Newton Booth

11th Governor, Republican

Inaugural Address

Delivered: December 8, 1871


Established custom requires that the Governor of the State at the beginning of his term of office shall briefly outline the policy he desires to exemplify in his administration. I discharge this duty not without diffidence, for I am fully aware that experience in the execution of the laws as they are can alone give that exact knowledge of their details and actual working which is of the highest value in forming an opinion of the efficiency and of the necessity of amendment.

The statement of general principles is comparatively easy; their practical application to affairs is more difficult, and to some extent experimental. Not every theory will bear the test of practice, and too much legislation is one of the recognized evils of government. One of the most philosophical and correct thinkers of modern times has affirmed that the wisdom of the legislator is oftener shown in the repeal of old statutes than in the enactment of new.

That government will be best which confines itself most strictly within the sphere of its duties; which, recognizing the sacredness of personal freedom, imposes no more restriction upon the individual than is necessary for the safety of society, and whose laws, like those of nature, are impartial in design and general in their operation. The great mass of the people neither expect nor desire any benefits from government which are not common to all. There will always be, however, an active few seeking the advancement of their own interest by legislation, and they will never be wanting in specious arguments in their own behalf, while the public welfare is apt to be silent until it is injured.


The most necessary laws will often confer incidental personal advantages. School houses and highways will best accommodate those who live nearest to them; public buildings may advance the value of contiguous property; public offices involve the payment of fees and salaries to individuals.

From the nature of things it is impossible that law should equalize human conditions There is one test, however, which should be applied to every measure of legislation—is the general good the object, and individual advantage the necessary incident? or is individual profit the object, and the general good the incident or pretext? It should always be remembered that government is only the agent of the people for specified purposes; that it should never attempt to do for the people what they can as well do for themselves, and that, having nothing of its own to bestow, it cannot give to one without taking from another. The law of compensation is inexorable, and in political economy it will be forever true that to seek a partial good is to incur a general evil.

No body of men was ever wise enough to adjust the conflicting interests and direct the various industries of a large community. To attempt it is to disturb the equilibrium of society. Every citizen has the same right to protection from his government. Under the security afforded by a just government, extending equal protection, enterprise and labor will find their most profitable channels, character its best development, and society its most harmonious organization. Brilliant schemes that promise immediate benefits in a particular direction appeal strongly to the imagination, but their highest success is too dearly paid for by the sense of injustice which impairs the respect for law and weakens the ties of patriotism.


It follows that my own idea of government is that law should be the simplest possible expression of the necessities of society, and administration a matter of business, not of show. It does not follow, if we all agree in this, that we shall be able to realize our ideal. I trust, however, we shall honestly try.


In a State so large in area and so diversified in natural and artificial resources and conditions as ours, some local regulations will always be necessary. It is the part of wisdom that the communities immediately interested should determine these for themselves, and State laws may be made general by conferring upon local authorities sufficient powers for local government. As the State, however, is directly interested in the credit of each of its political subdivisions, and is charged with the duty of protecting every citizen from burdensome exactions, care should be taken to interpose proper restrictions against the creation of debts, the levy of excessive taxes, and the appropriation of money to private enterprises.

The provision of the Constitution which prohibits the creation of a State debt without a popular vote will be of little practical utility if the cities and counties are allowed to contract obligations which become a charge in detail upon the property of the State. Subject to these limitations, and under proper regulations to secure uniformity in the operation of general laws, every county, town, and city should be self-governing in everything which concerns its local affairs, and the Legislature be relieved of the embarrassment of considering measures of special application. If the theory of popular institutions be true, government should be brought as near the people as possible, that it may be directly amenable to public opinion, its mistakes earliest realized, and most easily remedied.


