Speech at Newark, NJ


Speech at Newark, NJ


Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924




1913 May 1


Woodrow Wilson speaks to the town of Newark, New Jersey about the upcoming election of a new Governor.


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


Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924--Correspondence


THE PRESIDENT at Newark, New Jersey.
Mr. Chairman and fellow-citizens:

It is with very deep and genuine pleasure that I find myself in Jersey again. I know of no greater satisfaction than speaking for the people of this great state. For I have not come to speak to you. I know what you believe in; I know what you want; I have come to speak for you, and to tell these men with whom we are dealing what it is their business to do. For we are their masters; they are not ours.
It made all my pulses go quick again to think that I was going to come back and speak for these people in this great County of Essex, that wants to govern itself and does not. The most amazing thing to me about Essex, in all my life in New Jersey has been the number of aggressive, intelligent, independent men there are in this great county and the failure of those men to grapple the realities of the situation and master their own county and city government. You are not governed by yourselves in Essex; but there come times when the great voice of the people of this county speaks out in such volume that even those who orgdinarily dare to venture upon mastery cower under the voice of the real master. That is what has to be done now.
I have exercised a great self-denial about New Jersey. When I had to make up my mind where I was going to spend next summer, after I got back from the Panama Canal, my great temptation was to come back and pitch my tent near where I used to pitch it on the shore. I was withheld by this consideration, my fellow-citizens: There is going to be a contest for the nomination for the Governorship of this state next summer and I did not want anybody to suppose that I was coming back to try and boss the job. I have no candidate for the Democratic nomination for the Governorship of this state; but I am opposed to whoever is desired for Governor by certain gentlemen whom I shall have the pleasure of naming tonight. I do not want to see any more Governors of New Jersey privately owned. I do not want to see any more Governors of New Jersey manipulated by hands that are not discovered to the people themselves. I am going to New Hampshire next summer. New Hampshire is in telegraphic communication with Jew Jersey, and anybody who wants to know what I think can find it out by asking the question; but I am getting just as far away from New Jersey as it is convenient to get, so that nobody may think that I had camped here as if I were trying to manage the choice of a people that I have labored as I never labored for anything else to set free to make their own choices.
That was the whole object of the electoral reform for which we fought so hard, and, thank God, fought so successfully, while I was Governor of New Jersey, ––to set the people free to make their own selections, not personally conducted; selections not suggested by people who undertook to make the government of the state their own private business, but exercised in the open, under discussion, under scrutiny, under canvass of all the worthy names that were to be considered in so great a connection.
I want to say a few words about the Democratic party. I want everybody to realize that I, at any rate, have not been “taken in” by the results of the last national election. The country did not go Democratic in November. (It was impossible for it to go Republican, because it could not tell which kind of Republican to go.) The only united and hopeful instrument through which it could accomplish its purposes was the Democratic party; and what it did was to say this: “There are certain things that we want to see done, not certain persons who we wish to see elevated. There are certain things that we want to have demonstrated; as, for example, that the government of the United States can no longer be controlled by special interests. Now, we are going to have a trial at using the Democratic party as our instrument to discover these things. If the trial is not successful, we will never make it again. We want an instrument in our hands by which to make ourselves masters of our own affairs, and it looks likely in the existing circumstances that this is the suitable and ready instrument. Therefore, we will try it, not adopt it, ––try it.” You know what happened to the Democratic party in this state. It got so confident of power about sixteen years ago ––nearly twenty years ago now ––that it supposed that the people of New Jersey had gone to sleep and had entrusted it with their fortunes, and were asking no questions any more. Therefore, that power was grossly and abominably abused, and the people turned away from that party for twenty years almost, because it had betrayed its trust. Then they turned to it again in 1910 to make trial whether this long dwelling in the wilderness had purged this party or not; to see whether the evil spirits had been baked out of it under the sun of the desert; to see whether this was a rejuvenated, a renewed, a chastened party. And the first thing they wanted to know what whether the old gang still ran it or not. Well, I will not go into the history of the two years that followed. Suffice it to say that the old gang did not run it; that they kept under cover even in the lobbies at Trenton, knowing that there were fingers that would point them out to the whole country if they wished to come there and display themselves.
These gentlemen do like the open. They do not like to have attention concentrated upon them. They tremble in the spotlight. Then I was told that just so soon as I went to Washington the old gang would come back; and I did not believe it––until I saw it. Once more that bulky form of the gentleman who used to personally lead the Legislature of New Jersey into disgrace reappeared upon the very floor of the Legislature, and again it was known that his intrigues were successful in blocking the things that he did not wish done. Am I mistaken? Have you not seen them? The same influences that have for two years been scotched had not been killed. That great System, with a big snake-like S-s-s-s, that great s-s-sneaking, whis-s-spering s-s-system had established itself again in Trenton, And why had it established itself? Because something was afoot that it could not afford to allow to be done.
