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William Howard Taft
Inaugural Address
Thursday, March 4, 1909

My Fellow-Citizens:

ANYONE who has taken the oath I have just taken must feel a heavy weight
of responsibility. If not, he has no conception of the powers and duties
of the office upon which he is about to enter, or he is lacking in a
proper sense of the obligation which the oath imposes.

The office of an inaugural address is to give a summary outline of the
main policies of the new administration, so far as they can be
anticipated. I have had the honor to be one of the advisers of my
distinguished predecessor, and, as such, to hold up his hands in the
reforms he has initiated. I should be untrue to myself, to my promises,
and to the declarations of the party platform upon which I was elected
to office, if I did not make the maintenance and enforcement of those
reforms a most important feature of my administration. They were
directed to the suppression of the lawlessness and abuses of power of
the great combinations of capital invested in railroads and in
industrial enterprises carrying on interstate commerce. The steps which
my predecessor took and the legislation passed on his recommendation
have accomplished much, have caused a general halt in the vicious
policies which created popular alarm, and have brought about in the
business affected a much higher regard for existing law.

To render the reforms lasting, however, and to secure at the same time
freedom from alarm on the part of those pursuing proper and progressive
business methods, further legislative and executive action are needed.
Relief of the railroads from certain restrictions of the antitrust law
have been urged by my predecessor and will be urged by me. On the other
hand, the administration is pledged to legislation looking to a proper
federal supervision and restriction to prevent excessive issues of bonds
and stock by companies owning and operating interstate commerce

Then, too, a reorganization of the Department of Justice, of the Bureau
of Corporations in the Department of Commerce and Labor, and of the
Interstate Commerce Commission, looking to effective cooperation of
these agencies, is needed to secure a more rapid and certain enforcement
of the laws affecting interstate railroads and industrial combinations.

I hope to be able to submit at the first regular session of the incoming
Congress, in December next, definite suggestions in respect to the
needed amendments to the antitrust and the interstate commerce law and
the changes required in the executive departments concerned in their

It is believed that with the changes to be recommended American business
can be assured of that measure of stability and certainty in respect to
those things that may be done and those that are prohibited which is
essential to the life and growth of all business. Such a plan must
include the right of the people to avail themselves of those methods of
combining capital and effort deemed necessary to reach the highest
degree of economic efficiency, at the same time differentiating between
combinations based upon legitimate economic reasons and those formed
with the intent of creating monopolies and artificially controlling

The work of formulating into practical shape such changes is creative
word of the highest order, and requires all the deliberation possible in
the interval. I believe that the amendments to be proposed are just as
necessary in the protection of legitimate business as in the clinching
of the reforms which properly bear the name of my predecessor.

A matter of most pressing importance is the revision of the tariff. In
accordance with the promises of the platform upon which I was elected, I
shall call Congress into extra session to meet on the 15th day of March,
in order that consideration may be at once given to a bill revising the
Dingley Act. This should secure an adequate revenue and adjust the
duties in such a manner as to afford to labor and to all industries in
this country, whether of the farm, mine or factory, protection by tariff
equal to the difference between the cost of production abroad and the
cost of production here, and have a provision which shall put into
force, upon executive determination of certain facts, a higher or
maximum tariff against those countries whose trade policy toward us
equitably requires such discrimination. It is thought that there has
been such a change in conditions since the enactment of the Dingley Act,
drafted on a similarly protective principle, that the measure of the
tariff above stated will permit the reduction of rates in certain
schedules and will require the advancement of few, if any.

The proposal to revise the tariff made in such an authoritative way as
to lead the business community to count upon it necessarily halts all
those branches of business directly affected; and as these are most
important, it disturbs the whole business of the country. It is
imperatively necessary, therefore, that a tariff bill be drawn in good
faith in accordance with promises made before the election by the party
in power, and as promptly passed as due consideration will permit. It is
not that the tariff is more important in the long run than the
perfecting of the reforms in respect to antitrust legislation and
interstate commerce regulation, but the need for action when the
revision of the tariff has been determined upon is more immediate to
avoid embarrassment of business. To secure the needed speed in the
passage of the tariff bill, it would seem wise to attempt no other
legislation at the extra session. I venture this as a suggestion only,
for the course to be taken by Congress, upon the call of the Executive,
is wholly within its discretion.

