Amos Pinchot to Theodore Roosevelt, December 23, 1912


December 23rd, 1912.

Dear Colonel Roosevelt:

Your letter of December 5th was handedto me at Chicago the day before I left. There are several things in it which I want to take up with you, especially as I feel there has been some misunderstanding between us in regard to them.

In the first place your letter argues strongly and repeatedly against the proposition to "put Perkins out" (of the Progressive Party), against "ruling out the Perkinses, the Munseys, the Flinns," etc. You say:

"I further believe that if 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 million. 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 [futile?] to put out Perklns if you don't put out all the men of the same stamp -- that we should have been a rival to Debs in the running, and would have lost every particle of power to fight for a good cause."

As far as I know neither Gifford not myself on any occasion, have directly or indirectly favored the proposition which you combat. When I talked with you about Perkins at your office on Friday, the 29th of November which was a few days before the Chicago conference, I said to you, and I tried to make it as clear as words can make anything, sthat I thought that having a trust magnate act as the mouthpiece of our party and allowing him to have a controlling voice in the party councils was a grave mistake, and that I believed that if Perkins could be persuaded to resign from the chairmanship of the Executive Committee and play a less conspicuous part in the Progressive campaign from now on, we would stand much better in the eyes of the public.

I said that I could see no objection to Perkins remaining on the National Committee, or on the Executive Committee of the National Committee, [page 2] and I repeated twice with emphasis in answer to an objection made by you against driving Perkins out of the party, that there was no question of driving him, or any one, out of the party, and, moreover, that an open attack upon Perkins at this time was of all things the most important to avoid as our party was not strong enough to stand such a split.

In addition to this I said, and I think you will remember, Colonel, the emphasis with which I made this remark, that for us to accept Perkins's money and support during the campaign and then when the election was lost to show him the door was entirely out of the question, and that we were estopped from doing so by every consideration of common decency.

On December 3rd I wrote you a long letter on the subject of Perkins, and the missing anti-trust plank. In this letter, as well as in the conversation to which I refer, I took the stand that the only possible way to solve the difficulty was for you to show Perkins that his leadership was hurting the party, and persuade him to resign from the Chairmanship of the Committee voluntarily.

In my letter I also said that owing to the outting out of the anti-trust plank of our platform at the instance of Perkins, it was probably that an attack would be made upon him at the Chicago conference if he remained in the position of Chairman of the Executive Committee. This prediction, by the way, was amply justified, for when Gifford and I reached Chicago a number of people came to us advocating such a move. This we successfully discouraged. Whether or not we were wise in doing this the future will show, but at all events this is what happened.

Almost as soon as the New York special arrived at Chicago several [page 3] people, including Mr. Straus, came to me and said that they understood from your letter and from you that I was about to make an open attack upon Perkins at the conference, I told them that I had never had any such thing in mind. On the way home from Chicago still other people, who had seen your answer to my letter without seeing my letter itself, wanted to know if I had really been on the point of openly attacking Perkins at the conference, and if so, why. From all of this I feel that there has been a misunderstanding which should be corrected.

Let me report, in order to make myself entirely clear, while I hold and have held right along that it is a serious mistake to have a trust magnate speak for the party or influence its policy, and while I contend that the great majority of the party feel as I do, and that it is a contradiction of the fundamental principles of democracy to have a leader whom the majority do not desire and whose motives they are inclined rto question, still I have made no objection at any time to Perkins being in the party, or on the National Committee or the Executive Committee. There is a difference between a man being in the party and being Chairman of the Executive Committee, spokesman, holder of the purse strings, controller of publicity and [organizer] of its political machivery.

We must remember that Perkins and Munsey have not only been the financial supports of the Progressive Party, but that they control to a large extend the newspapers and magazines which are favorable to our cause. To my mind it is exceedingly unfortunate that two men, both allied with trust and Wall Street interests, should have such tremendous power through money and publicity over a party founded largely as a protest against the oligarchial control of our political and industrial institutions. [page 4]

As you probably know, Charles R. Crane has long made it a rule not to exercise control over the policies of any local or national political organizations to which he is a large contributor of money. After all, experience teaches us that the power of money is a peculiar and subtle thing, and that in actual life, just as in [melodramas] and cheap novels, it is difficult either for men, women or political parties to maintain their independence if they are under a heavy weight of financial obligation.

I think that to add to the power Perkins already has through finance and publicity by giving into his hands the organization of the party is a mistake of a very serious and dangerous character. But as this has been done we have to make the best of it [and work] all the harder to make the party succeed in spite of everything.

In [defense] of the Harvester trust you quote the opinion of the Supreme Court of Missouri, to the effect that its whole behavior was excellent, and that it offended in no way at all except by being big. The Supreme Court of Missouri has been, perhaps, our most perfect example of a court owned and operated by the special interests. It has been one of our best arguments for the recall of judges and judicial decisions. In the Ogglesby case, for instance, mentioned in C. P. Connolly's articles in Everybody's, it establish a record which has hardly been equalled for inhumanity and partiality to coportations.

