Theodore Roosevelt to Amos Pinchot, December 5, 1912

287 Fourth Avenue 
New York. 

December 5th, 1912. 

[Dear] Amos: 

All right. I shall send Perkins your letter and this answer.  

I certainly do not regard Mr. Perkins as the "titular head" of the party, and I know he does not so regard himself. Therefore I do not feel that we need bother ourselves about his remaining in such a position inasmuch as he is not in it now. He is not the titular head; the trouble is that he is so efficient that wherever he is he attracts attention. Flinn is our other man of the same powerful business type; he has more political knowledge; if he had been in Perkins' place he would have done admirable work, and would have been, if anything, even more viciously attacked than Perkins was. On the other hand I emphatically feel that he should remain as chairman of the executive committee. Now, my dear Amos, you speak (what I know you feel) with great sympathy of the task that I am trying to carry through, the task of taking a part in leading a great movement and in keeping its supporters together and planning for the future. Moreover, I absolutely agree with you that this Progressive Party, with its thousands of earnest men and women giving their strength to the cause of humanity, and with the millions of struggling people who see some hope in a cause dedicated to economic justice instead of to politics, offers something very fine and very full of possibilities of real usefulness to our country. I moreover agree absolutely with what you say as to the Progressive Party's claiming to be something different from and better than the old parties, and standing not only for political victory but to establish social and economic justice. As you say, our purpose is to free the industrial slave as Lincoln freed the chattel slave. But I utterly differ with you as to your belief about the source of the dangers with which we are threatened. I believe that our vote would have been cut in half at once if we had not been able to persuade two or three millions of good men and women that we were not engaged in an assault on property, or in wild and foolish radicalism. I believe that the suspicion that we were over-radical, were jeopardizing property and business, cost us a million or two of votes. I further believe that if [page 2]  we put out Perkins, and then did the only logical thing by putting out all the men like him, we should gain one or two hundred thousand votes and lose two or three millions. I mean in all sincerity that I think that if the policy you advocate had been adopted  at the outset of this campaign -- for of course Perkins is simply a symbol, and it is idle to put out Perkins if you don't put out all the men of the same stamp -- that we would have been a rival to Debs in the running, and would have lost every particle of power to fight for a good cause.  

In your letter you say that Perkins had acted conscientiously, disinterestedly, and with no thought of personal advancement. I can add that he is in absolute and entire sympathy with our attitude toward the trust problem as it is set forth in our platform, as I have set it forth in my speeches, and as men like Jim [Garfield], Joe Alsop and Ben Lindsey understand it. I know of no point as regards the trusts on which Ben Lindsey and Perkins disagree, for instance. If Perkins is all right, if he is fighting valiantly for the common cause, then we should be worse than foolish to throw him over. Perkins and Flinn have both been peculiarly valuable men to our cause. I have the utmost confidence in the zeal, the disinterestedness, the high purpose of both, and I know the efficiency of both. I am proud to have them as my friends. I do not believe we could have made any fight to speak of if we had not had them, and men like them, with us. One is attacked only as the other is attacked. I stand by both with my whole heart. 

Now I agree entirely with you that we are solemnly pledged to carry on an active campaign against the system of exploitation by the trusts. But I disagree absolutely with you when you say that the trust question means the cost of living question, the bread question. I am not certain that the carrying through of such a [program] against the trusts would have any effect upon the cost of living whatever, and I am certain that it would affect it only in a small degree. The one argument which it is difficult to answer when advanced on the trust side is that the trusts cheapen production. I think it can be answered. I think that we can show that on the whole the consumer is not better off because of the action of the trusts. But there is real doubt in the matter: there is a genuine argument to be made on both sides. There is a genuine doubt [page 3] whether if we broke up all the trusts on the Brandeis plan the result would not be that the cost of living would go up instead of down. Please look at Hobhouse's article in the recent contemporary review; I know of no competent authority who treats the trust matter as more than one (and not the most important one) among a score of factors in raising prices. At any rate I am as certain as I can be of anything that the trust problem is a wholly minor problem in the cost of living problem, and that any promise to the people of [benefiting] them as regards the bread question, the cost of living question, and by action on the trust business is a fallacious promise, with but little more merit in it than the Democratic promise to reduce the cost of living by the alteration of the tariff. The rise in the cost of living has been world-wide. It has been almost as great in countries where there are no trusts as in countries where there are trusts. In Italy, for instance, there is not a trust of any kind; but in proportion the cost of living has advanced there much as elsewhere. The articles making four-fifths of the average small man's expense are not produced by trusts at all, and the control exercised over them by trusts, in some cases real, has never been proved to be materially instrumental in raising the price. (Although I think it has raised the price in some cases). Eggs have gone up greatly in price, but no trust has any effect upon them. Chickens have gone up greatly in price, quite as much as meat; yet there is practically no trust in chickens. So about milk; and servants wages -- which I am glad have risen. It is debatable whether the Millers' Trust has had any marked effect in raising the price of  bread. Now my point is, not that the trusts have not been responsible for a small part of the rise in these products, but that even if this be true, it is for so small a part that the solution of the trust question would really have almost no effect on the cost of living question. You say we cannot keep the people's confidence and support by preaching mere palliatives. You are right. But we can forfeit their support much quicker by preaching something which is not so, and by promising what cannot be performed    

