Horace Plunkett to Colonel House


Horace Plunkett to Colonel House


Plunkett, Horace Curzon, Sir, 1854-1932




1913 October 28


Wilson Papers, Library of Congress, Library of Congress, Washington, District of Columbia


Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924--Correspondence




Dear Colonel. House

I told you in my last letter that I might be moved to write again upon the things which, largely owing to your kindly assistance, I learned in Washington about the agricultural situation with which the present Administration has to deal. I said that I might lay before you some thoughts which, if they commend themselves to your judgment, you could pass on to the President, who would, if he saw fit, find a place for them in that part of his annual message which will deal with his agricultural policy.
The Department of Agriculture, when it has been reorganized under its extremely able chief and has had time to give effect to his plans, will undoubtedly inaugurate a badly needed agroicultural revival in the United States. As you know, I have on many occasions, insisted that what is chiefly wrong with the American farmers is lack of organization, and that this defect hits them hardest in the marketing of their produce. The Secretary lost no time in putting his hand on the weak spot and preparing to find the remedy. His plans have already become public property, with the result that the farmers, who are becoming conscious of the chief evil from which their industry suffers, but do not seem to understand the cause or the true nature of the remedy, are clamouring for action.
I have before me a series of resolutions passed by the National Farmers Educational and Cooperative Union of America ( commonly called The Farmers Union), the largest association of the kind in the United States, or probably in the world. That body has not, I think, much economic sense, but as you know, has great political influence. The resolutions begin by taking credit to the Union for the establishment of the Bureau of Markets. It then goes on to tell the Department of Agriculture that the work that the Bureau is doing and proposes to do for farmers is thoroughly inadequate, and that the Department had better give the same consideration to the market side of farming as the producing side is receiiving. It calls upon the Agricultural Committee of the House of Representatives to prevent the spending of money for surveys and study of conditions, as farmers need relief now from intolerable conditions that dissipate more than fifty percent of the consumers dollar without any benefit to producers. It concludes by calling upon the Department to carry direct to the farmer the best methods that theory and practice have discovered of marketing. In each state a county is to be selected to demonstrate the practical effects of the plan. By this means will be solved the biggest problem ever undertaken by the Department of Agriculture, and the one most fraught with good for the American people.These resolutions are typical of the feelings of farmers towards the Department which have changed during the thirty odd years of my observation from an attitude varying from skepticism to contempt to one of unreasoning belief in the possibilities of governmental assistance. I know from experience both attitudes and the way in which they hamper the kind of administrative work to which Secretary Houston has set his hand.
And there is another factor in the agricultural situation which is perhaps more serious because it is mixed up with general politics and must be decided by interests not concerned in the welfare of the farmer. I refer to rural credit. In the last presidential election, the three parties were committed to this reform. Some bills dealing with the subject have been introduced and others are in the course of preparation.
The demand for such legislation is based upon the known fact that on the Continent of Europe farmers are in as favorable a position in regard to a credit as are those engaged in urban occupations. But what is forgotten is that the credit is there based upon a perfection of rural business organization which is not to be found in the United States where agrocultural cooperation is still in its infancy.
The situation then, as I see things, is something like this. The Department is for the first time in really competent hands and capable of effecting an immense improvement in agricultural conditions throughout the Union. But before its policy can be carried out in a large way, a great deal of survey and research work will have to be done. Meanwhile, a movement is on foot to force the Government to provide the farmer with cheap cash and to market his produce for him, or at least to show him how to do it. Admitting, as we safely may, that in regard to both credit facilities and the marketing of his products the American farmer is at an immense disadvantage, all experience shows that the remedy must be found mainly by himself, the Government, broadly speaking, stepping in to supplement organized selfhelp in so far as it is necessary to do so.
I feel more strongly than I can say that what the Department wants to insure the success of its work is an informed, and not a misguided, public opinion. Where thought is most crude in these matters is upon the respective spheres of voluntary effort and of governmental activity in the conduct of a peoples business. The Presidents annual message offers an unique opportunity of educating public opinion on these questions, and that is why I write.
I know that in the present state of thought upon the complicated subject of rural credit and upon the economics of agriculture, the President is not likely to commit himself very definitely to detail in regard to the legislative and administrative possibilities measures which he would favor in the circumstances. But it would be immensely helpful if he would make it clear that in order to obtain his support, any federal legislation foragainst rural credit must aim at enabling the farmer to obtain working capital at the lowest rate of interest consistent with the security available, and upon terms of repayment suited to the conditions of his industry. But if he could preface anything which he has to say upon rural credit and upon the new economic research work of the Department of Agriculture, with a reminder that all the progress which has been obtained in these matters on the continent of Europe has been associated with, if not preceded by, a cooperative organization of farmers, he would do much to engender a proper attitude on the part of the farming community towards the Department. He has such a master mind on economic and political questions that he would at once grasp the meaning of my suggestion if you had an opportunity of putting it to him in the way which would cause the least expenditure of his time.
I have only to add that if you take no action whatever on my letter, you need not for a moment feel that I shall regret the little trouble it has given me to write it. You will quite understand why I have given you the trouble of reading it.

Believe me
Yours sincerely,
Horace Plunkett

,P W

Original Format



House, Edward Mandell, 1858-1938




Plunkett, Horace Curzon, Sir, 1854-1932, “Horace Plunkett to Colonel House,” 1913 October 28, WWP18134, First Year Wilson Papers, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.