In Kansas, the Harvester Trust has been prosecuted criminally and convicted on seventy-five counts.

The Factory Investigating Commission of New York State has just been informing itself upon the Harvester Trust's factories at Auburn in [page 5] this state. In the statement of the Chairman of this Investing Committee appears the following:

"The appearance of the women workers was very disheartening; they were worn looking and pale, and their clothes, faces and hands were covered with oil and hemp dust. No attempt whatever was made to remove the dust by any by any system of exhaust, but it is breathed in all day long by the workers, some of whom testified that they frequently suffered from colds and sore throats. The women receive salaries as low as five dollars a week, out of which their board and living expenses have to be paid. They work a total of 64-1/2 hours a week, according to their testimony, which is in violation of the labor law. There are more women than men on the night shift, and most the night workers are married.

Mr. Perkins's reply was in part as follows:

"This night work has been rendered necessary largely because of the government's perfectly unreasonable attitude toward large corporations, which has made it impossible for managers of large concerns to know whether they are on foot or on hoseback, whether they could expand their plans to keep up with the increasing demand or not."

In the Phillipines the record of the Harvester trust is well known. Its lobby has succeeded in securing a law fixing a prohibitive tariff upon hemp exported to foreign countries, with a rebate on hemp shipped to the United States. It controls the United States marker, and therefore the price. The result of this has been, as manilla hemp is from sixty to sixty-five percent. of the total exports of the Phillipines, that people in whole sections have been greatly impoverished, and that the Harvester trust has a monopoly and in addition practically receives a subsidy of about half a million dollars a year.

Both the Harvester and the Streel trusts have a system of pensions, [page 6] conditional, in the case of the Steel trust, upon twenty years continuous employment, and in both companies conditional upon "loyalty" and a proper interest in the company's affairs. By such a system of bonuses and pensions, delayed until old age, and depending upon passive acceptance of the company's hours of labor, wages, etc., the Steel trust has stamped out unionism, and both the Steel and Harvester trusts have fastened a system of practical peonage upon their employees.

In the second place, my dear Colonel, I want to enlarge a little upon my reasons for emphasizing the importance of restoring the anti-trust plank to the platform, although in doing so I must take direct issue with you. You say that the question whether the anti-trust plank is in the platform or out of the platform is as trivial as the difference between Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and that the trusts have practically no relation to the cost of living.

There isn't a single law on the statute books that gives the people protection against the trusts except the Sherman law. If that law is not retained upon the statute books and strengthened the people are left absolutely impotent to fight for industrial freedom, or for economic betterment.

You yourself, while President, in practically every message to Congress, endorsed the Sherman law and asked that it should be retained and enforced. Practically all of the Progressive today admit that regulation of trusts and price fixing by a commission alone is impracticable. You have taken this position on the strump and in published statements in Collier's and elsewhere. [page 7]

It seems to me that if we are going to have any trust plank at all in the platform, one thing that cannot possibly be left out is endorsement of the Sherman law. To cut this out in order, as you say, to save space, or for any reason, seems to me like cutting out the part of Siegfried for Gotterdamorung, or Ulysses out of the Odyssey.

Two things are certain in regard to our trust policy. The people will not for a moment stand for a commission, even of arch-[angels] with power to fix the prices of necessaries of life and say which trusts are good trusts and which bad trusts. In the second palce they will not stand for any party that fails to stand by the Sherman act. The charge that we were not going to enforce the Sherman act, that is to say, that we were in favor, of legalizing monopoly, was the strongest weapon that the Democrats used against us in the recent campaign. The next strongest was, I believe, that the trust influences within our party would be powerful enough to prevent any hostile action on our part against predatory wealth.

The chief importance of the part of the trust plank that was omitted was not that it forbade certain unfair practices upon the part of trusts, but because it was an endorsement of the Sherman law and a recommendation for strengthening and making it effective. Surely the differences between a plank which endorses the Sherman act and one which leaves out the Sherman act and by implication may be construed to endorse monopoly and limit our trust policy to regulation of monopoly by commission, seems anything but trivial.

I cannot get it through my head, either, that the trust question has not a very important bearing upon the cost of living. Take the Standard Oil Company as an example. For the sake of argument, let us [concede] [page 8] that oil is cheaper under the Standard Oil monopoly than it would be under competition (although I do not believe this is true). Be this as it may, we know that the Standard Oil Company will earn about one hundred million dollars this year. We also know that an earning of fifty million dollars a year would be more than a generous return to its stockholders upon the value of the property, and that the fifty millions dollars which it takes from the public above this generous return is a sheer economic loss to the community. In other words, assuming that these figures are approximately correct, the Standard Oil Company takes fifty million dollars a year out of the pocket of the average man which it could afford to leave in the pocket of the average man by reducing the price of oil. Practically the same condition exists in the case of scores upon scores of trusts, big and small, that manufacture and distribute the things men and women must buy in order to live and work.

