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Woodrow Wilson As I Know Him
Chapter XVII - Facing A Solemn Responsibility
by Tumulty, Joseph P.


Shortly after the Democratic National Convention I gave a dinner at the newspaper men's cottage at Sea Girt, to which I invited the Democratic candidate and the newspaper men, in order that they might be given a chance to meet him in the most intimate way and obtain from him what he was pleased to call the "inside" of his mind. Upon the conclusion of the dinner, the Democratic candidate opened his heart in a little talk of the most intimate and interesting character. It contained not only his views of the Presidency, but also a frank discussion of the great problems that would confront the next administration. In referring to Mr. Roosevelt, he said that he had done a great service in rousing the country from its lethargy, and in that work he had rendered admirable and lasting service, but beyond that he had failed, for he had not, during his administrations, attacked two of the major problems: the tariff and the currency, which he, Wilson, considered to be the heart and centre of the whole movement for lasting and permanent reform in America. Discussing Mr. Roosevelt, he said:
He promised too often the millennium. No public man has a right to go so far afield. You have no right to promise Heaven unless you can bring us to it, for, in making promises, you create too much expectation and your failure brings with it only disappointment and sometimes despair. As a candidate for the Presidency I do not want to promise Heaven unless I can bring you to it. I can only see a little distance up the road. I cannot tell you what is around the corner. The successful leader ought not to keep too far in advance of the mass he is seeking to lead, for he will soon lose contact with them. No unusual expectation ought to be created by him. When messages are brought to me by my friends of what is expected of the next President, I am sometimes terrified at the task that would await me in case I should be elected. For instance, my daughter, who is engaged in social-welfare work in Philadelphia, told me of a visit she paid a humble home in that city where the head of a large family told her that her husband was going to vote for me because it would mean cheaper bread. My God, gentlemen, just think of the responsibility an expectation of that kind creates! I can't reduce the price of bread. I can only strive in the few years I shall have in office to remove the noxious growths that have been planted in our soil and try to clear the way for the new adjustment which is necessary. That adjustment cannot be brought about suddenly. We cannot arbitrarily turn right about face and pull one policy up by the roots and cast it aside, while we plant another in virgin soil. A great industrial system has been built up in this country under the fosterage of the Government, behind a wall of unproductive taxes. Changes must be brought about, first here, then there, and then there again. We must move from step to step with as much prudence as resolution. In other words, we are called upon to perform a delicate operation, and in performing a delicate operation it is necessary for the surgeon who uses the knife to know where the foundation of vitality is, so that in cutting out the excrescence he shall not interfere with the vital tissues.

And while we do so we must create by absolute fairness and open- mindedness the atmosphere of mutual concession. There are no old scores to be paid off; there are no resentments to be satisfied; there is no revolution to be attempted. Men of every interest must be drawn into conference as to what it behooves us to do, and what it is possible for us to do. No one should be excluded from the conference except those who will not come in upon terms of equality and the common interest. We deal with great and delicate matters.

We should deal with them with pure and elevated purpose, without fear, without excitement, without undue haste, like men dealing with the sacred fortunes of a great country, and not like those who play for political advantage, or seek to reverse any policy in their own behalf.


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