Reprinted in The Public, October 6, 1906
Before the League of American Municipalities,
in Session at Chicago, September 26, 1906.
In 1873, Enoch Ensley, a wealthy planter of Tennessee, wrote to Governor Brown asking him to call a special session of the legislature to amend the constitution so that changes could be made in the tax laws of Tennessee. The tax rate of Nashville was three and one-half per cent and of Memphis four per cent, and Mr. Ensley said that the burden on business was insupportable. Great land owner as he was, however, Ensley did not urge a search for new sources of revenue, but rather the application of the "rule or motto" which, he said, "It would be well for the State to adopt and have cut into the stone at the capitol (in large letters and have them gilded), in the Senate chamber, the hall of the House of Representatives and in the governor's office, . . . to-wit:
That would be of value to your State,
That could and would run away, or
That could and would come to you."
This rule laid down by Ensley has become an axiom, but before it can be applied the constitutions of about thirty-five States must be amended by repealing those despotic limitations on legislative power which are not found in the earlier constitutions, and which should find no place in the constitution of any free people. Because of constitutional and statutory restraints upon the power of cities we need discuss only what can be accomplished in most cities by executive officials under existing laws.
Conditions of Prosperity.
City officials often regard the city as apart and distinct from the individual citizens, and sometimes therefore uphold policies which appear to be in the interest of the city corporation, although opposed to the interests of the citizens. This is, of course, a short-sighted view. In reality nothing can be good for the city which is bad for the citizen, nor bad for the city which is good for the citizens. Again, many consider the interest of classes and speak of what will be advantageous to manufacturers or shopkeepers or land owners. This, too, is a mistaken attitude. Citizens should be regarded alike as men, and not as the owners or users of some kind of property. All depend upon the workers who render service for service, and it is fair therefore to consider the interest of all citizens as bound up in the interest of those who earn their living; and that city may be regarded as the most prosperous in which it is easiest and most agreeable to earn a living.
The interests of the city and of its citizens are identical. Nevertheless, they may be viewed from both standpoints.