It is sometimes conceded that the democratic theory fails in its application to the municipal government of large cities. If it does, necessarily its ultimate failure will be entire, for diverse principles of government cannot permanently obtain in the same general system, and the tendency of population is more and more toward centralization. Perhaps the cause of failure may be found rather in the methods of application than in the principle itself. The city, where public opinion is most concentrated, and its great organ, the press, most powerful, where the interests to be affected are most immediate, should be as capable of municipal self-government as the State and nation are of general government. The experiment should be fairly tried, without divided responsibility, and with the certainty that the municipal regulations of a city, being made by itself, will be such as it deserves.


The most important and difficult functions of the State Government relate to revenue and taxation. To combine economy with efficiency in administration and to apportion taxes equitably are the ever recurring problems which address themselves to the legislator and political economist. In public as in private life, economy requires the sacrifice of show to substance and the wise adaptation of means to ends. Blind parsimony may prove as wasteful as wilful [sic] extravagance. The people expect their representatives to deal honestly with them, to make appropriations intelligently for the necessary purposes of good government, and to exact strict accountability for their proper expenditure. No offices should be created for the sake of affording places; the cost of public buildings should be limited to fair estimates; appropriations for necessary expenses of State institutions (as prison, asylums, etc.) should be sufficient, so that demands against the State should not be discounted while money is lying idle in the General Fund, and every care should be taken to prevent the credit of the State from being pledged, directly or by implication, beyond the exact authorization of law.

The fiscal affairs of the State should be managed as a prudent business man manages his own, paying well for services rendered, and for no more. Every dollar of taxation represents the labor or some one—labor contributed to the State for the common good, to the "commonwealth," but which is felt as an unjust exaction, a wrongful use of arbitrary power, when devoted to individual or partial benefit.


A very large proportion of the revenue of the State is raised by direct taxation upon property. The constitution requires that taxation shall be uniform throughout the State. "All property in this State shall be taxed in proportion to its value, to be ascertained as directed by law; but Assessors of town, county, and State taxes shall be elected by the qualified electors of the district, county, or town in which the property taxed for State, county, or town purposes is situated." The difficulty in giving a literal construction to the final clause without the most complicated and expensive machinery seems insuperable, as is ably shown by Commissioner Lindley in the preface to the Chapter on "Town Governments," in the report of the Revision Commission. No scheme of taxation has ever been devised which was absolutely just. Perhaps none can be. The theory of our Constitution on the subject is perfectly fair; its failure in everything except raising the necessary revenues is confessed. The burdens of taxation are practically distributed as follows: The non-taxpayer feels them in the increased expense of living, and if he depend upon his daily labor, as over taxation discourages industrial enterprises, in diminished wages and diminished opportunities of employment. Among taxpayers the proportion paid by each is in inverse ratio to his ability—the wealthiest paying the least percentage on the value of their property. There are exceptions, but probably not more than to every general principle. A perfectly just system, if attainable, would reverse this rule.

If every member of the community knew that he was called upon to pay only his just proportion of the necessary expenses of government, no obligation would be more cheerfully met. As the distribution is to be felt unfair, each is apt to fancy himself the greatest sufferer, and to look upon the Assessor and Collector as his natural enemies. Too low a valuation in one county is made the excuse for one still lower in another, and no individual willingly returns his property at its full market worth, knowing that the rate has been fixed on the assumption that not more than fifty per centum of all values will be reached. Under our Constitution, while a "State Board of Equalization" may be very useful in bringing gross abuses to light, it is doubtful if its powers can be more than moral; or extend beyond recommendations and instructions. The difficulty of determining by a single Board the values of real estate and visible personal property, is manifest in a State so large and of such varied conditions as ours; while moneys and solvent debts, not evidenced by public records, so easily elude observation, and the latter are susceptible of such varied definition, that the old system of torturing the body by rack, thumb screw, and lash, and the modern device of torturing the conscience by oaths administered by the Assessor, have alike failed to fully disclose them to the tax gatherer.

Apportioning the assessment of a railroad to the various counties through which it passes, leads to the absurdity of attempting to estimate the value of a road cut off from connections at both ends, and to inquire into the probable worth of the iron and ties, "as they lie," for purposes other than the only one for which they are fit.

