Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Editorials for the Macon Telegraph
In 1925, Franklin D. Roosevelt believed that Warm Springs, Georgia could be both a resort and a haven for those stricken with infantile paralysis. New buildings and improved roads were a big part of his plan, and he was energetically discussing them with his friends, in particular Tom Loyless, editor of the Macon Telegraph and principal owner of Warm Springs (with the financial backing of Charles Peabody). Loyless was working with Roosevelt on the improvements to Warm Springs, while keeping up his column for the newspaper. When Roosevelt offered to lighten Loyless’s workload by helping with road building, Loyless offered an alternative—assume his column for a few weeks. Thus the central Georgia Macon Telegraph had a New Yorker and future president doing nine editorial columns during the spring of 1925!
Note: The following editorials are reprinted with the permission of the Macon Telegraph.
|April 16, 1925||April 18, 1925||April 21, 1925|
|April 23, 1925||April 25, 1925||April 28, 1925|
|April 30, 1925||May 2, 1925||May 5, 1925|
April 16, 1925
In the first of these columns (all entitled “Roosevelt Says”) Roosevelt poked some good natured humor at his friend Loyless and the Atlanta Journal article which had appeared nationwide (see Second Visit entry), before turning to a commentary on the difference between New York and Georgia newspapers—with Georgia being better in his view:
I have to take my hat off to still another product of Georgia—its newspaper men. Here I am over at Warm Springs, an expert road builder, all ready, with my coat off, to lay out and construct miles of beautifully graded, guaranteed not-to-wash-out, paths through the azalea-covered woods of Pine Mountain, while Tom Loyless sits with his feet up in his cottage, across the street, writing diatribes for The Telegraph.
But I knew I would be double-crossed—I always do by these newspaper men. He now is out picking wild flowers and I have returned to my former profession—I used to edit the college paper in the old days.
He did it to me once before. Last Autumn I was swimming in the Warm Springs pool, and T.W.L. (Loyless) sauntered by and introduced a delightful youngster to me (the Atlanta Journal reporter). Never mind his name. I thought he was a mere cousin or something of that sort. We talked about health and crops and politics, and soon thereafter I went back home to Dutchess County, New York. Then came the newspaper clippings—whole sheets of them - Sunday supplements, illustrations—from every paper between here and Seattle, Wash. There I was, large as life, living proof that Warm Springs, Georgia had cured me of 57 different varieties of ailments. Most of the diseases from which I had suffered were apparently fatal, but Warm Springs evidently had got each just in time, giving me a chance to go out and catch another incurable malady and dash back here to get rid of it. That enterprising youngster who syndicated the article must have made several fortunes out of it, but he never even sent me a 5 per cent commission.
Worse than that—it started a flood of correspondence, which hasn’t reached its crest yet. I thought I had a good many people writing me letters before that, but since last November I have had to take on six or eight additional secretaries and stenographers to handle my mail. Every human being, male or female, between Florida and Alaska who has a stomach-ache, a cold in the nose or a gouty toe, it would seem, writes to old Dr. Roosevelt, with the firm belief that I can point out to them, from personal experience, how to get cured. Why, they are going to raise my little post office on the Hudson River from a third-class office to a first-class office because of the increased number of stamps I have had to buy (no longer having the privilege of using ‘official business’ envelopes of our Uncle Sam for nothing). It sure is time to get another Democratic administration; maybe then I can get the franking privilege back.
On top of all this here is The Telegraph sending the money for this column to Tom Loyless—and so far I don’t even get postage back.
Nevertheless, there is one redeeming feature about Georgia newspapers—they are more or less Democratic in their editorial tone. That is one reason why my digestion is perfect down here. Back home my digestion starts the day all right, but after reading the morning papers at the breakfast table, things go wrong. By the time I have finished reading the evening papers, I am a hopeless dyspeptic.
Honestly though, you people in Georgia have no conception of the odds under which Northern Democrats labor. Take, for instance, upstate New York—i.e. all of the State outside of New York City. Over 90 per cent of the daily papers and over 90 per cent of the local weekly papers are Republican through and through. It isn’t even an intelligent Republicanism. Politically they form one vast combine. There is practically no individual editorship, practically no independent comment or thought. They are organized almost 100 per cent to keep harping on and disseminating the carefully prepared propaganda of the Republican organization.
Let me give you an example. Last February there was published in New York State an analysis by me of figures showing that the Democratic vote in New York State as a whole was definitely an increasing vote in proportion to that for Republican candidates. My figures went back for five years, covered all candidates from President down, and were taken from the official returns. The conclusion was so favorable to the Democratic party, especially those in localities where active organization work had been carried on, that the Republican organization realized that they had been hard hit. What happened? Within a month, over sixty upstate newspapers had commented on the figures and in the same language, word for word, from beginning to end. In other words, the Republican State committee bureau had written out an editorial form of an answer, which deliberately garbled my official figures, and tried to reply to fact by ridicule. And this made-to-order widely disseminated stuff was grabbed and used by the Republican press (i.e. by practically the whole press in upstate New York).
It seems to me, that for the good of the average man and woman in this country, it is better to have papers carry the individual opinions of their owners and editors—as they do in Georgia—than to be the mere hirelings of a well-oiled political organization, as they are in the North. This is based, of course, on the assumption that down here the average reader reads more than one paper. In upstate New York, even if you do read several papers, you get precisely the same opinions from each, and generally in the same language. Down here, it is a liberal education to read, for example, the editorial comments of The Macon Telegraph, the Atlanta Constitution, and the Atlanta Journal, the same day.
However, I must not get mixed up in Georgia politics. You people can mix it up to your heart’s contents over all the local matters in the world just so long as you come together and work shoulder to shoulder when it comes to national issues and the general strengthening and better organization of the Democratic party throughout the United States. I shall send this off before T.W.L. comes back with the wild flowers—otherwise he might edit it.