I agree that we must keep the issue perfectly clear, or rather, one of the issues, which is that the trusts shall not be allowed to exploit the people by dictating the terms upon which the people shall obtain food [page 4] fuel and clothing. I do not wish to see a trust magnate, or, to drop the terms of the stump, a big corporation man chosen as the real or titular head of the party unless he ought on other grounds to be the titular or real head of the party. If any trust magnate develops who on other grounds ought to be the head of the party, I shall vote for him to be such. But as neither Mr. Perkins nor any other corporation man is now the titular head or the real head of the party, and as no human being whom I know is thinking of making such a man the head, I do not regard this point as having the slightest applicability at present. You say that the Steel Trust and the Harvester Trust are the worst of existing trusts, or at least those which have been most exposed in magazines and the press. I know nothing of the Harvester Trust excepting the decision of the Supreme Court of Missouri that its whole behavior was excellent, and that it had offended in no way at all excepting by being big, that is, successful. As for the Steel Corporation, I think it has done some evil. It has done very much less evil, however, than the Pueblo Iron and Fuel Company, a comparatively small rival. Yet what you apparently support as the real remedy, the Brandeis remedy, would not in the smallest degree affect the Colorado Iron and Fuel Company (Mr Guggenheim's company), and in my judgment would not work the very smallest improvement from the standpoint of cost of living. 

Now as to the episode of the elimination of part of the trust plank from the Progressive Platform. You say this episode is bound to come out either at Chicago or subsequently. I hope it will come out at once, and the sooner the better. Mr. Perkins had nothing more to more to do with that episode than, for instance, Beveridge, and Dixon and myself.  

First as to your saying that the elimination of the lines of which you complain placed us in "a false and fatal position" in regard to the whole trust question, and especially with regard to monopoly. I do not agree with you. Unquestionably the successful mendacity of our opponents was exercised against us on the trust question as well as on various other questions. My own judgment is that if the sentences omitted had been kept in, the result would not have been different in the smallest degree. The attacks against us were not made in good faith. They were made with [page 5] the deliberate purpose of perverting the truth and of clouding the issue. They were made without any reference to what we had actually done. As a matter of fact the classes <among> whom we failed to do well were the classes of small business men, prosperous farmers and the like, who thought that our platform and the candidates upon it were too radical, and not that they were too conservative. I may add that the experience of my colleagues on The Outlook absolutely bears out this statement. This was a Democratic year, and the Democrats were contented with Wilson. The mere fact that the exposure of Wilson's trust record in New Jersey did not damage him a particle is enough to show that we could have gained mighty little from any further development of anti-trust sentiment. My own feeling very strongly is that the difficulty we had to encounter when we developed our [program] about the trusts was much less the difficulty of making people believe we were sincere than the difficulty of making people believe that we were not cheap, and that all anti-trust talk was not cheap. 

