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Portrait of a General: General Roy Stone
Part 4 of 8
Good Roads Advocate
The Bicycle Craze
Interest in roads, dormant since the spread of railroads in the 1830's and 1840's, was revived by the introduction of the bicycle in the late 1870's. The initial craze was based on a bicycle--called an "ordinary" in the United States or, in England where it was invented, a "penny farthing"--that had a large front wheel and a small rear wheel. The ordinary soon reached America, largely because of the efforts of a Civil War veteran, Colonel Albert A. Pope of Boston.
According to Pope biographer Stephen B. Goddard, the Colonel operated the Pope Manufacturing Company, which "began to develop and sell small patented articles, such as an air pistol and a cigarette-rolling machine."(107) Inspired by a velocipede (nicknamed the "Boneshaker") on view at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, Colonel Pope visited England, where the ordinary had been invented, to learn about the manufacturing processes. He brought a bicycle home from England even before he was clear on how to ride it, then ordered eight more for study and sale through a bicycle importing house he established in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1878, he began manufacturing his own bicycle, calling his model the Columbia.(108)
The national fascination that began after Colonel Pope introduced the ordinary began to accelerate in the 1880's with introduction of the "safety," a bicycle with wheels of equal size. The safety, also invented in England, was easier to ride than the ordinary and reduced the risk of "headers" (being thrown over the front of the bicycle). By 1889, the first American safety, called the Victor Bicycle, was being manufactured by A. H. Overman of Chicopee, Massachusetts. With the introduction of pneumatic tires designed by John B. Dunlop in 1889, the safety was ready for the mass market.
The resulting craze was complete with national, State and local clubs; special clothes for men and women; races, with the racers becoming as famous in their day as today's sports celebrities; bicycle magazines and guides; travel discount programs for railroad fares; velodromes where bicyclists could learn from skilled teachers and practice on banked wooden tracks; and a movement for good roads.
The bicyclist enjoyed freedom from the tyranny of railroad and urban transit schedules, as well as the pleasure of travel through the countryside. However, the roads, particularly outside cities, were in poor shape. Some of the main roads were turnpikes, like the Orange Turnpike, dating to the pre-railroad days, but traffic usually was so light that revenue from tolls was insufficient for maintenance. The Federal Government and the States had, for the most part, lost interest in the common roads, leaving them to the care of counties and townships. Counties and townships had virtually no funding for roads, and no skill in the science of road making. That left the task to the farmers, who often were required by statute labor laws to maintain roads adjacent to their property. They had little interest in road improvement that would encourage "idle-rich" city folks to ride their bicycles like so many peacocks strutting their pride.(109)
On May 31, 1880, members of 31 bicycle clubs met at Newport, Rhode Island, to form the League of American Wheelmen (LAW) to "ascertain, defend and protect the rights of wheelmen [and] to encourage and facilitate touring . . . ."(110)At first, the LAW and other bicycle organizations were interested less in good roads than in the right to use public roads. Horses were often frightened by bicycles, while many bicyclists made themselves nuisances by reckless driving ("scorching," as speeding was called, was a common offense). As a result, local ordinances often restricted bicyclists, for example by limiting them to little-used, poorly maintained streets or requiring them to dismount when a team of horses approached.(111) With the efforts of the bicycle clubs and the increasing popularity of bicycles, these restrictions began to disappear.
In the late 1880's, attention turned to improving the roads. The LAW formed a National Committee for Highway Improvement in June 1888, expecting it to have relatively rapid success in persuading States to adopt road improvement legislation. The committee's initial efforts to secure State legislation were unsuccessful, in part because of resentment toward bicyclists and a fear of the expense of providing good roads. In 1891, therefore, the committee adopted the approach of "education, then agitation, and finally legislation."(112) In addition, the LAW and its highway committee began cooperating with non-wheelmen who also saw the need for better roads.
