Woodrow Wilson: The Fear of Monopoly

Woodrow Wilson: The Fear of Monopoly

▪ Primary Source

      The campaign of 1912 pitted four remarkable men against each other for the presidency, all of them with significant reform backgrounds. William Howard Taft, the incumbent, had the support of the regular Republicans and of some of the old-guard Progressives. Theodore Roosevelt was backed by most of the Progressives, who had banded together to organize the rump Republican "Bull Moose" Party. Eugene Debs was the Socialist candidate. And Woodrow Wilson, the enlightened governor of New Jersey, ex-professor of political science and ex-president of Princeton University, was the choice of the Democrats. Failing at first to find an issue with which to stir the voters, Wilson was persuaded by Louis D. Brandeis to stress the problem of the trusts, and with his oratorical gifts he was able to turn it into what was almost a one-man crusade. A portion of Wilson's campaign speech at Lincoln, Nebraska, delivered on October 5, 1912, is reprinted here.

      We are not going to discuss tonight the sympathies, the susceptibilities, the enthusiasms of the several men who are seeking your suffrages for President of the United States. I am perfectly ready to believe and will admit for the sake of argument that Mr. Roosevelt's heart and soul are committed to that part of the third-term program which contains those hopeful plans of human betterment in which so many noble men and women in this country have enlisted their sympathies and their energies.

      I am not here to criticize anybody who has been drawn to that party because of that part of the program. But I want to call their attention to the fact that you can't have a program that you can carry out through a resisting and unsuitable medium, and that the thing that it is absolutely necessary for every candid voter to remember with regard to the third party is that the means of government, the means of getting the things that this country needs, are exactly the same on that side that they are on the side where Mr. Taft seeks the suffrages of the country.

      Because, while the party of Mr. Taft says in its platform that monopoly ought not to exist, the section of the Republican Party that is following Mr. Roosevelt subscribes to the statement that monopoly ought to be adopted by the law, and by regulation should be the governing force in the development of American industry. So that all that the third party asks of the monopolists is that they should cooperate, and the only hope of a program of human uplift from that party is that the monopolists will cooperate.

      Have you got any hopes in that direction? Don't you know what the Republican Party has provided you with up to this time? I have taken special pains to clear from my own mind, at any rate, the Republican conception of government. That conception is that the people cannot organize their opinion in such fashion as to control their own government. And that, therefore, it is necessary constantly to consult those whose material interests in the development of the country are larger than anybody else's, and then, through the hands of these trustees, administer the government, not through the people but for the people.

      I am perfectly ready to believe — knowing some of the men concerned as I do, I must believe —that a great many men now engaged in the promotion of monopoly in this country really wish to see the United States prosperous, and really desire to adopt the means that will make it prosperous. But they are not willing to let anybody else yield the means of prosperity except themselves. I wonder at the frame of mind which makes them believe that they are the trustees of political discretion in this country, but I am willing to admit for the sake of argument that that is their candid and deliberate judgment.

      What we have to fight, therefore, is not a body of deliberate enemies, it may be, but a body of mistaken men. And what I want to point out to you is that Mr. Roosevelt subscribes to the judgment of these mistaken men as to the influences which should govern America. That is the serious part of it. Mr. Roosevelt's judgment has been captured. Mr. Roosevelt's idea of the way in which the industries of this country ought to be controlled has been captured. He does not propose to set us free. He proposes to use monopoly in order to make us happy. And the project is one of those projects which all history cries out against as impossible.

      The Democratic platform is the only platform which says that private monopoly is indefensible and intolerable, and any man who does not subscribe to that opinion does not know the way to set the people of the United States free, and to serve humanity. All that Mr. Roosevelt is asking you to do is to elect him president of the board of trustees. I do not care how wise, how patriotic the trustees may be; I have never heard of any group of men in whose hands I am willing to put the liberties of America in trust. And, therefore, I am not in this campaign engaged in doubting any man's motives. I merely want to point out that these gentlemen are not proposing the methods of liberty but are proposing the methods of control. A control among a free people is intolerable.

      I have been very much interested the last day or two in having described to me the industries of some of these smaller Western cities. I known in Indiana, for example, town after town was pointed out to me that still has the American characteristic, in which there are factories upon factories owned by men who live in the place — independent enterprises still unabsorbed by the great economic combinations which have become so threateningly inhuman in our economic organization — and it seems to me that these are outposts and symbols of the older and freer America. And after I had traveled through that series of towns and met the sturdy people that live in them, I entered in the city of Gary, which is a little way outside of Chicago, and realized that I had come from the older America into the newer America. But this was a town owned and built by a single monopolistic corporation. And I wondered which kind of America the people of America, if they could see this picture as I saw it, would choose?