As I came in Mr. Matthews was referring to the circumstance that at the hearing against the jury bill the room was lined with sheriffs of the various counties or their representatives. Nothing has distressed me more than that. New Jersey is at present full of honest sheriffs; but they are not all honest; and we are not gunning for the honest ones. But the ways of the dishonest are just as astute as they are devious. They can let their grand juries indict at the strategic and dramatic moment, and they can also withhold their grand juries from indicting when everything is quiet and there is no storm on the horizon. You know perfectly well that the mastery in politics of some gentlemen who assume to dominate New Jersey would be impossible if the things that they did were subject to the ordinary scrutiny of dispassionately-chosen grand juries. We passed a very stringent electoral reform, intended to put the government of the state in your hands, but if the grand jury’s hand is withheld at chosen moments, what good is it that you go to the polls and vote? Who counts the votes? Who controls the management of the Polls? How will the crimes committed against the ballot be brought before your judges? I managed to give you two judges that were not afraid of the system. At last, in the fullness of time, I managed to give you a Prosecutor who was not afraid of the system. And the Prosecutor saw without spectacles things which I myself from a distance had pointed out to the authorities of this city as much as a year before. It did not require spectacles to see them! Everybody knew that they were there; but the hand of the law was withheld.Do you want a system under which it is possible to withhold the hand of the law? Do you want a system under which it is possible to choose when the hand of the law shall be withheld and when it shall not? Ah, gentlemen, I tell you the processes of corruption in the justice of this country do not lie so often where it is supposed that they lie,––with the men who preside over the trial of cases, ––as they lie with the system which determines who shall feel the punch of the law and who shall not; and the poor man, the uninfluential man, the man who does not stand in with the gang, will feel the punch of the law and the other man will not. It is a disgrace to the judicial system of the state and of the Union, and I come here to protest against it as a representative American citizen, that these things should be allowed to exist. Look at the apparent reasonableness of the whole thing, ––how honest men allow themselves to be played upon. “Ah”, they say, “The Democratic platform of the state promised jury reform, but it did not say what kind of jury reform; and we can so divide the forces up into kinds that no kind can have a majority.”I foresaw that before I left the Governorship, and I requested that I might be present at a conference of the members of the present Legislature. They came to that conference. We debated and fought out on that floor in the most candid possible manner the form of jury change which the majority of us could agree upon, and I for my part yielded my personal judgment with regard to the form. I believed then, as I believe now, that the safest thing is to make this a judicial process from top to bottom and that it is perfectly safe, and that it would be wise, to have jury commissions chosen by the justices of the Supreme Court of New Jersey. There were other quite as thoughtful as myself, ––certainly quite as honest as myself, ––who thought that it would be better to lodge the power of choosing the commissions in the hands of the circuit judges of the courts, and then there were others, and they turned out to be in the majority at that conference, –– or they seemed at the end of it to be in the majority, ––who thought that the Governor ought to be given the right to name a jury commission in each of the counties. I, myself, though I had been Governor of the state, did not think that that was the wisest form, but when the majority of my colleagues in that conference declared their preference for it, I yielded my preference, and other gentlemen present seemed to yield their preference. And it was settled, so far as the expression of the opinion of that conference was concerned, what the Democratic platform meant. It meant jury commissions in this several counties appointed by the Governor.
Ah, but there is a little string attached to a conference! If the Governor is not present, it is a caucus and the members are bound; if the Governor is present, it is not a caucus, but a conference, and the members are not bound. A very neat and significant distinction! In a public convference, where they are bound to show their hands, they do not bind their consciences. In private, where it is possible to make arrangements, they do bind themselves, ––not to the public, but to each other. So it seemed after this conference was over, and every man had had a chance to express his full convictions and his reasons for them, that everything was just as fluid as it was before; and some perfectly honest men allowed themselves to be made the instruments for defeating this measure, because they were persuaded that it was not in the form which they had favored. So it is that a very subtle Machiaveliam hand has been thrust into this affair, and men have been persuaded that they were following their own convictions when they were making it impossible for the party to fulfill its pledges to the people.Ladies and gentlemen, does anybody doubt that the people of New Jersey want this critical business put into other hands? I find in the state nowhere any doubt upon that subject, and if there were an election between now and next Tuesday, there would be no doubt what would be done next Tuesday, and there would be no doubt that some of the gentlemen who are going to try to do something next Tuesday would not be there to try. I have a little list. I could point out to you some gentlemen; but it is not worth pointing out to you many of the gentlemen in the Essex delegation, because they are all lumped in one. They are not distinguishable from one another. They are in the condition of fluid candy that has been too close neighbors. They are one lump, plumped into the box by the impulse of one will, and that not their own. Therefore, I would not take the pains to discriminate among that select Eleven. It is not worth a thoughtful man’s while. But there are gentlemen elsewhere, who can be picked out by name, in other counties, and if I should visit their county, I would be pleased to pick them out.
It does not do to be groping in this business. You want to know whom you are talking about, as well as what you are talking about. These gentlemen ought to be described according to their orbits. They do not belong in any solar system; they are erratic comets, and the attraction of gravitation which governs their course is to my mind incalculable. But it is worth while to point them out so that you may keep your eyes upon the evening sky and see to it that your community, at any rate, is not devastated by their fall. For their fall is easy to predict by one who is not an astronomer.
