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Andrew Carnegie - General Goethals, The Panama Canal

Andrew Carnegie

March 5, 1914 

"Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen: I never suspected that I was to have so great an honor, so carefully given, as to become a follower of the distinguished speaker who has just taken his seat. At long intervals a man appears who has done something of unique importance in the world. Long has he been in training for the task, and the world knew it not; but now the world can never cease to know that your guest of to-night has proved himself a genius who has changed world conditions. France had undertaken the difficult task of uniting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by a pass-way for ships upon the water.

After years of labor the task was abandoned, and the long-cherished scheme seemed destined to fail. At this juncture our Government stepped forward, purchased the reversion, and renewed the seemingly hopeless attempt. Here was the critical moment. Where was there on earth, not a man but the man to whom this perilous task could safely be trusted? Nothing short of a genius for organization was needed. No man of that order seemed within reach. Geniuses are rare, but the choice fell upon your guest of to-night, and we began to examine his history. He was fortunate here. He was born in Brooklyn, and very fortunate for New York, for we claim partnership in everything good that Brooklyn has.

Studying the problems before hirn, our guest soon discovered that none of the conditions of success, as he has stated, had much to do at first with plans of construction. His enemy, sure to conquer hirn as it had conquered his predecessors, if not vanquished, was unsanitation, and here Providence had placed within his reach the one man of all the world - Brigadier General Gorgas.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, note this. Genius always attracts genius.Though it cannot be said that those rare birds are so numerous as exactly to flock together. In my experience I have not found them disposed to do that. With such men cooperating, each marvelous in his domain, what problem could remain unsolved? Our country has long been remarkable for utilizing officers of the army and the navy in works of peace. I have seen the arduous tasks involved in the Fernandina breakwaters, for instance, in the rivers near Pittsburgh, upon the levees of the Mississippi, and the canals upon our Great Lakes, all under control of such army and navy officials. I believe that we are unique in this. I know of no other government that has the sense to use its commanders in the army and navy in work so profitable. This recalls one of Blaine's stories.

I asked hirn what was one of the most attractive speeches he had ever heard in Congress - and he was there for many years. He could tell a good story himself. "Well," he said, "it was made by the Dutch ex-Governor of Pennsylvania who was subsequently elected to Congress. The debate in Congress was upon a bill which for the first time appropriated money to be used in improving fresh-water ponds. Many members held that Congress had no power under the Constitution to undertake improvement of fresh water. States must attend to this. National appropriations were confined to salt water. The Governor had never spoken a word in the House, and he had been there for two or three years, and the surprise was great when he was seen slowly to rise. The House was hushed into silence in a moment. What on earth was to come next? And then came the speech, short and to the point - 'Mr. Speaker, I don't know "nutting" very much about the Constitution, but I know this: I wouldn't give a cent for a Constitution that didn't wash as well in fresh water as in salt.' "

I said "cent" there. I understand the Governor used the more simplified spelling.The House was convulsed, of course, and the appropriation was unanimously passed. Thus was our Constitution changed, not by law, but by laughter. It is astonishing what a good laugh sometimes can accomplish.

Your guest of the evening, gentlemen, bad scores of difficulties to overcome, and many problems to solve, but he always solved them. Like the Governor, he rose to the occasion and swept the board, as the Dutch Governor did. The Governor changed the Constitution. You, guest of the evening, have changed world conditions; not only your country, but the whole world owes you an unpayable debt. Long may you live, Governor-that-is-to-be, and enjoy the world's prosperity."