How Governor Wilson Feels


"How Governor Wilson Feels," Harper's Weekly, October 26, 1912: 7-8

"What I understand from this campaign is that the are resuming control of their affairs, and what gratifies me more than any. thing else in going about is that, if I should be chosen President, I will be chosen something more than President. I will be chosen the spokesman of my fellow-citizens as to the way in which our government ought to be conducted. I want, therefore, if I may have the privilege to interpret their interests in respect to legislation and other questions. I am one of those who are entering upon this campaign with absolute confidence. So far as I am concerned, I not only have not made promise to any man, but no man has either hinted at or dared to ask me to make a promise. I am free, for that reason, to act as I deem best within whatever level authority will be granted to me, and free to bear the counsels of my fellow citizens."

Thus does Governor Woodrow Wilson, Democratic nominee for the Presidency, begin to sum up his views on the questions of the day affecting his party as well as the people. Governor Wilson readily impressed the writer, who called on him at his summer home at Sea Girt, as a man of thoughtful mien, extremely affable and pleasant behind his countenance made reflective by m a many years of study; a man who neither seeks nor courts publicity, but at the same time, having nothing to hide or shirk, is ready to "speak to the people now that he has been placed by the people in the position where they want to hear his opinions. Governor Wilson's views have been criticized, not so much for what they are but for what they do not seem to be, with an unmistakable inference that he is non - committal and avoids all compromising questions. It does not seem however, that such is the ease, for the views he presents through HARPER'S WEEKLY lack neither directness nor vigor.

"I believe in my bears that the Democratic party is now offering to serve the people. But I cannot put myself at their service unless they know what there is to do -unless they know what the situation is and what it is that we seek to cure. There are certain fundamental evils in our polities, evils which have crept upon us unawares in some degree but, nevertheless they have come upon us until they have the grip of a giant in main. taming control of the government of this country and of its policy—and those are the evils we see to cure. The Democratic party teas almost everywhere in this country broken its connections its past and is putting up new men, with the result that men who have long been out of the Democratic ranks are coming hack to them, and that men who have never been in the Democratic ranks are listening attentively to see what new things it is that this party purposes.

"Do the people realize that life in America is not the life that it was twenty years ago, nor that of a decade ago? We have changed our economic conditions absolutely from top to bottom and with our economic society, the organization of our life. The old party formulas do not appear in the present problem, the older issues sound as if they belonged to a past age, which men must have almost forgotten. Things which used to be put in the party platform of twelve years ago would sound antiquated if put in the platform now. We e stand in the presence of a new age to which we must give the attention of. men who know that there is no guidance to be afforded them except their own intelligence and their own conscience because what makes every man stand erect and feel his manhood is the feeling that he is determining public questions for himself at no man's bidding.

"In how many ways have my views on the labor question been analyzed! But I shall explain—I shall analyze those views for you. It is not possible for me to look at the question of labor separately. as if laboring men did not form a part and the fundamental part of our society, and it is not possible for any other man to do so and still claim to be honest with himself. Why have we a labor question at all' For the simple reason that the laboring men and the employer are not intimate associates now, and the personal equation no longer exists between the two. Modern corporations. system, and elimination of waste have done away with that condition when individual employees dealt directly with individual employer. At the time when this condition obtained were framed most of our present labor laws, all of which, 1 can safely say, are obsolete. The labor question is a question of society of how many are going to tackle the world, and how they are going to he related to it. and v hat their just reward shall be. As nine-tenths tenths of the men of the v. world are working-men men that society hag to protect society cannot afford to disregard this great group. The evolution of the individual employer into a corporation gives the corresponding right to the laboring men of organizing. I have never found any man who was jealous in regard to the interests of the laboring man, much leas jealous of his forming organizations whenever he pleased for any legitimate purpose. But mere or organization IA not self-sufficient organization cannot accomplish what society as a whole can accomplish through appropriate legislation.