      Which do you want? Do you want to live in a town patronized by some great combination of capitalists who pick it out as a suitable place to plant their industry and draw you into their employment? Or do you want to see your sons and your brothers and your husbands build up business for themselves under the protection of laws which make it impossible for any giant, however big, to crush them and put them out of business, so that they can match their wits here in the midst of a free country with any captain of industry or merchant of finance to be found anywhere in the world, and put every man who now assumes to control and promote monopoly upon his mettle to beat them at initiative, at economy, at the organization of business, and the cheap production of salable goods? Which do you want?

      Why, gentlemen, America is never going to submit to monopoly. America is never going to choose thralldom instead of freedom. Look what there is to decide! There is the tariff question. Can the tariff question be decided in favor of the people of the United States so long as the monopolies are the chief counselors at Washington? There is the great currency question. You know how difficult it is to move your crops every year. And I tremble, I must frankly tell you, to think of the bumper crops that are now coming from our fields, because they are going to need enormous bodies of cash to move them.

      You have got to get that cash by calling in your loans and embarrassing people in every center of commercial activity, because there isn't cash enough under our inelastic currency to lend itself to this instrumentality. And are we going to settle the currency question so long as the government of the United States listens only to the counsel of those who command the banking situation in the United States? You can't solve the tariff, you can't solve the currency question under the domination which is proposed by one branch of the Republican Party and tolerated by the other.

      Then there is the great question of conservation. What is our fear about conservation? The hands that will be stretched out to monopolize our forests, to preempt the use of our great power-producing streams, the hands that will be stretched into the bowels of the earth to take possession of the great riches that lie hidden in Alaska and elsewhere in the incomparable domain of the United States are the hands of monopoly. And is this thing merely to be regulated? Is this thing to be legalized? Are these men to continue to stand at the elbow of government and tell us how we are to save ourselves from the very things that we fear? You can't settle the question of conservation while monopoly exists if monopoly is close to the ears of those who govern. And the question of conservation is a great deal bigger than the question of saving our forests and our mineral resources and our waters. It is as big as the life and happiness and strength and elasticity and hope of our people.

      The government of the United States has now to look out upon her people and see what they need, what should be done for them. Why, gentlemen, there are tasks waiting the government of the United States which it cannot perform until every pulse of that government beats in unison with the needs and the desires of the whole body of the American people. Shall we not give the people access of sympathy, access of counsel, access of authority to the instrumentalities which are to be indispensable to their lives?

      When I think of the great things to be accomplished and then think of the danger that there is that the people of the United States will not choose free instruments to accomplish them, then I tremble to think of the verdict that may be rendered on the 5th of November. But when you look around when going through America, as I have recently been going through it, your heart rises again. Why, two years ago when I was running for governor in New Jersey, I used to come away from public meetings with a certain burden on my heart, because I knew I was not mistaken in feeling that I had seen in the faces and felt in the atmosphere of the great meetings that I addressed a certain sense of foreboding and anxiety as a people who were anxious about their future.

      But I haven't seen anything of that kind in the year 1912. The people of the United States now know what they intend to do. They intend to take charge of their own affairs again and they see the way to do it. Great outpourings like this are not in compliment to an individual; they are in demonstration of a purpose. And all I have to say for the Democratic candidate for the presidency is that I pray God he may be shown the way not to disappoint the expectations of such people.

      Only you can show him the way. You can't do it by proxy. You must determine the interests of your own life and then find spokesmen for those interests who will speak them as fairly as men have learned how to speak in Nebraska. The great emancipation which has been wrought for you by the fight for progressive democracy which has gone on from splendid stage to splendid stage in this state is that it has raised up for you men who fearlessly speak the truth. And that is not true of all parts of the country.

      Why, there are parts of the country where I am considered brave if I speak in words what every man and woman in the audience knows to be true. Now, I have never known what it was to exercise courage when I knew that the stars in all their courses were fighting my way. Do you suppose a man needs be courageous to speak the truth, to attach his puny force to the great voice of the country which is truth itself? A man would be a coward that wouldn't speak the truth. A man would be a fool who didn't see that the only puissance in human affairs was the irresistible force of truth itself, and men are weak in proportion as they are mistaken; they are weak in proportion as their judgments are misled; they are weak in proportion as they do not see the practical terms into which the truth can be translated. But they are not courageous when they merely tell the truth, because, if they lie because they were afraid, do you suppose they would have very comfortable moments when they withdraw into the privacy of their own family?

