go
by the board as if forgotten and neglected. It was ratified in May by the
German Government and in August by the Parliament of Great Britain. It
marks a most hopeful and decided advance in international civilization.
We should show our earnest good faith in a great matter by adding our own
acceptance of it.
There is another matter of which I must make special mention, if I am
to discharge my conscience, lest it should escape your attention. It may
seem a very small thing. It affects only a single item of appropriation.
But many human lives and many great enterprises hang upon it. It is the
matter of making adequate provision for the survey and charting of our
coasts. It is immediately pressing and exigent in connection with the immense
coast line of Alaska, a coast line greater than that of the United States
themselves, though it is also very important indeed with regard to the
older coasts of the continent. We can not use our great Alaskan domain,
ships will not ply thither, if those coasts and their many hidden dangers
are not thoroughly surveyed and charted. The work is incomplete at almost
every point. Ships and lives have been lost in threading what were supposed
to be well-known main channels. We have not provided adequate vessels or
adequate machinery for the survey and charting. We have used old vessels
that were not big enough or strong enough and which were so nearly unseaworthy
that our inspectors would not have allowed private owners to send them
to sea. This is a matter which, as I have said, seems small, but is in
reality very great. Its importance has only to be looked into to be appreciated.
Before I close may I say a few words upon two topics, much discussed
out of doors, upon which it is highly important that our judgment should
be clear, definite, and steadfast?
One of these is economy in government expenditures. The duty of economy
is not debatable. It is manifest and imperative. In the appropriations
we pass we are spending the money of the great people whose servants we
are,-not our own. We are trustees and responsible stewards in the spending.
The only thing debatable and upon which we should be careful to make our
thought and purpose clear is the kind of economy demanded of us. I assert
with the greatest confidence that the people of the United States are not
jealous of the amount their Government costs if they are sure that they
get what they need and desire for the outlay, that the money is being spent
for objects of which they approve, and that it is being applied with good
business sense and management.
Governments grow, piecemeal, both in their tasks and in the means by
which those tasks are to be performed, and very few Governments are organized,
I venture to say, as wise and experienced business men would organize them
if they had a clean sheet of paper to write upon. Certainly the Government
of the United States is not. I think that it is generally agreed that there
should be a systematic reorganization and reassembling of its parts so
as to secure greater efficiency and effect considerable savings in expense.
But the amount of money saved in that way would, I believe, though no doubt
considerable in itself, running, it may be, into the millions, be relatively
small,-small, I mean, in proportion to the total necessary outlays of the
Government. It would be thoroughly worth effecting, as every saving would,
great or small. Our duty is not altered by the scale of the saving. But
my point is that the people of the United States do not wish to curtail
the activities of this Government; they wish, rather, to enlarge them;
and with every enlargement, with the mere growth, indeed, of the country
itself, there must come, of course, the inevitable increase of expense.
The sort of economy we ought to practice may be effected, and ought to
be effected, by a careful study and assessment of the tasks to be performed;
and the money spent ought to be made to yield the best possible returns
in efficiency and achievement. And, like good stewards, we should so account
for every dollar of our appropriations as to make it perfectly evident
what it was spent for and in what way it was spent.
It is not expenditure but extravagance that we should fear being criticized
for; not paying for the legitimate enterprise and undertakings of a great
Government whose people command what it should do, but adding what will
benefit only a few or pouring money out for what need not have been undertaken
at all or might have been postponed or better and more economically conceived
and carried out. The Nation is not niggardly; it is very generous. It will
chide us only if we forget for whom we pay money out and whose money it
is we pay. These are large and general standards, but they are not very
difficult of application to particular cases.
The other topic I shall take leave to mention goes deeper into the principles
of our national life and policy. It is the subject of national defense.
It can not be discussed without first answering some very searching
questions. It is said in some quarters that we are not prepared for war.
What is meant by being prepared? Is it meant that we are not ready upon
brief notice to put a nation in the field, a nation of men trained to arms?
Of course we are not ready to do that; and we shall never be in time of
peace so long as we retain our present political principles and institutions.
And what is it that it is suggested we should be prepared to do? To defend
ourselves against attack? We have always found means to do that, and shall
find them whenever it is necessary without calling our people away from
their necessary tasks to render compulsory military service in times of
Allow me to speak with great plainness and directness upon this great
matter and to avow my convictions with deep earnestness. I have tried to
know what America is, what her people think, what they are, what they most
cherish and hold dear. I hope that some of their finer passions are in
my own heart, --some of the great conceptions and desires which gave birth
to this Government and which have made the voice of this people a voice
of peace and hope and liberty among the peoples of the world, and that,
speaking my own thoughts, I shall, at least in part, speak theirs also,
however faintly and inadequately, upon this vital matter.