The sugar trust, the steel trust, the harvester trust, the meat trust, the coal trust, the butter trust, the wool trust, the light and water-power monopolies, and the cold storage combinations that get together to keep up the price of almost every kind of perishable food, are milking the public, just as industriously as the Standard Oil. The result is that the trusts are exploiting the common people, and concentrating wealth in the hands of our industrial oligarchy. Whether the public are better off or worse off than they would be if trusts had never been formed is not the main question. Whether or not the trusts have raised or lowered the cost of living <in the past> is not the main question. But the main question is whether the trusts through monopoly and their power to [page 9] fix prices are today keeping prices away up above where they ought to be and thus making it hard for the average man and woman to buy the necessaries of life with the wage that he or she earns. And the fact is that we know, and that everybody knows, that this is just what they are doing.

In Hobson's article in the Contemporary Review of October, to which you refer me, he says, speaking of the trusts:

"For though the business men who form these combinations are motived partly by economies in business methods which may assist and not retard production, the main object at which they aim is the maintenance of high prices by means of a control of output. The normal result of the formation of combines is to restrict the rate of production, making it lower than it would be under an era of free competition."

As I said to you in my letter of December 3rd, it seems to me that our whole program of social and industrial justice will be discredited, and ought to be discredited, unless we can prevent the trusts from charging the increase in the cost of production (which shorter hours, higher wages, pensions, insurance, etc. will bring about) to the public -- unless we can prevent them from using the industrial improvements required by our platform as an excuse for putting up the cost of commodities of daily use.

When Lloyd George, in 1909, introduced the budget providing for practically the same planks which are in our platform now, he was careful to explain the the English people exactly how he would defray the cost of industrial reform by taxation upon unearned increments, incomes, inheritances, or some kind of special privilege or abuse.

It seems to me that it is necessary for us, both as politicians and as economists, to assure the people that the cost of our industrial reforms will be defrayed in some way other than by diminishing the purchasing power of their wages. The endorsement of the Sherman law is perhaps the [page 10] most important measure contained in our platform along this line. For this reason, also, it seemed to me important that the plank endorsing the Sherman act should be restored.

As far as I know only two methods of trust regulation are proposed. One is to fix prices by a commission, and the other to enforce the Sherman act. We have come out flatly against price fixing by a commission. There remains the Sherman act with a commission merely as an executive arm. Therefore, if we are not for the Sherman act we are not for any trust regulation at all, but for unrestrained power of the trusts to exploit the people by monopoly, or any other means that they can devise.

For this reason <also> I have felt that it was important to put back the Sherman act in the platform.

You say that you fear that our party has lost votes because it has been too radical. I believe that the trouble with us has been that we have not been anything like radical or fundamental enough. It seems to me that we have been making a great fuss and proposing to cure cancers with porous plasters.

As far as Gifford and I are concerned, I know of no policy which we have advocated that you have not also advocated. If you can mention any view in regard to a public measure that I have held that you do not approve of, I will either try to justify myself or revise my opinion. <I do not think that any of us have got down to fundamentals enough.>

The great danger has seemed to me all along, not that the people would fear that the Progressive Party would go too far, but that it would repeat the performances of the old parties by not going far enough.

We have a splendid program of popular government. Our program of industrial justice is accepted on every hand. There is no issue in regard [page 11] to it, with the exception of our Conservation policy, which is splendid, we have not got down to fundamentals along economic lines, and [we must] get down to fundamentals before we can make a deep and lasting impression upon the community.

It is poverty that is the curse of this country; it is poverty that we have got to fight. It is a fairer distribution of wealth that we must achieve before we can do anybody any real good. Everybody knows this in his heart, and the sooner we make it as clear as sunlight that the Progressive Party knows and feels this too, the greater will be, and ought to be, our support from the people. If we do not make this plain our party can have no real permanent strength, it will be merely a temporary resting place -- a sort of "safe and sane" happy-medium island of refuge for those who are unable to decide whether they are going to join the people or the special interests in this fight.

We cannot at the same time appear safe and sane to the people and to the interests that are preying on the people. We cannot successfully ride two horses, especially when they are going in opposite directions. Our party has got to make an open choice whether it is to be a radical party or a conservative party. Its very existence depends almost wholly upon it being dominated by radical rather than conservative men and ideas.

Of course our party, like all parties, will necessarily be divided into factions, we must expect that. There will always be in every party the conservative wing and the radical wing. We will never be wholly united in our ideas of what is the best for the country and for the party. We already have our factions now and will continue to have them, [page 12] and there is no harm in this. But one question must be answered, for the people are asking it today. Is the radical wing or the conservative wing of our party to shape its policies.

I have written to you very frankly and fully because I feel that there has been a good deal of misunderstanding not only between you and me, but between you and Progressives that feel a good deal the way I do. I believe this misunderstanding will, in the end, be simply a means of coming to a better and more satisfactory relation between all of us.

Very sincerely yours,

<{Amos Pinchot}>

Colonel Theodore Roosevelt,
287 Fourth Avenue,
New York City.