      I wonder how some men sleep of nights because they deceive themselves and deceive others all day long, and then actually go home and go to sleep. I don't know what their dreams can be. And they speak the things that they know are not true because they are afraid of something.

      Fear is abroad in free America. There are men who dare not undertake certain business enterprises because they know that they would be crushed. There are men who dare not speak certain opinions because they know that they would be boycotted in influential circles upon which their credit and their advancement in their business depends.

      Do you suppose that it is singular that men should rise up and fight through half a generation as your own champions have fought in order to dispel that fear? The only way to dispel fear is to bring the things that you are afraid of out in the open and challenge them there to meet the great moral force of the people of the United States. So that if these gentlemen will come out and avow their purposes, they will destroy all possibility of realizing those purposes.

      One of the fine things of our time is that the whole game is disclosed. We now know the processes of monopoly, and we therefore know the processes of law by which monopoly can be destroyed. They have shown their hands and we know how to stay their use of illegitimate power.

      Will we do them any damage? I tell you frankly that if I thought that any considerable portion of the enterprising men of America would be injured by the policies that I am interested in, I would hesitate. But I am clear in the conviction that to set the people of the United States free is to set the big enterprises free along with the little ones, because I have never heard of any business conditions which were dependent upon the subservience of great business, of enterprising businessmen. If you have to be subservient, you aren't even making the rich fellows as rich as they might be, because you are not adding your originative force to the extraordinary production of wealth in America.

      America is as rich, not as Wall Street, not as the financial centers in Chicago and St. Louis and San Francisco; it is as rich as the people that make its centers rich. And if those people hesitate in their enterprise, cowering in the face of power, hesitate to originate designs of their own, then the very fountains which make these places abound in wealth are dried up at the source; so that by setting the little men of America free you are not damaging the giants. You are merely making them behave like human beings.

      Now, a giant ought to have more human nature in him than a Pygmy, and we want to reread the Decalogue to these big men who may not have heard it in some time. And by moralizing, we are going to set them free and their business free.

      It may be that certain things will happen, for monopoly in this country is carrying a body of water such as no body of men ought to be asked to carry. And when by regulated competition — that is to say, fair competition, competition that fights fair — they are put upon their mettle, they will have to economize in their processes of business, and they can't economize unless they drop that water. I do not know how to squeeze the water out but they will get rid of it, if you will put them on their mettle. They will have to get rid of it, or those of us who don't carry tanks will outrun them in the race. Put all the business of America upon the footing of economy and efficiency, and then let the race be to the strongest and the efficient.

      So that our program is a program of prosperity, only it is a program of prosperity that is a little more pervasive to the present program, and pervasive prosperity is more fruitful than that which is narrow and restrictive.

      I congratulate the monopolists of the United States that they are not going to have their way, because, quite contrary to the old theory, the people of the United States are wiser than they are. The people of the United States understand the United States as these gentlemen do not, and if they will only give us leave, we will not only make them rich but we will make them happy, because then our consciences will have less to carry. They are waking up to this fact, ladies and gentlemen. The businessmen of this country are not deluded, and not all of the big business of this country are deluded.

      Some men who have been led into wrong practice, who have been led into the practice of monopoly because that seemed to be the drift and inevitable method of supremacy of their times, are just as ready as we are to turn about and adopt the processes of freedom, because American hearts beat in a lot of those men just as they beat under our jackets. They will be as glad to be free as we have been to set them free. And then the splendid force which has led to the things that hurt us will lead to the things than benefit us.

      We are coming to a common understanding, and only a common understanding is the tolerable basis of a free government. I congratulate you, therefore, ladies and gentlemen, that you are now coming to that point of fruition of which you have dreamed and for which you have planned in Nebraska for more than half a generation. . . .

      What we propose, therefore, in this program of freedom, is a program of general advantage. Almost every monopoly that has resisted extinction has resisted the real interests of its own stockholders. And it has been very, very slow business convincing those who were responsible for the business of the country that that was the fact. After the 4th of March next, therefore, we are going to get together; we are going to stop serving special interests, and we are going to stop setting one interest up against another interest. We are not going to champion one set of people against another set of people, but we are going to see what common counsel can accomplish for the happiness and redemption of America.

Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division: Ray Stannard Baker Papers; Transcription, Swem Notes.

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Universalium. 2010.

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