There are two things that the people of New Jersey determined to have and have not got. They determined to have jury reform and they determined to have a look at their own constitution. But the gentlemen who made the present constitution of New Jersey looked a long way ahead. They said, “We may need this constitution some day, and we will make it of such a fashion that nobody can monkey with it, not even the people themselves.” They limited the number of times you could suggest an amendment to the constitution within a given period of years. They said, “This thing is too exciting; do not try it too often. This is your own constitution, but your own constitution will not stand the pace. You had better live on your bylaws for a time; and five years at a time is not a bit too long to live on your bylaws and keep quiet. And after you begin to touch this delicate constitution, you have got to touch it twice, not once. You have got to pass it through two Legislatures, in order that it may still have the chance of surviving the examination which its own makers, theoretically, have subjected it to.”Now, a constitution which is made in one age is not suitable to the circumstances of another age. The circumstances of the year 1913 are as unlike the circumstances of the year 1844 as the twentieth century is unlike the seventeenth century. Our whole economic and social and political system has been altered within the period which this constitution has served the people of New Jersey, and in my opinion it is just about time, not that the people of New Jersey asked themselves if they did not wish to do revolutionary things, but that the people of New Jersey asked themselves if it was not right to bring their fundamental regulations up to the circumstances of their own day. There is only one barrier, I am told, to that, and that is that Essex, for example, has so many more people in it than Cape May, for example, that it wants more representatives in the Senate of this state than Cape May, in as large a proportion as its population outnumbers the population of Cape May; and certain astute gentlemen, who are afraid that certain other sacred parts of that constitution will be changed, are playing upon that in order to prevent any constitutional change whatever. I say let’s call their bluff, and propose to the legislators at Trenton that we allow the counties of this state equal representation in the constitutional convention. Because I would rather sacrifice one point than sacrifice the chances of the people of New Jersey to modernize their constitution.
The gentlemen who work politics in this state live in the very populous counties, and they are working this very natural, and I must say, it may be, very just, feeling for the purpose of preventing the things that they do care about by making more important the things that they do not really care about. They would like, it is true, to have in proportion as many Senators to manipulate as there are Assemblymen. If you leave the political machinery of the County in their hands, they will have just that many more pawns to play on the board. And they are interested in this question, if they are interested honestly at all, merely from the point of view of their numerical advantage in making the arrangements and interchanges of favors which they choose to make in the Legislature of the state. Well, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to hold meetings? Are you going to listen to men and agree with men who are telling you what is the matter? Is that enough? This meeting is not going to change the result next Tuesday in the least, unless you see to it that your neighbors are just as much in earnest about this thing as you are; unless, perchance, the things that I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to say tonight may kindle a little fire underneath these gentlemen. You have got to kindle fire under them. There used to be a time when there were only two things that would move them, ––fodder held just before them and a fire built underneath them. Fodder has gone out of fashion.Nobody suspects,––at any rate, I do not suspect –– direct corruption of any kind in this matter. It is the astute misleading of the will that is being done in Trenton. Men are being lined up upon their private convictions, when every man who loves his public duty ought to pull his private convictions with other men’s and get the main thing out of the result, like a sensible and honorable man. But all these intricate suggestions of differences of individual opinion are made to hold up the whole process and chill the whole atmosphere, and make men look at each other as those who are in love with their individual prescriptions against the earthquake. And there is going to be an earthquake unless something happens to settle the earth before that time. I am not speaking in jest. I am speaking in earnest. The people of this country and of this state are going to have what they know they ought to get by one process or another. I pray God that it may not be the wrong process! I have the greatest confidence in the self-control, the public spirit, the legal conscience, of the people of America, and I do not myself believe that dangerous things will happen, but I warn these gentlemen not too long to show the people of this country that justice cannot be got by the ordinary processes of the law. I warn them to stand out of the sovereign’s way.
I have traveled from one end of this country to the other, ladies and gentlemen, and I have looked into the faces of many audiences. I have never seen any symptom of riot. I have never seen any symptom that men were going to kick over the traces of the laws they themselves had sanctioned and made, but I have seen a great majesty seated upon their countenances, an infinite patience, but also an indomitable will. They are sitting now and watching their public men; and this is the test; this is the trial; this is the ultimate seat of judgment; and if these men will not serve them, they will be swept like the chaff before the wind and other men more honest, more brave, more wholesome, with the freshness of a new day upon then and with eyes that see the countrysides and the spaces where men are cool and thoughtful and determined, shall come to the front and lead them to a day of victory; when America will be crowned with a new wreath of self-revelation and of self-discovery; and these pitiful creatures who have their ugly bulk in the way will have disappeared like the dust under the wheels of the chariots of God.
It is this hope, it is this confidence, that keeps a President of the United States alive; it is this confidence that makes it good to come back to Jersey and fight for the old cause.


Original Format






Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924, “Speech at Newark, NJ,” 1913 May 1, WWP17722, First Year Wilson Papers, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.