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I am going to speak, as you would have the right to expect me to speak, of what affects us at the present moment here in this State, of one of those problems with which we, who are for the time being your servants and representatives in public life, are trying to deal - the question of the taxation of franchises.
On the one hand we have the perfectly simple savage who believes that you should tax franchises to the extent of confiscating them, and that it is the duty of all railroad corporations to carry everybody free and give him a chromo.
On the other, we have the scarcely less primitive mortal who believes that there is something sacred in a franchise and that there is no reason why it should pay its share of the public burdens at all.
Now, gentlemen, remember that the man who occupies the last position inevitably tends to produce the man who occupies the first position, and that the worst enemy of property is the man who, whether from unscrupulousness or from mere heedlessness and thoughtlessness, takes the ground that there is something sacrosanct about all property, that the owners of it are to occupy a different position in the community from all others and are to have their burdens not increased, but diminished, because of their wealth. Oh, if I could only impress upon you, if I only had the eloquence and the power of enforcing conviction upon you to make you understand the two sides of the question
the question — not understand it; you may do that in theory now — but to make you realize it, the two sides, that the rich man who buys a privilege from a board of aldermen for a railway which he represents, the rich man who gets a privilege through the Legislature by bribery and corruption, for any corporation, is committing an offense against the community, which it is possible may some day have to be condoned in blood and destruction, not by him, not by his sons, but by you and your sons. If I could only make you understand that, on one side, and make you, the mass of our people, the mass of our voters understand, on the other, that the worst thing they can do is to choose a representative who shall say, “I am against corporations; I am against capital," and not a man who shall say, “I stand by the Ten Commandments; I stand by doing equal justice to the man of means and the man without means; I stand by saying that no man shall be stolen from and that no man shall steal from any one else; I stand by saying that the corporation shall not be blackmailed, on the one side, and that the corporations shall not acquire any improper power by corruption, on the other; that the corporation shall pay its full share of the public burdens, and that when it does so it shall be protected in its rights exactly as any one else is protected." In other words, if I could only make our people realize that their one hope and one safety in dealing with this problem is to send into our public bodies men who shall be honest, who shall realize their obligations to rich and poor alike, and who shall draw the line, not between the rich man and the poor man, but between the honest man and the dishonest man.
Now, gentlemen, ... I have not any new doctrine to declare to you. The doctrine that I preach, the doctrine that all men who wish their country well must preach, is a doctrine that was old when the children of Israel came out of Egypt; a doctrine as old as our civilization; as old as the civilizations that died thousands of years before ours was born; the doctrine that teaches us that men shall prosper as long as they do their duty to themselves and their neighbors alike; the doctrine that we shall thrive as long as we believe in those archaic rules of conduct which were set down in the Sermon on the Mount.'
We are passing through a period of great commercial prosperity, and such a period is as sure as adversity itself bring mutterings of discontent. At a time when most men prosper somewhat some men always prosper greatly; and it is as true now as when the tower of Siloam fell upon all alike, that good fortune does not come solely to the just, nor bad fortune solely to the unjust. When the weather is good for crops it is good for weeds. Moreover, not only do the wicked flourish when the times are such that most men flourish, but, what is worse, the spirit of envy and jealousy springs up in the breasts of those who, though they may be doing fairly well themselves, see others no more deserving, who do better.
Wise laws and fearless and upright administration of the laws can give the opportunity for such prosperity as we see about us. But that is all that they can do. When the conditions have been created which make prosperity possible, then each individual man must achieve it for himself, by his own energy and thrift and business intelligence. If when people wax fat they kick, as they have
1 Address at the Independent Club, Buffalo, New York, May 15, 1899.
kicked since the days of Jeshurun, they will speedily destroy their own prosperity. If they go into wild speculation and lose their heads, they have lost that which no laws can supply. If in a spirit of sullen envy they insist upon pulling down those who have profited most in the years of fatness, they will bury themselves in the crash of the common disaster. It is difficult to make our material condition better by the best laws, but it is easy enough to ruin it by bad laws.
The upshot of all this is that it is peculiarly incumbent upon us in a time of such material well-being, both collectively as a nation and individually as citizens, to show, each on his own account, that we possess the qualities of prudence, self-knowledge, and self-restraint. In our Government we need above all things stability, fixity of economic policy, while remembering that this fixity must not be fossilization, that there must not be inability to shift our laws so as to meet our shifting national needs. There are real and great evils in our social and economic life, and these evils stand out in all their ugly baldness in time of prosperity; for the wicked who prosper åre never a pleasant sight. There is every need of striving in all possible ways, individually and collectively, by combinations among ourselves and through the recognized governmental agencies, to cut out those evils. All I ask is to be sure that we do not use the knife with an ignorant zeal which would make it more dangerous to the patient than to the disease. ..
We meet a peculiar difficulty under our system of government, because of the division of governmental power between the Nation and the States. When the industrial conditions were simple, very little control was
needed; and the difficulties of exercising such control under our Constitution were not evident. Now the conditions are complicated and we find it hard to frame national legislation which shall be adequate; while as a matter of practical experience it has been shown that the States either cannot or will not exercise a sufficient control to meet the needs of the case. Some of our States have excellent laws — laws which it would be well indeed to have enacted by the national legislature. But the widespread differences in these laws, even between adjacent States, and the uncertainty of the power of enforcement, result practically in altogether insufficient control. I believe that the Nation must assume this power of control by legislation; if necessary, by constitutional amendment. The immediate necessity in dealing with trusts is to place them under the real, not the nominal, control of some sovereign to which, as its creatures, the trusts shall owe allegiance, and in whose courts the sovereign's orders may be enforced.
In my judgment this sovereign must be the National Government. When it has been given full power, then this full power can be used to control any evil influence, exactly as the Government is now using the power conferred upon it by the Sherman anti-trust law.
Even when the power has been granted, it would be most unwise to exercise it too much, to begin by too stringent legislation. The mechanism of modern business is as delicate and complicated as it is vast, and nothing would be more productive of evil to all of us, and especially to those least well off in this world's goods, than ignorant meddling with this mechanism - above