Excerpts of press conferences of President Calvin Coolidge related to the floods of 1927 and the Flood Control Act of 1928

April 22, 1927

Full Press Conference

I am very much interested in doing what we can for the relief of possible flood sufferers along the Mississippi, the lower Mississippi. I have, as I think has already been given out, appointed a committee of the Cabinet, consisting of the Secretary of the Treasury, in whose department is the Public Health and the Coast Guard, that will assist in doing what they can to provide for the health of the stricken area. Of course, the Coast Guard has a great many boats that could be used in an emergency up and down the river. I have also asked the Secretary of War, in whose department there is a store of medical supplies, tents and blankets and cots, and the Secretary of the Navy, who is somewhat similarly equipped, to assist. The Army and the Navy are, of course, prepared to supply surgeons wherever they may be necessary. Of course, under the War Department is the Engineering force of the Army, some of whom have charge of the work on the Mississippi. That will be strengthened and reinforced, and such assistance as the Engineering force can give will be given. And Mr. Hoover, who is an expert in all kinds of relief work, will provide his services. He is also Chairman of the Executive Committee – I think that is the name of it – of the Red Cross. Now, I have appointed this Committee and directed them to meet this afternoon at 2:30, which I think they did with the Red Cross officials here in the city, and I am planning to carry on this work of relief through the Red Cross, making them the managers and supervisors of it, and they will call on the Government for such assistance as the Government can give. It looks as though the situation might get considerably more serious before it gets better, and for that reason I am hoping that we may have a generous response to the request that I made this morning for funds to go to the Red Cross for this relief work. The Government hasn’t any appropriation that can be used for that purpose. That is one of the reasons that we are putting this under the direction of the Red Cross. They have facilities for raising money. The Government can’t raise money in that way. We think the work can best be met in that way.

April 29, 1927

Full Press Conference

I do not see any method by which resort can be had to the Federal Treasury for funds for relief work in the Mississippi Valley. I think that ought to be made quite plain. There has been some suggestion that such might be done. Of course, if that impression becomes held in the country it won’t be possible for the Red Cross to do anything in raising money. They would get very little response from the public, if it was thought that the public treasury could be used. The Red Cross are making very great progress. It is quite evident that the $5,000,000 will not be sufficient for the immediate necessity of the relief needed, so that I am urging an increase in the amount to be raised. I do not expect, of course, to call any special session of the Congress. It would take quite a long time to get Congress assembled and quite a long time to get an appropriation bill through. First there would have to be a bill authorizing the appropriation and then a bill for the appropriation, and it doesn’t seem to be expedient. The Federal Government is making large expenditures of supplies, running into some millions of dollars, through the War Department, the Navy Department, in the use of the resources of the Treasury Department, the Coast Guard, the health authorities of the Treasury Department, and the surgeons of the War and Navy Departments. Of course, the Engineering Corps of the Army is provided with funds for working on the levees up and down the river. I might say in relation to funds, that when the bill failed on account of the congestion of business in the final sessions of the Congress, sometimes referred to as a filibuster, the bill which provided the Department of Agriculture with funds for the purchase of seeds and fertilizer and so on to be used in the Northwest and in the South failed with it, and the Department has been obliged to tell the people in those regions that it had no funds at its disposal for use for that kind of work.

May 3, 1927

Full Press Conference

I do not anticipate that it is going to be necessary to have a special session of the Congress. I am asking, as the press has reported this morning, for an increased response from the country to the appeal of the Red Cross. We raised, I think, over $11,000,000 for the relief of suffering in Japan at the time they had the earthquake. I am very certain that our people will make a corresponding response to the appeal for relief of our own people. We are organizing the different departments to give such assistance as they can. The Secretary of War is going down to that region. Mr. Hoover is going with him. I have requested the Secretary of War to have the Engineer Corps and the Mississippi River Commission make a special report to me on the problems that have arisen as a result of the present flood, which will be done before Congress convenes and will be accessible to Congress for their information, and I shall also have the benefit of it in deciding what recommendations may necessarily be made to the Congress. 

