Paul W. Brown to William C. Redfield





Library of Congress, Woodrow Wilson Papers, 1786-1957


My dear Mr. Secretary

As soon as I heard that you were coming to St. Louis, I was covetous of an opportunity to lay before you a situation which is general throughout the country and which might, I believe, be remedied, and which seriously threatens the successful financing of the war. I refer to the successive appeals made to the business community for war charities of various kinds in their relation to the campaigns for the sale of Liberty Bonds.

The first Liberty Bond issue was followed by the campaign for one hundred millions for the Red Cross and a thirty-five million YMCA campaign now impends. The Knights of Columbus are doing in the Catholic field what the YMCA is doing in the Protestant field and the United Hebrew Charities organization is exerting itself likewise. In a community like St. Louis, the solicitation for these three things covers approximately the same ground; the same men contribute to all three. There is also the War Library campaign, the war recreation fund, the so-called White Cross which is exerting itself actively here in the Central West, and the Sub-Committee of the Council for National Defense in combating venereal diseases, which is just now asking subscriptions from the active business men of St. Louis.

Now there is just so much financial resiliency in every community. When a certain amount of this elasticity is used for one purpose, there is just that much less available for something else. Every engineer--- as no one Mr. Secretary knows better than you--- stops to consider the fatigue of metals in its relation to the life of working machines. Is not this a time when we ought to stop to consider the fatigue of men?The amounts raised by these various campaigns are but as a drop in the bucket by comparison with the amounts raised for financing the war by the sale of bonds. The YMCA's thirty million, for example, will be a trifle over 1% of the Second Liberty Loan. Yet in order to get one-hundredth of the amount of money, a city-wide organization must be formed and must make heavy demands on much of that very organizing ability which should be pushing bond sales to the limit of possibility. We have to reckon in this matter not only with the thing that a man is asked to do at a particular time, but with his prevision of the things which he is going to be asked to do during the coming weeks and months. The man who looks up and sees over the top of the next wave of financial solicitation the curling crests of a whole line of successive breakers does not take the plunge with the zest that would be his if there were just one big wave--- and so done with it.

As a result of these successive solicitations, I observe a fine confusion of mind on the part not only of people, but also on the part of newspapers. The Liberty Loan itself is being placed in the minds of thousands of people in St. Louis on all fours with money which is given outright; the distinction between gift and investment is being blurred in many minds. A St. Louis newspaper yesterday contained an important headline which read: "Poor Widow Gives Entire Savings to Liberty Loan." Who would guess from such a headline that what this woman had done was simply to invest in a 4% security, practically non-taxable?It seems to me that one of two things is desirable: either the combining of all the appeals for outright gifts into one great appeal so that our people would make one gift a year which would cover all the necessities of war charity and then would have nothing to do for the rest of the year but to put surplus money into bonds to supply cash resources to fight the war,---Or, and much preferable, to secure such legislation at the hands of Congress that would permit the Government itself to finance the relief of wounded soldiers, the supplying of recreation facilities, within and without the camp, the furnishing of libraries, etc. etc. etc. so that the appeal to the citizen to invest in the securities of his country might be left the sole thing in addition to the demands of war taxation. It is altogether improbable that the total war charities could amount to five hundred million dollars in any one year. The Government will in five months have raised five billion dollars by the sale of bonds. This is at the rate of much more than twenty times that amount per annum.

I am aware that there are factors of great delicacy and difficulty--- just as there are for that matter in everything in this world that is worth doing,--- but the pressure of national need, combined with the heat of patriotic enthusiasm is making wonderful metamorphoses before our eyes and I do not see why this particular job should be any harder than some other things which the Administration has achieved with outstanding success during the past few months. One of the chief difficulties would be of course that arising from the natural rivalry between the representatives of the different religious faiths of the country. There has been no practical difficulty, however, in so distributing chaplaincies in the United States Army as to give representation both to Catholics and Protestants in a field which calls for the selection of workers by the Government and the spending of Government money. Why would it not be practicable to make an equally equitable and equally successful division of revenue between the YMCA, the Knights of Columbus, and the United Hebrew Charities? As for such work as the provision of camp libraries and the cleaning up of moral conditions about army cantonments, that, to the lay mind, would seem to fall distinctly within the fields of expenditure already marked out by law.

Boiled down to its lowest terms, the question is this: In view of the fact that roughly speaking twenty dollars will have to be raised by bonds in order to equip, subsist and pay the Army and Navy, for every dollar devoted to religious, social and relief work for soldiers and soldiers' families, and in view of the further fact that only by the liberal financing of the war may the expenditure in blood and suffering be reduced to a minimum, which is wisest--- to raise twenty-one dollars by the issue of bonds in order to cover the whole field of need and have but one machine and one campaign for the entire country or to have the raising of twenty dollars by one campaign retarded, complicated and broken in upon by the formation of ten other organizations and carrying on of ten other campaigns to raise from five to twenty cents each?I come back, Mr. Secretary, to the idea with which I started: there is just so much financial elasticity in the community. It is vastly easier to get ten dollars out of a man than to get five subscriptions of two dollars each. Is it good economy to permit the efficiency of the bond selling operations of the Government to be imperilled by half a dozen other clashing efforts to raise sums amounting to but fractions of 1% of the individual governmental loans? Here in St. Louis were there nothing else to be considered, the elimination of the reduplication of function on the part of committees by combining the various subsidiary "drives" into one main drive would alone justify such a consolidation of effort.

I believe that the unification of the entire charitable effort necessitated by the war is possible. In such a heat as you evoked by your address at the Planters' Hotel to-day, many substances which are refractory at ordinary temperatures, form alloys. I believe that we can get the Red Cross champion, the YMCA man, the Knight of Columbus, the United Hebrew, to meet together and realize that the Lord is the maker of them all.

If the scheme approved itself to the President, I feel sure that his leadership, which is at once so flexible in its control and so sure in its conduction to the ultimate end, could obtain through Congress legislation necessary to reduce the citizens' voluntary financial co-operation with war activities to a single formula: Buy a Liberty Bond!I am, with best regards, Mr. Secretary, and with a certain tinge of remorse as I contemplate the length of this appeal,

Very sincerely yours,
Paul W. Brown

The Hon. William C. Redfield,
Washington D.C.




Paul W. Brown, “Paul W. Brown to William C. Redfield,” 1917 October 19, WWP22040, World War I Letters, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.