April 18, 1925
Roosevelt continually claimed that Georgia needed to get away from the idea of cotton as it’s only significant cash crop. He preached diversity in agriculture, and one of the products he insisted Georgia could sell was timber. In his second editorial he turned to this subject:
Things are running more smoothly now—T.W.L. is still picking wild flowers and sticking them in pots around the “OLD SWIMMING HOLE” and in a few days more will forget that he was ever in the newspaper game. That leaves me free to exploit some of my own particular hobbies.
What I want to boil over about today is the matter of woods and trees and lumber in general. Yesterday afternoon I went up to the top of Pine Mountain. There, stretching out for many miles to the horizon, was a large portion of Meriwether County. It was good looking country—and good to live in. In many ways it reminded me of the views I get from hilltops in my own Dutchess County, back from the Hudson River, and I might add that the people who live in it are very much the same type of American citizen as they are back home where I come from.
But there in front of me, in the middle distance, two thick columns of smoke were rising in the quiet air. “Burning off the woods,” someone said.
The same thing is happening by accident or design in every State in the Union. I have not got the definite statistics with me, but in this country of ours we burn up, through ground or forest fires, somewhere between $200,000,000 or $300,000,000 worth of standing timber every year.
Who pays? Why, you do—every reader of this paper, and of every other paper. An adequate timber supply is wealth to a nation. To burn it up before it is used is precisely the same as burning down a house, or throwing dollar bills into a fire.
It costs twice as much to build a wooden house today as it did ten years ago, and the increase is not by any means due solely to the higher cost of labor. Everybody who reads knows, of course, that we, the American people, are using each year twice as much lumber as the natural growth of trees matures.
Up to a short time ago, for instance, the State of Georgia exported millions of feet of lumber to other states in the North. One of your State officials told me last week that he doubted if this State today cuts enough lumber for the needs of its own citizens. You export some, of course, through Jacksonville and Brunswick and Savannah, but on the other hand, you import a goodly amount by rail.
The real question is this: what are you doing with the acres from which timber has been taken? Is the second growth being treated as a crop—guarded against hogs and cattle and fire, so that in 25 to 30 years you will again be able to harvest the crop? No one objects, of course, if cut-over land is turned by the plow and put to raising of peaches or cotton or other productive crops. But a vast amount—the majority—of your cut-over lands are not suitable for agriculture. They are suitable, however, for a crop of trees, as is proved by the millions of dollars’ worth of lumber already taken off them.
The man in the city takes but little interest in this question; nor, I am sorry to say, does the man on the farm, though it is of vital concern to both of them. I don’t know what laws you have in the State of Georgia on this subject—very few, and very inadequate they must be as my personal observation in this section and in other parts of the State testifies. We, in this country, still have a tremendous amount to learn from older civilizations. Many of the nations of Europe found themselves about 150 years ago, practically stripped of their forest. They learned that individuals are, as individuals, essentially selfish—that if it was left to the sweet will of the individual land owner he would not bother his head to plant new trees or protect young seedlings where he had cut off his original piece of timber. Over in Europe the timber shortage became so acute that the governments had to step in and create State forests.
Like most Democrats, I am pretty thoroughly opposed to having the Federal, or even the State governments, embark in new enterprises which should be handled by individuals, but, unless we, in the United States, take immediate steps to compel the growing of new timber by individuals, I prophecy that it will become a government enterprise in the next generation. The national supply is decreasing so fast that we already import vast quantities, but even the world’s supply of virgin forests is exhaustible.
I suppose some of my Republican friends would call me a Socialist for asserting that the owner of land owes it to the community and to the State, and to the nation, to use that land in the best possible way for humanity. It is fine talk and very soothing to think of the individual as complete master in his own home, at perfect liberty to do any old thing he wants with his own property. A man has the legal right to go to his bank, draw out his balance in paper money, go home and put it in the stove. If he does it, however, he is apt to land in the lunatic asylum. We have not yet reached the common sense age which will, in like manner, send the farmer who burns off his wood lot to the home for the incurables.
It comes, in the final analysis, to this: The day will arrive when, by law or custom or some other way, the farmer with, say, 100 acres of land, 20 of which are not of the right sort for raising agricultural crops, will use those 20 acres to grow a crop of commercially valuable trees.
It is exceedingly hard to persuade a man to plant or care for a crop which will not mature until possibly he, himself, is dead and gone. That was the trouble in Europe in the olden days. I suppose that when the first white settlers came into this part of Georgia, about 100 years ago, they found so much magnificent virgin forest, that they exclaimed “It is an inexhaustible supply.” Their great-grandchildren have been kicking for a good many years now because there is none of it left.
In spite of all this we do give a good deal of thought to the well-being of our descendants. More and more we build for the future. In 1850 few could visualize a nation of 110,000,000 people 75 years later. It is hard for us to think of a United States of 200,000,000 in 1975. When that day comes Georgia, for instance, will probably have twice its present population—
50 years from now! It will be an increase, not confined to the cities—it will be an increase due, not just, to the birthrate in existing Georgia families. Last Fall the Governor of this State made a speech on the subject of “Georgia for the Georgians.” I, myself, know enough people in Georgia to know that he did not speak for the State. If every State adopted that attitude we should have, in a generation, an aggregation of 48 ingrowing, inbred, selfish communities. Incidentally the rest of the country won’t let Georgia keep itself for Georgians. Fortunately, or unfortunately, for yourselves, your State is much too attractive. People from other places want to come here, and if you keep up the delightful hospitality of your individual citizens, you will have thousands and thousands of new faces in your midst in the days to come.
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT
Warm Springs, Ga.