In the mailing of a tariff bill the prime motive is taxation and the
securing thereby of a revenue. Due largely to the business depression
which followed the financial panic of 1907, the revenue from customs and
other sources has decreased to such an extent that the expenditures for
the current fiscal year will exceed the receipts by $100,000,000. It is
imperative that such a deficit shall not continue, and the framers of
the tariff bill must, of course, have in mind the total revenues likely
to be produced by it and so arrange the duties as to secure an adequate
income. Should it be impossible to do so by import duties, new kinds of
taxation must be adopted, and among these I recommend a graduated
inheritance tax as correct in principle and as certain and easy of

The obligation on the part of those responsible for the expenditures
made to carry on the Government, to be as economical as possible, and to
make the burden of taxation as light as possible, is plain, and should
be affirmed in every declaration of government policy. This is
especially true when we are face to face with a heavy deficit. But when
the desire to win the popular approval leads to the cutting off of
expenditures really needed to make the Government effective and to
enable it to accomplish its proper objects, the result is as much to be
condemned as the waste of government funds in unnecessary expenditure.
The scope of a modern government in what it can and ought to accomplish
for its people has been widened far beyond the principles laid down by
the old "laissez faire" school of political writers, and this widening
has met popular approval.

In the Department of Agriculture the use of scientific experiments on a
large scale and the spread of information derived from them for the
improvement of general agriculture must go on.

The importance of supervising business of great railways and industrial
combinations and the necessary investigation and prosecution of unlawful
business methods are another necessary tax upon Government which did not
exist half a century ago.

The putting into force of laws which shall secure the conservation of
our resources, so far as they may be within the jurisdiction of the
Federal Government, including the most important work of saving and
restoring our forests and the great improvement of waterways, are all
proper government functions which must involve large expenditure if
properly performed. While some of them, like the reclamation of arid
lands, are made to pay for themselves, others are of such an indirect
benefit that this cannot be expected of them. A permanent improvement,
like the Panama Canal, should be treated as a distinct enterprise, and
should be paid for by the proceeds of bonds, the issue of which will
distribute its cost between the present and future generations in
accordance with the benefits derived. It may well be submitted to the
serious consideration of Congress whether the deepening and control of
the channel of a great river system, like that of the Ohio or of the
Mississippi, when definite and practical plans for the enterprise have
been approved and determined upon, should not be provided for in the
same way.

Then, too, there are expenditures of Government absolutely necessary if
our country is to maintain its proper place among the nations of the
world, and is to exercise its proper influence in defense of its own
trade interests in the maintenance of traditional American policy
against the colonization of European monarchies in this hemisphere, and
in the promotion of peace and international morality. I refer to the
cost of maintaining a proper army, a proper navy, and suitable
fortifications upon the mainland of the United States and in its

We should have an army so organized and so officered as to be capable in
time of emergency, in cooperation with the national militia and under
the provisions of a proper national volunteer law, rapidly to expand
into a force sufficient to resist all probable invasion from abroad and
to furnish a respectable expeditionary force if necessary in the
maintenance of our traditional American policy which bears the name of
President Monroe.

Our fortifications are yet in a state of only partial completeness, and
the number of men to man them is insufficient. In a few years however,
the usual annual appropriations for our coast defenses, both on the
mainland and in the dependencies, will make them sufficient to resist
all direct attack, and by that time we may hope that the men to man them
will be provided as a necessary adjunct. The distance of our shores from
Europe and Asia of course reduces the necessity for maintaining under
arms a great army, but it does not take away the requirement of mere
prudence--that we should have an army sufficiently large and so
constituted as to form a nucleus out of which a suitable force can
quickly grow.