I am not expecting at the present time to make any personal inspection of the flood area. Of course, if I went down there now I wouldn’t be able to see much of anything of it. I could only go up and down the river in a boat. That wouldn’t enable me to make much of an inspection. Perhaps in some small boat I could get outside the main current, but it wouldn’t be possible to get any information that I think would increase the knowledge very much of what I have as the result of reports.

May 17, 1927

Full Press Conference

I have here a telegram from Mr. Hoover. It is quite long and I don’t need to read it all. Some of the pertinent parts of it are. Accumulating experience and the success of our appeal to the public makes reasonably safe to say now that the funds in hand and prospective will enable the Red Cross to do its work on efficient basis. The Governors of each of the states have appointed commissions under able chairmanship to represent the state in reconstruction measures. They have divided the work into two stages. One is the measures during the flood stage and the second is reconstruction. The reconstruction is subdivided into emergency action and the longer view of measures to be adopted under the responsibility of state commissions. Of course the flood measures are the rescue of families and life stock, equipment of relief camps, the provision for food, clothing and medical supplies, feed for livestock, transportation of sufferers and animals back home. Then the second period of reconstruction is the seed, temporary supply of food, feed for the livestock, farm implements, additional livestock and poultry, buildings and repairs, furniture, medical service and sanitation, financial credit. You undoubtedly saw the statement given out by the Farm Loan Board yesterday that they were in cooperation with a million dollar corporation that has been formed so that through the Farm Loan Associations $4,000,000 would be added, making $5,000,000 for relief. Then comes business reconstruction, public schools, roads and bridges, municipal property, public utilities and levees. The Red Cross gives its assistance to needs that arise directly from the flood. The central office is at Memphis, but they have staff representatives and agents at concentration points who work through local chapters and committees. The national organization is coordinating its work with the activities of state commissions and state agents. County Committees have been decided upon for the rehabilitation work. The chairmen of these county and parish committees will be appointed jointly by representatives of the Red Cross and the Chairman of the State Commission. The Red Cross will keep a representative with each State Commission to coordinate all the activities. The question of mass purchasing is being considered, but in general the local committees will make their own purchases. Emergency credit corporations, one of which I just mentioned, are being formed and State health authorities and Red Cross nursing and medical and sanitary assistance are being coordinated. This other telegram relates to the Agricultural Credit Corporation that I spoke about a moment ago. That is especially for the State of Arkansas. Transportation of people from concentration camps has already started. That is dated on the 13th. I have a number of questions about flood relief, which I think I have covered in what I have already said.

October 4, 1927

Full Press Conference 

I am having the usual experience with a good many members of the House and the Senate that are returning to Washington. They are all interested in some plan that calls for a very considerable expenditure of public money. Most of them are projects that have a great deal of merit, but a great many of them are projects that can’t be taken up at the present time. I am exceedingly interested in reducing as fast as we can, and at the same time maintaining a reasonable rate of taxation, the national debt. That would constitute, if it could be retired, the very largest internal improvement that it would be possible to conceive. The benefits that would accrue from it to the nation would exceed those of any other project. In fact, it would be so large that the Government could afford to pay each year the entire damages that accrued from the flood and at the same time save money. I am not suggesting that that should be done. I am just giving you an illustration, as I understand that the outside estimate of the damages that accrued from the Mississippi flood this year are not so much as the annual charge at the present time of interest necessary to pay what is required on the national debt. I have spoken of it many times in its military aspect. While I am in favor of very generous provisions for national defense, the weakest place in the line of national defense is at present the large debt of the country. So that I am trying to indicate that in my view the necessity of retiring that debt is the predominant necessity of the country, in an orderly way of course, and with a reasonable rate of taxation. But the burden that it entails and the menace that it constitutes are both large and grave. We made a wonderful beginning on it. Perhaps one of the greatest satisfactions of my administration lies in the very marked reduction of the national debt since I have been President.

November 8, 1927

Full Press Conference

I am having the Army lend every assistance that it can to the area of New England that was damaged by the recent floods and of course the Red Cross is already on the scene up there. Some of the places where the military were sent have been able to tell them that they could take care of the situation themselves, and our forces have been or shortly will be withdrawn to their bases. One of the things that the Army is doing just now is through the Engineers, to see what possible assistance they can lend in the way of helping to rebuild. There is considerable damage to railroads, a good deal of damage to highways, though the reports that have been coming in for the last 24 hours indicate that the damage is not so much as was at first feared. But it is very serious. There has been considerable damage to buildings and to the property along the streams, but especially to highways.