Although most efforts were aimed at State and local legislation, some individuals saw the value of Federal assistance to improve roads. Colonel Pope was among the first, proposing a plan in October 1889 for a National Highway Commission in the Department of Agriculture to compile and disseminate information on the condition of roads and methods of road construction.(113)
The Reckless Decade
Historian H. W. Brands has called the 1890's "The Reckless Decade," a time of contrasts:
With a new century approaching, the country's problems raised doubt about the future:
During the 1890s, Americans agonized over what the twentieth century about to begin held for their country. To many of them, America's finest hours were behind it. The continent was filling up and the vast open spaces that had characterized American life were quickly disappearing . . . . Whether what would follow would match what had come before was very doubtful; at the least it would be decidedly different.(115)
A Non-Wheelman Takes Up the Cause
As the final decade of the 19th century began, General Stone took up the cause of Federal legislation on roads. According to historian Philip P. Mason:
One of the most prominent non-wheelmen advocates of this view was General Roy Stone, a civil engineer from New York City, who as early as 1890 was corresponding with leaders of the wheelmen's organization on the subject of federal aid. Stone believed that the federal government should actively participate in road building, just as it had participated in the development of railroads, canals and harbors.(116)
Acting on the advice of LAW officials, Stone wrote a bill embodying his ideas in the spring of 1892. The bill called for a National Highway Commission that would include two senators, five members of the House of Representatives, the Secretaries of War and the Interior, the Postmaster General and five citizens appointed by the President. The commission would formulate plans for a national school of roads and bridges (modeled after the French school, L'Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées, established in 1747), and collect information on progressive State highway laws and the road practices of foreign countries, which were widely known to be superior to those of the United States. In addition to disseminating the information, the commission would prepare a comprehensive road exhibit for the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition, which was planned for 1892, the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in North America. After 2 years, the commission would submit a report to Congress containing recommendations for a permanent commission.(117)
Stone's bill was introduced by Representative Philip S. Post of Illinois (on June 29, 1892) and Senator Charles S. Manderson of Nebraska (July 5, 1892). On July 17 to 21, the LAW was in Washington for its annual meeting. Members from across the country participated in parades, watched championship bicycle races, and lobbied their representatives in Congress. The LAW also called for a letter writing campaign in support of Stone's measure and thousands of letters and telegrams poured into Washington.(118)
After the convention, Stone and the LAW's James Dunn stayed in Washington to lobby for the measure, with their expenses borne by the LAW. In the Senate, the Interstate Commerce Committee amended the bill because of constitutional concerns to reduce committee membership by eliminating Executive Branch members. The bill approved by the committee also reduced the committee's duties to making a general inquiry into highway conditions and the means for their improvement, investigating the possibility of a road exhibit at the Columbian Exposition, and reporting to Congress regarding such an exhibit. On July 27, 1892, the Senate approved Stone's amended bill.(119)
Despite this success, Stone knew that passage in the House was not assured. Some members of the House opposed the bill because they thought it would invade States' rights or would set a dangerous precedent that could lead to a large-scale and expensive road building program. Finding that the bill would not get out of committee, supporters introduced it in the Select Committee on the Columbian Exposition. This was a positive step because Chairman Allan C. Durborow of Illinois was an enthusiastic supporter, as were other committee members.
Despite Representative Durborow's support, the bill faced a major hurdle. Under House rules, appropriations bills emerging from the Select Committee required unanimous House approval. General Stone and LAW officials worked with Representatives Post, Durborow, and other House supporters to gain the necessary votes. By the time the Select Committee approved the Senate version of the bill, supporters thought they had the needed votes. There was doubt about only one House Member, but that was the critical one. Speaker of the House Charles F. Crisp of Georgia was thought to be opposed to the bill. The fear was that he would not acknowledge anyone on the House floor who wished to discuss it.
