John R. Thornton to Woodrow Wilson


John R. Thornton to Woodrow Wilson


Thornton, John Randolph, 1846-1917




1914 February 21


John R. Thornton writes to Woodrow Wilson about his support for the Canal Act.


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


Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924--Correspondence


Mr. President

I notice in this morning’s “Post” a statement to the effect that I am expected to oppose the contemplated repeal of the toll exemption in the Canal Act.
No one had any authority to state that such would be my position. It is true that in the Committee on Interoceanic Canals, and also in the Senate, I both spoke and voted for the exemption, believing that this could be done without violation of the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty.
I hold to this opinion now as strongly as ever, but the right of our Government to exempt coastwise ships from payment of tolls and the exercise of that right are two totally different propositions.
I voted for the exemption primarily because the associated commercial bodies of the City of New Orleans thought it would be of great benefit to that Port; and believing that it did not violate the treaty, and believing further that it would might help the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific seaports without hurting any other part of the country, and believing further that it would might help in the upbuilding of our Merchant Marine, I advocated the measure.
I had no other reasons for doing so than those above indicated, for the railroad hullabaloo that seemed to influence the opinion of so many Senators, had no influence whatever with me for I did not concede the soundness of the argument.
Now I could not, nor would you expect me, to reverse my former attitude as to the right of the United States to exempt its coastwise ships from the payment of tolls, an attitude taken by me after the most careful study of the question, merely because your own study of it makes you take the opposite view; but recognizing your far greater opportunities to judge of whether our insistence on the exemption would injure our power and prestige with the other great nations of the world, with whom it is important that we should retain friendly relations in so far as we can honorably do so, if in your judgment it would be for the advantage of the United States as a Nation to repeal the exemption clause in the Act, I would feel justified in being guided by your judgment.
If such be your opinion, I would be obliged if you would so state in a communication to me, if you are willing to do so, just giving your conclusion, and not necessarily your reasons for it in detail.I would prefer for my own satisfaction to have something more definite from you than the views ascribed to you by newspaper reporters.
I request this because a change of position on my part will be severely criticised in some quarters in Louisiana, but I can stand criticism of my actions so long as those actions have the approval of my own conscience.
I have not been able to call in person, having been incapacitated for official or social duties for a month past by an attack of Grippe which has practically confined me to my hotel during that time.

Very truly and respectfully,
JR Thornton

Original Format



Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924



Thornton, John Randolph, 1846-1917, “John R. Thornton to Woodrow Wilson,” 1914 February 21, WWP18367, First Year Wilson Papers, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.