[Macon Telegraph, April 18, 1925]
April 21, 1925
In his third column, Roosevelt looked at the issue of immigration, and concluded his thoughts with a quote from his famous cousin and ex-president Teddy:
This column job seems to be still mine. T.W.L. had to quit picking wild flowers and building what he calls roads on Pine Mountain, and devote himself to the people who have insisted on coming to Warm Springs before the season is opened. He ought to have lived in Georgia long enough to know that for some people it is open season all the year around. Just now, he is putting up beds and borrowing cottages and establishing a commissary department and my only fear is that he will insist on going back to this column writing as a recreation. You know he writes in his sleep!
Coincidences are funny things. Also, this United States is a mighty small place. Yesterday I read two “letters to the editor.” One from a farmer in Georgia to an Atlanta paper; the other from a farmer in New York to an upstate paper. Both letters were aimed against any proposal to increase European immigration to the country, and both referred to Europeans in general as “ignorant peasants, whose living conditions are those of beasts.”
Now, I don’t want to take up in any way the actual numbers of immigrants we should let in each year. But I do want to suggest that a person who classes all farmers in every European country as “ignorant,” or as living under bestial conditions, is just plain common or garden “ignorant” himself, and the odds are 100 to 1 that his own living conditions are not up to what we would like to call the American standard.
Generalizations of this sort by Americans are even sillier than the generalizations of European writers who spend three weeks in the United States, go back home and write two volumes on “America as I Found It.”
It goes without saying that no sensible American wants this country to be made a dumping ground for foreigners of any nation, but it is equally true that there are a great many foreigners who, if they came here, would make exceedingly desirable citizens. It becomes, therefore, in the first place, a question of selection. We can take a leaf out of the note-book of our Canadian friends in regard to this. The Canadian Government has well-equipped agents in the different European countries. If an individual or a family wishes to emigrate to Canada application is made to this agent, who, thereupon, carefully inspects the individual or the family, passes upon their mental ability, moral soundness, conditions of health and general desirability. This seems a more reasonable and practical method than waiting until the emigrant reaches the immigration station at Ellis Island in New York Harbor.
In one other respect our Canadian neighbors have a far better system than ours. Their policy is to prevent large groups of foreign born from congregating in any one locality. In other words, they seek distribution of their immigrants throughout every portion of Canada. When the individual or family in the European country applies to the Canadian agent for permission to come over he must agree to go to one of the sections of Canada which is not already too full of foreigners. If, twenty-five years ago, the United States had adopted a policy of this kind we would not have the huge foreign sections which exist in so many of our cities.
Experience in every State of the Union shows that a little new European blood of the right sort does a lot of good in every community. Let me give you an example. A certain agricultural county in Northern State which I am very familiar with, prided itself, up to perhaps twenty-five years ago, that its inhabitants came almost wholly from the old English and Scotch stock with a small admixture of the first Dutch settlers’ blood. That county was rich in false pride and in mighty little else. Its agriculture was of no higher quality than it had been in the year 1800. Its schools barely complied with the minimum of the law—its roads and other internal improvements were about as they had been three generations ago.
Into that community there came, by chance I think, about a dozen families from Southern Germany. They were called peasants and looked down on as such. But their education was better than that of the old families among whom they settled, their morals were higher and their willingness and desire to improve conditions in general was more truly American than that of their neighbors. Within ten years each one of these new families had made good. Their farms were better kept, their living conditions on a higher standard than those of their neighbors - and they were making more money. Today these families are a part of the community, thoroughly Americanized, intermarried with the old stock and everyone admits that the increasing prosperity and progressiveness of that county is due largely to their example. A few years later some other families came in from Northern Italy, the right type of emigrant—they, too, have borne and are bearing their share in the general improvement of conditions.
Taking it by and large, I agree that for a good many years to come European immigration should remain greatly restricted. We have, unfortunately, a great many thousand foreigners who got in here and who must be digested. For fifty years the United States ate a meal altogether too large—much of the food was digestible, but some of it was almost poisonous. The United States must, for a short time at least, stop eating, and when it resumes should confine itself to the most readily assimilable foodstuffs. In the meantime we can all help in this digestive process by encouraging these foreigners to break away from their little foreign groups in our large cities. Many of them, in our cities, come of good, sound stock and would make thoroughly acceptable neighbors in the farming communities. We would be helping not only them, but ourselves, also.
Incidentally, we lack a sense of humor and of proportion if we forget that not so very long ago we were immigrants ourselves. Scarcely a family which comes of so-called old American stock, but has the blood of various nationalities in its veins. It is only a question of going back a few generations more or less.
Don’t forget that some of the most backward and ignorant sections of the United States in the Northern and Southern States, are sections populated almost exclusively with so-called ‘pure American stock.’ On this very great question involving our future, no one has a right to speak without a pretty good first-hand knowledge of the whole of the United States.
Once upon a time, when a certain relation of mine was President, he had been blocked on some national measure because too many Congressmen were unable to see beyond the confines of their own districts. The President was heard to remark: “I wish I could be President and Congress too for just five minutes: I would pass a law requiring every candidate for Congress to file an affidavit that he had visited every State in the Union.” There is a good deal in the thought.
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT
Warm Springs, Ga.
[Macon Telegraph, April 21, 1925]
April 23, 1925
Roosevelt’s next column could have been, in some ways, written today. He discussed efficiency (or lack of) in the federal government and the high costs of maintaining it, while aiming a political jab at the reigning Republican party:
In my visits to Georgia I have met so many citizens who have such a sense of civic duty and desire for progress that I was venturing to talk out loud on a subject to which I have given more than a passing attention and which I have seen at very close range for a good many years. I am referring to the efficiency of the administration of our national government—a little matter involving the expenditure of about $3,000,000,000 each year and affecting the lives and the pocketbooks of every man, woman and child in the United States. It may take two or three issues of this paper to cover even the high spots, but I hope that what I say may provoke discussion and interest even if you do not all agree with me.
