Amos Pinchot to Theodore Roosevelt, December 3, 1912


December 3, 1912.

Colonel Theodore Roosevelt,
287 Fourth Avenue,
New York City.

My dear Colonel Roosevelt:

I want to write you apropos of our conversation about Perkins last Friday, because I feel that I can express myself more clearly in writing. If you care to show this letter to Perkins, I shall be glad to have you do so, as I know he will understand the spirit in which it is written, and as I do not want to say anything about him which I would not say to him.

In my opinion, it would be a serious, if not fatal, error to have him remain in the position of titular head of our party. And I firmly believe that if the facts are presented to Perkins, he will see this as plainly as many of us do and be the first in urging that he should withdraw from the Chairmanship of the Executive Committee.

I do not like to burden you, Colonel, with my anxieties. I know the burden you already carry in leading a great movement, in keeping us all together, and in planning for the future, is more than any man, however strong, should be asked to bear. But in this Progressive Party, with its thousands of earnest men and women giving their strength to the cause of humanity, and with the millions of struggling people who see some hope in a cause dedicated to economic justice instead of to politics, we have something so fine and so full of possibilities of real usefulness to our [page 2] country, that I feel justified in laying before you what seems to me so fearfully plain.

From the beginning of the organization of the Progressive Party, we have set a high standard and made the claim that we are going to something a little different and better than the old parties. We have frankly stated that we are not out for political victory only, but to establish social and economic justice. As Lincoln freed the chattel slave, so are we going to free the industrial slave. We have gone into battle singing hymns and announcing that we will stand at Armageddon and battle for the Lord. From the very beginning, we have framed our campaign rather as a crusade than as a political fight. In short, we have assumed a heavy responsibility toward the people and placed ourselves on a plane where any suspicion of insincerity would be utterly ruinous to the cause.

We speak more specifically, we are today solemnly pledged to carry on an active campaign against the system of exploitation which the trusts have fastened upon the American people. It is the same old struggle for economic justice which has gone on from the beginning of time, -- the few who are strong and rich and organized against the many who are poor, weak and unorganized. In the old days it was the Crown and the privileged group surrounding the Crown against the people. Today it is the industrial oligarchy, the trusts, against the people.

We have outlined a magnificent program. In the first place, we plan to have real popular government, and in the second place, we have [page 3] announced a campaign of social and industrial justice. Under the latter head we advocate decent hours of labor, minimum wage, industrial insurance, old age pension, safety devices, employers' liability, etc. All of these things will, we hope, make the lives of wage earners during their hours of labor safe and healthy. They will make our factories a better place to work in, labor safer, and old age more endurable. But all these reforms when established will be costly, and will make the production of the necessaries of life more expensive. If we put every one of these measures into practice, and do not at the same time prevent the trusts from simply shifting the burden of the additional cost of production on the to the shoulders of the people, as they have frequently done in the past, we will accomplish little or nothing. It will be as hard as ever for the average man and woman to pay for food, clothing or fuel. The wage-earner, though perhaps working under better conditions in the factories, will be as near starvation as ever in the home. We will help the consumer not at all. The trusts will continue to make a killing out of selling the sheer necessities of life at prices that they can ill afford to pay, and our whole program of social and industrial justice will be open to the criticism of woeful incompleteness, if not of insincerity.

We have got to meet this trust question frankly and immediately. It is the cost of living question, -- the bread question. If we weaken or falter in regard to it, our party will fail.

We cannot keep the people's confidence or support by preaching mere [page 4] palliatives. We have got to stand for something different and more fundamental than the old parties have stood for, or quit claiming that our cause is the cause of humanity and justice.

All of this is what you have seen and taught people to see. And each day they are seeing and feeling it more intensely. There is but one great issue in America, and that is the economic issue whether our industrial system shall serve or exploit the people.

The Republican Party has just crashed to the ground because it stood with the corporations instead of against them in this struggle.

The Democratic Party has just won a sweeping victory because the people hoped that it would fight the corporations instead of protect them. Nothing that Wilson did in his campaign gave him the confidence of the people to such an extent as his telegram in reply to Bryan's question whether he would stand for the election of Judge Parker, a corporation man, as temporary Chairman of the Democratic Convention.