That fear came true on August 4. Representative Durborow rose to ask for recognition to move for unanimous consideration of the highway bill. But Speaker Crisp refused to recognize the chairman or other supporters of the bill. The following day, Congress adjourned without House action.(120)
The National League for Good Roads
The World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago was supposed to open in 1892 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the New World. When it became clear that preparations could not be completed in time, organizers decided to hold a dedication ceremony on October 21, 1892, during the recognized anniversary month. Estimates of participants ranged from100,000 to 500,000 people.(121)
The night before, Stone and the LAW held a meeting in Chicago as part of their campaign to promote their good roads bill in the second session of the current Congress. The meeting took place in Chicago's Central Music Hall with the purpose of establishing a National League for Good Roads. Holding the meeting in conjunction with the dedication proved to be a good idea. Over 1,000 people attended, including many prominent people who would not have been able to attend if they had not been in Chicago for the ceremony. Mason described the mix of participants:
In addition to the large number of prominent national figures present, there were delegates from many boards of trade and agriculture, farmers' organizations, agricultural colleges and universities, and from practically all of the state road improvement associations.(122)
Stone delivered the opening address. Discussing "this peaceful campaign of progress and reform," he said:
The time is ripe for it, and the opportunity should not be lost. There is work ready and waiting that needs the strong hand of a national organization . . . . The best thought of the whole Nation is required in developing or choosing a plan of action, and the solid support of the people is required when a plan is found.(123)
He also outlined his funding plan, which could be accomplished without increasing the Federal debt if the Federal Government guaranteed local loans:
Stone acknowledged that the national credit might suffer somewhat under this plan, but he believed the amount would be less than the increase in national wealth.
Conscious that some potential supporters of good roads were concerned by the thought of Federal-aid and the expense involved, Stone added a note of caution:
The new league resolved to organize on a State, county, and local basis, with the local school district as the primary unit, as a way of stimulating a "grass roots" movement. In addition, the league elected Senator Manderson as president and Stone as general vice-president and acting secretary. Finally, the members agreed to hold a convention in Washington the following January. Offices for the league were established in New York City, home of General Stone.
Some dispute exists over who financed the Chicago meeting. Stone later claimed that in issuing the call for the meeting, he was "staking my reputation upon its success and risking, out of a slender purse, the entire cost of the venture."(126)Colonel Pope also claimed to have paid for the meeting and Stone confirmed it in correspondence cited by Mason.(127)
The Grizzled Veteran
On November 12, 1892, The Register of New Haven, Connecticut, published an article on "Improving the Highways" by John Gilmer Speed. "There is no question before the American people of more importance than that of the improvements of the common roads." With so many issues yet to be resolved, Speed wrote, "The person to take the initiative in this movement was Gen. Roy Stone of New York." Speed described Stone:
Stone was glad to talk with Speed "but he thought it better so that there would be no danger of a misunderstanding that he should dictate his replies to my questions to his stenographer." And so the interview consisted of Speed's questions followed by comments such as, "Turning to his stenographer he said . . . ."
Although the article appeared in November, the interview took place before the Chicago meeting. Turning to his stenographer, Stone explained the goal:
The importance of this movement cannot be overestimated. The public sentiment in favor of road reform is profound and universal, but as to exact methods and ways and means it is all at sea, and brings no practical influence to bear anyway. If it can once be massed, and crystallized upon definite measures, it will be irresistible. This can only be accomplished by organization, reaching every interest concerned, and especially the farmers.
He described the problem in stark terms that he would repeat, in one form or another, many times in coming years:
In the current discussion of road matters some things may be taken as settled, and among them are these: We have the worst roads in the civilized world; their condition is a crushing tax on the whole people, a tax the more intolerable in that it yields no revenue, not even supports a tax gatherer; any adequate relief from this tax involves the rebuilding of 1,000,000 miles of road and an expenditure of some thousands of millions of money; a wise economy requires this rebuilding to be prompt, speedy and general; since this work is for all time, equity requires that a large share of its cost should fall upon its future beneficiaries; this can only be done by raising the money on very long loans, and these loans must, in common prudence and in justice to our successors, be made at the lowest possible rates of interest.
