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A Maximum of Good Results: Martin Dodge and the Good Roads Trains
National Road Inventory
When Congress appropriated $10,000 to launch the road inquiry in 1893, one of the goals of the ORI was to gather information "in regard to the systems of road management throughout the United States," as well as "the best methods of road-making." Under General Stone and Martin Dodge, the small Office produced many reports on these topics. Dodge, however, would launch one of the Office's most important and challenging information gathering initiatives by directing Eldridge to gather data on public road mileage, revenues, and expenditures in the United States in 1904. This was the first attempt to measure country road mileage across the continent.
The results would not be compiled in a single bulletin until 1907. In Public-Road Mileage, Revenues, and Expenditures in the United States in 1904(Office of Public Roads Bulletin No. 32), Eldridge made clear how challenging the task was:
As no information of this kind has ever been collected before from all the States, the undertaking has been an exceedingly difficult one, and has taken much more time than was at first anticipated. The forms of road taxation and the methods of collecting and expending road funds differ so radically in the various States, and even in the counties and townships of the same State, that it was necessary to prepare and send out a great variety of blank forms, with many variations in the queries submitted, in order to secure the information desired. It was also necessary to send out a large number of type-written letters in order to obtain information which could not be secured by means of printed questions. In the States where road taxes are assessed and collected by county officials, the task was comparatively simple, but in the States where the town or township is the geographic unit for road taxation, it was necessary to correspond with the road officials of each, and some of the States have as many as 1,500 townships. To some of the townships from 15 to 20 letters had to be written before complete reports could be secured, this correspondence extending over a period of several months. The extent of the task may more fully be shown by the statement that about 60,000 communications (including both printed and typewritten letters) were sent out during this investigation, this being an average of about 20 for each county.
As difficult as gathering the information had been, ensuring its accuracy was nearly as hard:
The mileage of roads on the boundary lines of townships and counties may have been in some cases reported twice, and in others not at all. The roads in many counties and townships have never been measured, surveyed, or recorded, and in such cases it became necessary to secure an estimate of the mileage from persons best informed on this subject in the counties. In some instances no permanent records appear to have been kept of collections or expenditures of road funds, and in others the records are kept in such a manner as to confuse rather than enlighten one in search of information. In a few instances road officials refused to supply the information unless paid for their services, and as the Department had not sufficient funds available for this purpose, it became necessary in such cases to secure the information through postmasters, attorneys, physicians, or other private citizens. In some cases appeals were even made to the governors of States, Members of Congress, and to the Post-Office Department for assistance in securing correct information. [p. 6-7]
Based on this extensive compilation of information, Eldridge reported:
[In] 1904 there were 2,151,570 miles of [rural] public road in the United States. Of this mileage, 108,232.9 miles were surfaced with gravel, 38,621.7 miles with stone, and 6,809.7 miles with special materials, such as shells, sand-clay, oil, and brick, making in all 153,664.3 miles of improved road. From this it follows that 7.14 per cent of all [rural] roads in this country have been improved . . . . A comparison of road mileage with population shows that there was 1 mile of road to every 35 inhabitants, and 1 mile of improved road to every 492 inhabitants. [p. 7]
(This mileage did not include streets or boulevards in incorporated cities or villages. It also did not include roads in Indian Territory (roughly, the eastern half of Oklahoma, with the distinction disappearing when Oklahoma became a State in 1907), or the Territories of Alaska, Guam, Hawaii, the Philippines, or Puerto Rico.)
Only four States had more than 100,000 miles of roads:
The fewest road miles were found in:
|Rhode Island:||2,361 miles|
The District of Columbia, the one city included in the 1904 survey, had only 191 miles of road. [p. 7-10]
Eldridge had defined the term "improved road" to mean "a road which not only has been properly graded and drained, but which has been surfaced with a material or combination of materials, or to which some preparation has been applied resulting in a reasonably smooth, firm, and durable surface." He added:
Macadam or gravel roads may be cited as examples of hard materials applied to earth subgrades; a sand-clay road and tar macadam are good examples of the application of combinations of materials to effect the desired result; while the use of oil and tar, principally on macadam roads, though occasionally on earth roads, illustrated the improvement of a road by the application of preparations. [p. 6]
By this measure, Eldridge listed the States with the most mileage of improved roads:
Gravel was the principal surfacing material in about two-thirds of the States, including four of the top five States (excluding Kentucky, which had the largest mileage of stone surfacing at 8,000 miles), while macadam exceeded gravel in eight States. [p. 11-12]
The report tabulated expenditures "by States, counties, townships, and districts, from property and poll taxes, bond issues, and State-aid funds, together with the valuation of the labor expended under the statute-labor law" (referring to the requirement in 25 States that citizens devote one or more days to road improvement each year). Total expenditures amounted to $79,771,417.87 [p. 15]:
Of this amount $53,815,387.98 was expended from property and poll taxes payable in cash, $19,818,236.30 was the value of the labor taxes, $3,530,470.93 came from bond issues, and $2,607,322.66 was expended from State-aid funds. [p.16]
These figures worked out to $37.07 per mile of public road, or $1.05 per inhabitant.