Query: Did you have any word from Plymouth?

President: I haven’t had any direct word from there. Some of you who have been up there will remember what we call the mountain which runs from the Union up to where I live, and I was told that a quarter mile stretch of the mountain had slipped down into the road and cut off travel temporarily between the Union and where I live.

Query: Down towards Ludlow, Mr. President?

President: Yes. You remember that steep hill toward Ludlow? On that steep hill a quarter of a mile of the mountain slipped into the road, so the report was. There is a piece in your very valuable paper this morning (the President was speaking to Carter Field) headed Albany, by the A.P., that gives some of the experiences of my aunt Sarah Pollard, who lives at Proctorsville.

February 21, 1928

Full Press Conference

I am attempting to lend what assistance I can to the problem of flood control through the Engineering Department and through conference with various members of the House and Senate that are particularly interested in it. I am afraid the present bill that has been drawn by Chairman Reed of the Flood Control Committee won’t work out in a practical and satisfactory way. It doesn’t seem to adopt any plan. It sets up two or three gauge levels and authorizes the expenditure of money to try and make those gauge levels effective. I am advised by the Engineering Dept. that that would probably cost about a billion and a half. I am going to get a report from the Engineers on the bill and take it up further with Mr. Reed and some other members of that Committee to see if his bill can not be reshaped. The bill apparently wouldn’t do any more about flood control than is contemplated in the plan proposed by the Engineers and would cost 4 or 5 times as much. Then it leaves the decision of a great many details to the President. It is quite obvious that it would be rather difficult for the President to make decisions of that kind. The only thing he could do would be to rely on the report of the Commission, and if the President is going to do that, which it would be necessary for him to do, it might as well be left to the Commission in the first instance. I am not very much in favor of creating a new commission for this purpose. The plan under which we have been proceeding, the present Mississippi River Commission, and the action of the War Department through its Engineers, has been working out satisfactorily as far as construction is concerned. The work that they have done there was proven in the last flood to be of a very solid and substantial nature. Then the bill does contemplate starting in on projects on all the streams between the Appalachians and the Rocky Mountains, which if put into effect would involve us in an expenditure greater than contemplated by any other piece of legislation since the Government was founded, with the possible exception of the Declaration of War against Germany. It would cost more than the Civil War cost.

February 24, 1928

Full Press Conference

I talked with Mayor Thompson concerning the problem of flood control. There was nothing special that I said to him other than what is contained in my annual message to the Congress. We talked more especially about the financing of the cost of flood control. I told him that if it was merely a matter of taking care of the lower reaches of the Mississippi River and its immediate tributaries there, that is that part of our water system that caused the flood last year, I wouldn’t make any very strenuous objection to the U.S. Govt. undertaking to bear all the financing, but I didn’t want to set the precedent that would be used all over the U.S., because I do not believe that it is the duty of the U.S. Govt. to go out and protect property against floods. It is rather the duty of the property that is to be benefited to pay the expenses. But that I thought the members of the Committees and those interested are coming closer and closer together on the question, that Senator Jones has a bill that is not far from what I have been advocating and that General Jadwin is working out a bill, and that I felt sure the subject could be worked out in a fairly satisfactory manner. I have suggested that there be a Committee or a Commission to investigate the financial and economic condition of the territory that is interested and make some estimates of the benefits to be conferred and the ability of the different localities to make payments, and report to the next session of the Congress, and on that report the Congress would have information on which it could legislate relative to the apportionment of the cost. There is a disposition in some quarters to have it first determined that the U.S. Govt. is to pay all the cost and then after that is done to sit down and determine what is going to be done. I do not think that is the way to go about it. I think we should first determine what is going to be done and on that we can base some foundation of who ought to pay the expense. If it is once decided that the U.S. Govt. is to bear the entire expense the demands for work to be done and the requirements for the payment of damages to property taken will probably be in excess of the cost of doing the work. I think that would be a very unfortunate outcome. So I think we ought to proceed in the other direction, which would be in harmony with the plan that I have suggested of passing legislation authorizing certain work to be done and then having a commission of experts, probably appointed by the President, and, if they wish, confirmed by the Senate, make an investigation to see what they would recommend relative to the payment of the cost. I think we have made quite a good deal of progress in one direction. It is generally understood now that this legislation is to be entirely confined to the relief of that part of the Mississippi Basin that was flooded last year and not to include a lot of extraneous projects.