What has been said of the army may be affirmed in even a more emphatic
way of the navy. A modern navy can not be improvised. It must be built
and in existence when the emergency arises which calls for its use and
operation. My distinguished predecessor has in many speeches and
messages set out with great force and striking language the necessity
for maintaining a strong navy commensurate with the coast line, the
governmental resources, and the foreign trade of our Nation; and I wish
to reiterate all the reasons which he has presented in favor of the
policy of maintaining a strong navy as the best conservator of our peace
with other nations, and the best means of securing respect for the
assertion of our rights, the defense of our interests, and the exercise
of our influence in international matters.

Our international policy is always to promote peace. We shall enter into
any war with a full consciousness of the awful consequences that it
always entails, whether successful or not, and we, of course, shall make
every effort consistent with national honor and the highest national
interest to avoid a resort to arms. We favor every instrumentality, like
that of the Hague Tribunal and arbitration treaties made with a view to
its use in all international controversies, in order to maintain peace
and to avoid war. But we should be blind to existing conditions and
should allow ourselves to become foolish idealists if we did not realize
that, with all the nations of the world armed and prepared for war, we
must be ourselves in a similar condition, in order to prevent other
nations from taking advantage of us and of our inability to defend our
interests and assert our rights with a strong hand.

In the international controversies that are likely to arise in the
Orient growing out of the question of the open door and other issues the
United States can maintain her interests intact and can secure respect
for her just demands. She will not be able to do so, however, if it is
understood that she never intends to back up her assertion of right and
her defense of her interest by anything but mere verbal protest and
diplomatic note. For these reasons the expenses of the army and navy and
of coast defenses should always be considered as something which the
Government must pay for, and they should not be cut off through mere
consideration of economy. Our Government is able to afford a suitable
army and a suitable navy. It may maintain them without the slightest
danger to the Republic or the cause of free institutions, and fear of
additional taxation ought not to change a proper policy in this regard.

The policy of the United States in the Spanish war and since has given
it a position of influence among the nations that it never had before,
and should be constantly exerted to securing to its bona fide citizens,
whether native or naturalized, respect for them as such in foreign
countries. We should make every effort to prevent humiliating and
degrading prohibition against any of our citizens wishing temporarily to
sojourn in foreign countries because of race or religion.

The admission of Asiatic immigrants who cannot be amalgamated with our
population has been made the subject either of prohibitory clauses in
our treaties and statutes or of strict administrative regulation secured
by diplomatic negotiation. I sincerely hope that we may continue to
minimize the evils likely to arise from such immigration without
unnecessary friction and by mutual concessions between self-respecting
governments. Meantime we must take every precaution to prevent, or
failing that, to punish outbursts of race feeling among our people
against foreigners of whatever nationality who have by our grant a
treaty right to pursue lawful business here and to be protected against
lawless assault or injury.

This leads me to point out a serious defect in the present federal
jurisdiction, which ought to be remedied at once. Having assured to
other countries by treaty the protection of our laws for such of their
subjects or citizens as we permit to come within our jurisdiction, we
now leave to a state or a city, not under the control of the Federal
Government, the duty of performing our international obligations in this
respect. By proper legislation we may, and ought to, place in the hands
of the Federal Executive the means of enforcing the treaty rights of
such aliens in the courts of the Federal Government. It puts our
Government in a pusillanimous position to make definite engagements to
protect aliens and then to excuse the failure to perform those
engagements by an explanation that the duty to keep them is in States or
cities, not within our control. If we would promise we must put
ourselves in a position to perform our promise. We cannot permit the
possible failure of justice, due to local prejudice in any State or
municipal government, to expose us to the risk of a war which might be
avoided if federal jurisdiction was asserted by suitable legislation by
Congress and carried out by proper proceedings instituted by the
Executive in the courts of the National Government.

One of the reforms to be carried out during the incoming administration
is a change of our monetary and banking laws, so as to secure greater
elasticity in the forms of currency available for trade and to prevent
the limitations of law from operating to increase the embarrassment of a
financial panic. The monetary commission, lately appointed, is giving
full consideration to existing conditions and to all proposed remedies,
and will doubtless suggest one that will meet the requirements of
business and of public interest.