Now as to what actually happened about that anti-trust plank. I was consulted freely by various men as to various planks in the platform. Mr. Earl of California and Senator Flinn consulted me about the Christian Science business. You and Gifford consulted me about many things. McCarthy consulted me about many things; he was violently opposed to Miss Jane Addams on the colored question. Innumerable other people consulted me. Everyone asked me to interfere with the committee and to get them to do or leave undone something. Among the people who consulted me on certain points were Perkins and Beveridge. By the time that this trust plank came up our chief concern was to eliminate all matters of surplusage from the platform. At that time there was danger of the platform being twice as long as it ought to be. I was trying hard to cut out everything redundant. The action taken in connection with the trust plank was merely one of innumerable similar actions, and when the question was first brought up at the end of the campaign I remembered little about it. After much [cudgeling] of my brains and talking over with various people, I think the following is substantially accurate. The Committee sent up to me most of the planks as they passed them, with the idea of getting any suggestions from me, inasmuch as I was to be the candidate and as my speech to be delivered before the convention had already been prepared. The planks I took most [page 6] interest in were the social and industrial planks and the country life plank. But I also took much interest in a number of the others, including the trust plank. I suggested in the case of each plank any amendments or change which I thought advisable. Perhaps once in twenty times these changes or suggestions would be original with me. On the nineteen other occasions they represented efforts on my part to meet the protest of some Progressive who felt very deeply on that particular subject. My own constant and harassing care was to try not to let our party split open -- and usually the split was threatened on something about as important as the difference between tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee. Keeping in or leaving out the sentences of which you speak in the Trust plank was a mere case of Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee. I was also steadily trying to keep each plank cut down to be as short as possible. I do not know what course was taken as regards some of the suggestions I made, but I was notified in most cases that the suggestions had been adopted by the committee. It was thoroughly understood that I was not trying to embody my own ideas so much as that I was trying to get something which we could all in common stand on. I believe it was Dixon who brought up the trust plank, although I am not certain. Some man, I think it was Beveridge, but it may have been Perkins, objected to the lines that are at issue. Perkins certainly seconded the objection. I did not and do not think that there was any need of putting these lines in. I did not and do not think that they strengthen the platform. I thought and think that they went needlessly into detail, and that to include such details and leave out other equally important details might make it look as if we would not oppose practices which we had not specifically said that we would oppose. I said at once that as far as I was concerned I was entirely willing to have them struck out because they represented needless amplification, needless going into detail, and because to enumerate these particular inhibitions without enumerating others quite as important might cause people to think that we did not intend to make the latter illegal. I also added with entire explicitness, and with the entire assent of my hearers, including Perkins, that in my speeches I intended [page 7] to advocate just such action as that contained in the lines to be excluded, but that I agreed that the platform ought to be as short as possible and that we should state general purposes and not try to go specifically into details as these particular lines did. On the other hand, I felt that the first part of the plank, that dealing with the commission, did not speak with sufficient explicitness as to the power that the commission should have over the trusts. I suggested that one or two sentences should be inserted to strengthen the anti-trust plank at the beginning, and that these particular  sentences to which you refer should be omitted from the second part of it. The suggestions were taken down in writing, either by me or by someone else present. Senator Dixon then took the amended section downstairs and returned shortly afterwards and said the committee had adopted the amended plank. I was told the same thing by two or three members of the committee later on. Afterwards I was informed that by mistake the unamended plank which had not been adopted was read in the convention. I was further informed that Senator Dixon immediately pointed out, (to Dean Lewis, as he informed me) that the plank as read to the convention was not the one adopted by the committee; and that accordingly the sentences in question were dropped out of the platform as it was finally printed. I called upon O. K. Davis and asked him to see that the press association got the platform as thus printed. How utterly unimportant the matter was, and how utterly unimportant it then seemed, may be gathered from the fact that no human being so far as I know was impressed one way or the other about the matter, or raised any question about the matter. As far as I know, no member of the resolutions committee raised any question about it. Dean Lewis corrected the proof of the platform as finally issued. Frankly, I think it was utterly unimportant. I think it is a mere case of tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee whether those lines were left in, or whether, as I believe would have been wiser, they were cut out, although used in our different speeches. It is very undesirable to try to make a platform contain everything that can be put in speeches. [page 8]

However, toward the very end of the campaign somebody spoke to me about these lines having been improperly left out. The first inquiries I made satisfied me that they had been properly left out, and that they had not been adopted by the committee. Dean Lewis now tells me that he believes that through some mistake the amended plank was not read to the committee after being brought down by Senator Dixon from my room, and that the committee did adopt the plank as unamended. As long as there is the slightest doubt on the question (and while I regard it as supremely unimportant) I feel that the lines to which you refer should be restored to the plank. I used the exact language of these lines again and again in various speeches, including the statement I made on November 2nd. I may add that my so using them was cordially approved by Mr. Perkins on the explicit ground that as a matter of course all the practices named would be effectively stopped under the Progressive proposal.  

I feel a keen sympathy with Charley Thompson of Vermont when he said that this was a typical mare's nest. I strongly feel that the course I recommend should be adopted and the lines re-inserted in the platform; but frankly I do not think they improve the platform at all, and I am not certain they were originally in it. I advocate the course only because it is well to put ourselves in such shape that suspicious souls shall not be able to make mountains of molehills.  

Let me repeat, my dear Amos, that I do not for the moment believe that Perkins is attacked any more strongly than Flinn, than you and Gifford, than Medill, than Professor Merriam, than any number of other men, excepting in so far as he is more prominent. He has been the most useful man, not even excepting Flinn, in this whole flight. You couple Munsey with him. There would not have been any Progressive Party east of Philadelphia about which to make any complaints at all if Perkins and Munsey had dropped out of the fight. There would not have been any Progressive Party in Pennsylvania if Flinn had dropped out of the fight. Wilkinson made the fight for us in Syracuse. He is a steel man too, the head of the Crucible Steel Company. Of course if you rule out Perkins, Mansey and Flinn, you have got to rule out Wilkinson too. Wilkinson is [page 9] in this fight for precisely the same reason that Perkins and Flinn are. He told me substantially what they told me, namely, that he had become convinced that something must be done to help the condition of the wage workers, and have justice done, so as to better the condition of the small man; and that he was in the Progressive Party because the triumph of the Progressive Party and the adoption of all its principles meant the elimination of the possibility of his children having to face revolution.  