These settled points, he said, "point directly to another, which many good citizens are slow to accept, viz., that national financing for this vast undertaking is an absolute requisite."
He recognized that objections had been raised to the proposals he and other good roads advocates had made. There were constitutional objections, as well as concerns that "the exercise of this power would be dangerous even if constitutional." Noting that the country's early leaders understood the need to provide roads and canals to bind the republic together, he added, "That duty has been sadly neglected of late, and is now denied in toto by statesmen who do not hesitate to warp the constitution itself in many other directions."
Asked why the States and counties could not do the job, Stone described the fate of a good roads bill in New York:
The answer to this was found at Albany, last winter, when the friends of the Richardson bill for state roads abandoned that excellent measure in disgust because it could not pass with a nonpartisan commission, but be made wholly tributary to the machine of the party in power, and the proposed $10,000 added to a political campaign fund.
The counties, he said, would also be subject to partisan concerns:
Fortunately it is still possible to maintain some national institutions that are free from politics, and a permanent bureau of roads could be maintained as easily as are the army and navy. Such a bureau, supervising all contracts and their execution, would insure the best work at the lowest cost, its own fidelity being assured by the constant watch of the local authorities and the people themselves.
Finally, Speed described Stone's plan for a good roads exhibit at the World's Columbian Exposition:
The present plan is to scatter these exhibits through the agricultural and transportation buildings. Gen. Stone suggested that 50 or 100 acres of the unimproved lands south of Jackson park be used for a road annex, in which there should be during the continuance of the fair streets and roads of all kinds in process of construction, and in this work, the most improved road making machinery shown in operation.
He would revisit this idea in revised form in coming years.
An Idea Becomes Law
An article in The New York Times on December 18, 1892 described the "steady progress made by the National League." Senator Manderson had been in town for meetings, including a meeting with the Chamber of Commerce at Stone's home at Aldrich Court, 45 Broadway. The National League had received $1,300 in subscriptions, with several members, including Pope and Stone, contributing $100, the largest amount. Contributions would continue to arrive in the following months, including $50 from the inventor Thomas A. Edison in February 1893.
Publicity surrounding the National League generated another dispute between Stone and Pope. On January 12, 1893, Pope wrote to Stone. The tone of the letter suggests an ongoing disagreement dating to the organizational meeting in Chicago. Stone, the letter noted, had offered to give Pope "a credit for the amount of money I expended in attending the convention at Chicago for the purpose of organizing the League for Good Roads." Such a credit, Pope replied, was "hardly worth while . . . as I have given already many thousand dollars and a very large amount of time to the work . . . ."
Actually, he was upset about something else. Shortly after the National League was formed, Pope had begun circulating a petition around the country for transmission to Congress in support of an independent road department to promote and teach good road techniques, to display a permanent exhibit of road building methods, and prepare a road exhibit for the World's Columbian Exposition. Stone agreed with these goals but understood, from first hand experience, the difficulty of getting any measure through Congress. He was hesitant to commit the National League to this goal when other steps might prove more promising. Pope, in his January 12 letter, reacted to Stone's position:
As Pope suggested, the petition had been more successful than he expected, but Pope agreed to delay sending the petition to Washington to ensure it would not jeopardize the efforts by Stone and the LAW to secure funding for a road initiative.(128)
The second national convention took place on Tuesday, January 17, in Washington. The next day, The Washington Post's report on the meeting was headlined "Our System of Highways" and subheadlined: "It Is the Worst on Earth and Should Be Reformed." The article began:
While the county supervisor may scoff at the gentlemen who gather in a comfortable room at Chamberlin's to discuss scientific methods of road making, at the same time casting sarcastic aspersions upon the time honored system of scraping all the mud up into the center of the road and letting it wash down into the ditches again, there is no doubt that the convention of the National League for Good Roads, which met in this city yesterday morning, will be productive of great good in extending the agitation for good roads throughout the country.
