PRESIDENTIAL MIDWESTERN TOUR

September 24, 1878
Pittsburgh, PA

Fellow Citizens of Pittsburgh and of Allegheny County, Perhaps I should say of Pennsylvania:

During the last three weeks I have had a most agreeable tour through the States of the Northwest – a tour of Instruction and Information, and yet I can truly say to the people of Pittsburgh that no part of that period was more agreeably, and, as I think, more profitably spent than the few hours that I have been permitted to remain in the city of Pittsburgh. Necessarily I have seen but a very small part of what you have to exhibit. A hasty run through your Exposition, a rapid visit during a few hours of the forenoon to various furnaces and factories, and the passage from the hotel to this point – these are the sum of my advantages in seeking to know what Pittsburgh is. You are one of the great manufacturing cities – one of the great workshops of the world. But in speaking of Pittsburgh, perhaps I ought to qualify. I believe there is no trouble between Allegheny City and Pittsburgh, but if there were I want it understood as the Methodist brother said: said he, “I want you to know, when I say brethren I mean sisters also.” When I say Pittsburg I mean Allegheny City also.

Now my friends, I discover here, we are informed here that coal, and iron, and glass, and steel, and petroleum are the great interests of this city, as they are great and important interests of the whole country, and I pause to inquire what is their condition? In a letter written to me – one of the letters written to me by a gentleman desiring to endorse the invitation of the Exposition Society and of the city government – there was this passage, or these passages: “We are a working people, and our city has been unusually afflicted by the panic. Business has been depressed, but now seems to revive slowly. Your presence would do good.” All parts of that, except the last, I am satisfied is a fair and truthful picture of the condition of things in Pittsburgh. Manufacturing cities always suffer more from the stagnation of business that follows a financial panic than either commercial communities or agricultural communities. Wealth, the superfluous wealth, the accumulated wealth of a manufacturing city is. I think, usually not so widely and generally distributed as in an agricultural community. When men are thrown out of employment by the hard times that follow, a financial panic almost immediately, with some suffering, begins. The lack of comforts that are earned by the daily labor is felt by large portions of the community. And the wealthy men of manufacturing cities, what is their condition? They have immense properties upon their lands no longer profitable. They are losing not merely the interest of the investment, but the property itself is going to decay unless large sums are expended in keeping the works running at a loss. So that, as I say, I suppose it to be true that manufacturing communities like Pittsburgh suffer more than either commercial or agricultural communities in a time like this. But more than that, my friends, I suppose that the returning tide of good times comes more tardily to a manufacturing community than either to an agricultural or a commercial community. Let us see the order of precedents for a moment. When hard times come the farmers who have branched out perhaps too much, have built a little extravagantly, have borrowed money to buy more land, have become indebted in any way, they at first begin to retrench and economize. They suffer but little; they still can maintain themselves upon their farms, and gradually as good times are approaching they are the first to feel the benefit of the returning prosperity. They pay off their debts, they economize, they prepare for the trouble that is upon them, and good crops and fair prices soon lead them on, so that they begin again to purchase freely from the merchants. And now begins the era of prosperity and transportation to the railroads, to water transportation, and to the merchants. And now, at last, after the merchants, and after the farmers comes the demand of transportation for more iron for the railroads and for the rolling stock, and upon the water and gradually it reaches you, but it reaches you last. So my correspondent no doubt was right when he says that “business has been depressed,” and right again, whom he says, “but now seems to revive slowly.” If there is any doubt in the minds of this great concourse of people about it. It is whether it is reviving or not, either slowly or rapidly.

PLAIN WORDS

Now I wish to discourse a little with you in a plain matter-of-fact way. I doubt not that there are many political economists before me, who do not agree with me on many questions – on some that I may suggest – some that I may touch upon. But there is one comfort in talking to an American audience, and especially to such an audience as the one I see before me. They all believe, as an eminent gentleman said the other day in Indiana – they all believe in fair play. And when I have the floor, if I talk respectfully to you, and honestly to you through you may differ from me, you will hear me, and will consider, I trust candidly and fairly what I have to say.