First of all, a few words on history. After the formation of the first government under the Constitution, in 1789, President George Washington was confronted with a task almost as difficult as that of organizing the Revolutionary Army—but a task of an entirely different character. The Constitution did not provide for the machinery of government, it left that to laws enacted by Congress. Even that first Congress was jealous of the President and in creating the original departments it provided not a lump sum appropriation for each department, but enacted into law the details of how many employes there should be, what their duties should be, and how much pay they cold receive. The nation was deeply in debt, the revenue was problematical and even at the outset the scale of pay for the Federal employes was made a good deal lower than pay for similar work in private life.
As a result President Washington had real difficulty not only in finding cabinet officers who could afford to give up their business to serve their country, but difficulty also in filling the subordinate positions with men who were qualified for their tasks. In addition to this he faced an enormous demand for soft jobs from Revolutionary soldiers who honestly believed that their services in the war entitles them to clerkships and other Federal employment even if they could neither read nor write. The result was that the Federal service started off on a relatively inefficient basis.
The next step was the rise of political parties, and the political bitterness which started about the time of John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson gave rise to the perfectly human doctrine of “To the Victor Belong the Spoils,” because no administration wanted to be surrounded by subordinates who might at any time work politically against their chiefs.
Things went from bad to worse, and the depths of inefficiency and political plunder were reached in the ‘70s during the administration of President Grant. The giving of political favors was naturally followed by the granting of private favors, and corruption in those days reached even into the President of the cabinet himself—I might draw a comparison, but I won’t.
This was the real origin of the nation-wide demand for an efficient and non-partisan Civil Service Reform. President Cleveland was its great disciple. It was based on the obvious promise that the thousands of government employes should be chosen for their fitness to do the work rather than for their political affiliations and influence. From that day to this the overwhelming majority of the Federal employes (with the exception of postmasters) have been chosen through the competitive examinations administered by the Civil Service Commission.
No reasonable person who has studied the working of the Federal Government can deny that the result has been a vast improvement over the former spoils system, and Civil Service methods have been rapidly extended to practically all State and municipal employes. The nation as a whole was so well satisfied that a great reform had been put through that for forty years it has assumed that the result had brought efficiency and honesty in the place of incapacity and corruption.
Civil Service reform did end corruption. That I can say as a broad statement applying to the overwhelming majority of Federal employes. They are as a class honest and faithful in the service which they give to the government which employs them.
But the question of the efficiency of the government is a very different story, and one which is not a reflection on the employes themselves, but rather on the antiquated system of promotion and pay. Everything is comparative, and when I make the above statement I am comparing in my mind the government system with the systems of employment used by successful private employers—those who have made good with large businesses and who at the same time are thoroughly progressive in giving the best of treatment and consideration to their employes. It is not going too far to assert that no successful private business could keep out of bankruptcy for six months if it substituted government employment system for its own.
The key to the whole problem lies in this: A successful private employer, as the government does, satisfies himself as to the character and capacity of each employee when that employee is first taken in the bottom of the ladder. There the similarity ceases. The private employer makes careful note of the ability and capacity of the individual also after the work has commenced—he promotes the more efficient and discharges the inefficient. This system holds good all the way up the ladder. The most capable employes rise rapidly. Those less efficient rise more slowly, and the inefficient are discharged.
With government employment the basis is wholly different—it is altogether too much predicated on seniority. In other words, after the Civil Service Commission has passed on the original application, and the employee has been sworn in, he or she is practically certain of a life job whether efficient or not. Discharge from the government service on the ground of lack of capacity is a very rare thing. It would not be so bad if promotion from one grade to another were based on competition. As things stand now this promotion is based altogether too much on longevity of service. It is true that the government employes have to pass some sort of nominal examination when they go from one grade to another. But the promotion itself comes primarily as a result of long service and at the instigation of the Bureau Chief or the Chief Clerk of the department.
The remedy for this state of affairs is to make promotion competitive and to place it in the hands of somebody such as the Civil Service Commission which will keep it out of politics, thereby awarding those who deserve it, eliminating the deadwood and making our government service worthy of the nation.
That, however, is only half the way of accomplishing the purpose, as I shall point out if T.W. Loyless and the editor of this delightful paper, allow me to write this column again.
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT
Warm Springs, Ga.
[Macon Telegraph, April 23, 1925]
April 25, 1925
In his next column Roosevelt continued with the theme of efficiency in the federal government:
As nobody has yet sought to get out an injunction against me for writing this column, I am about to continue my delicate suggestions that the Federal Civil Service needs a doctor.
I pointed out the other day that practically all the government departments need a brand new system of promotions. Something must be done to allow the most capable employes to rise and to allow the least capable employes to return gracefully to private life.
Something like this would do worlds of good—but the mere fact of a creation of a promotion system recognizing merit will not in itself and all alone give us an efficient government. Every year thousands of young men and young women enter the employ of Uncle Sam. They do so for many different kinds of reasons, some because there is a certain honor and credit attached to this form of public service, others because they feel it will give them experience in their chosen field of work. As things are now, however, it is the rule rather than the exception that the most capable and efficient of these young men and women sooner or later leaves the government and obtain position with private employers.
I have pointed out that the lack of an adequate promotion system is one reason why the departments lose so many of their most valued workers.
The other reason is the very human one of dollars and cents. Government employment should be will be some day a real career. Today it is not. Private business of all kinds offer so many greater inducements that it is only natural that the best government employes so often leave.
The whole scale of government pay is on a false basis. I am not referring, of course, to the higher officials of the administration, such as the appointed members of the cabinet. It is true that most men who go into the average cabinet are capable of making more on the outside than the $15,000 a year which the law allows. It is also true that it costs most of them more to live in Washington in official life than it would back home in private life. Furthermore, we have well-known examples of cabinet members such as Secretary McAdoo and Secretary Lane who simply had to resign or go heavily into debt.
