State of the Union Address
December 5, 1916
GENTLEMEN OF THE CONGRESS:
In fulfilling at this time the duty laid upon me by the Constitution
of communicating to you from time to time information of the state of the
Union and recommending to your consideration such legislative measures
as may be judged necessary and expedient, I shall continue the practice,
which I hope has been acceptable to you, of leaving to the reports of the
several heads of the executive departments the elaboration of the detailed
needs of the public service and confine myself to those matters of more
general public policy with which it seems necessary and feasible to deal
at the present session of the Congress.
I realize the limitations of time under which you will necessarily act
at this session and shall make my suggestions as few as possible; but there
were some things left undone at the last session which there will now be
time to complete and which it seems necessary in the interest of the public
to do at once.
In the first place, it seems to me imperatively necessary that the earliest
possible consideration and action should be accorded the remaining measures
of the program of settlement and regulation which I had occasion to recommend
to you at the close of your last session in view of the public dangers
disclosed by the unaccommodated difficulties which then existed, and which
still unhappily continue to exist, between the railroads of the country
and their locomotive engineers, conductors and trainmen.
I then recommended:
First, immediate provision for the enlargement and administrative reorganization
of the Interstate Commerce Commission along the lines embodied in the bill
recently passed by the House of Representatives and now awaiting action
by the Senate; in order that the Commission may be enabled to deal with
the many great and various duties now devolving upon it with a promptness
and thoroughness which are, with its present constitution and means of
action, practically impossible.
Second, the establishment of an eight-hour day as the legal basis alike
of work and wages in the employment of all railway employes who are actually
engaged in the work of operating trains in interstate transportation.
Third, the authorization of the appointment by the President of a small
body of men to observe actual results in experience of the adoption of
the eight-hour day in railway transportation alike for the men and for
Fourth, explicit approval by the Congress of the consideration by the
Interstate Commerce Commission of an increase of freight rates to meet
such additional expenditures by the railroads as may have been rendered
necessary by the adoption of the eight-hour day and which have not been
offset by administrative readjustments and economies, should the facts
disclosed justify the increase.
Fifth, an amendment of the existing Federal statute which provides for
the mediation, conciliation and arbitration of such controversies as the
present by adding to it a provision that, in case the methods of accommodation
now provided for should fail, a full public investigation of the merits
of every such dispute shall be instituted and completed before a strike
or lockout may lawfully be attempted.
And, sixth, the lodgment in the hands of the Executive of the power,
in case of military necessity, to take control of such portions and such
rolling stock of the railways of the country as may be required for military
use and to operate them for military purposes, with authority to draft
into the military service of the United States such train crews and administrative
officials as the circumstances require for their safe and efficient use.
The second and third of these recommendations the Congress immediately
acted on: it established the eight-hour day as the legal basis of work
and wages in train service and it authorized the appointment of a commission
to observe and report upon the practical results, deeming these the measures
most immediately needed; but it postponed action upon the other suggestions
until an opportunity should be offered for a more deliberate consideration
The fourth recommendation I do not deem it necessary to renew. The power
of the Interstate Commerce Commission to grant an increase of rates on
the ground referred to is indisputably clear and a recommendation by the
Congress with regard to such a matter might seem to draw in question the
scope of the commission's authority or its inclination to do justice when
there is no reason to doubt either.
The other suggestions-the increase in the Interstate Commerce Commission's
membership and in its facilities for performing its manifold duties; the
provision for full public investigation and assessment of industrial disputes,
and the grant to the Executive of the power to control and operate the
railways when necessary in time of war or other like public necessity-I
now very earnestly renew.
The necessity for such legislation is manifest and pressing. Those who
have entrusted us with the responsibility and duty of serving and safeguarding
them in such matters would find it hard, I believe, to excuse a failure
to act upon these grave matters or any unnecessary postponement of action
Not only does the Interstate Commerce Commission now find it practically
impossible, with its present membership and organization, to perform its
great functions promptly and thoroughly, but it is not unlikely that it
may presently be found advisable to add to its duties still others equally
heavy and exacting. It must first be perfected as an administrative instrument.
The country cannot and should not consent to remain any longer exposed
to profound industrial disturbances for lack of additional means of arbitration
and conciliation which the Congress can easily and promptly supply.
And all will agree that there must be no doubt as to the power of the
Executive to make immediate and uninterrupted use of the railroads for
the concentration of the military forces of the nation wherever they are
needed and whenever they are needed.
This is a program of regulation, prevention and administrative efficiency
which argues its own case in the mere statement of it. With regard to one
of its items, the increase in the efficiency of the Interstate Commerce
Commission, the House of Representatives has already acted; its action
needs only the concurrence of the Senate.