Between the perplexing questions whether the shares in a corporation should be assessed to individual holders, the market value of the property belonging to the incorporation assessed to the company, or the value of the franchise be included, the rule is usually adopted which yields the lowest valuation.

The law which allows a property holder to cancel a tax by showing some technical irregularity is a premium on litigation without risk, and enables large taxpayers, individual and corporate, to dictate their own terms of compromise.

Our system not only fails in proper distribution, but its influence is demoralizing; and every system which largely involves the exercise of individual discretion and the universal administration of oaths to parties in interest will have the same result.


Since it is practically impossible to impose taxes directly upon all property according to its value, the question ought to be seriously considered whether they may not be so imposed as to "equitably distribute themselves." A tax upon land, if uniform, becomes a fixed quantity in the calculation of its value; it is a known encumbrance, and modifies its price. To that extent land values will adapt themselves to a uniform rate of taxation. If land values (including, of course, village, city, and country) alone were taxed, the revenue of the State would be in the nature of a reserved rent, stipulated for at every transfer, and modifying the consideration at every sale. If that policy had been originally adopted, speculation in unoccupied lands would have been in some degree prevented, the lands would be more generally cultivated by owners, and bear the whole burden of taxation with more ease than they now do their proportion, leaving all improvements and personal property free. The vested rights of land owners will probably forever prevent a recurrence to this policy.

I beg to submit for public consideration the brief outline of a plan, for some of the suggestions of which I am indebted to the very able report of the "Commission on Local Taxation," recently appointed by Governor Hoffman, of New York.

Lands, other than town, city, and suburban lots, to be classified, the Assessor to determine the class to which each tract belongs, when the law will fix its value for purposes of taxation. The classification could be so adjusted as to discourage the holding of land in large bodies for purposes of speculation, and made effective to that end by recognizing possessory rights and inchoate titles as taxable. The State to determine the value of the franchises of such corporations as railroad, banking, gas companies, etc., by aggregating the market value of their stock and bonds, collect a fixed rate percentum on the whole, and give the counties and cities a fair equivalent for their right of local taxation. Moneys to be indirectly reached by a stamp tax on notes, bonds, mortgages, etc. This would leave town, city, and suburban lots, and personal property other than moneys and debts, to be assessed by appraisement.

I have dwelt upon the whole subject at some length, as any radical, and I believe, any beneficial change in our revenue system requires a change in the Constitution, and this is the only opportunity I shall have of officially addressing the people directly.

I know the suggestions offered are imperfect: I trust, then, general discussion will result in the maturing of some plan which will apportion taxes more equitably, collect them more cheaply, and in a greater degree check one of the growing and threatening evils of our time-land monopoly. The theories of the most advanced writers on political economy and the practice of the civilized world outside the United States, condemn our present system as cumbersome in machinery, unjust in distribution, and demoralizing in influence. Our constitutional provisions, like many other laws, practically defeat their own theory.


It is the history of every country that with increasing wealth there is an increasing tendency toward centralization, and a growing danger that aggregated capital will obtain undue political influence. "It is one of the problems of government to prevent the ruling power from becoming all-powerful." Whether the ruling power is found in numbers, where it is supposed to be, or in money, where it too often is, every care should be taken to restrain its exercise within the bounds of justice. In administering the government we are called upon to consider not only immediate material advantages, but ultimate moral effects. It is certain that where money is a political power at all, there is a constant danger that it will become all-powerful. It is the most active principle of society, forever seeking its own, and not apt to be content with that. When the accumulation of wealth is the legitimate result of energy and sagacity, it is a stimulant to industry and enterprise, and their just reward; when conferred by favoritism of law, it is first an incentive to, then a source of political corruption. If any favors are granted at all they should be to the weak, and not the strong. But the law should be no respecter of persons, if for no other reason, because favors granted to any are certain to gravitate to the strongest power. These considerations, together with the manifest injustice of weighing benefits to some, against injuries to others, even if the benefits preponderate, have had a determining influence in forming public opinion on the subject of State and local subsidies to railroad and other corporations. In order to give effective expression to the pronounced will of the people, the Act known as the "Five Per Cent Law" should be repealed, and the necessary steps be taken to amend the Constitution so as to prevent similar legislation hereafter.