As for toll roads, Eldridge found that:
The building of turnpike or toll roads by chartered companies was inaugurated in the last quarter of the eighteenth century with the advance of population to the West. In 1811 over 300 turnpikes had been chartered in New York and the New England States, with a combined capital of over $7,500,000. The turnpike system had proved unsuccessful, however, and with the exception of a few hundred miles of toll roads in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and Kentucky, privately owned highways have been gradually abandoned. It is probable that within the next few years the toll road will have entirely disappeared. [p. 21]
(Due to lack of profits, some toll road companies were going out of business, while the States were gradually purchasing the companies and converting the road to toll-free operation. Separately, Logan Page would say of toll roads:
Of toll roads it is scarcely necessary to say anything. They are passing, and we may as well let them go without seeking to multiply reasons why they should go. At one time they undoubtedly were an advance over previous conditions and constituted a stage in the development [of] transportation facilities. A toll road is wrong in principle, as it places a public highway, which belongs to all people, in the hands of a private corporation. It is burdensome, for the toll levied upon the traveler, usually about three cents per mile, is as much as or more than is charged by the railroads for carrying passengers. It is ill-kept for two reasons-one, that the company expects the revenue derived from toll to pay dividends or officials; another, that the mileage of roads under the control of each toll company is not great enough to justify the employment of a skilled engineer or expert necessary to maintain the road in first-class condition. [Page, Logan, " County Road Administration," Good Roads Magazine, November 1906, p. 866])
The report also compiled information on States that had enacted State-aid laws:
At the close of 1904 some form of State aid had been adopted and was in actual operation in 13 States. In Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and the New England States the State paid from one-third to three-fourths the cost of the improvement of certain roads, while the balance was paid by the counties, townships, and property owners. In Colorado, Utah, and California the State paid the whole cost of certain roads.
In addition, the report summarized the road laws in every State. For example, in Dodge's home State of Ohio, the report indicated the following for State laws in 1904:
The road laws of Ohio are so voluminous and complicated that it would take several pages to explain the various provisions related to taxation. Briefly stated, the taxes for the construction, repair, and maintenance of county roads are assessed by the county commissioners, while the revenues for township roads are raised by the township trustees. The county commissioners and township trustees are authorized, under certain restrictions, to borrow money or issue bonds for road purposes.
Every able-bodied male person between the ages of 21 and 55 years, unless by law exempt, is required to perform two days' labor on the public roads, or in lieu thereof to pay $3 to the road supervisor.
There are special provisions relating to the formation of from two to four townships into road districts for the purpose of improving and maintaining roads; and to the building of roads by local assessment under the 1-mile assessment and the 2-mile assessment plans, under which plans a large portion of the gravel roads have been built. [This is a reference to the practice of assessing taxes on the basis of proximity to the road and the benefits that would result from access.]
The State-aid law, passed April 18, 1904, provides that the State pay 25 per cent of the cost of improved roads; the counties, 50 per cent; the townships 15 per cent, and the local property owners 10 per cent. No roads were constructed, however, under this law in 1904.
Although the Department could not vouch for the "absolute accuracy" of the figures in Bulletin No. 32, "it is believed that, taken as a whole, they can be accepted as fairly correct, and that they will form a valuable basis for comparison and for future work of this kind." The data would be collected periodically over the years, leading to the start of the annual Highway Statistics series launched in 1945 and still published by the Federal Highway Administration.
Fighting for Federal-Aid
As reflected in recommendations contained in the OPRI annual reports, Dodge wanted a new, permanent role and an increased budget for the OPRI. At the same time, Dodge recognized that some political leaders were afraid of where increased funding would lead. In the OPRI's annual report for 1901, Dodge began his concluding section on "Recommendations and Estimates for 1902-1903," by addressing this concern:
It is proper just here to call attention to a misconception which appears to exist in the minds of some to the effect that increased appropriations for this work may lead to National aid. It should be distinctly understood that the work of this Office, like that of many other Divisions of the Department, is purely educational. In requesting an increased appropriation it was not the intention to shift the burden and responsibility of constructing improved roads from the States and counties to the General Government. Such a plan is not feasible, and even if it were, it would not be desirable, for there could be no surer way of postponing the building of good roads than by making them dependent upon National aid. Under such a system States and counties would wait for National aid and little or nothing would be done.
Just such a plan of National aid was soon in the works in what is generally considered the first Federal-aid legislation proposed in Congress. And it cost Eldridge and eventually Dodge their jobs.
Maurice Owen Eldridge, born in 1873 on a farm near Lenoir, Tennessee, became the third employee of the ORI (after General Stone and his stenographer) when he was hired as a draftsman in 1894 at a salary of $60 a month. Known as M.O., he quickly established a national reputation as a road expert and gifted speaker and writer on the subject.
In a 1911 speech during the Appalachian Exposition in Knoxville, Tennessee, Eldridge described his earliest experience of road improvement during the era when country residents were required to devote several days a year to road work or avoid the labor by paying a road tax:
I used to work on the public roads of this state, as a substitute, when I was a boy, for which service I received a man's wages. We used to turn out in the fall of the year, in September or October, when the roads were hard and dry, and pile up clods, sods and vegetable mold in the middle of the road. If there were any mudholes we would usually haul large stones from adjacent fields and fill them, and that would usually make two mudholes, which were filled in the same way the following year.