We may have a party as highly organized as Perkins and Munsey's money and Perkin's great business ability can make it, -- perhaps as highly organized and perfectly [coordinated] as the G.O.P. itself. But unless we keep the great issue clear -- unless we make plain beyond a suspicion our stand on the great economic question, whether the trusts shall or shall not be allowed to exploit the people by dictating the terms upon which the people shall obtain food, fuel and clothing, we will lack a cause and our party will be a flash in the pan. I believe that under the circumstances the selection of a trust magnate as leader (titular or otherwise) of our [page 5] party would be bad politics and bad ethics. Mr. Perkins has been a director of the Steel and Harvester trusts. These two particular corporations are the ones whose unsocial and monopolistic practices have been most thoroughly exposed in the magazines, in the daily press, in the publications of the Survey and of the Sage Foundation, and in the investigations of two Congressional Committees. The Executive Committee of the Steel Trust of which Mr. Perkins I believe has been Chairman, has openly, and I think indefensibly been instrumental in stamping out labor unionism from the steel corporation. I understand that more or less of the same thing has gone on in the Harvester Trust. The record of both trusts in regard to their treatment of employees is public property today.

Since Mr. Perkins has been Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Progressive Party, he has been more active than any one man in any party in the defense of big business. His signed columns in the daily papers have been largely pleas in behalf of big business and [attempts] to show that big business is after all the people's best friend. He was quoted (I do not know whether accurately or not) in a public statement as advocating that the Industrial Commission called for in our platform should be made up of men like Mr. James J. Hill. He has shown bad judgement by attacking Bryan in the state of Colorado, by making himself and the justification of big business an issue everywhere, by circulating two pamphlets entitled, "Is Perkins Honest," and "Is Perkins Sincere?" And by offering to become our party's expositor of the trust question in a series of signed articles on Collier's, answering Brandeis. His unceasing [page 6] activity and his large contributions, together with Munsey's contribution, have given the impression that our party has fallen under trusts' and Wall Street influences; in short, that Munsey and Perkins hold a kind of mortgage on the Progressive cause.

I realize that we should be and are most grateful for Perkins's tremendous generosity and hard effective organizing work. Any one that knows him cannot help liking him and admiring his energy, perseverance, and ceaseless industry. Personally, I believe that Perkins will not demand a controlling position in the party as a condition of remaining in it and working with it. I cannot believe that he, or any man who really cares for the Progressive Cause, would require a fifty-one percent. interest in the party, or refuse to take any interest at all.

Nothing that Perkins has done or said has suggested that he was not strictly on the level and acting conscientiously and in accordance with his deepest convictions. Nothing that we could give Perkins or do for him would be too great a reward for his hard work and financial support. But Perkins, like the rest of us, must be governed in this crisis by only one thing, -- the good of the party and the Progressive movement. It will be hard for him to relinquish a controlling position in the party, but hard things happen to all of the Progressive leaders. It was hard for you to go into this terrible [grueling] fight with the almost certain knowledge that you would be defeated, and hard for you to have been shot in the body at the end of it by a would-be assassin. It has been hard for Ben Lindsey to make his fight against the Evans-Guggenheim crowd; hard for Heney and [page 7] Johnson in their struggle; hard for Gifford wearing himself out in fifteen years of incessant effort for the cause of the people. But no man, whatever his services, can deserve anything from the party which will endanger the party's welfare or even its existence.

What I have mentioned above seems to me to contain serious objections to Perkins's leadership in the Progressive Party. I think he will see that himself if he is talked to plainly about it. But there is one matter in comparison with which I feel all others are minor considerations. Unless I am much mistaken, the episode of the elimination of the anti-trust plank from the Progressive platform is bound to come out, either at Chicago or subsequently. McCarthy's interview has started people talking, and anyhow, practically all of the Resolutions Committee are probably familiar with the facts.

If Perkins remains in a position of control it will be said that our party has chosen as its leader the man who went to Chicago and succeeded in having cut from our contract with the people the one clause which bound us to fight the trusts and protect the people. It will be said that he not only fought the anti-trust clause and succeeded in having it eliminated after the Committee on Resolutions had adopted it on the night before the platform was read, but that when the Committee put it back again and repassed it, and after he himself next day heard it read to the Convention and formally adopted, and after it had thus become actually and legally part and parcel of our platform, he was instrumental in once more having it out in defiance of the Convention's action.

In addition to this, it will be pointed out that, although our Convention [page 8] adopted the anti-trust clause and made it a part of our platform, and although you yourself were in favor of the plank and in essence embodied it in your speech to the Convention (and Perkins knew this to be the case, for he heard the plank read to the Convention by Dean Lewis, and he was familiar with your Convention speech), he caused to be printed and spread broadcast throughout the country a false version of the platform intentionally omitting the anti-trust clause.