The right of the State to regulate the rate of freights and fares on railroads is founded on the fact that every railroad invokes the exercise of one of the State's highest prerogatives—the condemning of private property, in its construction. The Legislature should exercise this right with due consideration, to protect the public from overcharges, and at the same time afford proper guarantees to invested capital, and give liberal encouragement to the building of railroads. The present rates were established at a time when the standard of values was much higher than now, and when the construction of railroads in this State was regarded as a costly and hazardous experiment. That they are too high is a fair deduction from the facts that they are not less than three times the average rates in the States east of the Rocky Mountains, and that the local rates allowed are out of proportion with the through rates charged. It requires no argument to prove that freight and passengers can be transported at a lower rate per mile one hundred miles than fifty; and it is equally clear that no system should be tolerated which will allow a higher charge in the aggregate for transportation of fifty than a hundred miles, or under which a shipper may be compelled to send his goods some hundreds of miles westward to find the cheapest initial point for their eastern transit, over the same road.

It is argued that no rates should be established by law, as competition is the best regulator of prices. Practically there is no local competition, and we cannot ignore the tendency toward a general consolidation of all the railroads in the United States—a consummation which, if reached, will create a power greater than any single State, and the rival of the General Government. It is urged with some degree of plausibility, that the interests of railroads and the public are identical, and that corporations owning roads will find by experiment the point of agreement. It is a fair answer to this, in terms at least, that the public, whose interest is general, has the benefit of the same experience, and would be as likely to come to a correct conclusion as the corporations, whose interest is specific. In fact, however, the interests of passengers and shippers and of carriers are not identical. The one is for the lowest rate consistent with safety, the other for a rate that will yield the largest revenue with the least expense. The Legislature represents both, and should accord to each that just and enlightened consideration which is due to every interest and every species of property in the State.


The undue political influence and financial control that many corporations have assumed, is not the only evil presented by them. In their internal administration, between majorities and minorities, directors and stockholders, cases of the grossest injustice are constantly arising. It is not uncommon to find one class of stockholders enriching themselves from a company which impoverishes another. So common is this, especially with mining companies, that it has become proverbial and grown into a distinct and disgraceful code of morals, one of whose tenets is, that to own a majority of stock or a controlling interest is equivalent to owning it all.

No stockholder should ever be allowed to hold any interest in a corporation which is distinct from and may become antagonistic to the interest of the company as a whole. The attempt to do so on the part of any officer of the company should be regarded as a breach of trust, and so punished. And the organization of corporations within corporations is a refinement of subtlety and fraud which should be positively prevented by law.


The American system of free schools is one of the most beneficent outgrowths of our history. In some other countries education is as general and as free, but in none is the principle so well recognized that independent manhood is an object of greater solicitude than a powerful State; that man should be educated for his own sake, and not as a part of governmental machinery; that he is higher than the State, and that society and law are valuable only as they enable him to become more a man. The right of every child to an elementary education is as sacred as his right to air and light; to deprive him of it is to deprive him of the sixth sense of civilization, and in the future will remand him to a pariah caste. Public sentiment in this State in favor of “compulsory education” is general, and not partisan. It does not propose to interfere with the right of the parent to select a school for his children or to educate them at home, but to enforce the right of the child as a member of society which he himself is powerless to do. The statutes of Michigan, Texas, and other States that have legislated upon this subject may be studied with advantage in framing our own.