One day in November 1902, he was returning to Washington by train when he struck up a conversation with a fellow Tennessean, Congressman Walter P. Brownlow. Brownlow had been a telegraph messenger boy, an apprentice in the tinning business at age 14, a locomotive engineer, and a newspaper reporter. In 1896, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he would serve until his death on July 8, 1910.
On that train ride in November 1902, when the subject turned to the deplorable condition of the Nation's roads, Brownlow asked what could be done. Eldridge suggested a Federal program modeled on New Jersey's State-aid plan, under which the State appropriated funds to help counties improve roads on a cost sharing basis (one-tenth to property holders along the road, one-third to the State, and the balance to the county). Brownlow asked Eldridge to draft a bill to that effect, which he did after securing Dodge's approval. (Dodge later claimed he drafted the bill.)
On December 1, 1902, Brownlow introduced the bill, which would create a "Bureau of Public Roads" to administer $20 million a year in Federal-aid. Grants would be made to any State or county for the improvement of post roads outside cities and incorporated villages, with each State limited to a share of the funding equal to its percentage of the Nation's population. (The term "post roads" was used to make clear to anyone who doubted the constitutionality of such a program that it was permitted by Section 7 of the Constitution, which gave Congress the power "To establish Post Offices and post Roads.") The State or county would pay 50 percent of the cost. The Federal Government would prepare the plans and specifications for the roads, but the State or county would administer and supervise the contracts.
Neither President Roosevelt and his Administration nor congressional leaders endorsed the plan, as were congressional leaders. But Dodge and Eldridge aggressively promoted it. Dodge agreed to cosponsor, with the NGRA, a good roads convention the last week of April 1903 in St. Louis, Missouri, to coincide with dedication ceremonies for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. The World's Fair was to be held in 1904 from April 30 to December 1 (with over 20 million visitors, the 1904 convention turned a considerable profit).
Seely described the convention:
Moore prepared the program, which included addresses by William Jennings Bryan and [President] Theodore Roosevelt, while Dodge added a cover letter to Moore's invitation, provided 25,000 franked envelopes (Moore wanted 50,000 more), and hired a stenographer to transcribe the speeches into an OPRI bulletin. Afterward, Eldridge exulted that "the idea of National Aid is sweeping over the West like a tidal wave." [Seely, book, p. 19]
The convention took place in Odeon Hall on April 27. After introductory remarks by St. Louis Mayor Rolla Wells, Governor Alexander M. Dockery, and the president of the exposition, Mr. D. R. Francis, Colonel Moore in his capacity as chairman of the convention announced that the next scheduled speaker, Secretary Wilson, had been detained in Pittsburgh. Therefore, Moore delivered an address on the "History and Purposes of the Good Roads Movement." He recalled, as he had in North Carolina, the early convention in 1892 ("That was the starter") and the November 1900 convention during which delegates from 38 States organized the NGRA:
As a result of that convention a committee of 17 was selected to go to Washington, present this subject to President McKinley, and have him present it to the Fifty-sixth Congress. He considered the matter and said to the committee, "I am very glad to tell you now, without going further, that I will include this subject in my message to congress." That was the result of the Chicago convention and others previously held up to that time. President McKinley did place this matter before Congress.
Moore did not elaborate, but in a State of the Union message delivered on December 3, 1900, that was focused largely on international affairs, President McKinley included the following statement in a section near the end on the work of the Department of Agriculture: "Inquiry into methods of improving our roads has been active during the year; help has been given to many localities, and scientific investigation of material in the States and Territories has been inaugurated." Moore put the President's statement in historical perspective:
[President McKinley] was not the first President to present the road question to Congress, as Jefferson, Monroe, and others had wrestled with this subject back in the early part of the century, long before steam railroads were thought of. But Mr. McKinley was the first President of modern days to take up this matter.
After praising Colonel Richardson for his "level-headed management and earnest work" on behalf of the NGRA, Moore discussed the organization's cooperation with the OPRI:
We [Moore and Richardson] have cooperated with the Government, through its able representatives, Hon. Martin Dodge, the present Director of the Office of Public Road Inquiries, and Gen. Roy Stone, his predecessor, who organized that branch of the public service. When these gentlemen found our organization in the field trying to do something, they said, "What can the Government do to assist you?"
He added that they made this offer despite the OPRI's limited finances.
The Chicago convention had organized the NGRA and selected Moore and Richardson as its leaders, but had not made arrangements for financing:
Mr. Richardson and I wondered what we could do to bring this matter before the public in such a way as to command attention. You can not pass the hat in local communities and get results sufficient to cope with this question of mud. They have troubles of their own and do not feel like throwing money into a hat to exploit general road organization. So we went to the railroads. Now, I have heard a great many people say that the railroads do not care anything about these common roads. There never was a more mistaken idea than that.
He described the generosity of the railroads in sponsoring Good Roads Trains, with the Illinois Central expending between $40,000 and $50,000, and the Southern Railway committing $80,000. He recalled how the Southern Railway held a special train of Pullman coaches at the NGRA's disposal to bring Washington leaders, such as General Miles, to Charlottesville:
Without the cooperation of the railroads we could not have accomplished the work which has been done. We also feel that the earnest cooperation of the press is responsible for much of the good accomplished.