February 28, 1928

Full Press Conference

Of course, the matter of $35,000,000 spread over 10 years is rather a negligible amount, so far as the U.S. Treasury is concerned, so that I said that if this Mississippi flood problem was the only thing that was to be considered that I wouldn’t make very much argument about the contribution down there. It isn’t the only thing that is to be considered, because there are now proposals for the U.S. Government to build levees and afford flood protection for practically all the rivers in the United States, which would be a very great cost, and for that reason I was quite anxious to maintain the principle of local contributions in the lower Mississippi. Some of the bills that have been drawn up have a section providing that the bearing of the entire cost by the U. S. Government is not to be considered as a precedent. I suggested to one man that was in that if it could be done in this case any one else that wanted flood control could also bring in a bill and put that clause in his bill that it was not to be considered as a precedent.


There is another angle to this – that if the U.S. Government is to pay all the costs the demands will be greatly enlarged. I should expect that under any commission that might be set up or any agency that might be used for the prosecution of this work, that it would be done in a business way. But it is very easy to get into something different and start out on the prosecution of a plan that as it progressed would reveal itself as one which was so ambitious that it might break down. There will be enlarged demands if the U. S. Government is to pay the cost. Some railroad men came in to see me yesterday that said that the cost to certain railroads down there, by putting these plans into operation, they estimated at about $70,000,000, and they wanted whoever was to bear the cost to reimburse them for such expenditures as they were required to make minus any benefits that might accrue to them. Of course, if their roads were put in a position where they will not suffer from floods, that would be a distinct benefit to them and might be set off against some of the cost. They have had flood charges for repairs and damages of an ascertainable amount running over a series of years, and if they were to be entirely relieved of those of course that would be a credit to be offset against the expense of putting them in a position where they wouldn’t suffer any more from floods. I merely mention that as an example of one of the things that will constantly come up as the plans progress. I think it would be the best plan, so far as I can judge, to proceed to do this work in accordance with the present law; that is, through the War Department, the Chief of the Bureau of Engineers, and the Mississippi Flood Commission. That is merely a matter of opinion. If some one can present a better method of carrying on the work, I should be glad to adopt that. But this method has worked out very well in the construction of levees and dikes. The work has been done in a businesslike way. I think I have suggested before that there is only one of the standard levees that gave way and all of the rest held during the last great flood. The plan of having a commission, of course, undertake to determine damages would not hold up the work at all. The work could go right on and the commission report to the next Congress, and on that report the next Congress would then legislate.

April 10, 1928

Full Press Conference

The flood control legislation is getting into a very unfortunate situation. I was afraid it would, when it became apparent that there was great reluctance on the part of Congress to have any local contribution. Of course, as soon as that policy is adopted, then it becomes a bestowal of favors on certain localities and naturally if one locality is to be favored, all the other localities in the United States think that they ought to come in under the same plan and have their floods taken care of. The bill, of course, is an entire reversal of the policy that has been pursued up to the present time, which was that of helping the locality. This undertakes to have the United States go in and assume the entire burden. It is so drawn that the rule of damages is a new one. It seems to confer property on people and then in another part of the bill proposes to pay them for the property that has been conferred in the way of damages. There is grave danger too that it would leave the United States to be responsible for flood damage that might be hereafter incurred, if any levees should break, or the plan is inadequate, or anything of that kind, which would be a very serious situation, and the cost has mounted from around $300,000,000 to about $1,500,000,000.

Question: That was the Jones bill?

