American Attitudes Toward Absentee Landlords

Edward T. Taylor

[ Testimony presented before the U.S. House of Representatives.
Reprinted from the Congressional Record. 45: 1349-54. 1 February, 1910

With all due respect to everyone, I can -not appreciate the brotherly spirit exhibited in some of these measures presented by Members coming from the States that have been settled and built up by the leniency of this Government; States that had not one-tenth the hardships that the present frontier States have to endure, and that have been made rich by settlement and development during the past hundred years, and which now seek to hamper and place unwarranted burdens upon the new and needy States of the West. Moreover, it is also passing strange that none of these proposed measures for encroachments upon our rights, as I view them, come from people who are familiar with our conditions. To me these paternalistic and centralizing tendencies appear little short of national bureaucracy run mad. It would be no more unfair, unconstitutional, or illegal for the National Government to commence taxing and proceed to derive an enormous revenue from the use of navigable rivers and harbors, upon the theory that it retains a certain interest therein. Why does not some of the muckrakers work up a scare about an impending monopoly of the power sites of the streams of the East? Why does not some one discover the secret formation of a gigantic trust composed of all the navigable waters and frantically appeal to the Government to take them all over and charge the users of them $1,000,000,000 a year royalty for their conservation and preservation for the national good and for the welfare of future generations, and incidentally for a large number of new offices? I am heartily in favor of conservation, and I would especially like to see some conservation of law and of the constitutional rights of the people of the West. I want to see the conservation of a little old-fashioned honesty and fair dealing.

It has been one of the important rights and privileges of the settlers of every State in this Union for a hundred years to use free of charge the public domain for the grazing of their stock, and why should not our cattle be al- lowed to eat government grass which would otherwise go to waste? It did not cost Uncle Sam a dollar, and why should the Government, now for the first time in a century, inflict a tax upon the people of the West for the grazing of that grass? And why should it be a criminal offense for a settler's cow to stray onto a forest reserve? I do not believe this great Government needs the 60 cents; nor do I believe it is justified in collecting that sum from the struggling settler for what grass each head of his stock can find on the arid public domain during each short summer.

But, in brief, we insist that the policy of this Government, ever since the adoption of our Federal Constitution, has been that each State was entitled to and has always enjoyed the benefits of the natural wealth and resources and climatic conditions within its borders. We simply ask at your hands and of this administration the application of that same principle to the States of the West that has always prevailed in and been accorded to the older Commonwealths. Moreover, the legitimate and practical regulation and control and safeguarding of the resources of each State should be within the province of the state government, and whatever revenues are derived therefrom should pass into the state and county treasuries.

American citizens do not take kindly to absentee landlordism. We do not relish tyrannical interference with our local affairs. We do not like bureaucratic rule. We prefer to be governed by law and by our own people. We want the laws intelligently framed in the light of. the welfare of the government, as well as of the governing body. We do not consider an officer's proclamation of his own virtue a sufficient reason for setting aside the Constitution of the United States, or even the acts of Congress. We do not want to have to go to the Land Office and the office of the forest supervisor every morning to learn what the law is.

The inhabitants of the Alps of Switzerland, the Highlands of Scotland, and the mountainous regions of the earth have always been the most intensely patriotic and liberty-loving people, and the citizens of the West now are, and the succeeding generations will be, a perpetual exemplification of this rule. We are 2,000 miles away, but we are your younger brothers still. Do not impose upon us because you have the power to do so. Let us develop our own resources, and we will soon become a storehouse of wealth to this Nation.