"Closely related to the problem of the wage-earner's lot is business, and closely related to business is the tariff. We all of us agree that the central issue in the present campaign is, as it her been so often before. the question of the tariff. But the tariff, like other things, is not the question that it was a decade or two ago. The change in the circumstances of the the world, the development of our enterprises and our own growing  importance have all contributed to take charge of the tariff question. The Constitution was drafted in order that there might be free trade between all the States and that was the object of the power over interstate commerce that was granted to the Congress. And so, because there was domestic competition, it was difficult to answer the arguments of the protectionists, that protection does not directly govern prices and therefore was not directly a burden upon the consumer. because the price was kept down by domestic competition upon the vast scale of a continent. All that. however, has been altered in the last decade. Competition has ceased to determine price. Monopoly in one form or another has taken the place of competition and now, without competition. those behind the high wall of protection are determining arbitrarily what the prices of everything from foodstuffs up are to be.

"When I in some degree voice the purposes the Democratic party has formed it is simply because I have had a lifelong conviction that a very great wrong has been done in this country by the way in which the policy of protection has been applied to its affairs. What I want to know is which duty and how much of a duty is serviceable to the country, without regard to the doctrine of protection. All good Democrats intend to do that which it is necessary to do for the promotion of the prosperity of the United States. To begin right, to serve the country and nobody in particular. Apply the rule of general interest in the place of the special interest and we take the tariff out of polities. Tariff for revenue only likewise brings the desired result. New understand me, I a am not advocating that we must act without considering, carefully and scientifically, all the vested interests that have been built up. I am making clear the rule under which we must undertake to make the change. What we have to ask ourselves, therefore, is not the principle upon which we are to act, for that is main. We are to act upon the fundamental principal of the Democratic party, not free trade, but tariff for revenue, and we must approach that by such avenues, by such stages, and at such a pace as v ill be consistent with the stability and safety of the ; business of the country. We may prudently bring this tariff down to our children on a proper basis.

"Then there is the relation between government and business, and when we consider that we touch at once the seat of national irritation. Whatever the objections and contentions of business or those behind business, it must not be forgotten that the very thing government cannot let alone is business. for business underlies every part of our life; the foundation of our lives, including our spiritual lives, is economic. Government must regulate business, because behind business there stands the political relationship. It is futile, therefore, to have the politicians -take their hands off, in the face of inconsequential as well as serious mistakes. They must go forward whether instructed or not. Today the business of the United States is not, unfortunately, in contact as a whole with the government of the United States. So soon as it is the matters which now give the people cause for uneasiness v ill disappear. Business is not m the confidence of the Congress, but as soon as it has general and free access to the Congressional councils all the friction between business and politics will disappear It is idle to suppose that there is a malevolent combination somewhere in this country to dominate the government. Whatever regrettable situation confronts us today is due to certain processes now well known and perhaps natural in themselves bringing about so extraordinary a concentration in the control of business in this country that the people are afraid that there v. ill be a concentration in the control of government. I am not so radical as to say that it is so, but I am ready to be convinced Bet us therefore. as a party, remove the suspicion of the great body of people in the United States concerning the methods and combinations of business, because business cannot breathe in an atmosphere of suspicion.

"The majority of us have been disturbed to find ourselves growing poorer, even though our earnings were slowly increasing, because prices climb faster than we augment our earnings. Most of us realize that it is not so easy for us to live as it used to be since our money buys less than before. Why is that? Because the high cost of living is arranged by private understanding. and the consumers are not considered. Congressional investigations, no matter how incomplete and even prejudiced, have opened our eyes to the real facts—have shown how clearly private under standings have regulated the price of commodities a the bidding of a favored and privileged few. Business system is an excellent system up to a certain point great combinations effect great economies in administration, hut beyond that point it controls the product and its market value. The trusts belong to a very recent and sophisticated have when men knew what they wanted and knew how to vet it by the favor of the government. What is now necessary in order to rectify the whole mass of business of this kind is that those v. ho control it should entirely change their point of view. They are trustees. not masters. of private property not only because their power is derived from a multitude of men but also because its investments affect a multitude of men. The trusts determine the development or decay of communities because in their power there is the means of lifting or depressing the life of the whole country. It is likely that in some eases these abnormal groups will resist the government to the limit of the laws, and for this reason I consider that it is essential in dealing at law with corporations that we endeavor to impose the penalties of the law upon the actual persons who constitute their directors and officers. We ought by this time to have seen the futility and silliness of trying to punish illegal action by penalizing corporations as such. Fines punish the stockholder, while forfeiture of charter and franchise which they are exercising paralyzes the industry. The responsibility for violating the laws or for neglecting public interests ought to fall upon them as individuals.