We may hope that the report will embody neither the narrow dew of those
who believe that the sole purpose of the new system should be to secure
a large return on banking capital or of those who would have greater
expansion of currency with little regard to provisions for its immediate
redemption or ultimate security. There is no subject of economic
discussion so intricate and so likely to evoke differing views and
dogmatic statements as this one. The commission, in studying the general
influence of currency on business and of business on currency, have
wisely extended their investigations in European banking and monetary
methods. The information that they have derived from such experts as
they have found abroad will undoubtedly be found helpful in the solution
of the difficult problem they have in hand.

The incoming Congress should promptly fulfill the promise of the
Republican platform and pass a proper postal savings bank bill. It will
not be unwise or excessive paternalism. The promise to repay by the
Government will furnish an inducement to savings deposits which private
enterprise can not supply and at such a low rate of interest as not to
withdraw custom from existing banks. It will substantially increase the
funds available for investment as capital in useful enterprises. It will
furnish absolute security which makes the proposed scheme of government
guaranty of deposits so alluring, without its pernicious results.

I sincerely hope that the incoming Congress will be alive, as it should
be, to the importance of our foreign trade and of encouraging it in
every way feasible. The possibility of increasing this trade in the
Orient, in the Philippines, and in South America are known to everyone
who has given the matter attention. The direct effect of free trade
between this country and the Philippines will be marked upon our sales
of cottons, agricultural machinery, and other manufactures. The
necessity of the establishment of direct lines of steamers between North
and South America has been brought to the attention of Congress by my
predecessor and by Mr. Root before and after his noteworthy visit to
that continent, and I sincerely hope that Congress may be induced to see
the wisdom of a tentative effort to establish such lines by the use of
mail subsidies.

The importance of the part which the Departments of Agriculture and of
Commerce and Labor may play in ridding the markets of Europe of
prohibitions and discriminations against the importation of our products
is fully understood, and it is hoped that the use of the maximum and
minimum feature of our tariff law to be soon passed will be effective to
remove many of those restrictions.

The Panama Canal will have a most important bearing upon the trade
between the eastern and far western sections of our country, and will
greatly increase the facilities for transportation between the eastern
and the western seaboard, and may possibly revolutionize the
transcontinental rates with respect to bulky merchandise. It will also
have a most beneficial effect to increase the trade between the eastern
seaboard of the United States and the western coast of South America,
and, indeed, with some of the important ports on the east coast of South
America reached by rail from the west coast.

The work on the canal is making most satisfactory progress. The type of
the canal as a lock canal was fixed by Congress after a full
consideration of the conflicting reports of the majority and minority of
the consulting board, and after the recommendation of the War Department
and the Executive upon those reports. Recent suggestion that something
had occurred on the Isthmus to make the lock type of the canal less
feasible than it was supposed to be when the reports were made and the
policy determined on led to a visit to the Isthmus of a board of
competent engineers to examine the Gatun dam and locks, which are the
key of the lock type. The report of that board shows nothing has
occurred in the nature of newly revealed evidence which should change
the views once formed in the original discussion. The construction will
go on under a most effective organization controlled by Colonel Goethals
and his fellow army engineers associated with him, and will certainly be
completed early in the next administration, if not before.

Some type of canal must be constructed. The lock type has been selected.
We are all in favor of having it built as promptly as possible. We must
not now, therefore, keep up a fire in the rear of the agents whom we
have authorized to do our work on the Isthmus. We must hold up their
hands, and speaking for the incoming administration I wish to say that I
propose to devote all the energy possible and under my control to
pushing of this work on the plans which have been adopted, and to stand
behind the men who are doing faithful, hard work to bring about the
early completion of this, the greatest constructive enterprise of modern

The governments of our dependencies in Porto Rico and the Philippines
are progressing as favorably as could be desired. The prosperity of
Porto Rico continues unabated. The business conditions in the
Philippines are not all that we could wish them to be, but with the
passage of the new tariff bill permitting free trade between the United
States and the archipelago, with such limitations on sugar and tobacco
as shall prevent injury to domestic interests in those products, we can
count on an improvement in business conditions in the Philippines and
the development of a mutually profitable trade between this country and
the islands. Meantime our Government in each dependency is upholding the
traditions of civil liberty and increasing popular control which might
be expected under American auspices. The work which we are doing there
redounds to our credit as a nation.