If Perkins or anyone else in this movement acts badly, I will turn against him. As long as he does not act badly, I will positively refuse to turn against him. I feel that this whole assault on him has been not only thoroughly unjustifiable, but contains the greatest element of menace which we now face as to the future of the Progressive Party. I must speak frankly, my dear Amos, I believe that the spirit, however honest, which prompts the assault upon Perkins is the spirit which if it becomes dominant in the party means that from that moment it is an utter waste of time to expect any good from the party whatsoever, and that the party will at once sink, and deservedly sink, into an unimportant adjunct to the Debs movement or some similar movement. The great test of reformers always comes when they are required to work together. You have quoted Lincoln as being against chattel slavery. Have you forgotten that Lincoln was not for the abolition of chattel slavery until he had been President for two years? Do you not know that Lincoln's fight was half the time a fight to prevent foolish extremists from ruining the anti-slavery cause and ruining the union by insisting upon ostracizing the moderate men? Do you forget that in 1864 Senator Wade of Ohio, Congressman Davis of Maryland, and Wendell Phillips and Fremont did their best to break down Lincoln and the Republican Party on the ground that they had not gone far enough against chattel slavery, at the very time that Greeley and Raymond (the chairman of the executive committee of the then progressive, that is, the Republican Party) were complaining bitterly that the party was being ruined because Lincoln had gone too far against chattel slavery. The reason that you quote Lincoln with such admiration now is because he succeeded. He succeeded. His success was in large [page 10] part because he declined to submit for one moment to the constant proposals to rule out the Perkinses, the Munseys, the Flinns, the Wilkinsons of his day and generation who were in the Republican Party. My dear Amos, you and those like you who are engaged in this assault upon Perkins are following precisely that course which Wade and Davis and Fremont and Phillips followed forty-eight years ago. In the name of radical progress, in the name of lofty aspirations for the toiling masses, they did their best to alienate the moderate man without whom the Union could not have been preserved nor slavery abolished. Any man who agitates this business is doing everything he can to wreck the Progressive cause, and to make it a movement utterly impotent for accomplishing anything of good whatsoever. I shall oppose any such effort with every particle of strength I possess; and as regards the action on the trust plank at the Progressive convention I shall be delighted to have the whole matter made public at any time, and the sooner the better. It will be hard enough to make the Progressive Party win out on any terms; it will be infinitely harder if fighting among ourselves. We are the one party trying to serve the cause of the plain people; and it will be a dreadful thing if we render ourselves impotent to serve this cause.  

My dear Amos, as I have said above, remember that the ability to think and act independently is no more essential than the ability to get on with others in work for a common cause. In my judgment every man who now gives any encouragement to our foes by inciting war among ourselves is simply rendering aid to the reactionary elements in this nation. He is acting precisely as the well-meaning extremists acted who in 1864 tried to break up the then Progressive Party, the Lincoln Republican Party. You know how fond I am of Gifford and of you. I believe I am advising you for your own good when I say that you impair your power of future usefulness if you give the impression that you never can work with any people for an achievable end. You tried to work with Taft, and broke with him. I think you were absolutely justifiable. You tried to work with La Follette and broke with him. I think you were absolutely justifiable. But if you now prove unable to work with the [page 11] only body of people in this country who offer a chance of fully achieving anthing in this country, I think you will gravely impair all power to serve any good cause. Let me reiterate that the trouble has not been in the least, as far as this movement is concerned, due to not being radical enough, or not taking a sufficiently extreme position or not giving enough power and prominence to the radicals; our trouble has come because we were forced into the necessity, the lamentable necessity, of breaking up an old organized party, and taking what seemed to most people to be altogether too radical action. We did not get enough of the moderates among the Republicans with us; and we only got the strong, but sane, radicals among the democrats. If we in any way at this time acted in more radical fashion than we have acted, we should make ourselves a laughing stock; and we should above all make ourselves a laughing stock if we took any action looking toward the ruling out of the moderate men who are with us.  

Faithfully yours, 
Theodore Roosevelt 

Amos Pinchot Esq., 
60 Broadway, New York. 

Item Relations


Allowed tags: <p>, <a>, <em>, <strong>, <ul>, <ol>, <li>