The people I am referring to are the non-political employes who come under the civil service laws. Let me give you some examples: If you enter a government department as a young man as a clerk on, say, a salary of $1,100 a year, and rise through all the grades to that of Chief Clerk of the Department, in the course of the next thirty years, you will be getting, perhaps, the princely salary of $3,800 to $4,000 a year. As Chief Clerk you are what be called the General Manager of the business—only the cabinet officer and his assistant are over you; you are the permanent head, while they come and go with succeeding administrations. As Chief Clerk or General Manager, you have the supervision of thousands of employes under you. You have to see that the shop is running smoothly and efficiently, that the output is satisfactory and that the overhead is low. If you were in a similar position with some private business, it would be a business operating all over the United States with all sorts of branches and you would be getting a salary of somewhere between $20,000 and $50,000 a year. Yet your parsimonious Uncle Sam asks you to do the same character of work for $4,000 a year or less.
Take the Civil Service employes of the next grade. Each Department of the Federal Government is divided into Bureaus. Many of these bureaus employ thousands of people each, and over them is a bureau chief clerk. He, too, is at the top of the ladder. He has gone as far as he possibly can go in his government career with the exception of the chief clerkship of the whole department. He gets the magnificent salary of $2,400 to $2,600 a year. If he were working in a similar capacity for a private concern, i.e., as the head of a branch office, or subdivision, he would get a salary of from $10,000 to $20,000 a year. It is a good deal of strain on the imagination for the poor fellow in Washington to keep on working for a quarter or an eighth of sum.
Is the government doing a fair thing? It seems to me that a great nation like the United States should pay adequate salaries. As a broad principle there is no reason why the United States should not pay approximately the salaries which are paid on the average by private employers. That does not mean that the government should pay a member of the cabinet $100,000 a year just because some private corporation is silly enough to pay him that in private life, but it does mean that the government employes should be able to look forward to just and reasonable compensation if they make good an reach the top of the ladder.
For instance, if the chief clerk of a government department has under him 5,000 employes, a salary of $10,000 a year would not seem exactly extravagant. A private corporation would pay a good deal more to a manager in a similar position. So, too, the chief clerk of a bureau could receive $5,000 to $6,000 and still be underpaid in comparison with private concerns.
I shudder to think what would happen if the government of the United States were to reorganize the salaries of its departmental employes from the top down. A new career and a real career would be opened to American boys and girls. They would no longer treat government service as a mere stepping stone to something better. They would strive to make good within the service itself. They would know that if they did make good they could reach the top and with the attainment of the goal be assured of enough income to support their families in the right way, to lay up something for a rainy day, and to make their own departments models of efficiency. There would a new note of pride which, I am sorry to say, is today woefully lacking.
There would be a new note of pride, too, in the American people themselves. It has been and is our practice to expect inefficiency from government. Unfortunately this shameful attitude comes too much from experience. Would it not be one of the most magnificent and progressive feats of the Republic if within the next generation we could turn completely around and point to the government of the United States as a model for all the employers of the country? Would it not give us a wonderful feeling if we knew that our government, for efficiency of service and for fairness to its workers was the best government in the world instead of one of the worst?
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT
Warm Springs, Ga.
[Macon Telegraph, April 25, 1925]
April 28, 1925
In his next column, Roosevelt concluded his remarks on the efficiency of the Federal government:
I can almost hear some of the readers of this paper saying “This Roosevelt fellow wants to raise the government salaries; isn’t the coat of government high enough already?” That is where I am going to fool you. I am perfectly willing to go on record and say that you could raise the pay of the men and women in the higher, more responsible Civil Service positions 50 per cent or even 100 per cent, and still have the government cost no more.
This I say with the sole reservation that we must establish with the increase in salaries a system of promotion based on merit and capacity only. Human nature makes people more efficient where they are guaranteed promotion and better pay. It is, after all, the average which counts. If the AVERAGE young man or young woman entering a government department in the lowest grade were convinced that slack work would mean a polite discharge and excellent work a deserved promotion, and if, further, they knew that if they eventually rose to or near the top, they would receive a salary commensurate with their ability, their output of work would in many cases be doubled. Initiative would take the place of routine—ambition would take the place of easy going slackness.
I know one young man who went into a Washington department as a typist: he was a fast and accurate worker. The first day he was there he was given a lot of one page letters similar in character, to typewrite. At 4:30 that afternoon he took 45 completed letters to the chief clerk of his bureau. When he got back to his desk the typist next him asked him how many he had turned out, and on his replying ‘45’ the typist gathered several other workers who gently but firmly led my friend aside and told him that he would have to change his output immediately. The customary output per typist per day was only 24 letters, and he was informed that unless he limited himself to 24 letters he would get into trouble.
I do not make the accusation that this sort of thing is general through the government service, but it is true that there is very little incentive for the turning out of the best and most rapid kind of work. On the whole you can not blame these men and women because they know that extra ability will not advance them more quickly than if they do just enough to get by with it, and they are constantly reminded of the fact that even if they do rise to near the top they will be getting hardly any increase of pay.
A merit promotion system with adequate salaries to look forward to, would enable the average of our ten government departments, and our 20 to 30 commission bureaus, not connected with any department, to cut their working forces from 10 to 15 per cent. Assume, for example, one government department with a total annual payroll of $10,000,000. I am perfectly certain that a proper system of promotion and of getting rid of the dead wood, would save at least $1,000,000 of this, and the other 90 per cent of the employes who are left would be fully capable of doing, and doing better, the work of the original 100 per cent. If, then, the government were to take half of the $1,000,000 thus saved and add it to the pay, especially the pay in the higher grades, there would still be a net saving to the taxpayers of $500,000 each year.
