Death of Henry Gassaway Davis

Campaign 1904, Political Papers, Speeches, etc.,
of Henry G. Davis
n.p., n.d.

Speech of Henry G. Davis,

Democratic Meeting, Wheeling, W. Va., Sept. 22, 1904.

It is a pleasure to be here to-night and meet so many representative citizens of our Commonwealth. Your presence is very encouraging. We are here in behalf of good government, and this can best be attained by the active interest of all citizens in the affairs pertaining thereto.

Before deciding upon the course to pursue at the approaching election, it would be well for all men to weigh carefully the principles and policies of the two great parties, especially as they bear upon the questions now at issue, and to compare the personality of the candidates on the National and State tickets.

Republican Extravagance.

The Democratic party always administered the government with prudence and economy. The Republican party is a party of extremists, and has been wasteful and extravagant in its expenditure of government funds. More money is being collected in the form of taxes than is necessary for an economical management of the government, both National and State, and if the Republican party is continued in power, still larger taxes and greater expenses will follow, as their leaders tell us that they propose to pursue the same policy in the future they have in the past. The expenditures for the fiscal year 1904 were greater than for the preceding year, and the appropriations already made for the year 1905 are larger than those for 1904. And this notwithstanding the fact that no river and harbor bill was passed at the last session. Apparently in a futile attempt to keep down expenses, and also to prevent examinations into the Post Office and Land frauds, Congress, at its last session, was brought to a close earlier than in any long session since 1860.

Deficit in Revenues.

When the present administration went into power there was a large surplus. For the last fiscal year there was a deficit in the revenue of $41,000,000. If you add to this between $6,000,000 and $7,000,000, collected and covered into the treasury from the Pacific railroads, the deficit was nearer $50,000,000. According to the treasury statement recently issued, the public debt increased for the month of August over $6,000,000. For the two mouths of the present fiscal year, that is, from July 1st to September 1st, the deficit is between $24,000,000 and $25,000,000, which is at the rate of about $140,000,000 for the year. The revenues are falling off, being over $6,000,000 less for the two months of this fiscal year than for the corresponding period of last year, while the expenses, as stated, have greatly increased. There is no way to meet this excess of expenditures over receipts other than by increasing the taxes or issuing bonds. The extravagance in the conduct of the government is greater now than at any other time in the history of the country, and unless the people at the polls in November decide upon a change, more taxes or an increased public debt must ensue. It now costs us on an average $7.14 annually for every man, woman and child in the United States to carry on the government. This means that the head of the family of five persons, directly or indirectly, contributes $35.00 per year from his earning towards the support of the government, which in the case of wage earners is quite a percentage of the yearly income.

Gold Standard.

Both parties have formally and officially announced themselves on this subject. The gold standard is fixed beyond peradventure, and neither party proposes or desires to disturb it. The Democratic party considering the question settled, made no reference to it in its platform. Circumstances, however, brought the subject directly before the convention, and Judge Parker's dispatch was enthusiastically ratified by the votes of about four-fifths of the delegates. It so happened, therefore, that the Democratic convention was called specifically to act upon this question, while in the Republican convention, no chance was given the delegates to record their views separately upon this question. The adoption by the St. Louis convention of Judge Parker's views proclaimed the fact that the gold standard is irrevocably fixed. No stronger language could have been used. Both parties are, therefore, committed to it, and it is no longer an issue before the people.


Republican speakers accuse the Democratic party of being freetraders. From the days of Jefferson in 1800 to those of Lincoln in 1860, the Democrats practically controlled the government. During all that time, with the exception of a short interval immediately following the war of 1812, the expenses of the government were paid almost entirely from customs duties. There were practically no internal revenue taxes, and yet under those Democratic tariff laws, the country prospered, and grew from a nation of three million to one of thirty million happy and contented people. The increase in wealth and in other important factors that enter into the welfare of the country was greater from 1850 to 1860 than it has been in any decade since. The internal revenue taxes collected in West Virginia average about a million-and-a-half dollars annually, which under Democratic practice would have been saved to the people of the State. My position on the tariff was stated by me in an address I made in the United States Senate in 1883, as follows: " I am for a tariff that will yield sufficient revenues for the economical and proper expenditures of the government, and in that tariff I believe incidental protection to our industries is right and proper." I see no reason for changing my position as then stated. West Virginia is more interested, perhaps, in the tariff on coal than on any other article or series of articles. During the sixty, years of Democratic control, the tariff on bituminous coal averaged about $1.80 per ton; for the forty-four years since then, the greater part of which has been under Republican rule, it averaged about 86 cents per ton. The duty upon coal is now 67 cents per ton, and yet Republican speakers continue to assert that the prosperity of West Virginia is due to the protective tariff policy of its party. That the present tariff on coal is not excessive is shown by the fact that the imports of coal are rapidly increasing, while the selling price at the mines is scarcely above the cost of production. In fact, at the present time many mines are run at a. loss, and some have been closed because of their inability to meet expenses. That that tariff as a whole needs revision is plainly manifest. Combined, as it is at present, with trusts, it permits of too large a profit on many articles of production, stifles individual enterprise, brings on strikes and disturbs generally the business interests of the country. Many manufacturers under present conditions sell their goods cheaper abroad than at home. The average price on about a hundred articles is found to be twenty per cent. higher here than abroad. The price of American steel rails, for instance, in this country is twenty-eight dollars per ton, while they are sold abroad at from eighteen to twenty dollars per ton. Agricultural implements are sold abroad at from ten to fifty per cent. less than in this country. In the case of the Eagle plow, farmers here pay $5.25 for it, while the farmers of other countries can buy it for $4.15. Shovels and spades of a certain grade cost $8.40 per dozen here, and are sold for $6.25 abroad. In other words, the farmer and the laborer pay on each spade or shovel they buy, eighteen cents more than a fair profit on its production. The manufacturers of a certain stove charge their patrons in this country $16.00 for the same article they sell abroad for $11.90. Many instances of this kind could be cited, but I have given enough to show the burden which is upon the people from an excessive tariff on certain articles combined with oppressive trusts.