The amendments to the Federal Constitution which make the rights of citizens independent of color have been so generally acquiesced in that it is a part of the political creed of both the great national parties to leave them undisturbed. The impropriety of imposing the duties of citizenship upon any class of persons, and depriving them of the privileges which fit them for a proper discharge of those duties, is manifest; and the injustice of compelling any parent, under penalty, to educate his children, and denying him an equal opportunity with all others to do so, while taxing him for the support of schools whose doors are closed in his face, is too gross and palpable to be allowed. No republican State can afford to violate the fundamental law of justice by making arbitrary distinctions among its citizens, or to dishonor any one for an accident of birth who may be called upon to peril his life for his country. Whoever is clothed with the dignity of American citizenship should be able to stand erect in the consciousness that he is the equal before the law with every other citizen—that the Republic which claims his allegiance knows neither high nor low, nor rich nor poor, but recognizes all citizens as “peers of the realm.” All badges of distinction that are relics of the slaveholding era of our National history should pass away with the system they commemorate. Until the State graduates penalties, it cannot justly graduate opportunities. The doors of our schools should be open to all, with no prejudice of caste without, and no sectarian teaching within, which will prevent any child from freely entering.


One of the most important subjects which the Legislature will be called upon to consider at the present session is the report of the Board of Revision Commission. Any one who has often had occasion to examine the statues of this State will recognize the necessity for their general revision. The report of the Board embraces more than this, and proposes a "Code of Laws"—political, civil, and criminal—for the entire government of the people of the State. The object has not been to change the laws, but to crystalize them in expression, and do away with redundancies and with the incongruity of a written Constitution and vast body of unwritten law; to generalize the statutes and principles of common law into a science. Without assuming an ability to pass upon the merits of the report as a whole, I may express the opinion from a partial examination, that the plan is comprehensive, the arrangement systematic, and the style clear and terse. Believing it important that a work requiring so much care in details should be subject to closer criticism than the members of the Senate and Assembly would be able to give it consistently with their other duties, and desiring that it should be presented to the Legislature, in as perfect a form as possible. I have united with Governor Haight in a request to two eminent members of the bar to examine it. Of course the request subject to the approval of th Legislature, but it is due to the gentlemen who have acceded to it that early action should be taken upon the matter.


The Legislature will also be called upon to reapportion the State for legislative and congressional representation. Under the present system the City and County of San Francisco will elect by general ballot nearly one fourth of the members of the Senate and Assembly. It will be more in accordance with the theory of our Government, and better secure the rights of minorities, that the State should be divided into senatorial and representative districts, so that each member of the Legislature shall be elected by and responsible to a single constituency.


Holding separate elections for judicial and political offices is productive of additional expense without corresponding benefit. The amendment to the Constitution (now pending) to remedy this meets the general approbation of the people, and will no doubt receive the favorable consideration of the Legislature. If by an additional amendment the time of holding elections for State and county officers should be changed from the odd to the even years, the general State election might be held on the same day as the Presidential, United States Senators would not, as now, be necessarily elected fourteen months before the beginning of their term of office, and there would be no vacancy, as there now is, in our accredited representation to the lower House of Congress from the fourth of March until the October election in the odd years.


No precautions should be neglected to secure the independence of electors and the purity of elections. The advantage claimed for the ballot as a method of voting is the free expression of individual will that results from absolute secrecy. This is the right of every voter, and should be secured to him by proper legislation. Our laws for the punishment of the corrupt use of money at elections are stringent in terms, but some provisions additional seem necessary to insure their enforcement.


The enactment popularly known as the "Litigant Organ Act" is of more than questionable policy. It removes a certain class of public service from the healthy test of general competition, and to that extent creates a “monopoly." It gives the newspaper selected an additional incentive to active and prejudiced partisanship, and is a premium to the servility and discrimination against the freedom of the press. If it should be deemed desirable to retain the State litigant paper for the purpose of giving notice to absent defendants, the selection of such organ should be determined by competitive bidding.