I would hesitate to recommend, and I dare say the Congress would hesitate
to act upon the suggestion should I make it, that any man in any I occupation
should be obliged by law to continue in an employment which he desired
To pass a law which forbade or prevented the individual workman to leave
his work before receiving the approval of society in doing so would be
to adopt a new principle into our jurisprudence, which I take it for granted
we are not prepared to introduce.
But the proposal that the operation of the railways of the country shall
not be stopped or interrupted by the concerted action of organized bodies
of men until a public investigation shall have been instituted, which shall
make the whole question at issue plain for the judgment of the opinion
of the nation, is not to propose any such principle.
It is based upon the very different principle that the concerted action
of powerful bodies of men shall not be permitted to stop the industrial
processes of the nation, at any rate before the nation shall have had an
opportunity to acquaint itself with the merits of the case as between employe
and employer, time to form its opinion upon an impartial statement of the
merits, and opportunity to consider all practicable means of conciliation
I can see nothing in that proposition but the justifiable safeguarding
by society of the necessary processes of its very life. There is nothing
arbitrary or unjust in it unless it be arbitrarily and unjustly done. It
can and should be done with a full and scrupulous regard for the interests
and liberties of all concerned as well as for the permanent interests of
Three matters of capital importance await the action of the Senate which
have already been acted upon by the House of Representatives; the bill
which seeks to extend greater freedom of combination to those engaged in
promoting the foreign commerce of the country than is now thought by some
to be legal under the terms of the laws against monopoly; the bill amending
the present organic law of Porto Rico; and the bill proposing a more thorough
and systematic regulation of the expenditure of money in elections, commonly
called the Corrupt Practices Act.
I need not labor my advice that these measures be enacted into law.
Their urgency lies in the manifest circumstances which render their adoption
at this time not only opportune but necessary. Even delay would seriously
jeopard the interests of the country and of the Government.
Immediate passage of the bill to regulate the expenditure of money in
elections may seem to be less necessary than the immediate enactment of
the other measures to which I refer, because at least two years will elapse
before another election in which Federal offices are to be filled; but
it would greatly relieve the public mind if this important matter were
dealt with while the circumstances and the dangers to the public morals
of the present method of obtaining and spending campaign funds stand clear
under recent observation, and the methods of expenditure can be frankly
studied in the light of present experience; and a delay would have the
further very serious disadvantage of postponing action until another election
was at hand and some special object connected with it might be thought
to be in the mind of those who urged it. Action can be taken now with facts
for guidance and without suspicion of partisan purpose.
I shall not argue at length the desirability of giving a freer hand
in the matter of combined and concerted effort to those who shall undertake
the essential enterprise of building up our export trade. That enterprise
will presently, will immediately assume, has indeed already assumed a magnitude
unprecedented in our experience. We have not the necessary instrumentalities
for its prosecution; it is deemed to be doubtful whether they could be
created upon an adequate scale under our present laws.
We should clear away all legal obstacles and create a basis of undoubted
law for it which will give freedom without permitting unregulated license.
The thing must be done now, because the opportunity is here and may escape
us if we hesitate or delay.
The argument for the proposed amendments of the organic law of Porto
Rico is brief and conclusive. The present laws governing the island and
regulating the rights and privileges of its people are not just. We have
created expectations of extended privilege which we have not satisfied.
There is uneasiness among the people of the island and even a suspicious
doubt with regard to our intentions concerning them which the adoption
of the pending measure would happily remove. We do not doubt what we wish
to do in any essential particular. We ought to do it at once.
At the last session of the Congress a bill was passed by the Senate
which provides for the promotion of vocational and industrial education,
which is of vital importance to the whole country because it concerns a
matter, too long neglected, upon which the thorough industrial preparation
of the country for the critical years of economic development immediately
ahead of us in very large measure depends.
May I not urge its early and favorable consideration by the House of
Representatives and its early enactment into law? It contains plans which
affect all interests and all parts of the country, and I am sure that there
is no legislation now pending before the Congress whose passage the country
awaits with more thoughtful approval or greater impatience to see a great
and admirable thing set in the way of being done.
There are other matters already advanced to the stage of conference
between the two houses of which it is not necessary that I should speak.
Some practicable basis of agreement concerning them will no doubt be found
an action taken upon them.
Inasmuch as this is, gentlemen , probably the last occasion I shall
have to address the Sixty-fourth Congress, I hope that you will permit
me to say with what genuine pleasure and satisfaction I have co-operated
with you in the many measures of constructive policy with which you have
enriched the legislative annals of the country. It has been a privilege
to labor in such company. I take the liberty of congratulating you upon
the completion of a record of rare serviceableness and distinction.