Ever since the beginning of our government Congress has thought it necessary to legislate for the number of workers to be employed in every government office. That would not be so bad, but Congress goes further and legislates the exact number to be employed in each grade and the exact pay for every individual so employed. I have never heard of the President or the directors of a large and successful private business wasting their time going over the employment and salary roll of each and every one of their departments. What they do is this: In consultation with their employment managers they establish a general scale of salaries—so much for the mangers, so much for the assistants, so much for the clerks, so much for the experts, and so on all the way down the line. Once this is done, they turn the schedule over to the department head; they say to him: “This is the scale of salaries to be paid—this is the system of promotion to be used; go to it; run your department as economically and as efficiently as you can; you are responsible to us for the results.” If the department head fails to make good, he is fired and they get a new one.
Some days, perhaps, the Congress of the United States will give the heads of the great government departments more latitude. Congress should, of course, establish by law, the general scale of salaries and a uniform [system] of promotions. After that Congress should tell the department heads to go to it and make good. It is a perfectly simple thing for our Congress, and with far less waste of energy, than at present, to keep a check on the success of the department heads in just the same way as the president and directors of a private business would.
During the past few years we have been operating our national government under the so-called budget system. This is, without doubt, a great step—but only one step in advance. The budget system was first recommended by President Wilson, largely as a result of the experiences gained during the World War. A Republican Congress denied the budget system to President Wilson, but granted it in substantially the same form to President Harding the following year. Much boasting has been done in regard to the budget system. Partisans have claimed that at least the government is on a business basis. As a matter of fact, while the budget system has done undoubted good in the matter of estimating government expenses for the ensuing year, and has helped Congress and the Treasury and the people of the United States, in knowing the totals of their income and of their expenditure it has failed utterly to establish efficiency in the actual spending of the money.
Many people, in and out of public life, have during the past ten years or more, discussed a complete reorganization of the government departments, and of government employment as a whole. Commissions have been appointed, and have taken volumes of testimony. Nothing has happened.
The next great contribution which will be made to the cause of the American Republic, will be the placing of its administrative affairs on a business basis. Then, at least, will government service become a career worthy of the ambition and effort of every young American starting out on life’s work.
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT
Warm Springs, Ga.
[Macon Telegraph, April 28, 1925]
April 30, 1925
Roosevelt’s next column was a fascinating look at American-Japanese relations, particularly when he comments on the military maneuvers which were currently taking place off the coast of Hawaii. Roosevelt, sixteen years before Pearl Harbor, was writing of the American need and right to prepare for a Japanese attack, though he still hoped for peace between the two nations:
We have been reading during the past few days about the “attack” on Hawaii by part of the American Navy and the “defense” of the islands by another part and by the Army and local Militia. A few months ago the flamboyant public announcement of these maneuvers by the Administration in Washington caused a distinct flurry of public feeling and adverse criticism in Japan, and certainly did little to enhance the cause of peace between Japan and the United States. It was the manner of the announcement, rather than the actual holding of maneuvers by the Navy off our Pacific seaboard. Japan could have raised no possible argument if the maneuvers had been announced for what they were—the working out of the problem of the defense of the Pacific Coast in precisely the same broad manner as we have worked out problems on several occasions relating to the defense of the Atlantic Coast and adjoining waters. For Hawaii bears a somewhat similar relation to the Pacific seaboard, that Guantanamo and Porto [sic] Rico and the Virgin Islands do to the Atlantic Seaboard.
In this connection the average American and the average Japanese have very cloudy and often erroneous points of view about the relations between the two countries. What could be more simple than for jingoes and trouble maker sand pessimists to point out that Japan is the dominant power in wealth and in military resources on the Western side of the Pacific, that the United States occupies the same position on the Eastern side, and that a clash of interest is inevitable. These dangerous agitators then point out the bogey of Japanese immigration and the Japanese infiltration into what they call our privileged commercial markets. Japanese jingoes, at the same time, complain of American insults through exclusion laws and the pretension of America to the control of the trade of China and other parts of the Far East.
Let us first examine that nightmare to many Americans, especially our friends in California, the growing population of Japanese on the Pacific slope. It is undoubtedly true that in the past many thousands of Japanese have legally or otherwise got into the United States, settled her and raised up children who became American citizens. Californians have properly objected on the sound basic ground that Japanese immigrants are not capable of assimilation into the American population. If this had throughout the discussion been made the sole ground for the American attitude all would have been well, and the people of Japan would today understand and accept our decision.
Anyone who has traveled in the Far East knows that the mingling of Asiatic blood with European or American blood produces, in nine cases out of ten, the most unfortunate results. There are throughout the East many thousands of so-called Eurasians—men and women and children partly of Asiatic blood and partly of European or American blood. These Eurasians are, as a common thing, looked down on and despised, both by the European and American who reside there, and by the pure Asiatic who lives there.
The argument works both ways. I know a great many cultivated, highly educated and delightful Japanese. They have all told me that they would feel the same repugnance and objection to having thousands of Americans settle in Japan and intermarry with the Japanese as I would feel in having large numbers of Japanese come over here and intermarry with the American population.
In this question, then, of Japanese exclusion from the United States, it is necessary only to advance the true reason—the undesirability of mixing the blood of the two peoples. This attitude would be fully understood in Japan, as they would have the same objection to Americans migrating to Japan in large numbers.
Unfortunately, Japanese exclusion has been urged for many other reasons—their ability to work for and live on much smaller wages than Americans—their willingness to work for longer hours, their driving out of native Americans from certain fruit growing or agricultural areas. The Japanese themselves do not understand these arguments and are offended by them.