After Senator Manderson called the convention to order, General Stone reported on the progress of the National League:
The general plans of the organization, said he, require the co-operation of the governors of the States and Territories [portions of the country that had not yet achieved statehood] . . . . The press of the country is thoroughly enlisted in the movement, while the work of the league has been indorsed by farmers and trade organizations in general, including the chamber of commerce of the State of New York.(129)
Although many speakers presented their ideas, the most influential turned out to be President Benjamin Harrison's Secretary of Agriculture, Jeremiah M. Rusk. He had been nicknamed "Uncle Jerry" and, according to a biography of his successor, "much of the interest that had surrounded him was due to the suggestion of hayseed which attached to his name."(130)
Secretary Rusk assured the delegates that he supported better roads, but not Federal-aid. He believed road improvement to be primarily a local matter. Nevertheless, at the request of Representative Allan Durburow of Illinois, the Department's appropriation bill had been amended to include $10,000 for the collection and dissemination of information on road laws and the methods of road construction, both of which Rusk considered to be legitimate Federal activities. Historian Mason indicates that Representative Post "credited Albert Pope with the plan for the establishment of the Office of Road Inquiry within the Department of Agriculture."(131) The idea was consistent with Pope's October 1889 proposal.
While the convention was underway, Representative William H. Hatch of Missouri invited the league to testify before the Committee on Agriculture on January 19 regarding the proposed general inquiry. Stone was among those chosen and the first to testify. He explained that the National League endorsed creation of a National Highway Commission and a road exhibit at the Columbian Exposition. Asked about press reports that the National League favored a Federal road building program, he responded, "The convention voted unanimously against such a program. The only national aid we have suggested was purely educational." His answer reflected the sensitivity of good roads supporters, who did not want to alarm the Nation's farmers and others who might otherwise be their allies. In fact, the only witness to testify against the bill was W. C. Gifford of the National Grange's Committee on Transportation. He questioned the bill's constitutionality as well as the desirability of involving the Federal Government in road affairs.(132)
On February 1, as part of the Department of Agriculture's annual appropriations act, House the Committee on Agriculture approved the provision to begin a road inquiry with a $10,000 budget. The Committtee did not approve the National Highway Commission or the proposed road exhibit at the World's Columbian Exposition. Although Stone and the National League hoped to revive their own bill, Stone was soon convinced by Representative Post that chances were poor. Stone tried for a bigger appropriation, but again without success. He was told by Charles Johnson, Chief Clerk of the Senate, "Not only is the Senate business great, but the pressure for economy and cutting down even greater."(133)
On March 3, Stone and his colleagues abandoned hope of modifying the bill. Major Henry E. Alvord of the Association of American Agricultural Colleges and Experiment Stations advised Stone that his Senate allies, including Senator Manderson, "had a conference and decided that it was more discreet to save the appr'n of $10nd, as it stood, than to attract attention to it by an amendment, & run the risk of a debate & losing all-hence the inaction." On the House side, Hatch, Post, and others, said "no use to do anything more."(134)
The Congress approved the appropriations act on March 3 and it was signed later that day by President Harrison in one of his last acts before leaving office. The stated purpose of the appropriation was:
To enable the Secretary of Agriculture to make inquiries in regard to the systems of road management throughout the United States, to make investigations in regard to the best method of road-making, to prepare publications on this subject suitable for distribution, and to enable him to assist the agricultural colleges and experiment stations in disseminating information on this subject, ten thousand dollars.