Well, now, my friends, as to this depression. Let me speak to you on this phase of it. First, what caused it? Does the cause still exist? And then, my friends, what should be our course in regard to it? Now, what caused it? From 1863 to 1873 we had ten years of great activity in business. As a general statement property was rising, rising, and we were all getting rich. Well, some of us, believe, were down fighting those fellows in the South and not getting rich, bur in the main we seemed to belong to the community that was employed profitably and that was rapidly getting rich – easily getting rich. Why was that? Because the war, costing the Government three millions of dollars a day, needed about all we had to sell. It needed our iron, our steel, our oil’ it needed clothing, it needed provisions; it needed whatever went into guns, or boats, or ships, or wagons, and anything else used in war; and that customer had the cash ready, and paid it promptly, and didn’t question as to price. Now that made good times. It always does in all countries. “A war,” you say, “why, that can’t make good times: a million of men are taken away from the ranks of industry, from the field of labor, from the shops, and instead of producing property they are destroying property and consuming property, and that can’t make good times.” A great and eloquent orator of my State said in Cincinnati in the fall after Mr. Lincoln was elected: “We cannot afford to go to war with the South; we live upon our trade with the South. If we go to war,” said he, “In six months the grass will grow in our busiest street in Cincinnati.” But lo! In six months after the war began the very circumstances which seemed to make war so disastrous, made the streets of Cincinnati busier than they ever were before. Then from 1863 to 1873 we had flushed times because of war. But everybody knows who stops to reflect that that withdrawal from productive industry of more than a million of men, that destruction of property, that war, must and could not but in time produce a depression and panic. The only question in such a case is one of time; and the wonder was, that very wise men felt, not that we had a panic in 1873 and a depression of business from that day to this, but the wonder is that it did not come sooner. It only shows the inherent energies and resources of our country, and activity, and industry, or power of labor, of our people that it was kept off until 1873. Very well, my friends. I say then that was the cause of the panic; - that every man finding himself getting rich began to go in debt; began to buy; began to spread out thin; and when the panic came then the day of settlement had come, and the panic came because the day of the settlement had come. Now my friends, there is the cause as I see it. I will not dwell upon it. That cause exists no longer. When I say the war caused the flush times, and the flush times necessarily, as the night follows the day, are followed by hard times, do not let any of my soldier friends suppose for one instant that I disparage that war. It was worth all it cost, and more too. It was the battle of freedom for all mankind. It dedicated this best part of the best continent on the globe to freedom and freemen forever. It caused a real union. It gave us peace between sections forever. It gave liberty and equality to all our inhabitants, and a stable constitutional government as along as America shall be known. But among the misfortunes was this – this period of flush times, followed as I say now, by hard times. 

Now comes the question what is the prospect? Are we coming upon better times? It has been my good fortune in these last three weeks to travel across five States of the Northwest, to go beyond the Mississippi and go beyond the Red River of the North in the Territory of Dakota, into the region where the agricultural community is the only community. And let me say to you, already the good times have come to the agricultural communities of the far Northwest. Already the transportation from the region is filled with the

PRODUCTS OF THE CROPS

which Providence has vouchsafed to that land. The lake, the railroads, are all packed full of the products going to the market at the East. This gives life to the merchants; this gives life to all engaged in transportation; this makes it necessary for them to have the products you make to keep their vessels and their railroads in order. It has not reached you much yet, but it is coming, unless we by foolish expedients and experiments again postpone the period of returning activity in business. Well, now, my friends, am I right about this? Go and ask any hotel keeper in New York if he does not begin to notice that again he is crowded with the Western merchants there to fill up their stocks. Ask any one engaged in transportation at Toledo, at Milwaukee, at Chicago, on Lake Erie, what is the condition. You will find it is hopeful; and what I am here merely to say to my friends in Pittsburgh is this: I wish to encourage those who need encouragement: I wish to make more hopeful those that already hope.

Now, in that condition of things, if I am right – In that condition of things what shall we do? That I am right the condition of the Government itself tends as I think, to prove. The war left upon capital, and left upon labor great burdens. No one heeds question as to where the burdens of the debt of the country of the taxes of the country, at last falls. It is upon the productive industry, it is upon capital engaged in productive industry, it is upon labor, that the burdens of debt and of taxation fall.

Now, my friends,

OUR BURDEN OF DEBT

which was three thousand million dollars, is now two thousand million dollars; the interest that we paid every year was one hundred and forty or one hundred and fifty million dollars, and it is now ninety-five million dollars. The taxes we paid in the first years of peace were five hundred million dollars a year to the General Government; now they are less than two hundred and fifty million dollars a year to the Central Government. The expenditures of the Government have diminished in somewhat near the same ratio.

Again, the currency of the country, instead now of being a shifting currency, worth sixty cents on Monday, seventy-five cents on Wednesday, seventy cents on Saturday, and back to sixty again the next Monday, to-day stands as level and the coal seams in your hills. For five months the currency of this country has not varied in value more than the fraction of a cent. It stands at 99 ½ steady abreast of coin, and just the currency therefore that is safe for the business man and the laboring man. For where does the burden fall of a variable currency? Always upon productive labor. Why so? A middle man, a business man, when he makes a contract, when he sells and when he buys, having in view the fact that the currency in which he is to be paid, or which he is to pay upon a contract in the future, may be more, or may be less than now to his disadvantage, he puts upon the man who buys of him the burden of the increased price to make the transaction safe for him. Now the laborer, or the producer, is the man that suffers the loss by the fickle standard of value. But, my friends, we have passed out of that. We have got a firm standard of value, one hundred cents, or about that, all the time. That is an improvement.  

Again, a thing which the people of Pittsburgh understand as well as the people in any city on the continent, is

THIS BALANCE OF TRADE.