The expenses of the State Geological Survey since its commencement amount to two hundred and twenty-two thousand six hundred dollars. It will be for the Legislature to determine, after careful examination of the work done, whether further appropriations should be made, and upon what terms.


The introduction to this State of large numbers of Asiatics has excited the jealousy of one class of citizens and the anxiety of all. That the immediate effects of this immigration will be to cheapen labor is apparent, and in the influx of this race the laboring classes find cause for alarm, while the political student and the class not dependent upon manual labor for immediate support regard with apprehension the introduction of a people into our midst so different from our own as to preclude the possibility of assimilation. These fears and apprehensions find full expression in the platforms of both political parties. That the introduction of this race cheapens labor, and that many industries have been prosecuted and are now made feasible through this labor cannot be denied, but that cheap labor and the immediate material development of our various resources are the highest objects to be considered may well be questioned. Material wealth, that form of property which manifests itself in great and costly enterprises, expensive mansions, and other indicia of opulence, though valuable in themselves, and the accepted evidences of prosperity, may be purchased at a cost and maintained by a means that will make them but the sure evidence of a nation’s decadence. It may be true in a large sense that the interests of capital and labor are the same; but the capitalist and laborer do not make bargains with each other under the principles of abstract political economy. Each is prompted by self-interest, and pushes any advantage offered by the occasion. Each avails himself of the other's necessities.

Any system which introduces a class of laborers whose wages are exceptionally low for special reasons, gives the capitalist that advantage in making terms; and whatever has a tendency to establish a fixed line of demarcation between capital and labor and create a laboring caste is a social and political evil. Under the stimulus of mechanical-inventions there is no danger but wealth will be created with sufficient activity. The danger is it will be massed, and not distributed, and that danger will be increased by any system which has a tendency to make labor servile, or place human labor upon an exact equality with the productive power of machinery. The control of the question of Asiatic immigration, however, lies exclusively with the Federal Government. Treaties, commercial relations, and national traditions are all arrayed against any interference with free emigration to these shores, and much difficulty may be found in bringing our national legislators to fully comprehend the evils threatened, which are now local, and not general. It is the general sense of the public that Congress should be memorialized upon this subject, and such restrictions sought at the hands of the Federal Government as will secure this State, with its hopeful future, to the possession of a people that can share equally with each other in political power.


It is, however, under and through the law alone we can act. With these or any other people within our borders, there can be but one course—full, perfect protection. Mob violence is the most dangerous form in which the law can be violated, not merely in the immediate outrage committed, but in the results which often follow—communities debauched, jurors intimidated, and Courts controlled by the political influence of the number that are guilty. The unsuccessful prosecutions for the crimes of a mob teach that the number and boldness of the perpetrators too often give immunity to the offence; and not only is the crime unpunished, but Justice is mocked in her very temples by the erection of a tribunal higher than the law. And when, to all this, banded ruffianism selects for its victims a race notoriously defenceless, when pillage and murder are its exploits, the race from which such wretches are recruited, the community which suffers such deeds to be enacted, the officials who stand supinely by without an effort; to prevent; the crime, are sharers in a common disgrace, and the statute which prevents the victim from testifying becomes party to the offence. I trust that during my administration the spirit of lawless violence which has sometimes disgraced our past may never be exhibited. Should it be, there will be no exertion spared on the part of the Executive to extend to all, from the humblest to the highest, the sovereign protection of the law, and to visit the guilty with the punishment their crimes deserve.

The fiscal condition of the State and of the various State institutions will doubtless be fully treated in the biennial message of the Governor, before the delivery of this address. If any additional suggestions or recommendations should appear to be necessary I shall avail myself of the privilege accorded by the Constitution to the Governor, and communicate them to the Legislature by special message. If I have omitted to discuss the National questions at issue between the two great political parties, it is not because my convictions are not deep and sincere. I believe I can best manifest my gratitude to the party which has honored me above my deserts by earnestly endeavoring to administer the laws impartially, so as to maintain the honor and advance the interests of the whole State.