"So far as the anti-trust law is concerned it is obvious that it has proved ineffectual thus making it necessary to supplement the present law v, with such civil and criminal laws as will effectually punish and prevent those methods, adding such other laws as may be necessary to provide suitable and adequate judicial processes to disclose them and follow them to final verdict and judgment.

"Of course, in speaking of corrective measures to be-applied to existing conditions, it is well to say a word about conditions that have not been provided for, to facilitate business throughout our country and that of our country with the outside world. We have no banking system which enables us to set up a satisfactory exchange with foreign markets. Our national banks are actually not allowed to deal in accepted bills of lading, so that Canadian hankers come down to Sew York and set up branch banking-houses which can do this absolutely essential function of international trade. There are going to be, with the opening of the Panama Canal, more carrying problems than ever before, but not in the same parts of the country as before, and vet standpatters are trying to defy a change they cannot stay. These standpatters are the selfsame gentlemen who forget that the Spanish War marked the end of an epoch for America. After 1898 we joined the company of world powers for the first time, and there we have since remained subjugated by the weight of obsolete laws compatible only with our domestic epoch. What nucleus of a merchant marine we had was destroyed. Our registry laws are antagonistic to our merchant marine and d operated to take the American flag off the seas But let us have a great merchant marine, and show the world that we intend to keep up the spirit that has moved us to build the Panama Canal -- the spirit of wanting to use that canal ourselves with our own merchant ships. When we need markets, now that we are needing them, we have not-the hands with which to reach out and take them. We must revive our merchant marine, and to enlarge our commerce we must add to our present post-office service a parcels poet as complete as that of any other nation.

"It seems to me that a pressing problem in America is the question of conservation not so much as regards what remains unwasted of our resources, or preservation and more economical use of our water power, but I me mean the preservation of our energies and of the genius of- our people. We owe it to future generations that we should not waste or destroy our resource-. and we owe it still more to future generations that we should not lower the vitality of our working-men and working-women, check the vitality of our children, and demoralize the processes of our life at any point. We have been a spendthrift nation and now we must do more than husband what we have left. We must hearten the people with opportunity, because this is the constructive work of government.

"There are many other duties which the party has shown itself ready to take up. and I frankly say that no other platform has given this intimate vision. We are after realizing our purposes in action. But there is something greater than action and that is the spirit that lies behind it. I consider this to be a year and a period—a most exhilarating period in consequence -- of renaissance of American impulse for right. government in polities. That impulse will not spend and exhaust itself upon a single program and a single platform; it will go on until American citizens have e recovered control of their own government. We want to recover the fundamental processes of America in an age when it will be a greater achievement to recover them than it ever could have been in any preceding age.

"I know from personal acquaintance with scores of politicians that there is nothing they would welcome so much as the liberty of representing their constituents and not representing a political machine. For this reason I am proposing to the people of the United-States the government by the people of their own affairs through persons of their own choice. I cannot make too clear that what we are in pursuit of in this campaign is the purification and the rectification of our policies in those respects v here they have become obscure. I do not doubt the result and I believe I know by now, the spirit of the American people. I believe that one need only point out to the people of the United States the moral issues that he at the basis of all other issues, and that v hen these have been so pointed out every pulse in their manhood will quicken, and that they will rise in response, in that old spirit, which will make possible a new Declaration of Independence, the creation of a new nation.

"We are not attacking men, we are attacking a system. The men are, most of them, honest. The great majority believe that in serving their own they are serving the interests of the country at large. Their conception of prosperity is that it will best proceed and gather under their own management. They are willing that the people should I d share in it, but it must originate with them and be under their experienced control. So it devolves upon the government to point out the right way. Hence our objects as a party—my objects as a spokesman, for the people. I take these objects to be to open up all the processes of polities—open them wide to public view; to make them accessible to every force that moves, every opinion that prevails in the thought of the people; to give society command of its own economic life again. not by revolutionary measures, but by a steady application of the principle that the people have a right to control such matter". Americans are an eminently just and intensely practical people, who do not wish to la, violent hands upon their own affairs, but who claim the right to scrutinize them, and whenever necessary to read just, purify, rearrange, without destroying or even injuring the elements, but filling their altered combination with a new spirit. This is the task of the Democratic party."