(At the mention of the General, who was in attendance, a delegate asked that he be escorted to the front of the stage and introduced, which was done as "the delegates rose to their feet and greeted him with prolonged and enthusiastic cheering.")
Moore said he had three plans for securing good roads:
First. — If you expect to proceed along the old lines, raising 2 to 5 mills on the $1 valuation, it will be another century before you have any considerable road improvement in your community. This method will not do.
He estimated that the country had about 60,000 road officials and they "do not give their time for nothing" so "a large part of the money collected goes for expenses." He recommended a direct assessment of at least 7 to 10 mills, "thus securing a comparatively large fund to work with."
Second. — If this can not be done, if it seems too oppressive on the farms, I would suggest another plan, which is being adopted mostly in Eastern States.
He described the State-aid concept, which "brings into cooperation all parties interested, from the State down to the individual." He said that, "many States will adopt this plan," but he thought that all should adopt it.
Third. — The third proposition I want to speak of is "Government aid." I have heard it said all over the country that this convention is to be devoted almost entirely to Government aid. This is a mistake. Unless you show in the different States and in the smaller rural communities that you are willing to take hold of these matters vigorously and earnestly; unless you raise local funds and organize the machinery with which to start this work, you can not expect the Federal Government to come and dump a lot of money into your coffers.
If the States showed "a disposition to help yourselves, then I think the Federal Government will come to your aid."
Next, Colonel Moore turned to convict labor, which he thought all States should consider:
If we do not devise some plan in the several States and Territories to utilize their labor in public improvements, we must continue to let them compete with the honest labor of the country [in other types of work]. We want to throw around this class all the uplifting influences. We want no dark dungeons. God's sunshine and pure air will benefit them.
Although the economy was booming, good times are typically followed by great crises that result in "more men out of employment than ever before." He urged the State legislatures to have a plan in place to use this excess labor for public improvements. "The State must provide some means and provide the machinery for putting these men to work. [Great applause.]" [Proceedings of the National Good Roads Convention, OPRI Bulletin No. 26, 1903, p. 10-14]
Dodge was the first speaker during the afternoon session. In a speech on "Our National Policy," he described the Federal Government's road building activities during the 19th century and the origins of his office in the 1890's. He emphasized that his office did not initiate road projects or give instructions, "but does so only upon invitation, and for the purpose of cooperating with those who have sufficient enterprise, ability, revenue, material, and labor to do something and who mean to do something." He added:
Many friends of the good roads movement, including a good many members of Congress, think it would be a wise thing for the Government to pay a proportion of the cost of building the roads in addition to what it is now doing. I want to say that in the discussions in Congress and before its committees, we have discovered a good many gentlemen in both Houses of Congress who have expressed an unusual and abiding interest in this matter.
After describing the State-aid plans in New Jersey and other States, he continued:
This leads us to consider the wisdom of extending the principle involved in State aid so as to include the United States Government. As already stated, the United States began by building certain roads and paying the total cost, devoting a large proportion of the total revenues of the Government to this purpose. Later this policy was reversed and the Government did nothing. Now, I believe under the early policy the Government did too much and too little under the later policy. So I think a policy should be adopted under which the Government will supplement the funds raised by State and local taxation. In States which have adopted State aid, the funds raised locally are supplemented by the State funds. Now, let us on the same principle supplement the funds raised by State and local taxation by a fund contributed by the General Government. I feel more free to recommend this, because I believe that in the distribution of the great revenues of the United States Government, those living in agricultural regions have shared but little in these great appropriations . . . . I am saying that the time has come when justice demands that a larger proportion of these revenues be spent for the benefit of those who live in rural communities. And I know of no better way to do this than by helping the agricultural classes to improve their common roads.
He discussed the success of rural free delivery before returning to the concept of national aid:
I think we are in the same position in regard to the question which we are now considering. There is no real reason that I know of, either in constitutional limitations or wise policy, why the Government should not extend beneficial aid in the improvement of highways, or why it should not have done so forty years ago . . . . But I feel confident that, should the people request their Representatives in Congress to make the same effort to secure National aid to road improvement as was made to secure the rural delivery of mails they will speedily find a satisfactory way to do it.
I desire to have it understood that I am simply suggesting to you plans which seem to me feasible, and I offer them to this convention for consideration . . . . I believe if you have suffered any lack of the things you were entitled to, it is merely because you have been too conservative and backward about asking for what you want. [Applause.]
With the conclusion of the speech, a Mr. Isenmeyer of Illinois asked Dodge "what can we ask from Congress-what part of the cost." Dodge replied that Representative Brownlow was scheduled to attend the convention but "he may not be able to get here," so Dodge offered to answer the question. He described the proposed 50-50 aid program, emphasizing a key point:
The bill does not provide that the United States shall go forward and say a road shall be built here or a road shall be built there. The United States shall hold itself in readiness, when requested to do so, to cooperate with those who have selected a road they desire to build, provided they are ready and willing to pay one-half the cost . . . . It is no part of the essential principle involved in this National aid plan that the exact proportion should be 50 per cent on each side. Any other figure can be adopted . . . . The one idea that seems to be generally accepted is that the Government should do something.