We know what the result of this was. We were placed in a false and fatal position in regard to the whole trust question, and especially in regard to monopoly. Our sincerity was questioned. The Democrats scored upon us heavily. And in spite of the fact that your own position was right, and that our real platform was right, we could not justify our shortcomings and were obliged to spend every ounce of our energy in defending ourselves and explaining to the people that we stood for something which our contract with the people omitted, and that we were really not opposed to the prosecution of monopolistic and unsocial combinations.

On the whole, we came out of the trust controversy with only fair credit. What the result would have been if the facts of [Perkins's] fight against the anti-trust plank had come out during the campaign it is hard to say. But it is probable that there would have been an immediate crisis if it had become known that the omission of any reference to the anti-trust in our platform was not through inadvertence; that an anti-trust in our platform was not through inadvertence; that an anti-trust plank had been adopted by the delegates to the Convention, but cut at the instance of a director of the Steel and Harvester trusts., [page 9]

I believe that Perkins will see all of this as clearly as we do. I believe that he will see that the great essential in the Progressive Party is to keep our people together and develop an undivided, effective fighting force, united in personnel, but above all united in principles and policy. I believe that he will see that the probability of being able to do this is practically nil as long as the cause is led by a man who differs so radically with the majority of the party upon a fundamental question of policy, and who doesn't command the confidence (I do not mean personal confidence, but confidence in regard to the trust questions) of the rank and file and of the majority of the leaders of our party.

If the fight against Perkins on the ground that he unjustifiably emasculated our platform in the interest of big business is not made at Chicago next week, we are in serious danger of it being made at some time, for his leadership, unwelcome as it will be to a large element of the party, will surely result in discord, and this discord may at any time develop into an attack upon him on the grounds I have stated. We cannot stand such an attack and Perkins himself is the only man who can save us from it by doing the fine thing which I think he is willing to do, and putting us in a position where our cause will not have the sword of Damocles hanging forever over us.

In order to succeed as a party we must have a program representing an actual economic need of the people. This actual economic need of the people is today what is has always been since history's beginning, -- freedom from industrial exploitation at the hands of special privilege. [page 10] The only difference is that today, owing to the educational work which has been going on in this country since your first administration, the people know exactly what is the matter and are fully determined that something shall be done about it.

For us to go into this fight unnecessarily handicapped, weakened, and threatened by the leadership of a man whose record even up to and since the Chicago Conventions shows him to be unsympathetic to the cause as understood by the majority of the people, seems to me to be in first place unjust to the cause upon purely ethical grounds, and in the second place, to be political folly. No amount of financial support or organizing ability can for an instant counterbalance the loss of respect and the blow to the sincerity of our aims such an arrangement would result in.

You said to me the other day that it was folly to propose that Perkins should resign as Chairman of the Executive Committee until we had found someone else to take his place. It seems to me that it would be better to even leave the office vacant for a while than to have him continue in it. But there must be men who could fill this position effectively, [although] not with quite the same degree of brilliancy or ability. Bristow, Chester Rowell, Merriam, Herbert K. Smith, William Allen White occur to one's mind and there must be several other men who could be called on and made to feel the obligation to serve.

It is the fundamental question whether we will start right or wrong, whether we will have such support as is accorded to parties or men who are known to be sincere and right-thinking. [page 11]

If we believe that the mission of our party and the business of our generation in America is to destroy privilege and fight an oppressive industrial system which makes the lives of men, women, and children harder than they should be, we must draw the issue clearly and simply, and leave no place for doubts of our singleness of purpose.

If our party should fail now it would be a public calamity. It would seem to mean a humiliating defeat of those forces in America which are represented not only by patriotic politicians, but by the splendid list of social workers, educators, etc., who have found a home for their efforts and aspirations within the party.

If Perkins want to take a position of leadership in the party, let him first identify himself with progressive social and industrial work, so that in the mind of the public he will be something besides a trust magnate -- so that his name will bring to mind other organizations than the New York Life Insurance Company, J. P. Morgan & Co., the United States Steel Corporation, and the International Harvester Company. He could easily take a position of leadership in industrial work in this state and in the nation if he feels as we feel about these questions. He has in the highest degree the ability, the attractive personality and the energy necessary for such leadership. There is plenty for him or any man in his position to do. Let him clean up the unfortunate conditions of labor in the Harvester Trust. Let him make a fight in the Steel Corporation in favor of labor unionism and against the terrible system of industrial oppression that the Sage Foundation publications so vividly portray. Then he can assume leadership in the Progressive Party, with the confidence of the people and with [page 12] a record which affirms rather than denies the propositions for which our party stands.

Sincerely yours,

Amos Pinchot [signed]