Our Duty to our Possessions

Date Published: 
September, 1931
Original Author: 
Governor E. Mont Reily
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 45th Annual Convention

How many people here know how we came in possession of our insular possessions! I find few who know. You are not to blame, because I have talked to many men and women—bright men and women—and they do not know how we got our insular possessions.

We took Puerto Rico as indemnity for war. It did not cost us a cent, except the blood and sorrow of some good Americans. We paid $20,000,000 for the Philippine Islands, and worse than that, we purchased a lot of trouble. Trouble was right around the corner. We did not have them any time until Aguinaldo started an insurrection. We threw him in jail in time and now he is on the warpath again.

My friend Senator Hawes said he was ready to join hands with anyone who would fight for Insular Independence. My father was a Union defender; Senator Bailey's was a Confederate. My father had six brothers on the Confederate side and I say, men and women, when men raise their hands against Old Glory, they raise them against you and me. We can have but one flag in this country and I told them so in Puerto Rico, in my inaugural address. I told them Old Glory had come to stay, and would never be hauled down in Porto Rico, or any other possession, until
"Uncle Sam" said so.

That is the manner in which we got Puerto Rico and we paid $20,000,000 for the Philippine Islands and we have to fight with them all of the time. It is like adopting a wayward boy. We took over these islands and we should not have paid a cent for them, but as in a horse trade, I think America ought to have had the best of it. We have spent millions keeping our possessions from starving and they do not appreciate it. They say to us, "Go away."

What I say about Puerto Rico applies also specifically to the Philippine Islands. General Wood, great General Wood, was kind enough to say that he and I knew more about our insular possessions than anyone else, and I'll tell you why.

Up until the latter part of President Wilson's administration, the President of the United States made all of the insular appointments and they were confirmed in Washington by the Senate of the United States. You can see how easy it was to secure the officials desired. But toward the end of President Wilson's administration, the old Foraker Act, the Constitution of our possessions, was changed into what was known as the Jones Act and the governors in these various islands now make the appointments, and they have to submit them to Independence Senates.

If I wanted to appoint Senator Bailey as Attorney General of Puerto Rico, I would have to submit his name to a senate composed of nineteen members of whom fifteen of the nineteen were advocates of independence and the other four were Republicans and Socialists. By the way, the Puerto Rican Socialists are thorough Americans. Consequently, General Wood and I ran up against something previous governors had not had to combat. Under the Foraker constitution, if I had wanted to appoint Senator Bailey, I would have sent his name to President Harding and then it would have been approved by the United States Senate. But not so under the new law which followed and we had to fight clear through, in season and out.

When I got down there, I found deplorable conditions. My Democratic predecessor had made his appointments previously through President Wilson and there was no trouble. When I submitted a list of appointments to be approved by the Independence Senate, I had selected men regardless of politics, race, religion, or anything else. I am an old fashioned Presbyterian, but I appointed five Catholics in my cabinet of eight and I can say that I never had around me anywhere a more faithful band than they were.

In my cabinet, I also appointed an old Virginian, formerly appointed by President Wilson, who was a doctor with the rank of colonel in the regular army, as Health Commissioner of the islands. He had served under Wilson, also, in the Philippines. I also appointed a citizen of Puerto Rico as Secretary of the Interior, whom President Taft had formerly appointed to clean up the islands, along the, lines that came under his department. He had formerly come there from North Carolina.

I immediately ran into a nest of rattlesnakes. The Independence Senate refused to confirm my cabinet selections. When I landed in Puerto Rico and drove up the main street of the city in the car, accompanied by the reception committee, I looked to the right and to the left, and I never saw a single sign of Old Glory, but in my face everywhere was the one star flag of independence, a flag of a few stripes and one star and I missed the forty-seven other stars and did not find them for some weeks.

In a speech later, I said. "You fellows go down here to the laundry and wash out this flag—have it properly 'laundered'—and then write in forty-eight stars and all be for Old Glory and for the United States. Until you do, I shall never appoint one of you to office, no matter what your other views may be."

I have known all of our Presidents since President Arthur, but the greatest man I have ever met was Warren G. Harding. The shadows have begun to lengthen on my pathway, but it has been a great thing in my life to have known such a man as he in this selfish, mercenary world. He was a most loyal and faithful friend, was President Harding.