We are at peace with all the world. No one who speaks counsel based
on fact or drawn from a just and candid interpretation of realities can
say that there is reason to fear that from any quarter our independence
or the integrity of our territory is threatened. Dread of the power of
any other nation we are incapable of. We are not jealous of rivalry in
the fields of commerce or of any other peaceful achievement. We mean to
live our own lives as we will; but we mean also to let live. We are, indeed,
a true friend to all the nations of the world, because we threaten none,
covet the possessions of none, desire the overthrow of none. Our friendship
can be accepted and is accepted without reservation, because it is offered
in a spirit and for a purpose which no one need ever question or suspect.
Therein lies our greatness. We are the champions of peace and of concord.
And we should be very jealous of this distinction which we have sought
to earn. just now we should be particularly jealous of it because it is
our dearest present hope that this character and reputation may presently,
in God's providence, bring us an opportunity such as has seldom been vouchsafed
any nation, the opportunity to counsel and obtain peace in the world and
reconciliation and a healing settlement of many a matter that has cooled
and interrupted the friendship of nations. This is the time above all others
when we should wish and resolve to keep our strength by self-possession,
our influence by preserving our ancient principles of action.
From the first we have had a clear and settled policy with regard to
military establishments. We never have had, and while we retain our present
principles and ideals we never shall have, a large standing army. If asked,
Are you ready to defend yourselves? we reply, Most assuredly, to the utmost;
and yet we shall not turn America into a military camp. We will not ask
our young men to spend the best years of their lives making soldiers of
themselves. There is another sort of energy in us. It will know how to
declare itself and make itself effective should occasion arise. And especially
when half the world is on fire we shall be careful to make our moral insurance
against the spread of the conflagration very definite and certain and adequate
Let us remind ourselves, therefore, of the only thing we can do or will
do. We must depend in every time of national peril, in the future as in
the past, not upon a standing army, nor yet upon a reserve army, but upon
a citizenry trained and accustomed to arms. It will be right enough, right
American policy, based upon our accustomed principles and practices, to
provide a system by which every citizen who will volunteer for the training
may be made familiar with the use of modern arms, the rudiments of drill
and maneuver, and the maintenance and sanitation of camps. We should encourage
such training and make it a means of discipline which our young men will
learn to value. It is right that we should provide it not only, but that
we should make it as attractive as possible, and so induce our young men
to undergo it at such times as they can command a little freedom and can
seek the physical development they need, for mere health's sake, if for
nothing more. Every means by which such things can be stimulated is legitimate,
and such a method smacks of true American ideas. It is right, too, that
the National Guard of the States should be developed and strengthened by
every means which is not inconsistent with our obligations to our own people
or with the established policy of our Government. And this, also, not because
the time or occasion specially calls for such measures, but because it
should be our constant policy to make these provisions for our national
peace and safety.
More than this carries with it a reversal of the whole history and character
of our polity. More than this, proposed at this time, permit me to say,
would mean merely that we had lost our self-possession, that we had been
thrown off our balance by a war with which we have nothing to do, whose
causes can not touch us, whose very existence affords us opportunities
of friendship and disinterested service which should make us ashamed of
any thought of hostility or fearful preparation for trouble. This is assuredly
the opportunity for which a people and a government like ours were raised
up, the opportunity not only to speak but actually to embody and exemplify
the counsels of peace and amity and the lasting concord which is based
on justice and fair and generous dealing.
A powerful navy we have always regarded as our proper and natural means
of defense, and it has always been of defense that we have thought, never
of aggression or of conquest. But who shall tell us now what sort of navy
to build? We shall take leave to be strong upon the seas, in the future
as in the past; and there will be no thought of offense or of provocation
in that. Our ships are our natural bulwarks. When will the experts tell
us just what kind we should construct-and when will they be right for ten
years together, if the relative efficiency of craft of different kinds
and uses continues to change as we have seen it change under our very eyes
in these last few months ?
But I turn away from the subject. It is not new. There is no new need
to discuss it. We shall not alter our attitude toward it because some amongst
us are nervous and excited. We shall easily and sensibly agree upon a policy
of defense. The question has not changed its aspects because the times
are not normal. Our policy will not be for an occasion. It will be conceived
as a permanent and settled thing, which we will pursue at all seasons,
without haste and after a fashion perfectly consistent with the peace of
the world, the abiding friendship of states, and the unhampered freedom
of all with whom we deal. Let there be no misconception. The country has
been misinformed. We have not been negligent of national defense. We are
not unmindful of the great responsibility resting upon us. We shall learn
and profit by the lesson of every experience and every new circumstance;
and what is needed will be adequately done.
I close, as I began, by reminding you of the great tasks and duties
of peace which challenge our best powers and invite us to build what will
last, the tasks to which we can address ourselves now and at all times
with free-hearted zest and with all the finest gifts of constructive wisdom
we possess. To develop our life and our resources; to supply our own people,
and the people of the world as their need arises, from the abundant plenty
of our fields and our marts of trade to enrich the commerce of our own
States and of the world with the products of our mines, our farms, and
our factories, with the creations of our thought and the fruits of our
character,-this is what will hold our attention and our enthusiasm steadily,
now and in the years to come, as we strive to show in our life as a nation
what liberty and the inspirations of an emancipated spirit may do for men
and for societies, for individuals, for states, and for mankind.