As to commercial rivalry as the cause for a clash between the two nations, I fail utterly to see that the argument has weight. Our principal commercial rival throughout the years has been Great Britain, and yet this has not been advanced as a reason for a pending war with her. The civilization of Japan is far older than our own, and in the field of the philosophy of life the Japanese regard us as children who are passing through the stage which they, themselves, underwent 1,000 years ago. Yet it was not until a generation ago that the Japanese nation decided to emulate the Western nations in material things. Since that time, Japan has made almost unbelievable strides. She manufactures today almost every known article, and is competing with American and European nations in selling these articles all over the world. It is true that the cost of manufacture in Japan is, on the whole, far below what it is here, but it is true also that the cost of manufacture in many European countries is also far lower than in the United States. As Japan advances in successful materialism her wage scale, her conditions of living, and her cost of production, therefore, will increase until the difference is no longer so great.
In other words, economic conditions tend to seek the same level. We are, today, competitors with Japan in many of the markets of the world. Is that a cause for war? Often I have thought that those materialists who assert that all wars are caused by economic and trade rivalries ought to be put in the insane asylum. History shows us many wars in which trade rivalry had but little part. History shows us, on the other hand, countless wars which were brought about by prejudice, by a misstatement of facts—by religious fanaticism—by hastily spoken words.
The Japanese people and the American people are both opposed to intermarriage of the two races—there can be no quarrel there. The Japanese people and the American people do not want to invade each other’s countries—there can be no quarrel there. The Japanese people and the American people both seek trade expansion in legitimate channels and under fair conditions of world wide competition—that is not a cause for war. The Japanese Navy is at perfect liberty to carry out so-called strategic problems involving the defense of their coast. We have the same right with respect to our own coasts. But it is hardly tactful for the American Government to give its own citizens, and the Japanese nation as well, the impression in seeking publicity for the Navy, that we are trying to find out how easy or how difficult it would be for the Japanese Navy to occupy Hawaii prepatory to a descent on our own Pacific coast!
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT
Warm Springs, Ga.
[Macon Telegraph, April 30, 1925]
May 2, 1925
In Roosevelt’s next column, he speaks of his first visit to Georgia, before his paralysis, while serving as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Moving on to the concept of warfare, he makes some eerily prophetic statements regarding the danger to civilian populations in modern war:
Speaking of the Navy, I am reminded of a trip which I made to Georgia and Mississippi soon after I went to the Navy Department in 1913. The good people of Brunswick, Ga. and of Biloxie [sic], Miss. were anxious to have the Federal Government establish naval stations in their harbors. The harbor entrances in both cases proved too shallow, but I had delightful visits in both cities. Brunswick, I remember chiefly, for the possum banquet they gave me—every known variety of possum—cooked in every known variety of style. I ate them all. At Biloxie I was deeply interested in having Congressman Pat Harrington, now Senator, drive me over to visit Jefferson Davis’ splendid home.
It was on this trip, however, that I first formed the idea of the need in modern naval warfare for a complete chain of anti-submarine stations the whole length of our coast. It was obvious that in time of peace the Navy Department could not possibly have enough money each year to maintain such stations, yet it was obvious to me we should need them in time of war. Even in 1913, submarines had attained ocean-going size and aircraft flown from the decks of battleships were being experimented with. The principle harbors of the United States were, of course, guarded, but a successful patrol of the whole coast required, I thought, patrol bases at least not more than 100 miles apart.
When I got back to Washington I tried to get the General Board of the Navy Department to prepare a plan of coast patrol for use in the event of war, but the General Board did not think it worthwhile to bother its head about such little matters. It is amusing to note that a couple of months before we actually got into the World War, in 1917, the higher naval officers did a lot of running around and planning for the Naval patrol stations which we maintained throughout the war.
Have people forgotten already the tremendous sensation caused by the German submarines after 1914? Here again is a slice of history. When the European War broke out, in 1914, news came through from German sources that they expected the submarines to be a serious menace to the British control of the seas. In the Navy Department in Washington it was the general rule among the older officers to minimize the potentialities of the submarine, and to discredit any thought of their exercising a very large effect on allied commerce or supplies. Many of the younger officers, however, saw in the German submarines a real threat and with them I agreed. We believed, nevertheless, that if the German submarines were temporarily successful in destroying a large allied tonnage some answer to the submarine would eventually be found. This also proved to be correct, and by the autumn of 1918 submarines had been in a broad sense placed under control.
This is but a proof of the old, historical fact that every new offensive weapon meets, in time, a defensive weapon which neutralizes its power. Back at the beginning of the war Between the States, enthusiasts believed that the new high powered rifled guns would end naval warfare because no wooden ship could withstand them. We know, however, that that almost simultaneously the use of armor plate on ships neutralized the added power of the new guns. So with submarines. They have become one of the many weapons of offensive warfare, and various forms of defense are now used against them.
Another controversy is now raging—whether the airplane has, or has not, put the older weapons wholly out of existence. Judging by history, it has not. For instance, the torpedo boat of 40 years ago was going to render all battleships obsolete. Ten years ago the submarine was going to do the same thing. Today the prophecy is made for the airplane, but the probability is that aircraft will merely take their place as additional weapons of warfare, and not as new weapons which supersede and drive out of existence all the old ones.
This, however, brings up the most serious phase of future wars. Airplanes can reach portions of an enemy’s country hitherto safely ‘behind the lines.’ In the recent war many hundred of people were killed and wounded—men, women and children—by airplane bombs far back of the lines in France, Germany and England. Since the war ended great discoveries have been made in the use of fatal gases, it being claimed that whole city populations could be destroyed by a single enemy plane.
If that is true, the world faces a problem far greater than the mere limitation of armaments.
Largely as a result of the writings of the great Dutchman Grotius, 300 years ago, the treatment of enemy civilian populations in time of war became more humane and more civilized throughout Europe. With few exceptions the so-called “rules of war” then laid down were maintained fairly well until the World War. Then, largely because of the German doctrine of terrorism, civilian populations were treated as combatants would be. If in the next war nations feel themselves at liberty to destroy and injure the enemy civilian populations outside of the actual fighting zone, we shall go back to the unlimited and horrible conditions of warfare in the Dark and Middle Ages.