President: That is the bill as it has come out of the Committee in the House, the Jones bill with the House amendments. It leaves the U.S. Government also to pay all the major costs of maintenance, which it has never done before. It almost seems to me as though the protection of the people and the property in the lower Mississippi that need protection has been somewhat lost sight of and it has become a scramble to take care of the railroads and the banks and the individuals that may have invested in levee bonds, and the great lumber concerns that own many thousands of acres in that locality, with wonderful prospects for the contractors. Taking the management and the control and the letting of contracts out of the hands of the Board of Engineers, where it has been, and putting it into the hands of a new body that are to hold office forever would be, if not unresponsible, certainly unresponsive to anybody or anything. It seems to me we might have a flood control bill within reasonable limits that would take care of the situation adequately without the expectation of it costing five times as much as it ought to cost.

April 24, 1928

Full Press Conference

Some of the amendments which the House has incorporated in the flood bill improve the bill. The main feature of it is in relation to the method of adopting plans and letting the contracts. That I think is in fairly good shape. The other main feature is in relation to the payment of damages and securing rights of way. That has not yet been put into acceptable shape. I very much hope that it will be done. It is in that particular that the Government will stand a chance of having to pay a very great sum in damages, which I do not think are necessary. What I desire to have done is for the localities to furnish the rights of way on which the levees are to be built. That would be little or no expense to them and probably be a very considerable expense to the United States Government. I am willing that the U.S. Government should assume responsibility for damages that might accrue by reason of the water that would go down between the new levees in the spillways, and of course expect the Government to pay the expenses of the erection of the levees. That is, I want the U.S. Government to pay any damages that may accrue by reason of its taking any constitutional rights that the owners of property in that locality now have. I don’t want to have it endowed with new rights in one section of the bill and then have the Government pay them for the rights in another section which we have just legislated upon them. I haven’t any expectation of sending any special message to Congress dealing with flood control. Something might occur that would seem to make that desirable, but I don’t know of anything now.

May 1, 1928

Full Press Conference

I don’t know of any particular analysis that General Jadwin has made of the flood control bill that went through the House. He and I looked over the bill together and made some marks on it, indicated some changes that we should like to have made in it. I presume that is the origin of any report that may have been made that he made an analysis. I don’t know of anything that he has made relative to it that could be published. Any one could take the bill and make an analysis of it. The financial features of it haven’t been improved. Every time that changes have been made it has been to make the financial features more unacceptable. As it went through the House it had the Sacramento River, I think it is, hitched on to the end of it. I haven’t much of any information about the Sacramento River. I know that the Government is helping out there. If it is a meritorious project, it ought to go through on its own steam, and not be hitched on to something else. That is the main trouble with this bill, – too many interests, too many people want to ride on it, until it became loaded up with a great many objectionable features.

May 8, 1928

Full Press Conference

I talked yesterday with the conferees and some others relative to the flood bill. I have been able to get that deflated some, so that I think it is a good deal better than it was when they started to work on it. It has some saving clauses in it. It isn’t just such a bill as I would like, but the form in which I understand the conference is proposing to recommend its passage perhaps is as good as can be secured. The main difficulty has been over a possible payment of damages which is a new element in flood control, one that hasn’t had to be met in any other efforts that have been made to control the waters of the Mississippi and its tributaries. But I think that has been put in very much better shape than it was at the outset.

I am a good deal disturbed at the number of proposals that are being made for an expenditure of money. The number and the amount is becoming appalling. Practically none of those bills have reached me yet, and it may be that the Congress won’t pass all of them. Of course, there is this flood bill. It is impossible to estimate what that will cost. If it is carried out as suggested, I think $500,000,000 would probably be the minimum. Nobody knows what the maximum might be. There is the farm bill calling for $400,000,000. The Boulder Dam bill. I think the lowest estimates on that are $125,000,000. Other estimates run to $250,000,000. There is a pension bill, running $15,000,000 or $20,000,000. The salary bill, the so-called Welch Bill, of about $18,000,000. The Muscle Shoals bill, which I think was reported to me would cost perhaps $75,000,000. I think that is rather excessive. That is only a part of them. I don’t know just what will happen to the Treasury if we try to put all those proposals into effect. In addition to that there is the Post office pay bill of I think $20,000,000, and the reduction of postage payments which has been reported in the Senate I think calls for – it seems as though it is $38,000,000. Those two together make a difference of $58,000,000 in the Post office Department, which is already running a considerable deficit. There are $7,000,000 or $8,000,000 for the corn borer. There are $6,000,000 for vocational training. How many more bills there are, I don’t know.