When he appointed me, he said, "Governor Reily, go to that island and take charge, bring it back into the Union and I will back you. You won't have to even write me." I did it and he backed me one hundred percent all of the time.

So, when I got into the fight down there it was his strong, faithful arm and the strong arm of Secretary Weeks under whose department Puerto Rico was handled that sustained me. I had a real fight and on occasions they had a little band of crooks who held meetings to cast lots to find out who should kill me. When two of this kind meets, one always betrays the other. So, at a particular meeting, a doctor betrayed the band and came and told me that Mr. So-and-So had gotten the "lot" to shoot me. So I called on that cowardly gentleman and to my amusement, he offered to kiss my hand rather than shoot me.

On the day I was to deliver my inaugural address, they told me that if I drove down to the Plaza they would kill me. Later, I drove down. I am still here. They offered my chauffeur $10,000 to run my car down a mountain—$5000 in advance and $5000 after the deed was done—he to jump out at the top leaving me in the car.

The same condition that obtained in Puerto Rico then, now obtains in the Philippine Islands, and will continue so until America puts down both feet on this damnable treason of talk of independence, like England did over in India a few years ago, when they hauled up six rebels and shot them at sunrise and they were correct in doing that. You cannot have an anarchistic and sane government together and now India, knowing that old John Bull will not stand for foolishness, has Gandhi on his knees in London begging for mercy. You cannot have half a government and I told the Puerto Ricans so with much firmness.

When I got to Puerto Rico I found conditions that the average American would not believe existed. I immediately removed the men who were in office who had been running along in an independent way and doing as they pleased. I removed all these men and sent in my list of appointments to the Senate for confirmation and they refused to confirm any man unless he belonged to their party. When they turned my appointments down, I wrote a note to them that I would have no further communication with the Senate of Puerto Rico. "My communications," I told them, "will be with the White House." I immediately appointed my eight cabinet members. Two or three of them were former continental Democrats and some were Puerto Ricans, but all were, nevertheless, red-blooded Americans.

One of the first things I did was to check office holders over with my secretaries, and I saved $600,000 annually in salaries alone. I appointed a wonderful man, Dr. W. F. Lippitt, the old Virginia doctor, whom President Wilson had sent to the Philippines Islands to clean up the Bubonic Plague. When I got to Puerto Rico, there were ninety-three cases and I told him to clean it up. Within sixty days I was able to issue a proclamation that there was not a case of Bubonic Plague on the island.

The doctor came to my office in a few days after that and said, "Governor Reily, have you been over in the asylum?"

I told him that I had not, but that I had heard about the terrible conditions there. I went over to that institution with him and also to the leper colony, in which I know you will be interested. There were five thousand people in the asylum in a most deplorable mental condition, not being treated as human beings.

As I approached that institution, what did I see, the first thing, over that door? There was that Independence flag, with the one star, over the front door. I just blew up. I would never walk or drive under one of them. I had my assistant jerk down that flag before I entered through the door.

As I went into the hall, a place about twenty feet square, there was exposed a wagon load of bread and other victuals for them to eat. Over that food were running rats and mice and roaches. I said, "My Lord is it possible a thing like this can happen under our flag?" I told the doctors to have every piece of that "stuff" dumped into the sea.
We went into the kitchen and not a man or woman here would have eaten food prepared there. I heard something about a hall where there were some women, so I went there. There were one hundred and forty-eight poor souls there, without a cot on which to sleep, or a blanket or a sheet with which to cover their bodies, or a pillow on which to rest their sick and weary heads. I nearly fainted at the sight of it. I said, "Doctor, I have gone far enough."

I went back to the Palace, sick at heart. There was some doctor in charge of the place, who advanced independence—I have forgotten his name and I am glad I have—but I said to him, in a letter, "I want you to begin putting that institution in a proper condition or I want your resignation within twenty-four hours."

Do you know what his reply was? He wrote back and said, "I'm running this institution and will run it my way."

I thought it was my time to act. I removed him that afternoon by means of a special delivery letter. He went into the independence courts and secured an injunction from the judge against my removal of him, but I fired the judge. Am I right? It might have been your mother or sister, or my mother or sister, confined there in degradation.