Dodge cited the satisfactory cooperative work of the OPRI:
I know of no adverse criticism upon the work done. So I am led to believe that it is a true principle that the Government can do something, and I certainly believe it can do something more than it is doing at present. And whether the Government will pay 25 or 50 per cent is not essential to the principle here involved. It might be well to begin with a small proportion, and if it works well increase that. I am sure Mr. Brownlow is in favor of paying 50 per cent. He thinks that is the proper thing. [Bulletin 26, p. 15-21]
The next speaker was U.S. Senator Asbury C. Latimer of South Carolina, a farmer who had served in the U.S. House of Representatives (1893-1903) prior to his election to the United States Senate in November 1902. He was a member of the Committee on Agriculture and Forestry from March 1903 until his death on February 20, 1908. The unidentified chairman, presumably Moore, introduced Senator Latimer as "a distinguished statesman who has been doing good service for our cause in the National House of Representatives, and whom the people of his State have seen fit to promote to a place in the United States Senate." The chairman added, "He probably owes his promotion more to his advocacy of road improvement than to any other cause."
Senator Latimer began:
We have met here to-day to consider one of the most important subjects affecting the American people. A great many of the old men I have come in contact with tell me that the dirt roads are but little better now than they were seventy-five years ago.
Despite progress in manufacturing and other industries, particularly railroads, "we people who live in the rural districts still travel over the same muddy roads." Now, he said, "it lies in your power to say whether we shall have good roads in the next five, ten, or twenty years, or whether we and our children shall continue to travel through mud during the rest of our lives." He added:
Hundreds of millions are taken from the Treasury of the United States and spent in the Philippine Islands, while we go on traveling the same muddy roads. Congress has just appropriated $3,000,000 to be used on the public roads in the Philippine Islands to give these people over there employment.
He suggested that when candidates came before them every 2 years seeking election to the Congress, "ask him if he will vote for a $20,000,000 appropriation by the Government to improve the roads throughout the country so that your mail can be brought to you by the rural free delivery." He explained how "a few farmers in Congress" had convinced their colleagues to initiate rural free delivery despite concerns that it would bankrupt the country. "And yet to-day we find the rural free delivery almost self-sustaining."
Senator Latimer supported national aid for good roads on a cost-sharing basis:
What you want now is to have the principle of National aid recognized. You want the Government to appropriate a fixed part of the money necessary to improve the roads in rural districts. Go to your Representative in Congress and tell him he can not get your vote unless he stands by that principle . . . . We have surplus in the United States Treasury, and yet the poor farmers in the rural districts can not get good roads.
He acknowledged that while city dwellers did not object to being taxed for road improvement, "the hide-bound farmer living out in the country has been protesting." He had debated the farmers, who felt they could not afford to be taxed any more than they already were. And yet, he said, the increased cost would be minimal, and when the work is done, "It is your road," and would increase the value of the farmer's property.
He endorsed the OPRI's object-lesson road program so the farmers can "drive out of the mud onto a hard good road." He considered that, "There is more practical common sense in that method than in speech making."
All we need is the money. What we want is to get down to practical results . . . . And how are you going to get the money? Whether you want the Brownlow bill or not, I am in the Senate, and I intend to make it a part of my mission to build up good roads throughout this country. [Loud applause.] My people live in the rural districts and I want to help them get out of the mud. I intend to work as long as I am in that body, and I want your help. I want you to say to your Representative when he comes home that he must vote in favor of the platform which we adopt in this convention.
A delegate informed Senator Latimer that, "I am living in the country, but have no influence; I live in Arkansas." The Senator responded that, "Every man who lives in this country has influence." He recommended that people organize in support of good roads legislation:
First let us get the National Government to set aside $10,000,000, $20,000,000, or $50,000,000 to be used as a good roads fund. Then you will say to your representative in the State legislature, "Here, we want $500,000 or $2,000,000 set aside by the State as a road fund." Then you must talk it around home. You can not get a dollar of this money until your township is willing to raise $5,000 or $10,000. Next go to the State and ask it to pay $5,000 to $10,000 more. Then, the Government gives $10,000 or $20,000 more. You must work it out in your local community. [Loud applause.]
He concluded his response to the delegate by saying:
Let me tell you, gentlemen, how you will help me wonderfully and help Mr. Brownlow. There are about twenty-five or thirty of us in Congress now working for good roads along this line. You must help us at home. Organize in the school-house and adopt resolutions and say to the candidates, "If you want our votes, you must help us." Make it an issue in the campaign.
If all the people who want good roads will go to work and pull together, Congress will pass the necessary legislation. Then get your legislature to pass the same and organize in your township and the whole thing is done. [Bulletin 26, p. 21-34]
General Miles opened the convention on April 28 with a speech on "Good Roads and Civilization." As usual, the delegates greeted him with "Loud applause." Calling the promotion of good roads a "noble enterprise," he said:
I know of no one element of civilization in our country that has been more neglected than the improvement of our roads; yet this is the element that marks the line between barbarism and civilization in any country. The remains of the ancient highways still found in India and Egypt, as well as in the Roman Empire and Peru, indicate the enlightenment that characterized the peoples of those countries centuries ago. In some instances those great avenues were built for war purposes, and yet were of immense industrial and commercial value to the people living in the countries where they were constructed.
These great internal improvements were largely responsible for "the strength, progress, and enlightenment of these nations."