I look forward with hope to increasing the already good feeling between
the South and the other sections of the country. My chief purpose is not
to effect a change in the electoral vote of the Southern States. That is
a secondary consideration. What I look forward to is an increase in the
tolerance of political views of all kinds and their advocacy throughout
the South, and the existence of a respectable political opposition in
every State; even more than this, to an increased feeling on the part of
all the people in the South that this Government is their Government,
and that its officers in their states are their officers.

The consideration of this question can not, however, be complete and
full without reference to the negro race, its progress and its present
condition. The thirteenth amendment secured them freedom; the fourteenth
amendment due process of law, protection of property, and the pursuit of
happiness; and the fifteenth amendment attempted to secure the negro
against any deprivation of the privilege to vote because he was a negro.
The thirteenth and fourteenth amendments have been generally enforced
and have secured the objects for which they are intended. While the
fifteenth amendment has not been generally observed in the past, it
ought to be observed, and the tendency of Southern legislation today is
toward the enactment of electoral qualifications which shall square with
that amendment. Of course, the mere adoption of a constitutional law is
only one step in the right direction. It must be fairly and justly
enforced as well. In time both will come. Hence it is clear to all that
the domination of an ignorant, irresponsible element can be prevented by
constitutional laws which shall exclude from voting both negroes and
whites not having education or other qualifications thought to be
necessary for a proper electorate. The danger of the control of an
ignorant electorate has therefore passed. With this change, the interest
which many of the Southern white citizens take in the welfare of the
negroes has increased. The colored men must base their hope on the
results of their own industry, self-restraint, thrift, and business
success, as well as upon the aid and comfort and sympathy which they may
receive from their white neighbors of the South.

There was a time when Northerners who sympathized with the negro in his
necessary struggle for better conditions sought to give him the suffrage
as a protection to enforce its exercise against the prevailing sentiment
of the South. The movement proved to be a failure. What remains is the
fifteenth amendment to the Constitution and the right to have statutes
of States specifying qualifications for electors subjected to the test
of compliance with that amendment. This is a great protection to the
negro. It never will be repealed, and it never ought to be repealed. If
it had not passed, it might be difficult now to adopt it; but with it in
our fundamental law, the policy of Southern legislation must and will
tend to obey it, and so long as the statutes of the States meet the test
of this amendment and are not otherwise in conflict with the
Constitution and laws of the United States, it is not the disposition or
within the province of the Federal Government to interfere with the
regulation by Southern States of their domestic affairs. There is in the
South a stronger feeling than ever among the intelligent well-to-do, and
influential element in favor of the industrial education of the negro
and the encouragement of the race to make themselves useful members of
the community. The progress which the negro has made in the last fifty
years, from slavery, when its statistics are reviewed, is marvelous, and
it furnishes every reason to hope that in the next twenty-five years a
still greater improvement in his condition as a productive member of
society, on the farm, and in the shop, and in other occupations may

The negroes are now Americans. Their ancestors came here years ago
against their will, and this is their only country and their only flag.
They have shown themselves anxious to live for it and to die for it.
Encountering the race feeling against them, subjected at times to cruel
injustice growing out of it, they may well have our profound sympathy
and aid in the struggle they are making. We are charged with the sacred
duty of making their path as smooth and easy as we can. Any recognition
of their distinguished men, any appointment to office from among their
number, is properly taken as an encouragement and an appreciation of
their progress, and this just policy should be pursued when suitable
occasion offers.