What we sell abroad, how does it compare with what we buy abroad? At the beginning or prior to the panic every year we sent abroad one hundred millions less than we brought from abroad; and now, this year, our exports exceed our imports by about two hundred and fifty millions. Aye! That is something you know about. The speaker to whom we listened here told us about that. In the West they told me we are sending more provisions, more living animals, more meals, and more bread stuffs to Europe than ever before. In Ohio they told me at the manufacturing establishments that manufacture agriculture implements, “we are sending clear to the Black Sea reaping machines from Ohio.” And now your speaker tells me that right up to Russia, that made a specialty of the best iron in the world, you are sending it to them from Pittsburgh. That is the beginning of the end. That is where we are coming to. That is one of the signs of better times.

Now, my friends, I have detained you too long with that part of it. The next thing is what to do; or rather, as I would put it, what not to do. And the first thing I would say what to do is this; do nothing, my fellow citizens, nothing as you value your own interest, as you value your own good name, do nothing that will put a stain or a taint on the credit of your country. Why, what do I care for the credit of my country? What is it to me? I will tell you. In the first place he who shall make a catalogue, a list of the _____ of war. If he is a wise man, will put among the first items in the list, as the best _______ of war, a good national credit. No nation now has money enough to carry on the expensive wars of this day on the Treasury. They must borrow. They all do borrow. The ships, the small arms, the cannon, all cost more than ever before and a nation without credit is a nation at the mercy of any despleable foe that attacks it. Then, as an American, wanting my country always to be at peace, nut never afraid to go to war. I want her to have a good national credit. Why, my friends, I know very well that, with

THE CREDIT WE HAVE

to-day, there is no powerful nation that wants to get into a war with us. And I say to you again, there is no weak nation than can force us into a war with it. But that is not all. A good national credit is your good credit. Why, what do I want of credit, a day laborer? Let me tell you. In all enterprises the disposition and the ability to go into ____, to attempt new enterprises, to start new manufactures, depends largely upon the price the enterprising ___ has to pay for his money – depends upon interest. Now the interest that the private citizen has to pay depends upon the interest the Government pays. If the Government pays about eight per cent – 7 3-10 per cent – none of us will get any less; nay, we have got to pay twelve or fifteen per cent. But if the Government comes down to six per cent, it comes down lower for us, but not quite so low as that. If the Government gets it for four per cent we get our money cheaper, and new enterprises can be more easily started that give employment to labor. Then, I say, as a matter of pride in maintaining the National power, we should stand by that national credit; as a matter of every day interest each man should stand by the National credit because it is to his interest to do so as a citizen. But these are material considerations. The National credit cannot be impaired without acts of bad faith, and no good American in its day wants to see the stars and stripes spilled with any acts of bad faith towards any creditor. Now that is one thing don’t do.

DON’T SOIL THE NATIONAL CREDIT

Then, your plan of relief is, Don’t toll or hurt the National credit. Now, another thing: Whatever you do, don’t forget that it is a bad thing to demonetize permanently and forever both gold and silver. You heard the talk there was when silver was demonetized alone. But if anybody comes about to persuade you that the precious metals coined into currency have been the money of the world there thousands of years, and which Washington and Franklin put into the Constitution as the only lawful currency of the United States – anybody that comes to persuade you that we can do without them as an ultimate measure of value, ________ carefully; he either is deceived, or he means to deceive you.

My friends, I have probably detained you a good deal too long.

There is one other thing: - not to disturb the credit, not to deprive us of the elements of a sound currency. Now, my friends, you are interested in the general subject of business legislation. As I believe, we are approaching, slowly perhaps as my correspondent says, better times. In this period of depression we have reached the point in the march of events when we may go forward and enter upon an era of good times, or we may, by unwise conduct and unwise legislation, postpone it. There are those who do not believe, as I did, that the resumption act was a good thing. I rather think that the majority of men did not agree with me on that question. But for good or evil we have gone on through it. Whatever of suffering it entailed, we have suffered it. Now, shall we go back and have that journey, that long and desolate journey, to go over again? Or shall we save what we have got? That is the question. Now, my friends, in this condition of things, then.

AS TO ALL BUSINESS INTERSTS

– all manufacturing, commercial and all – I suggest to you whether this is not the highest wisdom – namely, to let well enough alone; not now to disturb legislation – not now to tinker. Some want a change as to tariff; some want a change as to currency. My friends, I state to you that this is not the time for radical or extensive changes on any of these subjects.

Well, my friends, I am very glad to have had this opportunity to converse with you. It has been to me very satisfactory, and I trust it has been not entirely unsatisfactory to you. I wish to say, finally that honest capital has needs and has rights. And there is honest capital. Honest business enterprise and skill has rights and has needs. And there is honest business enterprise. And honest labor has needs and has rights: and there is an abundance of honest labor. Oh! As I went to-day through those mills and saw the men faithfully laboring I could not but think that as we ascended on one of your inclined planes, as we go up the inclined plane, as we travel on the railroads as we sail up on the tug on your river, how, if there is a dishonest piece of work anywhere about the machinery that carries us up the hill, or the machinery on the railroad, or on the steamboat, if there is dishonest work there, lives are at hazard. We live upon the honesty of the honest laborer such as we saw to-day. Then I, for one, shall say no word that I believe is not in strict accord with their interests. And I give it as my opinion finally, that nothing more promotes the interests of honest capital, and honest business enterprise and honest labor, than honest money.

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