He discussed how America's early leaders understood this relationship. He pointed out that George Washington was the president of a transportation company (the Patowmack Company, which built the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal), while Thomas Jefferson had praised expenditures for roads in letters to Ross and Humboldt (quoted earlier). St. Louis was an excellent site for the convention because in the 19th century it had been the hub of western expansion made possible by the U.S. Army Corps of Discovery led by Lewis and Clark, the pioneers crossing the continent in their prairie schooners to Oregon and California, and by the railroads that brought the continent together.
With the Federal Government having expended $440 million for harbors and waters, General Miles asked if it was not "now most appropriate that the improvement of our roads should receive National attention and government aid?" He contrasted the United States with what he saw during a recent international trip:
Recently I have journeyed over the great Chinese Empire, embracing the largest population of any country on the globe, yet it is in some respects the weakest, as it has neglected one of the most important elements of national strength. The people of one section of that great country are totally uninformed and indifferent as to what is occurring in another part of their own land. Without means of communication and intercourse there can be but little public spirit and patriotism; as a result of this the flags of all great military and naval powers are now flying in the most important districts of that ancient empire.
In the United States, conditions were the reverse because the Republic depended "on the patriotism and intelligence of the masses." Anything that brought the daily news of the world to citizens "benefits the entire country, and gives strength and character to the Nation." He said:
Therefore every measure, whether by the National Government, the State, county, or municipal authorities, that can promote the welfare of the people should be most earnestly advocated. Any road that can be made useful for industrial and peaceful pursuits can be utilized for military purposes. This is not an empire or a military despotism and therefore it is not necessary to construct roads for purely military purposes.
Our greatest strength and strongest safeguards are in the character of our institutions and the sovereignty of our people, and every measure that benefits them and preserves the character and the integrity of our institutions promotes, perpetuates, and magnifies the prosperity and glory of our common country. [Bulletin 26, p. 30-31]
Addressing the convention later in the day, Governor James Hogg of Texas was skeptical about the Federal Government's possible role. Constitutional obstacles could be removed, "But as this is a movement in favor of the farmer and not of the trusts they may not do it." He favored using the treasury surplus, with its temptation to corruption, in the United States. "If our Government would confine the expenditures from the public treasury to the United States of North America, and not to the United States of the Philippines, we would have plenty of money to build roads and macadamize them all over the United States." He added:
It is inconceivable to me that we should have the United States spending millions on Porto Rico [sic], Guam, and the Philippines, while we at home must do without good roads because we are too poor to build them. It is a piece of blundering foolishness that the American people will have to repudiate some day. Wait till we get into a foreign war and it will cost for every gun you fire enough to build several miles of good roads at home. [Applause.] And this is something you had better be thinking of. We have the means if we will only confine the expenditure of them to the United States of America.
Governor Hogg concluded his brief address by saying:
Let us build up the old United States, and build them up in grandeur, and show to the world that we may all be free, leave our children free, and enjoy the blessing of good government. [Applause.] [Bulletin 26, p. 35]
The first speaker in the afternoon session was William Jennings Bryan, a lawyer, statesman, and politician who had represented Nebraska in the U.S. House of Representatives (1891-1895), and been the Democratic Party's nominee for President in 1896 and 1900, losing to McKinley both times. Bryan, one of the great orators of his time, was known as "The Great Commoner" because of his faith in the common people. (He would again be the party's nominee in 1908, losing to William Howard Taft, and would serve as President Woodrow Wilson's first Secretary of State (1913-1915).)
Bryan began by acknowledging a debt to Colonel Moore:
He came out to Nebraska some three or four weeks ago and urged upon me the importance of attending this meeting. I have learned more about good roads from him and from the literature that he has brought to my attention than I ever knew before. I want to thank him for the effort he made to turn my attention to this subject.
Approaching this new subject, he made a decision:
I find there is a new field here, and I have advanced so far that I have made up my mind to build a little sample road near my farm; and not only that, but to do what I can to get my county and my State to do something in the matter of roads. [Applause.]
The use of public funds for road improvements, he said, could be justified
(1) as a matter of justice to the people who live in the country, (2) as a matter of advantage to the people who do not live in the country, and (3) on the ground that the welfare of the Nation demands that the comforts of country life shall, as far as possible, keep pace with the comforts of city life.
However, country people received only the general benefits of their tax revenue, while city dwellers "have the advantage arising from the expenditure of public moneys in their midst." The difference was even greater at the Federal level, where the Department of Agriculture's $5.9 million budget "was insignificant when compared with the total appropriations-less than 1 per cent" of the $753 million total:
The point is that the farmer not only pays his share of the taxes, but more than his share, yet very little of what he pays gets back to him . . . . The farmer has a right to insist upon roads that will enable him to go to town, to church, to the schoolhouse, and to the homes of his neighbors, as occasion may require; and, with the extension of rural mail delivery, he has additional need for good roads in order that he may be kept in communication with the outside world for the mail routes follow the good roads.