But it may well admit of doubt whether, in the case of any race, an
appointment of one of their number to a local office in a community in
which the race feeling is so widespread and acute as to interfere with
the ease and facility with which the local government business can be
done by the appointee is of sufficient benefit by way of encouragement
to the race to outweigh the recurrence and increase of race feeling
which such an appointment is likely to engender. Therefore the
Executive, in recognizing the negro race by appointments, must exercise
a careful discretion not thereby to do it more harm than good. On the
other hand, we must be careful not to encourage the mere pretense of
race feeling manufactured in the interest of individual political

Personally, I have not the slightest race prejudice or feeling, and
recognition of its existence only awakens in my heart a deeper sympathy
for those who have to bear it or suffer from it, and I question the
wisdom of a policy which is likely to increase it. Meantime, if nothing
is done to prevent it, a better feeling between the negroes and the
whites in the South will continue to grow, and more and more of the
white people will come to realize that the future of the South is to be
much benefited by the industrial and intellectual progress of the negro.
The exercise of political franchises by those of this race who are
intelligent and well to do will be acquiesced in, and the right to vote
will be withheld only from the ignorant and irresponsible of both races.

There is one other matter to which I shall refer. It was made the
subject of great controversy during the election and calls for at least
a passing reference now. My distinguished predecessor has given much
attention to the cause of labor, with whose struggle for better things
he has shown the sincerest sympathy. At his instance Congress has passed
the bill fixing the liability of interstate carriers to their employees
for injury sustained in the course of employment, abolishing the rule of
fellow-servant and the common-law rule as to contributory negligence,
and substituting therefor the so-called rule of "comparative
negligence." It has also passed a law fixing the compensation of
government employees for injuries sustained in the employ of the
Government through the negligence of the superior. It has also passed a
model child-labor law for the District of Columbia. In previous
administrations an arbitration law for interstate commerce railroads and
their employees, and laws for the application of safety devices to save
the lives and limbs of employees of interstate railroads had been
passed. Additional legislation of this kind was passed by the outgoing

I wish to say that insofar as I can I hope to promote the enactment of
further legislation of this character. I am strongly convinced that the
Government should make itself as responsible to employees injured in its
employ as an interstate-railway corporation is made responsible by
federal law to its employees; and I shall be glad, whenever any
additional reasonable safety device can be invented to reduce the loss
of life and limb among railway employees, to urge Congress to require
its adoption by interstate railways.

Another labor question has arisen which has awakened the most excited
discussion. That is in respect to the power of the federal courts to
issue injunctions in industrial disputes. As to that, my convictions are
fixed. Take away from the courts, if it could be taken away, the power
to issue injunctions in labor disputes, and it would create a privileged
class among the laborers and save the lawless among their number from a
most needful remedy available to all men for the protection of their
business against lawless invasion. The proposition that business is not
a property or pecuniary right which can be protected by equitable
injunction is utterly without foundation in precedent or reason. The
proposition is usually linked with one to make the secondary boycott
lawful. Such a proposition is at variance with the American instinct,
and will find no support, in my judgment, when submitted to the American
people. The secondary boycott is an instrument of tyranny, and ought not
to be made legitimate.

The issue of a temporary restraining order without notice has in several
instances been abused by its inconsiderate exercise, and to remedy this
the platform upon which I was elected recommends the formulation in a
statute of the conditions under which such a temporary restraining order
ought to issue. A statute can and ought to be framed to embody the best
modern practice, and can bring the subject so closely to the attention
of the court as to make abuses of the process unlikely in the future.
The American people, if I understand them, insist that the authority of
the courts shall be sustained, and are opposed to any change in the
procedure by which the powers of a court may be weakened and the
fearless and effective administration of justice be interfered with.

Having thus reviewed the questions likely to recur during my
administration, and having expressed in a summary way the position which
I expect to take in recommendations to Congress and in my conduct as an
Executive, I invoke the considerate sympathy and support of my
fellow-citizens and the aid of the Almighty God in the discharge of my
responsible duties.

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