Race Issue.

I regret that the National platform of the Republican party raises the race issue. The Southern people, who have to bear the burden of this question, were dealing with it in moderation and fairness; but its unfortunate agitation by Republican leaders has made its solution more difficult and hindered the efforts of those who were honestly striving to aid the colored people in uplifting their race. A large majority, over a million, of the white voters of this country are Democrats. McKinley received 864,000 votes more than Bryan, and this was the largest majority ever given a presidential candidate. There are, however, shown by the last census, two million male negroes in the United States of. voting age.

State Matters - Taxation.

As to State matters, I will speak but briefly. I was a member of the Tax Commission, and concurred in its report. If the recommendations of that commission had been adopted, among other things accomplished would have been the abolition of the entire tax on personal and real property for State and school purposes. The legislature, at its recent extra session, ignored entirely the recommendation of the commission for a tax on coal, oil and gas, for a tax on certain franchises and for certain additional corporate taxes. These omissions prevented the removal, as had been intended by the commission, of the entire thirty-five cents of State and school tax on real and personal property. The bills passed by the legislature permitted of a reduction of only eleven cents of the tax on each one hundred dollars. No adequate provision was made for meeting even this small reduction. The manner of assessment was so changed, however, that it is believed the increased valuation of property will make the amount to be paid by the taxpayer at twenty-four cents on the hundred dollars more than it was under the old system at thirty-five cents, and therefore defeat the object sought.

The cost of State government is estimated to be between $1,250,000 and $1,500,000 annually. This must be raised by taxation, and the legislature at its extra session, instead of reducing the expenses of the State, a way to which was pointed out by the Tax Commission appears to have increased them. The Republicans apparently do not contemplate any additional tax legislation for the relief of the people. If, therefore, any relief is to come, it will have to come through a political change in the State government.

Prosperity of the State.

It is asserted by the Republicans, and believed by some people, that the prosperity of the State has been greater under Republican than under Democratic rule. The official figures show otherwise. Now instance:


Years                                                             Increased.
1880 to 1890............................................... 107 per cent.
1890 to 1900 ............................................... 73 "   "
1890 to 1892 ................................................26 "   "
1900 to 1902 ................................................6 "   "


Years                                                             Increased.
1880 to 1890................................................269 percent.
1890 to 1900............................................... 206 "   "
1890 to l893..................................................62 "   "
1900 to 1903 ................................................33 "   "

A serious accusation against the Republican party in the State is its failure to carry out the mandate of the people in regard to a registration law. An amendment to the constitution adopted several years ago by a very decisive vote of the people provides as follows: "That the legislature shall enact proper laws for the registration of all qualified voters in this State." Although several sessions of the legislature have since been held, the Republican party have utterly ignored this mandatory provision of the constitution. It is generally recognized that the registering of voters is the. way to prevent fraud at the ballot box. The refusal of the Republicans to adopt this method, especially when it is the will of the people, can only be regarded as a confession that they find it profitable to retain, a system which permits of illegal voting. With a registration law in force, the qualification of voters is easily established and it is known before election day who is entitled to vote. When a party in power deliberately sets aside or ignores the express provision of the constitution in so important a matter as the purity of the ballot, it seems to me the time has come for a change.

Office Holders in Politics.

The Republican leaders, both State and National, are making every possible effort to be perpetuated in power. To this end they are using to their advantage wherever possible, the forces of governmental control. Cabinet officers, members of the Senate and House of Representatives and other leading officers of the Government are devoting much of their time to campaign matters, and judging from the large number of the higher officials that are announced to come to West Virginia, they must fear the result in this State.

We are fortunate in having with us to-night two gentlemen of unusual ability as public speakers, Mr. Towne, ex-Senator from Minnesota, will address you principally upon national issues, while Mr. McGraw will talk to you largely upon State matters.

Government and Politics

West Virginia Archives and History