Bryan agreed with the idea that good roads influenced education. Here, again, cities had the advantage of public libraries and graded schools easily reached on city streets. "What can be of more interest to us that the schooling of our children?" Anything that "contributes to the general diffusion of knowledge," should be "a matter of intense interest to every citizen," as was access to church. He favored steps to reduce rural isolation:
It is important . . . for the welfare of our Government and for the advancement of our civilization that we make life upon the farm as attractive as possible. Statistics have shown the constant increase in the urban population and the constant decrease in the rural population from decade to decade. Without treading upon controversial ground or considering whether this trend has been increased by legislation hostile to the farm, it will be admitted that the Government is in duty bound to jealously guard the interests of the rural population, and, as far as it can, make farm life inviting. In the employment of modern conveniences the city has considerably outstripped the country, and naturally so . . . . But it is evident that during the last few years much as been done to increase the comforts of the farm.
He cited rural free delivery, which brought not only letters but the daily newspaper to the farmer's door, as well as the telephone and extension of the electric-car lines. With these advantages, "The suburban home will bring light and hope to millions of children." He continued:
But after all this, there still remains a pressing need for better country roads. As long as mud placed an embargo upon city traffic the farmer could bear his mud-made isolation with less complaint, but with the improvement of city streets and with the establishment of parks and boulevards, the farmers' just demands for better roads finds increasing expression.
How much the Federal Government, the States, and the counties should contribute was a subject of discussion, "but that country roads should be constructed with a view to permanent and continuous use is scarcely open to debate." When a disease is recognized, he said, people find the remedy. "The people now realize that bad roads are indefensible, and are prepared to consider the remedy." He added:
I have enough confidence in the patriotism and intelligence of the American people to believe that in the clash of ideas and conflict of views the best will always be triumphant. Under our form of government people not only have a right to sit in judgment upon every suggestion made, but have the right of suggestion, and it is in the multitude of this counsel that there is safety.
After thanking the NGRA for "this opportunity, this necessity, I may say, of studying a question which had escaped my notice," he said that he was convinced that the subject "seems to me not only a large one, but one that vitally affects all the people of our land." At this conclusion of the great orator's speech, the transcript noted: "[Loud applause.]." [Bulletin 26, p. 39-43]
General Stone also addressed the convention on April 28, discussing "Good Roads and How to Get Them." He described how much the Good Roads Movement had changed since he first took up the cause. Referring to the convention he had organized in 1892 in Chicago, General Stone said, "In that convention we dared not whisper 'National aid to road building' save in secret; now we can shout it on all the highways and byways." He strongly supported the Brownlow bill. "The people are ready for a measure of this kind, and it will give us good fighting ground." He urged the convention to endorse the bill, but cautioned them regarding the appropriation of $20 million, an amount that seemed so large, especially when equaled by the States, but "it will be totally inadequate to any prompt realization of good roads for the whole country." He said:
The youngest of you here will never see the work half done, and we veterans will scarce see a beginning. Indeed, such appropriations, liberal as they seem, will not much more than keep pace with the extension of roads in the newer sections of the country, and the great bulk of the undertaking will always be ahead of us, while the record of National and State taxation will pile up against road improvement and make a constantly growing argument for its opponents.
His response was to cite the annual loss due to bad roads, which he had estimated at $600 million during his years with the Office of Road Inquiry, a figure he believed was still accurate despite the fact that it had "been derided by many wiseacres who are perhaps not to blame for what they don't know."
After discussing steel-track roads and the use of postal savings banks to finance road bonds, General Stone concluded that, "Federal aid is in the air; our young statesmen are eager to promote it, and our oldest no longer have the cold shivers when it is mentioned." [Bulletin 26, p. 46-49]
The following day, April 29, the convention adopted resolutions drafted by the Committee on Resolutions. The resolutions included provisions endorsing the work of OPRI and recommending that it be made a permanent bureau in the Department of Agriculture with sufficient appropriations to extend its work; indicating that delegates considered appropriations for railroads, canals, and the improvement of rivers and harbors to "have been wise and beneficent" but expressing the view that a Federal appropriation improving common highways "has now become necessary . . . as provided for in the Brownlow bill," and directing the NGRA to arrange a meeting in Washington, with one delegate from each State along with representatives of "leading commercial and industrial organizations," to present the resolution in support of national aid to the Congress. [Bulletin 26, p. 53-54]
The afternoon session on Wednesday, April 29, was the concluding segment of the convention. The delegates listened to 5-minutes speeches from other delegates about good roads activities around the country as well as short speeches by Assistant Secretary Brigham, again filling in for Secretary Wilson, and Governor Albert B. Cummins of Iowa. Brigham said he wanted the cost of providing good roads distributed fairly, rather than on the farmer alone:
I hope that this convention will be able to suggest some way of fairly distributing the tax imposed for road construction. What we need in the country districts now is good roads. We have electric lines; we have the telephone; we get the daily newspapers, and what we now want is good roads running by our homes. I think it is the duty of our people to build these roads, because the ideal home of the future will be in the country, where the air is pure and the associations elevating; but you can not have an ideal home when it is surrounded by bad roads a portion of the year . . . . I believe in distributing this burden, as I have said, and I see no reason why the General Government should not appropriate a certain sum of money to be expended in this great work. Of course, the States and the counties and communities would be expected to cooperate; but if the Federal Government will give something to help pay these expenses it will be encouraging to all the people. [Applause.]