The Stormy Petrel
The following day, President Grover Cleveland began his second term, the only President to serve two non-consecutive terms. During President Cleveland's first term, the Department of Agriculture, which had been established in 1862, was elevated to Cabinet status. On February 15, 1889, therefore, he had appointed the first Secretary of Agriculture, Norman J. Colman, who had been the Commissioner of Agriculture since April 3, 1885. Colman served as Secretary only 3 weeks, his term ending when President Harrison took office.(135)
Now, President Cleveland would appoint the third Secretary of Agriculture. He chose J. Sterling Morton to be the third Secretary of Agriculture. Morton, a New York native, held many important posts during his long career, including Acting Governor of the Nebraska Territory, 1858 to 1861. As part of his effort to improve agriculture in Nebraska, he strongly supported the planting of trees throughout the State and was the founder of Arbor Day. It began in Nebraska in 1870 as a campaign to relieve the State's treeless prairies. "Trees," he said, "are the monuments I would have." But his best explanation of the appeal of Arbor Day was simply: "Other holidays repose upon the past; Arbor Day proposes for the future."(136)
President Cleveland's decision to appoint Morton was risky. Morton had opposed Cleveland and helped defeat his reelection bid 4 years earlier and continued to criticize him during the most recent election. Morton, hearing rumors of the appointment, could not believe it. He thought he would like the position "ever so much," he told a friend, but "I can not ask for it, seek it, beg for it. Honors should come, instead of being dragged to oneself by oneself." Cleveland, citing the country's continuing boom/bust economic problems, appointed his political enemy because, "We cannot afford, in this crisis, when, if ever, such men are needed, to let personal considerations enter into account."(137)
Because of his argumentative nature, Morton became known as the "Stormy Petrel" of the Cabinet, but he and President Cleveland worked well together and gradually became close friends.(138)
Morton, in line with the President's thinking, was a fiscally prudent conservative who opposed all forms of paternalism by the Federal Government. As the official history of the Department of Agriculture explained, Morton was the right man for his times:
When Morton became Secretary of Agriculture in 1893, the economic condition of agriculture and the Nation made it easy for the Secretary to follow his conservative convictions. Agriculture was in a difficult economic situation, while the general economy was heading into the Panic of 1893 and a subsequent depression especially adverse to farmers.(139)
The stock market plunged on May 5, 1893, and nearly collapsed on June 27, pushing the country into a Panic. Brands described the result:
Consumers stopped purchasing, retailers canceled orders, factories shut down, workers drew pink slips, and commodity prices plunged. The iron and steel business was flattened overnight. Big, well-financed corporations retrenched and lived off reserves; smaller firms dissolved. Credit contracted with a suffocating sound. The best bonds went begging; unproven ventures . . . drew derisive laughs from investors fortunate enough to be still liquid.(140)
For the new President and the new Secretary of Agriculture, their views on how the country could escape the Panic of 1893 were consistent with their views on the role of government. According to the official history:
Some of the public was demanding a decrease in Government expenditures and a reduction in taxes. These demands coincided with the views of President Cleveland and Secretary Morton, so every effort was made to cut expenditures within the Department.(141)
Biographer James C. Olson described Secretary Morton's initial steps upon taking office:
The new Secretary probed every division of the department in search of opportunities to economize. He wrote the heads of all the bureaus asking them to furnish a list of employees and functions which could be dispensed with without injury to the public service.(142)
While reducing the number of clerks in the Department and worrying about excessive feeding of horses at agriculture experiment stations, Morton also ordered a blanket reduction in the salaries of women employees; with a few exceptions, women were restricted to a salary of $1,200 a year or less.(143) He also prohibited Department employees from using government funds for travel to address organizations around the country; the organizations would have to pay for the speakers. Morton was also a firm opponent of what today would be called "pork barrel projects," such as the free distribution of seeds based on congressional districts. He once called such activities a "gratuity, paid for by money raised from all the people, and bestowed upon a few people."(144)
These views on economy affected Secretary Morton's decisions in establishing the road inquiry approved by former President Harrison on his last day in office.
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