I said to Dr. Lippitt, "Money counts for nothing here, until we get these institutions straightened out. Cut the salaries of those men out there if it is necessary. I am willing to cut mine.”

I wish you could have seen that asylum a month later. There is not an institution in America that is cleaner and better conducted. Everyone had a blanket and a cot or bed. There were lavatories for all the women. Before that they would clean out these places in the morning with wheelbarrows and later in the morning they would bring back in those same wheelbarrows the food for those ill people to eat.

I am telling you about our duties to our possessions—that is a great part of our duties. We are our brothers' keepers. "Uncle Sam" has always been our brothers' keeper. We are the earth's big and elder brother. We loaned Cuba $20,000,000 last year to keep them going and alive and now we are helping to feed the whole world—thanks to good President Hoover.

The next thing I did was to investigate the leper colony. It was on a lonely little island, not much wider than this room, about a quarter of a mile long. It is a dangerous trip to get there. No other Governor has visited this leper colony. I thought it was my duty. You have to go to the island in a little boat and the sea is very rough. I went out there and took the Health Commissioner. We went through that leper colony into every room. You cannot imagine what I found out there. These poor, suffering, sick and starving people, with their hands eaten off, their arms eaten off with that terrible disease of leprosy, the kind our Savior talked so much about, were there on that island. I realized at the time I looked over that colony: "No wonder He talked about it.' I found they were half starved and the place was filthy.

I made a speech to them, and I said, "The first thing I am going to do is to clean this place up, and then give you a picture show and establish a reading room and feed you right, and I am going back to the capital at San Juan and get some good man to come over here and take charge of you folks. Then," I said, "That is just half of my story. I am going to get some big red-blooded Puerto Rican to donate twenty acres of ground on which to build you a new hospital."

I had much applause from them, but they thought I was just talking. I went to the capital. We checked over the men. You have heard about the priests who went to the Hawaiian Islands to take charge of the leper colony. My hat is off to them and God bless them. I got hold of a professor and I said to him, "Do you want to pave your way to Heaven?"

He said, "We all do."

He was the head of one of our best schools in Puerto Rico. He was a graduate of a New York University. He was an octoroon, but among the best Puerto Ricans are octoroons. I said to him, "I want you to go out and take charge of the leper colony."

He said, "This is the greatest opportunity that has ever come to me."

He is a Christian. He did not ask the salary that was to be paid him, but I told him it would be more than he was getting.  I told him it would be $250 per month and he was getting $200.

How many men or women in America would do that? He went out there and I wish you could have seen the place sixty days later. When I saw those little children, seven or eight years of age, with their feet and hands gone, walking on the stubs of their legs and arms, I should have jumped into the sea if I could not have corrected that condition that existed out there under the flag of my beloved country.

I went back to the island and got hold of the president of the railroad there, a great Spaniard. I said to him, "Mr. Gonzales, don't you want to pave your way to Heaven?"

He said, "I think I should like to."

I said to him, "I want twenty acres of your land. You have several thousands of acres, worth several hundred thousand dollars.  I want it for the suffering leper colony."

He said, "You may have it tonight."

We later secured twenty acres of land and erected a great modern hospital, of which you all would be proud and these people are there being cared for as they would be in any great hospital in the United States. I am prouder of that work than of anything I have ever tried to accomplish in my life.

My plan to improve conditions in Puerto Rico, from beginning to end, was one long, hard fight. I worked many nights until two o'clock in the morning. I came home and said to President Harding, "What did you have against me when you sent me to Puerto Rico? I was raised on a farm but I have never worked until I became Governor of Puerto Rico."

He started to laugh, and then he said, "I should not laugh for I knew you were getting into a hornets nest and would be double-crossed constantly."

He told me he would give me another appointment, but I went back and fought it out another year. By that time we had reduced the public debt, in three years, from twenty-nine million to twelve million. We had cut off over eight hundred employees in the various departments. The one star flag had gone to its long, last resting place and Old Glory floated over every schoolhouse, every police station, and every public institution in the island, but I found that down in a little town a police judge had one of those flags over his office.