To stir up Congress, he said, "We must first educate the people." When the people favored a national appropriation for good roads, "the Congressmen will be in favor of it, and not until then. [Applause.]" He concluded:
I see no reason why the National Government should not reach out its strong arm and appropriate liberally for the purpose of giving the people of the whole country better means of communication . . . . When we undertake to do anything in the United States of America we do it well; and after a while we are going to have as good roads as can be found anywhere in the world. [Applause.] [Bulletin 26, p. 76-77]
The delegates were awaiting the arrival of President Roosevelt, so Governor Cummins began his presentation by stating that he had accompanied the President's train across Iowa, but had turned him over "safe and sound into the keeping of the governor of Missouri," Governor Dockery. The President, Governor Cummings said, "is coming here to you as rapidly as steam will bring him, detained only by the multitudes that gather to hear and applaud him."
The Governor explained that, "when God came to bestow His favors upon the coming Republic," He bestowed Iowa with "splendid natural advantages, but it remains for the people of our State to supply themselves with good roads." He described road conditions:
In our State nine months in the year we have as good roads as can be found anywhere in the country, and the remaining three months we have the worst roads over which a human being can travel.
He was ambivalent on national assistance for the cause. He said, "I do not oppose proper and reasonable aid" but "I fear a little for that magnificent surplus in our Treasury should it be finally determined to devote it to the improvement of our roads." In any event, he did not think the Good Roads Movement should wait for it. "The outcome is problematical, and its propriety is doubtful . . . ." Therefore, "I believe that each State ought to take up and carry forward this question for itself without regard to National aid. [Loud applause.]" If, instead of waiting for national aid, the States took up the task, "in a decade this great Union will be blessed with good roads, over which the traffic of the country may move with economy and with regularity in every season of the year, and without respect to the character of the soil which lies adjacent to the highways. [Applause.] [Bulletin 26, p. 77-78]
As Governor Cummins said, President Roosevelt was making his way to Odeon Hall. After stops during the day in Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri, he had come to St. Louis to participate in the dedication ceremony for the 1904 World's Fair. To avoid the large crowds awaiting his arrival at Union Station, Roosevelt had left the presidential train at Forsythe Junction and after a brief reception, took a horse-drawn carriage straight to Odeon Hall. Roosevelt's party was accompanied by throngs along the street. According to The New York Times:
The military companies and a platoon of police had been waiting two blocks away, and as soon as the line of carriages appeared a slower march was taken up to cover the three miles to Odeon Hall. People were congregated along the streets and wildly cheered as the President passed. He continually doffed his hat in acknowledgment. The hall was packed with a crowd which had been waiting patiently for hours. [" President Roosevelt Reaches St. Louis," The New York Times, April 30, 1903]
The convention Chairman (unidentified, but most likely Colonel Moore) introduced the President by saying, "It is most fortunate that we can say here to-day that we have a Chief Executive, who is able and willing to visit all sections of this country in order to find out what the people need."
President Roosevelt made the final presentation of the convention, a speech on "Good Roads as an Element in National Greatness." He began by saying:
When we wish to use descriptive adjectives fit to characterize great empires, and the men who made those empires great, invariably one of the adjectives used is to signify that they built good roads. [Applause.]
After citing Rome and other historical examples, he said that for a country such as the United States that had spanned a continent "merely from historical analogy, I say, we should have a right to demand that such a nation build good roads. Much more have we the right to demand it from a practical standpoint."
Not long ago, he said, "it was a matter, I am tempted to say, of national humiliation, that there should be so little attention paid to our roads; that there should be a willingness, not merely to refrain from making good roads, but to let the roads that were in existence become worse." To loud applause, he congratulated "our people upon the existence of a body such as this," dedicated as it was to "the eminently practical work of making the conditions of life easier and better for the people . . ."
One of the most important aspects of the movement was that good roads would reverse the tendency of young men to leave the farms and move to the industrial cities. Several movements were helping to reverse that trend, including electric trolley lines, the telephone, and rural free delivery. "But no one thing can do so much to offset the tendency toward an unhealthy drain from the country into the city as the making and keeping of good roads. [Loud applause.]"
It is for this reason, among many others, that I feel the work that you are doing to be so preeminently one for the interest of the Nation as a whole. I congratulate you upon the fact that you are doing it . . . . And among all the excellent objects for which men and women combine to work to-day, there are few, indeed, which have a better right to command the energies of those engaged in the movement, and the hearty sympathy and support of those outside, than this in which you are engaged. [Loud applause.] [Bulletin 26, p.79-80]
On that note, the convention adjourned sine die.
President Roosevelt's speech was widely reprinted in good roads journals. However, the President had not explicitly endorsed national aid for good roads.
(As writer and social commentator Michael L. Bromley has pointed out, "The President spoke stirringly of the benefits of roads . . . . Not automobiles." President Roosevelt, as Bromley documented, used automobiles on rare occasions, but he preferred the horse as more befitting his hearty disposition and manly image. Although his predecessor, President McKinley, had been the first President to ride in an automobile in 1899 (a Locomobile steam-powered car) and his successor, the portly President William Howard Taft, would be the first to purchase automobiles for the White House, President Roosevelt avoided automobiles for the most part. [Bromley, Michael L., William Howard Taft and the First Motoring Presidency, McFarland and Company, Inc., 2003. Locomobile reference on page 13, speech reference on page 85]
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