It would seem to be important that this tremendous subject be discussed fully and frankly by the civilized nations now, in time of peace, than that there should be a mere international conference to plan for the scrapping of a few more battleships.
What is the United States going to do about it? Our position as a leader in such a great cause is clearer than that of any other nation. We are separated by thousands of miles of ocean from any other power formidable as a military antagonist. We seek no aggrandizement of territory. The world as a whole will follow our lead more readily than that of any other nation. Yet the present government in Washington mouths around about ‘entangling alliances’ and a “hands off policy.” No American, of course, wants any entangling alliance, but every American wants to see this country play the part of a man and lead in the advancement of civilization as a whole, and in the lessening, not only of the horrors of war, but of the chances of war itself. Are you satisfied, buy the way, that America is today doing its full duty to mankind?
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT
Warm Springs, Ga.
[Macon Telegraph, May 2, 1925]
May 5, 1925
In his final column for the Macon Telegraph, Roosevelt took on an issue of universal and seemingly timeless concern—taxation:
Today I have a letter from one of your readers in Marshallville, suggesting I take up the subject of “Taxation in Georgia.” I suppose that, since I have become a newspaper man, this ought to be easy, especially in view of the fact that I never set up to be a tax expert or to know anything about Georgia taxes.
However, here go some random thoughts on a problem which at least ought to interest every citizen. Historically the United States derives its method of government and law far more from England than from continental Europe, and it would be supposed that our system of taxation in America would follow more closely the English methods rather than the continental. Yet, this is not the case. In England, and in most of her colonies, direct taxes on property have, as a general proposition, yielded the bulk of the revenue, whereas in continental Europe indirect taxes have been the rule.
Here in the United States, we have a hodgepodge of direct and indirect taxes, and have inclined more to the indirect form than to the English method. The different individual states, without regard to sectional lines, present all sorts of systems; in other words, we have no uniform theory, and there is much confusion and resulting inequalities and injustices. Similarly, no line is drawn between Federal taxes and State taxes. Often there is double taxation because of a lack of a system.
Let me give some examples: In New York State, the individual has to pay a double income tax—one to Washington, the other to Albany—and when the individual dies his estate has to pay a double inheritance tax—one Federal and one State. In Georgia, the individual has to pay, I think, only the Federal income tax, but his estate has to pay a double inheritance tax. In New York, cigars and cigarettes have to pay only the Federal tax. In Georgia, they have to pay, in addition, a State tax.
The day will undoubtedly come when, by legislation or by common consent, a clearly drawn line of demarkation [sic] will be fixed between the individual States, on the one hand, and the Federal Government on the other, and sooner that day comes, the better. If certain classes of taxes were reserved for the Federal Government, and other classes for the State governments, double taxes would be avoided and the whole system, both local and national, would be put on a basis which the average tax payer could understand. This would result in more thought being given by our legislators, with resulting increase in responsibility of government—a thing to be greatly desired.
I understand that the bulk of your taxes in Georgia are direct and in two forms: First, the direct tax on land and realty, and secondly, the direct tax on personal property. I am told, also, that the direct tax on land is unequally administered in the different counties of the State. For instance, one county may assess at 50 per cent of the full value of the land and another county at 60 per cent to 70 per cent. So, also, the tax rate in one county may be only half as great as the tax rate in another county. A man with a farm actually worth $10,000 in one section of the State, may pay taxes twice as great as a man who owns a farm of exactly the same value in another section.
Georgia is not by any means the only State which suffers from these inequalities. In general, State laws provide, or intend to provide, for uniform taxation, but the way these laws are carried out absolutely nullifies the purpose. In the State of New York, county valuation and county rates vary also, a distinct effort has been made, during the past few years, by the State Board of Equalization, to bring about a more uniform assessment and tax rate.
Many States are wholly abandoning the direct tax on personal property as distinguished from real estate. For instance, in New York State, the personal tax on household furniture, live stock and bonds, has been abandoned in favor of the State income tax. The reason for this was that the tax on personal property was never collected. The local town and county assessors, without investigation, wrote down some small figures opposite each person’s name as the assessed valuation of their personal property. In nine cases out of ten the figure did not represent anything like the actual personal property owned. This was especially true in regard to the owners of stocks and bonds, i.e., the richer people of the State, and the result was that the personal property tax was largely evaded by people of means and the burden of it fell on their less fortunate brethren.
I am told that very much the same situation exists in Georgia today; that, for instance, personal property (merchandise) in Atlanta alone is insured for a larger amount than the total assessed value of all the merchandise in the State of Georgia put together. If that is true, your personal property law ought to be either repealed or enforced.
The theory of taxing personal property is, of course, that the State gives its protection and that, therefore, a man should pay in proportion to the amount of personal property which he owns. But the theory is also based on the taxing of all a man’s property, and not merely a small portion thereof. It is undoubtedly true in this State as in others, not only that the law is not enforced, but that the law itself fails to cover various forms of personal property, such as notes, mortgages, etc., etc.
We need a campaign in Georgia, as in almost every other State, first, for a revision of the tax laws, and, secondly, for their honest and complete enforcement when so revised. It is not stretching the point to state that if all taxes, especially those on property, were enforced 100 per cent, the average man’s taxes could be cut from a third to a half.
The unfortunate financial condition of France today is, in very large part, due to the fact that the French taxes are not collected as they should be. The ability of England, with a debt, after the war as least as great as that of France, to go back to the gold basis, as was announced the other day, is, in large measure, the result of collecting all of the taxes on her statute books.
A confusion of laws between the Federal and the State governments, an equal enforcement of those laws, the evasion of many forms of property from taxation altogether, and an unfortunate lack of interest in the subject by the average citizen, would make the position of the United States in time of crisis more like that of France than of England.
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT
Warm Springs, Ga.
[Macon Telegraph, May 5, 1925]