He said: "I'm an advocate of independence and the government can't interfere with me."

I sent down there and had that flag taken down, and removed him from office.

There is so much to tell, and so much to talk about on our insular possessions that I am afraid I shall run over into someone else's time, but, men and women of America. We, who live with all the comforts and the protection of Old Glory, the greatest flag on land or sea, should defend and appreciate what we have and what we stand for.

We should act in Porto Rico and the Philippine Islands as they do in England. We have never had a strong government from Washington to Hoover. We have too much license; we are too democratic. It is outrageous that red-blooded men and women of America should permit the publishing of books attacking our great Presidents, books containing stories which have no foundation, beginning, from the Father of our Country down to President Hoover.

Grover Cleveland the greatest Democrat who ever sat in the White House was always jabbed by men trying to destroy him, but he stood four-square and was too big for the little fellows after him and he triumphed over all. President Wilson was slandered day in and day out—and then President Harding was crucified on the altar of liars. Then they started a story that fine President Coolidge's wife had deserted him. And now there is a book out abusing President Hoover, just recently published and it has not even touched the hem of his great character.

Ladies and gentlemen of America, let us stand by our Presidents, our officers and Old Glory!

You know, way back in 1861, when my father and Senator Bailey's father were young men, we had "The Great American Conflict." We produced one Pershing in the World War, but we produced twenty such men on either side of the great Civil War. Eleven of our beloved imperial states, as they interpreted the Constitution, withdrew from the Union and they began, in my mind, the greatest conflict of the ages. There was never so much intelligence displayed, so many men of character and education engaged in any other conflict.

What other war ever produced a Grant, Sherman and Sheridan on one side and a Lee, Jackson or Longstreet on the other side? Think about it, men! I am proud that I live in a country that produced a General Robert E. Lee that produced, in my opinion, the greatest soldier of modern times, General U. S. Grant.

That great catastrophe befell us, and we survived. I said to those people of Puerto Rico: "You talk about secession down there, with a little country of two million people. The United States could blow you off the island overnight."

Some years ago I went to the tip-top heights of Lookout Mountain, and there I looked off on the dark days of 1861 to 1865, days before I was on earth; but as a student of history, it passed before me like a panoramic dream. I saw Lee ride into the Battle of the Wilderness, that carnage of hell, at the head of his army. A brave Texas soldier said, "You are too brave to die," and pushed his horse back behind the line. I have envisioned the Battle at Appomattox. I saw Ellsworth fall, the first colonel of the Civil War.

I saw the terrible Battle of Chickamauga at my feet. I saw General Grant standing at Orchard Knob, with his cigar in hand order Sherman and Sheridan to attack Bragg's army on top of Missionary Ridge, where the General was sitting upon his horse. I saw Grant order Hooker up Lookout Mountain in the Battle above the clouds.

I looked beneath me, and saw at my feet the old Tennessee River. I saw it winding in and out as it was in the Civil War, making letter "S" after letter "S." What for? "S" for Shame, for national Shame—that brother should fight brother.

I turned and looked to my left again, and there I saw at my feet twenty-five thousand little green mounds, where sleep the brave heroes of the Blue and the Gray, who, in their last long sleep in that beautiful cemetery of ours, were resting, not in vain, but that this nation might live and might survive.

I look again and raised my hand over my eyes to see, and the old Tennessee River appeared before me again, but not in the letter "S" for Shame. It wound in and out—but no more for Shame. The strife was all over and it was all sealed. They were all American boys. But this old river still winds in and out in letter "S" after letter "S," "S" for Salvation, for national Salvation, and not "S" for Shame any more.

So we stand today as one reunited country. Our boys went to the front in 1898 to bring these people into our arms and guarantee to them peace, as a mother does a little child. So our sons went forth in the World War that the nations of the earth might live, but we owe our greatest gratitude and imperishable loyalty and love to those brave cavaliers, both north and south, from 1861 to 1865, who built here the mightiest nation of all time. May it continue in its upward and onward march of progress—under the protecting wing of the Almighty, as long as the "earth bears a plant and the sea rolls a wave."

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 45th Annual Convention
Kansas City, Missouri
September 21, 22, 23 and 24, 1931